Prince of Promise

 

Glancing Back, and Remembering Alex Johnson

Throughout most of his career, the incredible hitting instincts of Alex Johnson – and how easily and extensively those instincts could impress baseball people observing him – meant that he carried with him the baggage of potential that could never really be realized. When you watched the young Alex Johnson, it was not enough to be impressed simply with what he could do with a bat … which was impressive enough. Johnson’s skills made you wonder how good he could be – how good anyone could be. His potential was that great.

Alex Johnson was the American League batting champion in 1970, batting .329 for the California Angels.

Johnson was signed by the Philadelphia Phillies in 1961. Over the next three years, he progressed steadily through the Phillies’ farm system, joining the parent club for 43 games at the end of the 1964 season. Johnson hit .303 in limited action, and he was slated to start the 1965 season in left field, platooning with Wes Covington. Johnson hit .294 in 1965, and was traded with Art Mahaffey and Pat Corrales to the St. Louis Cardinals for Dick Groat, Bill White and Bob Uecker.

A dreadful hitting drought to open the 1966 season sent Johnson back to the minors, where he hit .355 over the rest of that season. He spent the 1967 season platooning in right field with Roger Maris, and didn’t make an appearance in the 1967 World Series.

Despite his potential as a hitter, Johnson also brought with him serious liabilities in the field (three times he would lead his league’s outfielders in errors committed). He would also drive managers crazy with spells of concentration problems and a lack of consistent commitment to running out every batted ball with maximum effort. He could also be contentious and even nasty, with teammates in the clubhouse just as much as with the pitchers he faced.

Alex Johnson batted .288 in 13 major league seasons.

Alex Johnson batted .288 in 13 major league seasons.

It was Johnson’s hitting that kept him in the major leagues, and he was just beginning to realize his potential at the plate. The Cardinals traded Johnson to the Cincinnati Reds for pitcher Dick Simpson, and he responded to playing every day by hitting .312 for the Reds in 1968, the fourth highest batting average in the National League that season. Johnson hit .315 in 1969 with 17 home runs and 88 RBIs, and then was traded to the California Angels.

With the Angels in 1970, Johnson won the American league batting title with a .329 average. He also had 26 doubles, 14 home runs and 86 RBIs. But he would never reach quite that level again, his average slipping to .260 in 1971. He was traded with Jerry Moses to the Cleveland Indians for Frank Baker, Alan Foster and Vada Pinson. He hit .239 for Cleveland in 1972, and was dealt to the Texas Rangers. He hit .287 for Texas in 1973 and hit .287 again in a 1974 season split between the Rangers and the New York Yankees. He hit .261 for the Yankees in 1975, and then hit .268 for the Detroit Tigers in 1976, his last season in the major leagues.

Johnson played 13 seasons for eight different major league clubs. He ended his career with 1,331 hits and a .288 batting average. He was a member of the American League All-Star team in 1970.

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Invest in Utility

 

Glancing Back, and Remembering Cesar Tovar

Cesar was a multi-talented, multi-purpose ballplayer who could play any position in the field – and in one game, did everything a fielder could do.

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As the Minnesota Twins starting center fielder in 1971, Cesar Tovar batted .311 and led the American League with 204 hits.

With the bat, Tovar did one thing: make contact. Tovar was no slugger, but he was a contact hitter who batted .278 over a 12-season major league career and twice hit better than .300.

A native of Venezuela, Tovar was signed by the Cincinnati Redlegs as a teenager in 1959. He toiled in the Reds’ farm system for five years, advancing steadily but ultimately was blocked from starring in Cincinnati by players like Pete Rose at second and Vada Pinson in centerfield.

Tovar’s break came in December of 1964 when the Reds traded the outfielder/infielder to the Minnesota Twins for left-handed pitcher Gerry Arrigo. Tovar hit .328 for the Twins’ AAA team in Denver in 1965, and by 1966 he was the Twins’ starting center fielder, hitting .260 in his rookie season with Minnesota. In 1967, Tovar set an American League record by appearing in 164 games.

On September 22, 1968, Tovar became the second major league player (after the Athletics’ Bert Campaneris) to assume all nine field positions in a single game. Facing the A’s, Tovar was the game’s starter and threw a scoreless first inning, striking out Reggie Jackson.

Tovar raised his batting average in successive seasons with the Twins, hitting .267 in 1967, .272 in 1968, .288 in 1969, .300 in 1970 and .311 in 1971. He led the league in doubles and triples in 1970, when he scored a career-best 120 runs. Tovar led the league with 204 hits in 1971.

Tovar’s batting average slipped to .265 in 1972, and after eight seasons in Minnesota, he was dealt to the Philadelphia Phillies. After one season in Philadelphia (hitting .268), Tovar spent the next three seasons with Texas, Oakland and the New York Yankees. He retired after the 1976 season.

In 12 major league seasons, Tovar collected 1,546 hits with a .278 career batting average. He also stole 226 bases, averaging 37 steals per season from 1968-1970.

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Heady Hustle

 

Glancing Back, and Remembering Cookie Rojas

While certainly not the most athletically talented infielder of his era, Cookie Rojas carved a 16-year career out of baseball smarts and hustle, and hitting that improved with accumulated at-bats.

Cookie Rojas was signed by the Cincinnati Reds and played two seasons with the Reds before being traded to the Philadelphia Phillies. He led the Phillies with a .303 batting average in 1965.

Cookie Rojas was signed by the Cincinnati Reds and played two seasons with the Reds before being traded to the Philadelphia Phillies. He led the Phillies with a .303 batting average in 1965.

Rojas was signed by the Cincinnati Reds in 1956. He spent six years moving steadily through the Reds’ farm system, and made the team as a utility player (capable of playing any position) in 1962.

He was traded to the Philadelphia Phillies for pitcher Jim Owens and started a seven-year tour with the Phillies in 1963, hitting .221 in 64 games. He got more playing time with the Phillies in 1964 (and hit .291), and in 1965 he became the Phillies’ starting second baseman and the team’s leading hitter at .303. In 1967, he led the National League with 16 sacrifice hits.

Following the 1969 season, Rojas was traded by the Phillies with Dick Allen and Jerry Johnson to the St. Louis Cardinals for Byron Browne, Curt Flood, Joe Hoerner and Tim McCarver. He played in only 23 games for the Cardinals, and then was traded to the Kansas City Royals for Fred Rico.

Rojas spent the next eight seasons with the Royals, as the team’s starting second baseman for six of those seasons. He hit .300 for the Royals in 1971, the first of four consecutive years when he would be named to the American League All-Star team. His best season for all-around offensive performance came in 1973, when he hit .276 with six home runs and 69 RBIs. He also had 29 doubles and 18 stolen bases, both career highs.

Rojas was released by the Royals after the 1977 season. He signed briefly with the Chicago Cubs, but never played for them, opting instead to retire to coaching and later managing and a broadcasting career.

Johnny Clutch

 

The Glove Club – Johnny Edwards

For more than a dozen years, Johnny Edwards was one of the best defensive catchers in the National League.

Johnny Edwards was the National League’s Gold Glove catcher in 1963 and 1964. He led the league in fielding percentage four times.

Johnny Edwards was the National League’s Gold Glove catcher in 1963 and 1964. He led the league in fielding percentage four times.

Edwards was born and raised in Columbus, Ohio, and was signed by the Cincinnati Redlegs in 1959 after playing in college for the Ohio State Buckeyes. He was called up to Cincinnati in 1961, batting .186 in 52 games as the backup to Jerry Zimmerman. By 1962, he was Cincinnati’s starting catcher, hitting .254 with eight home runs, 50 RBIs and a career-best 28 doubles.

From 1962 through 1965, Edwards averaged 130 games per season and batted a combined .265. He also averaged 11 home runs and 56 RBIs per season, while appearing in three All-Star games. He also won the Gold Glove in 1963 and 1964.

His best season with the Reds came in 1964. Edwards batted .281 with seven home runs and 55 RBIs.

In February of 1968, the Reds traded Edwards to the St. Louis Cardinals for Pat Corrales and Jimy Williams. In his lone season in St. Louis, Edwards batted .239 with three home runs and 29 RBIs. Then he was dealt to the Houston Astros for Dave Adlesh and Dave Giusti. In his six seasons in Houston, Edwards batted a combined .237 while averaging four home runs and 33 RBIs.

What kept Edwards in the lineup was not his bat as much as his durability and his defense. He averaged 126 games from 1969 through 1972, and during that period he led the league twice in assists and in putouts in 1969. Edwards led the league in assists four times during his career and once more in putouts (1963).

Edwards retired after the 1974 season with a .242 career batting average.

 

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Keepin’ ‘em Close

 

Oh, What a Relief: Johnny Klippstein

Right-hander Johnny Klippstein pitched for eight different teams in an 18-year major league career.

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In 18 major league seasons, Johnny Klippstein pitched for eight different teams. He won 101 games and saved 65. In 1960, pitching for the Cleveland Indians, he led the American League with 14 saves.

He was signed by the St. Louis Cardinals in 1944 and drafted, in consecutive years, by the Brooklyn Dodgers and then the Chicago Cubs. He made his major league debut with the Cubs in 1950, going 2-9 with a 5.50 ERA. In five seasons with the Cubs, Klippstein was 31-51 with a 4.79 ERA.

Klippstein was traded to the Cincinnati Reds in 1954 and won 12 games for the Reds in 1956. He was traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1958. He went 4-0 out of the Dodgers’ bullpen in 1959, and won a World Series game that year, only to be purchased by the Cleveland Indians just before the 1960 season. Klippstein was 5-5 for the Indians in 1960 with a 2.29 ERA. He led the American League in saves with 14.

Following the 1960 season, Klippstein was selected by the Washington Senators in the expansion draft. After a 2-2 season with the Senators, he was traded to the Reds again, and a year later was purchased by the Philadelphia Phillies.

Klippstein’s control and pitching savvy improved with age. At 35, he was 5-6 for the Phillies with a 1.93 ERA and eight saves. He was purchased by the Minnesota Twins after the start of the 1964 season, and had several outstanding seasons working out of the Twins’ bullpen. In 1965, he was 9-3 with five saves and a 2.24 ERA.

He retired after pitching in five games for the Detroit Tigers in 1967, posting a career record of 101-118 and a 4.24 ERA. Klippstein appeared in 711 games.

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The Power in Polo

 

Homer Happy: Frank Thomas

From their inaugural season of 1962 until 1975, the New York Mets’ single-season record for home runs belonged to a right-handed hitting outfielder who played for the Mets for only two seasons, but was a National League power threat for a decade.

With 34 home runs in 1962 – the Mets’ first year of existence – Frank Thomas held the franchise’s single-season home run record until 1975.

With 34 home runs in 1962 – the Mets’ first year of existence – Frank Thomas held the franchise’s single-season home run record until 1975.

Slugger Frank Thomas played both the outfield and first base for seven different teams in 16 years. Over that long career, he batted .266 with 286 home runs and 962 RBIs.

Thomas signed with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1947 and made his major league debut in 1951. In 1953, his first full major league season, Thomas batted .255 for the Pirates with 30 home runs and 102 RBIs. He was an All-Star three times in his five full seasons with Pittsburgh, and had his best season in 1958 with 35 home runs and 109 RBIs.

In 1959, Thomas was traded to the Cincinnati Reds in the deal that brought Smoky Burgess, Harvey Haddix and Don Hoak to the Pirates. Thomas spent one season in Cincinnati (12 home runs, 47 RBIs) and then was traded to the Chicago Cubs. With the Cubs, he hit 21 home runs with 64 RBIs in 1960, and a month into the 1961 season he was traded to the Milwaukee Braves. He had a solid season for the Braves, hitting 25 home runs plus two with the Cubs. The Braves team of 1961 was loaded with power hitters, and was the first major league club to smash four consecutive home runs in a game. (Thomas hit the fourth, preceded by home runs from the bats of Eddie Mathews, Hank Aaron, and Joe Adcock.)

Frank Thomas broke into the big leagues in a big way. In 1953, his first full season with the Pittsburgh Pirates, Thomas hit 30 home runs with 102 RBIs.

Frank Thomas broke into the big leagues in a big way. In 1953, his first full season with the Pittsburgh Pirates, Thomas hit 30 home runs with 102 RBIs.

After the 1961 season, he was traded to the Mets for outfielder Gus Bell. He led that first Mets team with 34 home runs and 94 RBIs. His home run mark was not topped by another Mets hitter until Dave Kingman blasted 36 in 1975.

Thomas hit 15 home runs for the Mets in 1963 and was traded to the Philadelphia Phillies in 1964. At this point in his career, the 35-year-old Thomas had become a part-time player and pinch hitter, batting .282 in two seasons with the Phillies. He retired in 1966 with 1,671 career hits.

Batters Busted

 

Glancing Back, and Remembering Cal McLish

Cal McLish had enough names to fill more than half a batting order, and enough pitches and moxy to be a consistent starting pitcher. He was a late bloomer, winning all but eight of his 92 major league victories after the age of 30.

CALVIN COOLIDGE JULIUS CAESAR TUSKAHOMA MCLISH: Cal McLish, baseball player ORG XMIT: 0704152350281456

Right-hander Cal McLish won 92 games for seven major league teams over a 15-year career.

Born Calvin Coolidge Julius Caesar Tuskahoma McLish, he was signed by the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1944. With the war-lean major league rosters, McLish became an immediate starter-reliever for the Dodgers, posting a 3-10 record with a 7.82 ERA.

He obviously needed minor league seasoning. After serving in the military in 1945, McLish spent the next four seasons in the minors, winning 20 games for the Los Angeles Angels (the Pacific Coast League affiliate for the Chicago Cubs) in 1950, and spent the 1951 season with the Cubs, going 4-10 with a 4.45 ERA. McLish was sent back to the minors for four more seasons, winning 56 games during that period. Following the 1955 season, he was signed as a free agent by the Cleveland Indians. Now 30 and with a major league record of 8-30, McLish’s career was finally about to turn around with the Tribe.

McLish spent the 1956 season working out of the Cleveland bullpen, with little room for him in a starting rotation that included two future Hall of Famers (Bob Lemon and Early Wynn) and Herb Score (all 20-game winners that season). McLish was 2-4 as a reliever for the Indians in 1956, and 9-7 in that role in 1957.

Cal McLish had his best season in 1959 with the Cleveland Indians, going 19-8 with a 3.63 ERA.

Cal McLish had his best season in 1959 with the Cleveland Indians, going 19-8 with a 3.63 ERA.

McLish moved into the starting rotation for Cleveland in 1958, and responded with a 16-8 season with a 2.99 ERA. He was 19-8 for the Indians in 1959, only to be traded with Gordy Coleman and Billy Martin to the Cincinnati Reds for Johnny Temple. McLish went 4-14 for the Reds in 1960, and was dealt with Juan Pizarro to the Chicago White Sox for Gene Freese.

With the White Sox in 1961, McLish went 10-13 with a 4.38 ERA. He was dealt to the Philadelphia Phillies just before the start of the 1962 season, and went 11-5 for Philadelphia. He had one of his best all-around seasons in 1962 at age 37, going 13-11 with a 3.26 ERA. That season he threw 10 complete games and pitched 209.2 innings, his highest totals in both categories since 1959. He retired in 1964 after making only two appearances.

McLish was 92-92 over his 15-season career with a 4.01 ERA. During his best seasons – from 1958 through 1963 – he was 73-59 with a 3.70 ERA.

 

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Maris Repeats as AL MVP

 

This Week in 1960s Baseball

(November 15, 1961) For the second consecutive year, Roger Maris has been named the American League’s Most Valuable Player.

Roger Maris - The American MVP in 1960 and 1961.

Roger Maris – The American League MVP in 1960 and 1961.

The new single-season home run record holder edged his New York Yankee teammate Mickey Mantle by four votes, 202-198.

The 1961 season was a banner year for Maris in nearly every hitting category. In addition to setting a new single-season home run record with 61, Maris also led the American League with 132 runs scored and 141 runs batted in. He also led the major leagues with 366 total bases.

It was the second consecutive season when Maris led the league in RBIs. He knocked in 112 runs in his 1960 MVP season.

The biggest difference between 1960 and 1961 for Maris (and his Yankee teammates) was how October turned out. In 1960, the Yankees lost a heart-breaking seven-game World Series to the Pittsburgh Pirates. In the 1961 World Series, the Yankees reclaimed the baseball championship by beating the Cincinnati Reds in five games.

Blue Moon Rising

 

Glancing Back, and Remembering Blue Moon Odom

John (Blue Moon) Odom was one of the young Kansas City Athletics pitchers who paid his dues on the mound in the 1960s and contributed mightily to the emergence of the Oakland Athletics in the early 1970s.

Blue Moon Odom was 16-10 with a 2.92 ERA for the Oakland Athletics in 1968. He made his first All-Star appearance that season.

His personality and pitching were both flamboyant. And with Jim Hunter, Vida Blue and Ken Holtzman, he was a member of one of the most formidable starting rotations in baseball in the 1970s.

The right-handed throwing Odom was signed as a 19-year-old amateur free agent by the Athletics in 1964. He made his major league debut with the A’s later that season, going 1-2 with a shutout. Odom spent most of the next two seasons in the minors, and went 12-5 with AA Mobile in 1966. He joined the A’s for keeps midway through the 1967 season, finishing at 3-8 with a 5.04 ERA.

In 1968, the A’s first season in Oakland, Odom worked his way into the team’s starting rotation, going 16-10 in 31 starts with nine complete games, four shutouts and a 2.45 ERA. He followed that performance in 1969 with a 15-6 record and a 2.92 ERA. He was named to the American League All-Star team in both 1968 and 1969.

Odom won nine games in 1970 and 10 in 1971, then showed flashes of his former brilliance again in 1972 when Oakland won its first World Series championship. Odom finished the season at 15-6 with a 2.50 ERA. He was 2-0 in the League Championship Series against the Detroit Tigers, shutting out the Tigers 5-0 in Game Two and then clinching a berth in the World Series by winning the fifth game 2-1. In the World Series against the Cincinnati Reds, Odom appeared in two games, going 0-1 with a 1.59 ERA and 13 strikeouts in 11.1 innings.

In 12 seasons with the Athletics, John Odom was 80-76 with a 3.53 ERA. He was 3-1 with a 1.13 ERA in postseason play.

In 12 seasons with the Athletics, John Odom was 80-76 with a 3.53 ERA. He was 3-1 with a 1.13 ERA in postseason play.

The 1972 season would be Odom’s last as a dominant pitcher. His record slipped to 5-12 in 1973 with a 4.49 ERA, and he was relegated to the bullpen in 1974, going 1-5 with a 3.81 ERA. He pitched only two more seasons with four different teams (including another tour with Oakland), winning a total of four games.

He was traded three times during the 1975 season, first to the Cleveland Indians for Dick Bosman and Jim Perry, then two weeks later was dealt to the Atlanta Braves, who traded him after another week to the Chicago White Sox. Odom was released by the White Sox in January of 1977, and retired with a career record of 84-85 and a 3.70 ERA.

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The Write Kind of Relief

 

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.

Jim Brosnan was a key contributor to the Cincinnati Reds’ 1961 pennant. As the Reds’ bullpen ace, Brosnan was 10-4 with a 3.04 ERA and 16 saves.

Jim Brosnan was a key contributor to the Cincinnati Reds’ 1961 pennant. As the Reds’ bullpen ace, Brosnan was 10-4 with a 3.04 ERA and 16 saves.

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.

Jim Brosnan’s 1960 memoir, The Long Season, was one of the first sports books to give fans an authentic glimpse of what happened in the clubhouse. It chronicled Brosnan’s 1959 season with the Cardinals and Reds.

Jim Brosnan’s 1960 memoir, The Long Season, was one of the first sports books to give fans an authentic glimpse of what happened in the clubhouse. It chronicled Brosnan’s 1959 season with the Cardinals and Reds.

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.

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