This Week in 1960s Baseball
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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. Continue reading
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.
Homer Happy: Don Mincher
When the Minnesota Twins of the early 1960s were loaded with slugging bats, the unsung slugger in the Twins lineup belonged to a left-handed-hitting outfielder and first baseman named Don Mincher. In seven seasons with the Twins, Mincher had more than 400 at-bats only once, yet averaged 19 home runs and 56 RBIs per season from 1963 through 1966.
Mincher was signed by the Chicago White Sox in 1956. Just before the start of the 1960 season, he was traded with Earl Battey to the Washington Senators for first baseman Roy Sievers. He made his major league debut with the Senators in 1960, appearing in 27 games with two home runs and five RBIs.
He split the 1961 season between the Minnesota Twins and their AAA affiliate in Buffalo, hitting 24 home runs in Buffalo and five homers in 35 games for the Twins. He appeared in 86 games for the Twins in 1962, hitting nine home runs with 29 RBIs. In 1963, appearing in only 82 games (half the Twins’ schedule), Mincher still managed to club 17 home runs with 42 RBIs … heavy numbers for a half season of production.
During the Twins’ pennant-winning 1965 season, Mincher combined with Harmon Killebrew, Bob Allison, Tony Oliva, Jimmie Hall and American League MVP Zoilo Versalles for one of the most dangerous slugging lineups of the 1960s. Mincher contributed 22 home runs and 65 runs batted in from only 346 at-bats.
Following the 1966 seasons, the Twins traded Mincher and Hall to the California Angels in the deal that brought pitcher Dean Chance to Minnesota. Mincher got 487 at-bats as the Angels’ everyday first baseman, and responded by batting .273 with 25 home runs and 76 RBIs. After a “down” year in 1968 (shared by most batters in the American League that season), Mincher was the second pick in the 1968 expansion draft, being the first player selected by the Seattle Pilots. Mincher had one of his best seasons for the Pilots, hitting .246 with 27 home runs and 78 RBIs.
In January of 1970, Mincher was traded again, with Ron Clark, to the Oakland Athletics for Mike Hershberger, Lew Krausse, Phil Roof and Ken Sanders. He hit .246 for the A’s in 1970 with 27 home runs and 74 RBIs, and the next spring was dealt to the Washington Senators in a swap that brought Mike Epstein and Darold Knowles to Oakland. He batted .280 combined for Oakland and Washington in 1971, with 12 home runs and 53 RBIs. He split the 1972 season, his last as a player, between the Texas Rangers and Oakland, hitting six home runs with 44 RBIs.
Over his 13-season career, Mincher batted .249 with 200 home runs and 643 RBIs. He was a member of the American League All-Star team twice, in 1967 and in 1969.
This Week in 1960s Baseball
(February 18, 1967) He was one of the top strikeout pitchers of the 1960s … though he never pitched in the major leagues.
And on this day he put on a pitching exhibition that supported any claim that he was the best strikeout artist ever.
Eddie Feigner could pitch a softball (underhanded, of course) clocked at speeds up to 104 mph (though some claimed it was more like 114 mph). Feigner barnstormed America for more than 50 years with a four-player team known as “The King and His Court.”
Just prior to spring training in 1967, Feigner pitched an exhibition at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, striking out six consecutive major league hitters.
But not just any major league hitters. Feigner fanned (in order) Willie Mays, Roberto Clemente, Brooks Robinson, Willie McCovey, Maury Wills, and Harmon Killebrew. All six won the Most Valuable Player Award during the 1960s. All but Wills have been enshrined in the Baseball Hall of Fame.
If hitters of their stature couldn’t touch a fat Feigner-launched softball, how would they have fared against a baseball?
Homer Happy: Bob Allison
Allison’s power statistics were regularly overshadowed by the beastly home run numbers that Killebrew consistently posted. Killebrew’s bat too often cleared the bases of runners who could have been Allison’s RBIs.
But Allison’s abilities were not overlooked by the American League pitchers who faced him, and who fed fastballs to Killebrew to avoid putting on base another potential run for Allison to bring home. The fact was, during the early 1960s, there were just too many lethal bats in the Minnesota Twins’ lineup for pitchers to issue free passes or make a mistake.
The Twins were the highest-scoring American League team of the 1960s, and Bob Allison was one reason why.
The Washington Senators signed Allison out of the University of Kansas in 1955. In four minor league seasons, Allison hit a total of only 28 home runs. But his .307 batting average in 1958 with Chattanooga in the AA Southern Association earned him a look with the Senators, and a spot on the Washington roster for 1959.
In his rookie season, Allison surprised everyone with his power. For 1959, he batted .261 with 30 home runs and 85 runs batted in, third on the team in both categories (behind Killebrew and Jim Lemon). Allison led the league with nine triples and was selected as American League Rookie of the Year.
In 1960 – the team’s last season in Washington, D.C. — Allison slipped to 15 home runs and 69 RBIs, though his 30 doubles were eighth best in the American League. His hitting rebounded when the Senators moved to Minnesota in 1961 to play as the Twins. Allison hit 29 home runs and drove in 105 runs, a performance he nearly duplicated in 1962 when he again hit 29 home runs and drove in 102 runs. He also scored 102 runs in 1962, third most in the league.
All this was accomplished while hitting behind Killebrew, who led the league in home runs (46) and RBIs (126).
Allison led the America League with 99 runs scored in 1963, hitting .271 with 35 home runs and 91 RBIs. It would be his highest single-season home run total, but Allison came close the following year with 32 home runs (and 86 RBIs).
Yet Allison’s productivity in the batter’s box was beginning a steady decline. In the Twins’ pennant-winning season of 1965, Allison (now 30) managed only 23 home runs with 78 RBIs on a .233 batting average. In 1966 he missed more than half the season with a broken left hand that limited him to eight home runs and 19 RBIs. He played full seasons in 1967 and 1968, hitting 24 and 22 home runs. He was a part-time player over his last two seasons, retiring in 1970.
In 13 major league seasons, he batted .255 with 256 home runs and 796 RBIs. Allison finished in the top ten in home runs among American Leaguers eight times during his career, and teamed with Killebrew in 1962 to become the first pair of sluggers to hit grand slam home runs in the same inning.
Allison was a member of the American League All-Star team three times.
This Week in 1960s Baseball
The game was over by the end of the first inning. The Twins pounded Cleveland starter Barry Latman and reliever Jim Perry for 11 runs. Included among those runs were grand slam home runs by Bob Allison and Harmon Killebrew.
Allison’s bases-loaded blast came off Latman, and followed an RBI single from third baseman Rich Rollins. Catcher Earl Battey followed Allison’s slam with a solo homer. With the score 6-0, Perry replaced Latman and gave up a single to second baseman Bernie Allen before retiring Zoilo Versalles and Twins pitcher Dick Stigman. But then Bob Tuttle walked and Vic Power’s single drove in Allen. A walk to Rollins loaded the bases for Killebrew, who hit the inning’s second grand slam, putting the Twins in front 11-0.
It marked the first time since 1890 that two grand slams had been hit by the same team in one inning. It’s been done five times since.
Stigman (4-2) allowed three runs on six hits to pick up the complete game victory. He struck out 11 Indians batters.
Career Year: Jimmie Hall – 1963
After seven years in the minor leagues, a 25-year-old outfielder named Jimmie Hall was pleasantly surprised to find himself accompanying the Minnesota Twins north following 1963 spring training.
Despite his happiness at sticking with the big league club, Hall’s expectations for significant playing time during the 1963 season had to be modest. The Twins’ outfield line-up was set with Lenny Green in center field flanked by two All-Stars, Harmon Killebrew and Bob Allison.
At the end of May, Hall was hitting only .188 after seeing limited action. Then an injury to Green opened up the job in center field. Hall batted .322 in June with five home runs and 16 runs batted in. He hit seven more home runs in July, and then had a huge August: a .333 batting average, 13 home runs, 27 RBIs. A healthy Green didn’t have a chance of displacing Hall the way he was hitting.
Hall closed out the season strong, hitting six more home runs in September. He finished the 1963 season with a .260 batting average, 33 home runs and 80 RBIs. He placed third in the Rookie of the Year voting behind Gary Peters and Pete Ward.
Hall opened the 1964 season as the team’s starting center fielder, but he couldn’t match the hitting productivity of his rookie campaign. Hall hit 25 home runs in 1964 and 20 homers in both 1965 and 1966. He was traded to the California Angels in 1967, and played for a total of six major league teams before retiring after the 1970 season.
Career Year: Carl Yastrzemski – 1967
In his first six seasons (1961-1966), Boston Red Sox outfielder Carl Yastrzemski was well on his way to building the kind of credentials that can land a player on a plaque in Cooperstown. He already had won a batting title (1963), had led the American League in doubles three times, and had won his first two Gold Gloves (with five more to come).
He had weathered intense and uncompromising media and fan pressure by replacing Ted Williams in left field, and had even had an occasion when Carroll Hardy pinch hit for him (just as Hardy had once pinch hit for Williams – the only player ever to do so).
But Williams had brought an American League pennant to Boston two decades earlier, something Yastrzemski had not yet accomplished. With a Red Sox team that had been able to finish no higher than sixth in his career, it would take a super-human effort on Yastrzemski’s part to bring a World Series to Boston in 1967.
And that’s what he delivered.
He turned the 1967 season into his personal showcase, just as Frank Robinson had done the season before in winning the Triple Crown. Yastrzemski played like a man possessed, unfazed by the weight of the team on his back.
At the All-Star break, Yastrzemski was batting .324 with 19 home runs and 56 runs batted in. By the end of August, he was batting .308 with 35 home runs and 95 RBIs (already a new career high). And incredibly, the Red Sox – who had finished ninth in 1966 – were still in contention. In fact, Boston was locked in a four-team pennant race that wouldn’t be decided until the final day of the season.
Yastrzemski had a magnificent September, batting .417 with nine home runs and 26 RBIs in 27 games, almost single-handedly propelling the Red Sox to the pennant. In the last 12 games of the season, he hit five home runs, scored 14 runs and drove in 16. In the last two “must win” games against the Minnesota Twins, Yastrzemski went seven for eight with six RBIs.
During the 1967 World Series, which the St. Louis Cardinals won in seven games, Yastrzemski continued his offensive onslaught, batting .400 with three home runs.
When the regular season had ended, Yastrzemski was at the top of the league in nearly every offensive category: hits (189), runs (112), home runs (44, tied with Minnesota’s Harmon Killebrew), RBIs (121), total bases (360), slugging percentage (.622) and batting average (.326). His Triple Crown leadership in home runs, RBIs and batting average earned Yaz the league’s Most Valuable Player award.
This Week in 1960s Baseball …
After missing nearly half of the 1968 season due to a hamstring injury, Killebrew appeared in all 162 games of the 1969 season and had the most productive season of his career. Batting .276, Killebrew scored 106 runs and led the league with both 49 home runs and 140 runs batted in. He also led the league with 145t bases on balls and a .427 on-base percentage. Killebrew’s .584 slugging average was third in the league to Reggie Jackson’s .607 and Rico Petrocelli’s .589.
Killebrew hit his 400th career home run in April. He would retire after the 1975 season with 573 home runs.