Sometimes Size Counts

 

Homer Happy: Frank Howard

Frank Howard made opposing pitchers cringe. At six-foot-seven and 255 pounds, he was an imposing presence at the plate. Not even the higher mound (15 inches high until 1969) gave pitchers as much of an advantage. At his height, he could still nearly look them in the eye.

With his strength, every pitch was a potential souvenir. His last manager with the Washington Senators, the legendary Ted Williams, called Howard the strongest man in baseball. No one questioned Williams’ hitting acumen, and no one could argue his point about Howard.

In 1968, the “Year of the Pitcher” when most of major league hitting was in a coma, Howard hit home runs as if the regular season were simply extended batting practice. He launched 44 homers that season – ten of them within a single week – eight more than Willie Horton and the rest of the American League’s sluggers. He hit 136 home runs from 1968-1970, none of them cheap.

While known primarily for his size and strength, Frank Howard was also a fine all-around athlete. At Ohio State, he was an All-American in basketball as well as baseball.

What Howard brought to the batter’s box wasn’t fair. He was more than just another lumbering slugger. Matching his strength was an athletic ability practically unheard of in a hitter his size. He had been an All-American in basketball (as well as baseball) at Ohio State before signing with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1958.

His minor league career lasted only two seasons, when he butchered minor league pitchers for 37 home runs in 1958 and 43 in 1959. He was ready for the big time.

In 1960, Howard walked away with National League Rookie of the Year honors by batting .268 with 23 home runs and 77 RBIs. A thumb injury limited him to only 15 home runs in 1961, but a healthy season in 1962 produced 31 home runs with 119 runs batted in.

After hitting 23 home runs as a rookie in 1960, Frank Howard led the Los Angeles Dodgers with 31 home runs and 119 RBIs in 1962.

Despite that kind of productivity at the plate, the Dodgers – and in particular, manager Walt Alston – saw Howard primarily as a platoon player. And pitcher-friendly Dodger Stadium seemed more conducive to slashing hitters like Tommy Davis and to the base path speed of Maury Wills and Willie Davis. Howard just didn’t seem to fit in with the Dodgers’ offensive strategy. Plus Howard’s power output appeared to be declining: to 28 home runs in 1963 and 24 in 1964, and he drove in less than 70 runs both seasons.

So in December of 1964, the Dodgers sent Howard to the Washington Senators as part of a seven-player swap that brought Washington’s ace pitcher, Claude Osteen, to the West Coast.  Playing for the worst team in the American League and battling injuries season-long, Howard batted .289 for the Senators in 1965 and led the team with 21 home runs and 84 RBIs. After hitting only 18 home runs in 1966, he doubled that total in 1967.

The 1968 season was when Howard lifted his slugging to elite status. While the rest of the American League was hitting for a combined .230 average, Howard batted .274 and led the league with 44 home runs, 330 total bases and a .552 slugging percentage. His 106 RBIs were second best in the league (to Ken Harrelson‘s 109).

For six days in May of 1968, Frank Howard was a home run machine – hitting 10 homers in six games and only 20 at-bats. He finished the 1968 season with 44 home runs and 106 runs batted in.

This was also the season when Howard went on a home run tear in May, blasting ten home runs in six games and doing it in only 20 at-bats. Howard did even better in 1969, batting .296 with 48 home runs and 111 RBIs. Harmon Killebrew led the league in both home runs and RBIs that season, but Howard was the league leader with 340 total bases and was fourth with a .574 slugging percentage. In 1970, he would lead the league in home runs (44) and RBIs (126).

Howard retired in 1973 with 382 home runs and 1,119 RBIs. He posted a career batting average of .273 and a .499 career slugging average. At his peak as a slugger, from 1967 through 1970, Howard averaged 43 home runs and 108 RBIs per season.

 

 

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Dodgers’ Broom Sweeps Yankees Done

 

This Week in 1960s Baseball

(October 6, 1963) The Los Angeles Dodgers today completed a four-game World Series sweep of the New York Yankees as Sandy Koufax won his second game of the Series, 2-1.

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A six-hit pitching performance by Sandy Koufax clinched the 1963 World Series for the Los Angeles Dodgers as they beat the New York Yankees 2-1. In the Series, Koufax was 2-0 with a 1.50 ERA to earn MVP honors.

Koufax, who was selected as the Most Valuable Player of the 1963 World Series, allowed one run on six hits with eight strikeouts. For the Series, Koufax struck out 23 Yankee batters in 18 innings pitched.

In Game Four, Frank Howard led the Dodger offense with a home run and a single, the only two hits Whitey Ford gave up. The Dodgers scored the decisive run in the seventh inning when New York first baseman Joe Pepitone lost a thrown ball in white-shirted crowd. Junior Gilliam scored on the error.

The Yankees scored their only run in the top of the seventh inning on Mickey Mantle’s solo home run. It was the fifteenth World Series home run of Mantle’s career, and his only RBI in this Series.

 

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L.A.’s Other Southpaw Ace

 

Glancing Back, and Remembering Claude Osteen

For nearly a decade, Claude Osteen was the best left-handed starting pitcher on the Los Angeles Dodgers’ staff, once a guy named Sandy Koufax had retired. He was a workhorse who averaged 261 innings pitched per season from 1963 to 1973. During that period, he pitched 121 complete games in 400 starts, with 36 shutouts and a combined earned run average of 3.13.

Claude Osteen was signed out of high school by the Cincinnati Reds in 1957. He made three token appearances with the Reds in 1958, and then progressed spectacularly through the Reds’ farm system, winning 19 games in 1956 and eight in 1959 before being called up to Cincinnati. He did more sitting than pitching in 1960, and was returned to the minors in 1961, where he won 16 games before being traded to the Washington Senators.

Traded to the Washington Senators in 1961, Claude Osteen emerged as a solid starting pitcher and the team’s ace.

Traded to the Washington Senators in 1961, Claude Osteen emerged as a solid starting pitcher and the team’s ace.

In Washington, Osteen finally got the chance to pitch regularly. In fact, in 1962, his first season with the Senators, his 150.1 innings pitched were more than he pitched in five previous seasons with the Reds. Osteen was 8-13 with a 3.65 ERA in 1962 for the American League’s worst team.

He quickly established himself as the ace of the Senators’ staff, going 9-14 with a 3.35 ERA in 1963 and 15-13 with a 3.33 ERA in 1964. He pitched 257.0 innings that season with 13 complete games in 36 starts, all for a team that finished the season at 62-100.

Over the winter, Osteen was involved in a blockbuster deal that sent him and infielder John Kennedy to the Los Angeles Dodgers for Frank Howard, Ken McMullen, Phil Ortega, Dick Nen and Pete Richert. In his first season with the Dodgers, Osteen went 15-15 with a 2.79 ERA.  He was 1-1 in his two World Series starts with a 0.64 ERA.

Osteen flourished as the Dodgers’ number three starter behind Koufax and Don Drysdale. He followed up in 1966 with a 17-14 season on a 2.85 ERA. His only World Series appearance in 1966 – and the last of his career – was a three-hit, 1-0 loss to Wally Bunker and the Baltimore Orioles.

In nine seasons with the Los Angeles Dodgers, Claude Osteen won 147 games with a 3.09 ERA. He pitched an average of 266 innings per season with the Dodgers.

When Koufax retired after the 1966 season, Osteen stepped up as the Dodgers’ ace left-hander. He won 17 games in 1967 and then went 12-18 (tied with Ray Sadecki for the league high in losses) on a 3.08 ERA. He bounced back to win 20 games in 1969, pitching 16 complete games and 321.0 innings with a 2.66 ERA. He also threw seven shutouts.

Osteen pitched four more seasons with the Dodgers, winning 66 games. His best season was 1972, when he went 20-11 with a 2.64 ERA and 14 complete games. After a 16-11 campaign in 1973, he was traded to the Houston Astros for outfielder Jim Wynn. He was 9-9 for Houston before being traded near the end of the 1974 season to the St. Louis Cardinals. He signed with the Chicago White Sox at the beginning of the 1975 season, and went 7-16 for Chicago and then retired.

In 18 major league seasons, Osteen compiled a 196-195 record with a 3.30 ERA. He was an All-Star three times.

Richert Rocks

 

Lights Out: Pete Richert Sets a Strikeout Record in His Major League Debut

When: April 12, 1962

Where:  Dodger Stadium, Los Angeles, California

Game Time: 3:17

Attendance: 24,570

He made his major league debut in a game that was on the verge of getting away from the Los Angeles Dodgers.  With two outs in the bottom of the second inning, the Cincinnati Reds had already scored four runs in the inning, with Cincinnati shortstop Eddie Kasko standing at second.

Pete Richert began his major league career by striking out the first 6 batters he faced.

Pete Richert began his major league career by striking out the first 6 batters he faced.

The next batter was Vada Pinson, the Cincinnati Reds center fielder who would bat .292 with 100 RBIs on the season after hitting .343 in 1961.

The inning ended with Pinson striking out swinging.

It was the first strikeout of Pete Richert’s major league career … on the first batter that the Los Angeles Dodgers left-hander faced in his major league debut.

But Richert wasn’t done.

In the third inning, Richert struck out the Reds … all four of them. (First baseman Gordy Coleman reached first on a passed ball after striking out.) In the top of the fourth, Richert struck out the first hitter – outfielder Tommy Harper – for his sixth consecutive strikeout … in what was, thus far, a 6-batter major league career.

No one before Pete Richert had opened his pitching career by striking out the first six major league batters he faced. And no one else has done it since.

On that day, Richert pitched a total of 3.1 hitless, scoreless innings, striking out seven Reds batters. His brilliant debut did not go to waste. The Dodgers scored seven runs in the bottom of the sixth, taking a 7-4 lead in a game Los Angeles would eventually win by a score of 11-7.

Richert’s rookie season in Los Angeles resulted in a 5-4 record with a 3.87 ERA. He struck out 75 batters in 81.1 innings. Richert would win only seven more games for the Dodgers over the next two seasons. Following the 1964 season, he was traded with Frank Howard, Ken McMullen and Phil Ortega to the Washington Senators for John Kennedy, Claude Osteen and $100,000. (First baseman Dick Nen was sent to the Senators as the player named later.) With Washington, Richert became the team’s ace starter, going 15-12 (with a 2.60 ERA) in 1965.

Early in the 1967 campaign, Richert was traded to the Baltimore Orioles for Frank Bertaina and Mike Epstein. During his five-year stay in Baltimore, Richert became one of the American League’s best left-handed relievers. He also pitched for the Dodgers (again), as well as for the St. Louis Cardinals and Philadelphia Phillies before retiring after the 1974 season.

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Full Throttle in Center

 

 

Glancing Back, and Remembering Willie Davis

For nearly the entire 1960s, center field in Dodger Stadium was patrolled by one of the fastest men in baseball during that decade, Willie Davis. Replacing Hall of Famer Duke Snider in 1961, Davis played 14 seasons with the Los Angeles Dodgers (out of an 18-season major league career) and, by the time he retired, held more than a handful of Dodger records, with both his bat and his glove.

Willie Davis collected more base hits than any Dodger since the team moved to Los Angeles in 1958. He retired with a .279 career batting average.

Willie Davis collected more base hits than any Dodger since the team moved to Los Angeles in 1958. He retired with a .279 career batting average.

Davis was a three-sport athlete in high school when he was signed by the Dodgers in 1958. He made his debut with the Dodgers in 1960 and had taken over the center field position from Snider by the end of 1961. In his first full season as a starter, Davis hit .285 for the Dodgers in 1962, with 21 home runs and 85 RBIs. He batted a combined .279 in his 14 seasons with the Dodgers.

Davis made full use of his tremendous speed both at the plate and in the outfield. He led the National League in triples in 1962 (10) and in 1970 (16). Teamed with shortstop Maury Wills at the top of the Dodger batting order, he gave middle-of-the-lineup hitters such as Tommy Davis, Frank Howard and Ron Fairly plenty of RBI opportunities, and was capable of driving in runs himself, recording a career high of 93 RBIs in 1970. While Wills was the Dodgers’ premier base stealer during the 1960s, Davis was no slouch in the “theft” department, and was a better all-around hitter than Wills. Davis stole 20 or more bases in a season 13 times in his career, with a career best of 42 in 1964.

The 1960s featured an abundance of outstanding defensive center fielders, and Davis was one of the best of the best. He led all National League outfielders in total putouts in 1964 (400) and in 1971 (404). He finished in the top five in that category 12 times in his career. He remains fourth all-time in career putouts as a center fielder (5,278).

Willie Davis stole 20 or more bases 13 times in his 18-year career.

Willie Davis stole 20 or more bases 13 times in his 18-year career.

In December of 1973, the Dodgers traded Davis to the Montreal Expos for pitcher Mike Marshall. Davis hit .295 in his only season in Montreal, and then was traded to the Texas Rangers for Pete Mackanin and Don Stanhouse. He played for only two months with the Rangers, and in June of 1975 was shipped to the St. Louis Cardinals for Ed Brinkman and Tommy Moore. He also made brief stops with the San Diego Padres and the California Angels before closing out his playing career in Japan.

Davis retired with 2,561 hits and a career batting average of .279. He has more hits than any Dodger since the team moved to Los Angeles in 1958, and his 31-game hitting streak in 1969 remains the franchise record. During his career, Davis won three Gold Gloves and was an All-Star twice.

 

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D.C. Gets A New Monument

 

Swap Shop – Frank Howard for Claude Osteen

Only a desperate team would trade the ace of its pitching staff.

That’s what the Washington Senators were when they dealt left-hander Claude Osteen to the Los Angeles Dodgers in December of 1964.

Frank Howard

Frank Howard

What the Senators got, as part of the seven-player swap, was an outfielder who would emerge as one of the most dangerous sluggers of the late 1960s, the towering Frank Howard.

The Senators had been the perennial American League doormats since their introduction as a new franchise in 1961. Osteen, acquired from the Cincinnati Reds in 1961, accounted for nearly one-fourth of the team’s victories in 1964, going 15-13 for a team that won only 62 games.

Howard had averaged 28 home runs and 84 RBIs for the Dodgers in the three previous seasons. But Los Angeles was looking to get back to the World Series with a team built on speed, defense and pitching. Howard was expendable, and Osteen fit the bill.

It turned out to be a trade with long-term benefits for both teams. Osteen would win 147 games over the next nine seasons with the Dodgers. He would twice win 20 games, and twice lead the National League in innings pitched.

Claude Osteen

Claude Osteen

And the six-foot-seven-inch Howard, whom Ted Williams called the strongest hitter in baseball, blossomed into one of the American League’s most prolific home run hitters. From 1967-1970, he averaged 43 home runs and 108 RBIs per season.

He was just what Washington needed – another monument to power.