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.
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 Banks, Ron 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.