Glancing Back, and Remembering Charlie James
Career Year: Ralph Terry – 1962
Ralph Terry was probably the most under-appreciated New York Yankees pitcher of the 1960s.
Despite his numbers, he was never considered the ace of the Yankee staff. That acknowledgement always belonged to Whitey Ford while Terry was a Yankee. And even in 1962, when Terry was clearly the best starting pitcher in the American League, he was completely ignored by the baseball writers in the voting for the Cy Young Award.
In that season, he was baseball’s Rodney Dangerfield: he won everything but respect. Continue reading
Oh, What a Relief: Jim Brosnan
Jim Brosnan was one of the true pioneers of unvarnished sports journalism. His 1959 expose, The Long Season, while tame by today’s standards, was the first book of its kind, revealing life in the major leagues and preceding by a decade Jim Bouton‘s tell-all best-seller Ball Four.
The publication of The Long Season also coincided with what would be Brosnan’s most effective period as a major league reliever. He proved to be a major contributor to the Cincinnati Reds‘ pennant-winning season of 1961.
Brosnan was signed by the Chicago Cubs in 1946 and made his first appearance for the Cubs in 1954, when he went 1-0 in 18 relief appearances. He made the Chicago roster to stay in 1956, posting a 5-9 record as a starter and reliever with a 3.79 ERA. In 1957, working almost entirely out of the Cubs’ bullpen, Brosnan went 5-5 in 41 appearances.
In May of 1958, Brosnan was traded to the St. Louis Cardinals for veteran shortstop Al Dark. He went 11-8 that season with a 3.35 ERA, working as both a starter and as a reliever. But from this point in his career on, Brosnan would find himself relied on more and more as a reliever, and with more and more success in that role.
After the start of the 1959 season, Brosnan was traded to the Reds for Hal Jeffcoat. He had a combined record of 9-6 in 1959, and emerged as the Reds’ relief ace in 1960 with a 7-2 record in 57 appearances, all but two in relief. Brosnan posted a 2.36 ERA and recorded 12 saves for the Reds in 1960.
In 1961, as Cincinnati claimed the National League pennant for the first time in more than two decades, Brosnan had his best season, going 10-4 with a 3.04 ERA in 53 relief appearances. He also posted a career-high 16 saves, closing for a starting rotation that featured Joey Jay, Jim O’Toole and Bob Purkey.
Brosnan went 4-4 for Cincinnati in 1962 with a 3.34 ERA and 13 saves. In 1963 he was traded to the Chicago White Sox for pitcher Dom Zanni, and finished the 1963 season at 3-8 with a combined ERA of 3.13 and 14 saves, all with the White Sox. At the end of the 1963 season he was released by Chicago, and retired at age 33.
During his nine-season major league career, Brosnan compiled a 55-47 record with 67 saves and a 3.54 ERA.
Career Year: Jack Sanford – 1962
Jack Sanford was a promising – but not yet proven – starting pitcher when the San Francisco Giants acquired him in 1958.
In 1962, he emerged as the ace of a strong and deep pitching staff that carried the Giants into the World Series.
Sanford was signed by the Philadelphia Phillies in 1948. He spent seven seasons in the Phillies’ minor league system, going 83-74, and then spent two years in military service before his 1957 rookie season in Philadelphia … and what a rookie campaign it was. Sanford was 19-8 for the Phillies with a 3.04 ERA. He led the majors with 188 strikeouts and pitched 15 complete games, with three shutouts. He was an All-Star that season and was named National League Rookie of the Year.
Sanford slipped to 10-13 in 1958 and over the next winter he was traded to the Giants for Ruben Gomez and Valmy Thomas. He went 15-12 for the Giants in 1959 with a 3.16 ERA, and followed up in 1960 with a 12-14 and 3.82 ERA. He led the majors that season with six shutouts.
In 1961, Sanford had his least productive season as a Giant, going 13-9 with a 4.22 ERA and only six complete games in 33 starts. But during the 1962 season, he was simply terrific.
He won three of his first four decisions, but uneven run support from the Giants’ batting order left him at 7-6 by the end of June. As the summer heated up, so did Sanford. He won six straight decisions in July, and was unbeatable in August. He ran his winning streak to 16 games before losing to the Pittsburgh Pirates on September 15. He won his final two decisions in September to run his season record to 24-7 with a 3.43 earned run average. From July 1 on, Sanford’s record was 17-1 with a 3.14 ERA.
His pitching excellence continued into the postseason. Sanford started three games in the 1962 World Series, posting a 1.93 ERA with 19 strikeouts in 23.1 innings. But he finished on the losing side twice in three decisions. In the seventh game, he was the hard-luck 1-0 loser to Ralph Terry and the New York Yankees.
Sanford would never have another season like that again. He was 16-13 for the Giants in 1963, leading the major leagues with 42 starts. His only other season with double-digit wins would come in 1966, when he would go 13-7 for the California Angels.
Sanford would pitch 12 years in the major leagues, compiling a record of 137-101 with a 3.69 ERA.
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.
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.