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A major league baseball season spans almost half a year, boiling up from the South in the crisp mid-April days and disappearing in the October flash of a World Series. Along the 154-game road, however, the fan finds a few convenient stopping places, occasions when he can examine one part of the season as an entity all its own, reevaluate the teams which might still win the pennant and savor the surprises anew.
One such, of course, is the traditional midway point, the All-Star Game, which follows on the heels of the Fourth of July. Another—and the last—is the big Labor Day weekend. But the very first opportunity comes after the six opening weeks of the season. It is then, when a scattering of second-division clubs are already thinking of next year, that the others begin to come sharply into focus. What, then, in 1957, did the major league contenders look like after Memorial Day?
CHICAGO WHITE SOX . Preseason choice: fourth (pennant odds 4� to 1). On Memorial Day: first (odds 2 to 1).
Chicago leads the American League not because the Yankees are really slumping but because the White Sox have won seven out of every 10 games they have played. The pitching has been brilliant, with Billy Pierce, the major league leader in victories (eight), Jim Wilson and Dick Donovan backed up by rookie Bill Fischer, Jack Harsh-man and a good relief staff. Defensively, no team in baseball is any tighter; offensively, no team in years has so harried the opposition with its speed and daring on the bases. The one weak spot: hitting (only Fox over .300). The solution: a hero a day (first Lollar or Doby or Landis or Minoso will get hot and pick up the club, then it will be Aparicio or Phillips or Dropo or Rivera). The result: the Sox, with their pitching and defense and speed, have been getting enough runs to win. The hitting should definitely improve, and Al Lopez hopes to avert the famous Chicago "June swoon" with a program of occasional rest for his regulars. The big question is whether the pitching can stand up. At any rate, the White Sox are the team to catch.
NEW YORK YANKEES . Preseason choice: first (pennant odds 2 to 5). On Memorial Day: second (odds 2 to 1).
Any other team playing at a .605 pace would consider itself to be in pretty good shape. But last year at this time the Yankees were six games ahead of the pack, and this is the sort of thing that was expected of them again. They have the best pitching in the league outside of Chicago's (a team earned run average of 2.91), with a revived Bobby Shantz taking up the slack left by an ailing Whitey Ford. They still have Mickey Mantle (.365, 10 home runs, 24 runs batted in), steady, versatile Gil McDougald and that famous Yankee bench. Yet they are second instead of first. The reason: Yogi Berra, their big man in the clutch, is hitting only .217. There has also been a recent, un Yankeelike development: they drop baseballs. The fielding has at times been so inept that the sound of Yankees colliding under pop flies threatens to drown out the boos. Yet no one expects Berra's slump to last all year or such a solid team to continue beating itself. By the Fourth of July the rest of the league may have wished it had kicked them harder while they were down.
CLEVELAND INDIANS . Preseason choice: third (pennant odds 4 to 1). On Memorial Day: third (odds 6 to 1).
The most injury-plagued team in all baseball (the hospital list of the first six weeks: 20-game winners Herb Score and Bob Lemon, rookie star Roger Maris, and—less seriously—slugger Vic Wertz, pitcher Mike Garcia, relief ace Don Mossi and rookie Larry Raines), the Indians have survived through the rehabilitation of several veterans and the almost limitless depth of the great pitching staff. Manager Kerby Farrell has got real mileage out of Gene Wood-ling, George Strickland, Chico Carrasquel and Jim Busby and rebuilt his staff around old Early Wynn, promising rookie Bud Daley and the sparkling relief work of Ray Narleski, Mossi and Cal McLish. Wertz, playing despite injuries, and Rocco Colavito have supplied most of the punch, with occasional help from those not attending sick call that day. Considering that Al Smith has not really begun to hit up to his capabilities, it is quite possible that Cleveland, if it can continue to hang on while convalescing, is going to be real murder the rest of the way.
DETROIT TIGERS . Preseason choice: second (pennant odds 4 to 1). On Memorial Day: fourth (odds 7 to 1).
The averages for most of the first six weeks showed the Tigers to be the best-hitting team in the league. The standings show something else. This disparity arises from the fact that Detroit is not getting the big hits. Kuenn, Ka-line, Boone and Maxwell are far below their 1956 pace, while Reno Bertoia carries the team—rather lightly—at the plate. It is the same with the pitching: Frank Lary, who won 21 games last year, and Billy Hoeft, who won 20, have accounted for a total of three victories. The pitching has been done by sensational Duke Maas (his 6-2 record includes five low-hit games), Paul Foytack and Jim Bunning. But Manager Jack Tighe has some consoling thoughts: Lary has run into bad luck, Hoeft has now recovered from a sore shoulder and Kuenn, Kaline and Co. are just naturally better hitters than they have shown. If they are not, it is too bad; the Tigers can't match the Yankees or Indians or even the White Sox in replacements. They must win with what they have on the field.