Man Mauls Mets … and Cardinals Soar

 

Lights Out: Stan Musial Demolishes New York Mets’ Pitching

When: July 8, 1962

Where:  Polo Grounds, New York, New York

Game Time: 2:47

Attendance: 12,460

When the National League’s oldest player came up against its youngest team, the result was devastating to the arms on the New York Mets’ pitching staff.

But it’s what Stan Musial had been doing to NL pitching staffs for more than two decades. In 1962, he was doing it in a way that reminded you of The Man in his prime.

At age 41, Stan Musial seemed to be rejuvenated in 1962. He finished third in the National League in hitting with a .330 batting average. He hit 19 home runs with 82 RBIs, and his .416 on-base percentage was second highest in the league.

He proved to be more Man than the Mets could handle.

The 1962 season would be the next-to-last in Musial’s 22-year major league career. He was a seven-time batting champion and three-time Most Valuable Player. He had more hits and runs batted in than any other National League hitter. And more home runs than any player who had never won a home run title.

Now 41, Musial was having his best season in the past five years. Coming into the July 8 game with the Mets, Musial was batting .325 with nine home runs and 37 runs batted in. Against the Mets’ woeful pitching, he was practically invincible. (Musial batted .443 against the Mets in 1962.) Today would be no exception.

Mets starter Jay Hook retired the first two Cardinals batters, then first baseman Bill White launched a solo home run to the right field seats. Musial followed with his tenth home run of the season to right.

After their first turn at bat, the Cardinals were up 2-0. It would turn out to be all the runs they would need, but not all they were going to get.

Cardinals starter Bob Gibson retired the Mets in the first two innings without allowing any runs. Then Gibson helped himself by hitting the team’s third solo home run to lead off the third inning. In his second plate appearance, Musial walked, and the Cardinals scored their fourth run when Ken Boyer singled, driving in Curt Flood.

Ah, pitching for the New York Mets in 1962 … Mets starter Jay Hook (6-9) was rocked for nine runs in four innings. But only four of those runs were earned.

Like so many Mets contests in their inaugural season, the game was lost early. But no one told Musial or the Cardinals. They scored five runs off Hook in the fourth inning – all unearned, and the last two coming from Musial’s eleventh home run. Musial hit his third home run of the game to lead off the seventh inning, this time off reliever Willard Hunter. Fred Whitfield, who replaced White at first in the fourth inning, hit a two-run homer off Bob Miller in the eighth inning. Musial came up with the bases empty and struck out … but the Mets still couldn’t retire him. On the third strike, the ball got by Chris Cannizzaro and Musial beat the throw to first. Bobby Smith ended Musial’s day, replacing The Man as the runner at first.

The Cardinals scored three more runs in the ninth, including Whitfield’s third RBI of the day. The Mets scored their lone run in the bottom of the ninth off Gibson, who pitched a three-hit complete game to earn his tenth win of the season.

On the day, Musial went three for four with four RBIs and scoring three runs. He raised his season’s batting average to .333, the highest among Cardinal regulars. He would end the 1962 season batting .330 with 19 home runs and 82 RBIs, finishing third in the 1962 hitting race behind Tommy Davis (.346) and Frank Robinson (.342).

 

 

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Phillies Fire Fighter

 

Oh, What a Relief: Jack Baldschun

As baseball entered the 1960s, the National League’s worst team (pre-expansion) was indisputably the Philadelphia Phillies. The National League champs in 1950, the Phillies had fallen to the bottom of the standings by 1958 and stayed there through 1961, spared in 1962 only by the arrival of the New York Mets and the Houston Colt .45s, as well as the decline of the Chicago Cubs.

The 1961 Phillies set a record with a won-lost log of 47-107, a record for futility eclipsed mercifully the next season by the 40-120 inaugural campaign posted by the Mets. The only pitcher on the 1961 Phillies staff with a winning record was a 24-year-old rookie reliever named Jack Baldschun with a 5-3 record. He was also second on that team in ERA (3.88) and saves (3) while making the most appearances of any Phillies pitcher (65, tops in the National League).

From 1962 to 1964, Jack Baldschun was the ace of the Philadelphia bullpen, winning 29 games and saving 50 with a combined 2.79 ERA.

From 1962 to 1964, Jack Baldschun was the ace of the Philadelphia bullpen, winning 29 games and saving 50 with a combined 2.79 ERA.

Over the next three seasons, Baldschun would emerge as one of the league’s best closers, an emergence that coincided with Philadelphia’s steady rise in the standings.

Baldschun was originally signed in 1956 by the Washington Senators, and toiled in the Senators’ farm system for five years until he mastered the screwball that proved to be his ticket to the majors. He was drafted by the Phillies in the 1960 Rule 5 draft. His success as a rookie in 1961 proved to be no fluke, as Baldschun appeared in 67 games for the Phillies in 1962, all in relief, finishing 49 games for the club. He won 12 games in relief and saved 13 more with a 2.96 earned run average.

Baldschun was even better in 1963. He went 11-7 in 65 relief appearances with a 2.30 ERA. He finished 44 games for the Phillies and saved 16, tied for third-best in the league with Roy Face.

Baldschun’s 21 saves in 1964 were again third-best in the league, but his ERA rose to a still-respectable 3.12 while his won-lost record slipped to 6-9. The 1964 season will be remembered in Philadelphia as the one that got away, as the Phillies lost 10 straight games down the stretch and saw a 6.5 game lead on September 20 evaporate completely. Phillies manager Gene Mauch lost confidence in Baldschun as his closer (even though he finished 51 games in 71 appearances that season) and Baldschun saw no action as the pennant slipped away from Philadelphia.

Baldschun was never the same pitcher after that. His record in 1965 slipped to 5-8 with a 3.82 ERA and only six saves in 65 appearances. After the 1965 season, Baldschun was traded to the Baltimore Orioles for Jackie Brandt and Darold Knowles. Three days later, the Orioles packaged Baldschun with pitchers Milt Pappas and Dick Simpson in the deal with the Cincinnati Reds that brought Frank Robinson to Baltimore. Baldschun went 1-5 for the Reds with no saves and a 5.49 ERA. In 1967, he appeared in only nine games for the Reds before being sent down to AAA ball to re-discover his former effectiveness, but mostly he struggled at that level. The Reds released Baldschun after the 1969 season, the last remnant of the infamous (for Cincinnati fans) Frank Robinson trade.

Balschun signed with the San Diego Padres and appeared in 65 games for San Diego in 1970. His record was 7-2, but he registered only one save with a 4.79 ERA. The Padres released him at the beginning of the 1970 season.

Baldschun’s nine-year career produced a 48-41 record with a 3.69 ERA. He appeared in 457 games and finished 267 with 60 saves – all but one of those saves with the Phillies. Even though he pitched only 5 seasons with Philadelphia, Baldschun’s 333 appearances still rank him eighth all-time in games pitched among Phillies hurlers.

Jack of All Bases

 

Glancing Back, and Remembering Jackie Brandt

Jackie Brandt was a multi-talented outfielder who played for five different teams during his 11-year major league career. His best seasons came with the Baltimore Orioles, where he was an All-Star in 1961.

Brandt was signed by the St. Louis Cardinals in 1953 and made his debut with the team in 1956. After 27 games with St. Louis, he was traded (with Red Schoendienst) to the New York Giants, batting .299 in 98 games for the Giants with 11 home runs and 47 runs batted in. He spent 1957 and most of the 1958 season in military service, and then hit .270 for the Giants in 1959. He also won a Gold Glove that year.

Jackie Brandt was a member of the American League All-Star team in 1961. That season, he batted .297 with 16 home runs and 72 RBIs.

Jackie Brandt was a member of the American League All-Star team in 1961. That season, he batted .297 with 16 home runs and 72 RBIs.

Following the 1959 season, Brandt was traded with Gordon Jones and Roger McCardell to the Baltimore Orioles for Billy Loes and Billy O’Dell. He batted .254 with the Orioles in 1960, and then had his best season at the plate in 1961, hitting .297 with 16 home runs and 72 RBIs. That summer he was named to the American League All-Star team.

Brandt batted .255 in 1962, with career highs in doubles (29), home runs (19) and RBIs (75). In his six seasons with the Orioles, Brandt hit a combined .258 and averaged 14 home runs and 57 RBIs per season.

In December of 1965, Brandt was involved in the first of two trades that would transform the Orioles from perennial also-rans to World Series champions. First Brandt traded with  pitcher Darold Knowles to the Philadelphia Phillies for that team’s bullpen workhorse, Jack Baldschun. While Brandt found a new home in Philadelphia, Baldschun’s stay in Baltimore lasted only a few hours. The next day, Balschun was packaged with pitcher Milt Pappas and dealt to the Cincinnati Reds for an outfielder … one Frank Robinson. The rest, as they say, is history.

Now 32, Brandt appeared in only 82 games with the Phillies in 1966, batting .250 with one home run and 15 RBIs. He split the 1967 season between the Phillies and the Houston Astros, batting .213 in 57 games. He retired after the 1967 season.

Brandt had a career batting average of .262 on 1,020 hits, including 175 doubles and 112 home runs.

Boswell Does Well

 

Glancing Back, and Remembering Dave Boswell

Sometimes a single pitch can make or break a career. For Minnesota Twins right-hander Dave Boswell, a single pitch in 1969 threw a promising career in reverse.

Dave Boswell's best season came in 1969, when his 20-12 record made him the leader of the Minnesota Twins staff.

Dave Boswell’s best season came in 1969, when his 20-12 record made him the leader of the Minnesota Twins staff.

Boswell was signed by the Minnesota Twins in 1963 and won his first two decisions for the Twins at the end of the 1964 season. He was 6-5 with a 3.40 ERA in 1965, and then led the American League with a .706 winning percentage in 1966, going 12-5 with a 3.14 ERA.

Boswell was improving gradually and steadily as a Twins starter. He went 14-12 in 1967 with a 3.27 ERA, and then slipped to 10-13 in 1968.

In 1969, Boswell helped the Twins with the West Division by going 20-12 with a 3.23 ERA. During the League Championship Series, which the Twins would lose to the Baltimore Orioles, Boswell was locked in a scoreless duel with O’s starter Dave McNally. In the tenth inning, he felt something “pop” in his shoulder on a slider thrown to Frank Robinson. The Orioles would score the game’s only run in the eleventh inning.

Boswell never fully recovered from that injury, and he was never the same pitcher that won 20 games in 1969. He was 3-7 in 1970 with a 6.42 ERA. In 1971 he was released by the Twins, and split the 1971 season between the Detroit Tigers and the Baltimore Orioles, going 1-2 with a combined ERA of 4.66. He retired after the 1971 season.

Boswell pitched only eight years in the major leagues, posting a 68-56 record with a career earned run average of 3.52.

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No Compromise

 

Glancing Back, and Remembering Andy Messersmith

Andy Messersmith will always be remembered primarily for his role in helping bring down baseball’s “reserve clause” that effectively bound a player to a particular team for life … or until the team decided to trade or release him. When Messersmith took the Los Angeles Dodgers to arbitration and won free agent status, it created the free agent opportunity that every major league player can enjoy today. It culminated in the final dismantling of teams’ stranglehold on players, a dismantling that began with Curt Flood in 1969.

Andy Messersmith won 130 games in the major leagues. He was also the first player to test the reserve clause successfully and win the right to negotiate as a free agent.

Andy Messersmith won 130 games in the major leagues. He was also the first player to test the reserve clause successfully and win the right to negotiate as a free agent.

Part of the reason that Messersmith’s case was so high profile was that, as a starting pitcher, Messersmith himself was high profile. He was one of the best right-handers of his generation, and at his best was one of the game’s most dominant pitchers.

Messersmith was selected by the California Angels with the twelfth overall pick in the 1966 amateur draft. The hard-throwing Messersmith was pitching out of the Angels’ bullpen four years later, and was a member of the team’s starting rotation by 1969, when he went 16-11 and posted a 2.52 ERA. He went 11-10 in 1970, and won 20 games for the Angels in 1972, with four shutouts and 14 complete games in 38 starts.

Messersmith slipped to 8-11 in 1973, and was traded with Ken McMullen to the Los Angeles Dodgers for Billy Grabarkewitz, Frank Robinson, Bill Singer, Mike Strahler and Bobby Valentine. He went 14-10 in his first season with the Dodgers, and followed that with a 20-6 season in 1974, posting a 2.59 ERA.

Messersmith had requested a no-trade clause be included in his 1975 contract, which the Dodgers refused. Messersmith in turn refused to sign a new contract, and played the 1975 season without a contract under the reserve clause. He went 19-14 with a 2.29 ERA. He led the National League in games started (40), innings pitched (321.2), complete games (19) and shutouts (7). He also won his second consecutive Gold Glove that season.

Messersmith was granted his free agency and signed with the Atlanta Braves. But he was never the same pitcher again. He was 11-11 with the Braves in 1976, and went 7-11 over the next three seasons with the Braves, the New York Yankees and the Dodgers. He retired after being released by the Dodgers in 1979.

Messersmith was an All-Star four times during his 12-year career. His career record was 130-99 with a 2.86 ERA. He had 27 shutouts in 295 starts.

 

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Quiet Production

 

Glancing Back, and Remembering Norm Siebern

Tall, athletic and bespectacled, Norm Siebern was a solid hitter who “grew up” professionally in the New York Yankees organization and blossomed into an All-Star outfielder and first baseman with the Kansas City Athletics. The New York papers – and even Yankees manager Casey Stengel – occasionally made sport of his quiet demeanor, but there was no question about the quality of his production, at bat and in the field.

Norm Siebern’s best season came with the Kansas City Athletcs in 1962, batting .308 with 25 home runs and 117 RBIs.

Norm Siebern’s best season came with the Kansas City Athletcs in 1962, batting .308 with 25 home runs and 117 RBIs.

Siebern was signed by the Yankees in 1951 and, after two years in the minors and a military tour, Siebern made his debut with the Yankees in 1956, hitting .204 in 54 games. The well-stocked Yankees outfield left no room for Siebern, so he returned to the minors in 1957, hitting .349 for Denver in the American Association, with 45 doubles, 15 triples, 24 home runs and 118 RBIs. He was named Sporting News Minor League Player of the Year for 1957.

That performance earned Siebern a permanent place on the Yankees roster in 1958, and he responded with 14 home runs, 55 RBIs and a .300 batting average. Siebern won the Gold Glove for his left field play, but ironically, it was pair of errors in the 1958 World Series that sent him to the bench for most of that Series.

Siebern hit .271 in 1959, and after the season was traded with Hank Bauer, Don Larsen and Marv Throneberry to the Kansas City Athletics for Joe DeMaestri, Kent Hadley and Roger Maris. He hit .279 for the A’s in 1960 with 19 home runs and 69 RBIs. His performance was overshadowed by the MVP season that Maris had for the Yankees.

Siebern’s hitting kept improving, especially as he spent more time at first base for the A’s. He batted .296 in 1961 with 36 doubles, 18 home runs and 98 RBIs. In 1962, Siebern hit .308 (fifth highest in the American League) with 25 doubles, 25 home runs and 117 RBIs (second in the AL to Harmon Killebrew‘s 126).

Norm Siebern had an outstanding rookie season for the New York Yankees in 1958, batting .300 and winning the Gold Glove in left field.

Norm Siebern had an outstanding rookie season for the New York Yankees in 1958, batting .300 and winning the Gold Glove in left field.

Siebern’s production fell off slightly in 1963, batting .272 with 16 home runs and 83 RBIs, and after that season he was traded to the Baltimore Orioles for first baseman Jim Gentile. He hit .245 for the Orioles in 1964 with 12 home runs and 56 RBIs, and he led the majors with 106 walks. In 1965, the O’s, to make room for Curt Blefary and Paul Blair, moved Boog Powell from the outfield to first base, limiting Siebern’s playing time. After that season he was traded to the California Angels for Dick Simpson, whom the Orioles later packaged in the trade for Frank Robinson.

Siebern hit .247 in 1966, his only season with the Angels. He was traded to the San Francisco Giants for outfielder Len Gabrielson, and in July of 1967 was purchased by the Boston Red Sox. A part-time player for Boston, Siebern was released by the Red Sox in August of 1968 and retired.

Siebern finished his 12-season major league career with a .272 batting average. He had 1,217 hits and 132 home runs. He was an All-Star from 1962 through 1964.

The Year He Was Everything But MVP.

 

Career Year: Tommy Davis (1962)

In his 1962 break-out season, outfielder Tommy Davis did everything he needed to do to claim the National League’s Most Valuable Player award.

Everything, that is, except to actually win it.

Here’s how it happened.That season’s MVP went to teammate Maury Wills. Looking back a half-century, and looking at the numbers for both players, it’s hard to justify how Davis got passed over.

Tommy Davis - Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder won the National League batting title in 1962 and 1963

Tommy Davis – Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder won the National League batting title in 1962 and 1963

Tommy Davis was signed by the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1956. He never batted below .300 in 4 minor league seasons. In 1959, with Spokane in the Pacific Coast League, Davis batted .345 with 18 home runs and 78 RBIs. He made his major league debut with the Los Angeles Dodgers at the end of the 1959 season, striking out in his only plate appearance.

Davis opened the 1960 season on the Dodgers’ roster, and gradually took over full-time duties in center field from Duke Snider and Don Demeter. He finished the 1960 season batting .276 with 11 home runs and 44 runs batted in. In 1961, Davis batted .278 with 15 home runs and 58 RBIs. He played 86 games in the outfield, at all three positions, and played 59 games at third base. He was, essentially, a utility player for the Dodgers.

That would change in 1962. He opened the season as the team’s everyday left fielder, and was hitting .316 at the end of April. In May he batted .336 with five home runs and 25 RBIs, and in June Davis batted .354 with three home runs and 32 RBIs. By the All-Star break, Davis was batting .353 with 15 doubles, 15 home runs and 90 RBIs. He made his first All-Star appearance that season.

While Davis was leading the National League in hits, runs batted in and batting average, he wasn’t getting national media attention for his monster season. During the first half of the season, the media reserved their Dodger focus on a pair of pitchers – Don Drysdale and Sandy Koufax – who were having outstanding seasons in leading the Dodgers to the top of the National League standings. At the All-Star break in 1962, Drysdale was 15-4 with a 2.88 ERA. Koufax, an 18-game winner in 1961, was 13-4 with a 2.15 ERA and led the major leagues with 202 strikeouts. Drysdale would go on to win the Cy Young award with a 25-9 record, while an arm injury would limit Koufax to only one more victory over the rest of the 1962 campaign.

The other media “distraction” from Davis’ season was a record-breaking performance by Dodger shortstop Maury Wills. By late July, it became obvious that Wills was on his way to breaking the single season record for stolen bases held by Ty Cobb. It would be the second consecutive year when a hallowed baseball record was under assault, as only a year before there was a media frenzy following Roger Maris’ (and Mickey Mantle’s) chase of Babe Ruth’s record for home runs in a single season.

Tommy Davis led the NL with 230 hits in 1962, the most in 25 years.

Wills eventually caught Cobb’s record of 96 stolen bases and finished the season with 104, a season which the Dodgers and the San Francisco Giants finished in a dead heat, requiring a three-game playoff which the Giants won. It was an exciting season on many fronts.

And Tommy Davis? Lost in the shuffle of a heated pennant race and outstanding individual performances, Davis led the National League with 230 hits (32 ahead of Wills and Frank Robinson), 153 RBIs (12 ahead of Willie Mays) and a .346 batting average. He also finished fourth in the league in doubles and total bases, fifth in triples and slugging (.535 percentage), and seventh in stolen bases.

In the MVP voting, Davis finished third behind Wills and Mays. Stolen bases and triples were the only offensive categories in which Wills was the league leader.

It would be the best season of Tommy Davis’ career. He would lead the National League in hitting again in 1963 with a .326 average, but his power numbers would drop to 16 home runs (compared to 27 in 1962) and 88 RBIs, down 65 from the previous season. He would suffer a broken ankle during the 1965 season that would compromise his speed for the rest of his career, though Davis would remain a steady hitter throughout his 18-year career, retiring after the 1976 season with a .294 career batting average.

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Portable Power

 

Homer Happy: Deron Johnson

Hitting the ball hard was Deron Johnson’s specialty. Pete Rose said he never saw anyone hit the ball harder.

Playing for the Cincinnati Reds, Deron Johnson led the National League with 130 RBIs in 1965.

Playing for the Cincinnati Reds, Deron Johnson led the National League with 130 RBIs in 1965.

Johnson was signed by the New York Yankees in 1956, but there was no room for him in the Yankees’ powerful lineup of the late 1950s. He managed a token appearance with New York in 1960.

Thirteen games into the 1961 season, Johnson was traded with pitcher Art Ditmar to the Kansas City Athletics for pitcher Bud Daley. In 83 games with the A’s, he hit eight home runs with 44 RBIs but batted only .216. He spent most of the next two seasons in the minors and then was purchased by the Cincinnati Reds.

In Cincinnati, Johnson matured into the power hitter and run producer that he was to become.  Batting in a lineup surrounded with hitters like Rose, Frank Robinson, Vada Pinson and Tony Perez, Johnson got to see more strikes (and fastballs), and he responded with RBIs. He hit .263 in 1964 with 21 home runs and 79 RBIs. In 1965, he led the major leagues with 130 RBIs while hitting .287 with 30 doubles and 32 home runs. In 1966, in a lineup that no longer included Robinson, Johnson hit 24 home runs with 81 RBIs.

Following the 1967 season, Johnson was traded to the Atlanta Braves for Jim Beauchamp, Mack Jones and Jay Ritchie. His only season in Atlanta produced eight home runs and 33 RBIs, and he was purchased by the Philadelphia Phillies, where his power hitting revived. His best season in Philadelphia was 1971, when he hit .265 with 34 home runs and 95 RBIs.

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Like so many young sluggers in the late 1950s, Deron Johnson spent the early part of his career languishing in the New York Yankees minor league system. His ticket out of the Yankee farm system came in 1961 when he was traded to the Kansas City Athletics.

Over the next four seasons, Johnson played for five different teams (Philadelphia, Oakland, Milwaukee, Boston and the Chicago White Sox) and averaged 13 home runs and 51 RBIs per season. His best remaining seasons were 1973, when he hit 20 home runs with 86 RBIs for the Phillies and A’s, and 1975, when he hit 19 home runs with 75 RBIs, splitting the season with the White Sox and Red Sox. Johnson retired after the 1976 season.

In 16 big league seasons with eight different teams, Johnson hit 245 home runs and collected 923 RBIs.

 

 

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Robbie’s Revenge

 

Career Year – Frank Robinson (1966)

Frank Robinson was not only a great baseball talent. He was also someone you didn’t want to make angry.

That’s what Cincinnati Reds general manager Bill DeWitt did when he justified the 1966 trade of Robinson to the Baltimore Orioles by calling the slugger an “old 30.”

Frank Robinson finished the 1966 season as the American League Triple Crown winner with a .316 batting average, 49 home runs and 122 RBIs

Frank Robinson finished the 1966 season as the American League Triple Crown winner with a .316 batting average, 49 home runs and 122 RBIs.

The Orioles should be forever grateful to DeWitt for not only shipping the 1961 National League Most Valuable Player to Baltimore, but also for stoking Robbie’s competitive fire with the “old” comment. Robinson tore through American League pitching from Opening Day on (he hit a home run in each of the first three games). At the All-Star break, he was hitting .312 with 21 home runs and 56 RBIs, and he hit even better in the season’s second half, finishing 1966 as the American League Triple Crown winner with a .316 batting average, 49 home runs and 122 RBIs.

Offensively, the 1966 season produced a career-best for Robinson only in the home run category. He had had better seasons in hits, doubles, runs batted in, runs scored and batting average. And in his 21-year career, he was the league leader in home runs, RBIs and batting average only once each – all in 1966.

In his 21-year career, Frank Robinson was the league leader in home runs, RBIs and batting average only once each – all in 1966.

In his 21-year career, Frank Robinson was the league leader in home runs, RBIs and batting average only once each – all in 1966.

In a game on September 21, 1966, Robinson’s performance was not only outstanding, but mostly typical for his 1966 productivity. The Kansas City Athletics had built a 6-1 lead through the fifth inning. In the top of the seventh, Robinson cut the lead to three runs with a two-run homer off the A’s ace reliever Jack Aker. In the top of the eighth, the Orioles chased Aker and the four Kansas City relievers who followed him with seven runs, capped by Robinson’s second two-run homer of the game.

The victory clinched the American League pennant for Baltimore … and, for all intents and purposes, it cemented Robbie as the American League’s MVP, the first player to win that award in each league.

 

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Bullish on Slugging

 

Glancing Back, and Remembering Orlando Cepeda

If you want to understand how really good a ballplayer Orlando Cepeda was in his prime, consider this: for more than six years, he kept a future Hall of Famer – who would produce 521 career home runs – out of the starting line-up.

That player was the great Willie McCovey, one of the most feared hitters in National League history, and deservedly so. But in the early 1960s, McCovey wasn’t good enough to displace Cepeda from first base in the Giants’ starting line-up.

In 1961, Orlando Cepeda led the National League with 46 home runs and 142 RBIs. From 1960 through 1964, Cepeda batted a combined .307, averaging 34 home runs and 109 RBIs per season.

In 1961, Orlando Cepeda led the National League with 46 home runs and 142 RBIs. From 1960 through 1964, Cepeda batted a combined .307, averaging 34 home runs and 109 RBIs per season.

Though remembered as a slugger himself, Cepeda (nicknamed “The Baby Bull”) was actually a well-rounded ballplayer. He was signed by the Giants in 1955, and was San Francisco’s starting first baseman by the beginning of the 1958 season. He was the National League’s Rookie of the Year that season, hitting .312 with 25 home runs, 96 RBIs and 15 stolen bases. He also led the league with 38 doubles. His second season was even better, hitting .317 with 27 home runs, 105 RBIs and 23 stolen bases.

In 1961, Cepeda led the league in both home runs (46) and RBIs (142) while hitting .311. He finished second in the MVP voting to Cincinnati’s Frank Robinson. From 1960 through 1964, Cepeda batted a combined .307, averaging 34 home runs and 109 RBIs per season.

During weight training following the 1964 season, Cepeda injured a knee, and tried playing through the injury without telling team management. Knee surgery sidelined him for most of the 1965 season, and in 1966 the Giants traded Cepeda to the St. Louis Cardinals for left-handed pitcher Ray Sadecki, a 20-game winner two seasons before. The Cardinals got the better end of the deal, as Cepeda’s bat rebounded with the gradual improvement in the health of his knee. For the Cardinals in 1966, Cepeda hit .303 with 17 home runs and 58 RBIs in 123 games.

Orlando Cepeda was the National League’s Most Valuable Player in 1967 when he led the league with 111 RBIs.

Orlando Cepeda was the National League’s Most Valuable Player in 1967 when he led the league with 111 RBIs.

In 1967, Cepeda captured the National League’s Most Valuable Award as the offensive leader of the pennant-winning Cardinals. He hit .325 with 25 home runs and a league-leading 111 RBIs. His power numbers slipped to 16 home runs and 73 RBIs as the Cardinals repeated as National League champions in 1968. However, in the 1968 World Series against the Detroit Tigers, Cepeda hit two home runs with six RBIs.

In the spring of 1969, Cepeda was traded to the Atlanta Braves for catcher-first baseman Joe Torre. His 22 home runs and 88 RBIs played an integral role in the Braves’ divisional championship. The following year, Cepeda had his last strong season, hitting .305 for the Braves with 34 home runs and 111 RBIs. He retired in 1974 after stops in Oakland, Boston and Kansas City.

In 17 seasons, the 11-time All-Star finished with 379 home runs and a career batting average of .297. He was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1999.

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