This Week in 1960s Baseball
Glancing Back, and Remembering Donn Clendenon
How would the baseball history of the 1960s have been changed if Donn Clendenon had reported to the Houston Astros as traded in January of 1969? Because he refused to report to Houston, Clendenon ended the 1969 season not in the Astrodome but in a New York Mets uniform, playing into October, and winning the Most Valuable Player award for the 1969 World Series.
Clendenon was signed by the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1957 and made his rookie debut in 1961. He hit .302 as a part-time player in 1962, and by 1963 had replaced the departed Dick Stuart as the Pirates’ regular first baseman, hitting .275 with 15 home runs and 57 RBIs. The lanky Clendenon also had good speed for a man of his size, and had 28 doubles and 22 stolen bases in 1963.
He hit .282 in 1964, and then had a huge season for the Pirates in 1965, hitting .301 with 32 doubles, 14 home runs and 96 RBIs. He followed up in 1966 by batting .299 with 28 home runs and 98 RBIs.
Clendenon’s average slipped to .249 in 1967. His hitting improved in 1968, batting .257 with 17 home runs and 87 RBIs. But following the 1968 seasons, the Pirates elected not to protect Clendenon in the expansion draft, and he was selected by the Montreal Expos.
Three months later, the Expos traded Clendenon with Jesus Alou to the Houston Astros for Rusty Staub. Clendenon refused to report to the Astros, who were managed by former Pirate manager Harry “The Hat” Walker. Walker and Clendenon had clashed when both were in Pittsburgh, and when it became evident that Clendenon could not be persuaded to join the Astros, the deal was re-worked, allowing Staub to come to Montreal and Clendenon to stay with the Expos … for a short while. Clendenon played in only 38 games with the Expos (hitting .240) when he was traded to the New York Mets for Kevin Collins, Steve Renko and two minor league prospects.
With the Mets, Clendenon hit .252 while splitting first base duties with incumbent Ed Kranepool. He didn’t appear in the League Championship Series, which the Mets swept from the Atlanta Braves. But he did appear in the 1969 World Series between the New York Mets and the Baltimore Orioles … did he ever! Clendenon played in four of the five games and hit .357 with a double, three home runs and four RBIs. His performance earned him the Series MVP award.
Clendenon had a fine season for the Mets in 1970, batting .288 with 22 home runs and 97 RBIs. But now age 34, he would not match that kind of offensive performance again. He hit only .247 for the Mets in 1971, his playing time reduced in favor of Kranepool, and he was released by the Mets at season’s end. He signed with the St. Louis Cardinals and hit .191 in a part-time role, retiring after the 1972 season.
Clendenon played 12 major league seasons, hitting .274 for his career.
Lights Out: Phillies’ Jim Bunning Achieves Pitching Perfection
When: June 21, 1964
Where: Shea Stadium, New York, New York
Game Time: 2:19
Jim Bunning was a pitcher with two careers. Both were of Hall of Fame caliber.
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.
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.
Glancing Back, and Remembering Ed Kranepool
For better or worse during his 18-year career, Ed Kranepool was the embodiment of the New York Mets, the only major league team he ever played for.
In the early 1960s, he joined the team while still a teenager and struggled mightily … as did his team. As Kranepool’s skills improved, so did the Mets’ fortunes throughout the 1960s. And Kranepool’s best seasons came in the 1970s, as the Mets proved to be consistently competitive.
Born in the Bronx, Kranepool was signed by the Mets in 1962 and made his debut later that season as a 17-year-old outfielder-first baseman. He began the 1963 season splitting first base duties with Marv Throneberry and right field assignments with Duke Snider. He was temporarily the team’s starting right fielder before a .190 batting average sent him to the minors until the September call-up. Kranepool finished his first season batting .209 with two home runs and 14 RBIs, though he appeared in only 86 games for the Mets in 1963.
Kranepool fared better in 1964, batting .257 with 10 home runs and 45 RBIs in 119 games. The Mets were also improving – gradually – having gone from 111 losses in 1963 to 109 in 1964. Kranepool batted .253 in 1965 and .254 in 1966, leading the team with 16 home runs and finishing second in RBIs (with 57) to Ken Boyer. He hit .269 in 1967 and his batting average slipped to .231 in 1968.
During the Mets’ “miracle” season of 1969, Kranepool (now 24) batted .238 with 11 home runs and 49 RBIs. In the 1969 World Series against the Baltimore Orioles, Kranepool batted .250 with a home run and an RBI.
In 1970, he was hitting just .118 in June when he was demoted to Tidewater, the Mets’ AAA team. He batted .310 in 47 games at Tidewater to earn a ticket back to New York, and stayed with the Mets throughout the 1971 season, batting .280 with 14 home runs and 58 RBIs.
From 1971 through 1977, Kranepool had his best seasons with the Mets, hitting for a combined .284 with a career-best .323 in 1975. He retired after the 1979 season with 1,418 hits and a career batting average of .261. He remains the team’s career leader in hits, at-bats and sacrifice flies. He also played more games (1,853) in a Mets uniform than any other player, and he was the last of the inaugural 1962 Mets team to retire.
Kranepool was a member of the 1965 National League All-Star team.