Glancing Back, and Remembering Eddie Kasko
Eddie Kasko was the typical 1960s shortstop – good fielding, marginal if any hitting – only he was better than most in the field. Continue reading
Lights Out: Ken Johnson’s No-Hit Loss
When: April 23, 1964
Where: Colt Stadium, Houston, Texas
Game Time: 1:56
Houston starting pitcher Ken Johnson came into the game having won his first two starts of the young season. Johnson had gone 6-2 for the Cincinnati Reds in 1961 before he was selected by the Houston Colt .45s as their twenty-ninth pick in the 1961 expansion draft.
Johnson went 7-16 in Houston’s inaugural season, though he pitched better than his won-loss record indicated: 3.84 ERA with 178 strikeouts in 197 innings. He also pitched five complete games and one shutout.
In the 1964 season, Johnson would go 11-17 despite lowering his ERA to 2.65. He would pitch six complete games this season and, again, a single shutout.
It should have been two shutouts.
The Cincinnati starter was Joe Nuxhall, the left-hander who, in his major league debut on June 10, 1944, set a record as the game’s youngest player at age 15. Nuxhall had struggled through the early 1960s but had embarked on a major comeback season in 1963, when he went 15-8 with a 2.62 ERA. For 1964, he would finish the season at 9-8 with a 4.07 ERA, but he would record four shutouts in an injury-abbreviated campaign.
The first of those shutouts would be needed today.
Both Johnson and Nuxhall pitched scoreless ball through the first eight innings. Through those eight innings, Nuxhall scattered five hits and struck out four Houston batters.
Johnson was simply overpowering … and unhittable. Through the first eight innings, he struck out nine Reds batters and walked only two. And after eight innings, the Reds’ line score read zeroes in hits as well as runs.
The shutout ended in the top of the ninth. Nuxhall grounded out to open the inning. Then Pete Rose reached first base on an error by Johnson. His throw into the dirt squirted by first baseman Pete Runnels, allowing Rose to move to second base. Rose went to third on a ground out by Chico Ruiz, and then scored when Houston second baseman Nellie Fox bobbled a ground ball off the bat of Vada Pinson. Pinson was safe at first and the Reds were ahead 1-0 without the benefit of a hit. Frank Robinson flied out to left field to end the inning.
In the bottom of the ninth, Nuxhall struck out leadoff hitter Eddie Kasko and induced Fox to ground out to short. Runnels’ hot grounder to third was mishandled by Ruiz, putting Runnels on first with the tying run. Bob Lillis went into the game to run for Runnels, but to no avail. Nuxhall struck out Johnny Weekly to end the inning and the game.
Never before had a major league pitcher thrown a complete game no-hitter and lost. But it was the kind of frustration that Ken Johnson would experience in different ways during the 1964 season as a talented pitcher on a second-year expansion team.
The Glove Club: Don Blasingame
From the mid-1950s to the mid-1960s, Don Blasingame was one of the better all-around second basemen in the major leagues. A .258 career line-drive hitter, Blasingame brought a variety of skills to his game, including solid defense at second base and speed that he put to use with plenty of everyday smarts and hustle.
Blasingame was signed by the St. Louis Cardinals in 1953 and made his first big league appearance two years later. He was the Cardinals’ starting second baseman in his 1956 rookie season, hitting .261. In 1957 he led the major leagues with 650 at-bats and hit .271 with 58 RBIs and 21 stolen bases. He finished twelfth in the Most Valuable Player voting for 1957.
Blasingame was named to the National League All-Star team in 1958, when he hit .274 for the season with 10 triples. In 1959 he raised his batting average to a career-high .289 while also racking up a career-best 26 doubles.
In December of 1959, Blasingame was traded by the Cardinals to the San Francisco Giants for Daryl Spencer and Leon Wagner. In his only full season with the Giants, Blasingame hit .235. Three games into the 1961 season, the Cincinnati Reds dealt catcher Ed Bailey to the Giants to acquire Blasingame, who became the team’s starting second baseman immediately and formed one of the game’s best keystone combinations with shortstop Eddie Kasko. Blasingame hit only .222 for the Reds in their pennant-winning 1961 season, but he bounced back to hit .281 in 1962.
At the start of the 1963 season, Blasingame had been replaced by a rookie second baseman named Pete Rose. The Washington Senators purchased Blasingame in July of 1963 and he played for the Senators for three seasons before being purchased in 1966 by the Kansas City Athletics. Released by the A’s following the 1966 season, Blasingame extended his baseball career in Japan, both as a player and later as a coach and manager.
Glancing Back, and Remembering Felix Mantilla
Both built their reputations on home runs. Aaron hit more.
Mantilla was signed by the Braves in 1952 and was a member of the pennant-winning Braves of 1957 and 1958. After six seasons as a utility infielder with the Braves, Mantilla was selected by the New York Mets in the 1961 expansion draft. He spent the 1962 season as the Mets’ everyday third baseman, batting .275 with 11 home runs and 59 runs batted in. Following that season, he was traded to the Boston Red Sox for Pumpsie Green and Tracy Stallard.
In Boston, Mantilla’s potential and power were unleashed. He batted .315 in 1963 as the team’s utility infielder, and then became a starter at second base in 1965, batting .289 with 30 home runs and 64 RBIs. He followed in 1965, his All-Star season, with 18 home runs and 92 RBIs while batting .275.
In the off season, he was traded to the Houston Colt .45s for shortstop Eddie Kasko. For the Colts in 1966, he batted .219 as a part-time player, and then retired at age 31.
Mantilla played 11 seasons in the major leagues. He hit .261 in his career on 707 hits, with 89 home runs and 330 RBIs.