Hawk on the Wild Side

 

Homer Happy: Ken Harrelson

“Free spirit” would be an understatement when describing Ken Harrelson. An All-Star talent combined with steel-like independence, Harrelson put up outstanding power hitting numbers at his best, and walked away from his playing career while still near its peak … because he felt like it.

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Ken Harrelson led the league with 109 RBIs in 1968. His 35 home runs were third most in the American League, and he finished third in the race for MVP.

Harrelson was signed by the Kansas City Athletics in 1959 and made his debut in an A’s uniform four years later. In between, he tore up minor league pitching, hitting .301 at Visalia with 25 home runs and 114 RBIs in 1961, and then hitting 38 home runs with 138 RBIs at Binghampton in 1962. Against AAA pitching in 1964, Harrelson batted only .232 but also hit 18 home runs with 52 RBIs in 77 games before being called up to Kansas City.

His first full major league season came in 1965, when he led the Athletics with 23 home runs and 66 RBIs. He was traded to the Washington Senators in June of 1966, and was purchased back by the A’s a year later.

His second tour in Kansas City lasted only two months. When A’s owner Charles Finley fired manager Alvin Dark, Harrelson went public to protest Dark’s dismissal, calling Finley “a menace to baseball.” Finley released Harrelson outright, which turned out to be a career break for the outfielder. As a free agent, he signed a lucrative contract with the Boston Red Sox and was a key addition to Boston’s successful 1967 pennant drive, hitting three home runs with 14 RBIs down the stretch for the Red Sox.

After leading the American League with 109 RBIs in 1968, Ken Harrelson was traded by the Red Sox to the Indians in 1969. He retired two years later.

After leading the American League with 109 RBIs in 1968, Ken Harrelson was traded by the Red Sox to the Indians in 1969. He retired two years later.

In 1968, Harrelson had his best season, hitting 35 home runs and leading the majors with 109 RBIs. He started well in 1969, but after ten games was traded surprisingly with pitchers Dick Ellsworth and Juan Pizarro to the Cleveland Indians for Joe Azcue, Vicente Romo and Sonny Siebert. He finished the 1969 season hitting 30 home runs with 92 RBIs playing for the team with the worst record in the American League.

During the following spring training, Harrelson suffered a broken leg while sliding into second base. He sat out most of the season with the injury, returning only for the final 17 games and hitting only one home run. When he returned for the 1971 campaign, he found Chris Chambliss firmly entrenched as the Indians’ first baseman with an outfielder’s glove awaiting him. He played in 52 games for the Tribe that season, hitting five home runs and driving in 14 runs, and then abruptly retired to pursue a career as a professional golfer.

In nine major league seasons, Harrelson hit 131 home runs while batting .239. He was an All-Star in 1968.

40 and Un-Hittable

 

This Week in 1960s Baseball

(April 28, 1961) – The Milwaukee Braves beat the San Francisco Giants 1-0 today on a no-hitter by left-hander Warren Spahn.

At age 40, Warren Spahn pitched his second career no-hitter, beating the San Francisco Giants 1-0.

At age 40, Warren Spahn pitched his second career no-hitter, beating the San Francisco Giants 1-0.

Five days past his fortieth birthday, Spahn became the second-oldest pitcher ever to throw a no-hitter. Cy Young was 41 years and three months old when he threw his third no-hitter in 1908.

Spahn (2-1) struck out five Giants batters and walked two. It was his second career no-hitter. He pitched his first no-hitter against the Philadelphia Phillies in 1960.

The Braves managed only five hits against Giants starter Sam Jones (2-1). The game’s only run was scored in the bottom of the first inning when Hank Aaron singled to right field, scoring Frank Bolling.

Warren Spahn won 21 games in 1961 and finished the season with 21 complete games, leading the league in complete games for the fifth consecutive season.

Warren Spahn won 21 games in 1961 and finished the season with 21 complete games, leading the league in complete games for the fifth consecutive season.

Spahn would finish the 1961 season at 21-13 with a 3.02 ERA. He would lead the National League in complete games (21) and shutouts (4).

Young would remain the oldest pitcher to toss a no-hitter until 1991, when Nolan Ryan threw his seventh career no-hitter at age 44.

Everyone Looks Up to Junior

 

Glancing Back, and Remembering Jim Gilliam

Jim Gilliam was one of the pioneers of baseball’s move toward integration in the 1950s. He was the infielder who replaced Jackie Robinson at second base, was a prolific lead-off batter for Brooklyn’s championship teams, made the transition with the Dodgers to the West Coast, and was part of baseball’s only switch-hitting infield.

Jim Gilliam played his entire 14-year career with the Dodgers, starting in Brooklyn and concluding in Los Angeles. He retired with a .265 career batting average.

Jim Gilliam played his entire 14-year career with the Dodgers, starting in Brooklyn and concluding in Los Angeles. He retired with a .265 career batting average.

He played the game with grace and class. He created runs and collected outs with equal skill, and earned a level of respect among teammates and opponents for his knowledge of the game as well as his talent, a knowledge that served him well as a major league coach after his playing days.

Gilliam was signed by the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1951, and spent his entire 14-year major league career with that team. A switch hitter with sting in his bat and speed on the base paths, Gilliam broke in with the Dodgers in 1953 and hit .278 with six home runs and 63 RBIs while scoring 125 runs and leading the National League with 17 triples – all good enough to earn him the NL Rookie of the Year award.

Over the next seven seasons, Gilliam was the prototypical lead-off hitter for a power-laden Dodger team. He averaged 101 runs per season, hitting .272 throughout the 1950s and averaging 24 doubles per season.

Jim Gilliam made pitchers work to get him out. In 1963, he struck out only 28 times in 525 official at-bats.

Jim Gilliam made pitchers work to get him out. In 1963, he struck out only 28 times in 525 official at-bats.

In the 1960s, Gilliam moved to third base and moved to the second hole in the batting order to make room for shortstop Maury Wills as the Dodgers’ lead-off batter. Gilliam was the ideal second hitter behind Wills just as he had excelled as the team’s lead-off hitter in Brooklyn. He was patient at the plate and rarely struck out, giving Wills ample opportunities to steal bases and advance on contact. Wills’ opportunity to break Ty Cobb‘s single-season stolen base record in 1962 owes much to Gilliam’s bat behind him, in much the same way that Mickey Mantle‘s presence in the New York Yankees’ 1961 batting order contributed mightily to Roger Maris and his opportunity to break Babe Ruth‘s home run record.

Gilliam hit .270 in 1962 and .282 in 1963, when he struck out only 28 times in 525 official at-bats. He finished sixth in the Most Valuable Player balloting that season.

Gilliam retired after the 1966 season with 1,889 hits and a career batting average of .265. He was named twice to the National League All-Star team.

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Baseball’s Most Likeable Power Hitter

 

Glancing Back, and Remembering Willie Mays

The many talents of Willie Mays were on display a full decade before the 1960s began. Rookie of the Year in 1951 and National League Most Valuable Player in 1954, Mays closed out the 1950s by relying more on his speed than on his power.

Willie Mays led the National League in home runs three times during the 1960s. From 1961-1965, he averaged 45 home runs per season.

Willie Mays led the National League in home runs three times during the 1960s. From 1961-1965, he averaged 45 home runs per season.

After leading the league in home runs with 51 in 1955 (the only season in the 1950s when Mays led the league in home runs), he led the league in stolen bases from 1956 through 1959, with a high of 40 in 1956.

Throughout most of the 1960s, Mays’ stolen base totals dwindled gradually but steadily. Yet his decline in that one offensive category was more than offset by his production in nearly every other hitting category, as Mays in the 1960s consistently hit at a level few could match.

He hit for average (a combined .300 for the decade). He hit for power (averaging 35 home runs and 100 RBIs per season during the 1960s). Though perhaps a step slower than when he roamed center field in the Polo Grounds (it would be like light losing a step), Mays still presented a constant threat on the base paths and provided Gold Glove defense in the field, despite the unpredictability of the winds whipping through Candlestick Park.

But it was his offensive skills that made Mays one of the terrors of the National League throughout the 1960s. From 1961 through 1965, he belted 226 home runs, more than a third of his 660 career total. In each of those years, he drove in more than 100 runs, and his batting average slipped below .300 only in 1964 (.296).

In 1961, Mays led the National League in runs (129) and runs produced (212). During the San Francisco Giants’ pennant-winning season of 1962, Mays led the majors with 49 home runs and 382 total bases. His 47 home runs in 1964 led the league again.

Willie Mays won his second Most Valuable Player award in 1965, when he batted .317 with 52 home runs and 112 runs batted in. He also scored 118 runs that season, and led the league with a .645 slugging percentage.

Willie Mays won his second Most Valuable Player award in 1965, when he batted .317 with 52 home runs and 112 runs batted in. He also scored 118 runs that season, and led the league with a .645 slugging percentage.

Yet May’s most productive season was 1965, when he led the majors in home runs (52), total bases (360), slugging average (.645) and on-base percentage (.399). That performance earned him his second Most Valuable Player Award. He also won eight Gold Gloves during the 1960s, and 12 consecutive Gold Gloves in all from 1957 through 1968.

Mays was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1979.

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Treshing Opponents’ Pitching

 

Glancing Back, and Remembering Tom Tresh

When shortstop Tony Kubek traded his New York Yankees uniform for one from the U.S. Army Reserve, the Yankees turned to a rookie named Tom Tresh to step in for their All-Star infielder.

Tom Tresh was the American League Rookie of the Year in 1962, batting .286 with 20 home runs and 93 RBIs.

Tom Tresh was the American League Rookie of the Year in 1962, batting .286 with 20 home runs and 93 RBIs.

From that season on, first as the team’s interim shortstop and then as its regular left fielder (as well as other positions as needed later), Tresh was a solid, and occasionally spectacular, performer for the Yankees throughout the 1960s.

New York signed Tresh off the campus of Central Michigan University in 1958. He played mostly shortstop throughout his four seasons in the minors, batting .315 for AAA Richmond in 1961.

Kubek’s departure for military service opened the door for Tresh to start at shortstop on Opening Day in 1962, a feat matched by no Yankee rookie until Derek Jeter in 1996. Like Jeter 34 years later, Tresh was ultimately selected as the American League Rookie of the Year. He hit .286 with 20 home runs and 93 RBIs, providing excellent defense while surpassing Kubek offensively.

When Kubek delighted the Yankees by returning to baseball in August, earlier than expected, Tresh moved seamlessly to left field, where he played for the final two months of the 1962 regular season. He continued his high level of performance in September and throughout the World Series, where he batted .321 with one home run and four RBIs.

Tresh never quite matched that level of offense again. Yet his performance was generally solid while the Yankees’ fortunes gradually declined. From 1963-1966, he posted a combined batting average of .257 and averaged 24 home runs and 72 RBIs per season.

Tom Tresh hit three home runs in the second games of a double header in 1965. For the day, Tresh batted 6 for 8 with 6 RBIs. He would finish the 1965 season with a .279 batting average, 26 home runs and 74 RBIs.

Tom Tresh hit three home runs in the second game of a double header in 1965. For the day, Tresh batted 6 for 8 with 6 RBIs. He would finish the 1965 season with a .279 batting average, 26 home runs and 74 RBIs.

During spring training of 1967, Tresh damaged the cartilage in his right knee. He played through the injury instead of surrendering to surgery, and the knee never properly healed, limiting his performance and shortening his career. In 1967, his batting average dropped to .219, and his home run output fell to 14 with 53 RBIs. In 1968, his batting average declined even further (as they did for most of the bats in the American league), hitting just .195 with 14 home runs and 53 RBIs.

In 1969 he was traded to the Detroit Tigers, and finished that season in Detroit before retiring. Tresh ended his career with 1,041 hits and 153 home runs. His career batting average, after nine major league seasons, was .245.

Tresh was twice an All-Star and won a Gold Glove as an outfielder in 1965.

Believin’ with Every Tug of Your Heart

 

Oh, What a Relief: Tug McGraw

Tug McGraw was the bullpen ace of the 1969 New York Mets, his arm and attitude essential ingredients in that season’s miracle at Flushing Meadows. When he took his arm to Philadelphia in the late 1970s, the inspiration went with him, and more miracles followed.

Tug McGraw struggled early in his career as a starting pitcher, but found lasting success working out of the bullpen. He was 9-3 with a 2.24 ERA and 12 saves for the New York Mets in 1969.

Tug McGraw struggled early in his career as a starting pitcher, but found lasting success working out of the bullpen. He was 9-3 with a 2.24 ERA and 12 saves for the New York Mets in 1969.

McGraw was signed by the Mets in 1964 and debuted with the club at the beginning of the 1965 season.  He went 2-7 as a starter during his rookie season. His second victory was the franchise’s first ever over Sandy Koufax of the Los Angeles Dodgers.

In 1966, after a 2-9 start to the season, McGraw began a tour of minor league seasoning that carried him through 1968. When he returned to the Mets in 1969, the starting rotation was set with proven aces such as Tom Seaver and Jerry Koosman. McGraw moved to the bullpen full-time, and excelled there. That season he was 9-3 (8-2 in relief) with a 2.24 ERA and 12 saves.

From that point on McGraw emerged as one of the premier relievers in the National League. He went 11-4 in 1971 with a 1.70 ERA. He posted a 1.70 ERA again in 1972, winning 8 games and saving 27. He saved 25 games for the Mets in 1973. He was outstanding in the 1973 World Series against the Oakland Athletics, winning one and saving another game, with 14 strikeouts in 13.2 innings.

Tug McGraw’s best season with the Mets came in 1972. In 54 appearances, he was 8-6 with 27 saves and a 1.70 ERA.

Tug McGraw’s best season with the Mets came in 1972. In 54 appearances, he was 8-6 with 27 saves and a 1.70 ERA.

Following the 1974 season, McGraw was traded by the Mets with Don Hahn and Dave Schneck to the Philadelphia Phillies for Mac Scarce, John Stearns and Del Unser. He spent the next decade in the Phillies’ bullpen, winning 49 games and saving 94. His best season in Philly came in 1980 when he went 5-4 with a 1.46 ERA and 20 saves. In the 1980 World Series against the Kansas City Royals, McGraw appeared in four games, going 1-1 with two saves and a 1.17 ERA. He finished fifth in the Cy Young voting for that season.

McGraw retired after the 1984 season. His big league career lasted 19 seasons, producing a 96-92 record with 180 saves and a 3.14 career ERA. He was an All-Star twice.

 

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Baltimore’s Grand Slammer

 

Homer Happy: Jim Gentile

Before the presence of Boog Powell or Frank Robinson in the Baltimore Orioles’ lineup, the slugger that opposing pitchers were most likely to work around was first baseman Jim Gentile. And for good reason.

Jim Gentile averaged 30 home runs and 94 RBIs as an everyday player from 1960-1964.

Jim Gentile averaged 30 home runs and 94 RBIs as an everyday player from 1960-1964.

In the early 1960s, Gentile wielded the most powerful bat in the Orioles’ batting order, and one of the most potent in the American League. You walked him when you could, because when you couldn’t it would probably cost you some runs. And when you couldn’t walk him because the bases were full, you were especially in trouble. Gentile had a particular knack for rising to a bases-loaded occasion and clearing the bags with one swing. It’s something he did more than once, even in one game.

The Brooklyn Dodgers signed Gentile right out of high school in 1952. At six-foot-three and over 200 pounds, power came naturally to him. And he showed off that power through eight minor league seasons in the Dodgers’ farm system.

Gentile hit 245 minor league home runs, and never fewer than 18 at any minor league stop. But Gentile spent eight fruitful but unrewarding years in the minor leagues because the Dodgers had no room for a slugging first baseman in Brooklyn. Gil Hodges owned first base for the Dodgers, and during the 1950s, he hit more home runs than any other National League player except one: teammate Duke Snider.

So Gentile faithfully crushed minor league pitching everywhere he was sent: 34 in Pueblo, 28 in Mobile, 40 in Ft. Worth, 24 in Montreal and 27 in St. Paul. He also regularly hit more than 25 doubles a year and usually batted near the .300 mark. But he was no Gil Hodges. Gentile joined the Dodgers for quick looks in both 1957 and 1968, appearing in a total of 16 games and hitting one home run with five runs batted in.

His break came in October of 1959 when he was traded to the Orioles. He had an impressive rookie season in 1960, batting .292 with 21 home runs and 98 RBIs. He and Orioles pitcher Chuck Estrada (18-11 in 1960) tied for runner-up in the Rookie of the Year voting behind another teammate, shortstop Ron Hansen.

Jim Gentile hit five grand slam home runs in 1961, including consecutive grand slams in one game.

Jim Gentile hit five grand slam home runs in 1961, including consecutive grand slams in one game.

Gentile had his best season in the major leagues a year later. He batted .302 and belted 46 home runs with 141 RBIs (tied with Roger Maris for the most in the American League). His 46 home runs and .646 slugging percentage were both third in the American League (behind Mickey Mantle and Maris). Gentile also tied a major league record with five grand slam home runs in 1961. His hitting consecutive grand slams on May 9 was a major league first.

Gentile’s 1962 season would have been a career year for some players, but it was still a major comedown statistically from what he had done the previous year. He hit 33 home runs (13 less than in 1961) with 87 RBIs (a drop of 54). His batting average tumbled more than 50 points to .251.

After Gentile’s hitting numbers slid for a second consecutive season in 1963 (24 home runs, 72 RBIs), the Orioles dealt him to the Kansas City Athletics for first baseman Norm Siebern. The trade temporarily rejuvenated Gentile’s power hitting, as he stroked 28 home runs for the A’s in 1964. But his days as a significant power threat were nearly at an end. He hit 17 homers in 1965 in a season split between the A’s and the Houston Astros. He managed only nine home runs for the Astros and Cleveland Indians in 1966, his last season in the major leagues.

Gentile hit 179 home runs in the major leagues, but was an everyday player for only five seasons. From 1960-1964 – his “everyday” seasons – Gentile averaged 30 home runs and 94 RBIs per season. He was a three-time All-Star during those five seasons.

Who knows how many home runs he could have accumulated if the Dodgers had traded him a few seasons earlier?

Cleveland’s Mc-Complement

 

Glancing Back, and Remembering Sonny Siebert

During the mid-1960s, the Cleveland Indians had not only the most prolific strikeout pitcher in Sam McDowell, but also the league’s most lethal strikeout tandem. Sonny Siebert was the other half of that duo, and the right-handed complement to Sudden Sam.

Sonny Siebert averaged 9.1 strikeouts per nine innings pitched in 1965, when he went 16-8 with a 2.43 ERA.

Sonny Siebert averaged 9.1 strikeouts per nine innings pitched in 1965, when he went 16-8 with a 2.43 ERA.

Siebert was signed by the Indians out of the University of Missouri and pitched in Cleveland’s farm system for five seasons. He was a .500 pitcher until 1962, when he won 15 games for Charleston in the Eastern League. After a 7-9 rookie season in 1964, Siebert moved into the Indians’ starting rotation and stayed there for four seasons.

Clevelands’s young starting rotation of McDowell, Siebert and Luis Tiant was one of the best in the American League in terms of “stuff.” Unfortunately, that trio didn’t have the supporting talent to turn them into consistent winners. Of the three, Siebert seems to have fared the best at first. In his first season as a full-time starter, Siebert went 16-8 with a 2.43 ERA and 191 strikeouts in 188.2 innings pitched. He finished the season fourth in the American League in strikeouts, second in strikeouts per nine innings (9.1) and third in ERA. (Teammate McDowell led the league in all three categories.)

Siebert repeated his 16-8 campaign for 1966, increasing his innings pitched to 241 while keeping his ERA at a low 2.80. His 161 strikeouts were tenth best in the league (led again by McDowell). No other team in the American League had as potent a 1-2 strikeout punch.

On June 10, 1966, Sonny Siebert pitched a 2-0 no-hitter against the Washington Senators. He struck out seven and walked only one batter.

On June 10, 1966, Sonny Siebert pitched a 2-0 no-hitter against the Washington Senators. He struck out seven and walked only one batter.

Over the next two seasons, Siebert was a combined 22-22 for Cleveland despite a combined ERA of only 2.69. At the beginning of the 1969 season, Siebert was traded with Joe Azcue and Vicente Romo to the Boston Red Sox for Dick Ellsworth, Ken Harrelson and Juan Pizarro. He won 14 games for the Red Sox in 1969, 15 games in 1970, and 16 games in 1971. After a 12-12 season in 1972, Siebert was traded to the Texas Rangers. He played for four different teams over the next three seasons, posting a combined 22-26 record. He retired after the 1975 season.

During his 12-year career, Siebert won 140 games with a career ERA of 3.21.

 

 

 

 

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Billy’s Doubles Finish Phillies

 

This Week in 1960s Baseball

(April 9, 1969) Chicago Cubs outfielder Billy Williams today hit four consecutive doubles in spurring the Cubs to beat the Philadelphia Phillies, 11-3.

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Billy Williams smacked four consecutive doubles as the Chicago Cubs defeated the Philadelphia Phillies 11-3.

The Cubs collected 16 hits as a team to score those 11 runs. In addition to Williams’ four doubles, Glenn Beckert, Don Kessinger and Don Young each hit a double for Chicago. Beckert and Ernie Banks each had three hits for the Cubs. All of the Cubs starters had hits except catcher Randy Hundley and pitcher Bill Hands (1-0).

The losing pitcher for Philadelphia was right-hander Rick Wise (0-1). Wise gave up eight hits and four walks in five innings of work. He allowed four runs, two of which were earned.

Billy Williams finished the 1969 season with 33 doubles, third most in the National League. He batted .293 that season.

Billy Williams finished the 1969 season with 33 doubles, third most in the National League. He batted .293 that season.

Williams’ four doubles produced two RBIs. He walked in his only other plate appearance of the day. He would finish the 1969 season with 33 doubles, 21 home runs and 95 RBIs with a .293 batting average.

Hands, the Cubs’ starting pitcher and the game’s winner, would finish the season at 20-14 with a 2.49 ERA.