All Gussied Up to Hit

 

Glancing Back, and Remembering Gus Triandos

Gus Triandos was a solid catcher with a powerful throwing arm and a bat loaded with home runs.

Gus Triandos was a catching home run threat for the Baltimore Orioles in the late 1950s. He hit 30 home runs (with 79 RBIs) in 1958, his first season as an All-Star.

He was also the first catcher in major league history to be on the receiving end of a no-hitter in each league, catching Hoyt Wilhelm’s no-no for Baltimore in 1958 and Jim Bunning’s perfect game for Philadelphia in 1964.

Triandos was signed by the New York Yankees in 1948. He spent the next four years in the Yankees’ farm system and in military service.

His debut in pinstripes came in 1953, when he batted .157 in 18 games. He returned to the minors in 1954, batting .296 for AAA Kansas City with 18 home runs and 65 RBIs. When it became obvious that Triandos was not going to displace Yogi Berra as the Yankees’ catcher (with Elston Howard waiting in the wings), the Yankees sent him to the Baltimore Orioles with Harry Byrd, Jim McDonald, Willy Miranda, Hal Smith and Gene Woodling for Billy Hunter, Don Larsen and Bob Turley.

He immediately became the Orioles’ starting first baseman, batting .277 in 1955 with 12 home runs and 65 RBIs. He hit .279 in 1956 with 21 home runs and 88 RBIs, and then was inserted behind the plate as Baltimore’s everyday catcher.

In 1958, Triandos had stroked 16 home runs by mid-season and was selected as the American League’s starting catcher in the All-Star game, breaking Berra’s eight-year run as an All-Star starting backstop. He finished the season with 30 home runs and 79 runs batted in. He had 20 home runs by the All-Star break in 1959, but a hand injury in the second half of the season limited his playing time and his season total of home runs to 25 (with 73 RBIs). In seven seasons as a starter in Baltimore (from 1955 to 1961), Triandos batted .255 while averaging 19 home runs and 71 RBIs per season.

Over his 13-year major league career, Gus Triandos threw out nearly half the base runners who tried to steal on him. Here he is blocking the plate from the approaching Elston Howard.

Prior to the 1963 season, Triandos was dealt to the Detroit Tigers for catcher Dick Brown. He batted .239 with 14 home runs and 41 RBIs in his only season in Detroit, and then was traded (with Jim Bunning) to the Philadelphia Phillies for Don Demeter and Jack Hamilton. In Philadelphia, he split the catching duties with Clay Dalrymple, batting .250 in 73 games in 1964. Then Triandos was purchased by the Houston Astros midway through the 1965 season. He was released by the Astros at the end of that season and retired after a 13-year major league career in which he batted .244 with 167 home runs on 954 hits.

Triandos was never a base-stealing threat, but he had a gun of an arm for cutting down potential base stealers. He twice led American League catchers in assists and in base runners caught stealing. In 1957, he threw out base runners at a 67% success rate. Over his career, Triandos threw out 46.64% of the runners who tried to steal on his pitchers. He retired with the record for 1,206 consecutive games without being caught stealing. He stole only one base (in only one attempt) over his entire career.

Howard to the Rescue

 

Career Year: Elston Howard – 1963

For four straight seasons, from 1960 to 1963, the New York Yankees won the American League pennant. Nothing unusual for those Yankee teams.

In those four seasons, the Yankees also fielded the American League’s Most Valuable Player, starting with Roger Maris in 1960 and 1961, then Mickey Mantle in 1962. Injuries would strike down the mighty M&M duo for much of the 1963 season, but the Yankees finished at the top in both the regular season standings and in the MVP sweepstakes.

The single everyday player most responsible for the Yankees’ success in 1963 – and for extending the Yankees’ MVP streak – was one of the most unlikely of Yankee superstars. Continue reading

The Fabulous 50-50 Club

 

This Week in 1960s Baseball

(September 3, 1961) – The New York Yankees today defeated the Detroit Tigers 8-5, scoring four runs in the bottom of the ninth inning on home runs from Mickey Mantle and Elston Howard.

The winning pitcher was Luis Arroyo (13-3).

The Yankees took a 3-1 lead in the bottom of the first inning on home runs from Mickey Mantle and Yogi Berra. New York added another run in the fifth inning on Bobby Richardson’s two-out RBI single. Continue reading

Two Yanks Named Joe

 

This Week in 1960s Baseball

(May 23, 1962) Joe Pepitone homered twice to become the second player in Yankee history to hit two home runs in the same inning. The Bronx Bombers score nine times in the eighth inning of a 13-7 rout of the Kansas City Athletics. Continue reading

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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Mantle Returns with Dramatic Home Run

 

This Week in 1960s Baseball

(August 4, 1963) He had not played a single inning since he broke his foot on June 5. But when he finally did make his return to the New York Yankees’ lineup, Mickey Mantle’s comeback provided a vintage Mantle moment.

When he broke his foot in a game against the Baltimore Orioles, the injury interrupted another blistering Mantle start, on the heels of his MVP performance in 1962. Thirty-six games into the 1963 season, Mantle was batting .310 with 11 home runs and 26 runs batted in.

His first game back started on the Yankees bench. Tom Tresh opened the game in center field, as he had in Mantle’s absence.

Neither starting pitcher lasted past the second inning. The Orioles scored five runs in the first two innings off Jim Bouton. The Yankees chased Baltimore starter Dave McNally in the first inning with four runs, and scored three more in the second. The Orioles tied the game with a Jackie Brandt two-run single in the fourth  inning, and then took the lead in the sixth on a Boog Powell RBI single and a Brooks Robinson home run that put the Orioles ahead 10-7.

Elston Howard’s two-run home run in the sixth inning cut the Orioles’ lead to 10-9, and that was the score when Mantle came to bat in the seventh inning, pinch-hitting for reliever Steve Hamilton. Batting against George Brunet, Mantle homered to tie the game at 10-10. It stayed that way until the tenth inning, when a Yogi Berra sacrifice fly scored Tony Kubek with the game-winning run.

Mantle would end up playing in only 65 games during the 1963 season. It would prove to be the least productive season of his Hall of Fame career, with only 15 home runs and 35 RBIs.

Deep in the Heart of Pinstripes

 

The Glove Club: Bobby Richardson

Of the great New York Yankees teams of the 1960s, the most under-rated player – amid a roster of perennial All-Stars – was second baseman Bobby Richardson.

Bobby  Richardson was a five-time Gold Glove winner at second base for the Yankees. He retired with a .979 fielding percentage.

Bobby Richardson was a five-time Gold Glove winner at second base for the Yankees. He retired with a .979 fielding percentage.

A career .266 hitter, Richardson twice batted .300 or better (and led the American League with 209 hits in 1962). But his bat wasn’t what kept him in the lineup. Nor was it needed. In a lineup that featured hitters such as Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris, Elston Howard, Bill Skowron, Yogi Berra and Tom Tresh, the Yankees had plenty of run-producing support.

What made Richardson most valuable to five consecutive American League pennant winners was his consistent defense at second base. He was the Gold Glove winner at that position every year from 1961-1965. And he rarely took a day off, averaging 159 games per season over that five-year period. He retired with a .979 fielding percentage.

He was the anchor in an infield that featured Skowron (and later, Joe Pepitone) at first base, Clete Boyer at third, and Tony Kubek (with help from Tresh) at shortstop. All of them were All-Stars, as was Richardson (seven times).

In the World Series (Richardson played in seven), he was a dynamo at-bat and in the field. His bat in the 1960 World Series (11 hits, 12 RBIs) made him the Most Valuable Player (the only World Series MVP selected from the losing team). And he set a record with 13 hits in the 1964 World Series.

Of course, it was his final-out catch of a blistering Willie McCovey line drive that saved the 1962 World Series for the Yankees, the only major league team he ever played for.

Man of Many Firsts

 

Glancing Back and Remembering Elston Howard

The career of Elston Howard belonged to a gentleman who was both a great ballplayer and a true pioneer in so many aspects of the modern game.

Elston Howard 9-time All-Star and 1963 AL MVP

Elston Howard
9-time All-Star and 1963 AL MVP

A standout athlete in high school, Howard turned down college football scholarships to play for the Kansas City Monarchs starting in 1948. He was signed by the New York Yankees in 1950, and made his first appearance with the Yankees in 1955, the first African American to play in a Yankee uniform. (He also got a hit in his first at-bat for the Yankees.)

For the next five years Howard played fill-in roles at catcher, first base and in the outfield for Yankee teams loaded with talent. By 1961, he had become the Yankees’ regular catcher, hitting .348 that year with 21 home runs and 77 RBIs. In 1962, he drove in a career-high 91 runs, and in 1963, Howard hit 28 home runs with 85 RBIs to win the American League Most Valuable Player award, the first African American to do so.

Howard’s defense was as solid as his hitting, and he won the Gold Glove for catching in 1963 and 1964. Howard was also an excellent handler of pitchers. In his 13 seasons with the Yankees, Howard was chosen for the American League All-Star team nine times.

Howard appeared in 54 World Series games, the third highest total in major league history behind only Yankee teammates Yogi Berra and Mickey Mantle. (Another first: Howard homered in his debut World Series at-bat.) The last seven World Series appearances were with the Boston Red Sox, where Howard played a critical in the Bosox’ pennant-winning re-emergence after being dealt to Boston midway through the 1967 season. He retired after the 1968 season.