The Value of Versatility

 

Glancing Back, and Remembering Denis Menke

Denis Menke could – and did – play any position other than the battery at the major league level. He was a shortstop who could hit with authority and occasional power. And he was a utility player who, for most of his career, was too good to be a backup.

Versatility kept Denis Menke on the Milwaukee Braves roster for the 1963 season. He played all four infield positions and the outfield. Though he was the starter in less than half of the Braves’ games, Menke still managed to play enough to accumulate 518 at-bats, hitting .239.

Menke was signed by the Milwaukee Braves in 1958 and made the club for 50 games in 1962. By 1963, he had 518 at-bats while starting only 71 games in the field. His versatility earned him plenty of innings and at-bats throughout the season, even though he batted just .234 in his first full season.

He opened the 1964 season as the Braves’ starting shortstop, hitting .283 with 20 home runs and 65 RBIs. Over the next three seasons, he averaged .240 with nine home runs and 39 runs batted in.

In 1967, Menke was traded with Denny Lemaster to the Houston Astros for Chuck Harrison and Sonny Jackson. He took over as the Astros’ shortstop and batted .249 in 1968 with six home runs and 56 RBIs. But he came back with a strong 1969 season, batting .269 with 10 home runs and 90 runs batted in. And he had the best season of his career in 1970, batting .304 and scoring 86 runs with 26 doubles. He also hit 13 home runs with 92 RBIs.

Denis Menke’s best seasons as a hitter came in 1969 and 1970 with the Houston Astros. In 1970, he batted .304 with 13 home runs and led the Astros with 92 runs batted in.

Menke somehow misplaced his home run stroke after the 1970 season, hitting only one home run in 1971 with 43 RBIs and a .246 batting average. He was part of a blockbuster trade with the Cincinnati Reds at the end of the 1971 season. Houston traded Menke, Ed Armbrister, Jack Billingham, Cesar Geronimo and Joe Morgan to the Reds for Tommy Helms, Lee May and Jimmy Stewart.

Menke played for two seasons in Cincinnati, hitting a combined .218 and averaging six home runs and 38 RBIs. In 1973 he was traded back to Houston for pitcher Pat Darcy, and appeared in 30 games before retiring.

Menke played for 13 major league seasons, collecting 1,207 hits and batting .250 for his career. He was a member of the National League All-Star team in 1969 and in 1970.

Whitey’s Last Loss for More than a Month

 

This Week in 1960s Baseball

(May 29, 1961) At Fenway Park in Boston, the Red Sox tonight defeated the New York Yankees 2-1 behind the five-hit pitching of left-hander Ike Delock (3-1).

Ike Delock pitched a five-hit complete game to beat the New York Yankees and Whitey Ford 2-1. Delock would finish the 1961 season at 6-9 with a 4.90 ERA.

Delock struck out seven Yankee batters and walked none in out-dueling Yankee Starter Whitey Ford (6-2). The loss snapped Ford’s personal six-game winning streak.

The Red Sox scored the game’s first run when Jackie Jensen led off the bottom of the second inning with a solo home run. It was Jensen’s fourth home run of the season.

Delock shut out the Yankees for the first six innings, allowing just two hits. With one out in the top of the seventh inning, Mickey Mantle launched a home run to the right field seats with the bases empty, tying the game. It was Mantle’s eleventh home run of the season.

Jensen walked to lead off the bottom of the seventh inning and moved to second on Frank Malzone’s ground out. Ford walked Jim Pagliaroni and then gave up a single to Vic Wertz. Yankee left fielder Bob Cerv snared the line drive on the first hop and fired the ball to Clete Boyer, who relayed the ball to second baseman Bobby Richardson to force Pagliaroni out at second.

However, the out at second allowed Jensen to score and put the Red Sox ahead 2-1. It would be the last run scored by either team.

Delock allowed lead-off singles in both the eighth and ninth innings. But a double play in the eighth and two strikeouts in the ninth kept the Yankees from scoring.

Delock would win two more games in June and then win only one more decision to finish the 1961 season at 6-9.

Whitey lost the last game he pitched in May of 1961 and wouldn’t lose again for two-and-a-half months. Ford won the 1961 Cy Young Award with a 25-4 season.

Ford wouldn’t lose another decision until the middle of August. He would win all eight of his starts in June, a record that has never been matched. He would go 5-0 in July and win his twentieth game in August before finally losing to the Chicago White Sox 2-1 on August 15.

The 1961 season would be the finest in Ford’s Hall of Fame career. The Yankee southpaw would finish the season at 25-4 with a 3.21 ERA, leading the major leagues in victories, starts (39), innings pitched (283) and winning percentage (.862). He would also take the Cy Young Award as baseball’s best pitcher.

 

 

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Going Goo Goo

 

Glancing Back, and Remembering Gary Geiger

Gary Geiger was a speedy outfielder who managed to string together a 12-season major league career despite several injuries and physical ailments that limited his performance on the field. Nevertheless, he was a talented athlete with speed on the base paths, and a fan favorite wherever he played.

Gary Geiger led the Boston Red Sox with 18 home runs in 1961. His 64 RBIs that season were a career high.

Geiger was signed as a pitcher and as an outfielder by the St. Louis Cardinals in 1954. In 1957, he was drafted by the Cleveland Indians (as an outfielder) and made his major league debut in a Tribe uniform in 1958, batting .231 in 91 games during his rookie season.

There was little room for Geiger in a Cleveland outfield that already featured Rocky Colavito, Roger Maris, Carroll Hardy and the recently acquired Minnie Minoso, so the Indians dealt Geiger and Vic Wertz to the Boston Red Sox for Jim Piersall. Geiger hit .245 for the Red Sox in 1959 and .302 in 1960. However, both of those seasons were abbreviated by health problems. He appeared in only 77 games in 1960 due to a collapsed lung.

Geiger managed to play a full season in 1961, batting .232 and leading the Red Sox with 18 home runs. He batted .249 in 1962 and .263 in 1963, but those would be his last seasons as a full-time player. On- and off-the-field health problems limited his playing time for the rest of his career. He played for two seasons with the Atlanta Braves and one season with the Houston Astros before retiring after five games in the 1970 season.

Geiger finished his career with a .246 lifetime batting average.

Keystone Consistent

 

Glancing Back, and Remembering Bernie Allen

For a dozen big league seasons, Bernie was a dependable second baseman for four different teams.

Bernie Allen’s best season was his rookie year in 1962. Allen batted ,269 and had career highs with 27 doubles, 12 home runs and 64 RBIs.

An All-American shortstop at Purdue University, Allen signed with the Minnesota Twins in 1961 and opened the 1962 season as the team’s everyday second baseman. He batted .269 his rookie year, with 12 home runs and 64 RBIs. He finished third in the voting for Rookie of the Year to Tom Tresh and Bob Rodgers.

Allen played five years in the Twin Cities, batting a combined .246. After the 1966 season, he was traded with Camilo Pascual to the Washington Senators for pitcher Ron Kline. He spent another five seasons with the Senators, batting .237 over that period. His best season offensively in Washington was 1969, when his .247 batting average came with nine home runs and 45 RBIs.

Following the 1971 season, Allen was dealt to the New York Yankees and batted .227 in a backup  role for the 1972 season. He was purchased by the Montreal Expos midway through the 1973 season, playing in a total of just 33 games for both teams and batting a combined .206. He retired after the 1973 season.

Allen collected 815 hits with a career batting average of .239.

 

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Two Yanks Named Joe

 

This Week in 1960s Baseball

(May 23, 1962) Joe Pepitone homered twice to become the second player in Yankee history to hit two home runs in the same inning. The Bronx Bombers score nine times in the eighth inning of a 13-7 rout of the Kansas City Athletics.

As a rookie in 1936, Joe Dimaggio became the first Yankee to hit two home runs in a single inning. The Yankee Clipper hit 29 home runs that season and led the American League with 15 triples.

Both Yankees accomplished the feat as rookies. The only other pin-striper was Joe DiMaggio, who did it as a rookie in 1936.

The Yankees entered the bottom of the eighth trailing the A’s 7-4. Pepitone led off the inning with a home run off A’s pitcher Dan Pfister, who was replaced by Diego Segui. Segui proceeded to walk Roger Maris and John Blanchard, and then Elston Howard singled to center field, scoring Maris.

Bob Grim replaced Segui as the A’s pitcher and walked pinch-hitter Yogi Berra to load the bases. Phil Linz singled in two more runs to put the Yankees ahead to stay at 8-7. A Bobby Richardson single and Tom Tresh sacrifice fly brought in two more Yankee runs. Then Pepitone hit a three-run shot off John Wyatt, Kansas City’s third pitcher that inning.

Rollie Sheldon pitched a scoreless ninth inning to wrap up the victory for the first-place Yankees. Winning pitcher for the Yankees was Tex Clevenger (1-0).

Joe Pepitone played only 63 games as a rookie in 1962, hitting seven home runs. Over the next seven seasons, Pepitone averaged 23 home runs and 75 RBIs as the Yankees’ everyday first baseman.

Pepitone’s home runs were his only hits for the game. As a part-time player, he would finish the 1962 season batting .239 with seven home runs and 17 RBIs. Starting in 1963, Pepitone would be the Yankees’ regular first baseman for the next seven seasons.

No Idle Hands Here

 

Glancing Back, and Remembering Bill Hands

Bill Hands was a workhorse for the Chicago Cubs pitching staff in the late 1960s. From 1968 through 1971, he averaged 266 innings and 16 victories per season, with a combined 3.10 ERA over those four seasons.

Bill Hands was a workhorse in the Chicago Cubs’ starting rotation. He averaged 16 victories and 266 innings pitched from 1968-1971.

Hands was originally signed by the San Francisco Giants in 1959 and spent the next seven years progressing through the Giants’ farm system, winning 17 games for AAA Tacoma in 1965 to earn a trip to a big league debut with the Giants at the end of that season. In December of 1965, the Giants traded Hands with Randy Hundley to the Chicago Cubs for Don Landrum and Lindy McDaniel.

Hands went 8-13 in his first season in Chicago, and was 7-8 in 1967. He was used primarily as a reliever in both of those seasons, and was promoted to the starting rotation for the 1968 season. Hands blossomed as a starter, going 16-10 in 1968 with a 2.89 ERA. He pitched 258.2 innings in 1968, with four shutouts and 11 complete games.

In 1969, Hands produced a 20-14 season with a 2.49 ERA. He pitched 300 innings with 18 complete games in 41 starts. It would be his best season in the major leagues. He followed up in 1970 with an 18-15 record, and slipped to 12-18 in 1971, though pitching with a still-respectable 3.42 ERA.

With each passing season, his number of starts and innings pitched declined. He went 11-8 in 1972, his last season in Chicago, and was traded to the Minnesota Twins for pitcher Dave LaRoche. He was a combined 11-15 in a season and a half for the Twins. He was acquired by the Texas Rangers at the end of the 1974, and retired at age 35 after posting a 6-7 record with the Rangers in 1975.

Hands was 111-110 in 11 major league seasons. His career ERA was 3.35.

 

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A Flood of Flawless Fielding

 

The Glove Club: Curt Flood

From 1963 through 1968, the National League Gold Glove Awards for outfielders were won by three players. The same three outfielders. Year after year.

Roberto Clemente. Willie Mays. Curt Flood.

The fact that two of these outfielders are center fielders should not go unnoticed. No left fielder could approach Mays and Flood in the field. (Clemente, of course, owned right field in the National League during the 1960s.) Any team would find room for both in the outfield.

No one could argue with the inclusion of Mays. He was among the first Gold Glove winners when the award was initiated in 1957. He won a Gold Glove every year through the 1968 season. And he probably would have won a half-dozen more in the 1950s if the Gold Glove had been offered.

Was Mays the best center fielder of all time? Maybe. But defensively, Flood could give Say Hey a run for that title. His prowess in the outfield was clearly comparable to that of Mays. And in some fielding aspects, Flood surpassed Mays.

For instance …

Curt Flood’s consistency in center field was unmatched by any other outfielder of his era (including Willie Mays). Flood set a record for errorless games (226), playing the entire 1966 season without making an error.

Flood had the speed to cover the center field space. And for the most part (more than any other center fielder before – even Mays), he covered it flawlessly. He went through the entire 1966 season – making 394 putouts and six assists – without committing an error.

From September 3, 1965 through June 4, 1967, Flood ran an errorless games streak of 226, setting a National League record.  During that streak, Flood fielded 568 total unerring chances, setting a major league record.

During the 1960s, Flood led all National League center fielders in putouts four times and in assists three times. He led NL center fielders in fielding percentage three times, including his “perfect” 1966 season. Altogether during the 1960s, Flood won seven Gold Gloves.

Along with his fielding, Flood brought a potent bat. He batted .300 or better six times during the 1960s, with a combined batting average of .297 for the decade. He led the league in hits with 211 in 1964, and finished in the top ten in hits five times, in doubles four times and in triples once.

Offensively, maybe Flood couldn’t match the amazing Mr. Mays. But with his range and dependability in the field, Flood was a match for any center fielder who ever played the game.

 

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Mick Mashes Miller for 500th Home Run

 

This Week in 1960s Baseball

(May 14, 1967) Mickey Mantle‘s 500th career home run today helped the New York Yankees defeat the Baltimore Orioles, 6-5.

Mickey Mantle’s 500th career home run proved to be the winning run as the New York Yankees defeated the Baltimore Orioles 6-5.

The “Commerce Comet” was the sixth big leaguer to reach the 500-home run plateau.

The Yankees opened the game by scoring three runs in the bottom of the first inning, chasing Orioles starter Steve Barber. Barber was replaced by Wally Bunker, who shut out the Yankees over the next 4.2 innings.

The score remained 3-0 until the top of the sixth inning, when the Orioles scored four runs on Mark Belanger’s solo home run and doubles by Boog Powell and Charlie Lau. Joe Pepitone’s two-run homer off Stu Miller put the Yankees back on top in the bottom of the sixth inning. Mantle’s history-making blast came off Miller in the seventh inning. It was his fourth home run of the season and gave the Yankees a 6-4 lead.

Dooley Womack (3-2), who relieved Yankee starter Mel Stottlemyre in the sixth inning, allowed one more Oriole run in the eighth inning, but shut out the Orioles the rest of the way to gain his third victory. Miller (0-4) was the loser.

The 35-year-old Mantle would finish the 1967 season with only 22 home runs and 55 RBIs. He would retire after the 1968 season with 536 career home runs.

Jump Ball, Fastball

 

Glancing Back, and Remembering Gene Conley

Gene Conley was the first athlete to play for World Champions in two different major sports: for the Milwaukee Braves as a pitcher in 1957, and as a member of the NBA’s Boston Celtics from 1959 to 1962.

A talented athlete, Gene Conley played professionally in both baseball and basketball.

A two-sport All-American at Washington State University, the six-foot-eight-inch Conley was signed by the Boston Braves in 1951. He was outstanding from the start of his professional baseball career, winning 20 games his first minor league season, and then going 11-4 for Milwaukee in the American Association before being called up to Boston at the end of the 1952 season … and promptly losing his first three major league starts.  He spent the 1953 season in the minors, winning 23 games at the AAA level.

In 1954, he stepped right into the Braves’ starting rotation and was 14-9 in his rookie season, with a 2.96 ERA, fifth best in the National League. Conley was named to the All-Star team, and finished third in the voting for Rookie of the Year, won in 1954 by Wally Moon (Ernie Banks finished second … and Hank Aaron fourth).

Gene Conley was a National League All-Star in his 1954 rookie campaign. He was 14-9 with a 2.96 ERA.

Conley was 11-7 in 1955, and then didn’t win more than nine games in a season until 1959 when, as a member of the Philadelphia Phillies, he went 12-7 with a 3.00 earned run average. He was 8-14 for the Phillies in 1960, and then was traded to the Boston Red Sox for Frank Sullivan. He was 11-14 for the Red Sox in 1961, finishing third on the team in victories behind Don Schwall and Bill Monbouquette. In 1962, his 15-14 record tied him with Monbouquette for the team lead in wins.

Conley appeared in nine games for Boston in 1963, going 3-4 with an ERA of 6.64. He was released by the Red Sox and signed the next day with the Cleveland Indians, but never pitched in an Indians’ uniform, retiring in June at age 32.

Gene Conley’s best season with the Boston Red Sox came in 1962. He was 15-14 with a 3.95 ERA.

In 11 major league seasons, Conley posted a 91-96 record with a career ERA of 3.82. He struck out 888 batters and pitched 13 shutouts.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Long Lean Save Machine

 

Oh, What a Relief: Bill Henry

Bill Henry was a lanky, high-kicking left-hander who lasted 16 years in the major leagues … after making his first appearance in the big show at age 24.

He led the league in any pitching category only once. His 65 appearances for the Chicago Cubs in 1959 were the most in the National League that season. And though he never led the league in saves, saves are what kept him pitching until age 41. Henry knew how to close out a victory.

Bill Henry’s 65 appearances for the Chicago Cubs were the most for the National League in 1959. Henry was 9-8 with a 2.68 ERA and 12 saves for the Cubs.

A Texas native, Henry was a star in basketball and track in high school. His high school didn’t have a baseball team. But the University of Houston did, and after one college season he signed with the Clarksdale (Mississippi) Planters in the Class C Cotton States League in 1948. He bounced the minor leagues for four years with a combined record of 44-45. He was acquired by the Boston red Sox and made his major league debut in 1952. He was used sparingly by the Red Sox, mostly as a starter, and was 15-20 with a combined earned run average of 3.80.

In January of 1957, the Red Sox traded Henry to the Chicago Cubs. After spending another season in the minors, Henry earned a place in the Cubs’ bullpen in 1958 (at age 30), going 5-4 with a 2.88 ERA and six saves. In 1959, he was 9-8 for the Cubs with a 2.68 ERA and 12 saves. In the off-season, the Cubs dealt Henry, Lee Walls and Lou Jackson to the Cincinnati Reds for Frank Thomas.

Henry had his best seasons pitching for the Reds. He combined with Jim Brosnan for an effective righty-lefty closing combination. In 1960, Henry led the Reds with 17 saves (Brosnan had 12). He also made his only All-Star appearance that season.

In 1961, the Reds bullpen was a vital contributor to the team’s pennant-winning season. Brosnan and Henry tied for the team lead in saves with 16 each. Henry led the team with a 2.19 ERA.

Jim Brosnan (left) and Bill Henry were a dynamic righty-lefty closing combination for the Cincinnati Reds in the early 1960s. In 1961, for the pennant-winning Reds, Brosnan was 10-4 with 16 saves. Henry was 2-1 with 16 saves and a team-best 2.19 ERA.

In 1962, Henry was 4-2 with 11 saves for the Reds, and led the team with 14 saves in 1963. In 1964, the arrival of Sammy Ellis and Billy McCool limited Henry to only 37 appearances and six saves. (Ellis led the Reds with 14.) Still, at age 36, Henry was consistently effective when he did get the chance to pitch, posting a 0.87 ERA on the season.

In 1965, the Reds traded Henry to the San Francisco Giants for pitcher Jim Duffalo. Henry lasted four years with the Giants, going 5-5 with a combined 3.08 ERA. He made brief stops in Pittsburgh and Houston before retiring in 1969.

For his career, Henry was 46-50 with a 3.26 ERA and 90 saves. He closed 253 games, more than half of his 483 career relief appearances. Henry’s 64 saves with the Reds are tenth-most among Reds relief pitchers all time.

 

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