The Hunt Is On

 

Glancing Back, and Remembering Ron Hunt

Ron Hunt was one of the first legitimate “stars” to play for the New York Mets. He was the first Mets player to start an All-Star game (as the National League’s second baseman in 1964), and he was runner-up to Pete Rose for Rookie of the Year honors in 1963. Continue reading

Clutch Master

 

Glancing Back, and Remembering Jim Hickman

As a hitter, Jim Hickman specialized in both power and good timing. During his 13-year major league career, Hickman became more dangerous in the batter’s box in the game’s waning innings, when big hits counted most and Hickman consistently came up big.

Signed originally by the St. Louis Cardinals, outfielder Jim Hickman broke into the majors with the New York Mets. He was the Mets’ leading home run hitter in 1963.

Signed originally by the St. Louis Cardinals, outfielder Jim Hickman broke into the majors with the New York Mets. He was the Mets’ leading home run hitter in 1963.

Hickman was signed by the St. Louis Cardinals in 1956 and toiled in the Cardinals’ farm system until he was selected by the New York Mets in the 1961 expansion draft. He hit .245 in his (and the Mets’) first season, with 13 home runs and 46 runs batted in. In 1963, Hickman was the Mets’ top home run hitter, with 17 homers and 51 RBIs. In five seasons with the Mets, Hickman batted a combined .241 and averaged 12 home runs per season.

In 1966 the Mets traded Hickman with Ron Hunt to the Los Angeles Dodgers for Tommy Davis and Darrell Griffith. In his only season with the Dodgers, Hickman batted .163 with no home runs and only 10 RBIs.

At the beginning of the 1968 season, the Dodgers sent Hickman and pitcher Phil Regan to the Chicago Cubs for Jim Ellis and Ted Savage. He spent most of the 1968 season with the Cubs’ Triple-A team in Spokane, and in 1969 batted .237 in Chicago with 21 home runs and 54 RBIs.

Hickman had a career season in 1970 with the Cubs. He batted .315 with 33 doubles, 32 home runs and 115 RBIs. He made his only All-Star appearance and drove in the game-winning run. He was also named National League Comeback Player of the Year for 1970.

Jim Hickman had his best season in 1970 as a member of the Chicago Cubs. Hickman batted .315 with 32 home runs and 115 RBIs.

Jim Hickman had his best season in 1970 as a member of the Chicago Cubs. Hickman batted .315 with 32 home runs and 115 RBIs.

Hickman never again had a season that would approach his productivity in 1970. He hit .272 in 1972 with 17 home runs and 64 RBIs. He played one more season in Chicago and was traded to the Cardinals in 1973. He batted .267 in 1974, used primarily as a pinch hitter, and retired after the 1974 season.

Hickman retired with a career batting average of .252. He collected 159 home runs and 560 RBIs during his 13-year career. But in his prime he was one of the most effective clutch hitters in the National League.  He hit several walk-off hits in his career for both the Mets and the Cubs. He was also responsible for many hitting “firsts” for the fledgling Mets, including the first Met to hit for the cycle, and the first Met to hit three home runs in a single game (off Ray Sadecki of the Cardinals). His was the last home run hit in the Polo Grounds (off Chris Short of the Philadelphia Phillies), and he was the first Met batter to earn a walk and to be hit by a pitch in Shea Stadium.

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Swooping Out of the Bullpen

 

Oh, What a Relief: Phil Regan

Right-handed pitcher Phil Regan (aka, the “Vulture”) began his 13-year major league career as a starter with the Detroit Tigers. But his greatest success on the mound came after he converted to a relief specialist, where he dominated National League batters from 1966-1969.

After struggling as a starting pitcher for six seasons with the Detroit Tigers, Phil Regan was traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers and established himself as one of the best relievers in the National League. In 1966, he was 14-1 with a 1.62 ERA and a league-leading total of 21 saves.

After struggling as a starting pitcher for six seasons with the Detroit Tigers, Phil Regan was traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers and established himself as one of the best relievers in the National League. In 1966, he was 14-1 with a 1.62 ERA and a league-leading total of 21 saves.

Regan was signed by the Tigers in 1956 and made his major league debut in Detroit in 1960. In six seasons with the Tigers, Regan was 42-44 with a 4.50 ERA. His best season in Detroit came in 1963, when he was 15-9 with a 3.86 earned run average, his only season with the Tigers when he registered an ERA under 4.00.

Following a 1-5 season in 1965, the Tigers traded Regan to the Los Angeles Dodgers for infielder Dick Tracewski. The Dodgers converted him to a reliever and the impact on his career – and on the Dodgers’ pennant-winning 1966 season – was immediate, and immense. Regan appeared in 65 games, all in relief, finishing 48 and saving 21, leading the National League in both of those pitching categories. His earned run average dropped to 1.62 and he posted a 14-1 record.

As the Dodgers’ fortunes dipped in 1967, so did Regan’s record. He finished that season at 6-9 with six saves and a 2.99 ERA. He appeared in five games for the Dodgers in 1968, winning two, before being traded with outfielder Jim Hickman to the Chicago Cubs for Jim Ellis and Ted Savage. The magic returned with his change of teams. Over the rest of the 1968 season, Regan was 10-5 with a 2.20 ERA. He appeared in 68 games for the Cubs, finishing 60 and saving 25, again leading the league in saves.

Regan remained the Cubs’ bullpen ace in 1969, appearing in 71 games and saving 17. He finished the 1969 season at 12-6 with a 3.70 ERA. From 1966-1969, he posted a combined record of 44-21 with 69 saves and a 2.60 ERA.

His numbers declined gradually in 1970 and 1971, going 10-14 with a 4.35 ERA and 18 saves over those two seasons. He was purchased by the Chicago White Sox in June of 1972 and was released later that season. He spent the next 30 years as a pitching coach and manager.

In 13 major league seasons, Regan compiled a record of 96-81 with a 3.84 ERA and 92 saves. He was named to the National League All-Star team in 1966.

 

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Making Papa’s Day Perfect

 

Lights Out: Phillies’ Jim Bunning Achieves Pitching Perfection

When: June 21, 1964

Where:  Shea Stadium, New York, New York

Game Time: 2:19

Attendance: 32,026

Jim Bunning was a pitcher with two careers. Both were of Hall of Fame caliber.

In his first season with the Phillies, Jim Bunning went 19-8 with a 2.62 ERA – and one perfect game.

In his first season with the Phillies, Jim Bunning went 19-8 with a 2.62 ERA – and one perfect game.

For the first nine of his 17 big league seasons, Bunning was one of the best right-handed pitchers in the American League, winning 118 games for mostly mediocre Detroit Tigers teams, leading the league in victories once (20-8 in 1957) and in strikeouts twice (201 in 1959 and 1960 each).

When Bunning was traded to the Philadelphia Phillies before the 1964 season, he started the year – and his second baseball career – with a vengeance. He immediately established himself as the ace of a Phillies staff that was in its first pennant race in more than a decade. In fact the Phillies were in first place by two games going into a Father’s Day matinee against the New York Mets.

For all practical purposes, the game was decided in the top of the first inning. John Briggs led off the game by working Mets starter Tracy Stallard for a walk. John Herrnstein bunted Briggs to second, and then Stallard struck out Johnny Callison for the second out. The next batter, third baseman Dick Allen, smashed the ball to left field to drive in Briggs.

It would turn out to be all the runs Jim Bunning would need on this Father’s Day.

Jim Bunning was the first player to pitch a no-hitter in each league. And he was the first pitcher to win more than 100 games in each league.

Jim Bunning was the first player to pitch a no-hitter in each league. And he was the first pitcher to win more than 100 games in each league.

Bunning struck out Mets lead-off hitter Jim Hickman, then induced Ron Hunt to ground out to Tony Taylor at second base and Ed Kranepool  to pop up to Phillies shortstop Cookie Rojas. A three-up, three-down inning for Bunning. He would have eight more before the afternoon was over.

The Phillies scored another run in the second and four more runs in the sixth, including a solo home run by Callison and a two-run single by Bunning, who allowed no Mets base runners in retiring all 27 batters he faced. He ended the game with 10 strikeouts, including two each in the seventh, eighth and ninth innings.

Bunning’s 1964 season would turn out to be the best of his career. In 39 starts, he went 19-8 with a 2.63 ERA in 284.1 innings pitched. He completed 13 of his starts, and five were shutouts. He made two relief appearances, and earned saves in both of them.

And he was the first National League pitcher to throw a perfect game in the Twentieth Century.

The Dodgers’ Hit Machine

 

Glancing Back, and Remembering Tommy Davis

In many ways, Tommy Davis is remembered – if at all – as one of the most over-rated hitters of the 1960s. It’s not only unfortunate, but grossly unfair. Few players in baseball history can match the offensive numbers that Davis put up, on either an individual season or career basis.

Tommy  Davis was the National League batting champion in both 1962 and 1963. In 1962, he led the major leagues in batting average (.346), hits (230) and runs batted in (153). He finished third in the MVP sweepstakes behind teammate <a rel=

In fact, most of the players who can at least match Tommy’s hitting statistics have a place of honor in the Baseball Hall of Fame.

While Davis may not have the numbers to qualify for Cooperstown, his outstanding career was, in fact, tempered only by the extraordinary expectations he created with his own outstanding performance at the beginning of his career.

Davis was signed by the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1956 and made his debut with the club as a pinch hitter in 1960. By 1961 Davis was a reserve player for the Los Angeles Dodgers, hitting .276 his rookie year. He became the Dodgers’ everyday left fielder in 1961, batting .278 with 15 home runs and 58 RBIs.

Nothing prior to 1962 suggested the kind of hitting monster Davis was to become that season. He won the National League batting title with a .346 average and led the major leagues in hits (236) and RBIs (153). He also achieved what would be career highs in runs (120), doubles (27), home runs (27) and slugging percentage (.535).

A single-season fluke? Davis proved otherwise in 1963 when he claimed his second consecutive batting championship, hitting .326 with 16 home runs and 88 RBIs. Yet it seemed like a “down” season compared to his output in 1962. And in 1964 his offensive numbers slipped further, to 16 home runs, 86 RBIs and a .275 batting average.

His productivity came to a crushing halt in 1965 when an aggressive slide into second base resulted in a fractured ankle. While never known for basepath speed, the injury nevertheless hurt his career. Davis was never the same player after it.

He rebounded in 1966 to hit .313, but it would be his last season in Dodger blue. The Dodgers traded Davis and Darrell Griffith to the New York Mets for Ron Hunt and Jim Hickman. Davis extended his comeback by hitting .302 for a full season in New York, with 16 home runs and 73 RBIs. But he was traded again after the 1967 season, this time to the Chicago White Sox in a six-player deal that brought Tommie Agee and Al Weis to the Mets. Davis led the White Sox in hitting (.268), and was promptly drafted by the expansion Seattle Pilots, his fourth team in four years.

Tommy Davis lasted 18 years in the major leagues, playing for 10 different teams and compiling a .294 career batting average. He hit .300 or better six times.

Tommy Davis lasted 18 years in the major leagues, playing for 10 different teams and compiling a .294 career batting average. He hit .300 or better six times.

Davis hit .271 for the Pilots in 123 games before being traded to the Houston Astros. Less than a year later, Davis was purchased by the Oakland Athletics, and then sold to the Chicago Cubs two months after that.  In all, he played for 10 different teams from 1966 to 1976, his last year in the majors. His longest stop was with the Baltimore Orioles from 1972 through 1975.

Despite his travels, Davis never really stopped hitting until the end of his playing career. He batted .324 for the A’s in 1971 and .306 for the Orioles in 1973, when he drove in 89 runs for the O’s. Altogether, Davis played 18 seasons in the big leagues and tallied 2,121 hits for a .294 career average.

Heady numbers for an “under” achiever.

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