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.

Commissioner Approves Double Cy Young Awards

 

This Week in 1960s Baseball

(March 1, 1967) Baseball Commissioner William D. Eckert today approved the plan to recognize a Cy Young Award winner for each major league, starting with the upcoming 1967 season.

Baseball Commissioner William D. Eckert approved adding a second Cy Young Award starting with the 1967 season. For the first time, there would be a Cy Young winner for each league.

First introduced in 1956 by Baseball Commissioner Ford Frick, the award recognizing baseball’s best pitcher in a season was named in honor of baseball’s winningest pitcher of all time, Cy Young, who had passed away the previous year.

The first recipient of the Cy Young Award was Brooklyn right-hander Don Newcombe, who was 27-7 for the Dodgers with a 3.06 ERA in 1956. From 1956 to 1966, there was only one Cy Young winner in major league baseball.

The last “major league” Cy Young winner was Sandy Koufax, the only pitcher to win more than one award during the single-winner era. (Koufax took the award in 1963, 1965 and 1966.) Koufax was also the first unanimous Cy Young Award recipient in 1963.

Pitching from 1890-1911, Cy Young won 511 major league games. He won 30 or more games in a season five times. He finished with a 2.63 career ERA.

Eckert attributed the “split” in the Cy Young Award to “fan request.” The first American League Cy Young winner was Boston’s Jim Lonborg, who went 22-7 in leading the Red Sox to the American League pennant in 1967. The National league winner that season was Mike McCormick, who was 22-10 for the San Francisco Giants.

 

 

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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.

Man Mauls Mets … and Cardinals Soar

 

Lights Out: Stan Musial Demolishes New York Mets’ Pitching

When: July 8, 1962

Where:  Polo Grounds, New York, New York

Game Time: 2:47

Attendance: 12,460

When the National League’s oldest player came up against its youngest team, the result was devastating to the arms on the New York Mets’ pitching staff.

But it’s what Stan Musial had been doing to NL pitching staffs for more than two decades. In 1962, he was doing it in a way that reminded you of The Man in his prime.

At age 41, Stan Musial seemed to be rejuvenated in 1962. He finished third in the National League in hitting with a .330 batting average. He hit 19 home runs with 82 RBIs, and his .416 on-base percentage was second highest in the league.

He proved to be more Man than the Mets could handle.

The 1962 season would be the next-to-last in Musial’s 22-year major league career. He was a seven-time batting champion and three-time Most Valuable Player. He had more hits and runs batted in than any other National League hitter. And more home runs than any player who had never won a home run title.

Now 41, Musial was having his best season in the past five years. Coming into the July 8 game with the Mets, Musial was batting .325 with nine home runs and 37 runs batted in. Against the Mets’ woeful pitching, he was practically invincible. (Musial batted .443 against the Mets in 1962.) Today would be no exception.

Mets starter Jay Hook retired the first two Cardinals batters, then first baseman Bill White launched a solo home run to the right field seats. Musial followed with his tenth home run of the season to right.

After their first turn at bat, the Cardinals were up 2-0. It would turn out to be all the runs they would need, but not all they were going to get.

Cardinals starter Bob Gibson retired the Mets in the first two innings without allowing any runs. Then Gibson helped himself by hitting the team’s third solo home run to lead off the third inning. In his second plate appearance, Musial walked, and the Cardinals scored their fourth run when Ken Boyer singled, driving in Curt Flood.

Ah, pitching for the New York Mets in 1962 … Mets starter Jay Hook (6-9) was rocked for nine runs in four innings. But only four of those runs were earned.

Like so many Mets contests in their inaugural season, the game was lost early. But no one told Musial or the Cardinals. They scored five runs off Hook in the fourth inning – all unearned, and the last two coming from Musial’s eleventh home run. Musial hit his third home run of the game to lead off the seventh inning, this time off reliever Willard Hunter. Fred Whitfield, who replaced White at first in the fourth inning, hit a two-run homer off Bob Miller in the eighth inning. Musial came up with the bases empty and struck out … but the Mets still couldn’t retire him. On the third strike, the ball got by Chris Cannizzaro and Musial beat the throw to first. Bobby Smith ended Musial’s day, replacing The Man as the runner at first.

The Cardinals scored three more runs in the ninth, including Whitfield’s third RBI of the day. The Mets scored their lone run in the bottom of the ninth off Gibson, who pitched a three-hit complete game to earn his tenth win of the season.

On the day, Musial went three for four with four RBIs and scoring three runs. He raised his season’s batting average to .333, the highest among Cardinal regulars. He would end the 1962 season batting .330 with 19 home runs and 82 RBIs, finishing third in the 1962 hitting race behind Tommy Davis (.346) and Frank Robinson (.342).

 

 

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Essegian Chucked

 

This Week in 1960s Baseball

(February 27, 1963) The Cleveland Indians today traded outfielder Chuck Essegian to the Kansas City Athletics for pitcher Jerry Walker.

The Indians had purchased Essegian from the A’s in 1961. He hit .289 for the Tribe in 60 games over the rest of that season. In 1962, Essegian hit .274 with 21 home runs with 50 RBIs.

Chuck Essegian hit 21 home runs with 50 RBIs for the Cleveland Indians in 1962.

In 1959, as a member of the Los Angeles Dodgers, Essegian became the first major league player to hit two pinch home runs in a single World Series. He was also the second major league player to participate in both the Rose Bowl (as a member of the Stanford University football team in 1952) and in the World Series. Jackie Jensen preceded him in that distinction.

In exchange for Essegian, the Indians received right-handed pitcher Jerry Walker, who had posted an 8-9 record with a 5.90 ERA for Kansas City in 1962. Walker was signed by the Baltimore Orioles in 1957 and had his best year in the majors in 1959, when he posted an 11-10 record for the Orioles with a 2.92 ERA. He was the American League’s starting pitcher in the 1959 All-Star game at age 20.

Walker would post a 6-6 record as a relief pitcher for Cleveland in 1963. He would be out of baseball before the end of the 1964 season.

Jerry Walker was an All-Star in 1959 at age 20. He was 11-10 for the Baltimore Orioles that season. As a member of the Cleveland Indians in 1963, his only save was in Early Wynn’s 300th career victory.

Essegian would hit .225 for Kansas City in 1963, his final season as a major leaguer. He played in Japan in 1964.

This deal was actually the second trade that Essegian and Walker were involved in. Just prior to the 1961 season, they were traded together by the Orioles to the Kansas City A’s for pitcher Dick Hall and outfielder Dick Williams, the future manager of the Boston Red Sox and Oakland Athletics.

 

 

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The Mark of a Master

 

The Glove Club: Mark Belanger

By all human logic, it would seem to be impossible to stand out as a defensive player in an infield that featured the greatest defensive third baseman who ever played the game. But Mark Belanger did. He joined the Baltimore Orioles infield in 1967, and spent most of his major league career playing shortstop beside the incomparable Brooks Robinson.

But stand out, Belanger did. The rail-thin shortstop had great range, a great arm and a black glove that sucked up horsehide like a dog gobbling popcorn kernels. Robinson and Belanger made the left side of the Orioles’ infield virtually impenetrable.

Mark Belanger won his first Gold Glove in 1969. He would win seven more during the 1970s.

Belanger stepped into the shortstop position replacing Luis Aparicio, a seven-time Gold Glover in his own right, who was traded back to the Chicago White Sox after the 1967 season. As great as Aparicio was in the field, no one asked why the Orioles replaced him with Belanger.

Belanger’s hitting isn’t what kept him in the lineup. And he was no Aparicio at the plate. In 17 seasons with the Orioles, Belanger batted .227. He hit better than .230 only three times.

But Belanger didn’t have to hit. He saved runs, snared potential hits and killed rallies. Between 1969 and 1978, he won eight Gold Gloves, and led American League shortstops in assists and fielding percentage three times each. He finished his career with a .977 fielding percentage, the highest ever for an American League shortstop.

 

 

 

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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Senator Teddy

 

This Week in 1960s Baseball

(February 21, 1969) After nearly a decade out of organized baseball, Hall of Famer Ted Williams was today named manager of the Washington Senators.

In his first season as manager, Ted Williams guided the Washington Senators to an 86-76 record in 1969 – the first winning season for the franchise.

Williams became the fifth manager in the history of the expansion franchise. He replaced Jim Lemon, who guided the Senators to a 65-96 finish in 1968, his only season at the helm.

For Williams, it was his first managing assignment at any level of organized ball.

Williams played his entire 21-season major league career with the Boston Red Sox. He was a two-time American League Most Valuable Player, a six-time AL batting champion, and won the Triple Crown twice. He remains the last major league batter to hit .400 in a season, batting .406 for the Red Sox in 1941. He retired from baseball following the 1960 season.

The Washington Senators had never experienced a winning season until Williams arrived. He led the Senators to an 86-76 record in his maiden campaign. It would be the team’s last winning season under Williams, and the team’s only winning season in Washington. The Senators moved to Texas to become the Rangers in 1972, Williams’ last season as the team’s manager, and his last season in baseball.

The Wallop Wonder

 

Homer Happy: Eddie Mathews

Eddie Mathews’ 17-year major league career was full of home runs – 512 to be exact. And while the bulk of his career-long power display took place during the 1950s, Mathews still wielded a dangerous bat in the high-powered Milwaukee Braves offense during the 1960s.

From 1953-1961, no other third baseman could match Eddie Mathews for offensive fireworks. During that period, Mathews batted a combined .288 with a .558 slugging percentage. He averaged 38 home runs with 104 runs batted in, and scored at a clip of 106 runs per season.

Nobody associated Mathews with “cheap” home runs. He was a strong man who swung hard. But Mathews’ hitting power was generated from his wrists and with a swing that was uncommonly fluid for a power hitter. And while Mathews had his share of strikeouts (he still ranks #61 all time), he led the National League four times in bases on balls and retired with a .271 batting average.

Mathews was signed by the Boston Braves in 1949. He needed only three seasons of minor league seasoning before taking over third base for the Braves.

His rookie season was 1952 – the Braves’ last season in Boston. Mathews batted .242 as a rookie, with 25 home runs (tying him for fourth most in the National League) and 58 runs batted in. He led the league in strikeouts. It was the only time in his career that he would do so.

In 1953, the Braves were playing their home games in Milwaukee, and Mathews was the National League home run champion that season with 47. He drove in 137 runs, scored 110 runs, and batted .302. He would hit at least 40 home runs and drive in more than 100 runs in each of the next two seasons. Mathews led the league in home runs again with 46 in 1959.

During the 1950s, Mathews averaged 37 home runs and 97 RBIs per season. He also averaged more than 100 runs scored per season.

Mathews picked up in the 1960s where he left off from the 1950s. He had an outstanding season in 1960, batting .277 with 39 home runs and 124 RBIs. He hit 32 home runs in 1961, and then didn’t crack the 30-home run mark again until 1965, when he hit 32 home runs with 95 RBIs. From 1961 through 1965, Mathews averaged 28 home runs and 87 RBIs per season.

Eddie Mathews hit 40 or more home runs in four different seasons, leading the National League in 1953 and 1959.

Mathews was the only member of the Braves team to play in Boston, Milwaukee and Atlanta. The Braves’ first season in Atlanta was Mathews’ last with the team. He batted .251 with 16 home runs and 53 RBIs.

In December, the Braves traded their future Hal of Famer to the Houston Astros. Mathews hit ten home runs for the Astros – including his 500th career home run – before being traded to the Detroit Tigers. He served primarily in a pinch-hit role with the Tigers and retired after the 1968 season.

Mathews finished with a .271 batting average on 2,315 hits. He amassed 512 home runs in 17 major league seasons with 1,453 RBIs (currently fifty-ninth all time). Mathews ranked in the top ten in home runs 12 times during his career, and finished among the top ten in RBIs 12 times. He was an All-Star nine times.

Eddie Mathews was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1978.