He had the kind of scary power that made scouts drool and pitchers cringe.
He also brought with him the kind of defensive liabilities that made his own pitchers cringe. Continue reading
Dick Groat was a fine all-around shortstop – one of the best in the majors at the beginning of the 1960s. Signed by the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1952, he had been the Bucs’ everyday shortstop since 1955. He had a career season in 1960, hitting .325 to win the National League batting title and being named National League Most Valuable Player.
Groat’s batting average fell 50 points to .275 in 1961, but he rebounded in 1962, batting .294. After nine seasons with the Pirates, the 31-year-old Groat fully expected to finish his playing career in Pittsburgh.
It was not to be. Continue reading
At the opening of the 1960s, Don Zimmer had already spent more than a decade as part of the Dodgers’ organization. An accomplished infielder with occasional pop in his bat, Zimmer was signed by the Dodgers in 1949 and made the Brooklyn squad in 1954.
His versatility as a fielder made him a valuable utility player for the Dodgers. From 1954-1957, he was the backup shortstop to Pee Wee Reese. In 1958, his only season as an everyday with the Dodgers, Zimmer took over as the team’s shortstop and delivered his best season at the plate: batting .262 with 17 home runs, 60 RBIs and 14 stolen bases for the Dodgers (now located in Los Angeles).
But in 1959, Zimmer split the shortstop duties with a young player named Maury Wills, and responded to platooning with a .165 batting average.
It would be his last season in Dodger blue.
While Zimmer’s versatility made him a valuable bench asset to Dodger manager Walt Alston, he was valued more by the Chicago Cubs. Just before the start of the 1960 season, the Cubs acquired Zimmer for $25,000 and three players: minor league outfielder Lee Handley, infielder Johnny Goryl, and a 24-year-old southpaw named Ron Perranoski.
At first, it looked as if the Cubs had gotten the best of the deal. Zimmer played all three positions on the left side of the Cubs’ 1960 infield (plus two appearances in left field), batting .258 with six home runs and 35 runs batted in. In 1961, as the Cubs’ regular second baseman, Zimmer was named to the All-Star team in a season where he batted .252 with 13 home runs, 40 RBIs and a career-best 25 doubles.
Meanwhile, the Dodgers saw little early return on the trade. None of the players acquired in exchange for Zimmer played for the Dodgers in 1960. Handley never made it to the major leagues. Goryl spent two seasons in the minors before being drafted by the Minnesota Twins (where he played for three seasons as a utility infielder).
And then there was Perranoski. He spent the 1960 season in AAA, going 12-11 with a 2.58 ERA. But after having served primarily as a starter in two seasons in the Cubs’ farm system, Perranoski was being groomed as a reliever by the Dodgers. He made the Dodgers’ roster in 1961, coming out of the bullpen for all but one of his 53 appearances, and posting a 7-5 record with a 3.04 ERA and six saves. In 1962, he appeared in 70 games, finishing 39 and saving 19 to go with a 6-6 record and a 3.35 earned run average.
Zimmer spent the 1962 season in New York and Cincinnati, selected by the Mets in the 1961 expansion draft and then traded to the Reds five weeks into the 1962 season. He batted a combined .213. He would play three more seasons in the major leagues, followed by a year in Japan and an ill-fated comeback attempt in the minors in 1967. He spent the next four decades in baseball as a coach and manager, both in the minors and at the major league level.
Perranoski emerged as one of the most effective relievers of the 1960s. He was 16-3 for the Dodgers in 1963 with a 1.67 ERA and 21 saves. Over the next four seasons, he won 23 games and saved 54 with a 2.73 combined ERA. Perranoski was traded to the Minnesota Twins in 1968 and led the American League in saves in 1969 and 1970.
Zimmer’s baseball career lasted longer than the combined major league careers of the three players the Cubs surrendered to get him. But the trade for Perranoski turned out to be the biggest contribution Zimmer ever made to the Dodger organization that signed him.
It was a deal that stunned fans in two cities, as well as the American League as a whole. The trade of the reigning batting champion for the reigning home run champion defined the careers of the players involved, as well as the man who engineered it.
And baseball in Cleveland has never been the same.
Rocky Colavito was already a legend in Cleveland at the start of the 1960s. He hit 21 home runs as a rookie in 1956, and banged out 41 homers in 1958 while leading the American League with a .620 slugging percentage. To prove that performance was no fluke, Colavito led the league with 42 home runs in 1959 and finished second with 111 RBIs.
Only one man could keep Colavito from being one of the Indians’ all-time slugging greats, and that man was Frank Lane. Lane had become the Indians’ general manager in November of 1957, after spending two years in that position with the St. Louis Cardinals. He was known as “Trader” Lane for his propensity to trade any player, including an attempt to send Stan Musial to the Philadelphia Phillies for pitcher Robin Roberts … a deal nixed by Cardinals’ owner August Busch.
Lane dealt Colavito to the Detroit Tigers for outfielder (and reigning American League batting champion) Harvey Kuenn two days before the opening of the 1960 season. The Indians were never the same. After finishing second to the Chicago White Sox in 1959, the team stumbled to a fourth-place finish in 1960, the first of five consecutive losing records for the Tribe in the 1960s. In those five seasons, Cleveland ended up no higher than its fourth-place finish in 1960, and twice finished as low as sixth place. The franchise languished in the middle of the American League pack, and didn’t see a winning season until 1965, when Colavito’s bat had been reclaimed.
(Lane was long gone by that point, as were all of the players he inherited in 1957. By the end of the 1960 season, none of the players on that team had been with the Indians when Lane arrived.)
Kuenn was no slouch with the lumber, and his league-leading .353 batting average in 1959 was no fluke. Over seven seasons with the Tigers, Kuenn batted .314 and averaged 192 hits per season. From 1953-1959, his batting average slipped below .300 only once (.277 in 1957), and he led the league in doubles three times over that period.
But Kuenn wasn’t the run producer that Colavito had been for the Tribe, or would be for the Tigers. Kuenn averaged only 59 RBIs for the Tigers, and scored at an average of 88 runs per season. In his only season with Cleveland, Kuenn batted .308 with nine home runs and 54 RBIs. Those weren’t the kinds of numbers that would inspire Cleveland fans to forget their beloved Colavito, or forgive Lane for letting Rocky get away. Following the 1960 season, Kuenn was traded to the San Francisco Giants for pitcher Johnny Antonelli and outfielder Willie Kirkland.
Colavito had several outstanding seasons for the Tigers. In 1960, he hit “only” 35 home runs and drove in 87 runs. His runs scored dropped from 90 in 1959 to 67 in 1960 … but that was still two runs more than Kuenn scored that same season. Colavito rebounded in 1961 to bat .290 with 45 home runs and 140 RBIs. He scored 129 runs in 1961, third most in the American League.
From 1958-1962, no one in major league baseball hit as many home runs as Rocky Colavito. And no one in the American League drove more runs home during that five-year stretch.
The Cardinals sent two former 20-game winners, Ernie Broglio and Bobby Shantz, along with outfielder Doug Clemens, to the Cubs for pitchers Jack Spring and Paul Toth, and an outfielder named Lou Brock.
From the Cubs’ perspective, Broglio was the key player in the deal. He was a proven winner, notching 21 victories in 1960 and leading the Cardinals in 1963 with an 18-8 record and a 2.99 ERA. From 1960-1963, Broglio averaged 15 wins and 218 innings per season, with a combined ERA of 3.15.
But that wasn’t the Ernie Broglio that the Cubs received in exchange for Brock.
In 11 starts for the Cardinals in 1964, Broglio was 3-5 with a 3.50 ERA. A change of scenery didn’t help. Over the rest of the 1964 campaign, Broglio was 4-7 with a 4.04 ERA for the Cubs.
And the other players acquired by the Cubs didn’t help to compensate for Broglio’s slide. In 20 relief appearances with the Cubs, Shantz was 0-1 with a 5.56 ERA and a single save. And Clemens batted .279 with two home runs and 12 RBIs in 54 games.
(In August, the Cubs sold Shantz to the Philadelphia Phillies. He retired at the end of the 1964 season.)
For Brock, the move to St. Louis launched him on his Hall of Fame career as he led the Cardinals to the World Series. In 103 games, he hit .348 and scored 84 runs, with nine triples, 12 home runs, 44 RBIs and 33 stolen bases.
In the World Series against the New York Yankees, Brock was instrumental in helping St. Louis take the championship, batting .300 with 5 RBIs and nine hits in seven games, including two doubles and a home run.
Brock would be a standout performer for the Cardinals for the next decade and a half, batting a combined .297 (while batting .300 or better seven times), leading the league in stolen bases seven times and collecting over 2,700 hits (on his way to 3,023 hits for his career).
It was a trade that neither team – or its fans – would ever forget. (Or, in the case of Cubs’ fans, forgive.)
Swap Shop: Pedro Ramos for PTBNL
On September 4, 1964, the New York Yankees looked like they might not repeat as American League champions after four consecutive pennants.
After beating the Kansas City Athletics that day, the Yankees found themselves in third place, three games behind the Baltimore Orioles and Chicago White Sox. The Yankees had been stuck in third place for nearly a month after leading the league at the end of July. They struggled through a 14-16 August, and were 2-2 thus far in September.
That was about to change in 24 hours.
On September 5, the Yankees announced that they had acquired pitcher Pedro Ramos from the Cleveland Indians for cash and players to be named later. Ramos had started and relieved for the Tribe, and brought with him a record of 7-10 with a 5.14 ERA.
Ramos was a proven innings-eater who had made a career of pitching for bad teams – and mostly losing. He led the American League in losses for four consecutive seasons from 1958 through 1961, when he lost 20 games for the Minnesota Twins. The Twins traded him to Cleveland in 1962, when he posted only the second winning season (9-8) of his nine-year career.
No one in the media saw Ramos as a season saver. But that’s what he turned out to be.
Over the final 24 games of the season, the Yankees would capture the American League pennant by winning 20 games. Ramos appeared in 13 of those games, finished 11 and saved eight games. He was 1-0 with a 1.25 ERA for the Yankees, and his addition, along with the emergence of Mel Stottlemyre following his call-up in August, propelled the Yankees to their fifth consecutive American league pennant.
And best of all, the Yankees gave up nothing for Ramos until after the season. The players to be named later turned out to be two pitchers: right-hander Ralph Terry, who was 7-11 with a 4.54 ERA in 1964, and Bud Daley, a lefty who went 3-2 with a 4.63 ERA in 1964. Essentially, the Yankees traded two pitchers on the downside of their careers for a pennant. No brainer.
There was one downside for the Yankees. Since Ramos was acquired in September, he was not eligible for the World Series. They could have used him, dropping the 1964 World Series four games to three to the St. Louis Cardinals.
The Ramos acquisition continued to pay benefits to the Yankees in 1965. Working exclusively out of the bullpen, Ramos made 65 appearances in 1965 with a 5-5 record and a 2.92 ERA. He finished 42 games and saved 19, eighth most in the league.
Swap Shop: How Billy Pierce Became a Giant … Who Saved a Pennant
In more than one way, Billy Pierce was the difference that got the San Francisco Giants into the 1962 World Series, and he accomplished this when he was generally considered washed up and a shell of what he had been a decade before.
The glory years for Pierce came in the 1950s when, as the ace of the Chicago White Sox staff, he rivaled New York Yankees southpaw Whitey Ford for recognition as the best left-hander in the American League, if not the American League’s best pitcher, period.
Pierce was signed by the Detroit Tigers and traded to the White Sox in 1949. He was a combined 27-30 in his first two seasons with the White Sox, and then won 15 games in both 1951 and 1952, followed by an 18-12 campaign in 1953. After slipping to 9-10 in 1954, he won 15 games again in 1956 (while leading the major leagues with a 1.97 ERA) and was a 20-game winner for the White Sox in 1956 and in 1957. He led the league in complete games from 1956 through 1958, and overall posted a 186-152 record in 13 seasons with the White Sox.
In November of 1961, San Francisco sent Bob Farley, Eddie Fisher and Dom Zanni to the White Sox for Pierce and Don Larsen. It was one of the most important moves made by the Giants’ front office over that winter, as Pierce, who was 10-9 in his last season with Chicago, won his first eight decisions for the Giants. He moved to the bullpen through the heat of the summer, and returned to the starting rotation in August, winning five out of six decisions.
The 1962 National League regular season ended in a dead heat between the Giants and their West Coast rivals, the Los Angeles Dodgers. Finishing the regular season at 15-6, Pierce was selected by Giants manager Al Dark to pitch the opener of the three-game playoff and responded with a three-hit, 8-0 shutout. Game Two in Los Angeles saw the Dodgers tie the playoffs with an 8-7 victory.
On October 3, 1962, the playoff and the pennant race came down to a single game. In the top of the third, an RBI single by Harvey Kuenn and a sacrifice fly by second baseman Chuck Hiller gave the Giants a 2-0 lead. The Dodgers scored one run against Juan Marichal in the fourth inning and took the lead in the sixth inning on Tommy Davis’ two-run homer.
In the seventh inning, the Dodgers went up 4-2. In the top of the ninth, the Giants scored four runs on only two hits, and led 6-4 with the Dodgers coming up for their last at-bats.
In the bottom of the ninth, Dark turned again to Pierce to wrap up the game and the pennant. After shutting out the Dodgers just two days before, Pierce added one more scoreless inning to his playoff ledger, retiring the Dodgers in order to give the Giants their first National League pennant since 1954.
Swap Shop: Tommie Agee’s Path to New York
But Tommie Agee will always be remembered best as the kid in center field who propelled the New York Mets to their first National league pennant, and then to the miracle that was the 1969 World Series.
Here’s how he got to New York: Continue reading