Sometimes Size Counts

 

Homer Happy: Frank Howard

Frank Howard made opposing pitchers cringe. At six-foot-seven and 255 pounds, he was an imposing presence at the plate. Not even the higher mound (15 inches high until 1969) gave pitchers as much of an advantage. At his height, he could still nearly look them in the eye.

With his strength, every pitch was a potential souvenir. His last manager with the Washington Senators, the legendary Ted Williams, called Howard the strongest man in baseball. No one questioned Williams’ hitting acumen, and no one could argue his point about Howard.

In 1968, the “Year of the Pitcher” when most of major league hitting was in a coma, Howard hit home runs as if the regular season were simply extended batting practice. He launched 44 homers that season – ten of them within a single week – eight more than Willie Horton and the rest of the American League’s sluggers. He hit 136 home runs from 1968-1970, none of them cheap.

While known primarily for his size and strength, Frank Howard was also a fine all-around athlete. At Ohio State, he was an All-American in basketball as well as baseball.

What Howard brought to the batter’s box wasn’t fair. He was more than just another lumbering slugger. Matching his strength was an athletic ability practically unheard of in a hitter his size. He had been an All-American in basketball (as well as baseball) at Ohio State before signing with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1958.

His minor league career lasted only two seasons, when he butchered minor league pitchers for 37 home runs in 1958 and 43 in 1959. He was ready for the big time.

In 1960, Howard walked away with National League Rookie of the Year honors by batting .268 with 23 home runs and 77 RBIs. A thumb injury limited him to only 15 home runs in 1961, but a healthy season in 1962 produced 31 home runs with 119 runs batted in.

After hitting 23 home runs as a rookie in 1960, Frank Howard led the Los Angeles Dodgers with 31 home runs and 119 RBIs in 1962.

Despite that kind of productivity at the plate, the Dodgers – and in particular, manager Walt Alston – saw Howard primarily as a platoon player. And pitcher-friendly Dodger Stadium seemed more conducive to slashing hitters like Tommy Davis and to the base path speed of Maury Wills and Willie Davis. Howard just didn’t seem to fit in with the Dodgers’ offensive strategy. Plus Howard’s power output appeared to be declining: to 28 home runs in 1963 and 24 in 1964, and he drove in less than 70 runs both seasons.

So in December of 1964, the Dodgers sent Howard to the Washington Senators as part of a seven-player swap that brought Washington’s ace pitcher, Claude Osteen, to the West Coast.  Playing for the worst team in the American League and battling injuries season-long, Howard batted .289 for the Senators in 1965 and led the team with 21 home runs and 84 RBIs. After hitting only 18 home runs in 1966, he doubled that total in 1967.

The 1968 season was when Howard lifted his slugging to elite status. While the rest of the American League was hitting for a combined .230 average, Howard batted .274 and led the league with 44 home runs, 330 total bases and a .552 slugging percentage. His 106 RBIs were second best in the league (to Ken Harrelson‘s 109).

For six days in May of 1968, Frank Howard was a home run machine – hitting 10 homers in six games and only 20 at-bats. He finished the 1968 season with 44 home runs and 106 runs batted in.

This was also the season when Howard went on a home run tear in May, blasting ten home runs in six games and doing it in only 20 at-bats. Howard did even better in 1969, batting .296 with 48 home runs and 111 RBIs. Harmon Killebrew led the league in both home runs and RBIs that season, but Howard was the league leader with 340 total bases and was fourth with a .574 slugging percentage. In 1970, he would lead the league in home runs (44) and RBIs (126).

Howard retired in 1973 with 382 home runs and 1,119 RBIs. He posted a career batting average of .273 and a .499 career slugging average. At his peak as a slugger, from 1967 through 1970, Howard averaged 43 home runs and 108 RBIs per season.

 

 

Free Report

Click Here for Instant Download

Cannon Power

 

Homer Happy – Jim Wynn

The early Houston teams (first the Colts, then the Astros) were easy to overlook. They weren’t the worst of the expansion teams (the Mets owned that brand). And for most of the 1960s, they were best known for their domed stadium (baseball’s first).

While the early Colts/Astros featured a handful of outstanding pitchers, their best-known player was an outfielder nicknamed “The Toy Cannon.” Jimmy Wynn was a compact power-hitting center fielder playing in a stadium that was not power friendly.

Hitting in the cavernous Astrodome, Jim Wynn still managed to rank among the National League’s top ten home run hitters five times. He led the Astros in home runs 1965-1970.

Hitting in the cavernous Astrodome, Jim Wynn still managed to rank among the National League’s top ten home run hitters five times. He led the Astros in home runs 1965-1970.

A Cincinnati native, Wynn was signed by the Reds out of Central State University in 1962. He batted .290 with 14 home runs and 81 RBIs in his first season of minor league ball, and then was selected by the Houston Colt .45s in the 1962 first-year draft. He spent the first half of the 1963 season with San Antonio, batting .288 with 16 home runs and 49 RBIs, and then was promoted to Houston, where he batted .244 with four home runs and 27 runs batted in over the rest of the season. He split the 1964 season between the minor leagues and the Colts, batting .224 with five home runs and 18 RBIs against major league pitching.

By 1965, Wynn was ready for full-time major league duty, and he responded by leading the team in hitting (.275), home runs (22), RBIs (73) and stolen bases (43). He was Houston’s leading home run hitter for six straight seasons from 1965 to 1970.

Wynn’s best season was 1967, when he finished second in the league in home runs (37) and fourth in RBIs (107). Both totals would be career highs while he played for Houston. He hit 26 home runs in 1968, 33 in 1969, and 27 in 1970.

Wynn slumped to seven home runs in 1971, but bounced back with 24 home runs and 90 RBIs in 1972. He was traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1973 for pitcher Claude Osteen, and had his last big season in 1974, hitting 32 home runs for the Dodgers with a career-best 108 RBIs.

CHICAGO- 1974: Jimmy Wynn #23 of the Los Angeles Dodgers before a game against the Chicago Cubs in 1974 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Rogers Photo Archive/Getty Images)

Jimmy Wynn was traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1973 and had a big year in Dodger blue in 1974, hitting 32 home runs with a career-best 108 RBIs.

Wynn hung on until 1977 and finished with 291 career home runs. He ranked among the top ten in home runs five times, and twice led the National League in bases on balls.

Wynn remains third all-time in home runs (223) and RBIs (719) among Houston hitters. He was an All-Star three times.

L.A.’s Other Southpaw Ace

 

Glancing Back, and Remembering Claude Osteen

For nearly a decade, Claude Osteen was the best left-handed starting pitcher on the Los Angeles Dodgers’ staff, once a guy named Sandy Koufax had retired. He was a workhorse who averaged 261 innings pitched per season from 1963 to 1973. During that period, he pitched 121 complete games in 400 starts, with 36 shutouts and a combined earned run average of 3.13.

Claude Osteen was signed out of high school by the Cincinnati Reds in 1957. He made three token appearances with the Reds in 1958, and then progressed spectacularly through the Reds’ farm system, winning 19 games in 1956 and eight in 1959 before being called up to Cincinnati. He did more sitting than pitching in 1960, and was returned to the minors in 1961, where he won 16 games before being traded to the Washington Senators.

Traded to the Washington Senators in 1961, Claude Osteen emerged as a solid starting pitcher and the team’s ace.

Traded to the Washington Senators in 1961, Claude Osteen emerged as a solid starting pitcher and the team’s ace.

In Washington, Osteen finally got the chance to pitch regularly. In fact, in 1962, his first season with the Senators, his 150.1 innings pitched were more than he pitched in five previous seasons with the Reds. Osteen was 8-13 with a 3.65 ERA in 1962 for the American League’s worst team.

He quickly established himself as the ace of the Senators’ staff, going 9-14 with a 3.35 ERA in 1963 and 15-13 with a 3.33 ERA in 1964. He pitched 257.0 innings that season with 13 complete games in 36 starts, all for a team that finished the season at 62-100.

Over the winter, Osteen was involved in a blockbuster deal that sent him and infielder John Kennedy to the Los Angeles Dodgers for Frank Howard, Ken McMullen, Phil Ortega, Dick Nen and Pete Richert. In his first season with the Dodgers, Osteen went 15-15 with a 2.79 ERA.  He was 1-1 in his two World Series starts with a 0.64 ERA.

Osteen flourished as the Dodgers’ number three starter behind Koufax and Don Drysdale. He followed up in 1966 with a 17-14 season on a 2.85 ERA. His only World Series appearance in 1966 – and the last of his career – was a three-hit, 1-0 loss to Wally Bunker and the Baltimore Orioles.

In nine seasons with the Los Angeles Dodgers, Claude Osteen won 147 games with a 3.09 ERA. He pitched an average of 266 innings per season with the Dodgers.

When Koufax retired after the 1966 season, Osteen stepped up as the Dodgers’ ace left-hander. He won 17 games in 1967 and then went 12-18 (tied with Ray Sadecki for the league high in losses) on a 3.08 ERA. He bounced back to win 20 games in 1969, pitching 16 complete games and 321.0 innings with a 2.66 ERA. He also threw seven shutouts.

Osteen pitched four more seasons with the Dodgers, winning 66 games. His best season was 1972, when he went 20-11 with a 2.64 ERA and 14 complete games. After a 16-11 campaign in 1973, he was traded to the Houston Astros for outfielder Jim Wynn. He was 9-9 for Houston before being traded near the end of the 1974 season to the St. Louis Cardinals. He signed with the Chicago White Sox at the beginning of the 1975 season, and went 7-16 for Chicago and then retired.

In 18 major league seasons, Osteen compiled a 196-195 record with a 3.30 ERA. He was an All-Star three times.

An Extra Dose of Sweet

 

Glancing Back, and Remembering Lou Johnson

“Sweet Lou” Johnson was the centerpiece of the Los Angeles Dodgers‘ offense in the mid-1960s. In those seasons, the Dodgers were winning pennants, but they were doing it primarily with the best pitching in the major leagues … with arms like those of Sandy Koufax, Don Drysdale, Johnny Podres, Claude Osteen and Ron Perranoski.

The Dodgers of 1965 and 1966 generally didn’t score a lot of runs, but they scored enough to win. Those teams manufactured runs with their legs as well as their bats. And Lou Johnson was an integral part of that “just enough” offense.

Lou Johnson spent 13 season in the minors before finally winning an everyday role with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1965.

Lou Johnson spent 13 season in the minors before finally winning an everyday role with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1965.

Johnson was an all-around star athlete, who excelled particularly on the basketball court. He was signed by the New York Yankees in 1953.

He spent the next 13 years working his way into a full-time major league gig. His first opportunity came in 1962 with the Milwaukee Braves after brief appearances the two previous seasons with the Chicago Cubs and Los Angeles Angels. He appeared in 61 games with the Braves, batting .282.

In May of 1963, Johnson was traded by the Braves to the Detroit Tigers for shortstop Chico Fernandez. It meant another two seasons in the minors, but the turning point in Johnson’s career came just before the start of the 1964 season when Johnson was traded to the Dodgers for pitcher Larry Sherry.

Johnson spent 1964 in the minors and started the 1965 season as a reserve outfielder for the Dodgers. In early May the team’s hitting star and two-time batting champion, Tommy Davis, suffered a season-ending broken ankle. Johnson took over in left field and hit .259 in 131 games, with 24 doubles, 12 home runs, 58 RBIs and 15 stolen bases. In the 1965 World Series against the Minnesota Twins, Johnson hit .296 with two home runs and four RBIs.

Lou Johnson’s best season with the Dodgers came in 1966, when he batted .272 with 17 home runs and 73 RBIs.

Lou Johnson’s best season with the Dodgers came in 1966, when he batted .272 with 17 home runs and 73 RBIs.

He was the Dodgers’ starting left fielder for the duration of the team’s 1966 pennant-winning season. He hit .272 with 17 home runs and 73 RBIs. He followed up in 1967 by hitting .270 with 11 home runs and 41 RBIs.

Johnson would play for only two more major league seasons. Following the 1967 campaign, the Dodgers sent Johnson to the Cubs, who traded him in June of 1968 to the Cleveland Indians for outfielder Willie Smith. Johnson hit .257 in 65 games with the Tribe, and just before Opening Day of 1969 he was traded to the California Angels for outfielder Chuck Hinton. Johnson hit .203 for the Angels, playing in only 61 games that season, and retired at the end of the season at age 34.

Johnson finished his eight-season major league career with a .258 batting average.

 

Top_10_Dodgers_Cover

 

 

Free Report

Click Here for Instant Download

Grand Slam Debut

 

This Week in 1960s Baseball

(June 25, 1968) In the third at-bat of his major league career, San Francisco Giants outfielder Bobby Bonds hit a grand slam off Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher John Purdin.

Bobby Bonds became the first major league player in the Twentieth Century to hit a grand slam home run in his first game.

Bobby Bonds became the first major league player in the Twentieth Century to hit a grand slam home run in his first game.

In the game, the Giants beat the Dodgers 9-0 behind the two-hit pitching of left-hander Ray Sadecki (8-9).

In hitting a bases-loaded home run in his debut game, the 22-year-old Bonds joined Philadelphia Nationals pitcher Bill Duggelby as the only other player to accomplish that feat. Duggelby hit his first-game grand slam in 1898, in his first at-bat.

For his debut game, Bonds went one for three, with the grand slam being his first major league hit. He was hit by a pitch from Dodgers starter Claude Osteen (6-10) in the fifth inning.

Bonds appeared in 81 games during his rookie season, hitting .254 with nine home runs and 35 RBIs. The next year, Bonds was an everyday outfielder for the Giants, hitting .259 with 32 home runs and 90 RBIs. He also led the National League in runs scored in 1969 with 120.

 

top_10_giants_cover

Free Report

Click Here for Instant Download

The Switch Is On

 

This Week in 1960s Baseball

(May 31, 1965) For the first time in major league history, an all-switch-hitting infield started a big league game.

<a rel=

Wes Parker

In the nightcap of a twin bill, the Los Angeles Dodgers lost to the visiting Cincinnati Reds, 6-1. The Dodgers’ starting infield was made up entirely of switch-hitters, with Wes Parker at first base, Jim Lefebvre at second, Maury Wills at shortstop and Jim Gilliam at third.

The Dodgers infield hit for a combined .154 for the game, with two hits in 13 official at-bats. Gilliam doubled in the first inning and Wills singled in the ninth. Parker drove in the Dodgers’ only run with a sacrifice fly off Reds’ starter Joey Jay (3-1) in the ninth inning, scoring catcher Jeff Torborg.

<a rel=

Jim Lefebvre

Jay pitched the complete game, giving up only three hits while striking out eight and walking no Dodgers.

<a rel=

Maury Wills

Hitting stars for the Reds were catcher Jimmie Coker (a two-run double off Claude Osteen in the first inning), third baseman Deron Johnson (a pair of RBIs) and Frank Robinson, who hit a solo home run (his eighth of the season) off Osteen (3-6) in the fourth.

<a rel=

Jim Gilliam

The 1965 season would be Robinson’s last in a Cincinnati uniform, despite finishing the year with a .296 batting average, 33 home runs and 113 RBIs. In 1966, he moved on to the Baltimore Orioles … and to the American League’s Triple Crown.

 

 

Top_10_Dodgers_Cover

 

 

 

Free Report

Click Here for Instant Download

 

Willie Passes Mel

 

This Week in 1960s Baseball

(May 4, 1966) In today’s 6-1 victory over the Los Angeles Dodgers at Candlestick Park, Willie Mays became the all-time National League home run leader.

It was Giant beating Giant, as Willie Mays hit his 512th career home run, making him the all-time National League home run leader. He broke the record of former Giant outfielder <a rel=

The San Francisco Giants center fielder stroked career home run number 512 off Dodger starter Claude Osteen. It was Mays’ seventh home run of the season. He would finish the 1966 season with 37 home runs and 103 RBIs.

As the new National League career home run leader, Mays surpassed another Giant, breaking the mark of 511 home runs held by Hall of Fame outfielder Mel Ott.

Ott played for the New York Giants from 1926 to 1947. He led the National League in home runs six times, and finished with a career batting average of .304.

Mel Ott led the National League in home runs six times during his 22-year major league career, all with the New York Giants.

Mel Ott led the National League in home runs six times during his 22-year major league career, all with the New York Giants.

Ott was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1951, the same year Willie Mays broke into the major leagues. Mays joined Ott in the Hall of Fame in 1979.

 

top_10_giants_cover

Free Report

Click Here for Instant Download

Richert Rocks

 

Lights Out: Pete Richert Sets a Strikeout Record in His Major League Debut

When: April 12, 1962

Where:  Dodger Stadium, Los Angeles, California

Game Time: 3:17

Attendance: 24,570

He made his major league debut in a game that was on the verge of getting away from the Los Angeles Dodgers.  With two outs in the bottom of the second inning, the Cincinnati Reds had already scored four runs in the inning, with Cincinnati shortstop Eddie Kasko standing at second.

Pete Richert began his major league career by striking out the first 6 batters he faced.

Pete Richert began his major league career by striking out the first 6 batters he faced.

The next batter was Vada Pinson, the Cincinnati Reds center fielder who would bat .292 with 100 RBIs on the season after hitting .343 in 1961.

The inning ended with Pinson striking out swinging.

It was the first strikeout of Pete Richert’s major league career … on the first batter that the Los Angeles Dodgers left-hander faced in his major league debut.

But Richert wasn’t done.

In the third inning, Richert struck out the Reds … all four of them. (First baseman Gordy Coleman reached first on a passed ball after striking out.) In the top of the fourth, Richert struck out the first hitter – outfielder Tommy Harper – for his sixth consecutive strikeout … in what was, thus far, a 6-batter major league career.

No one before Pete Richert had opened his pitching career by striking out the first six major league batters he faced. And no one else has done it since.

On that day, Richert pitched a total of 3.1 hitless, scoreless innings, striking out seven Reds batters. His brilliant debut did not go to waste. The Dodgers scored seven runs in the bottom of the sixth, taking a 7-4 lead in a game Los Angeles would eventually win by a score of 11-7.

Richert’s rookie season in Los Angeles resulted in a 5-4 record with a 3.87 ERA. He struck out 75 batters in 81.1 innings. Richert would win only seven more games for the Dodgers over the next two seasons. Following the 1964 season, he was traded with Frank Howard, Ken McMullen and Phil Ortega to the Washington Senators for John Kennedy, Claude Osteen and $100,000. (First baseman Dick Nen was sent to the Senators as the player named later.) With Washington, Richert became the team’s ace starter, going 15-12 (with a 2.60 ERA) in 1965.

Early in the 1967 campaign, Richert was traded to the Baltimore Orioles for Frank Bertaina and Mike Epstein. During his five-year stay in Baltimore, Richert became one of the American League’s best left-handed relievers. He also pitched for the Dodgers (again), as well as for the St. Louis Cardinals and Philadelphia Phillies before retiring after the 1974 season.

Top_10_Dodgers_Cover

 

Free Report

Click Here for Instant Download

 

D.C. Gets A New Monument

 

Swap Shop – Frank Howard for Claude Osteen

Only a desperate team would trade the ace of its pitching staff.

That’s what the Washington Senators were when they dealt left-hander Claude Osteen to the Los Angeles Dodgers in December of 1964.

Frank Howard

Frank Howard

What the Senators got, as part of the seven-player swap, was an outfielder who would emerge as one of the most dangerous sluggers of the late 1960s, the towering Frank Howard.

The Senators had been the perennial American League doormats since their introduction as a new franchise in 1961. Osteen, acquired from the Cincinnati Reds in 1961, accounted for nearly one-fourth of the team’s victories in 1964, going 15-13 for a team that won only 62 games.

Howard had averaged 28 home runs and 84 RBIs for the Dodgers in the three previous seasons. But Los Angeles was looking to get back to the World Series with a team built on speed, defense and pitching. Howard was expendable, and Osteen fit the bill.

It turned out to be a trade with long-term benefits for both teams. Osteen would win 147 games over the next nine seasons with the Dodgers. He would twice win 20 games, and twice lead the National League in innings pitched.

Claude Osteen

Claude Osteen

And the six-foot-seven-inch Howard, whom Ted Williams called the strongest hitter in baseball, blossomed into one of the American League’s most prolific home run hitters. From 1967-1970, he averaged 43 home runs and 108 RBIs per season.

He was just what Washington needed – another monument to power.