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Backing the New York Yankees, they used to say, was like backing U.S. Steel, and after last week, there is no reason to change your mind. It will go to the wire, but if the better-balanced Detroit Tigers can find a reliable fourth starter, the World Champions' current monopoly will be busted.
Yeah I know. The Yankees are great. But, I insist Detroit is a better-balanced team and can and will win the pennant. Last year under A.L. Manager of the Year Bob Scheffing, the rejuvenated Tigers, came out of nowhere to dog the Yankees until September.
The Yankees' sensational fall achievements, a 13-game winning streak, Roger Maris' records, and the demolition of the Reds in the Series, obscured the Tigers' own striking success. A rookie manager had brought a hodge-podge of rookies and has-beens up from the second division to a contending position, astonishing the league with his team's ability to stick.
The Tigers will continue to stick. They led the league with a team batting average of .266, scored the most runs, led the league in triples and were runner-ups to one team or another in hits, extra-base hits, total bases, RBI's, and stolen bases. While rookie second-baseman Jake Wood set a major-league record for strikeouts, (and led the league in triples), Norm Cash won the batting championship with a 37-point spread over the official runner-up, teammate, Al Kaline (.361 to .324).
Cash blasted 41 HR's, knocked in 132 runs, and ran second to Mantle with a slugging average of 662. Sports Illustrated demonstrates that "Stormin' Norman" led the league in both the number and percentage of times he reached base. Undoubtedly Cash was the league's best all-round hitter last year.
With Cash at first, the Tiger infield is clearly better than a Kubek-less Yankee infield. Sophomores Wood (.258, 308B's) and Steve Boros (.270) at second and third are sure fielders and developing hitters. At short, off-again-on-again Chico Fernandez had a fine spring.
Behind the plate the Yanks' .348-hitter Elston Howard is one of the league's best receivers, but Detriot's Dick Brown and Mike Roarke are both loaded with promise.
Both outfields are extremely strong and Detroit is by no means at a disadvantage. Rocky Colavito (.290, 45 HR's, 140 RBI's) has as much sheer power as anyone in the league. Fleet Billy Burton (.257, 22 SB's) remains near the top in a league of brilliant defensive center-fielders. Kaline in right hit .325 last year and led the league in doubles (41).
Despite having three of the best pitchers in baseball, Tigers may not have good pitching. Frank Lary (23-9 and 22 complete games) is the best right-hander around, and Jim Bunning (17-11) and Don Mossi (15-9) pitched 268 and 240 innings with ERA's of 3.19 and 2.96. The Tigers have excellent relievers in Terry Fox and Hank Aguirre, but they still need to make either Phil Regan or Ron Kline into a reliable fourth starter.
The Yankees have an edge on the mound--unless Luis Arroyo falls apart. Whitey Ford (25-4) is currently the greatest "money" pitcher going, and Ralph Terry (16-3), Bill Stafford (14-8), Jim Coates (11-5), and Roland Sheldon (11-5) comprise the longest and most effective rotation in baseball.
Despite Yankee superiority here and on the bench, Detroit will win. The team is young, fast, and tough, with the best all around offense in the league, a fine defense, and three superb pitchers. The Tigers can be confident: after all, they are a baseball team, not a publicity stunt.
Others will run: 3. Chicago, 4. Baltimore, 5. Minnesota, 6. Boston, 7. Cleveland, 8. Los Angeles, 9. Washington, 10 Kansas City.
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