On a Winning Warpath

 

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.

The best teams behind Donovan were the Chicago White Sox in the second half of the 1950s. From 1955-1958, the White Sox finished in third place twice and second twice. During those four seasons, Donovan was 58-39 with a 3.18 ERA, averaging 223 innings and 14 complete games per season.

When the White Sox captured the American League pennant in 1959, a sore shoulder cost Donovan nearly a month out of that season. He finished the year at 9-10 with a 3.66 ERA. He spent the 1960 season mostly in the White Sox bullpen, going 6-1 and making only eight starts in 33 appearances. The White Sox left the 32-year-old Donovan unprotected for the expansion draft, and the “new” Washington Senators took a chance on the veteran, selecting him with the 54th pick.

After struggling with health issues in his final two seasons with the Chicago White Sox, Dick Donovan was drafted by the expansion Washington Senators in 1960. His 2.40 ERA in 1961 was the best among all major league pitchers.

Donovan was solid for the Senators all season long. His record was only 10-10, but his 2.40 ERA was the lowest in the American League. Immediately following the 1961 season, the Senators dealt Donovan with Gene Green and Jim Mahoney to the Cleveland Indians for outfielder Jim Piersall.

Donovan’s performance in spring training earned him the Opening Day assignment, and he delivered a five-hit shutout, beating the Red Sox 4-0 in Boston. His second start came a week later in Cleveland, and he shut out the Red Sox again on five hits. After beating the Yankees 7-5 (with relief help from Bob Allen, Barry Latman and Frank Funk), Donovan beat the Twins 7-2 four days later with his third complete game in four April starts.

Dick Donovan’s first season with the Cleveland Indians was also the best one of his career. Donovan finished the 1962 season at 20-10 with a 3.59 ERA. He led the league with five shutouts, and was second in complete games. He was named to the American League All-Star team for the third time, and made his first All-Star game appearance.

Donovan won his first four decisions in May before losing 2-0 to the White Sox. He was 3-2 with a 3.12 ERA in June and went to the July 10 All-Star game with a record of 12-3 and a 2.77 ERA. He pitched two innings in that All-Star game, allowing one run with no decision. The league played a second All-Star game on July 30, but Donovan did not pitch. He closed out July at 14-4 with a 2.93 ERA.

Meanwhile, the team around him was fading out of the pennant race, something the Indians were prone to do for most of the 1960s. The Indians held first place for most of May and June, but by the end of July the team was in fourth place, 10 games behind the league-leading New York Yankees.

Donovan, however, remained consistent despite the Indians’ slide. He was 4-3 in August, completing three of his seven starts. But he was also beginning to wear down. He made five starts in September, completing three games while posting a 2-3 record for the month.

Donovan finished the 1962 season at 20-10 with a 3.59 ERA. His 20 victories tied him for second most in the league with Ray Herbert (20-9) and Camilo Pascual (20-11) behind league leader Ralph Terry (23-12). He led the league with five shutouts. His 16 complete games tied him for second in the league with Jim Kaat behind Pascual’s 18. He pitched 250.2 innings, the most in any season of his 15-year career.

At age 34, the 1962 season was Donovan’s last hurrah, and his last winning campaign. He was 18-22 with a 4.37 ERA over the next two seasons and was released by the Indians in June of 1965. He retired with a career record of 122-99 and a 3.67 earned run average.

 

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Trust the Law

 

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.

Pitching for weak Pirate teams in the early 1950s, Vern Law struggled to a 40-57 record in his first five seasons.

By 1960, the Pirates had improved all the way to World Series champions. And in 1960, the best season in Law’s distinguished career, he was acknowledged as baseball’s best pitcher.

After two seasons in the minors, Law joined the Pirates in 1950. In his first five seasons, he was 40-57 with a 4.56 ERA. He registered his first winning season at 10-8 in 1957, with a seventh-place team. When the Pirates finished second in 1958, Law was 14-12 with a 3.96 ERA. When the Pirates finished fourth in 1959, Law emerged as the team’s ace at 18-9 with a 2.98 ERA. It was the best season of his career, so far …

Law’s first start of the 1960 season came in the season’s second game. At Cincinnati, he shut out the Reds on seven hits, backed by five RBIs from Roberto Clemente and four RBIs from Bill Mazeroski, for a 13-0 waltz. He made only two more starts in June, winning both with complete games.

Vern Law’s 1960 season was the best of his career: 20-9 with a 3.08 ERA. He also won two World Series games and was the winning pitcher in the second All-Star game.

Law made seven starts in May, winning four and losing one with three more complete games. He was 4-2 in June with another three complete games. At the All-Star break, Law was 11-4 with a 2.52 ERA. He retired Brooks Robinson and Harvey Kuenn in the bottom of the ninth inning to preserve a 5-3 win for the National League and teammate Bob Friend. In the second All-Star game four days later, Law was the starter (and winner), allowing no runs and one hit in two innings as the National League won 6-0.

Law won his last two starts in July, and then won six straight decisions in August. He finished August at 19-5 with a 2.84 ERA. The Pirates led the rest of the National League by 5.5 games.

After being so strong, so consistent, Law faltered in September. In six starts, he was 1-4 with a 4.43 ERA. The Pirates finished five games ahead of the second-place Milwaukee Braves. And Law had a new best season: 20-9 with a 3.08 ERA. Law led the National League with 18 complete games. His 271.2 innings pitched were fourth most in the league.

Law capped off a fine 1960 season by winning a pair of World Series games with a 3.44 ERA. And though he finished third in the league in victories (Warren Spahn and Ernie Broglio each won 21 games.), Law won the Cy Young voting handily over Spahn, Broglio and Lindy McDaniel.

Despite leading the National League in only one pitching category – with 18 complete games – Vern Law won the Cy Young Award as baseball’s best pitcher in 1960.

Law wouldn’t have another season like that in the seven seasons he had remaining. He would win 17 games in 1965, and finish with a career record of 162-147 with a 3.77 ERA.

 

 

 

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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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All the Way

 

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.

Pitching for the eighth-place Chicago Cubs in 1964, Larry Jackson led the major leagues with 24 victories.

Pitching for the eighth-place Chicago Cubs in 1964, Larry Jackson led the major leagues with 24 victories.

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.

During his 24-11 season in 1964, Larry Jackson finished third in the National League in games started (38) and complete games (19). He was second in the league in innings pitched, and second in the Cy Young voting (to Dean Chance).

During his 24-11 season in 1964, Larry Jackson finished third in the National League in games started (38) and complete games (19). He was second in the league in innings pitched, and second in the Cy Young voting (to Dean Chance).

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.

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Leaving Nothing to Chance

 

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.

Dean Chance won the Cy Young Award in 1964 with a 20-9 record and a 1.65 ERA.

Dean Chance won the Cy Young Award in 1964 with a 20-9 record and a 1.65 ERA.

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.

Dean Chance led the major leagues with a 1.65 ERA in 1964. His 20-9 record that season included 11 shutouts.

Dean Chance led the major leagues with a 1.65 ERA in 1964. His 20-9 record that season included 11 shutouts.

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.

 

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Welcome to Wally’s World of Wins

 

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.

"19" was Wally Bunker's lucky number in 1964. The 19-year-old rookie won 19 games for the Baltimore Orioles and finished second in the voting for Rookie of the Year.

“19” was Wally Bunker’s lucky number in 1964. The 19-year-old rookie won 19 games for the Baltimore Orioles and finished second in the voting for Rookie of the Year.

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.

Wally Bunker closed out his major league career with the Kansas City Royals in 1969-1971. He threw the first pitch in Royals' history.

Wally Bunker closed out his major league career with the Kansas City Royals in 1969-1971. He threw the first pitch in Royals’ history.

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.

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The Year He Was Everything But MVP.

 

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 - Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder won the National League batting title in 1962 and 1963

Tommy Davis – Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder won the National League batting title in 1962 and 1963

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.

Tommy Davis led the NL with 230 hits in 1962, the most in 25 years.

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.

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Robbie’s Revenge

 

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.

That’s what Cincinnati Reds general manager Bill DeWitt did when he justified the 1966 trade of Robinson to the Baltimore Orioles by calling the slugger an “old 30.”

Frank Robinson finished the 1966 season as the American League Triple Crown winner with a .316 batting average, 49 home runs and 122 RBIs

Frank Robinson finished the 1966 season as the American League Triple Crown winner with a .316 batting average, 49 home runs and 122 RBIs.

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 his 21-year career, Frank Robinson was the league leader in home runs, RBIs and batting average only once each – all in 1966.

In his 21-year career, Frank Robinson 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.

 

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Hall-ing in a Bunch of Runs

 

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.

When outfielder Jimmie Hall went to spring training in 1963, he wasn’t expected to make the Minnesota Twins’ Opening Day roster. Seven months later, he finished third in the balloting for 1963 American League Rookie of the Year.

When outfielder Jimmie Hall went to spring training in 1963, he wasn’t expected to make the Minnesota Twins’ Opening Day roster. Seven months later, he finished third in the balloting for 1963 American League Rookie of the Year.

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.

Jimmie Hall batted .260 with 33 home runs and 80 RBIs in 1963 – not bad for a player who spent the first two months of the season on the bench.

Jimmie Hall batted .260 with 33 home runs and 80 RBIs in 1963 – not bad for a player who spent the first two months of the season on the bench.

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.

 

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The Man Who Brought Theft Back in Style

 

Career Year: Maury Wills – 1962

What kind of Most Valuable Player takes that award based on a season where he hits only six home runs and drives in a total of 48 runs … with a batting average under .300?

Maury Wills won the National League’s Most Valuable Player award in 1962 while leading the league in only a single offensive category … a record-breaking 104 stolen bases.

What kind of player wins the MVP while leading the league in only two offensive categories, and leading the league in only one hitting category (triples)?

Only one player has done that, and that was the Los Angeles Dodgers shortstop Maury Wills, the National League’s 1962 Most Valuable Player. In addition to being an excellent shortstop (a two-time Gold Glove winner), Wills did one thing exceptionally well: steal bases.

Wills was so good at stealing bases that he caused the second “unbreakable record” to fall during the 1960s. First, in 1961, Roger Maris toppled Babe Ruth’s sacred record of 60 home runs in a season. Then only a season later, Wills shattered the single-season stolen base record time at the expense of the game’s greatest all-time hitter and base runner.

When Ty Cobb stole 96 bases in 1915, the stolen base was still a primary offensive weapon, right along with the bunt and sacrifice fly. Cobb’s brand of baseball prided itself on an economy of runs, backed by pitching and defense. The popularity of that kind of baseball – both within the game and among fans –did not survive Babe Ruth and the more “lively” baseball of the 1920s and beyond.

When Ty Cobb set the single-season record of 96 steals in 1915, the stolen base was a primary offensive weapon.

Fast-forward to 1962. Ty Cobb’s stolen base record survived his passing in 1961, and surely looked like a record that might never be broken – especially with all the attention on the power game that Cobb despised. After putting the country through the emotionally exhausting circus that surrounded Roger Maris’s 1961 bid to break Babe Ruth’s home run record, the fans probably wouldn’t care all that much about a shortstop trying to break Cobb’s 47-year-old stolen base record.

Or would they?

They did. While excitement about the chase for Cobb’s record never quite reached the fervor that hounded Maris, Wills’ assault on Cobb’s record definitely engaged the country, and again extended baseball’s impact beyond the everyday fan, much the same as the quest for Ruth’s home run record had done the year before.

As the 1962 pennant race entered September, Wills had 73 stolen bases. He needed 23 more to catch Cobb, and had 27 games left to do it (19 games if he wanted to match Cobb in 154 games and avoid the expanded schedule controversy that had haunted Maris).  Wills stole four bases in one Friday night game against Pittsburgh, bringing his total to 82. In the next week he stole nine more, giving him 91 after 148 games.

Maury Wills led the National League in stolen bases five times during his 14-year major league career. He remains the Dodgers’ all-time leader in steals with 490.

Maury Wills led the National League in stolen bases five times during his 14-year major league career. He remains the Dodgers’ all-time leader in steals with 490.

Number 92 came the next day, and he got his 93rd in Milwaukee three days later (off Braves catcher Joe Torre).  Stolen base 95 came against the Cardinals in Game #154. Wills tied and passed Cobb’s mark with two stolen bases in Game #156.

He ended the season with 104 stolen bases, accomplished in 165 games, thanks to the addition of three games needed to break the regular season dead heat between the Dodgers and Giants.

Wills never bested that total. The closest he came was with 94 stolen bases in 1965. During his 14-season career, Wills averaged 49 steals per season, leading the league five different times. When he retired, he was ninth all-time in career steals with 586. He ranks 18th on the all-time list today.

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