The Larry Lift

 

Glancing Back, and Remembering Larry Hisle

Larry Hisle was the kind of hitter who could lift a team onto his back and carry it through contention. In his prime, he averaged 25 home runs and 110 runs batted in per season.

Larry Hisle’s major league career began in 1968 with the Philadelphia Phillies. His best season came with the Minnesota Twins in 1977. He batted .302 and led the American League with 119 RBIs.

And while his most productive seasons came in the late 1970s, Larry Hisle major league career commenced a decade earlier. It just took time for his skills to catch up to his talent.

Hisle was drafted by the Philadelphia Phillies in 1965 and made his major league debut in 1968, batting .364 in seven games. He replaced Tony Gonzalez as the team’s regular center fielder in 1969, batting .266 with 20 home runs and 56 RBIs.

After such a promising start, Hisle saw his hitting drop off dramatically. He batted .205 in 1970 and .197 in 1971. He was traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers, St. Louis Cardinals and Minnesota Twins within the space of 13 months, all of which Hisle spent in the minors.

His return to the major leagues came in Minnesota, and that was where Hisle blossomed into a legitimate hitting star. He batted .272 for the Twins in 1973 and .286 in 1974. He hit 14 home runs with 96 RBIs in 1976, and then had monster years the next two seasons. He batted .302 in 1977 with 28 home runs and an American League best 119 RBIs. His timing was perfect, as he became a free agent at the season’s end and signed with the Milwaukee Brewers.

In 1978, playing for the Brewers, he hit .290 with 34 home runs and 115 RBIs. Injuries would limit his playing time and productivity for the rest of his career. In the next four seasons, he wouldn’t hit more than six home runs in a season.

Hisle retired after the 1982 season with a career batting average of .273. In 14 major league seasons, Hisle had 1,146 hits and 166 home runs. He was an All-Star in 1977 and 1978.

 

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A Coyote in Tiger’s Clothes

 

Glancing Back, and Remembering Don Wert

The Detroit Tigers were solid at third base from 1964 through the rest of the decade, once that position was taken over by the slick-fielding Don Wert.

A solid defensive player throughout his career, Don Wert’s best season at the plate came in 1966. He batted .268 with 20 doubles, 11 home runs and 70 RBIs.

Nicknamed “Coyote,” Wert was signed by the Tigers in 1958. He found his way to the major league roster in 1963, when he batted .259 with seven home runs and 25 RBIs in 78 games.

Wert replaced Bubba Phillips as the Tigers’ everyday third baseman in 1964, batting .257 with nine home runs and 55 RBIs. He led the American League by playing in all 162 games in 1965, batting .261 with 54 runs batted in. He also led all American League third basemen with a .976 fielding percentage that season. He finished tenth in the voting for American League Most Valuable Player.

In 1966, Wert had his best season at the plate. He batted .268 with 20 doubles, 11 home runs and 70 RBIs.

In June of 1968, Wert was severely beaned and missed several games. His hitting fell off dramatically, as he batted .200 for 1968 after hitting a combined .261 for the previous five seasons. He never completely recovered his hitting stroke, batting .225 in 1969 and .218 in 1970.

Following the 1970 season, the Tigers traded Wert with Elliott Maddox, Denny McLain and Norm McRae to the Washington Senators for Ed Brinkman, Joe Coleman, Jim Hannan and Aurelio Rodriguez. During spring training, Wert injured his back in a collision at second base and opened the 1971 season on the disabled list. He appeared in only 20 games for the Senators before being released and retiring.

In nine major league seasons, Wert batted .242 with 929 career hits. He was named to the American League All-Star team in 1968, and doubled off Tom Seaver in his only All-Star at-bat.

 

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The Ol’ Lefthander

 

Glancing Back, and Remembering Joe Nuxhall

Joe Nuxhall made his major league debut in 1944 with the Cincinnati Reds … at the ripe old age of 15. He was the youngest player in major league history, the result of the player shortage due to the Second World War. Nuxhall allowed two hits and five walks in the ninth inning of an 18-0 loss to the St. Louis Cardinals.

Left-hander Joe Nuxhall had the distinction of being the youngest player in history. He made his major league debut in 1944 at age 15.

After that lone appearance, Nuxhall spent the rest of that summer in the minors and returned to high school in the fall. He remained in the Reds farm system through 1951 and made his second “debut” in 1952, going 1-4 with a 3.22 ERA in 37 appearances.

Nuxhall gradually moved into the Reds’ starting rotation, winning 12 games in 1954 and 17 games in 1955, leading the National League with five shutouts that season. Nuxhall was 83-73 for the Reds in the 1950s, with a combined ERA of 3.92.

In 1960, Nuxhall was 1-8 with a 4.42 ERA and was traded to the Kansas City Athletics for John Briggs and John Tsitouris. He was 5-8 for the A’s in 1961 and was released after the season. He caught on with the Los Angeles Angels in 1962 and appeared in five games before being released again. He signed with the Reds and was 5-0 with a 2.45 ERA over the rest of the 1962 season.

In his second tour with the Reds, from 1962 through 1966, Nuhall was 46-28, including 15-8 with a 2.61 ERA in 1963. He retired after the 1966 season with a career record of 135-117 on a 3.90 ERA. He was an All-Star in 1955 and 1956.

 

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Hall of Fame Travel Companion

 

Glancing Back, and Remembering Al Smith

Outfielder Al Smith was traded three times during his 12-year major league career. In the first two of those trades, to Chicago and to Baltimore, Smith had the distinction of being traded with a future Hall of Famer. He also distinguished himself as a good hitter whose legs and bat produced plenty of runs.

Al Smith was originally signed by the Cleveland Indians in 1948 and made his major league debut in 1953. He batted .306 in 1955 and led the American League in runs scored with 123.

Smith was signed by the Cleveland Indians in 1948 and made his debut in Cleveland in 1953, hitting .240 in 47 games. He opened the 1954 season as the Indians’ starting left-fielder, batting .281 for the American League champions. He scored 101 runs and led the team in doubles with 29.

In 1955, Smith led the American League by scoring 123 runs. He batted .306 with 22 home runs and 77 RBIs, and was named to the American League All-Star team. He finished third in the Most Valuable Player balloting for that season.

Smith played two more seasons with the Indians and then was traded (with future Hall of Famer Early Wynn) to the Chicago White Sox for Minnie Minoso and Fred Hatfield. He struggled in his first two seasons in Chicago, batting .252 in 1958 and .237 in 1959. He bounced back in 1960, hitting .315 with 31 doubles, 12 home runs and 72 RBIs. In 1961, he posted the best power numbers of his career, hitting 28 home runs with 93 RBIs.

Al Smith’s best season with the Chicago White Sox came in 1961. He batted .278 with 28 home runs and 93 RBIs.

Smith’s last season in Chicago was 1962, when he batted .292 with 16 home runs and 82 RBIs. In the off-season, he was traded with another future Hall of Famer, shortstop Luis Aparicio, to the Baltimore Orioles for Ron Hansen, Dave Nicholson, Pete Ward and Hoyt Wilhelm. He batted .272 for the Orioles in 1963, but with only 10 home runs and 39 RBIs. He was involved in one more trade, returning to Cleveland in exchange for outfielder Willie Kirkland. He split the 1964 season between the Indians and the Boston Red Sox, batting a combined .176. He retired in 1964 at age 36.

Smith finished with a career batting average of .272 on 1,458 hits. He scored 843 runs with 258 doubles, 164 home runs and 676 RBIs. He was a member of the American League All-Star team twice.

Rebel Yell

 

Glancing Back, and Remembering Randy Hundley

Randy Hundley set the standards for a workhorse catcher in the late 1960s. From 1966 through 1969, he caught no less than 144 games in a season. His backstop abilities made him an All-Star and Gold Glove winner, and his leadership and abilities as a handler of pitchers made him one of the best Cubs catchers since Hall of Famer Gabby Hartnett.

A Virginia native (hence his nickname, “Rebel”), Hundley was signed by the San Francisco Giants in 1960. He played in only eight games with the Giants before being traded with Bill Hands in 1965 to the Chicago Cubs for Don Landrum and Lindy McDaniel.

Randy Hundley’s best season with the Chicago Cubs came in 1969. He batted .255 with 18 home runs and 64 RBIs. He was also a member of the National League All-Star team.

For the next four years, he was the Cubs’ starting catcher and virtually the only Cub playing that position. He averaged 153 games per season with 14 home runs and 63 RBIs. He batted .246 over that period.

The wear and tear of so many innings behind the plate began to catch up with his body, and injuries limited Hundley to a total of 82 games from 1970 to 1971. He returned to everyday catching duties in 1972, though not at his earlier level, and not with the same offensive impact. Hundley batted .218 in 1972 and .226 in 1973.

After eight seasons with the Cubs, Hundley was traded to the Minnesota Twins for George Mitterwald. He batted .193 in a part-time role, and signed with the San Diego Padres for the 1975 season, batting .206. He signed with the Cubs for 1976 but played in only 15 games over the next two seasons, and retired in 1977.

Hundley played in 1,061 games during his 14-year major league career, catching in all but 35 of those games. He had 813 hits and a career batting average of .236.

Monbo A-Go-Go

 

 

Glancing Back, and Remembering Bill Monbouquette

Bill Monbouquette was clearly the best starting pitcher in the Boston Red Sox rotation when the Red Sox were at their worst: during the first half of the 1960s. Then, as Red Sox fortunes turned suddenly to produce a pennant in 1967, Monbouquette had faded into the pitched-out twilight of his too-brief career, and had moved on to other teams.

Bill Monbouquette’s best major league season came in 1963. He was 20-10 for a Red Sox team that finished seventh in the league.

A Medford, Massachusetts native, the local boy signed with the Red Sox in 1955 and made his first big league appearance in 1958. He went 7-7 for the Red Sox in 1959, starting in half of his 34 appearances.

By 1960, Monbouquette was a regular in Boston’s starting rotation, going 14-11 with a 3.64 ERA. His 14 victories were second-highest on the Red Sox staff (to Don Schwall’s 15-7 record). Monbouquette led the team in games started (32), innings pitched (236.1) and strikeouts (161). In 1961 and 1962, he won 14 and 15 games, respectively. He pitched four shutouts in 1962 and posted a 3.33 ERA, his best in Boston.

Bill Monbouquette pitched a no-hitter against the Chicago White Sox on August 1, 1962. He was 15-13 that season with a 3.33.ERA.

In 1963, Monbouquette emerged as the undisputed ace of the Boston staff. That season he went 20-10 with a 3.81 ERA. He recorded career highs in innings pitched (266.2) and strikeouts (174). It was his last winning season in Boston. His record fell to 13-14 in 1964 and to 10-18 in 1965. His 18 losses were the most by any American League pitcher that season, and were “earned” despite a very respectable 3.70 ERA. Following the 1965 season, the Red Sox traded Monbouquette to the Detroit Tigers for George Smith and George Thomas.

Monbouquette had little left for the Tigers, and struggled through a 7-8 season in 1966 that produced a 4.73 ERA. He split the 1967 season between the Tigers and the New York Yankees, going 6-5 with a 2.33 ERA. The 1968 season would be his last, divided between the Yankees and the San Francisco Giants. Monbouquette went 5-8 with a combined 4.35 ERA.

Monbouquette pitched for 11 seasons in the major leagues, compiling a record of 114-111. He was a three-time member of the American League All-Star team. He pitched a no-hitter against the Chicago White Sox in 1962.

 

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Gunning Down Batters

 

Glancing Back, and Remembering Tommie Sisk

Tommie Sisk signed with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1960. He won 14 games in the Pirates’ minor league system in 1961, and won 10 in 1962 when he was called up to the Pirates. After being rocked by the lowly New York Mets in his major league debut, Sisk settled down as a rookie reliever in 1963, going 1-3 with a 2.92 ERA in 57 appearances.

Tommie Sisk’s best season with the Pittsburgh Pirates came in 1967. He was 13-13 with a 3.34 ERA. He led the team in innings pitched (207.2), shutouts (two) and complete games (11).

Sisk struggled in 1964, going 1-4 with a 6.16 earned run average, but rebounded in 1965 with a 7-3 record and a 3.40 ERA.

By 1966, Sisk was being used more as a starter than as a reliever. He thrived in that role. He was 10-5 in 1966 and in 1967 he was 13-13, second on the team in wins (to Bob Veale) and the team leader in innings pitched (207.2), shutouts (two) and complete games (11). His 3.34 ERA was best among the Pirates’ starters.

In 1968 the Pirates added Jim Bunning and moved Al McBean out of the bullpen and into the starting rotation, pushing Sisk back into the relief corps (though he did manage to get 11 spot starts). He responded by going 5-5 with a 3.28 ERA.

In March of 1969, Sisk was traded with Chris Cannizzaro to the San Diego Padres for Ron Davis and Bobby Klaus. He was 2-13 for the Padres with a 4.78 ERA, and after one season was dealt to the Chicago White Sox. He appeared in 17 games for Chicago, going 1-1 with a 5.40 ERA, before retiring at age 28. One day after retiring, he was traded to the Cleveland Indians, but never played for the Tribe.

Sisk was 40-49 in his nine-year major league career with a 3.92 ERA.

 

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Strong in the Middle

 

Glancing Back, and Remembering Jose Santiago

Jose Santiago played a major role in the return to prominence by the Boston Red Sox in 1967. The right-handed Santiago was effective as both a starter and a reliever, leading the American League in winning percentage in 1967.

Jose Santiago (30) was the starter and loser of the first game of the 1967 World Series. His solo home run off Bob Gibson was the Red Sox lone score in a 2-1 loss.

Santiago was signed by the Kansas City Athletics in 1959 and made his debut with the A’s in 1963, picking up a relief victory in his first major league appearance. He was 0-6 for the A’s in 1964, working primarily out of the Kansas City bullpen. He spent nearly all of the 1965 season back in the minor leagues, and then got his career break when the Red Sox purchased his contract prior to the 1966 season. Santiago made 28 starts for Boston in 1966 (with seven relief appearances), going 12-13 with a 3.66 ERA.

Jose Santiago was an important part of the Boston Red Sox pitching staff when the team won the 1967 American League pennant. Santiago was 12-4 with a 3.59 ERA and five saves. He led AL pitchers with a .750 winning percentage.

His best season came in 1967. Again splitting his appearances between the starting rotation and middle relief, Santiago was 12-4 with a 3.59 earned run average. He was particularly effective down the stretch, going 8-0 after July 5. He was 5-0 in September with a 2.83 ERA and posted two complete games in three September starts.

Santiago pitched the opening game of the 1967 World Series, losing 2-1 to a Bob Gibson six-hitter. In his first World Series at-bat, Santiago hit a solo home run off Gibson for Boston’s only run that day. For the Series, Santiago was 0-2 with a 5.59 ERA.

Santiago worked strictly as a starter in 1968, going 9-4 with a 2.25 ERA by the All-Star break. He was named to the American League All-Star team, but an elbow injury kept him from playing – and effectively wiped out the rest of that season and, ultimately, his major league career. He appeared in only 10 games in 1969 and eight more in 1970, with rehab stints in the minor leagues both seasons. But Santiago did not pitch again in the major leagues after July 1970. He retired with a 34-29 record and a 3.74 career ERA.

 

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Can’t Miss Out

 

Glancing Back, and Remembering Hank Aguirre

He is, perhaps, the one player who would have benefited most from the designated hitter rule had it been in effect in the 1960s.

As things were back then, every pitcher had to fend for himself, including Hank Aguirre, an All-Star left-handed starter-reliever who was effective on the mound but mostly clueless in the batter’s box.

In his first season as a full-time starter, Hank Aguirre led the American League with a 2.21 ERA in 1962.

Aguirre started his career in organized baseball in the Cleveland Indians organization, with three-plus minor league seasons before he was promoted to the Tribe’s roster at the end of 1955. In four appearances, he was 2-0 with a 1.42 ERA and a shutout in his only start. Over the next two seasons, he appeared in only 26 games for Cleveland, going 4-6 with one shutout and a single save.

The southpaw was acquired by the Detroit Tigers (with catcher Jim Hegan) for catcher Jay Porter and pitcher Hal Woodeshick prior to the 1958 season. After four seasons of limited success as a middle-inning reliever, Aguirre was thrust into the Tigers’ starting rotation in 1962 and promptly led the American League in ERA at 2.21. He was 16-8 in 1962, and won 14 games in both 1963 and 1965.

Despite his success as both a starter and a reliever, Aguirre was better known for being perhaps the worst hitter in major league history. In 388 at-bats during his 16-year career in the major leagues, Aguirre compiled an .085 batting average while striking out in 61 percent of his at-bats.

His best season as a “hitter” was 1958, his first season with the Tigers, when three hits in 14 at-bats produced a career high .214 season average. In 1963, Aguirre’s 10 hits (.132 average) produced single-season career highs in runs (five), RBIs (six) and his only stolen base. He also struck out a career-high 48 times (in only 76 at-bats).

Following the 1967 season, Aguirre was traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers. He pitched for the Dodgers only one year, going 1-2 with a 0.69 ERA as a reliever, appearing in 25 games. He pitched two more seasons with the Chicago Cubs, going a combined 4-0 in 58 appearances with a 3.05 ERA.

Aguirre finished with a record of 75-72 in 1,375.2 innings pitched, with 856 strikeouts and an earned run average of 3.24.

 

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Command and Control

 

Glancing Back, and Remembering Lew Burdette

It’s natural to remember Lew Burdette as primarily a 1950s pitcher. That was his dominant decade. Teaming with Warren Spahn and Bob Buhl to fashion one of the most formidable starting rotations in the National League, Burdette was a commanding right-handed starter, using his power and control to win 120 games for the Milwaukee Braves between 1953 and 1959.

But Burdette also pitched for eight seasons into the 1960s, winning 77 games as a starter and reliever for four different teams.

Lew Burdette spent 13 of his 18 major league seasons with the Braves. His finest moment in a Braves uniform came in the 1957 World Series, when he won three complete game victories over the New York Yankees, including two shutouts.

Burdette was signed by the New York Yankees in 1947. He made his only two appearance in Yankee pinstripes at the end of the 1950 season.

In 1951, he was traded by the Yankees with $50,000 to the Boston Braves for Johnny Sain. He pitched in 45 games for the Braves in 1952, all but nine in relief, and compiled a 6-11 rookie season record with a 3.61 ERA. He became the Braves’ closer in 1953, finishing 24 of his 46 appearances. He posted a 15-5 record with a 3.24 ERA and eight saves.

By 1954, Burdette had moved into the Braves’ starting rotation, winning 28 games over the next two seasons. In 1956, he went 19-10 and led the National League with six shutouts and a 2.70 ERA. He won 17 games during the 1957 season, and was the Most Valuable Player in the 1957 World Series, beating the Yankees three times with a pair of shutouts. He closed out the 1950s with back-to-back 20-victory seasons: 20-10 in 1958 and 21-15 in 1959, while leading the league that season in starts (39) and shutouts (four).

In 1960, Burdette led the league in complete games (with 18, tied with Spahn and Vern Law) while going 19-13 with a 3.36 ERA. He also pitched a 1-0 no-hitter against the Philadelphia Phillies that season. He allowed only one base runner (hitting Tony Gonzalez with a pitch) and faced only 27 batters – while driving in the winning run. He won 18 games in 1961, and then slipped to 10-9 in 1962.

Lew Burdette was never afraid of piling up innings. For eight consecutive seasons (1954-1961), Burdette pitched 200 or more innings. From 1958 to 1961, he averaged 278 innings pitched per season.

In 1963, after more than 13 years with the Braves, Burdette was traded to the St. Louis Cardinals for catcher Gene Oliver and pitcher Bob Sadowski. He had a combined record of 9-13 for the Braves and Cardinals, and the next season was a combined 10-9 for the Cardinals and Chicago Cubs, after being traded in June for pitcher Glen Hobbie.

He split a 3-5 1965 season with the Cubs and Philadelphia Phillies. He closed out his career as a reliever for the California Angels, going a combined 8-2 with a 3.67 ERA in 73 appearances over two seasons.

Burdette retired after the 1967 season with a career record of 203-144 and a 3.66 ERA. He completed 158 games (out of 373 starts) with 33 shutouts over a career that amassed 3,067 innings. He was an All-Star twice.

 

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