Jackie Jensen Retires

 

This Week in 1960s Baseball

(January 26, 1960) In a surprise move, Boston Red Sox outfielder Jackie Jensen announced his retirement from baseball at age 33.

The American League MVP in 1958, Jackie Jensen led the league in RBIs that season. He would lead in runs batted in three times.

Jensen suffered from an intense fear of flying. Baseball’s expansion west only compounded his problem. In addition, Jensen wanted to spend more time with his family, telling reporters that “Being away from home with a baseball team for seven months a year doesn’t represent the kind of life I want or the kind of life my wife and children want.”

Despite his persistent problems with air travel, Jensen had become one of the most productive hitters in the late 1950s. He started his career with the New York Yankees and Washington Senators. Traded to the Red Sox prior to the 1954 season, Jensen averaged 111 RBIs per season from 1954 to 1959, leading the American League in runs batted in three times (1955, 1958 and 1959). He was the American League MVP for 1958.

After sitting out the 1960 season, Jensen tried to make a comeback in 1961. But his disappointment in his hitting that season (.263, 13 HRs, 66 RBIs) and his continuing fear of flying compelled Jensen to retirement for good after the 1961 campaign.

Giant Behind the Plate

 

Glancing Back, and Remembering Ed Bailey

Ed Bailey was a solid defensive catcher who was also dangerous with a bat in his hands. He lasted 14 years in the major leagues, playing for five different teams.

Ed Bailey had his best season with the Giants in 1963, batting .263 with 21 home runs and 68 RBIs.

Bailey was signed by the Cincinnati Reds in 1950. After two years in the minors plus two years of military service, he made his debut with the Reds at the end of the 1953 season and earned a place on the team’s roster for 1954, batting .197 with nine home runs and 20 RBIs in his rookie season. He spent part of 1955 back in the minors, working on his hitting, and came back in 1956 to hit .300 with 28 home runs and 75 RBIs.

From 1956 through 1960, as the Reds’ everyday catcher, Bailey hit a combined .267 while averaging 17 home runs and 58 runs batted in per season. He was a member of the National League All-Star team in 1956, 1957 and 1960.

In 1961 Bailey was traded to the San Francisco Giants for Don Blasingame and Bob Schmidt. He batted .245 in 1961 and then, in 1962, he batted .232 with 17 home runs and 45 RBIs while splitting the Giants’ catching duties with Tom Haller. In 1963, Bailey had his best season with the Giants, batting .263 with 21 home runs and 68 RBIs.

After the 1963 season, he was traded with Felipe Alou and Billy Hoeft to the Milwaukee Braves for Del Crandall, Bob Hendley and Bob Shaw. In Milwaukee, Bailey spent the 1964 season as a backup to Joe Torre, batting .262 with five home runs and 34 RBIs. Then he was traded back to the Giants for Billy O’Dell. Two months into the 1965 season, he was traded again, this time with Hendley and Harvey Kuenn to the Chicago Cubs for Dick Bertell and Len Gabrielson.

Bailey hit .253 for the Cubs in 1965. He signed with the California Angels in 1966, but played only five games before retiring.

In 14 major league seasons, Bailey posted a career batting average of .256 with 915 hits and 155 home runs. He was an All-Star five times altogether, being named to the team twice as a member of the Giants as well as his three earlier appearances with the Reds.

 

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On and Running

 

Glancing Back, and Remembering Lenny Green

Lenny Green was good enough to forge a 12-year major league career based on speed and solid center field play. But he was not quite good enough to keep from being replaced and traded repeatedly, and often traded by a team just before it celebrated post-season success.

Lenny Green’s most productive season as a hitter came with the Minnesota Twins in 1962. He batted .271 with 33 doubles, 14 home runs and 63 RBIs.

Green was signed by the Baltimore Orioles. He made brief appearances with the team in 1957 and 1958.

Two months into the 1959 season, he was traded by the Baltimore Orioles to the Washington Senators for Albie Pearson. He hit .242 for the Senators as a spare outfielder in 1959, and followed up in 1960 by batting .294 with a career-best 21 stolen bases. When the team moved to the Twin Cities for the 1961 season, Green has his best campaign with a bat. He hit .285 with 28 doubles, nine home runs and 50 RBIs. He followed up in 1962 by batting .271 with 33 doubles (eighth best in the American League), 14 home runs and 63 RBIs.

In 1963, Green lost his starting job in center field to Jimmie Hall. He hit .239 as a part-time player, and was traded in 1964 (with first baseman Vic Power) to the Los Angeles Angels in a deal that sent Jerry Kindall to the Twins. Before the end of the 1964 season, he was purchased by the Orioles. He hit a combined .211 for the 1964 season.

The Boston Red Sox purchased Green in 1965, and he batted .276 as Boston’s starting center fielder that year. He spent one more season in Boston (batting .241 in only 85 games), before being purchased by the Detroit Tigers. He was a pinch hitter and utility outfielder for the Tigers in 1967, batting .278. Green retired after being released six games into the 1968 season. He finished his career with 788 hits and a .267 lifetime batting average.

He played for Minnesota, Boston and Detroit one season before each of those teams won the American League pennant. Green’s career was built on speed, but repeatedly fell short in timing.

 

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Expos Get Rusty

 

This Week in 1960s Baseball

(January 22, 1969) The Montreal Expos today traded first baseman Donn Clendenon and outfielder Jesus Alou to the Houston Astros for first baseman/outfielder Rusty Staub.

Rusty Staub

In six seasons with Houston, Staub hit a combined .273. His best season with the Astros was 1967, when he batted .333 and led the major leagues with 44 doubles.

Over the next three seasons as a member of the Expos, Staub would hit for a combined .296 batting average and average 26 home runs and 90 RBIs per season. He was an All-Star in all three of his seasons in Montreal, and then was traded before the 1972 season to the New York Mets.

It was also in Montreal that Straub’s wavy red hair earned him the nickname “Le Grand Orange.” He was a favorite with Expo fans.

Donn Clendenon

The other half of the trade worked out less well for Houston. Donn Clendenon refused to report to his new team. So the Montreal Expos sent Jack Billingham, Skip Guinn and $100,000 to the Astros to complete the trade.

Jesus Alou

Over the next four seasons, Alou batted .280 for Houston while averaging 32 RBIs per season. Clendenon would be traded to the New York Mets in June and play an important role in that team’s “miracle” season.

Sammy Puts the Whammy on the National League

 

Career Year: Sammy Ellis – 1965

In the early 1960s, right-hander Sammy Ellis had one of the most promising pitching arms in the Cincinnati Reds organization. Signed by the Reds prior to the 1961 season, Ellis won 10 games (with a 1.89 ERA) in the Sally League in his first professional season, and then won 12 games at the AAA level in each of the next two seasons.

As a rookie in 1964, Sammy Ellis was the Cincinnati Reds most effective closer, with ten victories and 14 saves.

Ellis was outstanding in 1964, his rookie season. He and Billy McCool formed the rookie bullpen tandem for a Reds team that finished second to the St. Louis Cardinals. Ellis led the team with 52 appearances and 14 saves. He was 10-3 with a 2.57 ERA. He struck out 125 batters in 122.1 innings.  And he finished sixteenth in the voting for Most Valuable Player (won that season by Cardinals third baseman Ken Boyer).

It’s more common than not for an outstanding rookie season to be followed by a less-than-stellar campaign. But not in the case of Sammy Ellis.  His 1964 season positioned him as one of the National League’s best relief pitchers. The follow-up 1965 season would establish him as one of the circuit’s best pitchers – period – at least for one year.

Ellis moved out of the bullpen, and opened the season in the Reds’ starting rotation. And he started fast, winning his first four starts and seven of his first nine. In June, he was 5-1 with four complete games. On June 25, he beat the Milwaukee Braves 3-1 with an 11-inning complete game, striking out 10. Four days later, Ellis pitched 14 innings against the Pittsburgh Pirates, allowing only four hits and striking out 10 batters. The Pirates won 2-1 in the bottom of the sixteenth inning on Roberto Clemente’s RBI single off McCool.

Ellis barreled through July and August, piling up innings and wins. At the end of August, he was 17-8 with a 3.70 ERA and 12 complete games. He made nine starts (with one relief appearance) in September, going 5-2.

Sammy Ellis was an All-Star in 1965, when he was 22-10 with a 3.79 ERA. In 39 starts, Ellis pitched two shutouts and 15 complete games.

For the entire 1965 season, Elis was 22-10 with a 3.79 ERA. His 263.2 and 183 strikeouts were both tenth in the league. His 22 wins were fourth most in the National League, and his 15 complete games were sixth most. He led National League pitchers in only one category: Ellis allowed a league-high 111 earned runs.

It would be not only the best season in the seven-year major league career of Sammy Ellis, but the last when he would post a winning record. Plagued by shoulder miseries, his record slipped to 12-19 in 1966, and in 1967 he was 8-11. After going 9-10 for the California Angels in 1968, Ellis started the 1969 season with the Chicago White Sox. He was 0-3 in five starts before being traded to the Cleveland Indians for pitcher Jack Hamilton.

The Indians assigned Ellis to the AAA Portland Beavers. He never made it back to the big leagues as a player. But he continued in baseball for the next three decades as a minor league pitching instructor and as pitching coach for the Yankees, White Sox, Cubs and Reds, among others.

 

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Livin’ Fat on Line Drives

 

Glancing Back, and Remembering Bob Skinner

Bob Skinner spent 12 years in the major leagues as a player, nine of those seasons with the Pittsburgh Pirates. He was a versatile and accomplished outfielder and clutch hitter who was not always a regular but found plenty of opportunities to play in whatever role was needed on a given day.

Bob Skinner hit a career-best .321 in 1958. It was the fifth-best batting average in the National League that season.

He signed with the Pirates in 1951 and was the team’s regular first baseman in his rookie season of 1954, batting .249 with eight home runs and 46 RBIs. He returned to the minors in 1955 (batting .346) and rejoined the Pirates for keeps in 1956. He hit .305 in 1957 and .321 in 1958, fifth best in the National League.

From 1958 through 1962, Skinner hit a combined .290 for the Pirates, averaging 27 doubles, 13 home runs and 67 runs batted in per season. When the Pirates won the National League pennant in 1960, Skinner contributed a career-best 86 RBIs, second on the team to Roberto Clemente.

In 1963, Skinner was traded to the Cincinnati Reds for Jerry Lynch. He batted a combined .259 that season, with three home runs and 25 RBIs. In 1964 he was traded to the St. Louis Cardinals, where he batted a combined .273 over the next three seasons as a pinch hitter and part-time player. His best season in St. Louis came in 1965, when he batted .309 with five home runs and 26 RBIs.

Skinner retired after the 1966 season with a career batting average of .277. He collected 1,198 hits with 197 doubles and 103 home runs. Following his playing career, Skinner stayed in the game for another three decades as a scout, coach and manager.

 

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Serving a Side of Saves

 

Oh, What a Relief: Hal Reniff

Hal Reniff was a big man with an imposing mound presence. He was a staple of the New York Yankees bullpen during the team’s final two pennant-winning seasons in the 1960s, leading the team in saves in 1963.

Hal Reniff was the ace of the New York Yankees’ bullpen in 1963. He led the team in appearances (48) and saves (18).

Reniff was signed by the Yankees in 1956. He toiled for six seasons in the New York farm system, winning 22 games in 1959. He made his debut in New York in 1961, going 2-0 with a 2.58 ERA and two saves in 25 appearances.

Injuries derailed his 1962 season. But in 1963 Reniff emerged as the ace of the Yankees’ bullpen. He saved 18 games in 48 appearances, with a 2.62 ERA and a 4-3 won-lost record. In 1964, Reniff split the closer’s role with Pete Mikkelsen, going 6-4 with nine saves and a 3.12 ERA.

During the next two seasons, Reniff’s numbers declined as the Yankees slipped from league champs to league’s worst. Reniff was 3-4 wth a 3.80 ERA in 1965, and he was 3-7 with a 3.21 ERA in 1966.

Reniff split 1967 between the Yankees and the New York Mets, who purchased him midway through the season. Reniff was a combined 3-5 with a 3.80 ERA for both teams. He retired after the 1967 season, at age 28.

In six full major league seasons, Reniff was a combined 21-23 with a 3.27 ERA and 45 saves. In none of those seasons did he have an earned run average higher than 3.80.

 

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Gentleman Tiger

 

Glancing Back, and Remembering Al Kaline

Al Kaline was so good as a right fielder that his Hall of Fame caliber hitting came as a plus. And he was so complete a hitter – and so consistent throughout his 22-year career – that his contributions as a slugger can be easily overlooked.

In 1955, the 20-year-old Al Kaline led the American League with a .340 batting average. He remains the youngest player ever to win a batting title.

But they shouldn’t be. His excellence as a power hitter matched the other accomplished aspects of his game. He never led the American League in home runs or RBIs, and usually wasn’t even considered to be the most dangerous slugger on the Tigers’ roster. But he ranks among the 20 most prolific home run hitters of the 1960s.

He was the poster child for elegant consistency. He was both liked and admired, by his fans and by his opponents.

Kaline came ready-made when the Tigers signed him at age 18 in 1953. As a “bonus baby,” baseball’s rules at the time required him to spend two seasons on the major league roster before he could play in the minors (or risk being snatched by another team). Kaline spent most of the 1953 season watching from the bench, appearing in only 30 games and batting .250 in only 28 at-bats. He had become the Tigers’ everyday right fielder by the end of the 1954 season, batting .276 with four home runs and 43 RBIs.

At this point, most of the bonus babies from this era would have found themselves in the minor leagues for a regrettably delayed but much needed seasoning. The 20-year-old Kaline didn’t need seasoning. He feasted on raw pitching in 1955, leading the American League with 200 hits and a .340 batting average that made him baseball’s youngest-ever batting champion. He also found a power stroke that would stay with him for the rest of his career, hitting 27 home runs with 102 RBIs. He was named to his first All-Star team, and finished second (to Yogi Berra) in the voting for Most Valuable Player.

From 1955-1959, Kaline batted a combined .318 and averaged 24 home runs and 100 RBIs per season. He would carry that kind of consistency into the 1960s. After a “down” year in 1960 (.278 batting average with 15 home runs and 68 RBIs), Kaline bounced back in 1961 to hit .324 with 19 home runs and 82 runs batted in. He also led the American League with 41 doubles.

A fast start in 1962 (a .336 batting average with 13 home runs and 38 RBIs) was shut down when Kaline broke his collarbone while making a game-saving, diving catch. He missed 54 games, but still managed to hit 29 home runs with 84 RBIs. He followed up in 1963 by batting .312 (second in the league to Carl Yastrzemski) with 27 home runs and 101 RBIs.

Injuries were starting to take a toll on Kaline’s power numbers. A lingering foot ailment limited him to 17 home runs and 68 RBIs in 1964. He wouldn’t hit 20 home runs in a season again until 1966, when he tied his career-best with 29. Kaline never hit as many as 30 home runs in a season, but he hit 20 or more nine times.

Al Kaline spent 22 seasons in the major leagues, all with the Detroit Tigers. (He never played in the minors.) Kaline batted a combined .296 and averaged 21 home runs and 77 RBIs per season during the 1960s.

During the 1960s, Kaline batted a combined .296 and averaged 21 home runs and 77 RBIs per season. He also averaged 81 runs scored throughout the decade.

No overview of Kaline’s career can be complete without mentioning his skill as an outfielder. Kaline won ten Gold Gloves for his play in right field. Seven of those Gold Gloves were earned in the 1960s, when Kaline dominated that award by winning it from 1961 through 1967. Though not blessed with blazing speed, he was baseball smart and made the most of his considerable athletic abilities (just as he did in the batter’s box). His throwing accuracy was deadly to careless base runners.

Kaline spent all of his 22 major league seasons with the Tigers, retiring in 1974 with 3,007 hits and a .297 batting average. He played in more games and had more home runs in a Tigers uniform than anyone before or since. He finished in the American League’s top ten in batting average 11 times, and in home runs eight times.

An All-Star 15 times, Kaline was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1980.

 

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