First in the non-Yankee league
Strong points: An outstanding outfield, good power, three strong starting pitchers. Rocky Colavito, Bill Bruton and Al Kaline form one of the best outfields in the majors. Kaline is unmatched in the effortless way he plays right field, and as a hitter he was good for 19 HRs, 82 RBIs and a .324 BA. Bruton flies around center and, although he had trouble hitting AL pitching last year, he should get back to his accustomed .280 level. He had a career high, however, of 17 HRs in 1961 and stole 22 bases. Colavito has a reckless arm and heavy feet in left, but at the plate he had 45 HRs, 140 RBIs and a .290 BA. First Baseman Norm Cash surprised everyone as he led the league with a .361 average (41 HRs, 132 RBIs). Frank Lary (23-9, 3.24 ERA), Jim Bunning (17-11, 3.19 ERA) and Don Mossi (15-7, 2.96 ERA) would be among the first four starters on any club in the league—and that includes the Yankees.
Weak spots: Shortstop, catching, secondary pitching. Tigers desperately need a shortstop who can at least field his position. Chico Fernandez is poor on the double play, but on the other hand he can't hit (.248). Dick McAuliffe, who will be out of the Army at the end of April, is little better in the field or at bat (.256). Catcher Dick Brown looked as if he might finally become a hitter in the first half of the year, but he broke his finger and was ineffectual after that. The Tigers have only Mike Roarke, a .223 hitter, behind him. After the big three, the quality of the pitching drops off—Phil Regan (10-7, 5.25 ERA), Paul Foytack (11-10, 3.92 ERA) and Ron Kline (5-3, 2.72 ERA).
The big ifs: Manager Bob Scheffing gambled with rookies at second and third last year and it paid off. Now Second Baseman Jake Wood has to cut down on his strikeouts. Third Baseman Steve Boros broke his collarbone after a fast start last year. Tigers hope his pre-injury average (.300) is a true indication of his batting ability (.270 at the end of season). Terry Fox did valuable work in relief (5-2, 1.42 ERA) but he has a history of arm trouble. Hank Aguirre, the other reliever, had fair success last year. Rookies Doug Gallagher and Bob Dustal could help in the bullpen.
Rookies and new faces: The only veteran additions to this "set" club are Sam Jones (36) and Vic Wertz (37). Jones, obtained from the Colts, will be used as a reliever and spot starter. Wertz, from the Red Sox, hits the long ball, will be a prime benchman.
OUTLOOK: If the Yankees weren't in the league the Tigers would win the pennant. The best Detroit can do is finish a strong second.
Bunts help some, Angels help others
At Al Lopez Field in Tampa, Jake Wood, the Tiger second baseman, was staring at the batting practice pitches and mumbling to himself "good" or "bad." Wood needs to look at a lot of pitches because last season he set a major league record of 141 strikeouts. (Jim Lemon of the Twins held the old record of 138). "Last year I was not waiting on pitches long enough," Jake explained. "I had another fault, too. I wouldn't keep my eye on the pitch to see what it was going to do. I was trying to hit every ball too hard and, well, you know what it did for me. I've changed the weight of my bat, got a heavier one. But the thing I'm going to do this year is look the pitches over a lot more. I got something else up my sleeve for this year. I got a little bit of speed. [Actually, Wood has more than a little bit of speed; he stole 30 bases last year to rank third in the league.] I'm gonna use that speed this year to advantage. You can look for me to bunt a lot more. Just drop those cute little ones down the third-base line and be long gone. I worked two hours every morning for two weeks to learn to drop 'em down real good." Wood excused himself to go into the batting cage and began looking at pitch after pitch until he got the right one, the seventh. Then, without seeming to change his stance at all, he pushed a bunt up the third-base line. And was long gone.
Over 150 churches, service clubs, schools and fraternal organizations heard Billy Bruton speak about Democracy in Sports last fall and winter. "I put 13,000 miles on the car going through northern Illinois and southern Wisconsin," said Bruton. "I talked about sports being a great teacher of democracy but I also talked about the plight of the Negro in baseball, particularly in the South. All we want is to be treated like men if we act like men...to seek an education if we have the right and the money."
When asked how he felt about being traded from the National League Braves to the Tigers last year, Bruton said, "I knew that if anyone was going to go from Milwaukee it was going to be me. I just knew it. But baseball is a job. Think it over, there are only 20 teams in the big leagues and I'm on one of the 20 and on a good one. No. I wouldn't say that the pitching in the National League was any tougher than it is in the American. They sure don't have any better fast balls."
Why had his batting average slipped 29 points in the American League?
"To me it seemed harder to hit in the American League," said Bruton, "because I didn't know what the pitchers were throwing. I'd never seen most of them before and, after all, when you've been in one league for eight years like I was in the National, you get to know the pitchers."
Could Bruton explain why he had hit Los Angeles Angel pitching for .352?
"Well, the answer is very simple," said Bruton. "If you stand up there at the plate every day with a bat in your hand and you seem to have troubles all around, finally somebody or something will come along that will make you feel real good. For me it was the Angels. They were very nice to me and I can assure you that I will do nothing whatsoever to hurt that relationship."
HANDS ACROSS THE PLATE by Rocky Colavito (after a home run), Norm Cash (center) and Al Kaline (6) will be usual Detroit scene.