Short Among the Braves

 

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.

Johnny Logan was the Braves’ shortstop for a decade starting in 1952. A three-time All-Star, Logan was traded to the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1961.

Logan was signed by the Boston Braves in 1947. He made his debut in Boston in 1951, batting .219 in 62 games.

By 1952, Logan was the Braves’ starting shortstop, batting .283. In 10 seasons with the Braves (both the Boston and Milwaukee versions), Logan hit a combined .270. His best season offensively came in 1955, when he batted .297 with 13 home runs and 83 RBIs. He also led the National League with 37 doubles in 1955.

Logan was chosen for the National League All-Star team in 1955. He made the NL All-Star team each season from 1957 through 1959.

After a decade-long tour with the Braves, Logan was traded in 1961 to the Pittsburgh Pirates for outfielder Gino Cimoli. In Pittsburgh, Logan was relegated to a backup role, first behind Dick Groat and then Dick Schofield. In three seasons with the Pirates, Logan batted a combined .249. He retired after the 1963 season.

Logan had a career batting average of .268 over 13 major league seasons.

 

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Johnny, Take Us Home!

 

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.

Johnny Callison’s three-run homer off Dick Radatz was the game winner for the National League All-Stars.

Johnny Callison’s three-run homer off Dick Radatz was the game winner for the National League All-Stars.

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.

Juan Marichal pitched a scoreless ninth inning to pick up the victory. Marichal was also the winning pitcher in the first 1962 All-Star Game, and had a career ERA of 0.50 in eight All-Star apearances.

Juan Marichal pitched a scoreless ninth inning to pick up the victory. Marichal was also the winning pitcher in the first 1962 All-Star Game, and had a career ERA of 0.50 in eight All-Star appearances.

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.

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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Holding Down First

 

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.

In eight seasons with the St. Louis Cardinals, Bill White averaged 20 home runs and 90 RBIs per season. He was an All-Star five times.

In eight seasons with the St. Louis Cardinals, Bill White averaged 20 home runs and 90 RBIs per season. He was an All-Star five times.

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.

Bill White won seven consecutive Gold Gloves from 1960 to 1966.

Bill White won seven consecutive Gold Gloves from 1960 to 1966.

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.

 

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Half of Cardinals’ Infield Disappears

 

This Week in 1960s Baseball …

(October 27, 1965) The St. Louis Cardinals today traded two of their mainstays, sending first baseman Bill White and shortstop Dick Groat to the Philadelphia Phillies for outfielder Alex Johnson, pitcher Art Mahaffey and catcher Pat Corrales. St. Louis also threw in catcher Bob Uecker.

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(Left to right) Dick Groat, Bill White and Bob Uecker went to the Philadelphia Phillies in a 1965 trade that broke up the St. Louis Cardinals’ All-Star infield.

Only a year earlier, this was the Cardinals infield that led the team to its first World Series championship since 1946.

The Cardinals traded for White prior to the 1959 season. He hit a combined .299 during his seven seasons in St. Louis, averaging 20 home runs and 90 RBIs per season. As a member of the Cardinals, White was named to the All-Star team five times and won six Gold Gloves. (He would claim his seventh Gold Glove in his first season with the Phillies.)

Groat was acquired by the Cardinals prior to the 1963 season in a trade with the Pittsburgh Pirates for Don Cardwell and Julio Gotay. The National League batting champion and Most Valuable Player in 1960, Groat brought a solid glove and bat to the Cardinals, hitting a combined .289 during his three years with the Cardinals and leading the National League in doubles with 43 in 1963.

(Left to right) Pitcher Art Mahaffey, outfielder Alex Johnson and catcher Pat Corrales went to St. Louis in the deal that brought Dick Groat and Bill White to Philadelphia.

The trade not only eliminated half of the Cardinals’ starting infield, but also broke up what had been the starting infield for the National League in the 1963 All-Star game. The NL’s All-Star starters that season included third baseman Ken Boyer and second baseman Julian Javier as well as Groat and White.

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Boyer’s Slam Downs Downing

 

This Week in 1960s Baseball

(October 11, 1964) In Game Four of the World Series, Ken Boyer‘s sixth inning grand slam off Yankee starter Al Downing gave the St. Louis Cardinals a 4-3 victory over the New York Yankees. The St. Louis third baseman is the second National Leaguer to hit a post-season bases-loaded round-tripper.

The Cardinals’ victory tied the Series at two games apiece.

Ken Boyer’s grand slam home run off Al Downing was the game winner as the St. Louis Cardinals took Game Four of the 1964 World Series 4-3.

Ken Boyer’s grand slam home run off Al Downing was the game winner as the St. Louis Cardinals took Game Four of the 1964 World Series 4-3.

Boyer, who would be named the National League MVP for the 1964 season, got only one hit in the game, but it was the one that counted. Downing, the Yankee left-hander who went 13-8 during the regular season and led the American League with 217 strikeouts, had shut out the Cardinals over the first five innings, allowing only one hit.

The Cardinals loaded the bases on back-to-back singles by Carl Warwick and Curt Flood, and an error by second baseman Bobby Richardson that allowed Cardinals shortstop Dick Groat to reach base safely. Boyer, the National League RBI champion for 1964, promptly launched a Downing fastball deep into the left field seats, putting the Cardinals ahead for good.

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Boyer wasn’t the only hero for the Cardinals that day. Cardinals starter Ray Sadecki lasted only a third of an inning, allowing four consecutive hits and two runs before being replaced by Roger Craig. Craig was the Cardinals’ pitching star that day, allowing a third run on an Elston Howard single (run charged to Sadecki) before shutting down the Yankees’ bats, pitching 4.2 scoreless innings and striking out eight batters.

Craig was the pitcher of record when Boyer hit the game-winning home run. Ron Taylor shut out the Yankees over the final four innings for the save.

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Silent Anchor in a Sea of Stars

 

Glancing Back, and Remembering Julian Javier

From 1964 through 1968, no National League team was more dominant than the St. Louis Cardinals. No team had more stars at more positions.

Julian Javier spent 12 seasons as the St. Louis Cardinals’ second baseman, batting .258 and scoring an average of 60 runs per season.

Julian Javier spent 12 seasons as the St. Louis Cardinals’ second baseman, batting .258 and scoring an average of 60 runs per season.

In the midst of all those stars was a steady second baseman – a singles hitter who was a first-rate bunter and heads-up baserunner – who held the infield together defensively and provided several clutch hits that were critical to the Cardinals’ success.

That second baseman was Julian Javier, who in 1964 combined with third baseman Ken Boyer, shortstop Dick Groat and first baseman Bill White to field an all-Cardinals starting infield for the All-Star game. It was the first of two All-Star appearances for Javier.

Javier was originally signed by the Pittsburgh Pirates and spent four years in the Pirates’ minor league system until he was traded in 1959 with pitcher Ed Bauta and infielder Dick Gray for pitcher Vinegar Bend Mizell. Javier stepped right into the Cardinals’ everyday lineup, hitting .237 as a rookie in 1960 and improving his batting average to .279 the next season.

His offensive productivity increased steadily. In 1964, though his batting average slipped to .241, he hit 19 home runs with a career-best 65 runs batted in. In 1967 he had his best all-around season offensively, hitting .281 with 14 home runs and 64 RBIs. His performance that season earned him votes in the Most Valuable Player race, finishing ninth in the balloting.

Julian Javier’s three-run homer in the seventh game of the 1967 World Series sealed the Series for the Cardinals.

Julian Javier’s three-run homer in the seventh game of the 1967 World Series sealed the Series for the Cardinals.

Due to his bat control, Javier was an excellent hit-and-run man. And though he never won a Gold Glove, he was considered one of the better defensive second basemen in the league.

After 12 seasons in St. Louis, Javier was traded to the Cincinnati Reds for pitcher Tony Cloninger in 1972. He retired after the 1972 season, his only season in Cincinnati, with 1,469 hits and a career batting average of .257. In 19 World Series appearances, he hit a combined .333. His three-run homer in the seventh game of the 1967 World Series sealed the victory for pitcher Bob Gibson and the Series for the Cardinals.

 

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Grace and Guts at Short

 

The Glove Club: Ron Hansen

Ron Hansen was hardly the prototype for the 1960s shortstop. The shortstops of that era tended to be physically compact and quick, with sure hands and a bat loaded mostly with singles. That was the prescription for the shortstops of that era, led notably by the likes of Luis Aparicio, Tony Kubek, Dick Groat and Roy McMillan. (The glaring exception, of course, was Ernie Banks, the game’s best slugging shortstop since Honus Wagner.)

Ron Hansen was the American League Rookie of the Year in 1960, when he hit 22 home runs with 86 RBIs for the Baltimore Orioles.

Ron Hansen was the American League Rookie of the Year in 1960, when he hit 22 home runs with 86 RBIs for the Baltimore Orioles.

Hansen stood out from that group, both physically and as a hitter. He was huge by shortstop standards, standing six-foot, three inches and weighing nearly 200 pounds. And he could hit with power. He hit 22 home runs with 86 RBIs in 1960, when he was an All-Star and the American League Rookie of the Year. Both marks proved to be career bests for Hansen, who was plagued by back problems throughout his baseball career. From 1963 through 1965 – the only consecutive full seasons he could manage in a 15-year major league career – he averaged 13 home runs and 66 runs batted in.

But any hitting was a bonus. Hansen’s strength was his defense. And it was formidable.

He was graceful, almost fluid, as a shortstop, and quicker than he appeared. He had great range and a great arm. He made any infield a better defensive unit, and made pitchers better with his presence in the field.

As a rookie with the Baltimore Orioles in 1960, Hansen led American League shortstops in putouts. He led the league again in putouts in 1964 as a member of the Chicago White Sox. He led American League shortstops twice in double plays and four times in assists. Inexplicably, he never received a Gold Glove for his consistently outstanding fielding.

Playing for the Washington Senators in 1968, Ron Hansen completed the first unassisted triple play in the American League in 41 years.

Playing for the Washington Senators in 1968, Ron Hansen completed the first unassisted triple play in the American League in 41 years.

In 1965, Hansen set a record for handling 28 chances at shortstop in a double header. Playing for the Washington Senators in 1968, he completed the first unassisted triple play in the American League in 41 years.

When he first saw Hansen play as a rookie, New York Yankees manager Casey Stengel remarked to the press, “That kid looks like he was born at shortstop.”

Maybe he was.

No Shortage of Leadership

 

Career Year: Dick Groat – 1960

Dick Groat played like a born leader. A leader in scoring as a college basketball player. A team leader for pennant-winners in Pittsburgh and St. Louis. A league leader in hitting and all-around value.

An All-American basketball player in the early 1950s, for a while Groat held the NCAA individual record for points scored in one season with 851. He broke in with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1952, hitting .284 in 95 games.

Dick Groat led all National League hitters in 1960 with a .325 batting average.

Dick Groat led all National League hitters in 1960 with a .325 batting average.

After completing two years of army service, Groat rejoined the Pirates in 1954 as their starting shortstop, hitting .267 in his first full season. His hitting improved over the next three years, and his batting average topped .300 in both 1957 and 1958.

The Pirates team that won the National League pennant in 1960 featured several star performances, but Groat was clearly the Bucs’ day-to-day leader. As the National League batting champion with a .325 average, Groat also led the league in singles (154), finished third in hits (186), and was sixth in on-base percentage (.371). He was voted league MVP for 1960.

Following the 1962 season, Groat was traded to the St. Louis Cardinals. He played well in 1963, hitting .319 with 201 hits (his career best and second in the league to Vada Pinson’s 204), 43 doubles (tops in the majors), 11 triples (third in the league) and a career-high 73 RBIs. He finished second to Sandy Koufax for the Most Valuable Player award.

Groat’s numbers dropped only slightly in 1964, as he was an integral part of the Cardinals’ pennant run. He hit .292 with 186 hits, 35 doubles and 70 RBIs.

Before he retired in 1967, Groat also made stops in Philadelphia and San Francisco. An eight-time All-Star, Groat finished with a career batting average of .286.

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So Many Home Runs, and So Much More

Homer Happy: 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.

Twice in the 1960s, Hank Aaron led the National League in home runs and runs batted in: in 1963 (44, 130) and in 1966 (44, 127). He also led the league in slugging percentage in 1963 (.586) and in 1967 (.573).

Twice in the 1960s, Hank Aaron led the National League in home runs and runs batted in: in 1963 (44, 130) and in 1966 (44, 127). He also led the league in slugging percentage in 1963 (.586) and in 1967 (.573).

The fact that he was so skilled in so many facets of the game, so complete a hitter, and so quietly consistent throughout most of his 23-year major league career, probably contributed to his lack of promotion by the sports press as a home run hitter in the class of Mays and Mantle and Killebrew. But NL pitchers knew better.

The numbers don’t lie.

Aaron averaged 37.5 home runs per season during the 1960s. He led the National League three times both in home runs and in runs batted in during that decade. Altogether, he drove in more runs during the 1960s than any other major league player.

After showcasing his talent briefly in the Negro League, the 18-year-old Aaron was signed by the Boston Braves in 1952. He was nothing short of spectacular during his two seasons in the minor leagues, and made his debut with the now Milwaukee Braves in 1954, batting .280 with 13 home runs and 69 RBIs. He led the National League in hitting with a .328 average in 1956, and would win a second batting title in 1959 with a .355 batting average.

Entering the 1960s, Hank Aaron already had hit 179 home runs … and he was only 25.

Entering the 1960s, Hank Aaron already had hit 179 home runs … and he was only 25.

Aaron led the National League with 44 home runs and 132 runs batted in to win the Most Valuable Player award in 1957. Surprisingly, it would be the only MVP of his career. At the close of the 1950s, he had already accumulated 179 home runs, and he was only 25 years old. As a slugger, he was just getting warmed up.

Aaron hit 40 or more home runs five times during the 1960s. He drove in more than 100 runs six times, his lowest total during the decade coming in 1968 when he managed “only” 86 RBIs. His most productive season during the 1960s – amid so much productivity at the plate – came in 1963. He batted .319 and led the National League in home runs (44), RBIs (130), runs scored (121), total bases (370) and slugging percentage (.586). Despite those “Ruthian” statistics, Aaron finished third in the MVP voting behind Sandy Koufax and Dick Groat.

As talented and productive as he was, Aaron was under-appreciated (and even under-rated) by the press. He was too quiet, too polite and too lacking in controversy to garner sustained media attention. And he played for a Braves team that finished middle-of-the-pack for most of the 1960s. He was so good, so consistently, that it was easy to take him for granted. Aaron was simply a gentle man, with a brutal bat.

Of course, by the end of his career, Aaron had racked up career records for home runs, RBIs and total bases, and ranked in the top ten in nearly every hitting category. His numbers define his legacy.

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Excerpt from Legends of Swing: The Home Run Hitters of the 1960s. Available in paperback and Kindle editions from Amazon.