There were moments this spring when Bob Gibson, pitcher for the St. Louis Cardinals, must have wondered whether he had picked the right sport. A onetime member of the Harlem Globetrotters, Gibson broke his ankle late last season (when he won 15 games), and this spring it still hurt. Worse, Gibson pitched as if it did. On May 19 he gave up 10 runs in six innings against Cincinnati, making his record 1-3 with an ERA of 6.75. Then, as the pain in his ankle finally disappeared, Gibson started to win. When he shut out the Giants in early July, to snap an eight-game Cardinal losing streak, Umpire Al Barlick said that Gibson had thrown as hard as any pitcher he had ever seen. Last week he added two wins to his record, making him 12-4. Since his dismal performance in May, Gibson has posted a 1.82 ERA. His only loss during that time came when Sandy Koufax shut out the Cardinals. With a 20-victory season now within his grasp, it is clear Gibson chose the right sport.
The San Francisco Giants arc as fickle as the breeze at Candlestick Park. Take the two and a half weeks since the All-Star Game. Over this span, the Giants have played unexceptional .500 ball with a 9-9 record, but they have done so in exceptional fashion. First they played 12 games on the road, and lost nine of them. Last week they staggered home in fifth place, 10 games behind the Dodgers. They have not lost since. Manager Alvin Dark's team won six straight and moved back up to third place. Willie McCovey (.381 for the week) and Harvey Kuenn (.400) continued to hit well, getting strong support from an off-year Willie Mays (3 HRs, .333) and Jim Davenport (2 HRs and .381). Juan Marichal (17-5) won two complete games to become baseball's biggest winner. When the Giants couldn't do it for themselves, the wind and the opposition helped out. The breeze played havoc with the New York Met defense. Outfielder Joe Hicks misplayed a windblown fly ball into an error, opening the way for a three-run Giant rally. In another game, Mets Al Jackson and Larry Burright combined in the ninth inning to hit two batters and err on a grounder to give the Giants a 4-3 victory.
It was only the Los Angeles Angels he beat, but to Frank Lary of Detroit, the old Yankee killer, it was bigger than the World Series. Once again he was a winning pitcher in the major leagues. Just two years ago, Lary kept the Tigers in pennant contention with a glittering 23-9 record. But last year, pitching in an early-season snowstorm, he hurt his arm, winning only two games all season. This spring, when his arm remained sore, the Tigers sent Lary and his $35,000 salary to Knoxville. There, pitching regularly in the heat, his right arm lost its soreness. "It feels just fine," Lary said, "but it's not quite as strong as I want it." Lary's trip to the minors seems to have altered his personality. Gone is his wise-cracking, light-hearted manner. "He is a much more serious person than he was before he left," says a Tiger official. "He looks like he wants to play this game all his life." For the Yankees, who are flying high (see page 12), it was the only bad news of the week.
The miserably hot, humid July weather may have been all that the Athletics needed. Catcher Joe Azcue, formerly of Kansas City, now with Cleveland, announced that every KC pitcher threw a spitter. True or not, it was a fact that the easier it was to sweat, the more effective the KC pitchers were. The team won five games in a row and only twice in nine games did opponents score more than three runs. Significantly Dave Wickersham was the starting pitcher both times. Wickersham, a very religious young man, said he had "a fine spitter, but I won't throw it because winning illegally is contrary to my Christian principles." The recent success of the A's was hardly cause for joy in Kansas City, however. The team was doing its winning on the East Coast, and Owner Charles Finley said he would move the franchise to the West Coast. "Kansas City is great," he said, but he thinks Oakland has more potential and more money. This ignores the fact that in even richer Los Angeles the Angels are struggling to survive. The truth is Kansas City has been great to support, even half-heartedly, the inept A's all these years, and that Oakland has yet to support anything on its own but one end of the Bay Bridge.