Career Year: Warren Spahn – 1961
Throughout his amazing 21-season career, Warren Spahn strung together more career years than any other pitcher of his generation. Continue reading
Career Year: Dick Donovan – 1962
Dick Donovan made a career of pitching better than the teams behind him. And he seemed to have the knack of pitching especially well for teams that were especially bad.
His two best seasons came with the 1961 Washington Senators (who finished ninth) and the 1962 Cleveland Indians (who finished sixth). He was particularly outstanding throughout 1962, turning in the finest season-long performance of his distinguished career. Continue reading
Career Year: Vern Law – 1960
Vern Law was a lanky right-hander whose fortunes as a pitcher improved steadily throughout the 1950s … just as his team, the Pittsburgh Pirates (his only major league team over a 16-year career), clawed its way out of the bottom of the National League standings by the close of the 1950s. Continue reading
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. Continue reading
Career Year: Larry Jackson (1964)
For the first and only time from 1962 to 1966, the winningest pitcher in baseball in 1964 was not a Dodger.
And for the only time from 1962-1966, the pitcher with the most victories in 1964 was not the Cy Young Award winner.
And yet, for Larry Jackson, the 1964 season proved to be the high point of a stellar pitching career for one of the game’s most durable starters.
It was the season when Jackson won more games than any other pitcher in baseball, by doing what he had done best his entire career – piling up starts and innings and complete games – for a team that won only 52 games without him.
From 1957 through 1963, Jackson was the poster child for dependability in the starting rotation. In those seven seasons – the first six with the St. Louis Cardinals – he pitched an average of 241 innings per season, and slipped below 200 innings pitched only in 1958 (when he pitched 198 innings). Even a line drive that fractured Jackson’s jaw in spring training of 1961 shelved him for only a month. He still started 33 games after his return and pitched 211 innings – his lowest total during the 1960s.
Following a 16-11 campaign in 1962, the Cardinals traded Jackson (along with Lindy McDaniel and Jimmie Schaffer) to the Chicago Cubs for George Altman, Don Cardwell and Moe Thacker. In his first season with the Cubs, Jackson managed only a 14-18 record despite a 2.55 ERA. In 16 of Jackson’ starts during the 1963 season, the Cubs scored two runs or less, and Jackson’s record in those starts was 2-13. In games when the Cubs scored at least three runs behind Jackson, his record was 12-5.
Things would change for the better in 1964, especially as the weather warmed up. Jackson was 2-1 in April and 6-4 at the end of May with a 3.58 ERA. He was 7-5 during the months of June and July, but he was 4-1 in August with a 2.70 ERA for the month. He was even better in September, going 7-1 with a 2.42 ERA in the season’s final month.
For the 1964 season, Jackson was 24-11 with a 3.14 earned run average. He led all major league pitchers in victories, and his 297.1 innings pitched was second only to Don Drysdale’s 321.1. Jackson was third in the National League in games started (38) and in complete games (19).
All of this was accomplished with a 1964 Cubs team that finished in eighth place with a 76-86 record. Yet the Cubs gave Jackson better run support than he had received in 1963. In 30 of his 38 starts, Jackson’s Cubs scored at least three runs, and his record in those games was 21-5.
Despite his career year, Jackson finished second in the balloting for the 1964 Cy Young Award to Dean Chance of the Los Angeles Angels.
The 1965 season would not be as kind to Jackson, as he would go from a 20-game winner to 20-game loser. He finished the 1965 season at 14-21 with a 3.85 ERA. In 18 of his 39 starts, the Cubs scored less than three runs, and Jackson’s record in those starts was 2-15. When the Cubs managed to get him three runs or more, Jackson was 12-6.
Frustration was a way of life for Chicago Cubs’ starting pitchers during the 1960s.
Career Year: Dean Chance – 1964
In 1964, the closest thing to a sure thing in baseball was that any game with Dean Chance on the pitching mound had a better-than-good chance of ending up in a shutout.
Chance threw 11 shutouts in 1964 in 35 starts. In eight other starts, he allowed only one run.
At age 23, Chance not only had a career year. He had the kind of year that baseball had rarely seen since the Dead Ball Era.
Chance was signed out of high school in 1959 by the Baltimore Orioles. He spent two seasons in the Orioles’ farm system, winning 22 games … with no shutouts. Drafted by the expansion Washington Senators in 1960 and traded to the Los Angeles Angels in the same day, Chance spent one more season in the minors before posting a 14-10 record as a rookie in 1962. He was 13-18 in 1963 for a ninth-place Angels team.
Chance opened the 1964 season as a starter, but was called on just as often out of the bullpen. He was 1-0 with two saves at the end of April, and 3-2 with four saves by the end of May. He also recorded his first shutout in May, a 3-0 three-hitter versus the New York Yankees.
He made seven starts in June, winning two of them, both with shutouts. He pitched a two-hit shutout against the Boston Red Sox on June 2, striking out 15 batters. Three days later, Chance struck out 12 Yankees in a 2-0 loss. He shut out the Yankees over 13 innings, losing in the fourteenth.
Chance was 5-1 in July, pitching three more shutouts and winning one game in relief. He was 6-1 in August with four complete games, two of them shutouts. In the season’s last month, Chance was 4-3 in eight starts with three more shutouts, giving him 11 whitewashes on a 20-9 season. He tied for the American League lead in victories (with Chicago’s Gary Peters), and his 1.65 ERA was the best in baseball.
Chance also led the league with 15 complete games and 278.1 innings pitched. He allowed only seven home runs over the entire season, and gave up only 6.3 hits per every nine innings pitched. American League batters hit only .195 against him.
Dean Chance’s sterling performance in 1964 earned him the Cy Young Award. He finished fifth in the voting for Most Valuable Player.
Career Year: Wally Bunker – 1964
The Baltimore Orioles of the early 1960s were a fountain of young pitching talent, from the likes of Chuck Estrada, Milt Pappas and Steve Barber at the beginning of the decade to later arrivals such as Jim Palmer, for whom the 1960s were a struggle until he matured into the Hall of Fame bound ace of the O’s staff in the 1970s.
One of the latest of the Baltimore “Kiddie Corps” was also one of the most immediately successful. Wally Bunker was a right-handed power pitcher who was the ace of the Orioles staff at age 19 and then retired from baseball by age 27.
Bunker was signed by the Orioles in 1963 and was a member of the starting rotation a year later. The 1964 season marked his career year, as Bunker was the ace of the Orioles staff, going 19-5 with a 2.69 ERA. He threw 12 complete games, second on the Orioles staff to Pappas. Bunker led the American League with a .792 winning percentage and pitched a pair of one-hitters. He finished second in the balloting for American League Rookie of the Year to the Minnesota Twins outfielder (and league batting champion) Tony Oliva.
In late September of 1964, Bunker felt something give in his right arm and was never the same pitcher, plagued by consistent arm miseries for the rest of his career. He was 10-8 for the Orioles in 1965 and 10-6 for the American League champion O’s in 1966. He was the winning pitcher in the third game of the 1966 World Series, beating the Los Angeles Dodgers 1-0 with a six-hitter and outdueling Dodger lefty Claude Osteen.
Bunker struggled with arm problems over the next two seasons, going 3-7 in 1967 and 2-0 in only 18 appearances in 1968. He was selected by the Kansas City Royals in the 1968 expansion draft, and was the Opening Day starter, throwing the first pitch in Royals history. At 12-11, he was the team’s winningest pitcher in the Royals’ inaugural season, but was only 2-11 for Kansas City in 1970. He was released by the Royals after seven appearances in 1971, going 2-3 in his final season.
Bunker pitched for nine big league seasons, posting a 60-52 record with a career earned run average of 3.51.
Career Year: Tommy Davis (1962)
In his 1962 break-out season, outfielder Tommy Davis did everything he needed to do to claim the National League’s Most Valuable Player award.
Everything, that is, except to actually win it.
Here’s how it happened.That season’s MVP went to teammate Maury Wills. Looking back a half-century, and looking at the numbers for both players, it’s hard to justify how Davis got passed over.
Tommy Davis was signed by the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1956. He never batted below .300 in 4 minor league seasons. In 1959, with Spokane in the Pacific Coast League, Davis batted .345 with 18 home runs and 78 RBIs. He made his major league debut with the Los Angeles Dodgers at the end of the 1959 season, striking out in his only plate appearance.
Davis opened the 1960 season on the Dodgers’ roster, and gradually took over full-time duties in center field from Duke Snider and Don Demeter. He finished the 1960 season batting .276 with 11 home runs and 44 runs batted in. In 1961, Davis batted .278 with 15 home runs and 58 RBIs. He played 86 games in the outfield, at all three positions, and played 59 games at third base. He was, essentially, a utility player for the Dodgers.
That would change in 1962. He opened the season as the team’s everyday left fielder, and was hitting .316 at the end of April. In May he batted .336 with five home runs and 25 RBIs, and in June Davis batted .354 with three home runs and 32 RBIs. By the All-Star break, Davis was batting .353 with 15 doubles, 15 home runs and 90 RBIs. He made his first All-Star appearance that season.
While Davis was leading the National League in hits, runs batted in and batting average, he wasn’t getting national media attention for his monster season. During the first half of the season, the media reserved their Dodger focus on a pair of pitchers – Don Drysdale and Sandy Koufax – who were having outstanding seasons in leading the Dodgers to the top of the National League standings. At the All-Star break in 1962, Drysdale was 15-4 with a 2.88 ERA. Koufax, an 18-game winner in 1961, was 13-4 with a 2.15 ERA and led the major leagues with 202 strikeouts. Drysdale would go on to win the Cy Young award with a 25-9 record, while an arm injury would limit Koufax to only one more victory over the rest of the 1962 campaign.
The other media “distraction” from Davis’ season was a record-breaking performance by Dodger shortstop Maury Wills. By late July, it became obvious that Wills was on his way to breaking the single season record for stolen bases held by Ty Cobb. It would be the second consecutive year when a hallowed baseball record was under assault, as only a year before there was a media frenzy following Roger Maris’ (and Mickey Mantle’s) chase of Babe Ruth’s record for home runs in a single season.
Wills eventually caught Cobb’s record of 96 stolen bases and finished the season with 104, a season which the Dodgers and the San Francisco Giants finished in a dead heat, requiring a three-game playoff which the Giants won. It was an exciting season on many fronts.
And Tommy Davis? Lost in the shuffle of a heated pennant race and outstanding individual performances, Davis led the National League with 230 hits (32 ahead of Wills and Frank Robinson), 153 RBIs (12 ahead of Willie Mays) and a .346 batting average. He also finished fourth in the league in doubles and total bases, fifth in triples and slugging (.535 percentage), and seventh in stolen bases.
In the MVP voting, Davis finished third behind Wills and Mays. Stolen bases and triples were the only offensive categories in which Wills was the league leader.
It would be the best season of Tommy Davis’ career. He would lead the National League in hitting again in 1963 with a .326 average, but his power numbers would drop to 16 home runs (compared to 27 in 1962) and 88 RBIs, down 65 from the previous season. He would suffer a broken ankle during the 1965 season that would compromise his speed for the rest of his career, though Davis would remain a steady hitter throughout his 18-year career, retiring after the 1976 season with a .294 career batting average.
Career Year – Frank Robinson (1966)
Frank Robinson was not only a great baseball talent. He was also someone you didn’t want to make angry.
The Orioles should be forever grateful to DeWitt for not only shipping the 1961 National League Most Valuable Player to Baltimore, but also for stoking Robbie’s competitive fire with the “old” comment. Robinson tore through American League pitching from Opening Day on (he hit a home run in each of the first three games). At the All-Star break, he was hitting .312 with 21 home runs and 56 RBIs, and he hit even better in the season’s second half, finishing 1966 as the American League Triple Crown winner with a .316 batting average, 49 home runs and 122 RBIs.
Offensively, the 1966 season produced a career-best for Robinson only in the home run category. He had had better seasons in hits, doubles, runs batted in, runs scored and batting average. And in his 21-year career, he was the league leader in home runs, RBIs and batting average only once each – all in 1966.
In a game on September 21, 1966, Robinson’s performance was not only outstanding, but mostly typical for his 1966 productivity. The Kansas City Athletics had built a 6-1 lead through the fifth inning. In the top of the seventh, Robinson cut the lead to three runs with a two-run homer off the A’s ace reliever Jack Aker. In the top of the eighth, the Orioles chased Aker and the four Kansas City relievers who followed him with seven runs, capped by Robinson’s second two-run homer of the game.
The victory clinched the American League pennant for Baltimore … and, for all intents and purposes, it cemented Robbie as the American League’s MVP, the first player to win that award in each league.
Career Year: Jimmie Hall – 1963
After seven years in the minor leagues, a 25-year-old outfielder named Jimmie Hall was pleasantly surprised to find himself accompanying the Minnesota Twins north following 1963 spring training.
Despite his happiness at sticking with the big league club, Hall’s expectations for significant playing time during the 1963 season had to be modest. The Twins’ outfield line-up was set with Lenny Green in center field flanked by two All-Stars, Harmon Killebrew and Bob Allison.
At the end of May, Hall was hitting only .188 after seeing limited action. Then an injury to Green opened up the job in center field. Hall batted .322 in June with five home runs and 16 runs batted in. He hit seven more home runs in July, and then had a huge August: a .333 batting average, 13 home runs, 27 RBIs. A healthy Green didn’t have a chance of displacing Hall the way he was hitting.
Hall closed out the season strong, hitting six more home runs in September. He finished the 1963 season with a .260 batting average, 33 home runs and 80 RBIs. He placed third in the Rookie of the Year voting behind Gary Peters and Pete Ward.
Hall opened the 1964 season as the team’s starting center fielder, but he couldn’t match the hitting productivity of his rookie campaign. Hall hit 25 home runs in 1964 and 20 homers in both 1965 and 1966. He was traded to the California Angels in 1967, and played for a total of six major league teams before retiring after the 1970 season.