Pre-Radatz Relief

 

Oh, What a Relief: Mike Fornieles

Mike Fornieles was an accomplished relief pitcher for the Boston Red Sox at the beginning of the 1960s. His tenure as bullpen ace for the Red Sox was eclipsed with the emergence of Dick Radatz in 1962.

Mike Fornieles pitched a one-hit shutout in his major league debut with the Washington Senators in 1952.

Fornieles was signed as a teenager by the Washington Senators in 1950. He made his major league debut with that team in 1952, pitching a 5-0 one-hitter against the Philadelphia Athletics.

He was traded to the Chicago White Sox in 1952, where he worked as a starter and reliever for the next three seasons, with a combined record of 15-13 and a 3.82 ERA. He went to the Baltimore Orioles in 1956 as part of a six-player deal, and a year later he was traded to the Boston Red Sox.

Fornieles was 8-7 for Boston in 1957, and moved full-time to the bullpen in 1958. His best season came in 1960 when Fornieles was 10-5 with a 2.64 ERA. Both his 70 appearances and 48 games finished led the American League in 1960. His 13 saves were one shy of league-leader Johnny Klippstein of the Cleveland Indians.

Mike Fornieles’ best season came with the Boston Red Sox in 1960. Working exclusively out of the bullpen, Fornieles was 10-5 with a 2.64 ERA and 13 saves. He led the American League with 70 appearances and by finishing 48 games.

Fornieles was 9-8 with 15 saves (third most in the American League) in 1961. With the arrival of Radatz, Fornieles’ relief opportunities declined, and he finished the 1962 season at 3-6 with only five saves and a 5.36 ERA. He pitched for the Minnesota Twins in 1963 and then retired after a 12-year major league career. He posted a career record of 63-64 with a 3.96 ERA and 55 saves.

 

 

 

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Is Don’s Record in Danger?

 

This Week in 1960s Baseball

(June 26, 1968) On June 4, 1968, Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Don Drysdale set a major league record with his sixth consecutive shutout. Four days later, Drysdale finally allowed a run after more than a month of shutout pitching.

He set a major league record with 58 consecutive scoreless innings, breaking Walter Johnson’s record of 55.2 consecutive scoreless innings.

Johnson’s record had lasted 55 years. As of this date, it looked as though Drysdale’s new record may not last even a month …

In June of 1968, Bob Gibson pitched five consecutive shutouts, with a streak of 47 consecutive scoreless innings.

That’s because Bob Gibson today pitched his fifth consecutive shutout, as the St. Louis Cardinals defeated the Pittsburgh Pirates 3-0.

Gibson (9-5) allowed just four hits and struck out seven Pirate batters. He didn’t issue a walk. The shutout lowered his season earned run average to 1.14.

The Cardinals scored on Orlando Cepeda’s first-inning sacrifice fly and back-to-back doubles by Gibson and Lou Brock in the fourth inning. Ron Kline, pitching in relief of Pirates starter Al McBean (6-7), gave up a solo home run to Mike Shannon in the eighth inning.

Gibson’s shutout streak would come to an end five days later when he defeated the Los Angeles Dodgers 5-1. But he would pitch another shutout in his next outing, and two more before the end of July. Altogether in June and July, Gibson had one of the most remarkable two-month performances of any pitcher in baseball history: 12-0 in 12 starts (all complete games) with eight shutouts and a 0.50 ERA.

While Bob Gibson threatened Don Drysdale’s recent record of 58 consecutive scoreless innings pitched, Drysdale’s record lasted 20 years until it was bested (by one inning) by Orel Hershiser.

And Drysdale’s record of 58 consecutive scoreless innings would survive the summer. In fact, it would last 20 years until another Dodger pitcher, Orel Hershiser, strung together 59 consecutive scoreless innings in 1988.

 

 

 

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Minnesota Takes a Chance, and Comes Up with a (20-Game) Winner

 

Swap Shop: Five-Player Deal Sends Dean Chance to the Twins

In the first half of the 1960s, the best pitcher in the history of the Los Angeles/California Angels was a right-hander named Dean Chance.

Granted, it was a short history. By the end of the 1966 season, the Angels’ total history as a franchise was comprised of only six seasons. But beginning with his rookie season in 1962, the team’s best pitcher, year-in and year-out, was Chance.

In his first season pitching for the Minnesota Twins, Dean Chance was 20-14 with s 2.73 ERA. He led the American League in starts, complete games and innings pitched in 1967.

As a rookie, Chance led the team with 14 victories as the Angels surprised everyone by finishing third in only their second year of existence. His 13 wins in 1963 tied him with Ken McBride for the most on the Angels’ staff.

Then came his magical Cy Young season of 1964. At 20-9, Chance led the American League in victories, complete games (15) and innings pitched (278.1). His 11 shutouts and 1.65 ERA led all major league pitchers.

He was 15-10 in 1965, and then his record slipped to 12-17 in 1966 despite a 3.08 ERA. The Angels team that finished the 1966 season had some holes to fill in its everyday lineup, and took a big step toward filling those holes on December 2. In a deal with the Minnesota Twins, the Angels acquired first baseman Don Mincher (.251 with 14 home runs and 62 RBIs in 1966), center fielder Jimmie Hall (.239 with 20 home runs and 47 RBIs in 1966) and pitcher Pete Cimino (2-5 with a 2.92 ERA in 1966). To get these three players, all the Angels had to do was part with the best pitcher they ever had (along with a player to be named later, infielder Jackie Hernandez).

The Angels’ quest for more runs remained after the trade. Hall batted .249 with 16 home runs and 55 RBIs. He would be traded to the Cleveland Indians midway through the 1968 season.

With Mincher, the Angels fared better.  The first baseman hit 25 home runs with 76 RBIs in 1967. In 1968, Mincher slipped to 13 homers and 48 RBIs, At the end of the 1968 season, Mincher was selected by the Seattle Pilots in the 1969 free agent draft.

And Cimino was 3-3 for the Angels in 1967. He appeared in four games in 1968, and never pitched in the major leagues again.

The Angels gave up their pitching ace, Dean Chance, to add power to their lineup in Don Mincher (left) and Jimmie Hall. The pair combined for 41 home runs in 1967, but only 14 home runs in 1968.

For the Twins, the deal for Chance turned – literally – into a “win” fall.

Though Chance didn’t match his Cy Young season of 1964, he came pretty close in 1967. He went 20-14 with a 2.73 ERA. He led the American League with 39 starts, 18 complete games and 283.2 innings pitched. And he came within one game of pitching the Twins into the World Series.

Chance won 16 games for the Twins in 1968 (with a 2.53 ERA). In 1969, back pain limited Chance to 15 starts and a 5-4 record.

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

 

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A Winning Groove

 

Glancing Back, and Remembering Jerry Grote

In the prime of his 16-season big league career, Jerry Grote was recognized as one of the best defensive catchers in the National League. He was also a winner, a heady player who knew how to get the best out of his pitchers. Plus he had the leadership qualities to help inspire those playing behind his pitchers.

Jerry Grote’s best season came in 1969, when he batted .252 with six home runs and 40 RBIs. He also guided young pitching staff that carried the Mets to a World Series championship.

A Texas native, Grote was signed in 1962 by the majors’ first Texas team, the expansion Houston Colt .45s. He made his debut with the Colts in 1963 and split the catching duties with John Bateman in 1964, but hit only .181. He spent the entire 1965 season in the minors, and then was traded to the New York Mets at the end of the 1965 season.

In 1966, Grote was named the Mets’ starting catcher. He caught more than 120 games in five of the next six seasons. He had his best season at the plate in 1969, batting .252 with six home runs and 40 RBIs. He was named to the National League All-Star team, and he was the guiding presence behind the plate for a young Mets pitching staff that led the league in shutouts and earned run average.

Grote played for 12 years with the Mets, hitting a combined .256 with 994 hits. In 1977, he was traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers, and spent the next four seasons as a backup catcher for the Dodgers and Kansas City Royals. He retired after the 1981 season with a .252 career batting average. He was a two-time National League All-Star.

 

 

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Gates Goes Yard in First At-Bat

 

This Week in 1960s Baseball

(June 19, 1963) The Boston Red Sox today defeated the Detroit Tigers 9-2 behind the slugging bats of Frank Malzone and Carl Yastrzemski supporting the seven-hit pitching of Bob Heffner.

Gates Brown hit a pinch home run in his first major league at-bat, and hit 15 more in his career as one of the game’s most dangerous pinch hitters.

Despite the spanking, there was one bright spot for the Tigers, as the newest Tiger gave Detroit a glimpse of better things to come.

Yastrzemski was the hitting star of the game, collecting three hits – including two home runs – and driving in four runs on the day. Malzone got two hits and drove in two runs on his tenth home run of the season.

Tigers starter Don Mossi (4-4) lasted only four innings, giving up six hits and four runs, including Malzone’s round-tripper. Phil Regan and Mickey Lolich were the victims of Yastrzemski’s home runs.

Heffner (1-0) went the distance, allowing two runs and seven hits while striking out six batters.

In the fifth inning, with the Tigers trailing 4-1, Detroit called on Gates Brown to lead off the inning, pinch-hitting for Mossi. It was Brown’s first major league at-bat, and he made the most of it, hitting a home run.

Brown would emerge as one of the most lethal pinch hitters in the American League during the 1960s. So it was appropriate that his first major league hit would be not only a pinch hit, but a pinch home run. He would hit 16 pinch home runs during a 13-year major league career – all with the Tigers.

 

 

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Have Bat, Will Thrill

 

Homer Happy: Willie Kirkland

The career of Willie Kirkland lived and died by the home run. During his nine-year major league career, Kirkland was a much-in-demand (and frequently traded) slugger who batted only a combined .248 from 1959-1962 … when he averaged 23 home runs and 75 RBIs per season.

Willie Kirkland’s best season came in 1961 with the Cleveland Indians. He batted .259 with 27 home runs and 95 RBIs.

Kirkland was signed by the New York Giants in 1953. He made his major league debut with San Francisco in 1958, batting .258 with 14 home runs and 56 RBIs.

He hit 22 home runs in 1959 and 21 homers in 1960, and finished fifth in the National League with 10 triples. Following the 1960 season, Kirkland and pitcher Johnny Antonelli were traded to the Cleveland Indians for Harvey Kuenn.

Kirkland had a career-best season with the Tribe in 1961. He batted .259 with 27 home runs and 95 RBIs (ninth most in the American League). Kirkland hit 21 home runs with 70 runs batted in for 1962 despite hitting only .200, and was traded to the Baltimore Orioles for Al Smith after the 1963 season.

Over the next three seasons, Kirkland became a part-time player and pinch-hitter for the Orioles and the Washington Senators, hitting 14 home runs with 54 RBIs for Washington in 1965. He retired after nine major league seasons with a career batting average of .240 and with 148 home runs.

 

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Cuban Clout

 

Glancing Back, and Remembering Roman Mejias

A native of Cuba, outfielder Roman Mejias was signed by the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1953. He hit over .300 in his first two seasons in the Pirates’ farm system, and made his debut in Pittsburgh in 1955, batting .216 in 71 games with three home runs and 21 RBIs.

Roman Mejias showed flashes of power in the minor leagues (21 home runs in AAA in 1961), but couldn’t win a spot in the Pittsburgh Pirates lineup.

Mejias spent the next six seasons up and down from Pittsburgh to the minors, batting a combined .253 and showing flashes of power, especially during his minor league tours at Columbus in the International League.

But there was no place for Mejias in the Pirates outfield of the early 1960s. In October of 1961, he became the eleventh pick of the Houston Colt .45s in the 1961 expansion draft.

In Houston, Mejias (now age 31) finally had the opportunity to show what kind of full-time player he could be at the major league level. In 1962, he batted .286 with 24 home runs and 76 RBIs, leading the team in all three hitting categories.

His career in Houston (and as an everyday player) was short-lived. In November of 1962, he was traded to the Boston Red Sox for first baseman and reigning American League batting champion Pete Runnels. In Boston, Mejias was relegated to a back-up role in the outfield, playing behind Gary Geiger and Lou Clinton (as well as future Hall of Famer Carl Yastrzemski).

In his nine-year career, Roman Mejias was an everyday player only in 1962, batting .286, hitting 24 home runs, and driving in 76 runs for the Houston Colt .45s.

He batted .227 for the Red Sox as a part-timer in 1963, with only 11 home runs and 39 RBIs. In 1964 he appeared in only 62 games for the Red Sox, batting .238 with two home runs and four RBIs. It was his last season in the major leagues (though he did spend one year playing in Japan).

In nine major league seasons, Mejias batted .254 for his career with 54 home runs and 202 RBIs.

 

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Cards Bamboozle Cubs

 

This Week in 1960s Baseball

(June 15, 1964) The most famous – and most productive – trade in St. Louis Cardinals history was made today when the Cardinals sent a pair of former 20-game winners, Ernie Broglio and Bobby Shantz, along with outfielder Doug Clemens, to the Chicago Cubs for three players: pitchers Jack Spring and Paul Toth, and an outfielder named Lou Brock.

Lou Brock was batting .251 with the Chicago Cubs when he was traded to the Cardinals in 1964. He batted .348 for the Cardinals over the rest of the season, and retired 15 years later after putting together a Hall of Fame career.

For the Cubs, the trade worked out this way: Broglio went 4-7 for the rest of that year and 7-19 for the Cubs over three years. Shantz went 0-1 for the Cubs before being purchased by the Philadelphia Phillies in August. Clemens hit .279 with 12 RBIs in 54 games with the Cubs. (He hit .221 for Cubs the next year.)

For the Cardinals, the trade worked out this way: Spring pitched in only two innings. Toth never made an appearance. Brock, however, led the Cardinals to the World Series, and followed up with a career that led to his eventual enshrinement in Cooperstown.

Lou Brock had a fabulous second half for the Cardinals in 1964. In 103 games, he hit .348 and scored 84 runs, with nine triples, 12 home runs, 44 RBIs and 33 stolen bases. He was the offensive spark plug for a Cardinals team that won its first pennant since 1946.

In the World Series against the New York Yankees, Brock was instrumental in helping St. Louis take the championship, batting .300 with five RBIs and nine hits in seven games, including two doubles and a home run.

Ernie Broglio was 3-5 with a 3.50 ERA for the St. Louis Cardinals when he was traded to the Cubs in 1964. He was 4-7 with a 4.04 ERA for the Cubs over the rest of the season, and retired two years later after going 7-19 in three seasons with Chicago.

Brock finished his career with the Cardinals, retiring in 1979 with 3,023 hits and, at the time, the career record for stolen bases with 938. He broke Maury Wills’ single-season record for stolen bases with 118 in 1974 and was the most prolific base stealer during the 1960s, with 430.

 

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Braving the Knuckler

 

Glancing Back, and Remembering Phil Niekro

Hall of Famer Phil Niekro pitched for the Milwaukee and Atlanta Braves for 21 years, winning all but 50 of his 318 career victories in a Braves’ uniform. He is the winningest knuckleball pitcher in major league history, and amassed the third most wins of any Braves pitcher (after Warren Spahn and Kid Nichols).

Phil Niekro was a 20-game winner three times. His best season came in 1969, when he was 23-13 with a 2.56 ERA for the Atlanta Braves.

Niekro was signed by the Braves in 1958. He made his major league debut in 1964, and he was 6-6 over the next two years as a member of the Braves’ bullpen. In 1967, Niekro went 11-9 with a league best ERA of 1.87. More importantly, he made the transition during the season from the Braves’ relief corps to the team’s starting rotation, pitching 10 complete games in 20 starts. He would be used as a starter almost exclusively for the rest of his career.

Niekro went 14-12 with a 2.59 ERA in 1968. In 1969, at the age of 30, he posted his first 20-victory season, going 23-13 with a 2.56 ERA.

Over the next 18 seasons, Niekro would win 264 games, 214 of those games with the Braves. He would win 10 or more games 17 times, and pitched more than 300 innings in a season four times. Between 1977 and 1979, Niekro led the National League each year in starts, complete games, innings pitched and losses. In fact, he lost an average of 19 games between 1977 and 1980, a testament to his durability and to the teams playing behind him as he averaged 18 wins per season and posted a combined 3.48 ERA for that period. He led the National League with an .810 winning percentage (17-4) in 1982.

Phil Niekro won 268 games in 21 seasons with the Braves. Over the last five years of his career, he won 50 games playing for three teams.

Niekro was released by the Braves after the 1983 season and signed as a free agent with the New York Yankees. He won 16 games in each of his two seasons with the Yankees, including career victory number 300. He went 11-11 for the Cleveland Indians in 1986 and was 7-13 for the Indians and Toronto Blue Jays in 1987. He pitched in one game for the Braves in 1987 before retiring.

Niekro’s 24 years in the major leagues produced a 318-274 record with a career earned run average of 3.35. In 716 career starts, he pitched 5,404 innings and 45 shutouts. He won five Gold Gloves and was a member of the National League All-Star team five times. He pitched a no-hitter against the San Diego Padres in 1973.

Niekro was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1997.

 

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Graceful Glider

 

Glancing Back, and Remembering Ed Charles

Ed Charles was a graceful, even acrobatic, third baseman who hit with some sting in his bat. Charles paid his dues with nine years in the minor leagues, and for his effort was rewarded with a major league career that was spent mostly with two of the worst teams of the 1960s, only to be rescued at the end of his career by a “miracle.”

From 1962-1964, his first three seasons with the Kansas City Athletics (and his first three seasons in the major leagues), Ed Charles batted a combined .265 and averaged 16 home runs and 72 RBIs.

Charles was signed by the Boston Braves in 1952. He would still be a minor league infielder in the Braves farm system at the end of the 1950s, blocked partly by the presence of Hall of Famer Eddie Mathews at third base for the Braves, and partly because the Braves always seemed to find other alternatives at second base and shortstop, leaving Charles in the minors despite several solid seasons.

Nearly 30 and still without a big league at-bat, Charles got his break when both major leagues expanded. The expansion to 20 teams created a flurry of trades following the 1961 season.

In December of 1961, Charles was traded with Joe Azcue and Manny Jimenez to the Kansas City Athletics for Lou Klimchock and Bob Shaw. Charles took over everyday duties at third base from Wayne Causey, and responded with an outstanding rookie season in 1962, batting .288 with 24 doubles, 17 home runs and 74 RBIs, third best on the team after Norm Siebern (117) and Jerry Lumpe (83). It would be his best season statistically at the plate.

Charles hit .267 with 15 home runs and 15 stolen bases in 1963. He also established career bests that season in doubles (28) and runs batted in (79). In 1964, his batting average slipped to .241, with 16 home runs and 63 RBIs.

In 1965 and 1966, his hitting rebounded, as he batted .269 and .286 respectively. But Kansas City owner Charles Finley had moved the outfield fences back, so that Charles smacked only 17 home runs combined over those two seasons, the same as his rookie season total. In 1967, with the arrival of rookie slugger Sal Bando, Charles was traded to the New York Mets for Larry Elliot and $50,000.

Ed Charles’ only post season appearance came in 1969 as a member of the New York Mets. He scored the winning run in Game Two, the first of four straight games the Mets would win to take the 1969 World Series.

At 34, Charles was the oldest member of the Mets roster. He hit .238 for the Mets over the rest of the 1967 season, and batted .276 in 1968, when he led the team with 15 home runs.

In 1969, he had his poorest season at the plate, batting .207 with three home runs and 18 RBIs as the Mets’ part-time third baseman. But his steady play at third base, and his steadying influence in the clubhouse, were integral to the Mets winning the National League’s first Eastern Division title. In the 1969 World Series against the Baltimore Orioles – Charles’ only postseason appearance of his career – he hit a critical double in Game Two and scored the game’s winning run. He was released by the Mets the following winter.

After eight big league seasons with a career batting average of .263, Ed Charles went out a winner.

 

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