Have Bat, Will Thrill

 

Homer Happy: Willie Kirkland

The career of Willie Kirkland lived and died by the home run. During his nine-year major league career, Kirkland was a much-in-demand (and frequently traded) slugger who batted only a combined .248 from 1959-1962 … when he averaged 23 home runs and 75 RBIs per season.

Willie Kirkland’s best season came in 1961 with the Cleveland Indians. He batted .259 with 27 home runs and 95 RBIs.

Kirkland was signed by the New York Giants in 1953. He made his major league debut with San Francisco in 1958, batting .258 with 14 home runs and 56 RBIs.

He hit 22 home runs in 1959 and 21 homers in 1960, and finished fifth in the National League with 10 triples. Following the 1960 season, Kirkland and pitcher Johnny Antonelli were traded to the Cleveland Indians for Harvey Kuenn.

Kirkland had a career-best season with the Tribe in 1961. He batted .259 with 27 home runs and 95 RBIs (ninth most in the American League). Kirkland hit 21 home runs with 70 runs batted in for 1962 despite hitting only .200, and was traded to the Baltimore Orioles for Al Smith after the 1963 season.

Over the next three seasons, Kirkland became a part-time player and pinch-hitter for the Orioles and the Washington Senators, hitting 14 home runs with 54 RBIs for Washington in 1965. He retired after nine major league seasons with a career batting average of .240 and with 148 home runs.

 

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Hall of Fame Travel Companion

 

Glancing Back, and Remembering Al Smith

Outfielder Al Smith was traded three times during his 12-year major league career. In the first two of those trades, to Chicago and to Baltimore, Smith had the distinction of being traded with a future Hall of Famer. He also distinguished himself as a good hitter whose legs and bat produced plenty of runs.

Al Smith was originally signed by the Cleveland Indians in 1948 and made his major league debut in 1953. He batted .306 in 1955 and led the American League in runs scored with 123.

Smith was signed by the Cleveland Indians in 1948 and made his debut in Cleveland in 1953, hitting .240 in 47 games. He opened the 1954 season as the Indians’ starting left-fielder, batting .281 for the American League champions. He scored 101 runs and led the team in doubles with 29.

In 1955, Smith led the American League by scoring 123 runs. He batted .306 with 22 home runs and 77 RBIs, and was named to the American League All-Star team. He finished third in the Most Valuable Player balloting for that season.

Smith played two more seasons with the Indians and then was traded (with future Hall of Famer Early Wynn) to the Chicago White Sox for Minnie Minoso and Fred Hatfield. He struggled in his first two seasons in Chicago, batting .252 in 1958 and .237 in 1959. He bounced back in 1960, hitting .315 with 31 doubles, 12 home runs and 72 RBIs. In 1961, he posted the best power numbers of his career, hitting 28 home runs with 93 RBIs.

Al Smith’s best season with the Chicago White Sox came in 1961. He batted .278 with 28 home runs and 93 RBIs.

Smith’s last season in Chicago was 1962, when he batted .292 with 16 home runs and 82 RBIs. In the off-season, he was traded with another future Hall of Famer, shortstop Luis Aparicio, to the Baltimore Orioles for Ron Hansen, Dave Nicholson, Pete Ward and Hoyt Wilhelm. He batted .272 for the Orioles in 1963, but with only 10 home runs and 39 RBIs. He was involved in one more trade, returning to Cleveland in exchange for outfielder Willie Kirkland. He split the 1964 season between the Indians and the Boston Red Sox, batting a combined .176. He retired in 1964 at age 36.

Smith finished with a career batting average of .272 on 1,458 hits. He scored 843 runs with 258 doubles, 164 home runs and 676 RBIs. He was a member of the American League All-Star team twice.

Welcome to the Homer Ward

 

Glancing Back, and Remembering Pete Ward

While it’s no overstatement to say that pitching dominated the 1960s, it’s just as safe to say that, in the 1960s, pitching dominated the Chicago White Sox, especially in that team’s contending seasons.

Pete Ward was the American League Rookie of the Year in 1963 with a .295 batting average, 22 home runs and 84 RBIs.

Pete Ward was the runner-up for American League Rookie of the Year in 1963 with a .295 batting average, 22 home runs and 84 RBIs.

With solid starting arms such as Gary Peters, Joe Horlen and Juan Pizarro, and relievers such as Hoyt Wilhelm and Eddie Fisher, the White Sox featured the league’s deepest staff. And they needed it, with also one of the weakest hitting lineups in the American League.

The one “power” spot in the White Sox lineup came from a left-handed batter named Pete Ward.

Ward was signed by the Baltimore Orioles in 1958 and appeared in eight games with the Orioles at the end of 1962. That winter he was a throw-in in the blockbuster trade that brought Ron Hansen, Dave Nicholson and Wilhelm to the White Sox for Luis Aparicio and Al Smith.

Ward replaced Smith at third for the White Sox and made an immediate impact, beating the Detroit Tigers on Opening Day with a seventh-inning home run, the start of an 18-game hitting streak. For the season Ward hit .295, fifth in the American League, with 22 home runs, 84 RBIs, and 80 runs. He finished second in the league in total bases (289), hits (177), and doubles (34), and was named American League Rookie of the Year.

Ward followed up in 1964 by hitting .282 with 23 home runs and 94 RBIs. An off-season auto accident led to back and neck problems that would plague him, and cut his offensive productivity, for the rest of his career. He slipped to 10 home runs in 1965 and only three in 1966.

Ward made something of a comeback in 1967 with 18 home runs and 62 RBIs, but the weak Chicago lineup meant fewer good pitches to hit. His 18 home runs led the team, with only two other White Sox hitting as many as 10 home runs that season. His walks increased to 61 in 1967, and then to 76 in 1968, when Ward hit .216 with 15 home runs and 50 RBIs.

Lingering injuries forced Ward into a part-time role in 1969, and he spent one year as a reserve player for the New York Yankees in 1970 before retiring.

Ward finished his nine-year career with a .254 batting average and 98 home runs.

Baseball’s Meanest Fastball

Glancing Back, and Remembering Early Wynn

One of the most durable pitchers in baseball history, Early Wynn cultivated an image as a ruthless intimidator whose blazing fastball was available at any opportunity to drive a batter away from the plate … or make him pay for success in his previous at-bat. On the mound Wynn was relentless and talented, just the combination for producing a 300-win, Hall of Fame career.

Early Wynn won the 1959 Cy Young Award with a 22-10 record. He was a 20-game winner 4 times with the Cleveland Indians.

Early Wynn won the 1959 Cy Young Award with a 22-10 record for the Chicago White Sox. He had been a 20-game winner 4 times with the Cleveland Indians.

Wynn signed with the Washington Senators in 1937 and made his debut as a 19-year-old at the end of the 1939 season. He moved into the Senators’ starting rotation in 1942, going 10-16, and became the team’s ace in 1943 with an 18-12 record and a 2.91 ERA. He also led the American League that season with 33 starts.

Wynn won 17 games for the Senators in 1947 and after an 8-19 season in 1948, he was traded to the Cleveland Indians in a deal that would turn his career around. After going 72-87 in eight seasons with the Senators, Wynn was 163-100 over the next nine years with the Indians. He had four 20-win seasons with the Tribe, pitching an average of 229 innings per season. He twice led the American League in starts and innings pitched, and posted the league’s lowest ERA (3.20) in 1950. For the 1950s, Wynn had more strikeouts (1,544) than any other major league pitcher during that decade.

In 1957, Wynn was traded with Al Smith to the Chicago White Sox for Fred Hatfield and Minnie Minoso. He won 14 games for Chicago in 1958, and in 1959 won the Cy Young award with a 22-10 record and a 3.17 ERA. He led the league again in starts (37) and innings pitched (255.2).

Wynn won 13 games for the White Sox in 1960 (and led the league with four shutouts), but he was now 40 and his fastball was losing its gas. He won a combined 15 games over the next two seasons, and was released by Chicago in 1962 with 299 career victories. He signed with Cleveland and finally notched victory 300 in 1963 before retiring.

Wynn was a good hitter, a switch-hitter with a career batting average of .214, 17 home runs and 173 RBIs. He is one of five major league pitchers to have hit a grand slam as a pinch hitter.

Wynn was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1972.

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