Last of the Browns

 

This Week in 1960s Baseball

(April 5, 1966) – The Baltimore Orioles today announced the release of pitcher Don Larsen.

Larsen was the last active major leaguer to have played for the St. Louis Browns. As a rookie in 1953, he posted a 7-12 record for the hapless franchise which lost 100 games in its final season in St. Louis.

Pitcher Don Larsen was the last major leaguer to have played for the St. Louis Browns. He is also the last – in fact, the only – pitcher to throw a perfect game in the World Series.

The next season, the Browns moved to Baltimore and became the Orioles. Larsen was 3-21 with a 4.37 ERA for the Orioles in 1954. He led the major leagues in losses that season.

Larsen was traded to the New York Yankees in 1955 and had his best seasons in New York. He was 9-2 as a starter and reliever for New York in 1955, and was 11-5 in that same role for the Yankees in 1956. He made two appearances in the 1956 World Series against the Brooklyn Dodgers, winning Game Five by the score of 2-0, pitching the only perfect game in World Series history.

Larsen compiled an 81-91 career record in 14 major league seasons with a career ERA of 3.78. He also pitched for the Kansas City Athletics, Chicago White Sox, San Francisco Giants and Houston Astros before returning to the Orioles in 1965, when he was 1-2 with a 2.67 ERA in 27 appearances. He made a three-game comeback with the Chicago Cubs in 1967.

Larsen finished his 14-year major league career with a record of 81-91 and a 3.78 ERA.

The Browns had been part of American League since 1902. The franchise started in 1901 as the Milwaukee Brewers and moved to St. Louis after the American League’s initial season.

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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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Nothing Minor About This Kiddie

 

Glancing Back, and Remembering Jerry Walker

Precocious only begins to describe the brief career of pitcher Jerry Walker. At age 20, he was the youngest player ever to start an All-Star game. By age 26, he was retired.

Jerry Walker was 7-3 at the All-Star break in 1959, and was the American League’s starting pitcher … at age 20, the youngest ever.

Walker was signed by the Baltimore Orioles in 1957 and found a spot immediately in the Orioles’ bullpen, with no stops in the minor leagues. He was 1-0 as an 18-year-old rookie, with a 2.93 ERA. His only decision was a 10-inning, four-hit shutout of the Washington Senators.

He appeared in only six games in 1958, and then started out 7-3 in 1959, garnering the starting assignment in that year’s All-Star game. He finished the 1959 season at 11-10 with a 2.92 ERA.

The Orioles entered the 1960s with what was considered one of the best young starting rotations in baseball. Their “Kiddie Corps” included Walker, Milt Pappas, Chuck Estrada and Steve Barber. Unfortunately for Walker, he would be the first to be removed from the group.

After going 3-4 with a 3.74 ERA in 1960, Walker was traded with Chuck Essegian to the Kansas City Athletics for Dick Hall and Dick Williams. In his first season in Kansas City, Walker won eight games for an Athletics team that finished ninth at 61-100. He won eight more games in 1962, and then was traded to the Cleveland Indians for Chuck Essegian … the same Chuck Essegian who accompanied him on the trade from Baltimore to Kansas City.

Walker went 6-6 for the Tribe in 1963, with all but two of his 39 appearances coming in relief. He retired after six appearances in the 1964 season. He was only 25 at the time he retired.

Walker finished with an eight-year career record of 37-44 and a 4.66 ERA.

 

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(Another) New Address for Cal McLish

 

This Week in 1960s Baseball

(March 23, 1962) – The Philadelphia Phillies today traded third baseman Andy Carey and second baseman Lou Vassie to the Chicago White Sox for pitcher Cal McLish.

Thirty-six-year-old Cal McLish would go 11-5 for the Philadelphia Phillies in 1962. The Phillies were his fourth team in the past four seasons.

The Phillies would be McLish’s seventh team in 14 seasons. And his last.

McLish was 10-13 for the White Sox in 1961 with a 4.38 ERA. His career record going into the 1962 season was 68-75 going back to 1944 when he broke in with the Brooklyn Dodgers.

It would turn out to be a good trade for the Phillies. McLish finished his 15-year major league career in Philadelphia, going 11-5 for the Phillies in 1962 and 13-11 in 1963. His best season in the majors was 1959, when he went 19-8 for the Cleveland Indians with a 3.63 ERA.

 

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Billy Throws BBs

 

Oh, What a Relief: Billy McCool

Billy McCool was a left-handed reliever who threw the ball hard and sometimes over the plate. The husky southpaw was at times impossible to hit … if you swung.

In 1966, Billy McCool was a National League All-Star at age 21. He was 8-8 that season with a 2.48 ERA. His 18 saves tied him for second in the league.

McCool was signed by the Cincinnati Reds out of high school in 1963. Dominating in his only season in the minors, he was 5-13 in A ball despite a 2.01 ERA. When promoted to AAA ball, he was 4-0 in four starts with a 1.04 ERA. He struck out 179 batters in 174 innings.

That was enough to bring him to spring training for 1964, and the 19-year-old McCool made the Reds’ roster as a relief pitcher. In his rookie season, he was 6-5 with a 2.42 ERA. In 40 appearances, he finished 21 games with seven saves. He struck out 87 batters in 89.1 innings.

McCool was even more dominating in his second season. He appeared in 62 games in 1965, going 9-10 with a 4.27 ERA and 21 saves. He struck out 120 batters in 105.1 innings. He had another strong year in 1966, going 8-8 with a 2.48 ERA and 18 saves (tied with Roy Face behind Phil Regan’s 21 saves). McCool struck out 104 batters in 105.1 innings.

Then National League batters started catching on and stopped swinging at unhittable fastballs outside the strike zone. McCool was 3-7 in 1967 with only two saves on a 3.42 ERA. However, he averaged 5.2 walks per nine innings in 1967 compared to 3.5 in his first three seasons. That average would climb to 7.3 in 1968, when he went 3-4 with a 4.97 ERA.

Following the 1968 season, McCool was selected by the San Diego Padres in the National League expansion draft. He pitched one season for San Diego, going 3-5 with a 4.30 ERA and seven saves, and then was acquired by the St. Louis Cardinals, going 0-3 with a 6.23 ERA in 1970. He finished the 1970 season in the minors, and never made it back to the big leagues.

McCool’s seven-season career produced a 32-42 record with 58 saves and a 3.59 earned run average.

 

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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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Hollywood Beckons Dodger Duo

 

This Week in 1960s Baseball

(March 17, 1966) Was it a change in careers for two of baseball’s most celebrated pitchers? Or simply a temporary detour on the road to Cooperstown?

Don Drysdale (left) and Sandy Koufax missed the 1966 spring training as holdouts for a multi-year contract that would make them the highest-paid players in baseball. They signed one-year contracts just before the start of the 1966 season.

That’s what many Los Angeles Dodgers fans were wondering when it was announced today that pitchers Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale had signed with Paramount Pictures to appear in a movie project called “Warning Shot.”

The announcement came nearly a month after the Dodgers had opened spring training in Vero Beach, Florida without the game’s best righty-lefty starting tandem. Koufax and Drysdale had remained in Southern California, demanding a three-year contract that would pay each of them $167,000 per season. That salary would make them the highest-paid players in major league baseball.

Both pitchers were coming off excellent seasons in 1965, when the Dodgers won their second National League pennant and World Series championship in the past three seasons. Drysdale was 23-12 with a 2.77 ERA. He pitched 20 complete games and seven shutouts, both third best in the National League. Drysdale finished second in the league in innings pitched (308.1) and ninth in strikeouts (210).

Koufax was even better. He was 26-8 with a 2.04 earned run average, leading the major leagues in both wins and ERA, as well as complete games (27), innings pitched (335.1) and strikeouts (a major league record 382). He also became the first major league pitcher to throw four no-hitters, tossing a 1-0 perfect game against the Chicago Cubs on September 9.

Between them, Koufax and Drysdale had won three of the four Cy Young Awards given out from 1962-1965. (And Koufax would win it again in 1966.)

In 1965, Don Drysdale earned $80,000. The Dodgers paid Koufax $85,000. The highest-paid player in baseball going into the 1966 season was San Francisco Giants outfielder Willie Mays, who had signed a two-year contract for $125,000 per season.

On March 30, 1966, as the Dodgers were flying west at the conclusion of spring training, the team announced that it had signed its pitchers to one-year contracts: Koufax for $125,000, Drysdale for $110,000. Neither player would have the opportunity to appear in Warning Shot, which debuted in 1967 starring David Janssen.

Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale had taken acting roles in television prior to their 1966 holdout. They never got the chance to appear in the movie Warning Shot. Instead, they led the Los Angeles Dodgers to their third National League pennant in four seasons.

It effectively marked the end of the acting career for Sandy Koufax. In 1959-1960, Koufax had appeared in four different television series, including 77 Sunset Strip (as a policeman) and Bourbon Street Beat (as a doorman). He made no “actor” appearances afterward, and retired as a player following the 1966 season.

Don Drysdale continued to make occasional guest appearances on television series, as himself or in a role. From 1957-1992, Drysdale made 17 different television appearances, in shows ranging from The Red Skelton Hour, The Rifleman, Leave It To Beaver and The Donna Reed Show (four different appearances) before the “strike” and The Flying Nun, The Brady Bunch and The Greatest American Hero among others after. He was also a sports broadcaster from 1969 until his death in 1993.

 

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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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Follow the Bouncing Bull

 

Swap Shop: Orlando Cepeda for Joe Torre

It was a case where two teams were trying to unload what they thought was a fading talent. In this instance – and it was a rare one – both teams gained a hitter who proved he had plenty of hits left in his bat.

The key season was 1968 – not a particularly good one for Orlando Cepeda or Joe Torre. (To be fair, 1968 – the “Year of the Pitcher” – wasn’t particularly outstanding for most of the hitters in either league.)

In 1968, his last season with the St. Louis Cardinals, Orlando Cepeda batted only .248 with 16 home runs and 73 RBIs. Two year later, as the Atlanta Braves’ first baseman, Cepeda pounded National League pitching for 34 home runs and 101 RBIs while batting .305.

Cepeda was the National League’s Most Valuable Player in 1967. As the first baseman for the World Series champion St. Louis Cardinals, Cepeda batted .325 (the highest batting average of his career and the sixth best in the league) and led the league with 111 RBIs. His 25 home runs were his highest total since 1964 with the San Francisco Giants, where he had strung together seven outstanding seasons (averaging 32 home runs and 107 RBIs) before a chronic knee injury limited him to 33 games in 1965. He had been traded to the Cardinals 19 games into the 1966 season.

In 1968, Cepeda batted a career-low .248 with only 16 home runs and 73 RBIs. Now 30, Cepeda had the Cardinals wondering whether they had seen the best they would get from the “Baby Bull.”

The Atlanta Braves were wondering the same thing about their catcher, Joe Torre. An All-Star every year from 1963 through 1967, Torre’s best season came in 1966, when he hit .315 with a career-high 36 home runs. He drove in 101 runs while scoring 83.

Joe Torre batted .271 with only 10 home runs and 55 RBIs in 1968, his last season with the Braves. Three years later, as the St. Louis Cardinals’ first baseman, Torre led the majors with a .363 batting average and 137 RBIs as the National League’s Most Valuable Player.

After averaging 28 home runs and 97 RBIs from 1964 through 1966, with a combined .310 batting average, Joe Torre batted .277 with 20 home runs and 68 RBIs in 1967. The 1968 season returned even less from Torre’s bat: a .271 batting average with only 10 home runs and 55 RBIs. In addition, Torre had become a liability in throwing out base stealers. Plus his active support of the Players’ Union and Marvin Miller had estranged him from the Braves’ management.

For both the Cardinals and the Braves, the even-up swap of Cepeda for Torre seemed like a low-risk deal. That deal was made a month into spring training, on March 17, 1969.

It turned out to be a good transaction for both teams, though perhaps not immediately in the case of Cepeda. He had a good year for the Braves in 1969, batting .257 and finishing second on the team (to Hank Aaron) in home runs (with 22) and runs batted in (with 88). Then Cepeda’s bat regained some of its old juice in 1970, when he batted .305 with 34 home runs and 101 RBIs. At age 32, it would be the last time in his career when he topped 30 home runs and 100 RBIs in a season.

Torre found a home in St. Louis, and it wasn’t behind the plate. He played only 17 games at catcher for the Cardinals in 1969, and 144 games as Cepeda’s replacement at first base. Torre batted .289 with 18 home runs and 101 RBIs, and then hit .325 with 21 home runs and 100 RBIs in 1970.

But Torre’s best was yet to come. In 1971, he led the major leagues in batting average (.363), hits (230), total bases (352) and runs batted in (137). Torre was selected as the National League’s Most Valuable Player in 1971.

 

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Reds Sign Perez

 

This Week in 1960s Baseball

(March 12, 1960) Today the Cincinnati Reds signed a future Hall of Famer and the franchise’s second most-prolific run producer, infielder Tony Perez.

With 1,192 RBIs in a Reds uniform, Tony Perez ranks second in franchise history to Johnny Bench.

A Cuban native, Perez signed with the Reds as an 18-year-old free agent and spent five years in the Reds’ minor league organization. He had an outstanding 1964 season with the Reds’ AAA club, the (then minor league) San Diego Padres, hitting .309 with 34 home runs and 107 RBIs, and earning Perez a spot on Cincinnati’s major league roster.

His first two seasons with Cincinnati were less than stellar. But from then on, Perez became one of the league’s most dangerous and consistent sluggers, and a vital cog in the Big Red Machine of the 1970s. From 1967 to 1976, Perez averaged 26 home runs and 103 RBIs per season.

The best season of his career statistically was 1970, when Perez hit .317 with 40 home runs and 129 RBIs. He finished third in the Most Valuable Player balloting that year (with teammate Johnny Bench taking the MVP honors).

The first 13 years and the last three of his 23-season major league career were with the Cincinnati Reds. For his career, Perez finished with 379 homes runs and 1,652 RBIs. He was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2000.

 

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