Cov Crashes the Party

 

Glancing Back, and Remembering Wes Covington

Wes Covington was a strong man and a powerful hitter. He worked from an unorthodox batting stance where he held the bat behind him nearly parallel to the ground, then coiled it just before crushing unsuspecting fastballs. Continue reading

Graceful Glider

 

Glancing Back, and Remembering Ed Charles

Ed Charles was a graceful, even acrobatic, third baseman who hit with some sting in his bat. Charles paid his dues with nine years in the minor leagues, and for his effort was rewarded with a major league career that was spent mostly with two of the worst teams of the 1960s, only to be rescued at the end of his career by a “miracle.” Continue reading

Giant Behind the Plate

 

Glancing Back, and Remembering Ed Bailey

Ed Bailey was a solid defensive catcher who was also dangerous with a bat in his hands. He lasted 14 years in the major leagues, playing for five different teams. Continue reading

Theft Control

 

Glancing Back, and Remembering Joe Azcue

In a major league career that spanned the 1960s, Joe Azcue was known as a dependable catcher with a strong, accurate throwing arm. He led American League catchers in fielding percentage in 1967 and 1968. Over his 11-year career, he threw out more than 45 percent of base runners attempting to steal, and in 1966 he threw out 62 percent.

And, on occasion, he could hit.

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Base runners, beware! Over his career, Joe Azcue threw out 45 percent of runners trying to steal off him. In 1966, he threw out 62 percent of base runners attempting to steal.

A Cuban native, Azcue was signed by the Cincinnati Reds in 1956 and appeared in 14 games with the Reds at the end of the 1960 season, hitting .097. He was purchased by the Milwaukee Braves and returned to the minors for the 1961 season, and in December of 1961 was traded with Ed Charles and Manny Jimenez to the Kansas City Athletics for Lou Klimchock and Bob Shaw. He hit .229 as the Athletics’ backup catcher, and at the beginning of the 1963 season was traded with shortstop Dick Howser to the Cleveland Indians for catcher Doc Edwards.

Azcue had his best seasons, as a hitter and defensively, with the Indians. He hit .284 with the Tribe in 1963 with career highs in home runs (14) and RBIs (46). He hit .273 in 1964 and .230 in 1965, and then bounced back to hit .275 in 1966 and .280 in 1968.

In April of 1969, Azcue was part of a blockbuster deal with the Boston Red Sox. Cleveland sent Azcue, Vicente Romo and Sonny Siebert to Boston for Ken Harrelson, Dick Ellsworth and Juan Pizarro. Azcue appeared in only 19 games for the Red Sox, hitting .216, before being traded to the California Angels for Tom Satriano. He finished the 1969 season with a combined .223 batting average, and then hit .242 for California in 1970, his last full season in the majors. Azcue sat out the 1971 season, and then played a total of 14 games for the Angels and the Milwaukee Brewers in 1972 before retiring.

In 11 big league seasons, Azcue collected 712 hits for a .252 career batting average.

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Shaw Me the Money

 

Glancing Back, and Remembering Bob Shaw

Right-handed pitcher Bob Shaw was a battler on the mound and, when necessary, a guy who wasn’t afraid to stand up to management in his own defense. In many ways, he was fashioned from the mold of his former Chicago White Sox teammate, Early Wynn, though not quite as talented, or nearly as irascible.

After a 5-4 rookie campaign in 1958, Bob Shaw was 18-6 for the Chicago White Sox in 1959. His .750 winning percentage was the best in the American League.

After a 5-4 rookie campaign in 1958, Bob Shaw was 18-6 for the Chicago White Sox in 1959. His .750 winning percentage was the best in the American League.

Shaw was signed by the Detroit Tigers in 1953 and made his debut in Detroit at the end of the 1957 season. He opened the 1958 season with the Tigers but was demoted to the minors, and when he refused to report over a bonus payment dispute, he was traded with Ray Boone to the White Sox for outfielder Tito Francona and pitcher Bill Fischer.

It was a career-transforming move for Shaw, partly because he got the opportunity to pitch, and partly because of the influence of his roommate, the Hall of Fame bound Wynn. Shaw went 4-2 for the White Sox over the rest of the 1958 season, pitching primarily out of the bullpen.

The bullpen was where he started in 1959, but by the end of the season, Shaw was the number two starter for the American League champions behind the 1959 Cy Young Award winner, his mentor Wynn. Shaw went 18-6 with a 2.69 ERA, his .750 winning percentage the best among American League pitchers.

Shaw was 13-13 for the White Sox in 1960, and in 1961 he was traded to the Kansas City Athletics with Wes Covington in a deal that brought pitcher Ray Herbert to the White Sox. Shaw was a combined 12-14 in 1961, and after the season’s end was traded again, this time to the Milwaukee Braves in a deal that brought Joe Azcue, Manny Jimenez and Ed Charles to the A’s.

Bob Shaw split his 11-year major league career between starting and the bullpen. He was effective in both roles. In 223 starts, Shaw was 85-81 with a 3.60 ERA and 14 shutouts. In 207 relief appearances, Shaw was 23-17 with a 3.20 ERA and 32 saves.

Bob Shaw split his 11-year major league career between starting and the bullpen. He was effective in both roles. In 223 starts, Shaw was 85-81 with a 3.60 ERA and 14 shutouts. In 207 relief appearances, Shaw was 23-17 with a 3.20 ERA and 32 saves.

Shaw had an excellent season for the Braves in 1962, going 15-9 with a 2.80 ERA and 12 complete game. He slipped to 7-11 in 1963, posting a 2.66 ERA and pitching mostly out of the Braves’ bullpen. In December of 1963 he was traded with Del Crandall and Bob Hendley to the San Francisco Giants for Felipe Alou, Ed Bailey, Billy Hoeft and a player to be named later. As a relief specialist, Shaw led the Giants in appearances with 61 and saved 11 games with a 7-6 record, posting a 3.76 ERA. In 1965, he moved into the Giants’ starting rotation and went 16-9 with a 2.64 ERA.

In 1966, the Giants sold Shaw to the New York Mets, and he finished the season at 12-14 combined. His last season was 1967, split between the Mets and the Chicago Cubs. Shaw went 3-11 with a 4.61 ERA.

In 11 major league seasons, Shaw was 108-98 with a 3.52 career earned run average. He was a member of the National League All-Star team in 1962.

 

 

 

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How to Catch Brave Pitchers

 

Glancing Back, and Remembering Del Crandall

During his prime, Del Crandall was generally acknowledged as one of the smartest handlers of pitchers among major league catchers. During the 1950s, with Crandall averaging better than 125 games caught per season, the Milwaukee Braves pitching staff consistently ranked among the best in the league in ERA, one of the reasons that the Braves enjoyed so much success in the late 1950. And for the most part, the man calling those pitches for the likes of Warren Spahn, Lew Burdette and Bob Buhl was Crandall.

In 13 seasons with the Milwaukee Braves, Del Crandall was an All-Star eight times. His best season with the Braves came in 1959, when he hit 21 home runs with 72 RBIs.

In 13 seasons with the Milwaukee Braves, Del Crandall was an All-Star eight times. His best season with the Braves came in 1959, when he hit 21 home runs with 72 RBIs.

Crandall was signed by the Boston Braves and made his major league debut as a 19-year-old rookie a year later. He was the Braves’ back-up back-stop his first two season, and did military service during the next two years. He returned to the Braves – now the Milwaukee edition – in 1953 as the team’s everyday catcher, hitting .272 that season with 15 home runs and 51 RBIs.

Hitting amid a power-laden Braves lineup that included Hank Aaron and Eddie Mathews, Crandall’s power production increased over the next two seasons, swatting 21 home runs with 64 RBIs in 1954 and 26 home runs with 62 RBIs in 1955. In 1959, catching 146 games for the Braves, Crandall hit .257 with 21 home runs and 72 RBIs. He followed up in 1960 by hitting .294 with 19 home runs and 77 RBIs.

Shoulder problems sidelined Crandall for most of the 1961 season, and opened the door for a young Braves catcher named Joe Torre. Crandall returned to catch 90 games in 1962, hitting a career high .297, but he gradually began surrendering more playing time to the talented Torre. In 1963, his last season with the Braves, Crandall hit only .201.

 

Del Crandall batted a career-best .297 with the Braves in 1962, but split playing time with 21-year-old Joe Torre (left). He also won his fourth Gold Glove that season.

Del Crandall batted a career-best .297 with the Braves in 1962, but split playing time with 21-year-old Joe Torre (left). He also won his fourth Gold Glove that season.

In December of 1963, the Braves traded Crandall, along with pitchers Bob Hendley and Bob Shaw, to the San Francisco Giants for Felipe Alou, Ed Bailey and Billy Hoeft. In 1964, Crandall hit .231 for the Giants as a back-up for catcher Tom Haller, and was traded after the season to the Pittsburgh Pirates for Bob Burda and Bob Priddy. He spent one season in Pittsburgh and then played his final season with the Cleveland Indians. He retired in 1966.

In 16 major league season, Crandall hit .254 with 1,276 hits, 179 home runs and 657 RBIs. From 1954 through 1960, his prime years with the Braves, Crandall averaged 19 home runs and 62 RBIs per season.

But even with these respectable numbers, it was Crandall’s defense and pitch-calling ability that set him apart. He was an All-Star eight times and won four Gold Gloves. He led all National League catchers in assists six times, in fielding percentage four times, and in total putouts three times – a testament not only to his playing skills but also his durability in the game’s most physically demanding position.

Quiet Man with a Booming Bat

 

Homer Happy: Felipe Alou

Through the early and mid-1960s, Felipe Alou was a durable player with a productive bat for two of the National League’s best offensive teams: the San Francisco Giants and the Braves in both Milwaukee and Atlanta. In his prime, he consistently hit for average and power, complementing the Hall of Fame sluggers who surrounded him in those teams’ batting orders.

Felipe Alou hit 31 home runs for the Milwaukee Braves in 1965.

Felipe Alou hit 31 home runs for the Milwaukee Braves in 1965.

A native of the Dominican Republic, Alou was signed by the New York Giants in 1955. He made his debut with the San Francisco Giants in 1958 and was a starting outfielder with the Giants by 1961, when he hit .289 with 18 home runs and 52 RBIs. In the Giants’ pennant-winning season of 1962, Alou hit .316 with 25 home runs and 98 RBIs.

Following the 1963 season, Alou was traded with catcher Ed Bailey and pitcher Billy Hoeft to the Milwaukee Braves for catcher Del Crandall and pitchers Bob Hendley and Bob Shaw. After struggling through the 1964 season, he bounced back in 1965, hitting .327 with 31 home runs and 74 RBIs. That season he led the National League in hits (218) and runs (122). He also led the league in hits with 210 in 1968, batting .317.

Felipe Alou’s .327 batting average in 1965 was second in the National League to brother Matty Alou. He led the league in both hits and runs.

Alou’s offensive numbers declined steadily after that, as he made stops in Oakland, New York (Yankees), Montreal and the Milwaukee Brewers, retiring three games into the 1974 season. He was the brother of two other major leaguers, Matty and Jesus, as well as the father of Moises Alou. He spent 14 seasons as a manager for the Montreal Expos and the Giants, and as the Expos’ skipper was named Manager of the Year in 1994.

In 17 major league seasons, Alou batted .286 with 2,101 hits and 206 home runs. His 165 home runs during the 1960s put him at number 32 among major league sluggers of that decade.

 

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Giants’ Formula for Victory: Alou X2 = GW HR

 

This Week in 1960s Baseball …

(August 12, 1965) The San Francisco Giants today edged the Pittsburgh Pirates 4-3 on the home run bats of center fielder Willie Mays and the brothers Alou.

Matty Alou Hit the game-winning home run following homers by Willie Mays and brother Jesus.

Matty Alou
Hit the game-winning home run following homers by Willie Mays and brother Jesus.

It was the eighth straight victory for the Giants, who closed within 1.5 games of the Los Angeles Dodgers.

For the first three innings, the game was a scoreless pitching duel between Bob Shaw of the Giants and Pirates starter Bob Friend. The Pirates took the first lead in the fourth inning on an RBI double by catcher Jim Pagliaroni.

That lead lasted until the sixth inning. With one out and shortstop Dick Schofield at first base, Jesus Alou launched the go-ahead home run off Friend. Mays, the next batter, increased the Giants’ lead to 3-1 with a solo home run, his thirty-first of the season. The Pirates tied the game in the seventh inning on Manny Mota’s 2-run triple.

But the Giants – and the Alous – weren’t done. Matty Alou, who had come into the game in top of the eighth inning as a defensive replacement in right field, came to bat with ont out in the bottom of the eighth and promptly lined a home run off Pirates pitcher Don Schwall (6-5). Giants reliever Frank Linzy made that 4-3 lead stand up to raise his record to 4-2.

Matty Alou’s solo home run raised his season batting average to .249. He would finish the year batting .231. Over the winter, he would be traded to these same Pirates (for pitcher Joe Gibbon and infielder Ozzie Virgil), and would promptly win the National League batting title in 1966 with a .342 average.

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