This Week in 1960s Baseball
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.
Glancing Back, and Remembering Fred Whitfield
Fred Whitfield was a power-hitting first baseman who had his best seasons with the Cleveland Indians in the early 1960s. Nicknamed “Wingy” for his less than powerful throwing arm, Whitfield combined with Tito Francona, Leon Wagner and Max Alvis to form the power connection at the heart of the Indians’ batting order.
Whitfield originally signed with the St. Louis Cardinals in 1956. It took six minor league seasons for Whitfield to be promoted to the Cardinals’ roster, hitting .266 with eight home runs and 34 RBIs in 73 games with St. Louis in 1962. Following that rookie season, St. Louis traded Whitfield to Cleveland, where he had the chance to start at first base for the Tribe.
Whitfield hit .251 in 1963 with 21 home runs and 54 RBIs, dividing the Indians’ first base duties with Joe Adcock. When Adcock was traded over the winter to the Los Angeles Angels for Wagner, it looked like the door was opened to Whitfield for full-time first base duty. But it wasn’t to be.
In 1964, the Indians inserted Bob Chance at first, and he delivered a .279 rookie season with 75 RBIs. With fewer at-bats, Whitfield’s offensive numbers dropped to 10 home runs and 29 RBIs while he hit .270. Chance turned out to be a one-season wonder, and Whitfield won back his starting position at first base, hitting .293 in 1965 with 26 home runs and 90 RBIs. He followed up in 1966 with 27 home runs and 78 RBIs on a .241 batting average.
In 1967, the Indians acquired Tony Horton from the Boston Red Sox and again Whitfield was relegated to a back-up position, hitting only .218 with nine homers and 31 RBIs. In the off-season, Cleveland traded Whitfield with George Culver and Bob Raudman to the Cincinnati Reds for Tommy Harper. He saw limited action with the Reds over the next two seasons, hitting a combined .224 with seven home runs and 40 RBIs. Whitfield appeared in four games with the Montreal Expos in 1970 before being released and retiring at age 32.
Whitfield finished his nine-season major league career with a .253 batting average. His 108 home runs during the 1960s ranks his 60th among major league sluggers.
Homer Happy: Leon Wagner
Leon Wagner was signed by the New York Giants as an amateur free agent in 1954, and joined the big league club for 74 games in the 1958 season, batting .317 with 13 home runs and 35 RBIs in only 221 at-bats.
In the late 1950s and early 1960s, it wasn’t that hard for a talented ballplayer – especially one who could hit with power – to get lost in the San Francisco Giants outfield. When Wagner joined the Giants in 1958 after spending the previous six years in the minors and in the Army, he saw the likes of Willie Mays, Felipe Alou, Jackie Brandt and even a youngster named Willie McCovey ahead of him. There was no room in the lineup on a team loaded with power, and no room in the outfield for a player who occasionally had trouble judging fly balls.
Wagner’s break came in 1961. Traded by the Cardinals to Toronto in the International League, he was then dealt to the expansion Los Angeles Angels for outfielder Lou Johnson. As the everyday left fielder for the Angels, Wagner hit .280 with 28 home runs and 79 RBIs in 1961. He followed up in 1962 with 37 home runs and 107 RBIs as the Angels surprised the baseball world by finishing third in the American League. In 1963, Wagner hit .291 for the Angels with 26 home runs and 90 RBIs, making the All-Star team for the second consecutive year.
Following the 1963 season, the Angels traded Wagner to the Cleveland Indians for pitcher Barry Latman and first baseman Joe Adcock. Wagner had his best seasons with the Tribe, hitting 34 home runs with 100 RBIs in 1964. In 4-plus campaigns with Cleveland, Wagner averaged 24 home runs and 75 RBIs per season. In 1968, Cleveland dealt Wagner to the Chicago White Sox for outfielder Russ Snyder. He served mostly as a pinch hitter for the White Sox in 1968 and for the San Francisco Giants in 1969, retiring after the 1969 season.
A fan and media favorite throughout his 12-season career, “Daddy Wags” batted a career .272 with 211 home runs and 669 RBIs.