Fielder of Choice

 

The Glove Club: Dick Schofield

He retired with a career batting average of .227. He never hit more than three home runs in a season (he did it twice, in 1963 and 1964). And he never won a Gold Glove or was named to a single All-Star team.

Dick Schofield

Dick Schofield

So how good a fielder was Dick Schofield? Even with that kind of hitting, he lasted 19 years in the major leagues, playing for seven different teams.

Dick Schofield lasted so long because he was so dependable in the field. He never played enough innings to be considered for a Gold Glove award. But he certainly had the talent – in the field – to rank with the best infielders of his era.

And he was versatile. He played all the positions on the left side of the infield with equal skill and consistency. Until he retired at age 36, he could always find a place on someone’s roster, and found a way into the lineup when the manager needed a glove he could count on to put the game away.

Schofield was signed by the St. Louis Cardinals in 1953 and made his major league debut later that season. He spent six seasons with the Cardinals, never hitting over .200 with St. Louis.

Two months into the 1958 season, he was traded to the Pittsburgh Pirates for Gene Freese and Johnny O’Brien. Schofield spent eight years in Pittsburgh, used mostly as a utility infielder. He was the team’s everyday shortstop from 1963 through 1965. In 1964, his best season at the plate, Schofield batted .246 with 22 doubles and 36 RBIs.

In May of 1965, the Pirates traded Schofield to the San Francisco Giants for Jose Pagan. He spent the next six seasons playing for six different teams, but his role remained the same: fielder of choice when the game was on the line. He retired after the 1971 season.

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Whoever Thought He Would Last So Long, or Win So Many?

 

Glancing Back, and Remembering Tommy John

Tommy John revolutionized baseball in the mid-1970s, with an able assist from his surgeon, Dr. Frank Jobe. The introduction of Tommy John surgery, which replaced a damaged ligament in his elbow, effectively doubled his own career. John’s amazing recovery from that surgery – a recovery that resulted in 164 wins over the next 13 seasons – validated the surgical procedure that bears his name and has extended the pitching careers of dozens of major leaguers.

In 26 major league seasons, Tommy John won 288 games, seventh highest among left-handers in major league history.

In 26 major league seasons, Tommy John won 288 games, seventh highest among left-handers in major league history.

But Tommy John was also a heck of a pitcher before his famous surgery, as demonstrated by the fact that he had already accumulated 124 major league victories prior to his 1974 operation.

A two-sport star in high school, John was signed by the Cleveland Indians in 1961 and made his debut with the Tribe at the close of the 1963 campaign. His rookie season in 1964 produced a 2-9 record with a 3.91 ERA.

With the Cleveland pitching staff already boasting the presence of proven young arms such as Sam McDowell, Luis Tiant and Sonny Siebert, John became expendable, especially in a trade that would bring Rocky Colavito back to Cleveland.  So John was traded to the Chicago White Sox with Tommie Agee and John Romano. In Chicago, he earned an immediate place in the White Sox starting rotation, going 14-7 with a 3.09 ERA. He followed that with a 14-11 campaign in 1966, lowering his ERA to 2.62.

In 1967, John’s six shutouts were the highest total in the major leagues, but a low-scoring White Sox offense led to a 10-13 record on the season. The run drought in Chicago continued in 1968, when John went 10-5 on a 1.98 ERA. His 9-11 record in 1969 marked the first of three losing seasons with Chicago. In 1971 he was traded with Steve Huntz to the Los Angeles Dodgers for Dick Allen. In six seasons with the Dodgers, John had a record of 87-62, his best season with the Dodgers coming in 1977 when he went 20-7 with a 2.78 ERA.

John had back-to-back 20-win seasons for the New York Yankees in 1979 and 1980, and went on to pitch for another decade, making stops with the California Angels and Oakland A’s before closing out his career with the Yankees.

In 26 major league seasons, John won 288 games, seventh highest among left-handers in major league history.

 

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How to Turn Two Months into Immortality

Career Year: Bob Gibson – 1968

Hall of Famer Bob Gibson had so many seasons that most pitchers would have called career years that a true career year for the St. Louis Cardinals’ hard-throwing right-hander would have to be nothing short of spectacular.

For Gibson, the 1968 season was. During the so-called “Year of the Pitcher,” when Denny McLain astounded all of baseball by winning 31 games in the American League, Gibson had a season like no pitcher in the modern era had experienced.

And, basically, it took him two months to do it.

In 1968, Bob Gibson was named the National League’s Most Valuable Player, its Cy Young winner, and captured his fourth consecutive Gold Glove.

In 1968, Bob Gibson was named the National League’s Most Valuable Player, its Cy Young winner, and captured his fourth consecutive Gold Glove.

Gibson was a dominating pitcher throughout the 1960s. After going 28-25 for the Cardinals (his only major league team) in 1961-1962, Gibby “arrived” in 1963 with a record of 18-9 – and never looked back. He was 19-12 in 1964, 20-12 in 1965, and 21-12 in 1966. Any of those would have been career seasons for most pitchers.

He started well in 1967 and was 10-6 with a 3.35 ERA when his season was interrupted. On July 15, he suffered a fractured leg off a Roberto Clemente line drive, and missed the next six weeks. When he came back in September, Gibson was 3-1 in leading the Cardinals to the National League pennant, and then was 3-0 in the World Series against the Boston Red Sox.

Would the injury have any lingering effects in the 1968 season? Not hardly, though it seemed that way at the outset. Gibson didn’t win his first game of the 1968 season until April 26, when he beat the Pittsburgh Pirates 2-1 with his second complete game. (He had lost his first complete game of the season the week before, 1-0 to the Chicago Cubs.) Gibson continued to struggle for wins through May, going 2-4 though posting a 1.27 ERA for the month.

Gibson led the major leagues with 13 shutouts in 1968, including 6 in a row.

Gibson led the major leagues with 13 shutouts in 1968, including 6 in a row.

Things turned around for Gibson in June. He won all six of his starts, the last five with shutouts, and had a 0.50 earned run average for the month. In July, Gibson again won all six of his starts (all complete games, with three shutouts) while recording another 0.50 ERA for the month. His combined totals for June and July: 12-0 with a 0.50 ERA, eight shutouts and 91 strikeouts in 108 innings pitched.

For the last two months of the 1968 season, Gibson’s numbers were decidedly less spectacular. He was 7-4 with an ERA that “ballooned” to 1.42. He recorded five more shutouts in August and September, and struck out 115 batters in 108 innings.

Gibson ended the 1968 season at 22-9 with a 1.12 ERA and a major league best 13 shutouts. He completed 28 of his 34 starts, and struck out 268 batters, the most in the National League. He was named the National League’s Most Valuable Player, its Cy Young winner, and captured his fourth consecutive Gold Glove. Gibson remains the only player in major league history to garner all three awards in the same season.

 

 

 

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Blazing Fastball, Blazing Career

 

Glancing Back, and Remembering Gary Nolan

Gary Nolan’s career as a starting pitcher for the Cincinnati Reds was as eye-opening as the blazing fastball that he brought to the major leagues … and nearly as quick. Nolan won 110 games in a 10-year career that actually included only five full seasons.

As a 19-year-old flame-throwing rookie in 1966, Gary Nolan posted a record of 14-8 with a 2.58 earned run average.

As a 19-year-old flame-throwing rookie in 1966, Gary Nolan posted a record of 14-8 with a 2.58 earned run average.

The Reds picked Nolan in the first round of the 1966 amateur draft. A year later he was in the Reds’ starting rotation, a 19-year-old flame-thrower who went 14-8 with a 2.58 earned run average. He also struck out 206 batters in 226.2 innings, and finished third in the Rookie of the Year balloting (Tom Seaver won that year).

Injuries, especially arm and shoulder problems, struck Nolan early in his career. In 1968 he pitched only 150 innings, going 9-4 with a 2.40 ERA. His output in 1969 slipped even further, as Nolan was able to pitch only 108.2 innings for an 8-8 record.

His next healthy season, 1970, produced a healthy improvement in his numbers. Nolan was 18-7 for the National League champion Reds, pitching a career-high 250.2 innings. In 1971, he slipped to 12-15 with a still-respectable 3.16 ERA. In 1972, as the Reds bounced back as NL champs, Nolan also bounced back despite arm problems that limited his innings to 176. His 15-5 record led the National League in winning percentage, and his 1.99 ERA was second only to Philadelphia’s Steve Carlton at 1.97.

Lingering arm miseries cost Nolan nearly the entire 1973 and 1974 seasons. He made one more comeback, winning 15 games in both 1975 and 1976. Then he pitched one more season, going 4-4 for the Reds and California Angels, and then retired at age 29.

Nolan compiled a 110-70 record with 1,039 strikeouts and a 3.08 ERA. He was an All-Star in 1972.

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Sinking into Saves

 

Oh, What a Relief: Jack Aker

A side-arming sinkerball pitcher, Jack Aker was one of the most effective closers in baseball in the last half of the 1960s. He was one of the first genuine relief specialists, appearing in 495 games during an 11-season major league career, finishing 321 of those games and starting none.

Jack Aker's breakout season came in 1966, when he appeared in 66 games as the Athletics' closer, finishing 57 games.

Jack Aker’s breakout season came in 1966, when he appeared in 66 games as the Athletics’ closer, finishing 57 games.

Aker played for five different major league clubs, starting with the Kansas City Athletics, who signed him in 1959. After one minor league season as an outfielder, Aker was converted to pitching and made his first appearance for the A’s at the end of the 1964 season. He opened the 1965 season with Vancouver in the Pacific Coast League, going 6-3 with a 1.36 ERA before being called up to Kansas City, where he finished the season at 4-3 with a 3.16 ERA and three saves.

Aker’s breakout season came in 1966, when he appeared in 66 games as the Athletics’ closer, finishing 57 games. He went 8-4 with a 1.99 ERA and set a new major league record with 32 saves – all for a seventh-place team that finished 12 games under .500.

Over the next two seasons, Aker’s combined record was 7-12 with a 4.20 ERA and a total of 23 saves. In October of 1968, the Seattle Pilots selected Aker as the twenty-fourth selection in the expansion draft. Aker appeared in only 15 games for Seattle in 1969 before being traded to the New York Yankees for Fred Talbot. Over the rest of the 1969 season, Aker went 8-4 for the Yankees with a 2.06 ERA and 11 saves. His best season in New York came in 1970, when he finished 4-2 with a 2.06 ERA and 16 saves.

In 1972, the Yankees sent Aker to the Chicago Cubs to complete the deal that brought Johnny Callison to New York. Aker went 6-6 for the Cubs with a 2.96 ERA and 17 saves. He was 4-5 with 12 saves for the Cubs in 1973. He was released by the Cubs in 1974, and split that season between the Atlanta Braves and New York Mets, going 2-2 with a 3.57 ERA. He retired after the 1974 season.

Aker finished with a career record of 47-45 and a 3.28 ERA. He racked up 123 career saves.

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Cuellar Finds Wins By the Bay

 

Swap Shop: Mike Cuellar for Curt Blefary

After six big league seasons in the National League, left-hander Mike Cuellar was at best a marginal starting pitcher.

In his 8 seasons with the Baltimore Orioles, Mike Cuellar was 143-88.

In his 8 seasons with the Baltimore Orioles, Mike Cuellar was 143-88.

His career record was 42-41 after the 1968 season with the Houston Astros, when he went 8-11 with a 2.74 ERA. His best season with Houston had come the previous year, when he went 16-11 with a 3.03 ERA. Yet he was now 32 years old, and the Astros were looking to build for the future on younger arms like those of Larry Dierker and Don Wilson.

The Astros felt they were deep enough in pitching to become a contender. The team’s need was for offense. The last-place Astros finished last in the league in 1968 in home runs (only 66) and eighth in runs scored and batting average.

So they went looking for bats, and found one they liked in Baltimore.

The Baltimore Orioles had an outfielder named Curt Blefary who had been Rookie of the Year in the American league in 1965. That season, he had hit 22 home runs and driven in 70 runs. Blefary hit 23 home runs in 1966, and in 1967 produced 22 homers and 81 RBIs.

But the Orioles, with the likes of Frank RobinsonBrooks Robinson and Boog Powell, could score runs. And when Blefary batted only .200 with 15 home runs and 39 RBIs in 1968, he became expendable, and was swapped to Houston for Cuellar.

Curt Blefary

Curt Blefary

Blefary spent only one season with the Astros, batting .253 with 12 home runs and 67 RBIs. He was traded to the New York Yankees after the 1969 season for Joe Pepitone.

At age 32, Cuellar found new life in Baltimore. He was 23-11 in 1969 as the Orioles walked away with the Eastern Division title and swept the Minnesota Twins in three games for the American League pennant. Cuellar was co-winner of the Cy Young award with Denny McLain of the Detroit Tigers.

And Cuellar kept paying dividends on the trade for years to come. He was 24-8 for the Orioles in 1970 and won 78 games for the Birds over the following four seasons. In 1971, he was part of a starting rotation that included four 20-game winners: Cuellar (20-9), Dave McNally (21-5), Jim Palmer (20-9) and Pat Dobson (20-8).

Cuellar played for 15 seasons and racked up a career record of 185-130 with a 3.14 career ERA. In his eight seasons with the Orioles, he was 143-88.

 

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Slow Ball Stopper

Stu Miller spent 6 seasons with the San Francisco Giants, compiling a 47-44 record with a combined 3.16 ERA. I

Stu Miller spent six seasons with the San Francisco Giants, compiling a 47-44 record with a combined 3.16 ERA.

 

Glancing Back, and Remembering Stu Miller

He threw a pitch your grandmother could hit … or so you and your grandmother thought. But she wouldn’t be able to hit Stu Miller any better than major league batters who tried for 16 years to master Miler’s temptingly slow stuff, and mostly failed.

Miller was signed by the St. Louis Cardinals in 1949. He started 11 games for the Cardinals in 1952, going 6-3 with a 2.05 ERA. He was 15-15 for the Cards over four seasons, used primarily as a starter, and then was traded (with pitcher Harvey Haddix) to the Philadelphia Phillies in 1956.

A 5-8 season in Philadelphia (15 starts, two complete games) led Miller to another trade. The Phillies sent him to the New York Giants for Jim Hearn. With the Giants, Miller continued to split his appearances between starting and relieving, and in 1957 his 2.47 ERA led the National League. But gradually Miller was transitioned into a relief specialist, and found more success there. He made his last major league start in 1960.

In 1961, Miller made 63 appearances for the San Francisco Giants, all in relief, finishing 46 games. He posted a 14-5 record with a 2.66 ERA and 17 saves, tops in the National League.  It was also the year of his only All-Star appearance.

Miller spent six seasons with the Giants, compiling a 47-44 record with a combined 3.16 ERA. In December 1962, he was traded by the Giants with Mike McCormick and John Orsino to the Baltimore Orioles for Jimmie Coker, Jack Fisher and Billy Hoeft. In 1963, his first season in Baltimore, Miller posted a 5-8 record with a 2.24 ERA. He led the major leagues in pitching appearances (71), games finished (59), and saves (27). He would average 23 saves per season in his first four years with the Orioles. In 1965, he went 14-7 for the Birds with a 1.89 earned run average.

After five seasons with the Orioles, Miller was purchased by the Atlanta Braves in April of 1968. He made two appearances for the Braves and then retired after 16 major league seasons. Miller finished his career with a 105-103 record and a 3.24 ERA. He made 704 appearances and saved 154 games.

 

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Ask No Quarter, Give None

 

Glancing Back, and Remembering Curt Simmons

At the close of the 1950s, the once promising career of left-handed pitcher Curt Simmons seemed on the verge of expiring. A bad arm and a bad team had resulted in zero wins in 1959, and Simmons faced an imminent release by the Philadelphia Phillies. But Simmons joined the St. Louis Cardinals following his release by the Phillies and mounted a comeback that helped thrust him and the Cardinals into the World Series.

Curt Simmons' best season with the St. Louis Cardinals came in 1964, with an 18-9 record for the National League champions.

Curt Simmons’ best season with the St. Louis Cardinals came in 1964, with an 18-9 record for the National League champions.

Simmons was signed by the Phillies in 1947 and was pitching in Philadelphia by 1948, going 7-13 in his rookie year. He was 4-10 in 1949. Then in 1950 came the breakthrough for Simmons and the Phillies “Whiz Kids,” who took their first National League pennant in more than three decades. Simmons (17-8) and Robin Roberts (20-11) were the righty-lefty foundation of the Phillies’ pitching staff. Simmons threw 11 complete games and two shutouts, compiling a 3.40 ERA that season.

Military service caused Simmons to miss both the 1950 World Series (in which the New York Yankees swept the Phillies in four games) and the entire 1951 season. Simmons came back for 1952, going 14-8 with a 2.82 earned run average and 15 complete games. He led the major leagues with six shutouts. Simmons won 16 games in 1953, 14 games in 1954, and 15 games in 1956.

But with each season, the victories were becoming harder to realize as the Phillies slipped gradually but steadily from their earlier glory. Roberts eventually went from perennial 20-game winner to 20-game loser. Simmons struggled to stay above .500 (12-11 in 1957) and then slipped to 7-14 in 1958.

A sore arm limited him to seven appearances and no decisions in 1959, and the Phillies released him in May of 1960. In 13 seasons, Simmons had won 115 games in the only uniform he had ever worn.

Robin Roberts (left) and Curt Simmons spearheaded the Philadelphia Phillies’ starting rotation during the team’s successful chase for the National League pennant in 1950.

Robin Roberts (left) and Curt Simmons spearheaded the Philadelphia Phillies’ starting rotation during the team’s successful chase for the National League pennant in 1950.

The Cardinals signed Simmons three days after he was released by the Phillies. Used primarily as a starter, Simmons won seven games for the Cardinals in 1960 (with a 2.66 ERA), nine games in 1961, and 10 games in 1962. In 1963 he went 15-9 with a 2.48 ERA. He pitched 11 complete games, six of them shutouts.

His best season with the Cardinals came in 1964, with an 18-9 record for the National League champions. Again he teamed with a right-hander, this time Bob Gibson (19-12), to form a power 1-2, right-left combination. (And, yes, the Cardinals had another left-hander on the team, as Ray Sadecki won 20 games in 1964.) This time, Simmons actually was allowed to pitch in the World Series that his own accomplished season had helped to bring about. He pitched well in two starts but had only a sixth game loss to show for his efforts.

Simmons slipped to 9-15 in 1965, and was purchased by the Chicago Cubs in June of 1966. He split the 1967 season between the Cubs and the California Angels before retiring after a 20-year career and a record of 193-183.

 

 

 

 

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A Flash in the Philly

 

Career Year: Art Mahaffey – 1962

Art Mahaffey was a good starting pitcher who, in 1962, was mostly dominant for the Philadelphia Phillies. In that one season, he looked to be the pitching ace who would lead the Phillies into becoming legitimate contenders.

Phillies right-hander Art Mahaffey went from 19-game loser in 1961 to 19-14 in 1962 with a 3.94 ERA.

Phillies right-hander Art Mahaffey went from 19-game loser in 1961 to 19-14 in 1962 with a 3.94 ERA.

Mahaffey was signed by the Phillies in 1956 and spent five seasons moving steadily through the Phillies’ minor league system. He won 16 games in both Double-A and Triple-A in 1959, and won 11 games in 1960 before being called up to Philadelphia.

The Phillies of 1960 were the National League’s worst team. They would finish that season with a 59-95 record, with Mahaffey in only 14 appearances, finishing third on the team in victories with a 7-3 record and a team-best 2.31 ERA. (Robin Roberts, at 12-16, was the Phillies’ best pitcher in 1960.)

The Phillies of 1961 were even worse, finishing the season at 47-107 including a league-record 23-game losing streak. Mahaffey struggled to an 11-19 season with a 4.10 ERA.

The 1962 season saw a dramatic turn-around for the Phillies, as the team improved its record by 34 victories to 81-80. That turn-around was spearheaded by the hitting of Don Demeter, Tony Gonzalez and Johnny Callison, and by the pitching of Mahaffey. He went from 19-game loser to 19-14 in 1962 with a 3.94 ERA. He had career-best totals in starts (39), complete games (20) and innings pitched (274). He finished fifth in the National League in wins, fourth in innings pitched, and eighth with 177 strikeouts.

During an 11-start streak starting in mid-June, Mahaffey was 9-1 with a 2.30 ERA. He was named to the 1962 National League All-Star team.

Mahaffey was known for having one of the best pick-off moves to first base of any right-handed pitcher of his era. In his major league debut in 1960, Mahaffey allowed eighth-inning singles to both Bill White and Curt Flood of the St. Louis Cardinals, but pitched a scoreless inning where he faced only three batters. He picked off both White and Flood in the same inning.

Mahaffey’s 19 victories in 1962 would match his total over the next two seasons. In fact, he would win only 22 games over the next four seasons, the rest of his major league career. Mahaffey was traded to the Cardinals after the 1965 season, and was 2-5 for St. Louis in 1966, his final season in the majors. Mahaffey closed his seven-year major league career at 59-64 with a 4.17 earned run average.

 

 

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To Every Ground Ball … Turn, Turn

 

Glancing Back, and Remembering Glenn Beckert

If Bill Mazeroski was the consensus best defensive second baseman to play during the 1960s, then Glenn Beckert had to be, if not a close second, at least closer than anyone else in the National League during that decade.

Beckert had outstanding range and could turn a double play as fast as anyone in the league not nicknamed “Maz.” Teamed for nine seasons with shortstop Don Kessinger, the Chicago Cubs keystone combination was formidable in the field and more than respectable at the plate. Beckert especially was a tough out, usually ending among the league leaders in fewest strikeouts per at-bats.

Glenn Beckert won the National League Gold Glove for second basemen in 1968.

Glenn Beckert won the National League Gold Glove for second basemen in 1968.

Beckert was signed by the Boston Red Sox in 1962 and selected by the Cubs a year later in the minor league draft. He played shortstop primarily in the minors, having both the arm strength and range to accommodate that position. The sudden death of Ken Hubbs in 1964 brought Beckert to the Cubs as their second baseman starting with the 1965 season, when Beckert hit .239.

Beckert’s batting average improved to .287 in 1966 and .280 in 1967. His 98 runs scored led the National League in 1968, when he raised his batting average to .294. His best season with a bat came in 1971 when he hit .342 with 181 hits, 18 doubles and 42 RBIs. From 1966 through 1971, Beckert had a combined batting average for the Cubs of .296.

But as good as Beckert could be at the plate, his strength was to be found in his fielding. He won the National League Gold Glove for second  basemen in 1968.

In November of 1973, the Cubs traded Beckert and Bobby Fenwick to the San Diego Padres for Jerry Morales. He hit .256 as a part-time player in 1974, and retired after nine games during the 1975 season.

Beckert was an All-Star four times. He finished his 11-year major league career with 1,473 hits and a .283 batting average.