The Larry Lift

 

Glancing Back, and Remembering Larry Hisle

Larry Hisle was the kind of hitter who could lift a team onto his back and carry it through contention. In his prime, he averaged 25 home runs and 110 runs batted in per season.

Larry Hisle’s major league career began in 1968 with the Philadelphia Phillies. His best season came with the Minnesota Twins in 1977. He batted .302 and led the American League with 119 RBIs.

And while his most productive seasons came in the late 1970s, Larry Hisle major league career commenced a decade earlier. It just took time for his skills to catch up to his talent.

Hisle was drafted by the Philadelphia Phillies in 1965 and made his major league debut in 1968, batting .364 in seven games. He replaced Tony Gonzalez as the team’s regular center fielder in 1969, batting .266 with 20 home runs and 56 RBIs.

After such a promising start, Hisle saw his hitting drop off dramatically. He batted .205 in 1970 and .197 in 1971. He was traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers, St. Louis Cardinals and Minnesota Twins within the space of 13 months, all of which Hisle spent in the minors.

His return to the major leagues came in Minnesota, and that was where Hisle blossomed into a legitimate hitting star. He batted .272 for the Twins in 1973 and .286 in 1974. He hit 14 home runs with 96 RBIs in 1976, and then had monster years the next two seasons. He batted .302 in 1977 with 28 home runs and an American League best 119 RBIs. His timing was perfect, as he became a free agent at the season’s end and signed with the Milwaukee Brewers.

In 1978, playing for the Brewers, he hit .290 with 34 home runs and 115 RBIs. Injuries would limit his playing time and productivity for the rest of his career. In the next four seasons, he wouldn’t hit more than six home runs in a season.

Hisle retired after the 1982 season with a career batting average of .273. In 14 major league seasons, Hisle had 1,146 hits and 166 home runs. He was an All-Star in 1977 and 1978.

 

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Hollywood Beckons Dodger Duo

 

This Week in 1960s Baseball

(March 17, 1966) Was it a change in careers for two of baseball’s most celebrated pitchers? Or simply a temporary detour on the road to Cooperstown?

Don Drysdale (left) and Sandy Koufax missed the 1966 spring training as holdouts for a multi-year contract that would make them the highest-paid players in baseball. They signed one-year contracts just before the start of the 1966 season.

That’s what many Los Angeles Dodgers fans were wondering when it was announced today that pitchers Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale had signed with Paramount Pictures to appear in a movie project called “Warning Shot.”

The announcement came nearly a month after the Dodgers had opened spring training in Vero Beach, Florida without the game’s best righty-lefty starting tandem. Koufax and Drysdale had remained in Southern California, demanding a three-year contract that would pay each of them $167,000 per season. That salary would make them the highest-paid players in major league baseball.

Both pitchers were coming off excellent seasons in 1965, when the Dodgers won their second National League pennant and World Series championship in the past three seasons. Drysdale was 23-12 with a 2.77 ERA. He pitched 20 complete games and seven shutouts, both third best in the National League. Drysdale finished second in the league in innings pitched (308.1) and ninth in strikeouts (210).

Koufax was even better. He was 26-8 with a 2.04 earned run average, leading the major leagues in both wins and ERA, as well as complete games (27), innings pitched (335.1) and strikeouts (a major league record 382). He also became the first major league pitcher to throw four no-hitters, tossing a 1-0 perfect game against the Chicago Cubs on September 9.

Between them, Koufax and Drysdale had won three of the four Cy Young Awards given out from 1962-1965. (And Koufax would win it again in 1966.)

In 1965, Don Drysdale earned $80,000. The Dodgers paid Koufax $85,000. The highest-paid player in baseball going into the 1966 season was San Francisco Giants outfielder Willie Mays, who had signed a two-year contract for $125,000 per season.

On March 30, 1966, as the Dodgers were flying west at the conclusion of spring training, the team announced that it had signed its pitchers to one-year contracts: Koufax for $125,000, Drysdale for $110,000. Neither player would have the opportunity to appear in Warning Shot, which debuted in 1967 starring David Janssen.

Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale had taken acting roles in television prior to their 1966 holdout. They never got the chance to appear in the movie Warning Shot. Instead, they led the Los Angeles Dodgers to their third National League pennant in four seasons.

It effectively marked the end of the acting career for Sandy Koufax. In 1959-1960, Koufax had appeared in four different television series, including 77 Sunset Strip (as a policeman) and Bourbon Street Beat (as a doorman). He made no “actor” appearances afterward, and retired as a player following the 1966 season.

Don Drysdale continued to make occasional guest appearances on television series, as himself or in a role. From 1957-1992, Drysdale made 17 different television appearances, in shows ranging from The Red Skelton Hour, The Rifleman, Leave It To Beaver and The Donna Reed Show (four different appearances) before the “strike” and The Flying Nun, The Brady Bunch and The Greatest American Hero among others after. He was also a sports broadcaster from 1969 until his death in 1993.

 

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A Coyote in Tiger’s Clothes

 

Glancing Back, and Remembering Don Wert

The Detroit Tigers were solid at third base from 1964 through the rest of the decade, once that position was taken over by the slick-fielding Don Wert.

A solid defensive player throughout his career, Don Wert’s best season at the plate came in 1966. He batted .268 with 20 doubles, 11 home runs and 70 RBIs.

Nicknamed “Coyote,” Wert was signed by the Tigers in 1958. He found his way to the major league roster in 1963, when he batted .259 with seven home runs and 25 RBIs in 78 games.

Wert replaced Bubba Phillips as the Tigers’ everyday third baseman in 1964, batting .257 with nine home runs and 55 RBIs. He led the American League by playing in all 162 games in 1965, batting .261 with 54 runs batted in. He also led all American League third basemen with a .976 fielding percentage that season. He finished tenth in the voting for American League Most Valuable Player.

In 1966, Wert had his best season at the plate. He batted .268 with 20 doubles, 11 home runs and 70 RBIs.

In June of 1968, Wert was severely beaned and missed several games. His hitting fell off dramatically, as he batted .200 for 1968 after hitting a combined .261 for the previous five seasons. He never completely recovered his hitting stroke, batting .225 in 1969 and .218 in 1970.

Following the 1970 season, the Tigers traded Wert with Elliott Maddox, Denny McLain and Norm McRae to the Washington Senators for Ed Brinkman, Joe Coleman, Jim Hannan and Aurelio Rodriguez. During spring training, Wert injured his back in a collision at second base and opened the 1971 season on the disabled list. He appeared in only 20 games for the Senators before being released and retiring.

In nine major league seasons, Wert batted .242 with 929 career hits. He was named to the American League All-Star team in 1968, and doubled off Tom Seaver in his only All-Star at-bat.

 

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Follow the Bouncing Bull

 

Swap Shop: Orlando Cepeda for Joe Torre

It was a case where two teams were trying to unload what they thought was a fading talent. In this instance – and it was a rare one – both teams gained a hitter who proved he had plenty of hits left in his bat.

The key season was 1968 – not a particularly good one for Orlando Cepeda or Joe Torre. (To be fair, 1968 – the “Year of the Pitcher” – wasn’t particularly outstanding for most of the hitters in either league.)

In 1968, his last season with the St. Louis Cardinals, Orlando Cepeda batted only .248 with 16 home runs and 73 RBIs. Two year later, as the Atlanta Braves’ first baseman, Cepeda pounded National League pitching for 34 home runs and 101 RBIs while batting .305.

Cepeda was the National League’s Most Valuable Player in 1967. As the first baseman for the World Series champion St. Louis Cardinals, Cepeda batted .325 (the highest batting average of his career and the sixth best in the league) and led the league with 111 RBIs. His 25 home runs were his highest total since 1964 with the San Francisco Giants, where he had strung together seven outstanding seasons (averaging 32 home runs and 107 RBIs) before a chronic knee injury limited him to 33 games in 1965. He had been traded to the Cardinals 19 games into the 1966 season.

In 1968, Cepeda batted a career-low .248 with only 16 home runs and 73 RBIs. Now 30, Cepeda had the Cardinals wondering whether they had seen the best they would get from the “Baby Bull.”

The Atlanta Braves were wondering the same thing about their catcher, Joe Torre. An All-Star every year from 1963 through 1967, Torre’s best season came in 1966, when he hit .315 with a career-high 36 home runs. He drove in 101 runs while scoring 83.

Joe Torre batted .271 with only 10 home runs and 55 RBIs in 1968, his last season with the Braves. Three years later, as the St. Louis Cardinals’ first baseman, Torre led the majors with a .363 batting average and 137 RBIs as the National League’s Most Valuable Player.

After averaging 28 home runs and 97 RBIs from 1964 through 1966, with a combined .310 batting average, Joe Torre batted .277 with 20 home runs and 68 RBIs in 1967. The 1968 season returned even less from Torre’s bat: a .271 batting average with only 10 home runs and 55 RBIs. In addition, Torre had become a liability in throwing out base stealers. Plus his active support of the Players’ Union and Marvin Miller had estranged him from the Braves’ management.

For both the Cardinals and the Braves, the even-up swap of Cepeda for Torre seemed like a low-risk deal. That deal was made a month into spring training, on March 17, 1969.

It turned out to be a good transaction for both teams, though perhaps not immediately in the case of Cepeda. He had a good year for the Braves in 1969, batting .257 and finishing second on the team (to Hank Aaron) in home runs (with 22) and runs batted in (with 88). Then Cepeda’s bat regained some of its old juice in 1970, when he batted .305 with 34 home runs and 101 RBIs. At age 32, it would be the last time in his career when he topped 30 home runs and 100 RBIs in a season.

Torre found a home in St. Louis, and it wasn’t behind the plate. He played only 17 games at catcher for the Cardinals in 1969, and 144 games as Cepeda’s replacement at first base. Torre batted .289 with 18 home runs and 101 RBIs, and then hit .325 with 21 home runs and 100 RBIs in 1970.

But Torre’s best was yet to come. In 1971, he led the major leagues in batting average (.363), hits (230), total bases (352) and runs batted in (137). Torre was selected as the National League’s Most Valuable Player in 1971.

 

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Reds Sign Perez

 

This Week in 1960s Baseball

(March 12, 1960) Today the Cincinnati Reds signed a future Hall of Famer and the franchise’s second most-prolific run producer, infielder Tony Perez.

With 1,192 RBIs in a Reds uniform, Tony Perez ranks second in franchise history to Johnny Bench.

A Cuban native, Perez signed with the Reds as an 18-year-old free agent and spent five years in the Reds’ minor league organization. He had an outstanding 1964 season with the Reds’ AAA club, the (then minor league) San Diego Padres, hitting .309 with 34 home runs and 107 RBIs, and earning Perez a spot on Cincinnati’s major league roster.

His first two seasons with Cincinnati were less than stellar. But from then on, Perez became one of the league’s most dangerous and consistent sluggers, and a vital cog in the Big Red Machine of the 1970s. From 1967 to 1976, Perez averaged 26 home runs and 103 RBIs per season.

The best season of his career statistically was 1970, when Perez hit .317 with 40 home runs and 129 RBIs. He finished third in the Most Valuable Player balloting that year (with teammate Johnny Bench taking the MVP honors).

The first 13 years and the last three of his 23-season major league career were with the Cincinnati Reds. For his career, Perez finished with 379 homes runs and 1,652 RBIs. He was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2000.

 

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The Ol’ Lefthander

 

Glancing Back, and Remembering Joe Nuxhall

Joe Nuxhall made his major league debut in 1944 with the Cincinnati Reds … at the ripe old age of 15. He was the youngest player in major league history, the result of the player shortage due to the Second World War. Nuxhall allowed two hits and five walks in the ninth inning of an 18-0 loss to the St. Louis Cardinals.

Left-hander Joe Nuxhall had the distinction of being the youngest player in history. He made his major league debut in 1944 at age 15.

After that lone appearance, Nuxhall spent the rest of that summer in the minors and returned to high school in the fall. He remained in the Reds farm system through 1951 and made his second “debut” in 1952, going 1-4 with a 3.22 ERA in 37 appearances.

Nuxhall gradually moved into the Reds’ starting rotation, winning 12 games in 1954 and 17 games in 1955, leading the National League with five shutouts that season. Nuxhall was 83-73 for the Reds in the 1950s, with a combined ERA of 3.92.

In 1960, Nuxhall was 1-8 with a 4.42 ERA and was traded to the Kansas City Athletics for John Briggs and John Tsitouris. He was 5-8 for the A’s in 1961 and was released after the season. He caught on with the Los Angeles Angels in 1962 and appeared in five games before being released again. He signed with the Reds and was 5-0 with a 2.45 ERA over the rest of the 1962 season.

In his second tour with the Reds, from 1962 through 1966, Nuhall was 46-28, including 15-8 with a 2.61 ERA in 1963. He retired after the 1966 season with a career record of 135-117 on a 3.90 ERA. He was an All-Star in 1955 and 1956.

 

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Hall of Fame Travel Companion

 

Glancing Back, and Remembering Al Smith

Outfielder Al Smith was traded three times during his 12-year major league career. In the first two of those trades, to Chicago and to Baltimore, Smith had the distinction of being traded with a future Hall of Famer. He also distinguished himself as a good hitter whose legs and bat produced plenty of runs.

Al Smith was originally signed by the Cleveland Indians in 1948 and made his major league debut in 1953. He batted .306 in 1955 and led the American League in runs scored with 123.

Smith was signed by the Cleveland Indians in 1948 and made his debut in Cleveland in 1953, hitting .240 in 47 games. He opened the 1954 season as the Indians’ starting left-fielder, batting .281 for the American League champions. He scored 101 runs and led the team in doubles with 29.

In 1955, Smith led the American League by scoring 123 runs. He batted .306 with 22 home runs and 77 RBIs, and was named to the American League All-Star team. He finished third in the Most Valuable Player balloting for that season.

Smith played two more seasons with the Indians and then was traded (with future Hall of Famer Early Wynn) to the Chicago White Sox for Minnie Minoso and Fred Hatfield. He struggled in his first two seasons in Chicago, batting .252 in 1958 and .237 in 1959. He bounced back in 1960, hitting .315 with 31 doubles, 12 home runs and 72 RBIs. In 1961, he posted the best power numbers of his career, hitting 28 home runs with 93 RBIs.

Al Smith’s best season with the Chicago White Sox came in 1961. He batted .278 with 28 home runs and 93 RBIs.

Smith’s last season in Chicago was 1962, when he batted .292 with 16 home runs and 82 RBIs. In the off-season, he was traded with another future Hall of Famer, shortstop Luis Aparicio, to the Baltimore Orioles for Ron Hansen, Dave Nicholson, Pete Ward and Hoyt Wilhelm. He batted .272 for the Orioles in 1963, but with only 10 home runs and 39 RBIs. He was involved in one more trade, returning to Cleveland in exchange for outfielder Willie Kirkland. He split the 1964 season between the Indians and the Boston Red Sox, batting a combined .176. He retired in 1964 at age 36.

Smith finished with a career batting average of .272 on 1,458 hits. He scored 843 runs with 258 doubles, 164 home runs and 676 RBIs. He was a member of the American League All-Star team twice.

Commissioner Approves Double Cy Young Awards

 

This Week in 1960s Baseball

(March 1, 1967) Baseball Commissioner William D. Eckert today approved the plan to recognize a Cy Young Award winner for each major league, starting with the upcoming 1967 season.

Baseball Commissioner William D. Eckert approved adding a second Cy Young Award starting with the 1967 season. For the first time, there would be a Cy Young winner for each league.

First introduced in 1956 by Baseball Commissioner Ford Frick, the award recognizing baseball’s best pitcher in a season was named in honor of baseball’s winningest pitcher of all time, Cy Young, who had passed away the previous year.

The first recipient of the Cy Young Award was Brooklyn right-hander Don Newcombe, who was 27-7 for the Dodgers with a 3.06 ERA in 1956. From 1956 to 1966, there was only one Cy Young winner in major league baseball.

The last “major league” Cy Young winner was Sandy Koufax, the only pitcher to win more than one award during the single-winner era. (Koufax took the award in 1963, 1965 and 1966.) Koufax was also the first unanimous Cy Young Award recipient in 1963.

Pitching from 1890-1911, Cy Young won 511 major league games. He won 30 or more games in a season five times. He finished with a 2.63 career ERA.

Eckert attributed the “split” in the Cy Young Award to “fan request.” The first American League Cy Young winner was Boston’s Jim Lonborg, who went 22-7 in leading the Red Sox to the American League pennant in 1967. The National league winner that season was Mike McCormick, who was 22-10 for the San Francisco Giants.

 

 

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Rebel Yell

 

Glancing Back, and Remembering Randy Hundley

Randy Hundley set the standards for a workhorse catcher in the late 1960s. From 1966 through 1969, he caught no less than 144 games in a season. His backstop abilities made him an All-Star and Gold Glove winner, and his leadership and abilities as a handler of pitchers made him one of the best Cubs catchers since Hall of Famer Gabby Hartnett.

A Virginia native (hence his nickname, “Rebel”), Hundley was signed by the San Francisco Giants in 1960. He played in only eight games with the Giants before being traded with Bill Hands in 1965 to the Chicago Cubs for Don Landrum and Lindy McDaniel.

Randy Hundley’s best season with the Chicago Cubs came in 1969. He batted .255 with 18 home runs and 64 RBIs. He was also a member of the National League All-Star team.

For the next four years, he was the Cubs’ starting catcher and virtually the only Cub playing that position. He averaged 153 games per season with 14 home runs and 63 RBIs. He batted .246 over that period.

The wear and tear of so many innings behind the plate began to catch up with his body, and injuries limited Hundley to a total of 82 games from 1970 to 1971. He returned to everyday catching duties in 1972, though not at his earlier level, and not with the same offensive impact. Hundley batted .218 in 1972 and .226 in 1973.

After eight seasons with the Cubs, Hundley was traded to the Minnesota Twins for George Mitterwald. He batted .193 in a part-time role, and signed with the San Diego Padres for the 1975 season, batting .206. He signed with the Cubs for 1976 but played in only 15 games over the next two seasons, and retired in 1977.

Hundley played in 1,061 games during his 14-year major league career, catching in all but 35 of those games. He had 813 hits and a career batting average of .236.

Man Mauls Mets … and Cardinals Soar

 

Lights Out: Stan Musial Demolishes New York Mets’ Pitching

When: July 8, 1962

Where:  Polo Grounds, New York, New York

Game Time: 2:47

Attendance: 12,460

When the National League’s oldest player came up against its youngest team, the result was devastating to the arms on the New York Mets’ pitching staff.

But it’s what Stan Musial had been doing to NL pitching staffs for more than two decades. In 1962, he was doing it in a way that reminded you of The Man in his prime.

At age 41, Stan Musial seemed to be rejuvenated in 1962. He finished third in the National League in hitting with a .330 batting average. He hit 19 home runs with 82 RBIs, and his .416 on-base percentage was second highest in the league.

He proved to be more Man than the Mets could handle.

The 1962 season would be the next-to-last in Musial’s 22-year major league career. He was a seven-time batting champion and three-time Most Valuable Player. He had more hits and runs batted in than any other National League hitter. And more home runs than any player who had never won a home run title.

Now 41, Musial was having his best season in the past five years. Coming into the July 8 game with the Mets, Musial was batting .325 with nine home runs and 37 runs batted in. Against the Mets’ woeful pitching, he was practically invincible. (Musial batted .443 against the Mets in 1962.) Today would be no exception.

Mets starter Jay Hook retired the first two Cardinals batters, then first baseman Bill White launched a solo home run to the right field seats. Musial followed with his tenth home run of the season to right.

After their first turn at bat, the Cardinals were up 2-0. It would turn out to be all the runs they would need, but not all they were going to get.

Cardinals starter Bob Gibson retired the Mets in the first two innings without allowing any runs. Then Gibson helped himself by hitting the team’s third solo home run to lead off the third inning. In his second plate appearance, Musial walked, and the Cardinals scored their fourth run when Ken Boyer singled, driving in Curt Flood.

Ah, pitching for the New York Mets in 1962 … Mets starter Jay Hook (6-9) was rocked for nine runs in four innings. But only four of those runs were earned.

Like so many Mets contests in their inaugural season, the game was lost early. But no one told Musial or the Cardinals. They scored five runs off Hook in the fourth inning – all unearned, and the last two coming from Musial’s eleventh home run. Musial hit his third home run of the game to lead off the seventh inning, this time off reliever Willard Hunter. Fred Whitfield, who replaced White at first in the fourth inning, hit a two-run homer off Bob Miller in the eighth inning. Musial came up with the bases empty and struck out … but the Mets still couldn’t retire him. On the third strike, the ball got by Chris Cannizzaro and Musial beat the throw to first. Bobby Smith ended Musial’s day, replacing The Man as the runner at first.

The Cardinals scored three more runs in the ninth, including Whitfield’s third RBI of the day. The Mets scored their lone run in the bottom of the ninth off Gibson, who pitched a three-hit complete game to earn his tenth win of the season.

On the day, Musial went three for four with four RBIs and scoring three runs. He raised his season’s batting average to .333, the highest among Cardinal regulars. He would end the 1962 season batting .330 with 19 home runs and 82 RBIs, finishing third in the 1962 hitting race behind Tommy Davis (.346) and Frank Robinson (.342).

 

 

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