Catch, Play, Laugh

 

Glancing Back, and Remembering Bob Uecker

Before he was a play-by-play announcer, hilarious talk show guest, and beer commercial icon, Bob Uecker really was a professional catcher, playing at a level that relatively few ever achieve: the major leagues. Continue reading

Command and Control

 

Glancing Back, and Remembering Lew Burdette

It’s natural to remember Lew Burdette as primarily a 1950s pitcher. That was his dominant decade. Teaming with Warren Spahn and Bob Buhl to fashion one of the most formidable starting rotations in the National League, Burdette was a commanding right-handed starter, using his power and control to win 120 games for the Milwaukee Braves between 1953 and 1959. Continue reading

Warren and Christy … Together at Last

 

This Week in 1960s Baseball

(September 8, 1963) Pitching a nine-hit complete game, Warren Spahn raised his season record to 20-5 as the Milwaukee Braves beat the Philadelphia Phillies 3-2 at Connie Mack Stadium in Philadelphia.

It was the thirteenth time in his career that Spahn won 20 or more games. That tied him with Christy Mathewson for the most 20-vistory seasons in the major leagues.

The 1963 season was the thirteenth 20-victory season in the career of Warren Spahn. It was the seventh straight season when Spahn led the National League in complete games.

The 1963 season was the thirteenth 20-victory season in the career of Warren Spahn. It was the seventh straight season when Spahn led the National League in complete games.

For the 42-year-old Spahn, it was his nineteenth complete game of the 1963 season. He would finish the season with 22 complete games, the most in the majors. Spahn recorded no strikeouts or walks during the game.

The Braves scored in the first inning when lead-off batter Lee Maye singled and advanced to second on an error by Phillies starter Dallas Green. Frank Bolling sacrificed Maye to third, and Maye scored on Hank Aaron’s groundout to Phillies second baseman Tony Taylor. It was Aaron’s 117th RBI of the season.

The Braves’ lead held up as Spahn pitched a shutout through six innings. Tony Gonzalez led off the bottom of the seventh inning with a triple and scored on a Roy Sievers sacrifice fly.

In the eighth inning, Green walked Eddie Mathews, who scored on Gene Oliver’s sixteenth home run. Spahn pitched a scoreless eighth inning and allowed a solo home run by Don Demeter in the ninth. Don Hoak doubled to put the potential tying run in scoring position, but Spahn retired Bob Oldis and Wes Covington to end the game.

The losing pitcher was Green (5-4).

Shown in an undated photo is Christy Christy Mathewson was the first major league pitcher to win 20 or more games 13 times. (Warren Spahn was the second.) Mathewson finished his career with 373 victories, third most in major league history (tied with Grover Cleveland Alexander) and 10 more than Spahn.

Christy Mathewson was the first major league pitcher to win 20 or more games 13 times. (Warren Spahn was the second.) Mathewson finished his career with 373 victories, third most in major league history (tied with Grover Cleveland Alexander) and 10 more than Spahn.

Spahn’s 1963 season was one of the best of his career, as he finished the season at 23-7 with a 2.60 earned run average. It was also his seventh straight season leading the National League in complete games, and he pitched seven shutouts, tying his season high and the second most in the league (behind 11 Sandy Koufax shutouts).

Though he tied Mathewson for most 20-win seasons, Spahn fell short of matching Mathewson’s 373 career wins. Spahn retired after the 1965 season with 363 victories, the most by any left-hander in baseball history.

Who’s Culp-able?

 

Swap Shop: How Ray Culp Came to Boston … via Chicago

Twice the Chicago Cubs made trades that involved pitcher Ray Culp. Both times the Cubs were “burned.” Yet both times Culp out-performed the “price” of his acquisition.

Ray Culp

Ray Culp

Culp had made his major league debut with the Philadelphia Phillies in 1963, winning 14 games and finishing third in the race for Rookie of the Year. He won 14 again in 1965, but after a 7-4 season in 1966, he was traded to the Chicago Cubs for left-hander Dick Ellsworth. Both pitchers spent only one, mostly unsuccessful season with their new teams. Ellsworth went 6-7 for the Phillies with a 4.38 ERA. He was shipped to the Boston Red Sox (with catcher Gene Oliver) in the off-season.

Culp fared only slightly better for the Cubs in 1967, going 8-11 with a 3.89 ERA in 22 starts.

Even though the Red Sox had won the pennant in 1967, they needed starting pitchers, especially after Cy Young winner Jim Lonborg broke a leg skiing. Ellsworth was one answer. Culp turned out to be another. The Cubs were willing to part with Culp for cash and Bill Schlesinger, a career minor leaguer.

Culp would prove to be a bargain for the Red Sox, as he was about to enter the most productive part of his career. He went 16-6 with a 2.91 ERA for the Red Sox in 1968 (while Ellsworth, the other former Cub on the Red Sox pitching staff, rebounded with a 16-7 season). Culp would be the ace of the Boston staff for the following three seasons, winning 48 games with a combined 3.47 earned run average.

Schlesinger, the outfielder Boston gave up to get Culp, would never make an official at-bat for the Cubs.

Lemaster Masters Reds

 

This Week in 1960s Baseball … 

(September 11, 1964) At Milwaukee’s County Stadium, Braves left-hander Denny Lemaster today threw a one-hitter to beat the Cincinnati Reds 1-0.

The losing pitcher was Jim Maloney (13-10), who allowed only two hits while striking out 11 batters.

Denny Lemaster

Denny Lemaster

The only run of the two-hour and six-minute contest came in the bottom of the eighth inning on a sacrifice fly by Felipe Alou. Gene Oliver doubled to lead off the inning and moved to third base on a double steal. He scored on Alou’s fly ball to left field.

Lemaster (14-11) struck out seven and walked three. The only hit he allowed came in the sixth inning on a Leo Cardenas single to left. Cardenas was erased on a double play.

The 1964 season would turn out to be the best of Lemaster’s 11-year career. He finished the season at 17-11 with a 4.15 ERA.

Power Pulse

 

Glancing Back, and Remembering Gene Oliver

Gene Oliver was a decent catcher with better-than-average power and speed. He had a strong arm and a strong presence behind the plate, and was particularly effective at blocking home plate from oncoming runners.

Gene Oliver's best season came with the Braves in 1965 when he batted .270 with 20 doubles and 21 home runs (both career highs).

Gene Oliver’s best season came with the Braves in 1965 when he batted .270 with 20 doubles and 21 home runs (both career highs).

In his prime, he had the tools to be an everyday catcher for many teams, but had the misfortune of playing behind All-Star catchers such as Tim McCarver and Joe Torre, limiting him to a backup role where his contributions were valuable but limited.

Oliver was signed by the St. Louis Cardinals in 1956. He hit 18 home runs for the Cardinals’ AAA team in 1958 and had 12 home runs and 40 RBIs in 46 games at Rochester in 1959 when he was called up to St. Louis. He batted .244 over the rest of the 1959 season, with six home runs and 28 RBIs in only 172 at-bats. Oliver found himself back in AAA ball in 1960. In 1961, playing for Portland in the Pacific Coast League, Oliver batted .302 with 36 home runs and 100 RBIs. It was his ticket to a more permanent residence on the Cardinals’ roster.

In 1963, Oliver started games as the Cardinals’ catcher (as well as occasionally playing in the outfield and at first base), batting .258 with 14 home runs and 45 RBIs. In 1963, the Cardinals traded him with Bob Sadowski to the Milwaukee Braves for Lew Burdette. In five seasons with the Braves, Oliver hit for a combined .251 batting average. His best season with the Braves came in 1965 when he batted .270 with 20 doubles and 21 home runs (both career highs).

In 1967, the Braves traded Oliver to the Philadelphia Phillies for Bob Uecker. As the backup to Clay Dalrymple, Oliver hit .224 for the Phillies with seven home runs and 34 RBIs. In the off-season, he was traded with Dick Ellsworth to the Boston Red Sox for Mike Ryan and cash. He appeared in only 16 games for the Red Sox, and then was purchased by the Chicago Cubs. He retired after the 1969 season after appearing in only 31 games for the Cubs over two seasons.

During his 10-year major league career, Oliver had 546 hits, including 111 doubles and 93 home runs, and compiled a career batting average of .246.

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