The Glove Club: Bill Virdon
Glancing Back, and Remembering Hal Smith
When Pittsburgh Pirates second baseman Bill Mazeroski blasted the first walk-off home run in World Series history in 1960, his lead-off solo home run in the bottom of the ninth was possible because of what happened in the eighth inning … thanks to a reserve catcher named Hal Smith. Continue reading
This Week in 1960s Baseball
(October 30, 1963) Sandy Koufax, who unanimously won the Cy Young Award six days earlier, today also was named the National League’s Most Valuable Player. The Dodger legend out pointed Pittsburgh Pirates’ shortstop Dick Groat, 237-190, who had been the National League MVP in 1960. Continue reading
Glancing Back, and Remembering Hank Aaron
Hank Aaron had so many ways to beat National League pitchers that his prowess as a home run hitter was nearly overlooked until he passed Babe Ruth in career home runs in 1973.
But he was the second most productive home run hitter in the 1960s, and of course, he was the most productive home run hitter in the Twentieth Century. Continue reading
Dick Groat was a fine all-around shortstop – one of the best in the majors at the beginning of the 1960s. Signed by the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1952, he had been the Bucs’ everyday shortstop since 1955. He had a career season in 1960, hitting .325 to win the National League batting title and being named National League Most Valuable Player.
Groat’s batting average fell 50 points to .275 in 1961, but he rebounded in 1962, batting .294. After nine seasons with the Pirates, the 31-year-old Groat fully expected to finish his playing career in Pittsburgh.
It was not to be. Continue reading
Glancing Back, and Remembering Johnny Logan
For a decade, Johnny Logan provided All-Star caliber shortstop play for the Milwaukee Braves. He teamed with another infield All-Star, second baseman Red Schoendienst, at the end of the 1950s, when the Braves took back-to-back National League pennants. Continue reading
This Week in 1960s Baseball
(July 7, 1964) The National League today won the All-Star game 7-4 on a walk-off home run by Phillies right fielder Johnny Callison.
Callison, who entered the game in the fifth inning as a pinch hitter for pitcher Jim Bunning, flied out in his two previous at-bats. His ninth-inning home run off Boston Red Sox reliever Dick Radatz was his only hit of the day.
The American League opened the scoring in the first inning on Harmon Killebrew’s RBI single off NL starter Don Drysdale. The NL took the lead in the fourth inning on solo home runs from Billy Williams and Ken Boyer. The Nationals added another run in the fifth inning when Dick Groat doubled off Camilo Pascual, bringing home Roberto Clemente.
The American League tied the game when Brooks Robinson tripled home two runs in the sixth inning, then took the lead on Jim Fregosi’s sacrifice fly in the seventh inning. The AL led 4-3 going into the bottom of the ninth, with Radatz on the pitching mound.
Willie Mays walked to open the ninth inning, stole second base, and then scored on Orlando Cepeda’s single, tying the game. With runners at first and second base, Radatz struck out Hank Aaron for the inning’s second out. But Callison ended the All-Star thriller with one stroke.
It would be Callison’s last All-Star appearance.
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.
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.
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.
The Glove Club: Bill White
For a dozen seasons, Bill White matched All-Star talent with relentless consistency as a first baseman for the San Francisco Giants, St. Louis Cardinals and Philadelphia Phillies. He was a heads-up player who was a solid runs producer and Gold Glove defender at first.
White was signed by the New York Giants in 1953. His rookie season came in 1956, when he hit .256 with 22 home runs and 59 RBIs for the Giants. Military service put his baseball career on hold in 1957 and 1958, and just before the 1959 season he was traded with Ray Jablonski to the St. Louis Cardinals for Don Choate and Sam Jones.
It was in St. Louis where White blossomed into one of the league’s most accomplished first basemen. He hit .302 in his first season in St. Louis, with 12 home runs and 72 RBIs. He hit .324 in 1962, with 20 homers and 102 RBIs. In 1963, he drove in a career-best 109 RBIs on 27 home runs and a .304 batting average. In eight seasons in St. Louis, White hit .300 or better four times. He averaged 20 home runs and 90 RBIs per season as a Cardinal.
Following the 1965 season, White was traded with Dick Groat and Bob Uecker to the Philadelphia Phillies for Pat Corrales, Alex Johnson and Art Mahaffey. He had a strong season for the Phillies in 1966, with 23 home runs and 103 RBIs while collecting his seventh consecutive Gold Glove award. However his batting average slipped to .276, the lowest since his rookie season but the highest it would be for the rest of his career. His numbers declined dramatically over the next two years, and the Phillies shipped him back to St. Louis, where White played one more season before retiring in 1969.
Following his playing career, White was a sportscaster calling New York Yankees games on both radio and television. From 1989 to 1994, he served as President of the National League.
In 13 big league seasons, White hit for a career average of .286 with 202 home runs and 870 RBIs. And no other National League first baseman could match his glove work. While he doesn’t have Hall of Fame numbers for his career, White nonetheless may be the best first baseman not in the Hall of Fame.