Danny Cater, first baseman of the Oakland Athletics, won the batting title in the American League. Cater, a career .250 hitter prior to this season, upset the apple cart by stumping many experts who viewed the 28-year-old Texan as a figment of the box-score manufacturers. Whoever heard of a batting champ you’ve never heard of? Boston’s Carl Yastrzemski was the favorite, but Yaz finished third to Cater and Baltimore’s Don Buford, the only three .300 hitters in the junior circuit.
So who is Danny Cater? Oakland coach Joe DiMaggio (who knows a thing or two about hitting) observes approvingly that “he’s a swinger.” He means a bat swinger. Cater neither drinks nor smokes nor enjoys being away from his wife and three little girls, and for a long time he played The Sound of Music over and over again on his portable phonograph. DiMaggio, who also says Cater “gets good contact,” was referring to swinging away, which is looked upon more favorably these days than during some other periods of batting philosophy. Not only, as the sayings go, does Cater swing away, but he “Just Tries to Meet the Ball “and he “Goes with the Pitch”, admirable virtues, perhaps, but not moves that are going to make him a wildly acclaimed public figure. But now as a batting champ, Cater may be more recognizable walking down the street.
The odd thing is that Cater has found himself the subject of trade rumors this season, but Danny has a simple explanation. “I think he (A’s Owner Charlie Finley) is just trying to get out of paying me more money next year.” Cater credits the increase in average to using a heavier bat this season. He used a 36″ 36 oz. bat this season and put down the 34 1/2″ 32 oz. bat he previously used.
In the National League, the battle for the batting crown all season was between Cincinnati’s Pete Rose and Alex Johnson. With a little over a week to go in the season, Rose and Johnson were tied with a .320 average. Johnson maintains his pace as Rose slumped (7 for 43), and Atlanta’s Felipe Alou slipped past the Cincinnati pair at the finish wire. Alou batted .365 in the final seven games to raise his average six points to .323. Two seasons ago, Alou finished third in the batting race to brother Matty of the Pirates. This season, Matty finished tied for fifth with Rose. Eight NL batters hit above the .300 mark.
One of the pleasant surprises of the season was the resurgence of 37-year-old Ernie Banks of the Chicago Cubs who led the baseball with 43 home runs and led the National League with 110 RBI. Banks’ performance was instrumental in Durocher’s Cubs rising to a second place finish after being in the second division in the early months. Just a couple of seasons ago, many thought Banks’ career may be finished. In the American League, Washington’s Frank Howard earned the nickname of The Capital Punisher with a league-leading 41 clouts. Boston’s Ken Harrelson, a season from being discarded by Charlie Finley, led baseball with 118 RBI. In the stolen base department, Oakland’s Bert Campaneris led the AL with 60, and St. Louis’ Lou Brock was the NL swipe king with 53.