Glancing Back, and Remembering Joe Cunningham
Joe Cunningham was a left-handed hitting outfielder-first baseman who sprayed line drives to every field and hit .280 or better each of his first eight seasons. Continue reading
The Glove Club: Del Crandall
If you were going to “build” the catcher you needed in the 1950s, you couldn’t have worked from a better prototype than Del Crandall.
His defense was superb. He was mostly head-and-shoulders above his National League counterparts during the 1950s and into the 1960s. Continue reading
This Week in 1960s Baseball
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.
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.
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).
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.
Lights Out! – Houston Rookie Joe Morgan Goes 6 for 6.
When: July 8, 1965
Where: County Stadium, Milwaukee, Wisconsin
Game Time: 3:40
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).
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.
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.
This Week in 1960s Baseball
(July 7, 1964) The National League today won the All-Star game 7-4 on a walk-off home run by Phillies right fielder Johnny Callison.
Callison, who entered the game in the fifth inning as a pinch hitter for pitcher Jim Bunning, flied out in his two previous at-bats. His ninth-inning home run off Boston Red Sox reliever Dick Radatz was his only hit of the day.
The American League opened the scoring in the first inning on Harmon Killebrew’s RBI single off NL starter Don Drysdale. The NL took the lead in the fourth inning on solo home runs from Billy Williams and Ken Boyer. The Nationals added another run in the fifth inning when Dick Groat doubled off Camilo Pascual, bringing home Roberto Clemente.
The American League tied the game when Brooks Robinson tripled home two runs in the sixth inning, then took the lead on Jim Fregosi’s sacrifice fly in the seventh inning. The AL led 4-3 going into the bottom of the ninth, with Radatz on the pitching mound.
Willie Mays walked to open the ninth inning, stole second base, and then scored on Orlando Cepeda’s single, tying the game. With runners at first and second base, Radatz struck out Hank Aaron for the inning’s second out. But Callison ended the All-Star thriller with one stroke.
It would be Callison’s last All-Star appearance.
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
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.
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.
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.
Homer Happy – Joe Adcock
There was never any controversy about Joe Adcock being only the third most dangerous slugger in the Milwaukee Braves’ lineup. With future Hall of Famers like Henry Aaron and Eddie Mathews batting in front of him, Adcock was not likely to be the Braves’ cleanup hitter.
But he was dangerous enough as a slugger to keep pitchers more honest with Aaron and Mathews … and his presence in the lineup helped assure that they would see more of the fastball strikes that would keep their slugging numbers up and Milwaukee in contention.
Adcock was signed by the Cincinnati Reds in 1947. He played for the Reds from 1950 through 1952, averaging ten home runs and 51 RBIs per season. In February of 1953, Adcock was part of a four-team trade that took him to Milwaukee, where he would play for the next decade.
Adcock’s hitting numbers steadily improved once he joined the high-powered Braves lineup. He hit .285 in 1953 with 18 homers and 80 RBIs in 1953. He upped those numbers in 1954 to a .308 average with 23 home runs and 87 RBIs. Injuries shortened his season in 1955, but Adcock made a major comeback in 1956 by hitting .291 with 38 home runs and 103 RBIs. He topped 100 RBIs one other season: in 1961, when he drove in 108 runs with 35 home runs.
Adcock averaged 24 home runs and 79 RBIs per season in his ten years with Milwaukee. His overall numbers might have been better had he not missed a large chunk from each of two seasons due to injuries.
In 1962, Adcock’s batting average slipped to .248, though he still drove in 78 runs and hit 29 homers. The Braves traded Adcock with Jack Curtis to the Cleveland Indians for Ty Cline, Don Dillard and Frank Funk.
His one season in Cleveland produced only 13 home runs and 49 RBIs, and after the 1963 season the Indians sent him to the Los Angeles Angels to complete an earlier trade that brought Leon Wagner to the Indians. In three seasons with the Angels, Adcock averaged 17 home runs and 53 RBIs per season. He retired after the 1966 season.
Adcock hit .277 over 17 seasons with 336 career home runs. He was an All-Star once, in 1960.
Homer Happy: Frank Thomas
From their inaugural season of 1962 until 1975, the New York Mets’ single-season record for home runs belonged to a right-handed hitting outfielder who played for the Mets for only two seasons, but was a National League power threat for a decade.
Slugger Frank Thomas played both the outfield and first base for seven different teams in 16 years. Over that long career, he batted .266 with 286 home runs and 962 RBIs.
Thomas signed with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1947 and made his major league debut in 1951. In 1953, his first full major league season, Thomas batted .255 for the Pirates with 30 home runs and 102 RBIs. He was an All-Star three times in his five full seasons with Pittsburgh, and had his best season in 1958 with 35 home runs and 109 RBIs.
In 1959, Thomas was traded to the Cincinnati Reds in the deal that brought Smoky Burgess, Harvey Haddix and Don Hoak to the Pirates. Thomas spent one season in Cincinnati (12 home runs, 47 RBIs) and then was traded to the Chicago Cubs. With the Cubs, he hit 21 home runs with 64 RBIs in 1960, and a month into the 1961 season he was traded to the Milwaukee Braves. He had a solid season for the Braves, hitting 25 home runs plus two with the Cubs. The Braves team of 1961 was loaded with power hitters, and was the first major league club to smash four consecutive home runs in a game. (Thomas hit the fourth, preceded by home runs from the bats of Eddie Mathews, Hank Aaron, and Joe Adcock.)
After the 1961 season, he was traded to the Mets for outfielder Gus Bell. He led that first Mets team with 34 home runs and 94 RBIs. His home run mark was not topped by another Mets hitter until Dave Kingman blasted 36 in 1975.
Thomas hit 15 home runs for the Mets in 1963 and was traded to the Philadelphia Phillies in 1964. At this point in his career, the 35-year-old Thomas had become a part-time player and pinch hitter, batting .282 in two seasons with the Phillies. He retired in 1966 with 1,671 career hits.