Curt Simmons’ Nerves of Steal

 

This Week in 1960s Baseball …

Cardinals left-hander Curt Simmons was the last major league pitcher to steal home.

Cardinals left-hander Curt Simmons was the last major league pitcher to steal home.

(September 1, 1963) The St. Louis Cardinals today defeated the Philadelphia Phillies 7-3 for their third consecutive victory.

The star of the game for the Cardinals was starting pitcher Curt Simmons (12-7).

Simmons pitched a six-hit complete game, striking out four and walking one. In notching his twelfth win of the season, Simmons already had recorded his highest victory total since 1957.

But Simmons’ performance on this day went beyond his pitching. In the second inning, Tim McCarver led off for the Cardinals with a single, and scored when Simmons hit a triple off Phillies starter Chris Short (5-11). That RBI put the Cardinals ahead 1-0, but Simmons wanted more. With Julian Javier at the plate, the 34-year-old Simmons stole home to put the Cards up 2-0.

It was the second stolen base of Simmons’ career. And it would be his last.

Simmons drove in a second run with a sixth-inning sacrifice fly. McCarver had two hits and two RBIs. Ken Boyer hit a solo home run in the fifth inning, his twentieth of the season.

Considered washed up when he was released by the Phillies in 1960, Simmons would finish the 1963 season at 15-9 with a 2.48 ERA.

And thus far, he is still the last major league pitcher to successfully steal home.

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D.C. Gets A New Monument

 

Swap Shop – Frank Howard for Claude Osteen

Only a desperate team would trade the ace of its pitching staff.

That’s what the Washington Senators were when they dealt left-hander Claude Osteen to the Los Angeles Dodgers in December of 1964.

Frank Howard

Frank Howard

What the Senators got, as part of the seven-player swap, was an outfielder who would emerge as one of the most dangerous sluggers of the late 1960s, the towering Frank Howard.

The Senators had been the perennial American League doormats since their introduction as a new franchise in 1961. Osteen, acquired from the Cincinnati Reds in 1961, accounted for nearly one-fourth of the team’s victories in 1964, going 15-13 for a team that won only 62 games.

Howard had averaged 28 home runs and 84 RBIs for the Dodgers in the three previous seasons. But Los Angeles was looking to get back to the World Series with a team built on speed, defense and pitching. Howard was expendable, and Osteen fit the bill.

It turned out to be a trade with long-term benefits for both teams. Osteen would win 147 games over the next nine seasons with the Dodgers. He would twice win 20 games, and twice lead the National League in innings pitched.

Claude Osteen

Claude Osteen

And the six-foot-seven-inch Howard, whom Ted Williams called the strongest hitter in baseball, blossomed into one of the American League’s most prolific home run hitters. From 1967-1970, he averaged 43 home runs and 108 RBIs per season.

He was just what Washington needed – another monument to power.

When Schwall Was Swell

 

Career Year – Don Schwall (1961)

Don Schwall was named American League Rookie of the Year in 1961 when he went 15-7 with a 3.22 ERA.

Don Schwall was named American League Rookie of the Year in 1961 when he went 15-7 with a 3.22 ERA.

During a seven-year major league career, right-hander Don Schwall won 49 games with three different teams. He won 15 games, nearly a third of his major league total, in his rookie season of 1961.

The Boston Red Sox signed Schwall in 1958 off the campus of the University of Oklahoma. He soared like a rocket through the Red Sox minor league system. He was 23-6 in 1959 and jumped to AAA ball in 1960, going 16-9 with Minneapolis in the American Association. He started the 1961 season with Seattle in the Pacific Coast League, and in five starts he was 3-1 with a 3.60 earned run average.

At that point, he was called up to Boston, where he made his debut on May 21, 1961, starting and winning the second game of a double header with the Chicago White Sox. Schwall went eight innings in the 4-1 win, allowing six hits and one earned run, striking out four White Sox batters.

Schwall won his first five starts with the Red Sox, and was 6-1 when he was named to the American League All-Star team. In July he went 5-1 for a record of 11-2 going into August. He finished his rookie season at 15-7 with a 3.22 ERA and 10 complete games in 25 starts. Schwall pitched two shutouts and recorded 91 strikeouts in 178.2 innings. He was selected as the America League Rookie of the Year for 1961 (beating out Dick Howser and Floyd Robinson), and finished fourteenth in the balloting for Most Valuable Player.

While many were dusting off a place in Cooperstown for Schwall, he wouldn’t have another season that would come close to approaching his performance in 1961. He slipped to 9-15 in 1962 with a 4.94 ERA, and was traded with Jim Pagliaroni to the Pittsburgh Pirates for Jack Lamabe and Dick Stuart. In three seasons with the Pirates, his best performance came in 1965 when he went 9-6 with a 2.92 ERA. He was 6-5 for the Pirates and the Atlanta Braves in 1966, and faced just two batters before being released by the Braves in 1967. He finished his seven-season major league career with a 49-48 record and a 3.72 ERA.

 

 

 

 

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Thinking Man’s Pitcher

 

Glancing Back, and Remembering Steve Hargan

There is one aspect of major league pitching that is better today than it was in the 1960s: the medicine behind it. In the days before Tommy John surgery and rotator cuff repair, arm injuries were, more often than not, fatal to a promising pitcher’s career. Misdiagnosed injuries too often led to conditions that could be avoided – or rehabilitated – today.

Steve Hargan was 14-13 with a 2.62 ERA in 1967, leading the American League with 6 shutouts and finishing second in complete games.

Steve Hargan was 14-13 with a 2.62 ERA in 1967, leading the American League with 6 shutouts and finishing second in complete games.

Today’s sports medicine might well have extended the career of a Hall of Famer such as Don Drysdale, or an outstanding hurler who might have been a HOFer such as Mel Stottlemyre, or a pitcher who showed great promise and occasional flashes or brilliance such as Steve Hargan.

Hargan was an outstanding all-around athlete who attracted the attention of major league scouts with his fastball. He was signed by the Cleveland Indians in 1961 and spent the next four seasons moving methodically through the Indians’ farm system. In Class D ball he learned the art of throwing the slider from Hall of Famer Hal Newhouser, and the addition of that pitch began his transformation from thrower to pitcher.

In 1965 Hargan was invited to the Indians’ spring training camp, but found the Tribe’s starting rotation already well-stocked with the likes of Sam McDowell, Sonny Siebert, Luis Tiant, Ralph Terry and Jack Kralick. Hargan opened the 1965 season at the Indians’ AAA club in Portland, going 13-5 with a 2.91 ERA in 24 starts. He was called up to Cleveland in August and went 4-3 with a 3.43 ERA as a starter and reliever.

He started the 1966 season in the Cleveland bullpen, but worked his way into the starting rotation and finished that season at 13-10 with a 2.48 ERA. He went 14-13 with a 2.62 ERA in 1967, leading the American League with six shutouts and finishing second in complete games (to Dean Chance) with 15.

That was when the arm problems began. He started experiencing tendonitis and bone spurs in his pitching elbow and went 8-15 in 1968 and 5-14 in 1969. Now primarily a sinkerball pitcher, Hargan had a strong comeback season in 1970, going 11-3 with a 2.90 ERA. But his arm problems returned in 1971 when his record slipped to 1-13, and he was returned to the minors in 1972 after an 0-3 start. It looked like his career was over at age 29.

Hargan made an impressive comeback to the big leagues, going 12-9 for the Texas Rangers in 1974 and 9-10 with a 3.80 ERA in 1975. He worked primarily as a reliever for the Rangers in 1976, going 8-8. He was drafted by the expansion Toronto Blue Jays prior to the 1977 season, was traded back to the Rangers and then was traded to the Atlanta Braves. His combined record for 1977 was 2-6 with a 6.55 ERA. He retired after the 1977 season.

Hargan put in 12 major league seasons – eight with Cleveland – for a combined record of 87-107 with a 3.92 ERA. He was a member of the American League All-Star team in 1967.

 

 

 

 

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Johnny’s Jolt Bounces Bucs

 

This Week in 1960s Baseball …

(August 25, 1963) A dramatic eleventh-inning home run by Johnny Callison propelled the Philadelphia Phillies to a 4-2 victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Johnny Callison's walk-off home run in the 11th inning lifted the Phillies past the Pirates 4-2.

Johnny Callison’s walk-off home run in the 11th inning lifted the Phillies past the Pirates 4-2.

It was Callison’s nineteenth home run of the season. The walk-off blast came at the expense of Pirates reliever Roy Face (3-7).

The Pirates opened the scoring in the third inning on Bob Bailey’s sacrifice fly. The Pirates added another run in the seventh inning off Phillies reliever John Boozer.

The Pirates starter, Bob Veale, allowed no runs on four hits through the first seven innings. The Phillies scored their first run in the eighth inning off reliever Harvey Haddix. Philadelphia tied the game in the ninth inning on Tony Taylor’s lead-off home run.

Taylor singled with one out in the eleventh inning, and scored the game-winning run on Callison’s homer.

Veteran reliever Roy Face gave up the winning home run.

Veteran reliever Roy Face gave up the winning home run.

The winning pitcher was Jack Baldschun (10-5), who shut out the Pirates on one hit over the last three innings.

Maybe Roy Face shouldn’t have faced Callison in the eleventh with the game on the line. During the 1963 season, Callison batted .733 in extra innings.

Mudcat Fever

 

Career Year – Jim Grant (1965)

Jim (Mudcat) Grant was an effective starting pitching for the Cleveland Indians from 1958 to 1964. The right-hander averaged 11 victories and 192 innings per season for the Tribe, and was sixth in the American League in wins in 1961 when he went 15-9 with a 3.86 ERA.

Prior to 1965, Mudcat Grant's best season was 1961, when he went 15-9 for the Cleveland Indians.

Prior to 1965, Mudcat Grant’s best season was 1961, when he went 15-9 for the Cleveland Indians.

The 1961 season was his best in a Cleveland uniform. But it paled in comparison to what Grant accomplished a year after arriving in the Twin Cities.

In June of 1964, the Indians traded Grant to the Minnesota Twins for infielder George Banks and pitcher Lee Stange. Grant was immediately inserted into a Twins starting rotation that already included Camilo Pascual, Jim Kaat and Dick Stigman. Grant pitched well for the Twins over the rest of the 1964 season, going 11-9 with a 2.82 earned run average. But his best was yet to come.

In 1965, Grant went unbeaten through May, winning his first five decisions, four of them with complete games. He was 9-2 at the All-Star break, and pitched two All-Star innings, allowing a pair of runs on a Willie Stargell home run.

Grant continued his excellent pitching in the season’s second half. He dropped his first start after the All-Star game, and then won five games in a row and eight of his next nine decisions. He finished the regular season at 21-7, leading the league in wins, winning percentage (.750) and shutouts (6). He also established career bests in innings pitched (270.1), starts (39) and complete games (14).

Grant was 21-7 for the Minnesota Twins in 1965, leading the American League in wins and shutouts (6).

Grant was 21-7 for the Minnesota Twins in 1965, leading the American League in wins and shutouts (6).

As the ace of the American League champions, Grant finished sixth in the voting for Most Valuable Player.

His fine pitching extended into the postseason. Against the Los Angeles Dodgers in the 1965 World Series, Grant was 2-1 with a 2.74 ERA. He won Game Six with his arm and his bat, pitching a six-hit complete game on two days’ rest and hitting a three-run homer in the sixth inning.

Grant would win 13 games for the Twins in 1966, but that would be the highest victory total over the rest of his career. Converted to a relief pitcher, he played for five different teams from 1968-1971, and retired after the 1971 season. Over a 14-year major league career, Grant was 145-119 with a 3.63 ERA.

 

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Power Personified

 

Homer Happy: Harmon Killebrew

During the 1960s, no hitter exemplified power more than Harmon Killebrew. In that decade, no batter had more home runs, or led the league in home runs more often, than Killebrew.

The Minnesota Twins scored more runs than any other team in the 1960s, leading the American League 4 times in scoring. The Twins offensive juggernaut was anchored by Harmon Killebrew, who led the American League in runs batted in twice during the 1960s.

The Minnesota Twins scored more runs than any other team in the 1960s, leading the American League 4 times in scoring. The Twins offensive juggernaut was anchored by Harmon Killebrew, who led the American League in runs batted in twice during the 1960s.

During the 1960s, Killebrew whacked 393 home runs, 18 more than Hank Aaron and 43 more than Willie Mays. Since 1920, only four players have hit as many as 400 home runs in a decade (Babe Ruth, Jimmie Foxx, Mark McGwire and Alex Rodriguez). Killebrew fell seven short of that mark, but missed over 100 games due to injuries during his decade. Since Killebrew averaged one home run every 12.7 at-bats during the 1960s, he easily missed out on at least 25 home runs.

He didn’t need those “missed” home runs for Hall of Fame enshrinement. The numbers he posted were more than enough.

Killebrew was signed by the Washington Senators at age 17 in 1954 and made his major league debut at the end of that season. He spent three seasons in the minors, and in 1959 – his first full season in the majors – Killebrew led the American League with 42 home runs. He “slipped” to 31 dingers in 1960, and then hit at least 40 home runs in each of the next four seasons, leading the AL (now as a member of the Minnesota Twins) from 1962-1964. He led the league in home runs five times during the 1960s, and led the league in RBIs three times. He blasted 49 home runs twice (in 1964 and 1969), but never hit 50.

His best seasons came in 1962 and 1969. In 1962, Killebrew launched 48 home runs with 126 runs batted in. In 1969, he led the AL with 49 home runs and 140 RBIs. (He also led the league with 145 walks, something he did four times during his career.) Killebrew was selected as the AL Most Valuable Player in 1969.

Killebrew was an All-Star 11 times at three different positions: first base, third base and the outfield. After retiring following the 1975 season, he was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1984. He still ranks eleventh all-time in home runs with 573, and his 1,584 career runs batted in tie him for thirty-seventh place with Rogers Hornsby.

 

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Pinch Hitter to the Stars

 

Glancing Back, and Remembering Carroll Hardy

Outfielder Carroll Hardy has the distinction of being the only player to pinch-hit for both Carl Yastrzemski and Ted Williams. On September 20, 1960, in Williams’ final season, the Hall of Famer fouled a batted ball off his foot, and left the game. Hardy finished the at-bat, making him officially Williams’ pinch hitter. Hardy lined into a double play.

Boston Red Sox Outfielder Carroll Hardy

Boston Red Sox Outfielder Carroll Hardy

Batting for Yastrzemski in May of 1961, Hardy bunted for a single in the eighth inning of a 7-6 loss to the New York Yankees. He moved to second on a walk to Jackie Jensen and scored on Frank Malzone‘s single to center field. Hardy played left field in the ninth inning and batted again in the bottom of the ninth. He reached first on an error by Yankee shortstop Tony Kubek.

Hardy played eight seasons in the major leagues with Boston, Cleveland, Houston and Minnesota. He had a career batting average of .225, with a career best .263 in 1961.

One final note about Carroll Hardy’s career as a pinch hitter: as a member of the Cleveland Indians, Hardy also pinch hit for Roger Maris in 1958, hitting a home run off Billy Pierce.

One Pitch Shy of Perfection

 

This Week in 1960s Baseball …

(August 18, 1960) Milwaukee Braves right-hander Lew Burdette today pitched a no-hitter, beating Gene Conley and the Philadelphia Phillies 1-0.

Lew Burdette's 1960 no-hitter against the Philadelphia Phillies was nearly a perfect game.

Lew Burdette’s 1960 no-hitter against the Philadelphia Phillies was nearly a perfect game.

The Braves right-hander faced the minimum 27 batters in raising his season record to 14-7. The Phillies’ lone base runner was outfielder Tony Gonzalez, who was hit by a Burdette pitch in the fifth inning. The Phillies’ next batter, Lee Walls, grounded into a 4-3-6 double play to wipe out Gonzalez and end the inning. Burdette retired the Phillies in order over the last four innings.

Burdette not only pitched a near-perfect game, but also scored the game’s only run. Burdette led off the bottom of the eighth inning with a double, and scored as the Braves’ next batter, center fielder Billy Bruton, also doubled.

Conley, the Phillies starter (7-10), deserved better. He scattered 10 hits over eight innings, striking out six and walking none.

Burdette would finish the 1960 season at 19-13 with a 3.36 earned run average. He would also lead the National League with 18 complete games … and allow a league-high 277 hits.

Burdette would finish the 1960 season at 19-13 with a 3.36 earned run average. He would also lead the National League with 18 complete games … and allow a league-high 277 hits.

 

Series-Saving Catches

 

The Glove Club: Tommie Agee

Tommie Agee’s excellence as a center fielder bordered at times on the spectacular. He was at his best in the clutch, and found no better stage for his outfield speed and grace – and his out-capturing glove – than in baseball’s most miraculous World Series.

Tommie Agee had his best all-around season in 1969 with the New York Mets, with clutch hitting and outstanding fielding.

Tommie Agee had his best all-around season in 1969 with the New York Mets, with clutch hitting and outstanding fielding.

Signed by the Cleveland Indians in 1961, Agee showed talent that generated comparisons with Willie Mays. His hitting never approached Mays-ian output, but his talent as an outfielder made comparisons with Say Hey somewhat plausible if not completely fair.

After five seasons in the Indians’ farm system, Agee was traded to the Chicago White Sox in 1965, and won Rookie of the Year honors for a 1966 season when he batted .273 with 22 home runs and 86 RBIs. He also stole 44 bases and won the Gold Glove, his first of 2 in his career.

Agee struggled at the plate in 1967, and was acquired by the New York Mets at the direction of new manager Gil Hodges. After hitting only .217 for the Mets in 1968, Agee regained his hitting stroke in 1969, batting .271 with 26 home runs and 76 RBIs. He was a force in the Mets’ lineup throughout their season-long march to the National League pennant.

The Mets won the 1969 World Series with clutch hitting from Donn Clendenon, Al Weis and Cleon Jones. But it was Agee who saved it with his glove in the critical third game.

The American League champion Baltimore Orioles came into the 1969 World Series as heavy favorites to beat the Mets. The Orioles, behind the six-hit pitching of Mike Cuellar, beat Tom Seaver and the Mets 4-1 in the opener, while Jerry Koosman knotted up the Series at 1-1 by shutting down the Orioles 2-1 in the second game.

In Game Three, Agee led off the game with a home run off Orioles’ starter Jim Palmer. It proved to be all the runs that New York would need, thanks to Agee’s “amazin’” defensive performance. With two outs and runners at first and third in the top of the fourth inning, O’s catcher Elrod Hendricks hit a screaming liner to left-center field that Agee ran down and caught in the webbing of his glove just before crashing into the wall.

One of Tommie Agee's "miracles" in center field during the 1969 World Series.

One of Tommie Agee’s “miracles”
in center field during the 1969 World Series.

In the seventh inning of the same game, Paul Blair came to bat with two outs and the bases loaded. Blair hit a fly ball to right center that Agee chased down and grabbed with a diving catch, saving at least three runs. The Mets won the game 5-0 and swept the last two games of the Series to make the Mets the last world champions of the 1960s.

 

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