This personable, 37-year-old Cardinal demigod ranks among greatest National League hitters of all time, has sights set on eighth batting championship which would tie Honus Wagner's league record. Best year was 1948 (.376), won last year with .351. Had tremendous start this spring, was up around .500 until he gained 3,000th major league hit in May, then slowed down. Always hits very well in September, has been resting frequently this year for first time in long career, but is now suffering from leg injury which may hurt his chances. Even healthy, lacks great speed of other three, makes up for it with perhaps sharpest eyes in all baseball, marvelous timing, willingness and ability to sacrifice his famed power for sharp line drives to all fields.
Perhaps the finest natural hitter in the game today, the lithe, young (24) Braves outfielder with the vicious, wrist-popping swing has already won one batting championship, seems to improve every year. Still apparently far from his peak, the .313 lifetime average (four seasons) and single-season high of .328 in 1956 hardly seem to represent his true potential. Off to a miserable start this year, he was hitting only .263 on June 20. Then, almost unnoticed, he began to move up and suddenly, on Labor Day, there he was in the .330s. A notorious bad-ball hitter, less steady than Musial or Ashburn—he occasionally has a bad slump—he is also subject to sizzling streaks which could, in a matter of two or three days, put him well out ahead of the pack.
Batting champ in 1955 (.338) and runner-up to Musial in '51 (.344), the blond center fielder of the Phillies enters the final weeks of his 11th big league season with an awful lot on his side. An entirely different type of batsman than the power-hitting Musial, Aaron and Mays, he is a craftsman at the plate, a master of finesse, punching a double down the left field line from his choked-up, left-handed stance, looping a single into short right field, beating out a bunt with his quick getaway and furious speed. Cool and a tough competitor, he seldom strikes out, swings at few bad pitches, is less likely to plunge into a ruinous slump. On the other hand, Ashburn is not a good bet for one of those 5-for-5 days which the other three occasionally provide.
The most exciting—and quite likely the best all-round—player in either league, it is an indication of his vast talents that Giant fans can look at Mays' .330-plus average and say that he is having a bad year. Well over .400 and in hot pursuit of Musial early in the season, he slumped along with Stan, has only recently begun to hit the ball hard again. Because the muscular young Giant center fielder has had his slump, and because he is capable of such tremendous batting streaks—even more spectacular than Aaron's—Mays is in good shape to win his second championship. And while all four contenders are exceptional September hitters, records of the past four years prove that Willie is the best of all: .363 to Aaron's .353, Ashburn's .342 and Musial's .340.