Beast for a Year

 

Career Year: George Altman – 1961

George Altman’s career lasted nine seasons – all in the National League – and he was an everyday player for six of those seasons. As an everyday outfielder, Altman batted a combined .276 and averaged 15 home runs and 60 runs batted in. But in 1961, he rocked Wrigley Field and the rest of the National League as the most potent bat in the Cubs’ batting order … a batting order that included three future Hall of Famers.

Signed by the Chicago Cubs in 1955, Altman spent three of the next four seasons in the Cubs minor league system and one year in military service. He joined the Cubs’ roster in 1959 as a 26-year-old rookie, batting .245 with 12 home runs and 47 RBIs. He was still a part-time player in 1960 when he batted .266 with 13 home runs and 51 RBIs.

 

George Altman finished the season at .303 with 27 home runs and 96 RBIs. He also had 28 doubles and led the National League with 12 triples.

George Altman finished the season at .303 with 27 home runs and 96 RBIs. He also had 28 doubles and led the National League with 12 triples.

The 1961 season put Altman in the Cubs’ everyday lineup gradually. He appeared in only four games in April, a pinch-hitter who was 0 for 4 for the month. He found his way into 21 games in May, batting .351 in 75 at-bats with two home runs and 12 RBIs. His bat would keep him in the lineup for the rest of the season.

Altman’s productivity at the plate exploded in June, as he batted .355 with 10 home runs and 29 RBIs. During that month, he had seven multi-hit games and four games with three or more runs batted in.

He slowed down somewhat after a torrid June, batting .275 with 15 home runs and 55 RBIs over the rest of the summer. He finished the season at .303 with 27 home runs and 96 RBIs. He also had 28 doubles and led the National League with 12 triples.

In a batting order that featured future Hall of Famers Ernie BanksRon Santo and a rookie Billy Williams, Altman in 1961 was the team’s most productive clean-up hitter, batting .303 with runners in scoring position. On the season, Altman led the team in hitting, RBIs and triples. He finished second on the team in runs (77), hits (157), doubles and stolen bases. Of course, one can only speculate what Altman’s numbers might have been if he had played a full season instead of making just four plate appearances in the team’s 16 April games.

Altman finished fourteenth in the voting for 1961 Most Valuable Player, and he was a member of the 1961 All-Star team. He would also be an All-Star in 1962, when he would hit .318 with 22 home runs and 74 RBIs. But he would never again approach the power numbers he put up in 1961. From 1962 on, he would never hit more than nine home runs or drive in more than 47 runs in a season.

Altman spent seven of his nine major league seasons with the Cubs, with single-season stops with the St. Louis Cardinals and New York Mets in between his two tours in Chicago. He started the 1967 season with the Cubs but spent most of that season in the minors. He played in Japan from 1968 through 1975.

 

Seaver Wins His First

This Week in 1960s Baseball

(April 20, 1967) Today rookie hurler Tom Seaver got his first major league win when the New York Mets beat the Chicago Cubs 6-1.

In his second major league start, “Tom Terrific” went 7.2 innings, giving up eight hits and one run. He struck out five Cubs batters and did not issue a walk. He was relieved in the eighth inning by Don Shaw, who finished the game to garner his first save of the season.

The Cubs scored first. Don Kessinger singled in the third inning and scored on a Billy Williams triple. Seaver and Shaw shut out the Cubs the rest of the way.

The Mets tied the game in the fourth inning on Tommy Davis’ solo home run off Cubs starter Curt Simmons. The Mets scored again in the sixth inning on Ken Boyer’s RBI single and a Ron Swoboda sacrifice fly. The Mets added three more runs in the eighth inning.

Seaver finished the 1967 season at 16-13 with a 2.76 ERA. He was an All-Star for the first time, and was named Rookie of the Year. His 16 victories would be the most by a Mets pitcher, a mark that would be surpassed by Jerry Koosman’s 19 wins in 1968 and Seaver’s 25 victories in 1969 (still the single-season best for a Mets pitcher).

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A Third Sacker with Sock

 

Glancing Back, and Remembering Frank Malzone

For a decade from the mid 1950s to the mid 1960s, Frank Malzone gave the Boston Red Sox solid play at third base while providing batting average and power in the middle of the Red Sox batting order. He was a Boston institution whose hitting contributions were generally under-valued as he played in the shadows of future Hall of Famers Ted Williams and Carl Yastrzemski.

Six-time All-Star third baseman for the Boston Red Sox

Six-time All-Star third baseman for the Boston Red Sox

Born in the Bronx, Malzone was signed by the Red Sox in 1947. After serving his minor league apprenticeship and two years of military service, he played his first full season with Boston in 1957, hitting .292 with 31 doubles, 15 home runs and 103 runs batted in. He was runner-up to Yankees shortstop Tony Kubek for Rookie of the Year honors. He followed that performance by batting .295 in 1958 with 15 home runs and 87 RBIs, and hit .280 in 1959 with 19 homers and 92 RBIs. His 34 doubles were second in the American League (to Harvey Kuenn of the Detroit Tigers).

From 1960 through 1963, Malzone was the model of consistency for the Red Sox, batting .278 and averaging 16 home runs and 83 RBIs per season. His best season in the 1960s came in 1962, when he batted .283 with 21 home runs and 95 RBIs.

There was a sharp decline in Malzone’s power numbers after the 1963 season. In 1965, he was released by the Red Sox and signed with the California Angels. He appeared in 82 games with the Angels in 1966, hitting .206 with 2 home runs and 12 RBIs. He retired following the 1966 season.

In 12 big league seasons, Malzone batted .274 with 1,486 hits, including 239 doubles and 133 home runs. He was named to the American League All-Star team six times, and was a three-time Gold Glove winner. 

 

Who’s Your Daddy Wags?

 

Homer Happy: Leon Wagner

Leon Wagner was signed by the New York Giants as an amateur free agent in 1954, and joined the big league club for 74 games in the 1958 season, batting .317 with 13 home runs and 35 RBIs in only 221 at-bats.

Leon Wagner and Mickey Mantle were All-Star teammates in 1963.

Leon Wagner and Mickey Mantle were All-Star teammates in 1963.

In the late 1950s and early 1960s, it wasn’t that hard for a talented ballplayer – especially one who could hit with power – to get lost in the San Francisco Giants outfield. When Wagner joined the Giants in 1958 after spending the previous six years in the minors and in the Army, he saw the likes of Willie Mays, Felipe Alou, Jackie Brandt and even a youngster named Willie McCovey ahead of him. There was no room in the lineup on a team loaded with power, and no room in the outfield for a player who occasionally had trouble judging fly balls.

Wagner was traded to the St. Louis Cardinals in 1960, but there was little opportunity to break into an outfield that featured Stan Musial, Curt Flood and Joe Cunningham.

Wagner’s break came in 1961. Traded by the Cardinals to Toronto in the International League, he was then dealt to the expansion Los Angeles Angels for outfielder Lou Johnson. As the everyday left fielder for the Angels, Wagner hit .280 with 28 home runs and 79 RBIs in 1961. He followed up in 1962 with 37 home runs and 107 RBIs as the Angels surprised the baseball world by finishing third in the American League. In 1963, Wagner hit .291 for the Angels with 26 home runs and 90 RBIs, making the All-Star team for the second consecutive year.

Following the 1963 season, the Angels traded Wagner to the Cleveland Indians for pitcher Barry Latman and first baseman Joe Adcock. Wagner had his best seasons with the Tribe, hitting 34 home runs with 100 RBIs in 1964. In 4-plus campaigns with Cleveland, Wagner averaged 24 home runs and 75 RBIs per season. In 1968, Cleveland dealt Wagner to the Chicago White Sox for outfielder Russ Snyder. He served mostly as a pinch hitter for the White Sox in 1968 and for the San Francisco Giants in 1969, retiring after the 1969 season.

A fan and media favorite throughout his 12-season career, “Daddy Wags” batted a career .272 with 211 home runs and 669 RBIs.