It was a case where two teams were trying to unload what they thought was a fading talent. In this instance – and it was a rare one – both teams gained a hitter who proved he had plenty of hits left in his bat. Continue reading
This Week in 1960s Baseball
(August 11, 1961) The Milwaukee Braves today defeated the 2-1 behind the six-hit pitching of Warren Spahn.
For Spahn (12-12), it marked the 300th victory of his career, and made Spahn the thirteenth pitcher in major league history to reach the 300-victory plateau. He was also the first 300-game winner in two decades, following Lefty Grove in 1941.
Spahn drove in the game’s first run in the fifth inning with a sacrifice fly that brought home catcher Joe Torre. The Cubs tied the game at 1-1 in the sixth inning. Ron Santo scored on an Andre Rodgers RBI single.
For Spahn, the victory marked his twelfth complete game of the season … and Spahn would lead the National League in complete games in 1961 for the fifth consecutive season. He would also lead the league in ERA (3.02) and victories at 21-13.
And he still had 63 victories left in his 40-year-old arm.
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.
This Week in 1960s Baseball
(March 17, 1969) The Atlanta Braves announced today that they had acquired the 1967 National League Most Valuable Player, Orlando Cepeda, from the St. Louis Cardinals for catcher-first baseman Joe Torre.
As a member of the Cardinals, Torre would himself be named the National League’s MVP in 1971.
In his three seasons with the Cardinals, Cepeda had led the team to the National League championship in 1967 and 1968. In his MVP season of 1967 (the National League’s first unanimous MVP since Giants pitcher Carl Hubbell was the unanimous selection in 1936), Cepeda hit .325 with 25 home runs and a league-leading 111 RBIs. His power numbers slipped to 16 home runs and 73 RBIs as the Cardinals repeated as National League champions in 1968, though he hit two home runs with six RBIs in the 1968 World Series against the Detroit Tigers.
Cepeda would play an integral role in the Braves’ 1969 divisional championship season, hitting .257 with 22 home runs and 88 RBIs. His best season in Atlanta would come one year later, batting .305 for the Braves with 34 home runs and 111 RBIs. In 17 seasons, the 11-time All-Star finished with 379 home runs and a career batting average of .297. Cepeda was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1999.
Torre also had a strong turnaround following the trade. Moving to first base for the Cardinals, Torre would hit .289 with 18 home runs and 101 RBIs. He would also drive in 100 or more runs in the next two seasons. During his MVP season of 1971, Torre would lead the major leagues in hits (230), RBIs (137), total bases (352) and batting average (.363).
After an 18-year playing career, Torre would compile a 29-year career managing the Mets, Braves, Cardinals, Yankees and Dodgers. His Yankee teams would win four World Series and six American League pennants.
Glancing Back, and Remembering Ray Sadecki
The Cardinals signed Sadecki in 1958 and he made his debut with the team in 1960 as a 19-year-old, going 9-9 with a 3.78 ERA and 7 complete games. In 1961 he went 14-10 with 13 complete games and a 3.72 ERA.
His major challenge was his control, as he averaged over four walks per nine innings both seasons. He spent part of the 1962 season back in the minors, going 6-8 with a 5.54 ERA for St. Louis. He finished the 1963 season at 10-10 with a 4.10 ERA.
The Giants traded Sadecki to the New York Mets following the 1969 season. He pitched for the Mets for six seasons as a spot starter and long reliever, with a combined record of 30-25 and a 3.36 ERA. Following the 1974 season, the Mets traded him to the Cardinals for Joe Torre. From 1975 through 1977, Sadecki pitched for six different teams (including the Kansas City Royals twice and the Mets again) before retiring during the 1977 season.
Glancing Back, and Remembering Del Crandall
During his prime, Del Crandall was generally acknowledged as one of the smartest handlers of pitchers among major league catchers. During the 1950s, with Crandall averaging better than 125 games caught per season, the Milwaukee Braves pitching staff consistently ranked among the best in the league in ERA, one of the reasons that the Braves enjoyed so much success in the late 1950. And for the most part, the man calling those pitches for the likes of Warren Spahn, Lew Burdette and Bob Buhl was Crandall.
Crandall was signed by the Boston Braves and made his major league debut as a 19-year-old rookie a year later. He was the Braves’ back-up back-stop his first two season, and did military service during the next two years. He returned to the Braves – now the Milwaukee edition – in 1953 as the team’s everyday catcher, hitting .272 that season with 15 home runs and 51 RBIs.
Hitting amid a power-laden Braves lineup that included Hank Aaron and Eddie Mathews, Crandall’s power production increased over the next two seasons, swatting 21 home runs with 64 RBIs in 1954 and 26 home runs with 62 RBIs in 1955. In 1959, catching 146 games for the Braves, Crandall hit .257 with 21 home runs and 72 RBIs. He followed up in 1960 by hitting .294 with 19 home runs and 77 RBIs.
Shoulder problems sidelined Crandall for most of the 1961 season, and opened the door for a young Braves catcher named Joe Torre. Crandall returned to catch 90 games in 1962, hitting a career high .297, but he gradually began surrendering more playing time to the talented Torre. In 1963, his last season with the Braves, Crandall hit only .201.
In December of 1963, the Braves traded Crandall, along with pitchers Bob Hendley and Bob Shaw, to the San Francisco Giants for Felipe Alou, Ed Bailey and Billy Hoeft. In 1964, Crandall hit .231 for the Giants as a back-up for catcher Tom Haller, and was traded after the season to the Pittsburgh Pirates for Bob Burda and Bob Priddy. He spent one season in Pittsburgh and then played his final season with the Cleveland Indians. He retired in 1966.
In 16 major league season, Crandall hit .254 with 1,276 hits, 179 home runs and 657 RBIs. From 1954 through 1960, his prime years with the Braves, Crandall averaged 19 home runs and 62 RBIs per season.
But even with these respectable numbers, it was Crandall’s defense and pitch-calling ability that set him apart. He was an All-Star eight times and won four Gold Gloves. He led all National League catchers in assists six times, in fielding percentage four times, and in total putouts three times – a testament not only to his playing skills but also his durability in the game’s most physically demanding position.
Glancing Back, and Remembering Orlando Cepeda
If you want to understand how really good a ballplayer Orlando Cepeda was in his prime, consider this: for more than six years, he kept a future Hall of Famer – who would produce 521 career home runs – out of the starting line-up.
That player was the great Willie McCovey, one of the most feared hitters in National League history, and deservedly so. But in the early 1960s, McCovey wasn’t good enough to displace Cepeda from first base in the Giants’ starting line-up.
Though remembered as a slugger himself, Cepeda (nicknamed “The Baby Bull”) was actually a well-rounded ballplayer. He was signed by the Giants in 1955, and was San Francisco’s starting first baseman by the beginning of the 1958 season. He was the National League’s Rookie of the Year that season, hitting .312 with 25 home runs, 96 RBIs and 15 stolen bases. He also led the league with 38 doubles. His second season was even better, hitting .317 with 27 home runs, 105 RBIs and 23 stolen bases.
In 1961, Cepeda led the league in both home runs (46) and RBIs (142) while hitting .311. He finished second in the MVP voting to Cincinnati’s Frank Robinson. From 1960 through 1964, Cepeda batted a combined .307, averaging 34 home runs and 109 RBIs per season.
During weight training following the 1964 season, Cepeda injured a knee, and tried playing through the injury without telling team management. Knee surgery sidelined him for most of the 1965 season, and in 1966 the Giants traded Cepeda to the St. Louis Cardinals for left-handed pitcher Ray Sadecki, a 20-game winner two seasons before. The Cardinals got the better end of the deal, as Cepeda’s bat rebounded with the gradual improvement in the health of his knee. For the Cardinals in 1966, Cepeda hit .303 with 17 home runs and 58 RBIs in 123 games.
In 1967, Cepeda captured the National League’s Most Valuable Award as the offensive leader of the pennant-winning Cardinals. He hit .325 with 25 home runs and a league-leading 111 RBIs. His power numbers slipped to 16 home runs and 73 RBIs as the Cardinals repeated as National League champions in 1968. However, in the 1968 World Series against the Detroit Tigers, Cepeda hit two home runs with six RBIs.
In the spring of 1969, Cepeda was traded to the Atlanta Braves for catcher-first baseman Joe Torre. His 22 home runs and 88 RBIs played an integral role in the Braves’ divisional championship. The following year, Cepeda had his last strong season, hitting .305 for the Braves with 34 home runs and 111 RBIs. He retired in 1974 after stops in Oakland, Boston and Kansas City.
In 17 seasons, the 11-time All-Star finished with 379 home runs and a career batting average of .297. He was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1999.
Homer Happy Mack Jones
In the mid 1960s, the Milwaukee Braves fielded one of the most potent power lineups in the National League. Spearheaded by Hall of Famers Hank Aaron and Eddie Mathews, the Braves’ lineup also included stellar hitters such as Rico Carty, Joe Torre, Felipe Alou and a free-swinging left-handed hitter named Mack Jones.
Jones was signed by the Braves in 1958 and made the big league club as a reserve outfielder in 1961. He batted .255 with 10 home runs and 36 RBIs in 1962, but saw only limited playing time in his first three seasons with the Braves.
In 1965, Jones was named the starting center fielder for the Braves, and responded with the best season of his career: a .262 batting average with 31 home runs and 75 RBIs. His power numbers dropped off in each of the next two seasons, hitting 23 home runs in 1966 and 17 homers in 1967.
Following the 1967 season, he was traded with Jim Beauchamp and Jay Ritchie to the Cincinnati Reds for Deron Johnson. In his only season in Cincinnati, Jones hit 10 home runs with 34 RBIs on a .252 batting average.
Jones was the fourth selection by the Montreal Expos in the 1968 expansion draft. He batted .270 for the Expos in 1969 with 22 home runs and 79 RBIs. He also matched his career high with 23 doubles. On April 14, 1969, he hit the first home run in a major league game played in Canada.
It would be his best season with Montreal. He hit .240 with 14 home runs and 32 RBIs in 1970, and played 43 games with the Expos in 1971 before being released.
Jones retired at age 32 after 10 big league seasons. He had a career batting average of .252.
Lights Out: Tony Cloninger’s Twin Grand Slams
When: July 3, 1966
Where: Candlestick Park, San Francisco, California
Game Time: 2:42
Of course, in the 1960s, all pitchers did their own hitting. And some of them were pretty good at it.
Some of them, in fact, set hitting records that no non-pitcher has ever topped. That’s what Tony Cloninger did on July 3, 1966.
On that Sunday afternoon in front of 27,000 fans at Candlestick Park, Cloninger pitched a complete game, winning his ninth victory of the season in a 17-3 laugher over the hometown Giants. What made the game significant wasn’t Cloninger’s arm but his bat, and the nine runs it produced that afternoon (a major league single-game record for a pitcher).
Before he threw his first pitch, Cloninger already had a seven-run lead. In the top of the first inning, against Giants southpaw Joe Gibbon, the Braves struck for three runs on a Joe Torre home run. Gibbon gave up two more singles before being replaced by Bob Priddy, who walked shortstop Denis Menke to load the bases. The next batter was Cloninger, who sent the ball over the left-center field fence for a grand slam that made the score 7-0.
Cloninger was just getting started.
Batting in the top of the fourth inning against Ray Sadecki, Cloninger launched his second slam of the afternoon. And after flying out to left field to lead off the sixth inning, Cloninger collected his ninth RBI of the game in the eighth inning, singling to left off Sadecki to score Woody Woodward from third base.
Cloninger allowed three runs (all earned) on seven hits, including a pair of solo home runs: one by Giants catcher Tom Haller, and the other by the opposing pitcher, Sadecki. Pitchers’ bats that afternoon accounted for 10 RBIs. Not a bad hitter for a pitcher (with a .192 lifetime average), Cloninger hit .234 in 1966, with five home runs and 23 RBIs. Unfortunately, by 1966, he was on the downside of his pitching career, finishing that season at 14-11, 10 victories fewer than the previous year and the most he would ever again win in any single season.
Cloninger finished his 12-year career with 113 wins … and 11 career home runs.