The Mark of a Master

 

The Glove Club: Mark Belanger

By all human logic, it would seem to be impossible to stand out as a defensive player in an infield that featured the greatest defensive third baseman who ever played the game. But Mark Belanger did. He joined the Baltimore Orioles infield in 1967, and spent most of his major league career playing shortstop beside the incomparable Brooks Robinson.

But stand out, Belanger did. The rail-thin shortstop had great range, a great arm and a black glove that sucked up horsehide like a dog gobbling popcorn kernels. Robinson and Belanger made the left side of the Orioles’ infield virtually impenetrable.

Mark Belanger won his first Gold Glove in 1969. He would win seven more during the 1970s.

Belanger stepped into the shortstop position replacing Luis Aparicio, a seven-time Gold Glover in his own right, who was traded back to the Chicago White Sox after the 1967 season. As great as Aparicio was in the field, no one asked why the Orioles replaced him with Belanger.

Belanger’s hitting isn’t what kept him in the lineup. And he was no Aparicio at the plate. In 17 seasons with the Orioles, Belanger batted .227. He hit better than .230 only three times.

But Belanger didn’t have to hit. He saved runs, snared potential hits and killed rallies. Between 1969 and 1978, he won eight Gold Gloves, and led American League shortstops in assists and fielding percentage three times each. He finished his career with a .977 fielding percentage, the highest ever for an American League shortstop.

 

 

 

Monbo A-Go-Go

 

 

Glancing Back, and Remembering Bill Monbouquette

Bill Monbouquette was clearly the best starting pitcher in the Boston Red Sox rotation when the Red Sox were at their worst: during the first half of the 1960s. Then, as Red Sox fortunes turned suddenly to produce a pennant in 1967, Monbouquette had faded into the pitched-out twilight of his too-brief career, and had moved on to other teams.

Bill Monbouquette’s best major league season came in 1963. He was 20-10 for a Red Sox team that finished seventh in the league.

A Medford, Massachusetts native, the local boy signed with the Red Sox in 1955 and made his first big league appearance in 1958. He went 7-7 for the Red Sox in 1959, starting in half of his 34 appearances.

By 1960, Monbouquette was a regular in Boston’s starting rotation, going 14-11 with a 3.64 ERA. His 14 victories were second-highest on the Red Sox staff (to Don Schwall’s 15-7 record). Monbouquette led the team in games started (32), innings pitched (236.1) and strikeouts (161). In 1961 and 1962, he won 14 and 15 games, respectively. He pitched four shutouts in 1962 and posted a 3.33 ERA, his best in Boston.

Bill Monbouquette pitched a no-hitter against the Chicago White Sox on August 1, 1962. He was 15-13 that season with a 3.33.ERA.

In 1963, Monbouquette emerged as the undisputed ace of the Boston staff. That season he went 20-10 with a 3.81 ERA. He recorded career highs in innings pitched (266.2) and strikeouts (174). It was his last winning season in Boston. His record fell to 13-14 in 1964 and to 10-18 in 1965. His 18 losses were the most by any American League pitcher that season, and were “earned” despite a very respectable 3.70 ERA. Following the 1965 season, the Red Sox traded Monbouquette to the Detroit Tigers for George Smith and George Thomas.

Monbouquette had little left for the Tigers, and struggled through a 7-8 season in 1966 that produced a 4.73 ERA. He split the 1967 season between the Tigers and the New York Yankees, going 6-5 with a 2.33 ERA. The 1968 season would be his last, divided between the Yankees and the San Francisco Giants. Monbouquette went 5-8 with a combined 4.35 ERA.

Monbouquette pitched for 11 seasons in the major leagues, compiling a record of 114-111. He was a three-time member of the American League All-Star team. He pitched a no-hitter against the Chicago White Sox in 1962.

 

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Senator Teddy

 

This Week in 1960s Baseball

(February 21, 1969) After nearly a decade out of organized baseball, Hall of Famer Ted Williams was today named manager of the Washington Senators.

In his first season as manager, Ted Williams guided the Washington Senators to an 86-76 record in 1969 – the first winning season for the franchise.

Williams became the fifth manager in the history of the expansion franchise. He replaced Jim Lemon, who guided the Senators to a 65-96 finish in 1968, his only season at the helm.

For Williams, it was his first managing assignment at any level of organized ball.

Williams played his entire 21-season major league career with the Boston Red Sox. He was a two-time American League Most Valuable Player, a six-time AL batting champion, and won the Triple Crown twice. He remains the last major league batter to hit .400 in a season, batting .406 for the Red Sox in 1941. He retired from baseball following the 1960 season.

The Washington Senators had never experienced a winning season until Williams arrived. He led the Senators to an 86-76 record in his maiden campaign. It would be the team’s last winning season under Williams, and the team’s only winning season in Washington. The Senators moved to Texas to become the Rangers in 1972, Williams’ last season as the team’s manager, and his last season in baseball.

The Wallop Wonder

 

Homer Happy: Eddie Mathews

Eddie Mathews’ 17-year major league career was full of home runs – 512 to be exact. And while the bulk of his career-long power display took place during the 1950s, Mathews still wielded a dangerous bat in the high-powered Milwaukee Braves offense during the 1960s.

From 1953-1961, no other third baseman could match Eddie Mathews for offensive fireworks. During that period, Mathews batted a combined .288 with a .558 slugging percentage. He averaged 38 home runs with 104 runs batted in, and scored at a clip of 106 runs per season.

Nobody associated Mathews with “cheap” home runs. He was a strong man who swung hard. But Mathews’ hitting power was generated from his wrists and with a swing that was uncommonly fluid for a power hitter. And while Mathews had his share of strikeouts (he still ranks #61 all time), he led the National League four times in bases on balls and retired with a .271 batting average.

Mathews was signed by the Boston Braves in 1949. He needed only three seasons of minor league seasoning before taking over third base for the Braves.

His rookie season was 1952 – the Braves’ last season in Boston. Mathews batted .242 as a rookie, with 25 home runs (tying him for fourth most in the National League) and 58 runs batted in. He led the league in strikeouts. It was the only time in his career that he would do so.

In 1953, the Braves were playing their home games in Milwaukee, and Mathews was the National League home run champion that season with 47. He drove in 137 runs, scored 110 runs, and batted .302. He would hit at least 40 home runs and drive in more than 100 runs in each of the next two seasons. Mathews led the league in home runs again with 46 in 1959.

During the 1950s, Mathews averaged 37 home runs and 97 RBIs per season. He also averaged more than 100 runs scored per season.

Mathews picked up in the 1960s where he left off from the 1950s. He had an outstanding season in 1960, batting .277 with 39 home runs and 124 RBIs. He hit 32 home runs in 1961, and then didn’t crack the 30-home run mark again until 1965, when he hit 32 home runs with 95 RBIs. From 1961 through 1965, Mathews averaged 28 home runs and 87 RBIs per season.

Eddie Mathews hit 40 or more home runs in four different seasons, leading the National League in 1953 and 1959.

Mathews was the only member of the Braves team to play in Boston, Milwaukee and Atlanta. The Braves’ first season in Atlanta was Mathews’ last with the team. He batted .251 with 16 home runs and 53 RBIs.

In December, the Braves traded their future Hal of Famer to the Houston Astros. Mathews hit ten home runs for the Astros – including his 500th career home run – before being traded to the Detroit Tigers. He served primarily in a pinch-hit role with the Tigers and retired after the 1968 season.

Mathews finished with a .271 batting average on 2,315 hits. He amassed 512 home runs in 17 major league seasons with 1,453 RBIs (currently fifty-ninth all time). Mathews ranked in the top ten in home runs 12 times during his career, and finished among the top ten in RBIs 12 times. He was an All-Star nine times.

Eddie Mathews was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1978.

Gunning Down Batters

 

Glancing Back, and Remembering Tommie Sisk

Tommie Sisk signed with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1960. He won 14 games in the Pirates’ minor league system in 1961, and won 10 in 1962 when he was called up to the Pirates. After being rocked by the lowly New York Mets in his major league debut, Sisk settled down as a rookie reliever in 1963, going 1-3 with a 2.92 ERA in 57 appearances.

Tommie Sisk’s best season with the Pittsburgh Pirates came in 1967. He was 13-13 with a 3.34 ERA. He led the team in innings pitched (207.2), shutouts (two) and complete games (11).

Sisk struggled in 1964, going 1-4 with a 6.16 earned run average, but rebounded in 1965 with a 7-3 record and a 3.40 ERA.

By 1966, Sisk was being used more as a starter than as a reliever. He thrived in that role. He was 10-5 in 1966 and in 1967 he was 13-13, second on the team in wins (to Bob Veale) and the team leader in innings pitched (207.2), shutouts (two) and complete games (11). His 3.34 ERA was best among the Pirates’ starters.

In 1968 the Pirates added Jim Bunning and moved Al McBean out of the bullpen and into the starting rotation, pushing Sisk back into the relief corps (though he did manage to get 11 spot starts). He responded by going 5-5 with a 3.28 ERA.

In March of 1969, Sisk was traded with Chris Cannizzaro to the San Diego Padres for Ron Davis and Bobby Klaus. He was 2-13 for the Padres with a 4.78 ERA, and after one season was dealt to the Chicago White Sox. He appeared in 17 games for Chicago, going 1-1 with a 5.40 ERA, before retiring at age 28. One day after retiring, he was traded to the Cleveland Indians, but never played for the Tribe.

Sisk was 40-49 in his nine-year major league career with a 3.92 ERA.

 

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A Pain in the Hall of Fame

 

 

This Week In 1960s Baseball

(February 17, 1964) The Baseball Hall of Fame today announced that shortstop Luke Appling had been elected for enshrinement.

In 20 major league seasons, shortstop Luke Appling batted .310. He won the American League batting championship in 1936 and 1943.

Nicknamed “Old Aches and Pains,” Appling was the first shortstop to win the American League batting title when he hit .388 in 1936. He also batted in 124 runs and scored 111 that season. Appling won a second batting championship in 1943.

During his two decades in the major leagues, all with the Chicago White Sox, Appling batted .310. His nickname came from his White Sox teammates as a result of his perpetual complaining about minor ailments.

Tough Pitcher, Tough Breaks.

 

Oh, What a Relief: Jim Coates

In both starting and relieving roles, Jim Coates was a critical component in the New York Yankees’ pitching success from 1960 to 1962. Effective in both roles, he wasn’t afraid of pitching tight to batters. And he was tough in the face of adversity, on the mound and in his career.

Jim Coates saw duty as a starter and reliever for the 1960 New York Yankees. He was effective in both roles, going 13-3 with a league-best .813 winning percentage.

Coates was signed by the Yankees in 1951 and spent six seasons in the Yankees’ farm system. He won 14 games in the minors in 1955, and made his major league debut in 1956, only to suffer what could have been a career-ending fracture in his right arm. He recovered, though the injury sidelined him for the rest of that season. Coates won 14 games again in the minors in 1957, and made the Yankees roster to stay in 1959, going 6-1 with a 2.87 ERA as a reliever.

Valuable as both a starter and a reliever, Coates served in both roles for the Yankees over the next three seasons. He was 13-3 in 1960, leading the American League with an .813 winning percentage. He was 11-5 in 1961 and 7-6 with six saves in 1962.

Just after the beginning of the 1963 season, Coates was traded to the Washington Senators for pitcher Steve Hamilton. In 20 appearances with the Senators, he was 2-4 with a 5.28 ERA. In July of that same season, he was purchased by the Cincinnati Reds. He appeared in only nine games with the Reds, and then was optioned to AAA San Diego, where he finished the 1963 season.

Coates was traded to the California Angels in 1965, and spent three years shuttling between the Angels and their AAA affiliate at Seattle. He appeared in only 51 games for the Angels over those three seasons, going 4-3 with a combined 4.02 ERA. He spent most of those years in the minors, winning 17 games for Seattle in 1967. He pitched for Hawaii in the Pacific Coast League in 1969 and 1970, but never made it back to the major leagues. He retired in 1970.

In nine big league seasons, Coates compiled a 43-22 record with a career earned run average of 4.00. He was a member of the American League All-Star team in 1960.

Strong in the Middle

 

Glancing Back, and Remembering Jose Santiago

Jose Santiago played a major role in the return to prominence by the Boston Red Sox in 1967. The right-handed Santiago was effective as both a starter and a reliever, leading the American League in winning percentage in 1967.

Jose Santiago (30) was the starter and loser of the first game of the 1967 World Series. His solo home run off Bob Gibson was the Red Sox lone score in a 2-1 loss.

Santiago was signed by the Kansas City Athletics in 1959 and made his debut with the A’s in 1963, picking up a relief victory in his first major league appearance. He was 0-6 for the A’s in 1964, working primarily out of the Kansas City bullpen. He spent nearly all of the 1965 season back in the minor leagues, and then got his career break when the Red Sox purchased his contract prior to the 1966 season. Santiago made 28 starts for Boston in 1966 (with seven relief appearances), going 12-13 with a 3.66 ERA.

Jose Santiago was an important part of the Boston Red Sox pitching staff when the team won the 1967 American League pennant. Santiago was 12-4 with a 3.59 ERA and five saves. He led AL pitchers with a .750 winning percentage.

His best season came in 1967. Again splitting his appearances between the starting rotation and middle relief, Santiago was 12-4 with a 3.59 earned run average. He was particularly effective down the stretch, going 8-0 after July 5. He was 5-0 in September with a 2.83 ERA and posted two complete games in three September starts.

Santiago pitched the opening game of the 1967 World Series, losing 2-1 to a Bob Gibson six-hitter. In his first World Series at-bat, Santiago hit a solo home run off Gibson for Boston’s only run that day. For the Series, Santiago was 0-2 with a 5.59 ERA.

Santiago worked strictly as a starter in 1968, going 9-4 with a 2.25 ERA by the All-Star break. He was named to the American League All-Star team, but an elbow injury kept him from playing – and effectively wiped out the rest of that season and, ultimately, his major league career. He appeared in only 10 games in 1969 and eight more in 1970, with rehab stints in the minor leagues both seasons. But Santiago did not pitch again in the major leagues after July 1970. He retired with a 34-29 record and a 3.74 career ERA.

 

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Can’t Miss Out

 

Glancing Back, and Remembering Hank Aguirre

He is, perhaps, the one player who would have benefited most from the designated hitter rule had it been in effect in the 1960s.

As things were back then, every pitcher had to fend for himself, including Hank Aguirre, an All-Star left-handed starter-reliever who was effective on the mound but mostly clueless in the batter’s box.

In his first season as a full-time starter, Hank Aguirre led the American League with a 2.21 ERA in 1962.

Aguirre started his career in organized baseball in the Cleveland Indians organization, with three-plus minor league seasons before he was promoted to the Tribe’s roster at the end of 1955. In four appearances, he was 2-0 with a 1.42 ERA and a shutout in his only start. Over the next two seasons, he appeared in only 26 games for Cleveland, going 4-6 with one shutout and a single save.

The southpaw was acquired by the Detroit Tigers (with catcher Jim Hegan) for catcher Jay Porter and pitcher Hal Woodeshick prior to the 1958 season. After four seasons of limited success as a middle-inning reliever, Aguirre was thrust into the Tigers’ starting rotation in 1962 and promptly led the American League in ERA at 2.21. He was 16-8 in 1962, and won 14 games in both 1963 and 1965.

Despite his success as both a starter and a reliever, Aguirre was better known for being perhaps the worst hitter in major league history. In 388 at-bats during his 16-year career in the major leagues, Aguirre compiled an .085 batting average while striking out in 61 percent of his at-bats.

His best season as a “hitter” was 1958, his first season with the Tigers, when three hits in 14 at-bats produced a career high .214 season average. In 1963, Aguirre’s 10 hits (.132 average) produced single-season career highs in runs (five), RBIs (six) and his only stolen base. He also struck out a career-high 48 times (in only 76 at-bats).

Following the 1967 season, Aguirre was traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers. He pitched for the Dodgers only one year, going 1-2 with a 0.69 ERA as a reliever, appearing in 25 games. He pitched two more seasons with the Chicago Cubs, going a combined 4-0 in 58 appearances with a 3.05 ERA.

Aguirre finished with a record of 75-72 in 1,375.2 innings pitched, with 856 strikeouts and an earned run average of 3.24.

 

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Command and Control

 

Glancing Back, and Remembering Lew Burdette

It’s natural to remember Lew Burdette as primarily a 1950s pitcher. That was his dominant decade. Teaming with Warren Spahn and Bob Buhl to fashion one of the most formidable starting rotations in the National League, Burdette was a commanding right-handed starter, using his power and control to win 120 games for the Milwaukee Braves between 1953 and 1959.

But Burdette also pitched for eight seasons into the 1960s, winning 77 games as a starter and reliever for four different teams.

Lew Burdette spent 13 of his 18 major league seasons with the Braves. His finest moment in a Braves uniform came in the 1957 World Series, when he won three complete game victories over the New York Yankees, including two shutouts.

Burdette was signed by the New York Yankees in 1947. He made his only two appearance in Yankee pinstripes at the end of the 1950 season.

In 1951, he was traded by the Yankees with $50,000 to the Boston Braves for Johnny Sain. He pitched in 45 games for the Braves in 1952, all but nine in relief, and compiled a 6-11 rookie season record with a 3.61 ERA. He became the Braves’ closer in 1953, finishing 24 of his 46 appearances. He posted a 15-5 record with a 3.24 ERA and eight saves.

By 1954, Burdette had moved into the Braves’ starting rotation, winning 28 games over the next two seasons. In 1956, he went 19-10 and led the National League with six shutouts and a 2.70 ERA. He won 17 games during the 1957 season, and was the Most Valuable Player in the 1957 World Series, beating the Yankees three times with a pair of shutouts. He closed out the 1950s with back-to-back 20-victory seasons: 20-10 in 1958 and 21-15 in 1959, while leading the league that season in starts (39) and shutouts (four).

In 1960, Burdette led the league in complete games (with 18, tied with Spahn and Vern Law) while going 19-13 with a 3.36 ERA. He also pitched a 1-0 no-hitter against the Philadelphia Phillies that season. He allowed only one base runner (hitting Tony Gonzalez with a pitch) and faced only 27 batters – while driving in the winning run. He won 18 games in 1961, and then slipped to 10-9 in 1962.

Lew Burdette was never afraid of piling up innings. For eight consecutive seasons (1954-1961), Burdette pitched 200 or more innings. From 1958 to 1961, he averaged 278 innings pitched per season.

In 1963, after more than 13 years with the Braves, Burdette was traded to the St. Louis Cardinals for catcher Gene Oliver and pitcher Bob Sadowski. He had a combined record of 9-13 for the Braves and Cardinals, and the next season was a combined 10-9 for the Cardinals and Chicago Cubs, after being traded in June for pitcher Glen Hobbie.

He split a 3-5 1965 season with the Cubs and Philadelphia Phillies. He closed out his career as a reliever for the California Angels, going a combined 8-2 with a 3.67 ERA in 73 appearances over two seasons.

Burdette retired after the 1967 season with a career record of 203-144 and a 3.66 ERA. He completed 158 games (out of 373 starts) with 33 shutouts over a career that amassed 3,067 innings. He was an All-Star twice.

 

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