Sometimes Size Counts

 

Homer Happy: Frank Howard

Frank Howard made opposing pitchers cringe. At six-foot-seven and 255 pounds, he was an imposing presence at the plate. Not even the higher mound (15 inches high until 1969) gave pitchers as much of an advantage. At his height, he could still nearly look them in the eye. Continue reading

Base Sweeper

 

Homer Happy: Don Mincher

When the Minnesota Twins of the early 1960s were loaded with slugging bats, the unsung slugger in the Twins lineup belonged to a left-handed-hitting outfielder and first baseman named Don Mincher. In seven seasons with the Twins, Mincher had more than 400 at-bats only once, yet averaged 19 home runs and 56 RBIs per season from 1963 through 1966.

Don Mincher was part of the devastating lineup that propelled the Minnesota Twins to the American League pennant in 1965. Mincher batted .251 with 22 home runs and 65 RBIs.

Don Mincher was part of the devastating lineup that propelled the Minnesota Twins to the American League pennant in 1965. Mincher batted .251 with 22 home runs and 65 RBIs.

Mincher was signed by the Chicago White Sox in 1956. Just before the start of the 1960 season, he was traded with Earl Battey to the Washington Senators for first baseman Roy Sievers. He made his major league debut with the Senators in 1960, appearing in 27 games with two home runs and five RBIs.

He split the 1961 season between the Minnesota Twins and their AAA affiliate in Buffalo, hitting 24 home runs in Buffalo and five homers in 35 games for the Twins. He appeared in 86 games for the Twins in 1962, hitting nine home runs with 29 RBIs. In 1963, appearing in only 82 games (half the Twins’ schedule), Mincher still managed to club 17 home runs with 42 RBIs … heavy numbers for a half season of production.

During the Twins’ pennant-winning 1965 season, Mincher combined with Harmon Killebrew, Bob Allison, Tony Oliva, Jimmie Hall and American League MVP Zoilo Versalles for one of the most dangerous slugging lineups of the 1960s. Mincher contributed 22 home runs and 65 runs batted in from only 346 at-bats.

Don Mincher’s best season came with the Seattle Pilots in 1969. He led the team with 27 home runs and 78 RBIs.

Don Mincher’s best season came with the Seattle Pilots in 1969. He led the team with 27 home runs and 78 RBIs.

Following the 1966 seasons, the Twins traded Mincher and Hall to the California Angels in the deal that brought pitcher Dean Chance to Minnesota. Mincher got 487 at-bats as the Angels’ everyday first baseman, and responded by batting .273 with 25 home runs and 76 RBIs. After a “down” year in 1968 (shared by most batters in the American League that season), Mincher was the second pick in the 1968 expansion draft, being the first player selected by the Seattle Pilots. Mincher had one of his best seasons for the Pilots, hitting .246 with 27 home runs and 78 RBIs.

In January of 1970, Mincher was traded again, with Ron Clark, to the Oakland Athletics for Mike Hershberger, Lew Krausse, Phil Roof and Ken Sanders. He hit .246 for the A’s in 1970 with 27 home runs and 74 RBIs, and the next spring was dealt to the Washington Senators in a swap that brought Mike Epstein and Darold Knowles to Oakland. He batted .280 combined for Oakland and Washington in 1971, with 12 home runs and 53 RBIs. He split the 1972 season, his last as a player, between the Texas Rangers and Oakland, hitting six home runs with 44 RBIs.

Over his 13-season career, Mincher batted .249 with 200 home runs and 643 RBIs. He was a member of the American League All-Star team twice, in 1967 and in 1969.

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Slugging from the Shadows

 

 

Homer Happy – Joe Adcock

There was never any controversy about Joe Adcock being only the third most dangerous slugger in the Milwaukee Braves’ lineup. With future Hall of Famers like Henry Aaron and Eddie Mathews batting in front of him, Adcock was not likely to be the Braves’ cleanup hitter.

But he was dangerous enough as a slugger to keep pitchers more honest with Aaron and Mathews … and his presence in the lineup helped assure that they would see more of the fastball strikes that would keep their slugging numbers up and Milwaukee in contention.

In 10 seasons with the Milwaukee Braves, Jow Adcock averaged 24 home runs and 79 runs batted in.

In 10 seasons with the Milwaukee Braves, Jow Adcock averaged 24 home runs and 79 runs batted in.

Adcock was signed by the Cincinnati Reds in 1947. He played for the Reds from 1950 through 1952, averaging ten home runs and 51 RBIs per season. In February of 1953, Adcock was part of a four-team trade that took him to Milwaukee, where he would play for the next decade.

Adcock’s hitting numbers steadily improved once he joined the high-powered Braves lineup. He hit .285 in 1953 with 18 homers and 80 RBIs in 1953. He upped those numbers in 1954 to a .308 average with 23 home runs and 87 RBIs. Injuries shortened his season in 1955, but Adcock made a major comeback in 1956 by hitting .291 with 38 home runs and 103 RBIs. He topped 100 RBIs one other season: in 1961, when he drove in 108 runs with 35 home runs.

Adcock averaged 24 home runs and 79 RBIs per season in his ten years with Milwaukee. His overall numbers might have been better had he not missed a large chunk from each of two seasons due to injuries.

In 1962, Adcock’s batting average slipped to .248, though he still drove in 78 runs and hit 29 homers. The Braves traded Adcock with Jack Curtis to the Cleveland Indians for Ty Cline, Don Dillard and Frank Funk.

His one season in Cleveland produced only 13 home runs and 49 RBIs, and after the 1963 season the Indians sent him to the Los Angeles Angels to complete an earlier trade that brought Leon Wagner to the Indians. In three seasons with the Angels, Adcock averaged 17 home runs and 53 RBIs per season. He retired after the 1966 season.

Adcock hit .277 over 17 seasons with 336 career home runs. He was an All-Star once, in 1960.

Pirate Tower of Power

 

Homer Happy: Willie Stargell

For most of two decades, Willie Stargell was the most dangerous player in the Pittsburgh Pirates batting order. And one of the most popular to play in a Pirate uniform.

Willie Stargell hit 475 home runs with 1,540 runs batted in. He was an All-Star seven times and was the National League Most Valuable Player in 1979.

Willie Stargell hit 475 home runs with 1,540 runs batted in. He was an All-Star seven times and was the National League Most Valuable Player in 1979.

He was author of some of the most towering home runs in National League history. According to Don Sutton, Stargell’s strength could wipe away a pitcher’s dignity.

Stargell spent his entire 21-year major league career with the Pirates, making his major league debut in 1962. He hit 11 home runs as a part-time performer in 1963, and 21 home runs as a full-time left fielder in 1964. He would hit at least 20 home runs in 15 out of the next 16 seasons.

During his first eight seasons, the Pirates played in Forbes Field, a park whose dimension were not power-hitter friendly. The fence in left-center field was 457 feet from home plate, and home runs to dead right field had to clear a 20-foot screen that ran to right-center field. No wonder that, during the 1960s, Stargell hit no more than 33 home runs (in 1966).

When the Pirates moved to hitter-friendly Three Rivers Stadium in 1970, Stargell’s home run productivity jumped dramatically. He led the National League with 48 home runs in 1971 and 44 home runs in 1973. He hit 310 of his 475 career home runs from 1970 on.

Stargell’s one advantage during his years in Pittsburgh was the batting order hitting around him. He shared the outfield with two batting champions, Matty Alou and Roberto Clemente, who claimed five batting titles between them during the 1960s. The Pirates’ batting order in the 1960s also included Donn Clendenon, Manny Mota and Bill Mazeroski, as well as Manny Sanguillen, Al Oliver and Richie Hebner in the 1970s – the kind of bats that kept pitchers honest and consistently gave Stargell pitches he could launch.

Willie Stargell led the National League in home runs twice ... after the Pirates moved from Forbes Field to Three Rivers Stadium.

Willie Stargell led the National League in home runs twice … after the Pirates moved from Forbes Field to Three Rivers Stadium.

And “launch” them he did. In its 61 seasons, Forbes Field saw only 16 home runs clear the right field roof. Seven of those home runs belonged to Stargell. Only four times did home runs leave Dodger Stadium, and Stargell owned two of them. He hit the only home run to reach the upper deck of Montreal’s Olympic Stadium, a blast estimated at 575 feet. When he retired, Stargell could claim the longest home runs in at least half the National League parks.

Stargell retired after the 1982 season with 475 home runs and 1,540 runs batted in. He was an All-Star seven times and was the National League Most Valuable Player in 1979. He is the Pirates’ career leader in home runs, RBIs and extra-base hits. Stargell was voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1988.

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The Power in Polo

 

Homer Happy: Frank Thomas

From their inaugural season of 1962 until 1975, the New York Mets’ single-season record for home runs belonged to a right-handed hitting outfielder who played for the Mets for only two seasons, but was a National League power threat for a decade.

With 34 home runs in 1962 – the Mets’ first year of existence – Frank Thomas held the franchise’s single-season home run record until 1975.

With 34 home runs in 1962 – the Mets’ first year of existence – Frank Thomas held the franchise’s single-season home run record until 1975.

Slugger Frank Thomas played both the outfield and first base for seven different teams in 16 years. Over that long career, he batted .266 with 286 home runs and 962 RBIs.

Thomas signed with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1947 and made his major league debut in 1951. In 1953, his first full major league season, Thomas batted .255 for the Pirates with 30 home runs and 102 RBIs. He was an All-Star three times in his five full seasons with Pittsburgh, and had his best season in 1958 with 35 home runs and 109 RBIs.

In 1959, Thomas was traded to the Cincinnati Reds in the deal that brought Smoky Burgess, Harvey Haddix and Don Hoak to the Pirates. Thomas spent one season in Cincinnati (12 home runs, 47 RBIs) and then was traded to the Chicago Cubs. With the Cubs, he hit 21 home runs with 64 RBIs in 1960, and a month into the 1961 season he was traded to the Milwaukee Braves. He had a solid season for the Braves, hitting 25 home runs plus two with the Cubs. The Braves team of 1961 was loaded with power hitters, and was the first major league club to smash four consecutive home runs in a game. (Thomas hit the fourth, preceded by home runs from the bats of Eddie Mathews, Hank Aaron, and Joe Adcock.)

Frank Thomas broke into the big leagues in a big way. In 1953, his first full season with the Pittsburgh Pirates, Thomas hit 30 home runs with 102 RBIs.

Frank Thomas broke into the big leagues in a big way. In 1953, his first full season with the Pittsburgh Pirates, Thomas hit 30 home runs with 102 RBIs.

After the 1961 season, he was traded to the Mets for outfielder Gus Bell. He led that first Mets team with 34 home runs and 94 RBIs. His home run mark was not topped by another Mets hitter until Dave Kingman blasted 36 in 1975.

Thomas hit 15 home runs for the Mets in 1963 and was traded to the Philadelphia Phillies in 1964. At this point in his career, the 35-year-old Thomas had become a part-time player and pinch hitter, batting .282 in two seasons with the Phillies. He retired in 1966 with 1,671 career hits.

Spraying Rockets Around the National League

 

Homer Happy: Willie McCovey

What was most impressive about slugger Willie McCovey – beyond the career hitting statistics that earned him a place in the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility – was his consistency as a power hitter throughout his 22-season career, even though he battled injuries in nearly half of them. Twelve times he hit 20 or more home runs in a season, and in the six seasons from 1965 through 1970, he hit no fewer than 31.

From 1965-1969, Willie McCovey led the National League in home runs twice. He averaged 37 home runs and 102 RBIs during those five seasons.

From 1965-1969, Willie McCovey led the National League in home runs twice. He averaged 37 home runs and 102 RBIs during those five seasons.

His total of 521 career home runs – clearly Hall of Fame worthy – was limited by his opportunities to play during the first five years of his major league career. McCovey was signed by the New York Giants in 1955 and made his debut with the San Francisco Giants on July 30, 1959. In the remaining two months of that season, McCovey batted .354 with 13 homes runs and 38 RBIs – all in what was essentially a third of a season. He also posted a .656 slugging average, and was named National League Rookie of the Year.

As good as he was, McCovey wasn’t good enough to find a place in the Giants’ everyday lineup, a lineup that included Willie Mays, Orlando Cepeda, Felipe Alou and Willie Kirkland. By the end of the 1960 season, McCovey had earned a starting spot at first base.

With only 260 official at-bats in 1960, McCovey finished the season with 13 home runs and 51 RBIs. But the first base job went back to Cepeda in 1961, and McCovey returned to the role of part-time outfielder for the next two seasons. He hit 18 home runs in 1961 and 20 in 1962.

In 1963, McCovey was tabbed to be the team’s regular left fielder, and he responded with a league-leading 44 home runs and 102 runs batted in. A foot injury limited his playing time and productivity in 1964, when he batted .220 with 18 home runs and 54 RBIs. He rebounded in 1965 with 39 home runs, and hit more than 30 homers in each of the next three seasons, leading the National League in home runs (36) and RBIs (105) in 1968.

McCovey’s best season came in 1969, when he batted .320 and led the National League in home runs (45), RBIs (126) and slugging average (.656). He was selected as the National League Most Valuable Player that season.

McCovey bashed 39 home runs in 1970, the most he would hit in a single season over the rest of his career. Dogged by injuries over the next few years, he managed 29 home runs and 75 RBIs in 1973. He was traded to the San Diego Padres, and after two years split the 1976 season between the Padres and the Oakland Athletics. He returned to San Francisco in 1977 and had a strong comeback season at age 39, batting .280 with 28 home runs and 86 RBIs. He hit only 28 more home runs as a part-time player over the next three seasons, and retired in 1980. He finished with a career batting average of .270.

McCovey was a six-time All-Star, and was the Most Valuable player in the 1969 All-Star game. He hit 231 home runs in Candlestick Park, the most by any player. And McCovey was the first major league player to twice hit two home runs in a single inning.

He was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1986.

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Portable Power

 

Homer Happy: Deron Johnson

Hitting the ball hard was Deron Johnson’s specialty. Pete Rose said he never saw anyone hit the ball harder.

Playing for the Cincinnati Reds, Deron Johnson led the National League with 130 RBIs in 1965.

Playing for the Cincinnati Reds, Deron Johnson led the National League with 130 RBIs in 1965.

Johnson was signed by the New York Yankees in 1956, but there was no room for him in the Yankees’ powerful lineup of the late 1950s. He managed a token appearance with New York in 1960.

Thirteen games into the 1961 season, Johnson was traded with pitcher Art Ditmar to the Kansas City Athletics for pitcher Bud Daley. In 83 games with the A’s, he hit eight home runs with 44 RBIs but batted only .216. He spent most of the next two seasons in the minors and then was purchased by the Cincinnati Reds.

In Cincinnati, Johnson matured into the power hitter and run producer that he was to become.  Batting in a lineup surrounded with hitters like Rose, Frank Robinson, Vada Pinson and Tony Perez, Johnson got to see more strikes (and fastballs), and he responded with RBIs. He hit .263 in 1964 with 21 home runs and 79 RBIs. In 1965, he led the major leagues with 130 RBIs while hitting .287 with 30 doubles and 32 home runs. In 1966, in a lineup that no longer included Robinson, Johnson hit 24 home runs with 81 RBIs.

Following the 1967 season, Johnson was traded to the Atlanta Braves for Jim Beauchamp, Mack Jones and Jay Ritchie. His only season in Atlanta produced eight home runs and 33 RBIs, and he was purchased by the Philadelphia Phillies, where his power hitting revived. His best season in Philadelphia was 1971, when he hit .265 with 34 home runs and 95 RBIs.

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Like so many young sluggers in the late 1950s, Deron Johnson spent the early part of his career languishing in the New York Yankees minor league system. His ticket out of the Yankee farm system came in 1961 when he was traded to the Kansas City Athletics.

Over the next four seasons, Johnson played for five different teams (Philadelphia, Oakland, Milwaukee, Boston and the Chicago White Sox) and averaged 13 home runs and 51 RBIs per season. His best remaining seasons were 1973, when he hit 20 home runs with 86 RBIs for the Phillies and A’s, and 1975, when he hit 19 home runs with 75 RBIs, splitting the season with the White Sox and Red Sox. Johnson retired after the 1976 season.

In 16 big league seasons with eight different teams, Johnson hit 245 home runs and collected 923 RBIs.

 

 

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