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.
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.
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.