The calendar reveals the sun may have reached its’ apex in the sky, but in baseball, nothing is flying higher than the Birds of Baltimore. Earl Weaver’s bunch have hit the half-century mark in wins, and appear to have the American League Eastern Division, home of the two-time defending champion Detroit Tigers, well in hand. The Orioles were the last pennant winners before the Tigers, but they lost their way under Hank Bauer and were tripped up by injuries. But, former minor league skipper Earl Weaver stepped in last summer and has righted the Orioles’s ship. The Birds are once again doing it with pitching, tops in all of baseball with a team ERA of 2.34. Dave McNally (13-2; 1.58) has stepped up as team ace, and leads the majors in ERA and wins. Playing a not-to-shabby second fiddle to McNally is fellow southpaw Mike Cuellar (12-4; 1.98) who was brought over from Houston in the winter for former Rookie of the Year Curt Blefary. Paul Blair led the O’s offense out of the starting gates, earning April Player of the Month honors. Since then, the usual suspects of Frank Robinson (.265, 14 HR, 52 RBI) and Boog Powell (.289, 16 HR, 49 RBI) are carrying the load for Weaver’s troops.
Meanwhile in Detroit, the celebration over two world titles may have finally caught up with Mayo Smith’s team. Denny McLain (10-7; 2.85) and Mickey Lolich (5-1; 2.05) are still on their form, but the offense that led the league in the last two seasons has dropped. Al Kaline (.235), Mickey Stanley (.226), and Willie Horton (.220) are all off their mark. With a little more than three months to go, it will take a big bounce from these three key players to get the champs back into the playoff picture. Joining the Tigers in the fight for second are the Boston Red Sox and the resurgent New York Yankees. In Boston, the trio of Carl Yastrzemski (.290, 20 HR, 46 RBI), Reggie Smith (.349, 12 HR, 38 RBI) and Rico Petrocelli (.305, 18 HR, 38 RBI) are providing the spark missing in the Detroit, but on the other hand, only Ray Culp (9-5; 3.53) is proving to be a worthwhile moundsman. In the Bronx, the Bombers are back (somewhat) with a new crew led by Bobby Murcer (.294, 16 HR, 59 RBI), Roy White (.299, 7 HR, 36 RBI), and Frank Fernandez (.250, 9 HR, 20 RBI). In D.C., the hope inspired by Ted Williams has not panned out to date. The club is ten games under .500, but the fans are thrilled by the behemoth Frank Howard who leads all of baseball with 29 home runs. In Cleveland, it is quickly becoming a forgettable season as a trade for slugger Ken Harrelson made the headlines, but provided no bang in the box scores.
In the West, the Chicago White Sox surprised all by streaking ahead of the pack out of the starting gate. The Minnesota Twins overtook the Chisox on June 10th. Chicago, despite the sudden retirement of manager Al Lopez for health concerns, has stayed in contention thanks to rookie slugger and current batting leader Carlos May (.350, 10 HR, 43 RBI). Chicago has lost 9 of its’ last 12, but still remain within three games of the Twins. Rookie manager Billy Martin has settled into the reigns of the Minnesota machine. Harmon Killebrew (.295, 20 HR, 57 RBI) has bounced back nicely from the season-ending knee injury last year. Oakland was the scribes’ favorite foil for the Twins before the season began, but Hank Bauer can’t seem to get the A’s streaking. Rick Monday (.330, 7 HR, 31 RBI) is the most consistent hitter, and sophomore 3B Sal Bando (.295, 6 HR, 26 RBI) appears ready to contribute. Reggie Jackson (.243, 17 HR, 35 RBI) has hit 5 HR’s in the last week, and could be ready to lead Oakland to the next level.
Much wasn’t expected from the expansion clubs, Seattle and Kansas City, but both have outplayed the California Angels. Only bonus baby, Rick Reichardt (.29, 12 HR, 37 RBI) and Andy Messersmith (4-5, 1.99 ERA) have provided the highlights for the Halos’ this season. California was the second team to change manager as Bill RIgney, the club’s original skipper, was dismissed on May 27. Seattle and Kansas City each took different approches, and both are essentially at the same place at the beginning of summer. Seattle took veteran players, but is only 3 1/2 games ahead of the youthful Kansas City Royals. Mike Hegan (.348, 6 HR, 26 RBI) is the surprise in Seattle as he has contented early for the batting title. Tommy Harper is providing excitement on the base paths, leading baseball with 32 steals. In Kansas City, manager Joe Gordon is overseeing the development of former Pilot Lou Piniella (.299, 5 HR, 35 RBI) and Mike Fiore (.279, 6 HR, 23 RBI). The Royals are also developing some fine arms in 22-year-old Mike Hedlund (3-5, 2,96) and 23-year-old Dick Drago (6-5, 3.55).