Here was a team with four solid .300 hitters, two solid 20-game winners and a galaxy of less-publicized but highly capable players. The only common criticism leveled at the Tigers was that they tended to be a lethargic team. Detroit front-office officials moved to remedy this one flaw. They dismissed easy-going Bucky Harris as manager, hired in his place the little-known but dynamic Jack Tighe and sat back to enjoy the season.
Nothing happened, except trouble. The Tigers started out poorly and wallowed along in the middle of the standings until June. Then they won five straight victories and moved into third, 5� games behind the league leaders. But they promptly lost 10 of their next 13 to subside into their cozy, familiar .500 neighborhood. Throughout July they stumbled along, and on August 2, after 100 games, they were still at .500, with 50 won, 50 lost.
Bravely, the Detroit front office waved a cheerful flag. They remarked that though the 1957 Tigers seemed disappointing, it should be remembered that in 1956 after 100 games the Tigers were 10 games under .500. Another garrison finish like last year's would move Detroit well up into the first division. Buoyed up by this display of confidence, the Tigers promptly lost five of their next six games and fell into sixth place.
The question persists: What's wrong with the Tigers?
The answer lies in the fact that the four "solid .300 hitters" are all batting under .300, from 30 to 80 points under last year's averages. The two "solid 20-game winners" had won only seven games between them with two-thirds of the season gone—but despite their failure Detroit's pitching has actually been the salvation of the team. Paul Foytack, Jim Bunning and Duke Maas have picked up most of the slack left by Lary and Hoeft and the staff has allowed far fewer runs this year than last.
No, the blame lies not on arms but on bats. The woeful decline in hitting, and specifically power hitting (with two-thirds of the season gone, for example, Slugger Al Kaline had hit only six home runs), is reflected in the number of runs scored. Last season only the World Champion Yankees scored more runs than Detroit. This year only the eighth-place Kansas City Athletics have scored fewer.
Why aren't the hitters hitting? Well, injuries have admittedly hampered Boone and Maxwell (who has been the only consistent home run threat), but the minor hurts nagging at Kuenn and Kaline are not enough in themselves to explain their decline. Some say Kaline has been trying to pull every pitch into the left field seats. Knowing this, the pitchers keep the ball outside where it's impossible for Kaline (whose forte is Musial-like grace rather than Kluszewski-like muscle) to pull. As a result, he pops up harmlessly to the outfield. Others, however, insist Kaline has become too concerned with avoiding strikeouts and has cut down on his power in order to "protect" the plate. The statistics seem to bear this out. Kaline's strikeout rate is half what it was last year, but as a result he is getting far fewer bases on balls and, naturally, very few long run-scoring hits.
Harvey Kuenn's trouble is different, say the diagnosticians. They hold that Harvey was deluded by the 12 home runs he hit last year, the first time in his career he reached double figures in homers. Of course, this was only four homers more than his previous one-season high of eight, but it sounded like a good deal more and got Harvey to thinking that he could hit even more home runs if he swung just a bit harder. Result: he no longer meets the ball with that clean, flat, vicious swing that sent line drives crackling to all fields. Now, as the pitcher throws, Kuenn takes a little extra hitch to get more power; in doing so he throws his timing off and fails to meet the ball cleanly.
Whatever the reasons, the fact remains: the Tigers aren't hitting. They aren't scoring runs. They aren't winning. And Detroit isn't at all happy about it.
What's the remedy? Since time immemorial baseball owners have taken the easy way out in times of duress and have fired the manager. Why the manager? Because he is publicized as the leader of the team. If the team fails, it must be the manager's fault. Any fan can tell you that.