The weather was chilly this spring but the baseball was oh-so-hot. The Oakland A's and the San Francisco Giants, surprising triumphs of teamwork, snatched their division leads and raced off like rocket-powered thieves. Even more striking was the abundance of individual hot hands—the rush of imagination-grabbing whiz kids, the emergence of hitherto swaddled talents and the heady flowering of established heroes. Maybe the player pool, diluted by expansion in recent years, has finally broken down into two groups, stars and victims for the stars to thrive upon. Whatever the reason, the top hitters and pitchers are setting blistering paces, with numbers like .400 and 10-1 and eight straight becoming commonplace. The most incandescent of these flashy figures is Oakland smoke-thrower Vida Blue (see cover), who has won 10 complete games while losing one, has pitched five shutouts and has struck out roughly nine men per earned run. "When the ball is about to be released," says one awed player, "Vida gives it that 'pop.' " As the following pages show, there are hot-poppers everywhere.
Catfish Hunter o. the A's has won eight straight. St. Louis' LOU BROCK has been a batting leader from the start, while stealing 17 bases. SONNY SIEBERT (8-0) is Boston's stopper nonpareil, aided by the hitting and handling of DUANE JOSEPHSON. The Dodgers' WILLIE DAVIS, keeping his hat on despite baseball's bushiest Afro, is batting .386.
Rusty Staub repairs to a room with a punching bag to let off steam after a bad day, but most days he drives Montreal fans wild.
Ralph Garr, Atlanta's certain write-in All-Star candidate, bids fair to become the best bunt-single hitter since the days of Ty Cobb.
Tom Bradley had never opened a year in the majors until 1971. Even so, he has gone 5-2 with the White Sox, thanks to a low 1.26 ERA.
Willie Stargell's restaurant in Pittsburgh's Hill section treats the house to fried chicken when Willie homers. It gets expensive.
Bobby Murcer has had trouble following in the wake of Mantle. If he keeps hitting .370 he may have trouble following in his own.
Henry Aaron takes second, and in the background, say the Braves, is the world's largest calliope. But Aaron is bigger than that.
Tony Oliva (top left) of the Twins has been lifting his left heel as he swings and lifting his lifetime average of .311. The Cubs' FERGUSON JENKINS is on his way to a fifth straight 20-game year, and fine defensive Shortstop BUD HARRELSON of New York has emerged as a dashing .300 hitter. Pitching leaders (from left) JUAN MARICHAL, GAYLORD PERRY and JERRY JOHNSON have helped the Giants to a surprising May lead.