With so many great pitchers posting miniscule ERAs throughout the 1960s, you might expect that finding 10 outstanding hitting performances during the 1960s might be a problem.
Some of the greatest hitters in the history of the game put their offensive prowess on display during the 1990s. And while batting averages as a whole couldn’t match the outrageous averages of the 1920s and 1930s, the decade’s batting champions as a group averaged a combined .332 (.340 for the National League hitting leaders), respectable enough for every decade except perhaps the 1920s, when the major league’s best hitters averaged a combined .392 for the decade.
All of which means that there were plenty of candidates for the top 10 hitting performances of the 1960s. The challenge was trimming the list to just 10. Hopefully, this list will re-kindle a few memories for you. Or, if the 1960s were before your time, this list might spur you to learn more about the hitters who rocked the 1960s.
There were plenty of great ones, such as:
1. Roger Maris hits 61 home runs. Roger Maris turned the baseball world upside down in 1961 when he broke the game’s most sacred record and, some believed, its most unbreakable: Babe Ruth’s single-season home run mark of 60 set in 1927. It was not only a great individual achievement for the Yankee right fielder, but it also elevated media focus on baseball and captured national attention in a way that dramatically expanded baseball’s fan base, in much the same way that Ruth had done in the 1920s. The 1961 home run derby was in many ways similar to the Mark McGwire/Sammy Sosa pursuit of the Maris record, especially in how the event again captivated more media attention and fan interest. But there was also a major difference between the Maris and McGwire/Sosa home run races. McGwire and Sosa passed the 60 home run mark with none of animosity that haunted Maris as he chased the ghost of the game’s greatest legend. They were celebrated for their achievements. Maris, for the most part, was emotionally destroyed for his accomplishment.
2. Frank Robinson wins the Triple Crown. When Frank Robinson was traded by the Cincinnati Reds following the 1965 season, the perennial All-Star was considered (by the Reds and much of the press) to be on the downside of his career. Robbie answered that criticism with a vengeance, dominating American League hitting throughout the 1966 season as he led the league in the Triple Crown categories (.316, 49 home runs, 122 RBIs) as well as in runs scored (122), total bases (367), on-base percentage (.410) and slugging percentage (.637) … and led the Baltimore Orioles to their first World Series championship, while becoming the first player to be named MVP in each league (he was National League MVP in 1961).
3. Roberto Clemente takes 4 batting titles. Roberto Clemente was the major leagues’ leading hitter for the 1960s, averaging a combined .328 for the decade and failing to hit .300 only during the 1968 season, when his average “plummeted” to .291. He was batting champion 4 times during the decade: in 1961 (.351), in 1964 (.339), in 1965 (.329) and in 1967 (.357). Ironically, Clemente’s only MVP came in 1966, when he finished fifth in the league in hitting with a .317 average. (That year, Clemente wasn’t even the best hitter on the team, as fellow Pirate Matty Alou won the batting title with a .342 average.) No one else in the 1960s won 4 batting crowns. (Carl Yastrzemski claimed 3 batting titles.)
4. Frank Howard strings together 6 consecutive home run games. By the end of the 1960s, Washington Senators outfielder Frank Howard was one of the game’s most feared power hitters. During the 1968 season, when most batters, especially American League batters, were struggling to post even average hitting numbers, Howard was tearing up American League pitching. He led the majors in home runs (44), slugging percentage (.552), and total bases (330), while his 106 RBIs were second to the 109 runs batted in by Ken Harrelson. During one 6-game streak in May of 1968, Howard blasted 10 home runs in 20 at-bats. His 10 home runs in 6 games are still a major league record.
5. Tony Oliva’s rookie season. No other rookie has been so dominant in so many hitting categories as Tony Oliva was during his debut season of 1964. The Minnesota Twins right fielder led the American League in 5 different offensive categories: hits (217), runs (109), doubles (43), total bases (374) and batting average (.323). It was the first of 3 batting titles he would claim during his career. Oliva was easily the American League Rookie of the Year, and finished fourth in Most Valuable Player balloting.
6. Willie Mays’ 4 home run game. Willie Mays’ entire career was loaded with highlights, both in the batter’s box and in the field. But Mays’ most dynamic game as a hitter came on April 30, 1961 in Milwaukee against the Braves. Facing Braves starter Lew Burdette with 2 out in the top of the first inning, Mays took a Burdette fast ball to deep centerfield to give the Giants a 1-0 lead. He was just getting started. In the top of the third inning, again against Burdette, Mays stroked a 2-run homer to left centerfield. After flying out to centerfield in the fifth inning, Mays hit a 3-run shot to left field in the sixth inning, this time against Seth Morehead. In his last at-bat in the eighth inning, Mays hit his fourth home run of the game, a 2-run drive to center off Don McMahon. The Giant won 14-4, with the 4 Mays home runs accounting for 8 of the Giants’ runs.
7. Jim Gentile’s consecutive grand slams. Only 12 major league batters have hit 2 grand slams in the same game, with only 2 having hit consecutive grand slammers. The first hitter to do it was Baltimore Orioles first baseman Jim Gentile on May 9, 1961 in Metropolitan Stadium against the hometown Twins. (The other player to do it was Robin Ventura in 1995.) Gentile his grand slams in the first and second innings, both off Twins starter Pedro Ramos. Gentile added a sacrifice fly in the eighth inning for a 9-RBI day in what would turn out to be a career season for him: a .302 batting average with 46 home runs and 141 RBIs.
8. Rocky Colavito goes 7-10 in a 22-inning game. Strong, talented and good looking, Rocky Colavito was a fan favorite wherever he played. While Colavito hit 4 home runs in a game in 1959, and hit 3 home runs in a game in both 1961 and 1962, his most remarkable hitting feat occurred on June 24, 1962 in Tiger Stadium. That day’s game between the New York Yankees and the Detroit Tigers took 22 innings to complete, with the Yankees prevailing 9-7. Playing the entire game as the Tigers’ right fielder, Colavito came to the plate 11 times. He walked once, and in 10 official at-bats, Colavito had a triple and 6 singles. His 2-out RBI single in the sixth inning tied the score at 7-7, and his 7 hits were the most in a single game during the 1960s.
9. Carl Yastrzemski’s ’67 stretch run. He won 3 batting titles during the 1960s, and he was major league baseball’s last Triple Crown winner in 1967. But Carl Yastrzemski’s most outstanding hitting performance came in the waning days of the 1967 season. With the Red Sox locked in a 3-way pennant fight with the Tigers and Twins until the last day of the season, Yastrzemski almost single-handedly drove Boston to the American League championship. Over the last 12 games of the season, Yaz was a terror at the plate, hitting .523 with 5 home runs, 16 RBI and 14 runs scored. In the season-ending 2-game showdown with the Twins, Yastrzemski went 7-8 with 6 RBIs as Boston won both games and the pennant.
10. Norm Cash’s 1961 batting title. Though he was one of the most consistent sluggers during the 1960s, 1961 was the only season when Norm Cash led the league in anything, and what he led were the league’s hitters. Cash’s .361 average was the highest single-season mark for the decade. (Second highest: Roberto Clemente’s .357 in 1967.) Cash also led the league in hits (193) and on-base percentage (.487).