Giant Behind the Plate

 

Glancing Back, and Remembering Ed Bailey

Ed Bailey was a solid defensive catcher who was also dangerous with a bat in his hands. He lasted 14 years in the major leagues, playing for five different teams. Continue reading

Big on Wins

 

Glancing Back, and Remembering Jim Nash

Jim Nash’s career started in a blaze of wins for a team unaccustomed to winning. But in many ways, “Jumbo’s” arrival marked a turning point in the fortunes of the Athletics’ franchise.

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Jim Nash was 13-13 in 1968 with a 2.28 ERA. His six shutouts were the second-most in the American League that season (behind Luis Tiant’s nine shutouts.)

Nash was signed by the A’s in 1963 and was successful almost immediately in the Kansas City farm system, winning 14 games in both 1964 and 1965. He started 1966 with Mobile in the Class A Southern League, going 7-4 with a 2.63 ERA when he was called up to Kansas City. He made his major league debut on July 3, 1966, going 6.1 innings to beat the Detroit Tigers 10-4.

Nash won three more decisions in July, and won his first three decisions in August before losing to the New York Yankees. It would be his only major league loss of the year, finishing that season at 12-1 with a 2.06 ERA. He was runner-up in the Rookie of the Year voting to White Sox outfielder Tommie Agee.

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Jim Nash had a remarkable rookie season for the Kansas City Athletics in 1966. Called up in July, Nash was 12-1 with a 2.06 ERA over the rest of the season.

Nash followed up in 1967 with a 12-17 season and a 3.76 ERA. He posted a 13-13 record in 1968 with a 2.36 ERA (for the Oakland A’s), and finished the 1960s with an 8-8 season in 1969. By this time, the A’s had developed young arms like John Odom and Catfish Hunter, making Nash expendable. He was traded to the Atlanta Braves for outfielder Felipe Alou.

Nash pitched two-plus seasons in Atlanta, with a combined record of 23-17 and a 4.49 ERA. In June of 1972, the Braves dealt Nash (with Gary Neibauer) to the Philadelphia Phillies for Joe Hoerner and Andre Thornton. He made eight starts for the Phillies, going 0-8. He was released by the Phillies following the 1972 season, and retired with a career record of 68-64 with a 3.58 ERA.

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Joe Morgan’s Six Pack

 

Lights Out! – Houston Rookie Joe Morgan Goes 6 for 6.

When: July 8, 1965

Where:  County Stadium, Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Game Time: 3:40

Attendance: 2,522

The Houston Astros opened the 1965 season with a major transition in the heart of their infield. In 1964, second base was patrolled by Nellie Fox, a future Hall of Famer who came to Houston after 14 years with the Chicago White Sox. In those 14 years, Fox had been an All-Star 12 times, won three Gold Gloves, hit .300 or better six times, led the American League in hits four times, and was the American League’s Most Valuable Player in 1959. By 1964, Fox was near the end of his exceptional career, hitting .265 and noticeably slower in the field.

Fortunately for Houston, an infield prospect named Joe Morgan was ready to step in on an everyday basis. In two minor league seasons, Morgan had hit for a combined .316. In 1964, he led the Texas League with 42 doubles and drove in 90 runs while batting .323. On Opening Day of 1965, he was the Astros’ starting second baseman (and collected half of the team’s four hits that day against Philadelphia’s Chris Short).

With the 1965 arrival of Joe Morgan (left) and his emergence as the team’s regular second baseman, the Houston Astros replaced one future Hall of Famer (Nellie Fox – right) with another.

With the 1965 arrival of Joe Morgan (left) and his emergence as the team’s regular second baseman, the Houston Astros replaced one future Hall of Famer (Nellie Fox – right) with another.

Morgan struggled at first, but improved his batting average steadily as the season progressed.  He was hitting .226 by the end of May, but had raised his average to .249 by the end of June. As he entered the July 8 contest against the Milwaukee Braves, Morgan was hitting .259.

His average would jump up considerably after that game.

The game pitted Don Nottebart (1-6) against the Braves ace, Tony Cloninger (10-7). Neither starter made it past the fifth inning. Nottebart allowed 4 runs in his 5 innings of work, serving up solo home runs to Hank Aaron, Rico Carty and a pair of 1-run blasts to Felipe Alou. Though he would win 24 games on the season, Cloninger lasted only 4 innings today, giving up 5 runs on 8 hits, and Morgan played a big role in Cloninger’s early departure.

Morgan led off the game with his seventh home run of the season. He singled in the second inning but was caught stealing. In the fifth inning, Morgan’s eighth home run of the year sent Cloninger to the showers and put the Astros ahead 5-3. Leading off the seventh inning, Morgan doubled off reliever Dick Kelley and scored on Jim Gentile’s single. In the ninth inning, Morgan singled again and scored on a Rusty Staub hit to put the Astros on top by a score of 8-5 going into the bottom of the ninth.

It was a lead Houston couldn’t hold. Against reliever Mike Cuellar, an RBI double by Carty and a 2-run single by Mike de la Hoz tied the game at 8-8 and sent it into extra innings. Neither team scored in the tenth inning, and Morgan singled off Phil Niekro in the eleventh inning. He stole second and was stranded at third when the inning ended. Morgan didn’t have an opportunity to bat again, as the Braves scored a run in the bottom of the twelfth inning to win the game.

His best game as an Astro came in 1965, when Joe Morgan went six for six with a pair of home runs and three RBIs.

His best game as an Astro came in 1965, when Joe Morgan went six for six with a pair of home runs and three RBIs.

Morgan ended the day hitting six for six with four runs scored and three RBIs. In that single game, he raised his batting average 15 points to .274. He would finish his rookie season hitting .271 and lead the National League in bases on balls with 97.

The Astros would release Nellie Fox by the end of July, having replaced one future Hall of Fame second baseman with another.

Battle of the Titans

 

Lights Out! – 4-3 Thriller Is a Showcase for Aaron and Clemente

When: August 28, 1967

Where:  Atlanta Stadium, Atlanta, Georgia

Game Time: 2:38

Attendance: 8,725

Not even Hollywood could have devised a more dramatic, twisting scenario than the one that actually played out in this game.

Any discussion about the great National League outfielders of the 1960s has to begin with the mention of Willie Mays and the opposing superstars in this late-August contest: Hank Aaron of the Braves and Roberto Clemente of the Pirates. All three were multi-tool threats, complete ballplayers who excelled at every aspect of the game. 1967 proved to be another banner season for both Aaron and Clemente.

Hank Aaron His run-saving catch sent the game into extra innings.

Hank Aaron
His run-saving catch sent the game into extra innings.

At age 33, Aaron was still in the prime of his career. He led the National League in home runs (44) and runs batted in (127) in 1966. He came into this game batting .319 with 31 home runs and 87 RBIs. (He would lead the league with 39 home runs at season’s end.)

Clemente was the reigning National League MVP, having hit .317 with 29 home runs and 119 RBIs in 1966. Coming into this game, he was leading the league with a .345 batting average. (He would win his fourth batting title with a .357 average.) Clemente also had 18 home runs and 84 RBIs.

Braves catcher Joe Torre scored the game’s first run when Woody Woodward singled off Pirates starter Al McBean in the bottom of the second inning. Braves starter Pat Jarvis held the Pirates scoreless through the fourth inning. In the Pirates’ half of the fifth inning, catcher Jerry May singled and scored on Matty Alou’s triple. Jarvis balked, scoring Alou.

In the top of the sixth inning, Clemente led off with a solo home run that put the Pirates ahead 3-1. The score stayed that way until the bottom of the eighth. Rico Carty doubled with one out, and Gary Geiger went in to run for Carty. Felipe Alou singled to right field, scoring Geiger. Then back-to-back singles by Tito Francona and Aaron brought Alou home and tied the game at 3-3.

In the top of the ninth, with Jay Ritchie pitching for the Braves, Jose Pagan stroked a two-out single to right field and May walked, putting runners at first and second. With Manny Jimenez pinch hitting for Roy Face, Aaron made a circus catch of Jimenez’s liner to right to end the inning with the score still tied.

Roberto Clemente His two home runs put the Pirates ahead twice. His tenth-inning homer proved to be the game winner.

Roberto Clemente
His two home runs put the Pirates ahead twice. His tenth-inning homer proved to be the game winner.

Aaron’s saving catch went for naught. In the top of the tenth, Matty Alou led off by bunting for a base hit. Shortstop Gene Alley struck out, and with Clemente at the plate, Alou was thrown out trying to steal second. Clemente created his own go-ahead run by lining a home run over the wall in left-center field.

With two outs in the bottom of the tenth, Felipe Alou singled to left. But with the tying run at first and Aaron on deck, Francona struck out to end the game.

Shaw Me the Money

 

Glancing Back, and Remembering Bob Shaw

Right-handed pitcher Bob Shaw was a battler on the mound and, when necessary, a guy who wasn’t afraid to stand up to management in his own defense. In many ways, he was fashioned from the mold of his former Chicago White Sox teammate, Early Wynn, though not quite as talented, or nearly as irascible.

After a 5-4 rookie campaign in 1958, Bob Shaw was 18-6 for the Chicago White Sox in 1959. His .750 winning percentage was the best in the American League.

After a 5-4 rookie campaign in 1958, Bob Shaw was 18-6 for the Chicago White Sox in 1959. His .750 winning percentage was the best in the American League.

Shaw was signed by the Detroit Tigers in 1953 and made his debut in Detroit at the end of the 1957 season. He opened the 1958 season with the Tigers but was demoted to the minors, and when he refused to report over a bonus payment dispute, he was traded with Ray Boone to the White Sox for outfielder Tito Francona and pitcher Bill Fischer.

It was a career-transforming move for Shaw, partly because he got the opportunity to pitch, and partly because of the influence of his roommate, the Hall of Fame bound Wynn. Shaw went 4-2 for the White Sox over the rest of the 1958 season, pitching primarily out of the bullpen.

The bullpen was where he started in 1959, but by the end of the season, Shaw was the number two starter for the American League champions behind the 1959 Cy Young Award winner, his mentor Wynn. Shaw went 18-6 with a 2.69 ERA, his .750 winning percentage the best among American League pitchers.

Shaw was 13-13 for the White Sox in 1960, and in 1961 he was traded to the Kansas City Athletics with Wes Covington in a deal that brought pitcher Ray Herbert to the White Sox. Shaw was a combined 12-14 in 1961, and after the season’s end was traded again, this time to the Milwaukee Braves in a deal that brought Joe Azcue, Manny Jimenez and Ed Charles to the A’s.

Bob Shaw split his 11-year major league career between starting and the bullpen. He was effective in both roles. In 223 starts, Shaw was 85-81 with a 3.60 ERA and 14 shutouts. In 207 relief appearances, Shaw was 23-17 with a 3.20 ERA and 32 saves.

Bob Shaw split his 11-year major league career between starting and the bullpen. He was effective in both roles. In 223 starts, Shaw was 85-81 with a 3.60 ERA and 14 shutouts. In 207 relief appearances, Shaw was 23-17 with a 3.20 ERA and 32 saves.

Shaw had an excellent season for the Braves in 1962, going 15-9 with a 2.80 ERA and 12 complete game. He slipped to 7-11 in 1963, posting a 2.66 ERA and pitching mostly out of the Braves’ bullpen. In December of 1963 he was traded with Del Crandall and Bob Hendley to the San Francisco Giants for Felipe Alou, Ed Bailey, Billy Hoeft and a player to be named later. As a relief specialist, Shaw led the Giants in appearances with 61 and saved 11 games with a 7-6 record, posting a 3.76 ERA. In 1965, he moved into the Giants’ starting rotation and went 16-9 with a 2.64 ERA.

In 1966, the Giants sold Shaw to the New York Mets, and he finished the season at 12-14 combined. His last season was 1967, split between the Mets and the Chicago Cubs. Shaw went 3-11 with a 4.61 ERA.

In 11 major league seasons, Shaw was 108-98 with a 3.52 career earned run average. He was a member of the National League All-Star team in 1962.

 

 

 

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How to Catch Brave Pitchers

 

Glancing Back, and Remembering Del Crandall

During his prime, Del Crandall was generally acknowledged as one of the smartest handlers of pitchers among major league catchers. During the 1950s, with Crandall averaging better than 125 games caught per season, the Milwaukee Braves pitching staff consistently ranked among the best in the league in ERA, one of the reasons that the Braves enjoyed so much success in the late 1950. And for the most part, the man calling those pitches for the likes of Warren Spahn, Lew Burdette and Bob Buhl was Crandall.

In 13 seasons with the Milwaukee Braves, Del Crandall was an All-Star eight times. His best season with the Braves came in 1959, when he hit 21 home runs with 72 RBIs.

In 13 seasons with the Milwaukee Braves, Del Crandall was an All-Star eight times. His best season with the Braves came in 1959, when he hit 21 home runs with 72 RBIs.

Crandall was signed by the Boston Braves and made his major league debut as a 19-year-old rookie a year later. He was the Braves’ back-up back-stop his first two season, and did military service during the next two years. He returned to the Braves – now the Milwaukee edition – in 1953 as the team’s everyday catcher, hitting .272 that season with 15 home runs and 51 RBIs.

Hitting amid a power-laden Braves lineup that included Hank Aaron and Eddie Mathews, Crandall’s power production increased over the next two seasons, swatting 21 home runs with 64 RBIs in 1954 and 26 home runs with 62 RBIs in 1955. In 1959, catching 146 games for the Braves, Crandall hit .257 with 21 home runs and 72 RBIs. He followed up in 1960 by hitting .294 with 19 home runs and 77 RBIs.

Shoulder problems sidelined Crandall for most of the 1961 season, and opened the door for a young Braves catcher named Joe Torre. Crandall returned to catch 90 games in 1962, hitting a career high .297, but he gradually began surrendering more playing time to the talented Torre. In 1963, his last season with the Braves, Crandall hit only .201.

 

Del Crandall batted a career-best .297 with the Braves in 1962, but split playing time with 21-year-old Joe Torre (left). He also won his fourth Gold Glove that season.

Del Crandall batted a career-best .297 with the Braves in 1962, but split playing time with 21-year-old Joe Torre (left). He also won his fourth Gold Glove that season.

In December of 1963, the Braves traded Crandall, along with pitchers Bob Hendley and Bob Shaw, to the San Francisco Giants for Felipe Alou, Ed Bailey and Billy Hoeft. In 1964, Crandall hit .231 for the Giants as a back-up for catcher Tom Haller, and was traded after the season to the Pittsburgh Pirates for Bob Burda and Bob Priddy. He spent one season in Pittsburgh and then played his final season with the Cleveland Indians. He retired in 1966.

In 16 major league season, Crandall hit .254 with 1,276 hits, 179 home runs and 657 RBIs. From 1954 through 1960, his prime years with the Braves, Crandall averaged 19 home runs and 62 RBIs per season.

But even with these respectable numbers, it was Crandall’s defense and pitch-calling ability that set him apart. He was an All-Star eight times and won four Gold Gloves. He led all National League catchers in assists six times, in fielding percentage four times, and in total putouts three times – a testament not only to his playing skills but also his durability in the game’s most physically demanding position.

Spraying Rockets Around the National League

 

Homer Happy: Willie McCovey

What was most impressive about slugger Willie McCovey – beyond the career hitting statistics that earned him a place in the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility – was his consistency as a power hitter throughout his 22-season career, even though he battled injuries in nearly half of them. Twelve times he hit 20 or more home runs in a season, and in the six seasons from 1965 through 1970, he hit no fewer than 31.

From 1965-1969, Willie McCovey led the National League in home runs twice. He averaged 37 home runs and 102 RBIs during those five seasons.

From 1965-1969, Willie McCovey led the National League in home runs twice. He averaged 37 home runs and 102 RBIs during those five seasons.

His total of 521 career home runs – clearly Hall of Fame worthy – was limited by his opportunities to play during the first five years of his major league career. McCovey was signed by the New York Giants in 1955 and made his debut with the San Francisco Giants on July 30, 1959. In the remaining two months of that season, McCovey batted .354 with 13 homes runs and 38 RBIs – all in what was essentially a third of a season. He also posted a .656 slugging average, and was named National League Rookie of the Year.

As good as he was, McCovey wasn’t good enough to find a place in the Giants’ everyday lineup, a lineup that included Willie Mays, Orlando Cepeda, Felipe Alou and Willie Kirkland. By the end of the 1960 season, McCovey had earned a starting spot at first base.

With only 260 official at-bats in 1960, McCovey finished the season with 13 home runs and 51 RBIs. But the first base job went back to Cepeda in 1961, and McCovey returned to the role of part-time outfielder for the next two seasons. He hit 18 home runs in 1961 and 20 in 1962.

In 1963, McCovey was tabbed to be the team’s regular left fielder, and he responded with a league-leading 44 home runs and 102 runs batted in. A foot injury limited his playing time and productivity in 1964, when he batted .220 with 18 home runs and 54 RBIs. He rebounded in 1965 with 39 home runs, and hit more than 30 homers in each of the next three seasons, leading the National League in home runs (36) and RBIs (105) in 1968.

McCovey’s best season came in 1969, when he batted .320 and led the National League in home runs (45), RBIs (126) and slugging average (.656). He was selected as the National League Most Valuable Player that season.

McCovey bashed 39 home runs in 1970, the most he would hit in a single season over the rest of his career. Dogged by injuries over the next few years, he managed 29 home runs and 75 RBIs in 1973. He was traded to the San Diego Padres, and after two years split the 1976 season between the Padres and the Oakland Athletics. He returned to San Francisco in 1977 and had a strong comeback season at age 39, batting .280 with 28 home runs and 86 RBIs. He hit only 28 more home runs as a part-time player over the next three seasons, and retired in 1980. He finished with a career batting average of .270.

McCovey was a six-time All-Star, and was the Most Valuable player in the 1969 All-Star game. He hit 231 home runs in Candlestick Park, the most by any player. And McCovey was the first major league player to twice hit two home runs in a single inning.

He was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1986.

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Taking a Healthy Cut

 

Homer Happy Mack Jones

In the mid 1960s, the Milwaukee Braves fielded one of the most potent power lineups in the National League. Spearheaded by Hall of Famers Hank Aaron and Eddie Mathews, the Braves’ lineup also included stellar hitters such as Rico Carty, Joe Torre, Felipe Alou and a free-swinging left-handed hitter named Mack Jones.

Mack Jones hit 31 home runs with the Milwaukee Braves in 1965.

Mack Jones hit 31 home runs with the Milwaukee Braves in 1965.

Jones was signed by the Braves in 1958 and made the big league club as a reserve outfielder in 1961. He batted .255 with 10 home runs and 36 RBIs in 1962, but saw only limited playing time in his first three seasons with the Braves.

In 1965, Jones was named the starting center fielder for the Braves, and responded with the best season of his career: a .262 batting average with 31 home runs and 75 RBIs. His power numbers dropped off in each of the next two seasons, hitting 23 home runs in 1966 and 17 homers in 1967.

Following the 1967 season, he was traded with Jim Beauchamp and Jay Ritchie to the Cincinnati Reds for Deron Johnson.  In his only season in Cincinnati, Jones hit 10 home runs with 34 RBIs on a .252 batting average.

Jones was the fourth selection by the Montreal Expos in the 1968 expansion draft. He batted .270 for the Expos in 1969 with 22 home runs and 79 RBIs. He also matched his career high with 23 doubles. On April 14, 1969, he hit the first home run in a major league game played in Canada.

On April 14, 1969, Mack Jones hit the first home run in a major league game played in Canada. He hit 22 home runs for the Montreal Expos in that team’s inaugural season.

On April 14, 1969, Mack Jones hit the first home run in a major league game played in Canada. He hit 22 home runs for the Montreal Expos in that team’s inaugural season.

It would be his best season with Montreal. He hit .240 with 14 home runs and 32 RBIs in 1970, and played 43 games with the Expos in 1971 before being released.

Jones retired at age 32 after 10 big league seasons. He had a career batting average of .252.

Want Power? You Gotta Have Hart.

 

Homer Happy: Jim Ray Hart

Jim Ray Hart came up as one of the most promising prospects in the San Francisco Giants’ organization – which is saying a lot for an organization that produced Willie Mays, Orlando Cepeda, Willie McCovey, Felipe Alou, Matty Alou … all on the Giants’ roster when Jim Ray Hart arrived.

From 1965-1967, Jim Ray Hart batted a combined .291 and averaged 28 home runs and 96 RBIs per season.

From 1965-1967, Jim Ray Hart batted a combined .291 and averaged 28 home runs and 96 RBIs per season.

And while he never quite lived up to the legendary standards of his Hall of Fame teammates, Hart did provide offensive firepower to an already potent lineup, and became a favorite among Bay-area fans.

Hart was signed by the Giants in 1960 and made his first appearance at Candlestick Park in 1963. In 1964 he was awarded the starting job at third base, replacing Jim Davenport, and proceeded to tear up National League pitching by hitting .286 with 31 home runs and 81 RBIs. He finished tied for second in the Rookie of the Year vote with Rico Carty as Dick Allen of the Philadelphia Phillies claimed that season’s top rookie prize.

Hart continued his slugging ways for the Giants over the next three seasons. In 1965 he hit .299 with 23 home runs and 96 RBIs. He hit .285 in 1966 with 33 home runs and 93 RBIs. In 1967 Hart batted .289 with 29 home runs and 99 RBIs.

Then injuries started eating away at Hart’s productivity at the plate. He hit only 23 home runs with 78 RBIs in 1968, but he would never approach those power totals again. Though he would play four more years, Hart’s best season over the rest of his career would come in 1973 with the New York Yankees, when he would hit .254 with 13 home runs and 54 RBIs. He retired 10 games into the 1974 season.

Hart finished his 12-year career with a .278 batting average and 170 home runs. He ranks thirty-eighth among home run hitters during the 1960s.

Hart was a member of the 1966 National League All-Star team.

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Quiet Man with a Booming Bat

 

Homer Happy: Felipe Alou

Through the early and mid-1960s, Felipe Alou was a durable player with a productive bat for two of the National League’s best offensive teams: the San Francisco Giants and the Braves in both Milwaukee and Atlanta. In his prime, he consistently hit for average and power, complementing the Hall of Fame sluggers who surrounded him in those teams’ batting orders.

Felipe Alou hit 31 home runs for the Milwaukee Braves in 1965.

Felipe Alou hit 31 home runs for the Milwaukee Braves in 1965.

A native of the Dominican Republic, Alou was signed by the New York Giants in 1955. He made his debut with the San Francisco Giants in 1958 and was a starting outfielder with the Giants by 1961, when he hit .289 with 18 home runs and 52 RBIs. In the Giants’ pennant-winning season of 1962, Alou hit .316 with 25 home runs and 98 RBIs.

Following the 1963 season, Alou was traded with catcher Ed Bailey and pitcher Billy Hoeft to the Milwaukee Braves for catcher Del Crandall and pitchers Bob Hendley and Bob Shaw. After struggling through the 1964 season, he bounced back in 1965, hitting .327 with 31 home runs and 74 RBIs. That season he led the National League in hits (218) and runs (122). He also led the league in hits with 210 in 1968, batting .317.

Felipe Alou’s .327 batting average in 1965 was second in the National League to brother Matty Alou. He led the league in both hits and runs.

Alou’s offensive numbers declined steadily after that, as he made stops in Oakland, New York (Yankees), Montreal and the Milwaukee Brewers, retiring three games into the 1974 season. He was the brother of two other major leaguers, Matty and Jesus, as well as the father of Moises Alou. He spent 14 seasons as a manager for the Montreal Expos and the Giants, and as the Expos’ skipper was named Manager of the Year in 1994.

In 17 major league seasons, Alou batted .286 with 2,101 hits and 206 home runs. His 165 home runs during the 1960s put him at number 32 among major league sluggers of that decade.

 

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