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.

Top_10_Pitchers_Cover

 

 

 

Free Report

Click Here for Instant Download

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.

 

Top_10_Pitchers_Cover

 

 

 

Free Report

Click Here for Instant Download

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.

 

 

Top_10_Pitchers_Cover

 

 

 

Free Report

Click Here for Instant Download

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.

Top_10_Tigers_Cover

 

Free Report

Click Here for Instant Download

 

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

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.

 

Top_10_Twins_CoverJPG

 

Free Report

Click Here for Instant Download

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.

 

Top_10_Twins_CoverJPG

 

Free Report

Click Here for Instant Download

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.

 

Top_10_Twins_CoverJPG

 

Free Report

Click Here for Instant Download

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.

 

Top_10_Worst_Trades

 

 

 

Free Report

Click Here for Instant Download

Power Pulse

 

Glancing Back, and Remembering Gene Oliver

Gene Oliver was a decent catcher with better-than-average power and speed. He had a strong arm and a strong presence behind the plate, and was particularly effective at blocking home plate from oncoming runners.

Gene Oliver's best season came with the Braves in 1965 when he batted .270 with 20 doubles and 21 home runs (both career highs).

Gene Oliver’s best season came with the Braves in 1965 when he batted .270 with 20 doubles and 21 home runs (both career highs).

In his prime, he had the tools to be an everyday catcher for many teams, but had the misfortune of playing behind All-Star catchers such as Tim McCarver and Joe Torre, limiting him to a backup role where his contributions were valuable but limited.

Oliver was signed by the St. Louis Cardinals in 1956. He hit 18 home runs for the Cardinals’ AAA team in 1958 and had 12 home runs and 40 RBIs in 46 games at Rochester in 1959 when he was called up to St. Louis. He batted .244 over the rest of the 1959 season, with six home runs and 28 RBIs in only 172 at-bats. Oliver found himself back in AAA ball in 1960. In 1961, playing for Portland in the Pacific Coast League, Oliver batted .302 with 36 home runs and 100 RBIs. It was his ticket to a more permanent residence on the Cardinals’ roster.

In 1963, Oliver started games as the Cardinals’ catcher (as well as occasionally playing in the outfield and at first base), batting .258 with 14 home runs and 45 RBIs. In 1963, the Cardinals traded him with Bob Sadowski to the Milwaukee Braves for Lew Burdette. In five seasons with the Braves, Oliver hit for a combined .251 batting average. His best season with the Braves came in 1965 when he batted .270 with 20 doubles and 21 home runs (both career highs).

In 1967, the Braves traded Oliver to the Philadelphia Phillies for Bob Uecker. As the backup to Clay Dalrymple, Oliver hit .224 for the Phillies with seven home runs and 34 RBIs. In the off-season, he was traded with Dick Ellsworth to the Boston Red Sox for Mike Ryan and cash. He appeared in only 16 games for the Red Sox, and then was purchased by the Chicago Cubs. He retired after the 1969 season after appearing in only 31 games for the Cubs over two seasons.

During his 10-year major league career, Oliver had 546 hits, including 111 doubles and 93 home runs, and compiled a career batting average of .246.

top_ten_cardinals_cover

Free Report

Click Here for Instant Download