Beeg Mon, Beeg Bat

 

Glancing Back, and Remembering Rico Carty

Rico Carty was born to hit. He had a powerful upper body that suggested home run power, but his slashing compact swing was better suited to blistering line drives that produced plenty of runs – and one National League batting title – during his 15-year major league career.

Rico Carty had an outstanding rookie with the Milwaukee Braves in 1964, batting .330 with 22 home runs and 88 RBIs.

Rico Carty had an outstanding rookie with the Milwaukee Braves in 1964, batting .330 with 22 home runs and 88 RBIs.

Carty was signed by the Milwaukee Braves in 1959 as a catcher, but his limitations defensively caused him to be converted to being an outfielder, his bat being so potent that he had to be in the lineup. Carty spent four years in the Braves’ minor league system, and he made a smashing rookie debut in 1964, hitting .330 (second in the National League to Roberto Clemente) with 22 home runs and 88 RBIs. He was runner-up to Dick Allen for Rookie of the Year honors that season.

Carty hit .310 for the Braves in 1965 and followed with a .326 batting average in 1966. A shoulder injury limited his hitting to .255 in 1967, and he sat out the entire 1968 season battling tuberculosis. He came back strong in 1969 with a .342 batting average, and he followed up with his best season in 1970: leading the National League with a .366 average while blasting 25 home runs with 101 RBIs.

During the winter season in 1970, Carty severely injured his knee while playing in the Dominican League and missed the entire 1971 season. He came back in 1972 hitting .277, which would be his best performance at the plate over the next five seasons, making stops with the Chicago Cubs, the Texas Rangers and the Oakland Athletics during that period.

Rico Carty led the National League in hitting in 1970 with a .366 average.

Rico Carty led the National League in hitting in 1970 with a .366 average.

His career rebounded as he became a designated hitter with the Cleveland Indians, hitting .308 with 64 RBIs in 1975 and .310 with 83 RBIs in 1976. He split the 1978 season with Toronto and Oakland, hitting a combined .282 with 99 RBIs and a career-high 31 home runs. Carty retired after hitting .256 for Toronto in 1979.

Carty collected 1,677 hits with a career batting average of .299. He was an All-Star only once, in 1970, when he was voted into the starting outfield (along with Willie Mays and Hank Aaron) despite not even being listed on the All-Star ballot.

Making Papa’s Day Perfect

 

Lights Out: Phillies’ Jim Bunning Achieves Pitching Perfection

When: June 21, 1964

Where:  Shea Stadium, New York, New York

Game Time: 2:19

Attendance: 32,026

Jim Bunning was a pitcher with two careers. Both were of Hall of Fame caliber.

In his first season with the Phillies, Jim Bunning went 19-8 with a 2.62 ERA – and one perfect game.

In his first season with the Phillies, Jim Bunning went 19-8 with a 2.62 ERA – and one perfect game.

For the first nine of his 17 big league seasons, Bunning was one of the best right-handed pitchers in the American League, winning 118 games for mostly mediocre Detroit Tigers teams, leading the league in victories once (20-8 in 1957) and in strikeouts twice (201 in 1959 and 1960 each).

When Bunning was traded to the Philadelphia Phillies before the 1964 season, he started the year – and his second baseball career – with a vengeance. He immediately established himself as the ace of a Phillies staff that was in its first pennant race in more than a decade. In fact the Phillies were in first place by two games going into a Father’s Day matinee against the New York Mets.

For all practical purposes, the game was decided in the top of the first inning. John Briggs led off the game by working Mets starter Tracy Stallard for a walk. John Herrnstein bunted Briggs to second, and then Stallard struck out Johnny Callison for the second out. The next batter, third baseman Dick Allen, smashed the ball to left field to drive in Briggs.

It would turn out to be all the runs Jim Bunning would need on this Father’s Day.

Jim Bunning was the first player to pitch a no-hitter in each league. And he was the first pitcher to win more than 100 games in each league.

Jim Bunning was the first player to pitch a no-hitter in each league. And he was the first pitcher to win more than 100 games in each league.

Bunning struck out Mets lead-off hitter Jim Hickman, then induced Ron Hunt to ground out to Tony Taylor at second base and Ed Kranepool  to pop up to Phillies shortstop Cookie Rojas. A three-up, three-down inning for Bunning. He would have eight more before the afternoon was over.

The Phillies scored another run in the second and four more runs in the sixth, including a solo home run by Callison and a two-run single by Bunning, who allowed no Mets base runners in retiring all 27 batters he faced. He ended the game with 10 strikeouts, including two each in the seventh, eighth and ninth innings.

Bunning’s 1964 season would turn out to be the best of his career. In 39 starts, he went 19-8 with a 2.63 ERA in 284.1 innings pitched. He completed 13 of his starts, and five were shutouts. He made two relief appearances, and earned saves in both of them.

And he was the first National League pitcher to throw a perfect game in the Twentieth Century.

Want Power? You Gotta Have Hart.

 

Homer Happy: Jim Ray Hart

Jim Ray Hart came up as one of the most promising prospects in the San Francisco Giants’ organization – which is saying a lot for an organization that produced Willie Mays, Orlando Cepeda, Willie McCovey, Felipe Alou, Matty Alou … all on the Giants’ roster when Jim Ray Hart arrived.

From 1965-1967, Jim Ray Hart batted a combined .291 and averaged 28 home runs and 96 RBIs per season.

From 1965-1967, Jim Ray Hart batted a combined .291 and averaged 28 home runs and 96 RBIs per season.

And while he never quite lived up to the legendary standards of his Hall of Fame teammates, Hart did provide offensive firepower to an already potent lineup, and became a favorite among Bay-area fans.

Hart was signed by the Giants in 1960 and made his first appearance at Candlestick Park in 1963. In 1964 he was awarded the starting job at third base, replacing Jim Davenport, and proceeded to tear up National League pitching by hitting .286 with 31 home runs and 81 RBIs. He finished tied for second in the Rookie of the Year vote with Rico Carty as Dick Allen of the Philadelphia Phillies claimed that season’s top rookie prize.

Hart continued his slugging ways for the Giants over the next three seasons. In 1965 he hit .299 with 23 home runs and 96 RBIs. He hit .285 in 1966 with 33 home runs and 93 RBIs. In 1967 Hart batted .289 with 29 home runs and 99 RBIs.

Then injuries started eating away at Hart’s productivity at the plate. He hit only 23 home runs with 78 RBIs in 1968, but he would never approach those power totals again. Though he would play four more years, Hart’s best season over the rest of his career would come in 1973 with the New York Yankees, when he would hit .254 with 13 home runs and 54 RBIs. He retired 10 games into the 1974 season.

Hart finished his 12-year career with a .278 batting average and 170 home runs. He ranks thirty-eighth among home run hitters during the 1960s.

Hart was a member of the 1966 National League All-Star team.

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A Smashing Success in Philadelphia

 

Homer Happy: Dick Allen

Dick Allen burst upon the major leagues in 1964 as the National League’s best rookie … and as one of the best sluggers in baseball. He would maintain his status as a premier slugger for a decade.

In his six full seasons with the Phillies, Dick Allen batted .300 with a .505 slugging percentage.

In his six full seasons with the Phillies, Dick Allen batted .300 with a .505 slugging percentage.

Allen was signed by the Philadelphia Phillies in 1960. In four seasons, he hit with power at every rung in the minor league ladder, culminating with 33 home runs and 97 RBIs at Arkansas in the International League in 1963.

To say Allen was ready for major league pitching in 1964 was an understatement. As a rookie, he rocked the National League, batting .318 on 201 hits and leading the league with 125 runs scored and 13 triples. He also led the league with 138 strikeouts, but his power numbers made his tendency to strike out forgivable. He racked up 38 doubles, 29 home runs and 91 RBIs … all as a rookie. He was a near-unanimous choice as the National League Rookie of the Year.

The “sophomore jinx?” It nipped at Allen in 1965, but didn’t infect him all that much. He managed to hit .302 with 20 home runs and 85 RBIs while scoring 93 runs.

He rebounded in 1966, batting .317 (fourth in the National League), with 40 home runs (second to Hank Aaron’s 44), and 110 RBIs (third in the league). Allen scored 112 runs and his .632 slugging percentage led the National League.

Dick Allen had an outstanding rookie season in 1964. He led the National League in runs scored (125), triples (13) and total bases (352). His 201 hits were third highest in the league. He won Rookie of the Year and finished seventh in the MVP voting.

Dick Allen had an outstanding rookie season in 1964. He led the National League in runs scored (125), triples (13) and total bases (352). His 201 hits were third highest in the league. He won Rookie of the Year and finished seventh in the MVP voting.

He never put up those kinds of offensive numbers again, but he remained a major slugging threat for the rest of the 1960s and into the next decade. From 1967-1969, Allen batted .285 with a .551 slugging percentage, averaging 29 home runs and 85 RBIs per season.

Just after the close of the 1969 season, the Phillies sent Allen to the St. Louis Cardinals in a seven-player deal that was supposed to include the Cardinals’ All-Star outfielder Curt Flood. Flood’s refusal to comply with the trade set in motion the legal events that led to players’ free agency in the 1970s. Allen hit 34 home runs with 101 RBIs in his only season with the Cardinals.

Allen played for the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1971 (23 home runs, 90 RBIs) and then spent three seasons with the Chicago White Sox. He led the American League twice in home runs while playing for Chicago, and he won the American League Most Valuable Player award in 1972 when he batted .308 with 37 home runs, 113 runs batted in, and a .603 slugging percentage.

In 1975, Allen returned to the Phillies, but was only a shadow of the slugging monster who broke in with Philadelphia a decade earlier. He hit 12 home runs in 1975 and 15 in 1976, then finished his career in 1977 as a part-time player with the Oakland Athletics.

In 15 major league seasons, Allen batted .292 with 1,848 hits. He hit 351 home runs and drove in 1,119 runs. He was an All-Star seven times.

 

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Dick Allen is one of the sluggers featured in Legends of Swing: The Home Run Hitters of the 1960s.

Available now in softcover and Kindle editions from Amazon.

Walk to Match the Talk

 

Glancing Back, and Remembering Tim McCarver

A generation of baseball fans familiar with Tim McCarver as a veteran baseball broadcaster might be surprised to learn how good he really was as a catcher for more than two decades.

In 1967, Tim McCarver batted .295 with 14 home runs and 69 runs batted in.

In 1967, Tim McCarver batted .295 with 14 home runs and 69 runs batted in.

McCarver was signed by the St. Louis Cardinals out of high school in 1959 and spent the next four seasons shuttling between St. Louis and various stops throughout the Cardinals’ farm system. In 1963, his first full season with the Cardinals, McCarver hit .289 and established himself as the preferred catcher for Bob Gibson.

He remained the Cardinals’ starting catcher through 1969. He led the National League in triples with 13 in 1966, the first catcher ever to do so. His most productive year as a hitter was 1967, when he hit .295 with 26 doubles, 14 home runs and 69 RBIs. He was an All-Star (for the second time) that season, and finished second in the Most Valuable Player balloting to teammate Orlando Cepeda.

McCarver started the 1970s with a new team, having been traded with Byron Browne, Curt Flood and Joe Hoerner to the Philadelphia Phillies for Dick Allen, Jerry Johnson and Cookie Rojas. (Flood refused to report to his new team. St. Louis later sent Willie Montanez and Jim Browning to the Phillies to complete the trade.) McCarver played for two years in Philadelphia, and then was traded to the Montreal Expos for John Bateman.

His 13 triples in 1966 made Tim McCarver the only catcher ever to lead the league in triples.

His 13 triples in 1966 made Tim McCarver the only catcher ever to lead the league in triples.

Over the next two seasons, McCarver became the game’s vagabond catcher, playing for Montreal, St. Louis again, and the Boston Red Sox before being re-acquired by the Phillies in 1975. For the next four seasons, he served primarily as the personal catcher for Steve Carlton. He was released by the Phillies after the 1979 season, but was re-signed and appeared in six games during the 1980 season, making McCarver the twenty-ninth player in major league history to appear in four different decades.

In 21 major league seasons, McCarver had 1,501 hits and a .271 career batting average.

 

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Rattlin’ the Ivy Off Wrigley

 

Homer Happy: Ron Santo

Ron Santo was money in the bank for the Chicago Cubs. For eight consecutive seasons – from 1963 through 1970 – Santo hit no fewer than 25 home runs and drove in no fewer than 94 runs.

No third baseman hit more home runs during the 1960s than Ron Santo. And Santo’s durability and defensive performance were second to none in the National League.

No third baseman hit more home runs during the 1960s than Ron Santo. And Santo’s durability and defensive performance were second to none in the National League.

And by the way, during that same eight-year period, Santo averaged 160 games per season … and collected five Gold Gloves.

The best all-around third baseman of the 1960s? Ron Santo probably was. He maybe wasn’t the fielder that Brooks Robinson was over in the American League (though he came closer than anyone else). But Robinson couldn’t match Santo’s offensive productivity. And no other third baseman in baseball hit as many home runs during the 1960s.

Santo was signed by the Cubs in 1959 and found his way into the Cubs’ lineup a year later, batting .251 as a 20-year-old rookie. He hit nine home runs in his rookie season, 23 in 1961, and 17 in 1962. Then, in 1963, Santo hit 25 homers – and wouldn’t hit any fewer than that total until 1971.

By 1964, Santo had established himself as the National League’s premier third baseman. He batted .313 that season and led the league with 13 triples, 86 walks and a .398 on-base percentage. He also hit 33 doubles and 30 home runs with 114 runs batted in.

Through the rest of the 1960s, only Dick Allen of the Philadelphia Phillies could challenge Santo as a slugging third baseman. But he couldn’t carry Santo’s glove.

That the Chicago Cubs fell short in the 1969 pennant race had nothing to do with Ron Santo’s hitting that season. Santo batted .289 that year with 29 home runs and a career-best 123 RBIs, second most in the National League.

That the Chicago Cubs fell short in the 1969 pennant race had nothing to do with Ron Santo’s hitting that season. Santo batted .289 that year with 29 home runs and a career-best 123 RBIs, second most in the National League.

Santo banged out 30 or more home runs each season from 1964-1967. He had 98 or more RBIs in seven seasons, and topped 170 hits four times. For a power hitter, Santo was unusually disciplined with his strike zone. He led the National League in bases on balls four times, and accumulated 70 or more walk in nine seasons.

Santo closed out the 1960s with one of his best seasons. He batted .289 that year with 29 home runs and a career-best 123 RBIs, second most in the National League. His productivity as a power hitter declined over the next three seasons as he averaged 19 home runs and 80 RBIs from 1971-1973. He spent the 1974 season – his fifteenth and last in the major leagues – on the South Side of Chicago with the White Sox. As a part-time infielder, Santo batted .221 with five home runs and 41 RBIs.

Santo retired with a career batting average of .277 with 342 home runs and 1,331 runs batted in. He was a member of the National League All-Star team nine times during his career.

He was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2012.

 

Eye of the Storm

 

Glancing Back, and Remembering Curt Flood

With the exception of Babe Ruth, no individual player has had more of an impact on the way major league baseball is played than Curt Flood. Just as the Babe’s potent bat transformed baseball offensive strategy in the 1920s, Flood’s fight for independence from club owners and against the Reserve Clause that bonded a player irrevocably to a team was the gateway to player free agency in the 1970s. It is the greatest single difference between baseball today and baseball as it was played in the 1960s and earlier, and Flood’s off-the-field battle with baseball was the beginning of that change.

As the center fielder for the St. Louis Cardinals, Curt Flood won 7 Gold Gloves.

As the center fielder for the St. Louis Cardinals, Curt Flood won 7 Gold Gloves.

In addition, Flood was a dynamic hitter and fielder for the St. Louis Cardinals during the 1960s, playing a pivotal role for a team that won three National League pennants and two World Series during that decade.

Flood was signed by the Cincinnati Redlegs in 1956 and made his major league debut at the end of that season, striking out in his only plate appearance. In December of 1957 he was traded to the Cardinals as part of a five-player deal, and immediately became an everyday outfielder for the Cards. His breakout season was 1961, when he hit .322. He batted.311 for the Cardinals’ 1964 pennant-winning team, leading the National League with 211 hits. From 1961 through 1968, Flood hit a combined .304, with a career-high .335 in 1967.

Flood’s speed was well utilized in the Cardinals’ outfield, where he won seven consecutive Gold Gloves. From 1965 through 1967, he set a National League record for consecutive errorless games (226) and a major league record for consecutive errorless chances in the outfield (568).

Following the 1969 season, the Cardinals sent Flood with Byron Browne, Joe Hoerner and Tim McCarver to the Philadelphia Phillies for Dick Allen, Jerry Johnson and Cookie Rojas. Flood refused to report, and sued major league baseball to overturn the reserve clause and have the freedom to choose the team he would play for. The suit eventually went to the U.S. Supreme Court, which decided in major league baseball’s favor. However, Pandora’s box had been opened as Flood had given major league players (and their labor union) a glimpse at what was possible. The reserve clause eventually was struck down in 1975, four years after Flood retired.

Flood never played for the Phillies. He was traded to the Washington Senators in 1970, and played in 13 games for the Senators in 1971 before retiring with 1,861 career hits and a .293 lifetime batting average.