Muscles to the Max

 

Homer Happy: Ted Kluszewski

Awesome strength made Ted Kluszewski a slugging star in the National League for more than a decade.

Ted Kluszewski came close to a Triple Crown in 1955, leading the majors in RBIs (141) as well as home runs (49). His .326 batting average was fifth-best in the National League.

Ted Kluszewski came close to winning a Triple Crown in 1955, leading the majors in RBIs (141) as well as home runs (49). His .326 batting average was fifth-best in the National League.

His barrel biceps and short sleeves were his trademarks, as were the tape-measure home runs he sprayed around National League parks through most of the 1950s. By the time baseball entered the 1960s, age and injuries had taken their toll on Kluszewski, but he remained a dangerous power hitter with his transition to the American League.

Kluszewski was signed by the Cincinnati Reds out of college in 1946. He needed only two seasons of minor league ball, batting .352 in 1946 and .377 in 1947.

Klu made the Reds’ roster in 1948 and won the everyday first base position by the end of that summer. He hit only a total of 20 home runs in his first two major league seasons, but the strength started to kick in by 1950, when he hit 25 home runs with 111 runs batted in. He blasted 40 home runs in 1954, 49 (best in the majors) in 1955, and 47 in 1956. He came close to a Triple Crown in 1955, leading the majors in RBIs (141) as well as home runs. His .326 batting average was fifth-best in the league. From 1953 through 1956, Kluszewski averaged 43 home runs and 116 RBIs.

He was never that player again, as back and leg injuries limited him to an average of 85 games per season from 1957 through 1960. He was traded to the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1958 and, in August of the 1959 season, was traded to the Chicago White Sox.  Kluszewski played a major role in helping the White Sox clinch the 1959 American League pennant. In 31 games, he collected 30 hits, batting .297 with two home runs and 10 RBIs. In the 1959 World Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers, he batted .391 with three home runs and 10 runs batted in.

He batted .293 as a part-time player for the White Sox in 1960, and was selected by the Los Angeles Angels in the 1960 expansion draft. Kluszewski batted .243 for the Angels in 1961, with 15 home runs and 39 RBIs. He retired after that season with a .298 career batting average and 279 home runs. He was an All-Star four times while playing for Cincinnati.

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Making a Short Stop in Slugville

 

Glancing Back, and Remembering Woodie Held

Coming out of an era when “good field, no hit” was the acceptable standard for most major league shortstops, Woodie Held was the American League best power-hitting shortstop, surpassed among his major league contemporaries only by Ernie Banks. He was the first Cleveland Indians shortstop to hit 20 or more home runs in three consecutive seasons. He hit more than 10 home runs in seven consecutive seasons.

From 1959 through 1964, Woodie Held averaged 21 home runs and 66 RBIs as the Cleveland Indians’ shortstop.

From 1959 through 1964, Woodie Held averaged 21 home runs and 66 RBIs as the Cleveland Indians’ shortstop.

Held was originally signed by the New York Yankees in 1951 and spent more than six years in the Yankees’ farm system, making only token appearances in New York. In June of 1957, he was traded (with Billy Martin and Ralph Terry) to the Kansas City Athletics. Held moved into the starting center fielder role, batting .239 with 20 home runs and 50 RBIs.

He stayed in Kansas City for one season, traded (with Vic Power) to the Cleveland Indians in the deal that brought Roger Maris to the A’s. Held moved to shortstop for the Tribe and struggled at the plate, hitting a combined .204 with seven home runs and 33 RBIs in 1958. His hitting improved dramatically in 1959, batting .251 with 29 home runs and 71 RBIs.

Held blasted 21 home runs in 1960 and 23 home runs with 78 RBIs in 1961. From 1959 through 1964, he averaged 21 home runs and 66 RBIs as Cleveland’s shortstop.

Following the 1964 season, the Tribe traded Held and Bob Chance to the Washington Senators for outfielder Chuck Hinton. He batted .247 with 16 home runs and 54 RBIs in his only season in Washington, and then was traded again, this time to the Baltimore Orioles for John Orsino. He was used sparingly in Baltimore (82 games in two seasons) and was dealt to the California Angels in a trade that included pitcher Marcelino Lopez. Now in his late 30s, Held was strictly a utility infielder for the Angels and, finally, the Chicago White Sox, his team in 1968 and 1969. He retired after being released by the White Sox following the 1969 season.

In 14 major league seasons, Held posted a career batting average of .240 with 179 home runs and 559 RBIs.

All Bases Covered

 

Glancing Back, and Remembering Chico Salmon

A talented utility infielder, Chico Salmon played every position in the majors except pitcher and catcher.

Chico Salmon batted .307 in his 1964 rookie season with the Cleveland indians, with 17 doubles, 4 home runs and 25 RBIs in only 283 at-bats.

Chico Salmon batted .307 in his 1964 rookie season with the Cleveland Indians, with 17 doubles, four home runs and 25 RBIs in only 283 at-bats.

The Panamanian native was signed by the Washington Senators in 1959 and was acquired, in turn, by the San Francisco Giants, Detroit Tigers and Milwaukee Braves until he was traded in 1963 to the Cleveland Indians for Mike de la Hoz. He batted .307 in his 1964 rookie season, with 17 doubles, four home runs and 25 RBIs in only 283 at-bats.  Salmon spent five seasons in Cleveland, batting .252 over that period. He played full-time in 1966, batting .256 with seven home runs and 40 RBIs, the latter both career highs.

In 1969 Salmon was selected by the Seattle Pilots in the American League expansion draft. Before he could play for Seattle, he was traded to the Baltimore Orioles for Gene Brabender and Gordy Lund.  He batted a combined .237 in Baltimore, but was increasing used as a defensive replacement. He retired after being released by the Orioles in 1972.

Salmon finished his nine-year career with a .249 batting average and 415 hits.

 

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The Designated Hitter Was Made for His Bat (and Glove)

 

Homer Happy: Dick Stuart

Dick Stuart was notorious for being the worst first baseman of his era … maybe anybody’s era. He set error records that have never been matched.

He was the perfect candidate for the designated hitter role, except he retired as an active player four years before the DH was adopted by the American League in 1973.

Dick Stuart was the first player to hit 30 or more home runs in both major leagues.

Dick Stuart was the first player to hit 30 or more home runs in both major leagues.

He would have been a good DH, because Stuart could hit with power. Managers put up with his deficiencies in the field for nearly a decade because, in his prime, his bat was so lethal.

Stuart was signed by the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1951 and set home run records at nearly every stop as he made his way through the Pirates’ minor league system. He hit 31 home runs in 1952, his first full season of professional baseball, then spent 2 years in military service. Stuart came back in 1955 to blast 32 home runs, then walloped Western League pitching for 66 home runs in 1966. He hit 45 home runs for three different minor league teams in 1956, and then spent all of the 1957 season in Triple-A ball, hitting “only” 31 home runs with 82 runs batted in.

Stuart was ready for major league pitching.

He made his debut with the Pirates in 1958, hitting .268 with 16 home runs and 48 RBIs in only 267 at-bats. He hit 27 home runs in 1959, and during the Pirates’ pennant-winning season of 1960, Stuart launched only 23 home runs but drove in 83 runs.

Stuart had a beast of a year for the Pirates in 1961, hitting 35 home runs with 117 RBIs while batting .301. His power numbers slipped to 16 home runs and 64 RBIs in 1962, and over the winter he was traded with Jack Lamabe to the Boston Red Sox for Jim Pagliaroni and Don Schwall.

Pittsburgh’s Forbes Field was a large ballpark not especially conducive to producing home runs, which made Stuart’s power displays with the Pirates all the more impressive. On the other hand, Boston’s Fenway Park was made for right-handed power hitters, and Stuart’s hitting flourished in a Red Sox uniform. In 1963, he hit 42 home runs (second in the American League to Harmon Killebrew’s 45) and led the league with 118 runs batted in. He was the first player to hit 30 or more home runs in both major leagues.

Stuart followed up in 1964 with 33 homers (and 114 RBIs), but his career was beginning its decline. He was dealt to the Philadelphia Phillies for pitcher Dennis Bennett, and hit 28 home runs with 95 RBIs for the Phillies in 1965. It was his last season as an everyday player. Stuart played for the New York Mets and Los Angeles Dodgers in 1966, hitting a combined seven home runs with 22 RBIs. After 2 seasons in the minors and a brief comeback with the California Angels in 1969, Stuart retired with a career batting average of .264 and 228 home runs.

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Nottebart’s No-Hitter Is Houston’s First

 

From This Week in 1960s Baseball …

(May 17, 1963) At Colt Stadium, Don Nottebart today made baseball history by throwing the first no-hitter in the history of the Houston franchise. The Colt .45s beat the Philadelphia Phillies, 4-1.

It is the 197th game the Houston Colts had played since the team’s inception in 1962.

Don Nottebart's no-hitter in 1962 was the first in the history of the Houston franchise.

Don Nottebart’s no-hitter in 1962 was the first in the history of the Houston franchise.

Nottebart (5-1) faced only 31 batters, striking out 8 and walking 3. The Phillies scored in the fifth inning when the lead-off batter, Don Demeter, was safe on a ground ball error by Houston shortstop J.C. Hartman and made it to second base on the play. Demeter moved to third base on Clay Dalrymple’s successful sacrifice bunt and scored on Don Hoak’s sacrifice fly to center field. That tied the game at 1-1.

Howie Goss had the game-winning hit with a 3-run homer in the sixth inning off Phillies starter Jack Hamilton (2-1).

Nottebart would finish the 1963 season at 11-8 with a 3.17 ERA. It would be his highest win season in a 9-year career. Nottebart recorded two shutouts in 1963, but wouldn’t get one on this day due to the Colts’ defense.

He had to settle for the no-hitter.

 

First in Flawless

 

The Glove Club: Bobby Knoop

On the defensive side of the performance ledger, no second baseman in the 1960s had more chances with fewer errors than Bobby Knoop. There was no question about his offense: it barely existed. But his defensive prowess made him the friend of every Angels pitcher who worked in front of him.

Bobby Knoop collected 3 Gold Gloves.

Bobby Knoop collected 3 Gold Gloves.

Knoop was signed by the Milwaukee Braves in 1956 and spent seven seasons in the Braves’ minor league system before being drafted by the Los Angeles Angels in 1963. In 1964, he started all 162 games for the Angels at second base, hitting just .216, but forming a formidable double play combination with the Angels’ All-Star shortstop Jim Fregosi.

Knoop played a “deep” second, which gave him exceptional range, backed by an arm capable of throwing bullets … and from virtually any position. “Acrobatic” does not do justice to the way Knoop played second. “Sensational” does.

Knoop was the Angels’ starting second baseman from 1964 through 1968. In those five seasons, he never hit higher than .269 (1965), though his best season with a bat was actually 1966, when he hit only .232 but set career highs in home runs (17), RBIs 72), and hits (137). He also led the American League with 11 triples, the only time he would lead the league in any hitting category. Overall, Knoop hit .240 in five-plus seasons with the Angels, and won three Gold Gloves.

A month into the 1969 season, Knoop was traded by the Angels to the Chicago White Sox for Sandy Alomar and Bob Priddy. He spent two years in Chicago, and then two more with the Kansas City Royals before retiring in 1972. In his career, Knoop hit .236 with 56 home runs and 331 RBIs.

Fielder of Choice

 

The Glove Club: Dick Schofield

He retired with a career batting average of .227. He never hit more than three home runs in a season (he did it twice, in 1963 and 1964). And he never won a Gold Glove or was named to a single All-Star team.

Dick Schofield

Dick Schofield

So how good a fielder was Dick Schofield? Even with that kind of hitting, he lasted 19 years in the major leagues, playing for seven different teams.

Dick Schofield lasted so long because he was so dependable in the field. He never played enough innings to be considered for a Gold Glove award. But he certainly had the talent – in the field – to rank with the best infielders of his era.

And he was versatile. He played all the positions on the left side of the infield with equal skill and consistency. Until he retired at age 36, he could always find a place on someone’s roster, and found a way into the lineup when the manager needed a glove he could count on to put the game away.

Schofield was signed by the St. Louis Cardinals in 1953 and made his major league debut later that season. He spent six seasons with the Cardinals, never hitting over .200 with St. Louis.

Two months into the 1958 season, he was traded to the Pittsburgh Pirates for Gene Freese and Johnny O’Brien. Schofield spent eight years in Pittsburgh, used mostly as a utility infielder. He was the team’s everyday shortstop from 1963 through 1965. In 1964, his best season at the plate, Schofield batted .246 with 22 doubles and 36 RBIs.

In May of 1965, the Pirates traded Schofield to the San Francisco Giants for Jose Pagan. He spent the next six seasons playing for six different teams, but his role remained the same: fielder of choice when the game was on the line. He retired after the 1971 season.

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Whoever Thought He Would Last So Long, or Win So Many?

 

Glancing Back, and Remembering Tommy John

Tommy John revolutionized baseball in the mid-1970s, with an able assist from his surgeon, Dr. Frank Jobe. The introduction of Tommy John surgery, which replaced a damaged ligament in his elbow, effectively doubled his own career. John’s amazing recovery from that surgery – a recovery that resulted in 164 wins over the next 13 seasons – validated the surgical procedure that bears his name and has extended the pitching careers of dozens of major leaguers.

In 26 major league seasons, Tommy John won 288 games, seventh highest among left-handers in major league history.

In 26 major league seasons, Tommy John won 288 games, seventh highest among left-handers in major league history.

But Tommy John was also a heck of a pitcher before his famous surgery, as demonstrated by the fact that he had already accumulated 124 major league victories prior to his 1974 operation.

A two-sport star in high school, John was signed by the Cleveland Indians in 1961 and made his debut with the Tribe at the close of the 1963 campaign. His rookie season in 1964 produced a 2-9 record with a 3.91 ERA.

With the Cleveland pitching staff already boasting the presence of proven young arms such as Sam McDowell, Luis Tiant and Sonny Siebert, John became expendable, especially in a trade that would bring Rocky Colavito back to Cleveland.  So John was traded to the Chicago White Sox with Tommie Agee and John Romano. In Chicago, he earned an immediate place in the White Sox starting rotation, going 14-7 with a 3.09 ERA. He followed that with a 14-11 campaign in 1966, lowering his ERA to 2.62.

In 1967, John’s six shutouts were the highest total in the major leagues, but a low-scoring White Sox offense led to a 10-13 record on the season. The run drought in Chicago continued in 1968, when John went 10-5 on a 1.98 ERA. His 9-11 record in 1969 marked the first of three losing seasons with Chicago. In 1971 he was traded with Steve Huntz to the Los Angeles Dodgers for Dick Allen. In six seasons with the Dodgers, John had a record of 87-62, his best season with the Dodgers coming in 1977 when he went 20-7 with a 2.78 ERA.

John had back-to-back 20-win seasons for the New York Yankees in 1979 and 1980, and went on to pitch for another decade, making stops with the California Angels and Oakland A’s before closing out his career with the Yankees.

In 26 major league seasons, John won 288 games, seventh highest among left-handers in major league history.

 

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How to Turn Two Months into Immortality

Career Year: Bob Gibson – 1968

Hall of Famer Bob Gibson had so many seasons that most pitchers would have called career years that a true career year for the St. Louis Cardinals’ hard-throwing right-hander would have to be nothing short of spectacular.

For Gibson, the 1968 season was. During the so-called “Year of the Pitcher,” when Denny McLain astounded all of baseball by winning 31 games in the American League, Gibson had a season like no pitcher in the modern era had experienced.

And, basically, it took him two months to do it.

In 1968, Bob Gibson was named the National League’s Most Valuable Player, its Cy Young winner, and captured his fourth consecutive Gold Glove.

In 1968, Bob Gibson was named the National League’s Most Valuable Player, its Cy Young winner, and captured his fourth consecutive Gold Glove.

Gibson was a dominating pitcher throughout the 1960s. After going 28-25 for the Cardinals (his only major league team) in 1961-1962, Gibby “arrived” in 1963 with a record of 18-9 – and never looked back. He was 19-12 in 1964, 20-12 in 1965, and 21-12 in 1966. Any of those would have been career seasons for most pitchers.

He started well in 1967 and was 10-6 with a 3.35 ERA when his season was interrupted. On July 15, he suffered a fractured leg off a Roberto Clemente line drive, and missed the next six weeks. When he came back in September, Gibson was 3-1 in leading the Cardinals to the National League pennant, and then was 3-0 in the World Series against the Boston Red Sox.

Would the injury have any lingering effects in the 1968 season? Not hardly, though it seemed that way at the outset. Gibson didn’t win his first game of the 1968 season until April 26, when he beat the Pittsburgh Pirates 2-1 with his second complete game. (He had lost his first complete game of the season the week before, 1-0 to the Chicago Cubs.) Gibson continued to struggle for wins through May, going 2-4 though posting a 1.27 ERA for the month.

Gibson led the major leagues with 13 shutouts in 1968, including 6 in a row.

Gibson led the major leagues with 13 shutouts in 1968, including 6 in a row.

Things turned around for Gibson in June. He won all six of his starts, the last five with shutouts, and had a 0.50 earned run average for the month. In July, Gibson again won all six of his starts (all complete games, with three shutouts) while recording another 0.50 ERA for the month. His combined totals for June and July: 12-0 with a 0.50 ERA, eight shutouts and 91 strikeouts in 108 innings pitched.

For the last two months of the 1968 season, Gibson’s numbers were decidedly less spectacular. He was 7-4 with an ERA that “ballooned” to 1.42. He recorded five more shutouts in August and September, and struck out 115 batters in 108 innings.

Gibson ended the 1968 season at 22-9 with a 1.12 ERA and a major league best 13 shutouts. He completed 28 of his 34 starts, and struck out 268 batters, the most in the National League. He was named the National League’s Most Valuable Player, its Cy Young winner, and captured his fourth consecutive Gold Glove. Gibson remains the only player in major league history to garner all three awards in the same season.

 

 

 

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Blazing Fastball, Blazing Career

 

Glancing Back, and Remembering Gary Nolan

Gary Nolan’s career as a starting pitcher for the Cincinnati Reds was as eye-opening as the blazing fastball that he brought to the major leagues … and nearly as quick. Nolan won 110 games in a 10-year career that actually included only five full seasons.

As a 19-year-old flame-throwing rookie in 1966, Gary Nolan posted a record of 14-8 with a 2.58 earned run average.

As a 19-year-old flame-throwing rookie in 1966, Gary Nolan posted a record of 14-8 with a 2.58 earned run average.

The Reds picked Nolan in the first round of the 1966 amateur draft. A year later he was in the Reds’ starting rotation, a 19-year-old flame-thrower who went 14-8 with a 2.58 earned run average. He also struck out 206 batters in 226.2 innings, and finished third in the Rookie of the Year balloting (Tom Seaver won that year).

Injuries, especially arm and shoulder problems, struck Nolan early in his career. In 1968 he pitched only 150 innings, going 9-4 with a 2.40 ERA. His output in 1969 slipped even further, as Nolan was able to pitch only 108.2 innings for an 8-8 record.

His next healthy season, 1970, produced a healthy improvement in his numbers. Nolan was 18-7 for the National League champion Reds, pitching a career-high 250.2 innings. In 1971, he slipped to 12-15 with a still-respectable 3.16 ERA. In 1972, as the Reds bounced back as NL champs, Nolan also bounced back despite arm problems that limited his innings to 176. His 15-5 record led the National League in winning percentage, and his 1.99 ERA was second only to Philadelphia’s Steve Carlton at 1.97.

Lingering arm miseries cost Nolan nearly the entire 1973 and 1974 seasons. He made one more comeback, winning 15 games in both 1975 and 1976. Then he pitched one more season, going 4-4 for the Reds and California Angels, and then retired at age 29.

Nolan compiled a 110-70 record with 1,039 strikeouts and a 3.08 ERA. He was an All-Star in 1972.

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