Ed Charles, the third baseman of the Kansas City Athletics and no relation either to Shakespeare or to Cassius Clay, likes to write poetry to pass the time. Here is the opening stanza of a poem he wrote last week:
A month of play has passed away,
And the critics' predictions are beginning to sway.
For we A's, picked for ninth place,
Stand proudly amidst the pennant race.
Yes, there they were, the Kansas City Athletics, dressed in their bizarre green-and-gold uniforms, shoulder to shoulder with the Yankees, the Orioles and the White Sox. The Athletics have finished at or near the bottom of the American League ever since they moved from Philadelphia in 1955, and generally they have managed to hit bottom quickly. This year, as Ed Charles points out, the A's were picked to finish ninth, more or less, and while they may yet wind up in that vicinity they are at least taking their time.
The Athletics began the season normally enough, losing two games to the Yankees, but after winning 13 of the next 18 games they found themselves, to their own surprise, leading the league. Scheduled to play three games with second-place Boston in early May, Kansas City faced for the first time what might be called, if only jokingly, a crucial series. When the Athletics won two games of the series to lead the league by a game and a half, The Kansas City Times pointed out with jubilation that this was the latest date in any season that the A's had occupied first place. When, last week, the A's lost three games to the White Sox and fell out of first place, a headline mourned: CHICAGO ENDS A'S REIGN.
Despite the slump, Manager Eddie Lopat is delighted with the overall performance of the team. This is Lopat's first season as manager, and he looks little different than a decade ago when he was winning important games for the Yankees. His hair is still yellow, his eyes cool blue. He is a bit plump now, but then he was a bit plump as a pitcher, too. As a manager he has shown a calm, steady manner, although, as one of his players points out, you can't really tell about a manager until the going gets rough. That time will come.
Lopat is a great student of pitching and he takes pride in mentioning that he taught Whitey Ford the ropes. The Athletics' pitching staff was the worst in the American League last year—when Lopat was the pitching coach—but this season it has been largely responsible for the team's fast opening pace. Orlando Pena won four games in a row while Ed Rakow has contributed a two-hitter, a four-hitter and a five-hitter. Bill Fischer has won five games in relief.
What distresses Lopat is that the hitting has been so terrible when last year it was so good. Norm Siebern, the best hitter on the team, is in a slump and he has kept his pretty wife awake at night discussing theories on what could be wrong. Jerry Lumpe is in a slump, too. There are several others. Fortunately for Kansas City, however, two players are not in slumps. One is Ed Charles, the poet-third baseman who has a habit of driving in winning runs. The other is Wayne Causey, a pleasant, friendly fellow who until recently never had any difficulty leaving a ball park unnoticed. Causey, at 26, is a veteran utility man, or at least he was. "I didn't see how I could beat out Charles at third, Howser at short or Lumpe at second," Causey said the other day. "I told myself I was lucky just being in the majors."
Causey spent most of the first two weeks of the season on the bench. Then Dick Howser, the shortstop, got hurt. Causey took over and hit a triple, a double and two singles as the Athletics overcame a 5-0 Detroit lead to win 6-5. By the end of the week Causey was hitting .400. He has stayed there, or approximately there, ever since and poor Dick Howser, well again, has stayed on the bench.
Causey can offer no logical explanation for his sudden resemblance to Honus Wagner. He has neither gained nor lost weight since last season. His batting stance is the same, left-handed, orthodox. He feels no tremendous surge of confidence; he is, in fact, quite willing to admit that he is hitting well over his head. He is using a different bat, Teammate Jose Tartabull's, a fact that may satisfy those who insist upon a reason. "Whatever it is," Bobby Del Greco tells Causey, "I wish you'd stop. You're embarrassing the whole league."
Wayne Causey has two distinct personalities. The more obvious one is the small-town Louisiana boy who came to the major leagues at 18 and amused his teammates by asking them if they wanted "to chunk the ball around." Causey is a Baptist. He doesn't drink, smoke or swear. When he accepted a bonus to play with Baltimore in 1955, he donated part of the money to his church. Every day he reads the Bible to his wife and two young children. He would like to speak in behalf of his church, the way Bobby Richardson does, but he is too shy.