Cuban Comet

 

Glancing Back, and Remembering Minnie Minoso

Minnie Minoso was one of the most durable players in major league history, appearing for teams in five different decades (1940s-1980s). He lasted so long because he was an outstanding hitter and left fielder, batting .298 over a 17-year career and winning three Gold Gloves.

From 1952-1957, Minnie Minoso batted .305 for the Chicago White Sox. He averaged 15 home runs and 90 RBIs per season over that period.

From 1952-1957, Minnie Minoso batted .305 for the Chicago White Sox. He averaged 15 home runs and 90 RBIs per season over that period.

Minoso was already a proven hitter in his native Cuba and in the Negro League when he was signed by the Cleveland Indians in 1948. He made his debut with the Tribe in 1949, appearing in nine games. After a season in AAA ball, he started the 1951 season with Cleveland and then was traded to the Chicago White Sox, the first player of color to join the White Sox. He hit .326 in his rookie season with 10 home runs and 76 RBIs. He led the American League in triples (14) and stolen bases (31).

Minoso’s first tour with the White Sox lasted seven seasons. He hit .300 or better in five of those seasons, and led the league in stolen bases in 1952 and 1953. He also led the league in triples in 1954 (a career-high 18) and 1956. In 1954, besides leading the league in triples, Minoso batted .320 with 19 home runs and 116 RBIs.

In 1957, Minoso batted .310 with 12 home runs and 103 RBIs, and led the league with 36 doubles. Following that season, he was traded by the White Sox to the Cleveland Indians for Al Smith and Early Wynn. He hit .302 for Cleveland in 1958 with 24 home runs and 80 RBIs, and followed up in 1959 by hitting .302 again with 21 home runs and 92 RBIs.

Then it was back to the White Sox, traded with Dick Brown, Don Ferrarese and Jake Striker for Norm Cash, Bubba Phillips and John Romano. He batted .311 in 1960 with 20 home runs and 105 RBIs, and also led the American League with 184 hits. He won his third Gold Glove that season, and finished fourth in the balloting for AL Most Valuable Player (won by Roger Maris).

Minnie Minoso led the American League three times each in triples and stolen bases. He led the league 10 times in being hit by a pitch.

Minnie Minoso led the American League three times each in triples and stolen bases. He led the league 10 times in being hit by a pitch.

In 1961, Minoso hit .280 for the White Sox and was traded to the St. Louis Cardinals for first baseman Joe Cunningham. Now 36, Minoso played in only 39 games for the Cardinals, batting .196. He was signed by the Washington Senators, batting .229 in 1963. He appeared in 30 games for the White Sox in 1964, and after his release played several years in Mexico.

Minoso made two more brief appearances with the White Sox, in 1976 and 1980, qualifying him for five decades of major league appearances. He played minor league ball in the 1990s and 2003, making him the only player to appear professionally in seven different decades.

In his prime, Minoso was one of the best and most consistent hitters in the American League. From 1951 through 1960, Minoso hit for a combined .307 and averaged 16 home runs and 90 RBIs per season. He finished his career with 1,963 hits, and was an All-Star seven times.

Make Mine a Mc-Thirty

 

Lights Out: Denny McLain Becomes Baseball’s Last 30-Game Winner

When: September 14, 1968

Where:  Tiger Stadium, Detroit, Michigan

Game Time: 3:00

Attendance: 33,688

 

Only one man on earth knows what it feels like to be a 30-game winner. That man is Denny McLain, and that feeling came to him in a game he nearly gave away.

Denny McLain was 31-6 with a 1.96 ERA in 1968. He pitched 28 complete games, six of them shutouts.

Denny McLain was 31-6 with a 1.96 ERA in 1968. He pitched 28 complete games, six of them shutouts.

McLain was a bulldozer all season long, the league’s best pitcher pitching for the league’s best team. His first two starts resulted in no decisions, but he won his next five starts, was 8-1 at the end of May and 14-2 at the end of June. McLain went 7-1 in July to become a 20-game winner before August 1, and was 5-2 in August to enter the season’s final month with a 26-5 record.

He won his first three starts in September, and the Oakland Athletics came to Detroit on September 14 to face McLain with his 29-5 record and a 1.95 ERA. A’s starter Chuck Dobson and McLain traded zeroes over the first three innings. The A’s scored two runs in the top of the fourth with Reggie Jackson’s twenty-seventh home run of the year. Then the Tigers chased Dobson in the bottom of the fourth with a three-run home run by Norm Cash.

The A’s came back in the top of the fifth, as Bert Campaneris singled in Dave Duncan to tie the score at 3-3. Jackson put the A’s back on top in the sixth inning with his twenty-eighth home run, and the game remained 4-3 through the eighth inning.

McLain retired Sal Bando, Jackson and Dick Green in order in the top of the ninth, throwing a third strike past Green for his tenth strikeout of the game. In the bottom of the ninth, Al Kaline led off with a walk. Dick McAuliffe hit a pop foul to Bando, and then Mickey Stanley singled off A’s pitcher Diego Segui, sending Kaline to third.

Denny McLain was the epitome of balanced productivity during his Cy Young season in 1968. He was 14-2 through June, and 17-4 during the second half of the season.

Denny McLain was the epitome of balanced productivity during his Cy Young season in 1968. He was 14-2 through June, and 17-4 during the second half of the season.

The next batter, Jim Northrup, smashed a hard grounder to Danny Cater at first.  Cater fielded the ball and threw to third to keep Kaline from scoring, but the ball got by Bando, allowing Kaline to score the tying run and advancing Stanley to third. Willie Horton singled to drive in Stanley with the winning run, the run that made Denny McLain the first 30-game winner in the American League in 37 years, and the last man to do it in the Twentieth Century.

 

 

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A Pirate’s Best Friend

 

Glancing Back, and Remembering Bob Friend

For 15 seasons, Bob Friend was a solid starter for the Pittsburgh Pirates, winning 191 games and losing more than he generally deserved.

Bob Friend won 18 games for the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1960 and in 1962.

Bob Friend won 18 games for the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1960 and in 1962.

Friend was signed by the Pirates in 1949 and joined the big league team two seasons later. In his first four years with the Pirates, Friend compiled a 28-50 record as a starter and reliever for Pirate teams that finished seventh once and last three times. In 1955, Friend posted a 14-9 record while leading the National League with a 2.83 ERA. In 1956 and 1957, he led the major leagues in starts and innings pitched.  In 1958 he had the most wins in the majors, going 22-14.

Friend went 18-12 in 1960, second on the team in wins (to Vern Law’s 20-9) and playing a key role in the Pirates’ world championship that year. He slipped to 14-19 in 1961, but rebounded in 1962 with an 18-14 record and won 17 games in 1963.

From 1952 through 1965, Friend pitched an average of 238 innings per season for the Pirates. His last season was 1966, which he split between the New York Mets and the New York Yankees. A three-time All-Star, Friend finished his career with 197 victories. He remains the Pirates’ all-time leader in innings pitched (3,480.1), games started (477) and strikeouts (1,682).

 

 

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Who’s Culp-able?

 

Swap Shop: How Ray Culp Came to Boston … via Chicago

Twice the Chicago Cubs made trades that involved pitcher Ray Culp. Both times the Cubs were “burned.” Yet both times Culp out-performed the “price” of his acquisition.

Ray Culp

Ray Culp

Culp had made his major league debut with the Philadelphia Phillies in 1963, winning 14 games and finishing third in the race for Rookie of the Year. He won 14 again in 1965, but after a 7-4 season in 1966, he was traded to the Chicago Cubs for left-hander Dick Ellsworth. Both pitchers spent only one, mostly unsuccessful season with their new teams. Ellsworth went 6-7 for the Phillies with a 4.38 ERA. He was shipped to the Boston Red Sox (with catcher Gene Oliver) in the off-season.

Culp fared only slightly better for the Cubs in 1967, going 8-11 with a 3.89 ERA in 22 starts.

Even though the Red Sox had won the pennant in 1967, they needed starting pitchers, especially after Cy Young winner Jim Lonborg broke a leg skiing. Ellsworth was one answer. Culp turned out to be another. The Cubs were willing to part with Culp for cash and Bill Schlesinger, a career minor leaguer.

Culp would prove to be a bargain for the Red Sox, as he was about to enter the most productive part of his career. He went 16-6 with a 2.91 ERA for the Red Sox in 1968 (while Ellsworth, the other former Cub on the Red Sox pitching staff, rebounded with a 16-7 season). Culp would be the ace of the Boston staff for the following three seasons, winning 48 games with a combined 3.47 earned run average.

Schlesinger, the outfielder Boston gave up to get Culp, would never make an official at-bat for the Cubs.

The Anonymous Batting Champion

 

Glancing Back, and Remembering Pete Runnels

Pete Runnels may well be the least-known batting champion from the 1960s. Yet he was the 1960s’ first two-time batting champion, and the first player ever to win two batting titles while playing two different positions.

Pete Runnels won two batting championships as a member of the Boston Red Sox in the 1960s, hitting .320 in 1960 and .326 in 1962.

Pete Runnels won two batting championships as a member of the Boston Red Sox in the 1960s, hitting .320 in 1960 and .326 in 1962.

Runnels broke into the big leagues as a shortstop for the Washington Senators in 1951. Over the next seven years, splitting his time between shortstop and second base, Runnels hit .274 for Washington, with a high mark of .310 in 1956. He was traded to the Boston Red Sox before the 1958 season, when he hit .322, the second highest average in the league. He also registered a career high 183 hits in his first year with Boston, fourth best in the league.

As Boston’s starting second baseman, Runnels won his first batting championship in 1960 with a .320 average. Runnels moved over to first base in 1961, hitting .317 that year. As the Red Sox first baseman in 1962, Runnels claimed his second batting title with a .326 average. In his five seasons with Boston, Runnels was one of the league’s most consistent hitters, with a combined average of .320 over that period.

Pete Runnels was the first major league hitter to win batting titles while playing different positions.

Pete Runnels was the first major league hitter to win batting titles while playing different positions.

His batting title in 1962 wasn’t enough to keep Runnels in a Red Sox uniform, as he was traded in the off season to the Houston Colt .45s for outfielder Roman Mejias. Runnels never hit for power. Mejias did.

Runnels batted only .253 in 1963, his only full season with Houston. He was released 22 games into the 1964 season, and never played again in the majors. Runnels finished his 14-year major league career batting .291 with 1,854 hits. He was an All-Star three times.

Solid in Cincy

 

Glancing Back, and Remembering Jim O’Toole

In an era dominated by a left-hander named Sandy Koufax, it was difficult for any other National League southpaw to stand out. But from 1960 through 1964, in an unassuming way, left-hander Jim O’Toole won 81 games for the Cincinnati Reds, an average of 16 wins per season.

Jim O’Toole’s best season came in the Cincinnati Reds’ pennant-winning 1961 campaign. O’Toole was 19-9 with a 3.10 ERA that was second best in the National League.

A Chicago native, O’Toole pitched for the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where he was signed by the Reds as an amateur free agent in 1957. He made the big league club in 1959, and moved into the Reds’ starting rotation in 1960, finishing the season 12-12 with a 3.80 ERA.

In 1961, O’Toole emerged as one of the best pitchers in the National League. He finished the season at 19-9, third in the league in victories to Warren Spahn and teammate Joey Jay, both of whom won 21 games. Down the stretch, O’Toole was a tiger for the pennant-winning Reds. From July 23 through the rest of the season, O’Toole went 11-1, winning his last 8 decisions. He also saved two games for the Reds. His 3.10 ERA was second best in the league. (Spahn led with 3.02).

He followed up with three more strong seasons for the Reds, going 16-13 in 1962, 17-14 in 1963, and 17-7 in 1964. His 2.66 ERA in 1964 was sixth best in the National League.

O’Toole was the starting pitcher for the National League in the 1963 All-Star game. He was the league leader in victories at that point with a 13-6 record. He finished the 1963 season with a career-high five shutouts.

Jim O’Toole was 17-14 in 1963 with five shutouts. He was the National League’s starting pitcher in the 1963 All-Star game.

Jim O’Toole was 17-14 in 1963 with five shutouts. He was the National League’s starting pitcher in the 1963 All-Star game.

O’Toole pitched for the Reds for two more seasons, going a combined 8-17. He appeared in 15 games with the Chicago White Sox in 1967, going 4-3 with a 2.82 ERA and one shutout.

O’Toole finished his 10-year major league career with a record of 98-84 and a 3.57 ERA.

 

 

 

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Chance Favors the Hard Throwing

 

Glancing Back, and Remembering Dean Chance

Between 1963 and 1966, only one pitcher not named Koufax won the Cy Young award. That was Wilmer Dean Chance, the Los Angeles Angels ace who hurled 11 shutouts in 1964.

Dean Chance led the major leagues with a 1.65 ERA in 1964. His 20-9 record that season included 11 shutouts.

Signed by Baltimore in 1959, the Angels plucked Dean Chance from the Orioles’ organization in the 1960 expansion draft. In his rookie season of 1962, Chance emerged as the team’s best starter, finishing with a 14-10 record and 2.96 ERA as the Angels surprised the league by finishing third in only second year of existence for the franchise.  The next year the Angels came back to earth, finishing ninth, and Chance’s record slipped to 13-18 despite pitching well enough to post a 3.19 ERA.

Chance was the American League’s most dominant pitcher in 1964, his Cy Young season. His 20-9 record tied him with Chicago’s Gary Peters for most victories. Chance led the league in inning pitched (278) and complete games (15), of which 11 were shutouts (and six of which were 1-0 victories). He also recorded the majors’ best ERA at 1.65. His 207 strikeouts were third in the league.

The 1965 season was another strong one for Chance, 15-10 with a 3.15 ERA. The next year, he lowered his ERA to 3.08, but his record slipped to 12-17. That winter, Chance was traded to the Minnesota Twins for Pete Cimino, Jimmie Hall and Don Mincher.

In three seasons with the Minnesota Twins, Dean Chance was 41-34 with a 2.67 ERA.

Chance won 20 games for the Twins in 1967 with a 2.73 ERA. He led the American League in games started (39), complete games (18) and innings pitched (283). He was third in the American League in strikeouts with 220. The only dark point for Chance in an otherwise stellar season came on the last day.

The Twins were tied with the Red Sox going into the last regular season game at Fenway Park. It was a marquee pitching matchup, pitting both teams’ aces: Chance (20-13) for the Twins, and Jim Lonborg (21-7) for the Red Sox. The Twins scored a run in both the first and third innings, while Chance shut out the Red Sox over the first five frames. Then the Red Sox chased Chance out of the game, scoring five times in the sixth inning. Lonborg coasted the rest of the way, winning a league-leading 22 games and the Cy Young award.

In 1968, Chance went 16-16 for the Twins with an excellent 2.53 ERA. He achieved personal highs for innings pitched (292) and strikeouts (234). A series of injuries kept Chance from ever again performing at that level. Over the next three years, pitching for four different teams, Chance’s combined record was only 18-19.

Chance retired after the 1971 season with a career record of 128-115 with a 2.92 earned run average. He was an All-Star in 1964 and 1967.

 

 

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A’s Add Fingers

 

This Week in 1960s Baseball

(December 24, 1964) – Today the Kansas City Athletics signed a lanky right-handed pitcher-outfielder named Roland Fingers.

Rollie Fingers in 1969

Rollie Fingers in 1969

By the time the pitcher Rollie Fingers would win a spot on the Athletics’ roster in 1968, the franchise had moved from Kansas City to Oakland.

By the time Fingers had closed out his major league career after 17 seasons, he would have accumulated 341 career saves, a Cy Young award (1981), a Most Valuable Player award (1981), a World Series MVP (1974), three World Series rings, a place in the baseball Hall of Fame (inducted in 1992) and a handlebar moustache (plus the $300 bonus he earned from Charles Finley for growing it).

Most Valuable Twin

 

Glancing Back, and Remembering Zoilo Versalles

Sometimes timing is everything. Have a career year for a perennial second-division team that rises to American League champion and you too could win a Most Valuable Player award.

Just ask Zoilo Versalles.

Zoilo Versalles was the American League MVP in 1965 when he batted .273 with 19 home runs and 77 RBIs and winning his second Golden Glove.

Versalles was signed by the Washington Senators in 1958 and made the major league club for keeps in 1960, the team’s last year in the nation’s capital. From 1963 through 1965, Zoilo Versalles was the only American League player with double-figure totals in doubles, triples and home runs.

The Minnesota Twins sparkplug was clearly the team leader when the 1965 American League pennant arrived in the Twin Cities. The 5-foot-10 Cuban-born shortstop led the American League in at-bats (666), runs (126), doubles (45), triples (12), and total bases (308) while batting .273 with 19 home runs and 77 RBIs and winning the Golden Glove (his second).

He continued his clutch hitting in the World Series, which the Los Angeles Dodgers took four games to three. Versalles hit .286 with four RBIs on eight hits, including a double, a triple and a home run.

His batting average in 1966 slipped to .249, and his home runs and RBIs fell by more than half (to seven home runs and 36 runs batted in). His batting average dipped to .200 in 1967, and the Twins traded Versalles and Mudcat Grant to the Dodgers for Bob Miller, Ron Perranoski and John Roseboro. The change of scenery didn’t help his hitting, as he batted .196 for the Dodgers in 1968. Versalles spent the 1969 season with the Cleveland Indians and Washington Senators, and was released after batting a combined .236.

After a season in the Mexican League, Versalles was signed by the Atlanta Braves and was a part-time player in 1971, his last season in the majors. He spent three more seasons in the minors before retiring in 1974.

A lifetime .242 hitter, Versalles led the American League in triples three times, and was never more productive at the plate than he was during his MVP season.

 

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A Smashing Success in Philadelphia

 

Homer Happy: Dick Allen

Dick Allen burst upon the major leagues in 1964 as the National League’s best rookie … and as one of the best sluggers in baseball. He would maintain his status as a premier slugger for a decade.

In his six full seasons with the Phillies, Dick Allen batted .300 with a .505 slugging percentage.

In his six full seasons with the Phillies, Dick Allen batted .300 with a .505 slugging percentage.

Allen was signed by the Philadelphia Phillies in 1960. In four seasons, he hit with power at every rung in the minor league ladder, culminating with 33 home runs and 97 RBIs at Arkansas in the International League in 1963.

To say Allen was ready for major league pitching in 1964 was an understatement. As a rookie, he rocked the National League, batting .318 on 201 hits and leading the league with 125 runs scored and 13 triples. He also led the league with 138 strikeouts, but his power numbers made his tendency to strike out forgivable. He racked up 38 doubles, 29 home runs and 91 RBIs … all as a rookie. He was a near-unanimous choice as the National League Rookie of the Year.

The “sophomore jinx?” It nipped at Allen in 1965, but didn’t infect him all that much. He managed to hit .302 with 20 home runs and 85 RBIs while scoring 93 runs.

He rebounded in 1966, batting .317 (fourth in the National League), with 40 home runs (second to Hank Aaron’s 44), and 110 RBIs (third in the league). Allen scored 112 runs and his .632 slugging percentage led the National League.

Dick Allen had an outstanding rookie season in 1964. He led the National League in runs scored (125), triples (13) and total bases (352). His 201 hits were third highest in the league. He won Rookie of the Year and finished seventh in the MVP voting.

Dick Allen had an outstanding rookie season in 1964. He led the National League in runs scored (125), triples (13) and total bases (352). His 201 hits were third highest in the league. He won Rookie of the Year and finished seventh in the MVP voting.

He never put up those kinds of offensive numbers again, but he remained a major slugging threat for the rest of the 1960s and into the next decade. From 1967-1969, Allen batted .285 with a .551 slugging percentage, averaging 29 home runs and 85 RBIs per season.

Just after the close of the 1969 season, the Phillies sent Allen to the St. Louis Cardinals in a seven-player deal that was supposed to include the Cardinals’ All-Star outfielder Curt Flood. Flood’s refusal to comply with the trade set in motion the legal events that led to players’ free agency in the 1970s. Allen hit 34 home runs with 101 RBIs in his only season with the Cardinals.

Allen played for the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1971 (23 home runs, 90 RBIs) and then spent three seasons with the Chicago White Sox. He led the American League twice in home runs while playing for Chicago, and he won the American League Most Valuable Player award in 1972 when he batted .308 with 37 home runs, 113 runs batted in, and a .603 slugging percentage.

In 1975, Allen returned to the Phillies, but was only a shadow of the slugging monster who broke in with Philadelphia a decade earlier. He hit 12 home runs in 1975 and 15 in 1976, then finished his career in 1977 as a part-time player with the Oakland Athletics.

In 15 major league seasons, Allen batted .292 with 1,848 hits. He hit 351 home runs and drove in 1,119 runs. He was an All-Star seven times.

 

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Dick Allen is one of the sluggers featured in Legends of Swing: The Home Run Hitters of the 1960s.

Available now in softcover and Kindle editions from Amazon.