Pep at First

 

The Glove Club: Joe Pepitone

When the New York Yankees were looking to bolster their starting rotation following the 1962 season, they considered Bill Skowron expendable because of a first sacker they had waiting in the wings: Joe Pepitone. By trading Skowron to the Los Angeles Dodgers for starting pitcher Stan Williams, the Yankees opened the door to the left-handed hitting Pepitone, who brought a better first-base glove to the Yankee infield while expected to provide the same level of run production that the Yankees had gotten from “Moose” Skowron the previous five seasons.

As the New York Yankees’ first baseman for most of the 1960s, Joe Pepitone won three Gold Gloves.

As the New York Yankees’ first baseman for most of the 1960s, Joe Pepitone won three Gold Gloves.

Pepitone was signed by the Yankees in 1958 and made his debut in New York 4 seasons later, hitting .239 in 63 games. In 1963, he inherited Skowron’s first base position on a full-time basis, and responded by batting .271 with 27 home runs and 89 RBIs. In 1964, Pepitone’s batting average slipped to .251, but his power numbers increased to 28 home runs and 100 RBIs.

The 1964 season also was the one when Pepitone emerged as one of the American League’s premier first basemen. He led the league in putouts, assists and double plays at first base. He won the Gold Glove in 1965, 1966 and 1969. A versatile athlete, Pepitone moved to the Yankees’ outfield as needed, and played more games in the outfield than at first base in 1967 and 1968.

From 1963 through 1969, Pepitone averaged 23 home runs and 75 RBIs per season.But his decline in run productivity coincided with the Yankees’ decline in the standings. After hitting a career-best 31 home runs in 1966, he hit only 28 home runs combined over the next two seasons. His bat revived in 1969, as Pepitone returned to first place full time, hitting 27 home runs and winning hit third Gold Glove.

Joe Pepitone averaged 23 home runs and 75 RBIs for the Yankees from 1963-1969. His best season as a Yankee came in 1964, when he hit 28 home runs with 100 RBIs and led American League first basemen in putouts, assists and double plays.

Joe Pepitone averaged 23 home runs and 75 RBIs for the Yankees from 1963-1969. His best season as a Yankee came in 1964, when he hit 28 home runs with 100 RBIs and led American League first basemen in putouts, assists and double plays.

Following the 1969 season, the Yankees traded Pepitone to the Houston Astros for outfielder Curt Blefary. He hit .251 in 75 games for Houston before being purchased by the Chicago Cubs, where he replaced Ernie Banks at first base. His combined batting numbers for 1970 included 26 home runs and 79 RBIs.

Pepitone played three more seasons in Chicago. He hit .307 for the Cubs in 1971 with 16 home runs and 61 RBIs. In 1973 he was traded to the Atlanta Braves for Andre Thornton, but played in only three games for the Braves before retiring at age 32.

Pepitone finished with a career batting average of .258. He had 1,315 hits and 219 home runs. He was a member of the All-Star team three times.

Bosox Basher

 

Glancing Back, and Remembering Rico Petrocelli

While lighter-hitting shortstops were the norm in the 1960s (once Ernie Banks moved from shortstop to first base), the Boston Red Sox had a shortstop who bucked that trend with power and RBIs. Rico Petrocelli was the most lethal offensive threat among American League shortstops in the late 1960s.

Rico Petrocelli was the first American League shortstop to hit 40 home runs in a season (1969).

Rico Petrocelli was the first American League shortstop to hit 40 home runs in a season (1969).

Petrocelli was signed by Boston in 1961 and played his entire major league career with the Red Sox. As a rookie in 1965, PetroceIli hit .232 with 13 home runs and 33 RBIs – numbers that would have been considered adequate for a shortstop of Petrocelli’s defensive abilities.

He increased his home run production to 18 in 1966 and, in Boston’s pennant-winning season of 1967, Petrocelli hit .259 with 17 home runs and 66 RBIs. He was selected for the American League All-Star team in 1967, and finished seventeenth in the MVP voting at the end of that season.

Petrocelli’s best season came two years later when he set an American League record for home runs by a shortstop with 40. He also drove in 97 runs and had career highs in hits (159) and batting average (.297).  He followed that campaign with two more strong seasons, hitting 29 home runs (with 103 RBIs) in 1970 and 28 homers (with 89 RBIs) in 1971. Petrocelli moved to third base in 1971 to accommodate the arrival of Luis Aparicio in Boston. He remained the Red Sox starting third baseman for the next six seasons, averaging 14 home runs and 61 RBIs per season.

Rico Petrocelli played 13 major league seasons, all with the Boston Red Sox.

Petrocelli was known for his offense, which over-shadowed his considerable defensive skills. He led all American League shortstops in fielding percentage in 1968 and 1969, and led all AL third basemen in fielding percentage in 1971.

Petrocelli retired after the 1976 season, his thirteenth in a Boston uniform. A two-time All-Star, Petrocelli finished with 210 career home runs, 127 as a shortstop (sixteenth most all-time).  His 40 home run season as an AL shortstop has been surpassed only by Alex Rodriguez.

Eight for Eight … Just Great

 

This Week in 1960s Baseball

(May 20, 1962) Always known more for his prowess with his glove than his bat, Chicago Cubs rookie second baseman Ken Hubbs today was baseball’s single best hitter.

Ken Hubbs won both a Gold Glove and the National League Rookie of the Year award for 1962.

In a double header against the Philadelphia Phillies, Chicago Cubs second baseman Ken Hubbs stroked eight singles on the day, raising his season’s batting average to .307.

During the Cubs’ double header sweep of the Philadelphia Phillies, Hubbs stroked eight singles in 10 trips to the plate at Connie Mack Stadium. Hubbs scored twice and drove in two runs as the Cubs won both ends of the twin bill, 6-4 and 11-2.

In the first game, the Phillies lost despite getting home runs from the bats of Tony Taylor, Johnny Callison and Clay Dalrymple. Cubs left fielder Lou Brock drove in four runs for winning pitcher Cal Koonce (2-0).

In the nightcap, home runs by Billy Williams, Ernie Banks and George Altman – in addition to Hubbs’ five for five hitting performance – spurred the Cubs to an 11-2 victory. Bob Buhl (2-2) pitched a complete game for the win.

At the end of this doubleheader, Hubbs was batting .307. He would finish the season – his first full season in the big leagues – batting .260 and winning the Gold Glove for his play at second base.

Ken Hubbs won both a Gold Glove and the National League Rookie of the Year award for 1962.

Ken Hubbs won both a Gold Glove and the National League Rookie of the Year award for 1962.

He would also be named Rookie of the Year for 1962.

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.

The Sweetest Swing This Side of North Side

 

Glancing Back, and Remembering Billy Williams

The Chicago Cubs of the 1960s were something of an enigma: all that talent – especially in the heart of the line-up, and so little to show for it. (Of course, the same thing might also be said about the Cubs of the ‘20s, ‘30s, ‘40s, and ‘50s.)

Left fielder Billy Williams was the National League Rookie of the Year in 1961 and the NL batting champion in 1972.

Left fielder Billy Williams was the National League Rookie of the Year in 1961 and the NL batting champion in 1972.

How did the Cubs, with the likes of Hall of Famers Ernie Banks and Ron Santo playing nearly every day, consistently have to struggle so hard to reach .500, much less contend? And add a Billy Williams to that equation, and the Cubs of the 1960s become all that much more puzzling.

Because out of that trio of offensive superstars, Billy Williams might just have been the best of the three during the 1960s.

Williams was consistent, not spectacular. His swing was so compact, so smooth and sweet, that it’s somewhat surprising he won only a single batting title during his 18-year career.  He never led the league in home runs or RBIs, and led only once in runs and hits (both coming in 1970). But between 1961 and 1973, William never had fewer than 20 home runs or 84 RBIs.

All told, during those 13 seasons, he averaged 28 home runs with 98 RBIs, batting a combined .298. He batted over .300 five times during that period. He ranks twelfth among home run hitters during the 1960s.

From 1962-1969, Billy Williams was the model for consistent performance. He batted a combined .293 and averaged 28 home runs and 95 RBIs per season. He also played in an average of 162 games per year.

From 1962-1969, Billy Williams was the model for consistent performance. He batted a combined .293 and averaged 28 home runs and 95 RBIs per season. He also played in an average of 162 games per year.

All three of those great Cub players were also three of the most durable in the National League, but no one was more durable than Williams. From 1962 through 1970, Williams averaged 162 games per season, appearing in more than 162 games for three of those seasons. He set the league record for consecutive games with 1,117 in 1970, a record that stood for more than a dozen years.

Williams was Rookie of the Year in 1961 and an All-Star six times.  He was a Cub for all but the last two seasons of his career, when he was a designated hitter for the Oakland A’s (and made his only post-season appearance in the 1975 American League Championship Series, going hitless in seven at-bats).  He finished his career with more than 400 home runs and over 1,400 RBIs. He was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1987.

Banking on Power

 

Homer Happy: Ernie Banks

When Ernie Banks broke into the major leagues at the end of the 1953 season, he didn’t look like a shortstop. And he certainly didn’t swing the bat like one.

Ernie Banks

Ernie Banks

Shortstops weren’t supposed to be power hitters. They were in the lineup for their arms and gloves and their ability to cover plenty of space on the left side of the infield.

Banks could do all that. He could also produce runs the way no shortstop had done since Honus Wagner at the beginning of the Twentieth Century.

Banks hit 19 home runs as a rookie in 1954, and then blasted 44 home runs a year later. No shortstop had ever hit that many. (And only one other shortstop – Alex Rodriguez – has hit more.)

Banks hit 40 or more home runs in a season five times, the last being 1960 when he launched 41 homers and drove in 117 runs. He also won the Gold Glove in 1960, the first player to win it while leading the league in home runs.

A Chicago Cub for all 19 of his major league seasons, Banks finished with 512 career home runs and a place in the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Making a Short Stop in Slugville

 

Glancing Back, and Remembering Woodie Held

Coming out of an era when “good field, no hit” was the acceptable standard for most major league shortstops, Woodie Held was the American League best power-hitting shortstop, surpassed among his major league contemporaries only by Ernie Banks. He was the first Cleveland Indians shortstop to hit 20 or more home runs in three consecutive seasons. He hit more than 10 home runs in seven consecutive seasons.

From 1959 through 1964, Woodie Held averaged 21 home runs and 66 RBIs as the Cleveland Indians’ shortstop.

From 1959 through 1964, Woodie Held averaged 21 home runs and 66 RBIs as the Cleveland Indians’ shortstop.

Held was originally signed by the New York Yankees in 1951 and spent more than six years in the Yankees’ farm system, making only token appearances in New York. In June of 1957, he was traded (with Billy Martin and Ralph Terry) to the Kansas City Athletics. Held moved into the starting center fielder role, batting .239 with 20 home runs and 50 RBIs.

He stayed in Kansas City for one season, traded (with Vic Power) to the Cleveland Indians in the deal that brought Roger Maris to the A’s. Held moved to shortstop for the Tribe and struggled at the plate, hitting a combined .204 with seven home runs and 33 RBIs in 1958. His hitting improved dramatically in 1959, batting .251 with 29 home runs and 71 RBIs.

Held blasted 21 home runs in 1960 and 23 home runs with 78 RBIs in 1961. From 1959 through 1964, he averaged 21 home runs and 66 RBIs as Cleveland’s shortstop.

Following the 1964 season, the Tribe traded Held and Bob Chance to the Washington Senators for outfielder Chuck Hinton. He batted .247 with 16 home runs and 54 RBIs in his only season in Washington, and then was traded again, this time to the Baltimore Orioles for John Orsino. He was used sparingly in Baltimore (82 games in two seasons) and was dealt to the California Angels in a trade that included pitcher Marcelino Lopez. Now in his late 30s, Held was strictly a utility infielder for the Angels and, finally, the Chicago White Sox, his team in 1968 and 1969. He retired after being released by the White Sox following the 1969 season.

In 14 major league seasons, Held posted a career batting average of .240 with 179 home runs and 559 RBIs.

A 6-RBI Game from Ernie Banks Goes for Naught

 

Lights Out: Ernie Banks

When: April 29, 1960

Where:  Busch Stadium, St. Louis, Missouri

Game Time: 3:22

Attendance: 6,859

 

It was a game that defined what Ernie Banks meant to his beloved Chicago Cubs.

Everything, … and, too often in the win column, nothing.

On one of the best days of Banks’ Hall of Fame career, an outstanding individual performance went for nothing in a lopsided Cubs loss. That kind of frustration would be typical of what Banks and the Cubs would experience together throughout the 1960s. But it didn’t diminish the accomplishments of “Mr. Cub,” for that day or for his career.

Ernie Banks went 3-5 with a pair of 3-run homers, but the Cubs lost to the Cardinals anyway, 16-6.

Ernie Banks went 3-5 with a pair of three-run homers, but the Cubs lost to the Cardinals anyway, 16-6.

As the 1960 season opened, Ernie Banks was at the height of his career. The game had never seen a shortstop who could match his offensive firepower. (Though it is easy to wonder what kind of numbers Honus Wagner would have put up had the ball of his era been livelier.) And his 1959 Gold Glove – the only one of his career – made for a compelling case that Banks could have been the best all-around shortstop ever.

The Cubs came into the game in last place in the National League. Only nine games into the season, Chicago was already 6.5 games behind the first-place Pittsburgh Pirates. And this game didn’t seem to start out any better for the Cubs, as they spotted the St. Louis Cardinals a six-run lead through the third inning (including a three-run homer by Darryl Spencer).

St. Louis starting pitcher Bob Miller shut out the Cubs through six innings, scattering four hits and two walks. Then the Cubs broke through in the seventh inning. Irv Noren, pinch hitting for Art Ceccarelli, opened the inning with a walk. Cubs manager Charlie Grimm sent in Sammy Drake to run for Noren. Drake advanced to second on Tony Taylor’s single to left field. Miller retired Richie Ashburn and George Altman. Then Banks came to bat and sent a Bob Miller fast ball deep into the stands in left. One swing cut the Cardinals’ lead in half and put the Cubs back into the game.

But it wasn’t to last. In the bottom of the eighth, the Cardinals scored 10 runs on eight hits, with two hits from Cardinals first baseman Bill White (single and a home run) that drove in three of the St. Louis runs. The Cubs came to bat in the top of the ninth down 16-3.

Game over? Apparently not for Mr. Banks. Against St. Louis reliever Frank Barnes, Taylor led off the inning by singling to center field and Ashburn was safe on a Ken Boyer error. With runners at first and second, Barnes struck out Altman, and then tried to sneak a fastball past Banks. The result was the same Bob Miller had experienced in the seventh inning as Banks launched his second three-run home run to the left field seats.

The game ended in a Cardinals win, 16-6. That day, Ernie Banks went 3-5 with a pair of three-run homers. But for that day, and for most of career, all of Banks’ personal heroics could not make the Cubs winners, or even keep them close.