Mercy, What a Ballplayer

 

Glancing Back, and Remembering Bobby Murcer

Throughout his Yankee career (which encompassed 13 of his 17 big league seasons), Bobby Murcer’s real competition was not major league pitching as much as the expectations that greeted his arrival in New York. He started his Yankee tenure as “the next Mickey Mantle,” an expectation that he could not fully live up to (who could?). Despite his years as a solid performer (and five-time All-Star), he’s remembered more in some circles for what he was not rather than what he was … and what he was was pretty darn good.

In 1972, Bobby Murcer led the American League in runs (102) and total bases (314). That same season he hit 33 home runs and drove in 96 runs, both career highs, and won a Gold Glove.

In 1972, Bobby Murcer led the American League in runs (102) and total bases (314). That same season he hit 33 home runs and drove in 96 runs, both career highs, and he won a Gold Glove.

Murcer was signed by the Yankees in 1964 and batted .365 and .322 in his first 2 minor league seasons, respectively. The comparison with Mantle, then in the waning years of his Hall of Fame career, was natural. Murcer was an Oklahoma native who excelled as a hitter, fielder and base runner. And with the Yankees in decline following five consecutive American League pennants, the Yankee faithful were hungry for a multi-threat savior who could carry the team back to glory.

After short stints with the Yankees in 1965 and 1966, Murcer spent 1967-1968 fulfilling a military obligation. His first full season was 1969, New York’s first season without Mantle. Murcer opened the season at third base and then moved to right field. More comfortable in the outfield, he performed well, batting .259 with 24 doubles, 26 home runs and 82 runs batted in.

Over the next three seasons, he hit .290 and averaged 27 home runs and 89 RBIs. In 1972 he led the American League in runs (102) and total bases (314). That same season he hit 33 home runs and drove in 96 runs, both career highs. He also won a Gold Glove.

These were solid, productive years, but none of “Mantle” proportions. And there were no pennants in New York during this period.

In 1974, his hitting numbers “slipped” to a .274 batting average with 10 home runs and 88 RBIs. After that season, the Yankees dealt Murcer to the San Francisco Giants for outfielder Bobby Bonds. In his two seasons with the Giants, Murcer batted .279 and averaged 17 home runs and 90 RBIs per season. He was traded to the Chicago Cubs prior to the 1977 season, when he hit 27 home runs with 89 RBIs. His power numbers would decline steadily from this point on. He drove in 64 runs for the Cubs in 1978, and the next year was dealt back to the Yankees. He played in New York for five more seasons, mostly in a part-time role, batting .262 and averaging 10 home runs and 42 RBIs over that period. He retired nine games into the 1983 season.

For his career, Murcer batted .277 with 1,862 hits and 252 home runs.

How Roger Maris Came to New York

 

Swap Shop: Roger Maris for Norm Siebern

The 1959 season turned out to be a wake-up call for the New York Yankees.

After winning the American League pennant in each of the previous four seasons and nine times in the last 10 years, the Yankees stumbled to third in 1959 (behind the Chicago White Sox and Cleveland Indians). And the problem was at the plate.

The Kansas City Athletics traded Roger Maris to the New York Yankees in December of 1959. Maris would be the American League's Most Valuable Player in each of the next 2 seasons.

The Kansas City Athletics traded Roger Maris to the New York Yankees in December of 1959. Maris would be the American League’s Most Valuable Player in each of the next 2 seasons.

The Yankees finished fourth in the league in both runs scored and home runs. Mickey Mantle clubbed 31 home runs, but no one else on the team managed as many as 20 home runs. Mantle’s 75 RBIs were the lowest total of his nine-year career, but he was the only Yankee hitter with more than 70.

The Yankees went into the off-season looking for offense, especially in right field. Hank Bauer, the team’s everyday right fielder since 1952, was now 37 and coming off his least productive season as a Yankee, batting only .238 with nine home runs and 39 RBIs in 1959.

On December 11, 1959, they acquired Bauer’s replacement in a trade with the Kansas City Athletics. The deal included Bauer, pitcher Don Larsen, first baseman Marv Throneberry and left fielder Norm Siebern for Joe DeMaestri, Kent Hadley and the team’s new right fielder, Roger Maris.

Signed by the Indians in 1953, Maris debuted with the Tribe as a 22-year-old rookie in 1957, batting .235 with 14 home runs and 51 RBIs. In June of 1958, Maris was part of a deal with the Athletics that brought Woodie Held and Vic Power to Cleveland. Appearing in 99 games with the A’s, Maris batted .247 over the rest of the 1958 season, and finished with combined totals of 28 home runs and 80 RBIs. In 1959, he hit 16 home runs with 72 RBIs for Kansas City.

Norm Siebern was the key acquisition for the A's in the trade for Maris.

Norm Siebern was the key acquisition for the A’s in the trade for Maris.

Maris opened the 1960 season as the Yankees starting right fielder. He went four for five in the season opener, with a double, two home runs and four RBIs. He finished the 1960 season with 39 home runs, second in the league to Mantle’s 40, and a league-best 112 runs batted in. He also led the American League with a .581 slugging average. Maris was the league’s Most Valuable Player in 1960, and won the only Gold Glove of his career.

To get Maris, the Yankees gave up two-thirds of their 1959 starting outfield in Bauer and Siebern. But Siebern turned out to be the deal’s only full-time player for Kansas City. Splitting his season between left field and first base, Siebern batted .279 with 19 home runs and 69 RBIs. He would play for the Athletics for four seasons.

 

 

Eye of the Storm

 

Glancing Back, and Remembering Curt Flood

With the exception of Babe Ruth, no individual player has had more of an impact on the way major league baseball is played than Curt Flood. Just as the Babe’s potent bat transformed baseball offensive strategy in the 1920s, Flood’s fight for independence from club owners and against the Reserve Clause that bonded a player irrevocably to a team was the gateway to player free agency in the 1970s. It is the greatest single difference between baseball today and baseball as it was played in the 1960s and earlier, and Flood’s off-the-field battle with baseball was the beginning of that change.

As the center fielder for the St. Louis Cardinals, Curt Flood won 7 Gold Gloves.

As the center fielder for the St. Louis Cardinals, Curt Flood won 7 Gold Gloves.

In addition, Flood was a dynamic hitter and fielder for the St. Louis Cardinals during the 1960s, playing a pivotal role for a team that won three National League pennants and two World Series during that decade.

Flood was signed by the Cincinnati Redlegs in 1956 and made his major league debut at the end of that season, striking out in his only plate appearance. In December of 1957 he was traded to the Cardinals as part of a five-player deal, and immediately became an everyday outfielder for the Cards. His breakout season was 1961, when he hit .322. He batted.311 for the Cardinals’ 1964 pennant-winning team, leading the National League with 211 hits. From 1961 through 1968, Flood hit a combined .304, with a career-high .335 in 1967.

Flood’s speed was well utilized in the Cardinals’ outfield, where he won seven consecutive Gold Gloves. From 1965 through 1967, he set a National League record for consecutive errorless games (226) and a major league record for consecutive errorless chances in the outfield (568).

Following the 1969 season, the Cardinals sent Flood with Byron Browne, Joe Hoerner and Tim McCarver to the Philadelphia Phillies for Dick Allen, Jerry Johnson and Cookie Rojas. Flood refused to report, and sued major league baseball to overturn the reserve clause and have the freedom to choose the team he would play for. The suit eventually went to the U.S. Supreme Court, which decided in major league baseball’s favor. However, Pandora’s box had been opened as Flood had given major league players (and their labor union) a glimpse at what was possible. The reserve clause eventually was struck down in 1975, four years after Flood retired.

Flood never played for the Phillies. He was traded to the Washington Senators in 1970, and played in 13 games for the Senators in 1971 before retiring with 1,861 career hits and a .293 lifetime batting average.

Stocking Up On Outs

 

Oh, What a Relief: Wes Stock

Wes Stock’s career as a major league pitching coach lasted more than twice as long as his career as a player, but he was a consistently effective reliever for the Baltimore Orioles and Kansas City Athletics between 1961 and 1966.

Wes Stock

Wes Stock

The lanky Stock was signed out of Washington State University in 1956 by the Orioles. He had an outstanding first professional season, going 14-6 for Aberdeen in the Northern League. His development was suspended for 2 years of military service, and over the next two seasons he made limited appearances with Baltimore, posting a combined record of 2-2 with three saves in 24 appearances.

Stock made the Orioles roster for keeps in 1961, going 5-0 in 35 appearances with a 3.01 ERA. He appeared in exactly 100 games for the Orioles over the next two seasons, for a combined record of 10-2 with four saves and a 4.17 ERA.

In June of 1964, the Orioles traded Stock to the Athletics for catcher Charlie Lau. The bullpen was one of the few strengths of the cellar-dwelling A’s of 1964, as Stock joined Moe Drabowsky and Ted Bowsfield as set-up  pitchers for A’s closer John Wyatt.

Stock had an excellent remainder of the 1964 for Kansas City. He appeared in 50 games in a little more than 3 months remaining in the season, posting a 1.94 ERA with a 6-3 record and 5 saves. Overall, 1964 was his best season, with a combined 8-3 record and 2.30 ERA for the Orioles and Athletics.

The 1965 season was not as kind to Stock, whose record fell to 0-4 with a 5.24 ERA in 62 appearances. He appeared in only 35 games in 1966, going 2-2 with a 2.66 ERA. He retired after one appearance in 1967, and afterward enjoyed a two-decade career as one of the game’s most respected pitching coaches.

 

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Who Needs Hits?

 

From This Week in 1960s Baseball …

(April 30, 1967) — In the first game of a double header, the Detroit Tigers today edged the Baltimore Orioles 2-1 at Memorial Stadium in Baltimore, Maryland.

What was remarkable about the Tigers’ win was that it was accomplished without any hits. This game marked the first time that two pitchers – Steve Barber and Stu Miller – combined to throw a nine-inning no-hitter.

Steve Barber (left) and Stu Miller combined to no-hit the Detroit Tigers in a game that the Baltimore orioles lost 2-1. It was the first no-hitter involving more than one pitcher.

Steve Barber (left) and Stu Miller combined to no-hit the Detroit Tigers in a game that the Baltimore Orioles lost 2-1. It was the first no-hitter involving more than one pitcher.

The Orioles’s starter Steve Barber (2-1) pitched 8.2 innings, striking out 10 batters and walking three.

All three walks issued by Barber came in the ninth inning. Norm Cash opened the inning by walking and was replaced by pinch-runner Dick Tracewski. Then Barber walked Ray Oyler and Earl Wilson bunted, sacrificing the runners to second and third. Pinch-hitting for Dick McAuliffe, Willie Horton fouled out. Barber uncorked a wild pitch that allowed Tracewski to score the game’s first run. Mickey Stanley walked and Oyler scored the second run of the inning on an error by Mark Belanger. Reliever Stu Miller retired Al Kaline – the only batter he faced – on a ground out to end the ninth inning.

Tigers’ starter Earl Wilson (2-2) allowed two hits in eight innings. He struck out four and walked four. The Orioles’ only hits came on a third-inning single by catcher Andy Etchebarren and a single by Frank Robinson in the seventh inning.

The Orioles scored in the eighth inning following walks to Curt Blefary, Charlie Lau and Barber. A Luis Aparicio fly ball to right field scored Blefary.

Fred Gladding was brought in by the Tigers to pitch the bottom of the ninth. He retired Frank and Brooks Robinson on fly balls and struck out Mike Epstein to end the game.

Third Best Yankee

 

Glancing Back, and Remembering Clete Boyer

Clete Boyer was an outstanding third baseman for the New York Yankees for the better part of the 1960s. The recognition attracted by Hall of Famer Brooks Robinson in Baltimore overshadowed the day-in, day-out excellence of Boyer’s play at third in New York. Yet he was an essential component in the Yankees’ success in the first half of the 1960s.

The infield for the pennant-winning Yankees teams of 1963-1964: (left to right) 3B Clete Boyer, SS Tony Kubek, 2B Bobby Richardson, and 1B Joe Pepitone.

The infield for the pennant-winning Yankees teams of 1963-1964: (left to right) 3B Clete Boyer, SS Tony Kubek, 2B Bobby Richardson, and 1B Joe Pepitone.

Boyer was signed as a bonus baby in 1955 by the Kansas City Athletics. As one of the bonus babies in that era, he was required to spend at least two seasons on the major league roster. He appeared in 47 games for the A’s in 1955, batting .241, and played in 67 games, hitting .217, in 1956.

In June of 1957, Boyer was sent to the Yankees to complete an earlier 10-player deal that had brought pitchers Art Ditmar and Bobby Shantz to the Yankees. Then, according to baseball rules at the time, he could be sent to the minors, and was. He stayed in the Yankees’ minor league system through 1958, hitting .284 for New York’s AAA club in Richmond, Virginia,  with 22 home runs and 71 RBIs. He played 64 games for Richmond in 1959 before being called up to New York, where he hit .175 in 47 games with the Yankees. But now he would be in the big leagues to stay for the next dozen years.

Boyer won the third base position with the Yankees in 1960 and hit .242 in his first full season with 14 home runs and 46 RBIs. In 1961, his batting average slipped to .224 (with 11 home runs and 55 RBIs), but his defense was superb. He led all American League third basemen (including Brooks Robinson) in assists and double plays, and was second in putouts to Cleveland’s Bubba Phillips. (He would lead AL third basemen in putouts in 1962.) Boyer anchored the “hot corner” on the Yankees outstanding infield that included Tony Kubek at shortstop and Bobby Richardson at second base.

Boyer raised his batting average to .272 in 1962, with 24 doubles, 18 home runs and 68 RBIs. In 8 seasons with the Yankees, Boyer hit for a combined .241 and averaged 12 home runs and 45 RBIs per season.

In November of 1966, the Yankees traded Boyer to the Atlanta Braves for Chi-Chi Olivo and Bill Robinson. Boyer hit .245 for the Braves in 1967, with career highs in home runs (26) and RBIs (96). Injuries limited his playing time in 1968, but he rebounded in 1969 by hitting .250 with 14 homers and 57 RBIs. He also won the Gold Glove in 1969.

After batting .246 in 1970, Boyer was released by the Braves in May of 1971 and finished that season playing with Hawaii in the Pacific Coast League. He spent his last three seasons as a player in Japan, retiring after the 1975 season.

Boyer batted .242 over his 16-year major league career, with 1,396 hits and 162 home runs.

Roger Can’t Dodge Destiny

 

Homer Happy: Roger Maris

If the biggest challenge in baseball (and maybe in all sports) is hitting the major league curve ball, then baseball’s second-biggest challenge — in the late 1950s and early 1960s — was breaking into the starting outfield of the New York Yankees.

From 1960 through 1962, Roger Maris averaged 44 home runs and 118 RBIs. He also scored 322 runs in that period, an average of 107 per season.

From 1960 through 1962, Roger Maris averaged 44 home runs and 118 RBIs. He also scored 322 runs in that period, an average of 107 per season.

The Yankees were deep in power-hitting outfielders, starting with Mickey Mantle in center field and whoever was flanking him on either side. That’s why talents such as Lee Thomas and Deron Johnson could not find enough at-bats until they moved on to other teams to establish their credentials as major league run producers.

In the late 1950s, the outfielders flanking Mantle were Hank Bauer and Norm Siebern. Bauer was looking at the end of his playing career and Siebern was at the beginning. Neither of them were on the Yankees’ roster in the 1960s. In December of 1959, both outfielders (along with pitcher Don Larsen and first baseman Marv Throneberry) were dealt to the Kansas City Athletics for Joe DeMaestri, Kent Hadley and an outfielder named Roger Maris.

In his three years in the major leagues with the Cleveland Indians and the Athletics, Maris had batted .249 combined with an average of 19 home runs and 68 RBIs. In 1958, splitting his season between Cleveland and Kansas City, Maris hit 28 home runs with 80 RBIs. His power totals slipped to 16 home runs and 72 runs batted in 1959.

Upon his arrival in New York, Maris moved right into the Yankees’ starting outfield. Wedged into the middle of the Yankees’ lineup, Maris would be able to count on seeing better pitches. He would not have to fish for hits outside the strike zone. In 1960 he batted .283 (it would be his career-best batting average) with 39 home runs (second in the American League to Mantle) and 112 RBIs (second in the league to no one). He also won a Gold Glove and the league’s Most Valuable Player award.

Of course, 1961 was the season that Maris rocked major league baseball in particular and American culture in general by chasing and catching Babe Ruth‘s single-season home run record. He blasted 61 home runs with 141 RBIs and claimed his second consecutive MVP award. He also led the major leagues in runs (132) and total bases (366) in 1961. He was 26, and at the peak of his career.

His season in 1962 was outstanding statistically, but felt somewhat average after the two previous seasons. Maris batted .256 with 33 home runs and 100 RBIs. He was an All-Star for the fourth (and last) time. Injuries would hobble his performance and power numbers for the rest of his career, He would manage only 23 home runs for the Yankees in 1963 and 26 home runs in 1964. He would retire following the 1968 season, his second in a St. Louis Cardinals uniform.

For three seasons, from 1960 through 1962, only Mantle among American League players could approach Maris’ productivity. For those three seasons, Maris averaged 44 home runs and 118 RBIs. He also scored 322 runs in that period, an average of 107 runs per season.

 

 

Baseball’s Meanest Fastball

Glancing Back, and Remembering Early Wynn

One of the most durable pitchers in baseball history, Early Wynn cultivated an image as a ruthless intimidator whose blazing fastball was available at any opportunity to drive a batter away from the plate … or make him pay for success in his previous at-bat. On the mound Wynn was relentless and talented, just the combination for producing a 300-win, Hall of Fame career.

Early Wynn won the 1959 Cy Young Award with a 22-10 record. He was a 20-game winner 4 times with the Cleveland Indians.

Early Wynn won the 1959 Cy Young Award with a 22-10 record for the Chicago White Sox. He had been a 20-game winner 4 times with the Cleveland Indians.

Wynn signed with the Washington Senators in 1937 and made his debut as a 19-year-old at the end of the 1939 season. He moved into the Senators’ starting rotation in 1942, going 10-16, and became the team’s ace in 1943 with an 18-12 record and a 2.91 ERA. He also led the American League that season with 33 starts.

Wynn won 17 games for the Senators in 1947 and after an 8-19 season in 1948, he was traded to the Cleveland Indians in a deal that would turn his career around. After going 72-87 in eight seasons with the Senators, Wynn was 163-100 over the next nine years with the Indians. He had four 20-win seasons with the Tribe, pitching an average of 229 innings per season. He twice led the American League in starts and innings pitched, and posted the league’s lowest ERA (3.20) in 1950. For the 1950s, Wynn had more strikeouts (1,544) than any other major league pitcher during that decade.

In 1957, Wynn was traded with Al Smith to the Chicago White Sox for Fred Hatfield and Minnie Minoso. He won 14 games for Chicago in 1958, and in 1959 won the Cy Young award with a 22-10 record and a 3.17 ERA. He led the league again in starts (37) and innings pitched (255.2).

Wynn won 13 games for the White Sox in 1960 (and led the league with four shutouts), but he was now 40 and his fastball was losing its gas. He won a combined 15 games over the next two seasons, and was released by Chicago in 1962 with 299 career victories. He signed with Cleveland and finally notched victory 300 in 1963 before retiring.

Wynn was a good hitter, a switch-hitter with a career batting average of .214, 17 home runs and 173 RBIs. He is one of five major league pitchers to have hit a grand slam as a pinch hitter.

Wynn was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1972.

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Nothing Got By Bobby

The Glove Club: Bobby Shantz

Bobby Shantz was one of the best-fielding pitchers of the 1950s and 1960s. He won eight consecutive Gold Gloves from 1957 to 1964, and was the first player to win that award in both leagues. He also won 119 games (against 99 losses) in a 16-year major league career.

The American League MVP in 1954, Bobby Shantz was the first player to win a Gold Glove in both leagues.

The American League MVP in 1954, Bobby Shantz was the first player to win a Gold Glove in both leagues.

Shantz was signed by the Philadelphia Athletics in 1948 and was pitching in the major leagues a year later, going 6-8 with a 3.40 ERA as a rookie in 1949. He was 18-10 for the A’s in 1951, and was 24-7 in 1952, leading the American League in wins and capturing the league’s Most Valuable Player award.

He was plagued by injuries over the next three seasons and was traded to the New York Yankees in 1956, going 11-5 for the Yankees in 1957 and leading the American League with a 2.45 ERA. Over the next three seasons, Shantz made the transition from starter to the bullpen, where he would work throughout the 1960s.

In 1960 Shantz was selected by the Washington Senators in the expansion draft, and then was traded almost immediately to the Pittsburgh Pirates for Harry Bright, Bennie Daniels and R C Stevens. After going 6-3 with a 3.32 ERA for the Pirates in 1961, Shantz again was selected in an expansion draft, this time by the Houston Colt .45s. He split the 1962 season between the Houston Colt .45s and the St. Louis Cardinals, posting a combined record of 6-4 with a 1.95 ERA.

In 1964, he was traded to the Chicago Cubs as part of the deal that brought Lou Brock to the Cardinals. Shantz closed out his career pitching for the Philadelphia Phillies in 1965. He finished with a career earned run average of 3.38. Shantz was a three-time All-Star.

 

 

 

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Knuckle Out of Trouble

 

Glancing Back, and Remembering Eddie Fisher

Eddie Fisher was one of a handful of pioneering relief specialists whose success in the 1960s paved the way for the ultra-specialist relievers so prominent in baseball today. His success was built on one pitch and advice he received from a future Hall of Famer.

In 1965 Eddie Fisher led the American League in appearances (82) and games finished (60). He won 15 games in relief while saving 24.

Fisher was signed by the San Francisco Giants off the campus of the University of Oklahoma. In 4 minor league seasons, Fisher went 47-28 as both a starter and reliever. He made three short stays with the Giants from 1959 to 1961, appearing in only 35 games with a 3-8 record over those three seasons.

Fisher’s first real opportunity came when, in November of 1961, he was traded with Bob Farley and Dom Zanni to the Chicago White Sox for Don Larsen and Billy Pierce. The trade turned out to be significant for both teams. Pierce had a 16-6 season for the Giants that included outstanding pitching in the stretch run. He and Larsen accounted for both of the San Francisco playoff victories that boosted the Giants into the World Series.

But during his first tour with the White Sox, Fisher blossomed into one of the best relievers in baseball. In 1962 and 1963, Fisher split his appearance between starting and relieving, with a combined record of 18-13 with a 3.44 ERA. During those two seasons, he had four complete games with two shutouts, and five saves.

Fisher also spent time in the Chicago bullpen with future Hall of Famer Hoyt Wilhelm. It was time well spent. Fisher perfected the art of the knuckleball under Wilhelm’s tutelage, and mastered it over those two seasons. By 1964, Fisher started in only two of his 59 appearances, but finished 30 games and saved nine while going 6-3 with a 3.02 ERA. In 1965 Fisher led the American League in appearances (82) and games finished (60). He won 15 games in relief while saving 24. His 2.40 ERA was second in the league to Cleveland’s Sam McDowell (2.18). For the season, Fisher was selected to the American League All-Star team, and finished fourth in the balloting for Most Valuable Player.

Fisher started the 1966 season with the White Sox, but was traded to the Baltimore Orioles in June for Jerry Adair and John Riddle. He anchored the bullpen for the pennant-winning Orioles, leading the league again in appearances (67) while finishing second in games finished (50). His 19 saves (13 with Baltimore) were fifth best in the league, and Fisher completed the season with a combined ERA of 2.52. He spent one more season in Baltimore (4-3, 3.61 ERA, 1 save) and one season in Cleveland (4-2, 2.85 ERA, four saves). The Indians dealt Fisher to the California Angels, where he pitched for the next four years (21-19, 3.22 ERA, 17 saves). He closed out his career with fractions of seasons with the White Sox and the St. Louis Cardinals.

 

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