This Week in 1960s Baseball
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
Glancing Back, and Remembering Glen Hobbie
Before the New York Mets established a new standard for futility with their arrival in 1962, the poster children for disastrous baseball in the National League was an ongoing contest between the Philadelphia Phillies and the Chicago Cubs.
Pitching for either team in the early 1960s was hardly a treat. An ERA under 4.00 could still earn you 20 losses in a season.
Just ask Glen Hobbie, a right-hander for the Cubs who deserved more victories than he got.
Hobbie was signed by the Cubs in 1955. His rookie season of 1958 produced a 10-6 record with a 3.74 ERA as a starter and reliever, making him the Cubs’ leader in wins. He followed up in 1959 with a 16-13 campaign and a 3.69 ERA. He led the Cubs’ staff in complete games (10), shutouts (3), and strikeouts (138).
For the most part, Hobbie’s best season was 1960, when he repeated his 16-win performance … but also led the National League with 20 losses. He set career highs in starts (36), complete games (16), shutouts (four), and innings pitched (258.2). He led Cubs’ starters in each of those categories except ERA (Dick Ellsworth turned in a 3.72 earned run average). He was also used 10 times in relief, finishing five games and saving one.
He was used every way a pitcher could be used. And he was never the same again.
Hobbie’s won-loss record slipped dramatically over the next three years: to 7-13 in 1961, 5-14 in 1962, and 7-10 in 1963. His earned run average over those three seasons was 4.45.
In 1964, the Cubs traded Hobbie to the St. Louis Cardinals for Lew Burdette. He appeared in 13 games for the Cardinals, going 1-2 with a 4.26 ERA, and then was assigned to the minors. He never pitched again at the major league level, even after he was acquired by the Detroit Tigers in 1965.
Hobbie finished his eight-year major league career with a record of 62-81 and a 4.20 earned run average.
Oh, What a Relief: Don Elston
Once he was moved full-time into the bullpen, Don Elston emerged as one of the National League’s most effective relief pitchers at the end of the 1950s. While overshadowed statistically by the Pittsburgh Pirates’ Roy Face, Elston brought a day-in, day-out consistency to protecting leads for the Chicago Cubs, a team that had precious few leads to protect.
Elston was signed by the Cubs in 1947 and toiled in their farm system for nearly a decade. He won 18 games in 1952 and 17 games in both 1954 and 1955, but didn’t find a permanent spot on the Cubs’ pitching staff until 1957, and he earned his place via the Brooklyn Dodgers, who had acquired Elston in a trade for Don Hoak, Russ Meyer and Walt Moryn. He appeared in one game for the Dodgers and then was traded back to Chicago, where he was 6-7 with a 3.56 ERA in 29 appearances, 25 as a reliever.
In 1958, Elston was used exclusively as a reliever, appearing in 69 games (tops in the National League) and finishing 39. He was 9-8 with 10 saves and a 2.88 ERA for a Cubs team that finished the season at 72-82. His nine victories tied him with Moe Drabowsky for second on the team after Glen Hobbie (who had 10 victories).
Elston followed up in 1959 by leading the league in both appearances (65) and games finished (49). He completed the 1959 season at 10-8 with a 3.32 ERA and 13 saves. In 1960, Elston was third in the National League in appearances (behind Face and Lindy McDaniel) with 60, finishing 33 games and saving 11. His record in 1960 was 8-9 with a 3.40 ERA.
From 1960 through 1964, Elston was 24-30 with a 3.90 ERA. He appeared in an average of 55 games per season. His best season in the 1960s was 1963, when he was 4-1 with a 2.83 ERA in 51 appearances.
Elston retired after the 1964 season with a career record of 49-54 and a 3.69 ERA. He appeared in 450 games and saved 63. Elston was a member of the 1959 National League All-Star team.