This Week in 1960s Baseball
Glancing Back, and Remembering Earl Wilson
A 6-foot-3, 215-pound pitcher who relied on sliders and fastballs, Wilson was signed by the Boston Red Sox in 1953. The Red Sox were the last American League team to break the color barrier when infielder Pumpsie Green made the club in 1959. Wilson made his major league debut with the Red Sox on July 31, 1959, as their first black pitcher. Wilson joined the team’s starting rotation in 1962 and averaged 11 victories per season from 1962 through 1965. Wilson threw a no-hitter against the Los Angeles Angels in 1962, the first black American League pitcher to do so.
Midway through the 1966 season, Wilson was traded (with outfielder Joe Christopher) to the Detroit Tigers for outfielder Don Demeter and pitcher Julio Navarro. Wilson enjoyed his best seasons with the Tigers, winning 13 games over the rest of the 1966 season to finish 18-11 with a 3.07 ERA (2.59 with Detroit). He followed in 1967 with a 22-11 campaign, tying him for the league lead in victories with Cy Young Award winner Jim Lonborg.
Wilson won 25 games for the Tigers over the next two seasons, and closed out his career after splitting the 1970 season with Detroit and the San Diego Padres. He finished his career at 121-109 with a 3.69 ERA.
Wilson started his baseball career as a catcher before switching to the pitching mound. He was one of the best hitting pitchers in baseball, swatting 35 career home runs (33 as a pitcher, fifth all time among major league pitchers). He hit more home runs during the 1960s than any other pitcher in baseball.
The Glove Club: George Scott
George Scott was a slugger who, at one point in his career, the most productive – and at another point, the least productive – first baseman batting in the American League.
He was also an amazing defensive presence at first base, toting a vacuum cleaner of a glove he nicknamed “Black Beauty.”
Scott was signed by the Boston Red Sox in 1962 and spent the next four seasons progressing through the Boston farm system. In 1965, he won the Eastern League Triple Crown, leading the league with 25 home runs, 94 RBIs and a .319 batting average. That performance earned Scott a shot at the Red Sox roster, and he stayed in the major leagues for the next 14 years.
Scott hit .245 as a rookie in 1966 with 27 home runs and 90 RBIs. He followed up in 1967 with a .303 batting average, hitting 19 home runs and driving in 82 run. He had a disastrous 1968, batting only .171 with three home runs and 25 RBIs, but rebounded in 1969 by hitting .253 with 16 home runs and 52 RBIs.
Scott was the American League’s best defensive first baseman from the mid-1960s to the mid-1970s. He won eight Gold Gloves within that decade, and led the league’s first basemen three times in both putouts and assists.
Scott’s most productive period as a hitter came in the 1970s. He hit .296 for the Red Sox in 1970, and batted 24 home runs with 78 RBIs in 1971. Following the 1971 season, he was traded with Ken Brett, Billy Conigliaro, Joe Lahoud, Jim Lonborg and Don Pavletich to the Milwaukee Brewers for Pat Skrable, Tommy Harper, Lew Krausse and Marty Pattin.
In five seasons with the Brewers, Scott hit a combined .283 and averaged 23 home runs and 93 RBIs per season. His best season came in 1975, when he hit .285 and led the American League with 109 RBIs. His 36 home runs also tied for the league lead with Reggie Jackson.
Before the 1977 season, Scott was traded back to the Red Sox (with Bernie Carbo) for Cecil Cooper. He hit .269 for Boston that season, with 33 home runs and 95 RBIs. He hit .233 for the Red Sox in 1978, and split the 1979 season with the Red Sox, the Kansas City Royals and the New York Yankees, hitting a combined .254 with six home runs and 49 RBIs. He retired after the 1979 season.
In 14 big league seasons, Scott batted .268 with 271 home runs. He was named to the American League All-Star team three times.
This Week in 1960s Baseball
The Red Sox beat the St. Louis Cardinals 5-0. It was Boston’s first World Series victory since 1946.
Lonborg struck out four batters and walked one. The only hit he allowed came in the top of the eighth inning when Julian Javier doubled with two outs. Lonborg induced the next batter, Bobby Tolan, to ground out, stranding Javier at second.
Lonborg retired the Cardinals in order in the ninth inning.
The game was scoreless through the first three innings. Carl Yastrzemski led off the fourth inning with a solo home run off Cardinals’ starter Dickie Hughes. The Cardinals scored again in the sixth inning on a Rico Petrocelli sacrifice fly.
Yastrzemski blasted a three-run homer in the seventh inning to cap the day’s scoring by the Red Sox.
Lonborg was coming off his breakout season in 1967, going 22-9 with a 3.16 ERA and leading the American League with 246 strikeouts. He also won the fifth game of the Series, and later, the American League Cy Young award.
This Week in 1960s Baseball …
(March 1, 1967) Today Baseball Commissioner William Eckert approved the BBWAA’s plan to select a Cy Young Award recipient from both the National League and the American League.
The award was established in 1956 by then-Commissioner Ford Frick. It was named in honor of Cy Young, the pitcher whose 511 victories are still the most in major league history. Young passed away in 1955.
For its first 12 years, the award was made to the “best pitcher in major league baseball.” The first winner was Don Newcombe in 1956. In the 12 years that only one award was made, National League pitchers won eight times, and American League pitchers four times. During this period, Sandy Koufax of the Los Angeles Dodgers was the only multiple winner, in 1963, 1965 and 1966.
The 1967 season was the first with winners from each major league. Mike McCormick of the San Francisco Giants was the National League winner in 1967. The American League winner that season was Jim Lonborg of the Boston Red Sox.
Glancing Back, and Remembering Dean Chance
Signed by Baltimore in 1959, the Angels plucked Dean Chance from the Orioles’ organization in the 1960 expansion draft. In his rookie season of 1962, Chance emerged as the team’s best starter, finishing with a 14-10 record and 2.96 ERA as the Angels surprised the league by finishing third in only second year of existence for the franchise. The next year the Angels came back to earth, finishing ninth, and Chance’s record slipped to 13-18 despite pitching well enough to post a 3.19 ERA.
Chance was the American League’s most dominant pitcher in 1964, his Cy Young season. His 20-9 record tied him with Chicago’s Gary Peters for most victories. Chance led the league in inning pitched (278) and complete games (15), of which 11 were shutouts (and six of which were 1-0 victories). He also recorded the majors’ best ERA at 1.65. His 207 strikeouts were third in the league.
The 1965 season was another strong one for Chance, 15-10 with a 3.15 ERA. The next year, he lowered his ERA to 3.08, but his record slipped to 12-17. That winter, Chance was traded to the Minnesota Twins for Pete Cimino, Jimmie Hall and Don Mincher.
Chance won 20 games for the Twins in 1967 with a 2.73 ERA. He led the American League in games started (39), complete games (18) and innings pitched (283). He was third in the American League in strikeouts with 220. The only dark point for Chance in an otherwise stellar season came on the last day.
The Twins were tied with the Red Sox going into the last regular season game at Fenway Park. It was a marquee pitching matchup, pitting both teams’ aces: Chance (20-13) for the Twins, and Jim Lonborg (21-7) for the Red Sox. The Twins scored a run in both the first and third innings, while Chance shut out the Red Sox over the first five frames. Then the Red Sox chased Chance out of the game, scoring five times in the sixth inning. Lonborg coasted the rest of the way, winning a league-leading 22 games and the Cy Young award.
In 1968, Chance went 16-16 for the Twins with an excellent 2.53 ERA. He achieved personal highs for innings pitched (292) and strikeouts (234). A series of injuries kept Chance from ever again performing at that level. Over the next three years, pitching for four different teams, Chance’s combined record was only 18-19.
Chance retired after the 1971 season with a career record of 128-115 with a 2.92 earned run average. He was an All-Star in 1964 and 1967.
Glancing Back, and Remembering Joe Horlen
Every era of major league baseball seems to include a pitcher whose numbers are outstanding except where it matters most to pennant races: in the won-lost column. Whether it’s a Bert Blyleven (287-250) in the 1970s and 1980s or a Tim Belcher (146-140) in the 1990s, these are pitchers with great stuff who, on their best days, are absolutely unhittable – but in the end, they’re basically .500 pitchers, a fact that, more often than not, is more of an indication of the caliber of teams they played for rather than their pitching prowess.
In the pitching-rich 1960s, no one had a more impressive yet frustrating career than Joe Horlen. Signed by the Chicago White Sox off the campus of Oklahoma State University in 1959, the right-hander made his debut with the big league club at the end of 1961, going 1-3 in four starts. By 1963, Horlen was a regular in the starting rotation, posting a record of 11-7 with a 3.27 ERA.
Over the next five seasons, Horlen didn’t post an ERA above 2.88, yet during that period his won-lost record was only 67-56, with a combined ERA of 2.34. He had a winning record in only one of those seasons: 1967, when Horlen went 19-7 with a league-leading 2.06 ERA. He was tops in the major leagues with six shutouts. He pitched a no-hitter against the Detroit Tigers on September 10, 1967, and averaged less than seven hits per nine innings pitched for that season. That same year, he finished second in the Cy Young voting to Boston’s Jim Lonborg. It was Horlen’s last winning season.
Horlen pitched for the White Sox through 1971, and was released following an 8-9 campaign. He signed with the Oakland A’s and pitched mostly in relief in 1972, going 3-4 with a respectable ERA of 3.00. But Oakland released him at the end of the season, and no other team signed him. Horlen was out of baseball at age 34.
For the nine years he played during the 1960s (1961-1969), Horlen’s 2.83 ERA was better than the earned run averages of Cy Young award winners Vern Law and Denny McLain and Hall of Famers such as Jim Bunning and Gaylord Perry. But his efforts returned only a 99-88 record, with a single All-Star appearance (1967).
Glancing Back, and Remembering Jim Lonborg
From 1901 to 1908, the incomparable Cy Young won 192 games for the Boston Red Sox. In 1967, the second coming of Cy Young in a Boston uniform arrived in the form of another right-hander named Jim Lonborg.
Lonborg was signed by the Red Sox in 1963 out of Stanford University. He was a regular starter for Boston during his rookie season in 1965, going 9-17 for the ninth-place Red Sox. His record improved to 10-10 in 1966, and then came his “Cy Young” season of 1967.
After years of toiling in the second division, the Red Sox won the 1967 American League pennant in one of the most exciting stretch drives ever. The Boston pennant was earned on the exploits of Carl Yastrzemski’s Triple Crown bat and Lonborg’s outstanding pitching performance: 22-9 with 3.16 ERA and a league-leading 246 strikeouts. Lonborg was voted the American League Cy Young award that year, the first year that the award was made for the best pitcher in each league.
Lonborg never had a season like that again for the Red Sox. From 1968 to 1971, Lonborg was 27-29 for the Red Sox, and was then swapped to the Milwaukee Brewers in a 10-player deal. He was 14-12 for the Brewers in 1972 with a career-best 2.83 ERA, and then was traded to the Philadelphia Phillies. He had his some of his best post-Cy Young seasons with Philadelphia, going 17-13 in 1974 and 18-10 in 1976. For his 15-season career, Lonborg posted a 157-137 record with a combined 3.86 ERA.
Glancing Back, and Remembering Sam McDowell
His fastball was on top of the plate before you could barely get the bat off your shoulder. The break in his curve was nothing less than wicked. And his imposing stature on the mound made his heat, and occasional wildness, all the more intimidating.
“Sudden” Sam McDowell threw as hard as any pitcher of his time. And he struck out more American League batters (1,663) than anyone else in the 1960s.
McDowell was signed by the Cleveland Indians in 1959. He saw limited service with the Indians from 1961 to 1963, winning a total of six games in the majors in those three years. His breakout year was 1964. After an 8-0 start at Portland, the Tribe’s AAA affiliate, McDowell was brought up to the major league club , where he went 11-6 with 177 strikeouts in 173 innings and registered a 2.70 ERA.
McDowell was dominating in his first full season with the Indians. He went 17-11 with a fifth-place Cleveland team. McDowell led the league in strikeouts with 325, still the American League record for a left-hander. Always better known for his “stuff” than his control, McDowell led the league in wild pitches (17) and walks (132) as well. He also posted the league’s best ERA at 2.18.
Throughout the rest of the 1960s, despite consistently high strikeout totals and very respectable ERAs, McDowell was basically a .500 pitcher for the Indians. He led the league in strikeouts in 1966 (225), 1968 (283), and 1969 (279), finishing second with 236 to Jim Lonborg in 1967. In 1968 he posted a career-low ERA of 1.81 that was second best in the American League – to the 1.60 posted by teammate Luis Tiant. Despite these numbers, McDowell was only 55-51 for the years 1966 to 1969.
Although Mc Dowell’s only 20-victory season came in 1970, his best performance may have come a year earlier. Pitching for a woeful Cleveland club that lost 99 games during the 1969 season (one more than the expansion Seattle Pilots), McDowell was Cleveland’s one bright spot that season. He went 18-14 with a 2.94 ERA and pitched 18 complete games.
A six-time All-Star, McDowell finished his 15-year career with 141 victories and 2,453 strikeouts.