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.

Hiller’s Scoreless Back-to-Back

 

Lights Out: John Hiller

When: August 25, 1967

Where:  Municipal Stadium, Kansas City, Missouri

Game Time: 2:11

Attendance: 12,010

At the close of August in 1967, four teams were still battling for the American League pennant. The Minnesota Twins, Chicago White Sox, Boston Red Sox and Detroit Tigers were all within 1.5 games of each other at the top of the league standings.

John Hiller pitched shutouts in his first two major league starts.

John Hiller pitched shutouts in his first two major league starts.

While the Twins and White Sox had been perennial contenders in the mid 1960s, it was a stratosphere that the Red Sox and Tigers had not been accustomed to in recent history. Boston’s run was fueled by the bat of Carl Yastrzemski and the pitching of Jim Lonborg. Detroit’s run was driven by pitching (especially the outstanding season-long performance of Earl Wilson) and power.

But the Tigers also unveiled a new – and unexpected pitching weapon – in August in the form of left-hander John Hiller.

Hiller had been in the Tigers’ farm system since 1963. Originally a starter, the Tigers tried to groom him as a reliever, with limited success initially. He was a sub-.500 pitcher in the minors, though he started fast in 1967, going 5-1 for the Tigers’ AAA club at Toledo and was called up to Detroit at the end of June.

Hiller was used strictly in relief by the Tigers, picking up a win against the New York Yankees on July 23. He had three saves in August, and a 2.45 ERA through August 12. He made his first start on August 20, pitching the second game of a doubleheader against the Cleveland Indians. Hiller tossed a four-hit shutout.

Five days later, Hiller made his second career start in Kansas City against the Athletics. The Tigers took the early lead on a first-inning solo home run by Dick McAuliffe. Catcher Bill Freehan added another bases-empty home run in the second for a 2-0 Tigers lead. Meanwhile, Hiller did what he had “always” done as a major league starter: put up zeros. He retired the A’s in order in the first and allowed a pair of harmless singles in the second, striking out A’s catcher Phil Roof to end that threat. He retired the side in order in the third and then scattered four hits over the next three innings. He retired the last nine Kansas City batters he faced to complete his second shutout in two career starts.

Four days later Hiller would win his fourth game, a 2-1 victory over the California Angels. It would be the last game he would win that season. While he would be an occasional starter in his 15-season career with Detroit, Hiller would emerge in the 1970s as one of the league’s best closers, setting an American League record for saves in 1973 and for relief victories in 1974.

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How Orlando Cepeda Became a Cardinal MVP

Swap Shop: Orlando Cepeda for Ray Sadecki

It was a “baby” for “baby” swap that benefitted both teams, but was critical in resurrecting the career of slugger Orlando Cepeda.

For 6 seasons from 1958 through 1964, Cepeda hit for a combined .309 batting average and averaged 32 home runs and 107 runs batted in.

For six seasons from 1958 through 1964, Cepeda hit for a combined .309 batting average and averaged 32 home runs and 107 runs batted in.

Almost from the day he joined the San Francisco Giants, Cepeda was a beast with a bat. Signed by the Giants in 1955, the “Baby Bull” made his major league debut in 1958 and was the National League’s Rookie of the Year, batting .312 with 25 home runs and 96 RBIs. For six seasons from 1958 through 1964, Cepeda hit for a combined .309 batting average and averaged 32 home runs and 107 runs batted in. He had a monster year in 1961, batting .311 and leading the National League with 46 home runs and 142 RBIs. He finished second in the voting for Most Valuable Player to Cincinnati’s Frank Robinson.

How do you trade a player with that kind of productivity? The Giants had three reasons for dealing Cepeda in 1966 to the St. Louis Cardinals for pitcher Ray Sadecki:

  1. An off-season injury in 1964 required knee surgery and extended rehabilitation. Cepeda missed nearly all of the 1965 season, and the Giants weren’t willing to risk diminished performance from first base, especially when …
  2. The Giants were blessed with a surplus of talented hitters, and could replace Cepeda at first base with a guy named Willie McCovey, who hit 39 home runs in Cepeda’s absence in 1965, plus …
  3. The Giants needed starting pitching if they were going to catch the pennant-defending Los Angeles Dodgers.

The Cardinals had a good one available.

Ray Sadecki blossomed into a big-time starter in 1964, when he led the World Series champion Cardinals with a 20-11 record.

Ray Sadecki blossomed into a big-time starter in 1964, when he led the World Series champion Cardinals with a 20-11 record.

Ray Sadecki was a left-handed “bonus baby” who finally blossomed into a big-time starter in 1964, when he led the World Series champion Cardinals with a 20-11 record. But that year he posted a 3.68 ERA (which would be considered excellent today, but was merely average among 1960s pitchers). In 1965, his ERA ballooned to 5.21 and his record slipped to 6-15. The Giants took a chance on his turnaround.

Sadecki had a couple good seasons in San Francisco, but never quite turned into the southpaw ace the team was looking for. He was a combined 5-8 in 1966, and was 12-6 with a 2.78 ERA for the Giants in 1967 (when fellow Giants southpaw Mike McCormick went 22-10 and claimed the National league Cy Young award). Sadecki was 12-18 for the Giants in 1968 despite a 2.91 ERA and six shutouts. He was traded to the New York Mets after the 1969 season.

Cepeda’s knee healed, and his bat came back to life, though not with the ferocity he showed during his first six seasons. Cepeda batted for a combined .301 average in 1966 with 20 home runs and 73 RBIs. In 1967 he batted .325 with 25 home runs and a league-best 111 RBIs. He won the National League MVP award for 1967.

He hit only 16 home runs for the Cardinals in 1968 (a “down” year for hitters in both major leagues) and was traded to the Atlanta Braves for Joe Torre. He lasted in the major leagues through the 1974 season, and retired with a .297 career batting average, 379 home runs and 1,365 runs batted in … numbers good enough to earn him induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1999.

A Four-Lap Day for Say Hey

 

Lights Out: Willie Mays

When: April 30, 1961

Where:  County Stadium, Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Game Time: 2:40

Attendance: 13,114

 

Willie Mays opened the 1960s as the best all-around player in the National League … and probably in all of major league baseball.

The 8 RBIs that Willie Mays collected in this game led to his season total of 123, third best in the National League.

The 8 RBIs that Willie Mays collected in this game led to his season total of 123, third best in the National League.

He ended the decade as the National League’s second most prolific home run hitter (behind Hank Aaron). He was the league’s all-time home run leader by the end of the decade and the first NL player to reach 600 homes runs (1969). During the 1960s, Mays hit 350 home runs and averaged 100 RBIs per season. Three times during that decade he led the National League in homers, with his career-best of 52 coming in 1965.

Mays hit 40 home runs in 1961, finishing second that year to teammate Orlando Cepeda’s 46. Ten percent of Mays’ season total actually came in a single game against the Milwaukee Braves. He ripped four home runs (with eight RBIs) as the Giants blasted the Braves 14-4. In total, the Giants hit eight home runs that evening, including solo shots by Cepeda and Felipe Alou, as well as a pair of bases-empty home runs off the bat of shortstop Jose Pagan.

Facing Braves starter Lew Burdette with two outs in the top of the first inning, Mays took a Burdette fast ball to deep center field to give the Giants a 1-0 lead. He was just getting started. In the top of the third inning, again against Burdette, Mays stroked a two-run homer to left-center field. After flying out to center field in the fifth inning, Mays hit a three-run shot to left field in the sixth inning, this time against Seth Morehead. In his last at-bat in the eighth inning, Mays hit his fourth home run of the game, a two-run drive to center off Don McMahon.

The eight RBIs that Mays collected in that game led to his season total of 123, third best in the National League behind Cepeda (142) and Cincinnati’s Frank Robinson (124), the league’s MVP that year. The next year, Mays would drive in a career-high 141 runs, but still finish only second to Tommy Davis (153) of the Los Angeles Dodgers.

What may be most “amazin’” about Willie Mays’ career is the fact that he never led the league in RBIs, though finishing sixth in career RBIs when he retired in 1973 (and he still ranks ninth all-time in that category today).

 

 

Excerpted from Lights Out! Unforgettable Performances from Baseball’s Real Golden Age

Koufax Hurls Giant No-Hitter

 

This Week in 1960s Baseball

(May 11, 1963) Behind the no-hit pitching of left-hander Sandy Koufax, the Los Angeles Dodgers today beat the San Francisco Giants 8-0.

It was the second no-hitter of Koufax’s career. His first no-hitter came in 1962 against the New York Mets.

Ron Fairly

Ron Fairly

Koufax (4-1) faced only 28 batters, striking out four and walking two.

Ron Fairly was the hitting star for the Dodgers, getting three hits and three RBIs. Wally Moon hit a solo home run off Giants starter Juan Marichal (4-3) in the second inning.

Koufax was in the midst of a six-game winning streak that would include two more shutouts. He would finish the 1963 season at 25-5 with 11 shutouts, 306 strikeouts and a major-league best 1.88 earned run average. He would win his first Cy Young award, the National League Most Valuable Player award, and two games in the World Series, earning him acknowledgement as the 1963 World Series MVP.

Not a bad year for the Left Arm of God.

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Stunning in Leather

 

The Glove Club: Jim Kaat

Jim Kaat was one of the most amazing all-around athletes to toe a major league pitching rubber. He pitched in the majors for 25 years, was quite possibly the best fielding pitcher ever to play the game, and was one of baseball’s best-hitting pitchers throughout his career.

As a fielder, Kaat had no peers among the pitchers of his era. He won 16 consecutive Gold Gloves (matched only by Brooks Robinson).

As a fielder, Kaat had no peers among the pitchers of his era. He won 16 consecutive Gold Gloves (matched only by Brooks Robinson).

He also happened to win enough games to qualify for enshrinement in Cooperstown, though at this writing he was not yet a member of the Hall of Fame.

A teenage Kaat was signed by the Washington Senators in 1957, and joined the Senators’ staff for keeps at the end of the 1960 season. (Kaat was the last member of the original Washington Senators to play in the major leagues.) He was part of the starting rotation during the team’s first year in Minnesota in 1961, going 9-17 for the Twins despite a respectable 3.90 ERA. In 1962, Kaat went from a 17-game loser to an 18-game winner, finishing 18-14 for the Twins with a 3.14 ERA and leading the league with five shutouts. He won 17 games for the Twins in 1964 and 18 games as the Twins won the American League pennant in 1965. He led the league with 42 starts that year. In the 1965 World Series (won by the Los Angeles Dodgers), Kaat started three games, going 1-2 with a 3.77 ERA.

Kaat’s best season for the Twins came in 1966, when he went 25-13 with a 2.75 ERA. He also led the majors in starts with 41, and led the American League in complete games (19) and innings pitched (304).

Kaat won 16 games for the Twins in 1967, and 14 in each of the next three seasons. He would not be a 20-game winner again until 1974 and 1975, when he won 21 and 20 games respectively for the Chicago White Sox.

As a batter, Kaat often helped his own cause, hitting .185 over his career with 16 home runs and 106 RBIs. As a fielder, Kaat had no peers among the pitchers of his era, and few major leaguers at any position fielded as well as he did. He won 16 consecutive Gold Gloves, a streak matched only by Brooks Robinson.

 

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Señor Curveball

 

Glancing Back, and Remembering Camilo Pascual

If, as most observers at the time believed, the best curveball in the 1960s belonged to Sandy Koufax, the second best – and a close second at that – was delivered by a right-handed, Cuban-born pitcher named Camilo Pascual.

In both 1962 and 1963, Pascual was the only American League pitcher to reach the 200-mark in strikeouts.

In both 1962 and 1963, Pascual was the only American League pitcher to reach the 200-mark in strikeouts.

He had a curveball that dropped as if it were falling off the edge of an invisible table. And he used it to win more games than he should have for teams that supported him less than they could have.

Pascual was signed by the Washington Senators as an amateur free agent in 1952. His rookie year in the big leagues was 1954, when he went 4-7 as a reliever for the Senators.  Only four of his 48 appearances that year were starts. (Those were the days when most young pitchers had to earn their way into the starting rotation … via the bullpen.)

From 1955 to 1958, Pascual started in the Senators regular rotation. Pitching for one of the worst teams in the American League, Pascual’s combined record for those four seasons was 24-59. But as his strikeout-to-walk ratio gradually improved, his extraordinary stuff took over and his record improved to 17-10 in 1959 with a 2.64 ERA. He led the majors in both complete games and shutouts that season, and followed with a 12-8 record in 1960, the team’s last year in Washington.

For the next four years, pitching for the same franchise in a new location, Pascual was clearly the ace of the Minnesota Twins’ staff. He won 15 games in 1961, leading the American League in strikeouts with 221 and leading the major leagues with eight shutouts. He would repeat as the American League strikeout leader again in each of the next two years, winning 20 games in 1962 and 21 in 1963. His 18 complete games in both of those seasons were tops in the league. In both 1962 and 1963, Pascual was the only American League pitcher to reach the 200-mark in strikeouts.

Pascual went 15-12 for the Twins in 1965, with career highs in both starts (36) and innings pitched (267). At 31, Pascual was already on the down slope of his career, winning only 44 games over the next five years. He retired in 1971 with an 18-year record of 174-170 and a 3.63 ERA. For the four years when Pascual was one of the American League’s best right-handers, his combined record was 71-48 with 842 strikeouts and a 3.18 ERA.

 

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Relief for Nearly Everybody

 

Oh, What a Relief: Al Worthington

Right-hander Al Worthington was a reliable reliever with five different teams over a 14-year major league career.

Al Worthington's best all-around season came in 1965, when he was the bullpen ace of the American League champion Minnesota Twins. Worthington was 10-7 with a 2.13 ERA and 21 saves.

Al Worthington’s best all-around season came in 1965, when he was the bullpen ace of the American League champion Minnesota Twins. Worthington was 10-7 with a 2.13 ERA and 21 saves.

He posted a career record of 75-82 with a 3.39 ERA and 110 saves. He was 11-7 for the San Francisco Giants in 1958, but his best all-around season came in 1965, when he was the bullpen ace of the American League champion Minnesota Twins.

Worthington was 10-7 with a 2.13 ERA and 21 saves in 1965. He led the American League with 18 saves in 1968 when he posted a 2.21 earned run average. In his final six seasons, all with the Twins, Worthington put up a combined record of 37-31 with 88 saves and an earned run average of 2.62.

 

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How to Win with Red Legs

 

Glancing Back, and Remembering Bob Purkey

While the best knuckleball pitchers of the 1960s, namely Hoyt Wilhelm and Eddie Fisher, were used almost exclusively in relief, Bob Purkey was primarily a knuckleball starter. His success with that hard-to-tame pitch paved the way for knuckleball starters such as Wilbur Wood in the 1970s and the Niekro brothers in the 1980s.

Bob Purkey’s best season was 1962, when he posted a 23-5 record with a 2.81 ERA in 288.1 innings pitched.

Bob Purkey’s best season was 1962, when he posted a 23-5 record with a 2.81 ERA in 288.1 innings pitched.

A Pittsburgh native, Purkey was signed by his hometown Pirates in 1948 and appeared in his first big league game in 1954. In four seasons with lackluster Pirate teams, Purkey himself struggled to a combined record of 16-29, used mostly as a reliever. He was traded to the Cincinnati Reds after going 11-14 in 1957.

With the Reds, Purkey was used primarily as a starting pitcher, and had his most successful seasons in that role. In 1958, he was 17-11 with a 3.60 ERA, completing half of his 34 starts. He slipped to 13-18 in 1959, and bounced back in 1960 with another 17-11 campaign, and another 3.60 ERA.

In 1961 the Red won their first National League pennant in two decades, and Purkey was an integral part of that team’s success. He went 16-12 that season, completing 13 games with a 3.73 ERA.

His best season was 1962, when he posted a 23-5 record for a major league-leading .821 winning percentage. Again he finished almost half his starts (18 out of 37), and recorded a 2.81 ERA in 288.1 innings pitched. He was named to the All-Star team for the third time in his career that season.

Purkey struggled over the next two seasons, going 17-19 for the Reds with a combined ERA of 3.25. In both seasons, his number of innings pitched dropped below 200 for the first time since 1957. After the 1964 season, the Reds traded Purkey to the St. Louis Cardinals for pitcher Roger Craig and outfielder Charley James.

With the Cardinals, Purkey found himself being used more and more as a reliever, and finished the season 10-9 with a 5.79 ERA. In 1966, he closed out his career where it began, in Pittsburgh. In his final major league stop, Purkey was 0-1 with a 1.37 ERA, making only 10 appearances before he was released by the Pirates.

Over a career that spanned 13 seasons, Purkey posted a 129-115 record with 793 strikeouts and a 3.79 ERA in 386 appearances, including 276 starts, 92 complete games, 13 shutouts, and nine saves.

 

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How Jim Bunning Came to Philadelphia

 

Swap Shop: Jim Bunning for Don Demeter

Jim Bunning was the reigning ace of the Detroit Tigers’ pitching staff at the opening of the 1960s. Signed by the Tigers off the campus of Xavier University in 1950, Bunning spent six seasons in the Tigers’ minor league system, enjoying his best minor league season in 1954 with Little Rock in the AA Southern Association, where he went 13-11.

Jim Bunning won 57 games in his first 3 season with the Phillies after being traded by Detroit.

Jim Bunning won 57 games in his first three season with the Phillies after being traded by Detroit.

Bunning made his major league debut with the Tigers in 1955, going 3-5 in 15 appearances, including eight starts. He opened the 1956 season with Charleston in the American Association, and after a 9-11 start was called up to Detroit, where he finished the season 5-1 for the Tigers, used mostly in relief. He made the Tigers’ roster in 1957, and had an outstanding season, going 20-8 with a 2.69 ERA. He also led the American League with 267.1 innings pitched.

He won 14 games in 1958 and 17 games in 1959. His won-lost record slipped to 11-14 in 1960, though he posted a 2.79 earned run average. He led the American League in strikeouts with 201 in both 1959 and 1960. In 1961, while Frank Lary led the Tigers’ staff with a 23-7 season, Bunning registered another strong season at 17-11 with a 3.19 ERA. He was 19-10 in 1962, but in 1963 his record slipped to 12-13. At age 31, he was considered expendable.

The Philadelphia Phillies were interested in Bunning, and offered the Tigers Don Demeter in exchange. In the previous two seasons, Demeter had batted a combined .284 with 51 home runs and 190 RBIs. The Tigers slotted Demeter in left field, replacing the departed Rocky Colavito.

The Bunning-Demeter deal also included catcher Gus Triandos going to the Phillies and the Tigers getting relief pitcher Jack Hamilton.

The right-handed hitting Don Demeter was the key acquisition for the Tigers in the deal that sent future Hall of Famer Jim Bunning to Philadelphia.

The right-handed hitting Don Demeter was the key acquisition for the Tigers in the deal that sent future Hall of Famer Jim Bunning to Philadelphia.

Of course, the deal turned out to be lop-sided in favor of the Phillies. Demeter batted .290 for the Tigers in 1964 with 22 home runs and 80 RBIs. His power numbers slipped to 16 home runs and 58 RBIs in 1965, and he was dealt to the Boston Red Sox in 1966.

Bunning became the ace of the Phillies’ staff and teamed with left-hander Chris Short to give the Phillies a powerful 1-2 rotation punch. He won 19 games each season from 1964 through 1966, and won 17 games in 1967. In his four seasons with the Phillies, Bunning averaged 40 starts and 298 innings per season. His combined ERA over those four seasons was 2.48. He pitched a perfect game for the Phillies in 1964. It was the second no-hitter of his career, and made him the first pitcher to toss a no-hitter in both major leagues.

Bunning lasted 17 seasons in the major leagues, and pitched a full eight seasons after being traded from Detroit. He retired with a career record of 224-184 with a 3.27 ERA. He was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1996.

 

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