Career Year: Warren Spahn – 1961
Throughout his amazing 21-season career, Warren Spahn strung together more career years than any other pitcher of his generation. Continue reading
Glancing Back, and Remembering Roy McMillan
For nearly the entire 1950s, Roy McMillan was the everyday shortstop for the Cincinnati Reds, and one of the best-fielding shortstops in all of organized baseball during his prime.
McMillan was signed by the Reds in 1947 and made his way to the big league roster in 1951, hitting .211 in 81 games that season. He hit .244 as the Reds’ starting shortstop in 1952, and held that position in the Reds’ infield through the 1960 season. Continue reading
Oh, What a Relief: Jim Brosnan
Jim Brosnan was one of the true pioneers of unvarnished sports journalism. His 1959 expose, The Long Season, while tame by today’s standards, was the first book of its kind, revealing life in the major leagues and preceding by a decade Jim Bouton‘s tell-all best-seller Ball Four.
The publication of The Long Season also coincided with what would be Brosnan’s most effective period as a major league reliever. He proved to be a major contributor to the Cincinnati Reds‘ pennant-winning season of 1961.
Brosnan was signed by the Chicago Cubs in 1946 and made his first appearance for the Cubs in 1954, when he went 1-0 in 18 relief appearances. He made the Chicago roster to stay in 1956, posting a 5-9 record as a starter and reliever with a 3.79 ERA. In 1957, working almost entirely out of the Cubs’ bullpen, Brosnan went 5-5 in 41 appearances.
In May of 1958, Brosnan was traded to the St. Louis Cardinals for veteran shortstop Al Dark. He went 11-8 that season with a 3.35 ERA, working as both a starter and as a reliever. But from this point in his career on, Brosnan would find himself relied on more and more as a reliever, and with more and more success in that role.
After the start of the 1959 season, Brosnan was traded to the Reds for Hal Jeffcoat. He had a combined record of 9-6 in 1959, and emerged as the Reds’ relief ace in 1960 with a 7-2 record in 57 appearances, all but two in relief. Brosnan posted a 2.36 ERA and recorded 12 saves for the Reds in 1960.
In 1961, as Cincinnati claimed the National League pennant for the first time in more than two decades, Brosnan had his best season, going 10-4 with a 3.04 ERA in 53 relief appearances. He also posted a career-high 16 saves, closing for a starting rotation that featured Joey Jay, Jim O’Toole and Bob Purkey.
Brosnan went 4-4 for Cincinnati in 1962 with a 3.34 ERA and 13 saves. In 1963 he was traded to the Chicago White Sox for pitcher Dom Zanni, and finished the 1963 season at 3-8 with a combined ERA of 3.13 and 14 saves, all with the White Sox. At the end of the 1963 season he was released by Chicago, and retired at age 33.
During his nine-season major league career, Brosnan compiled a 55-47 record with 67 saves and a 3.54 ERA.
Glancing Back, and Remembering Juan Pizarro
As a major league pitcher, lefty Juan Pizarro had two careers. For the first nine years of his career, he was a starter (and occasional long reliever, as even ace starting pitchers saw occasional double duty in the 1960s). During the second half of his 18-year career, Pizarro was primarily a relief specialist, whose blazing fastball would no longer hold up for nine innings but remained effective in spot relief situations, especially against left-handed batters.
Pizarro was signed by the Milwaukee Braves and was immediately a stand-out prospect in their minor league system, winning 23 games at Jacksonville in his first professional season. He spent the next three seasons pitching effectively in AAA but with limited success as a starter-reliever for the Braves. From 1957 through 1960, Pizarro had a combined record of 23-19 with a 3.93 ERA for Milwaukee.
In December of 1960, the Braves traded Pizarro and Joey Jay to the Cincinnati Reds for shortstop Roy McMillan. On the same day, the Reds sent Pizarro and Cal McLish to the Chicago White Sox for infielder Gene Freese. The trades that day were good for Cincinnati, as both Jay and Freese played critical roles in propelling the Reds to the 1961 National League pennant. The trades were also good for Pizarro, whose arrival in Chicago launched his career as a full-time – and highly successful – starter for the White Sox.
In 1961 for the White Sox, Pizarro achieved career highs in starts (25) and innings pitched (194.2). He struck out 188 batters on his way to a 14-7 season with a 3.05 ERA. After a 12-14 season in 1962, he followed up with 16-8 in 1963 (2.39 ERA) and 19-9 in 1964 (2.56 ERA). Pizarro and teammate Gary Peters (20-8 in 1964) were recognized as the two best left-handers in the American League. Pizarro was named to the American League All-Star team in both 1963 and 1964.
However, Pizarro’s success was starting to take a toll on his arm. All those innings, all those strikeouts, all those fastballs led to arm miseries and diminished performance in 1965 (6-3) and 1966 (8-6). The White Sox traded Pizarro to the Pittsburgh Pirates as the player to be named later in the acquisition of pitcher Wilbur Wood. Pizarro transitioned quickly to a relief role that meant more appearances – and fewer total innings – to take full advantage of his still explosive fastball.
From 1967 through 1974, Pizarro pitched for six different teams, going 33-39 with 20 saves in 206 appearances. His combined ERA for that period was 3.76. He retired after the 1974 season with a career record of 131-105.
This Week in 1960s Baseball
(May 31, 1965) For the first time in major league history, an all-switch-hitting infield started a big league game.
In the nightcap of a twin bill, the Los Angeles Dodgers lost to the visiting Cincinnati Reds, 6-1. The Dodgers’ starting infield was made up entirely of switch-hitters, with Wes Parker at first base, Jim Lefebvre at second, Maury Wills at shortstop and Jim Gilliam at third.
The Dodgers infield hit for a combined .154 for the game, with two hits in 13 official at-bats. Gilliam doubled in the first inning and Wills singled in the ninth. Parker drove in the Dodgers’ only run with a sacrifice fly off Reds’ starter Joey Jay (3-1) in the ninth inning, scoring catcher Jeff Torborg.
Jay pitched the complete game, giving up only three hits while striking out eight and walking no Dodgers.
Hitting stars for the Reds were catcher Jimmie Coker (a two-run double off Claude Osteen in the first inning), third baseman Deron Johnson (a pair of RBIs) and Frank Robinson, who hit a solo home run (his eighth of the season) off Osteen (3-6) in the fourth.
The 1965 season would be Robinson’s last in a Cincinnati uniform, despite finishing the year with a .296 batting average, 33 home runs and 113 RBIs. In 1966, he moved on to the Baltimore Orioles … and to the American League’s Triple Crown.
Career Year: Joey Jay – 1961
Pitcher Joey Jay had a big year in 1961, the kind of year that was pivotal in helping to propel his team – the Cincinnati Reds – to its best year in two decades.
A Connecticut native, Jay was the first major league player to have “graduated” from Little League, where he played first base. He gradually made the move to the pitching mound, where he threw three no-hitters in high school and attracted attention from several big league scouts, signing with the Milwaukee Braves in 1953.
As a “bonus baby,” he was required to spend two years with the Braves rather than improving his pitching skills in the minors. He spent most of that time sitting and watching. Jay made his major league debut with the Braves in July and picked up his first victory by shutting out the Reds in September. But in 1953-1954, he appeared in only 21 games with three starts and a 2-0 record.
Jay’s minor league tutelage began in 1955. He won 17 games for AAA Wichita in 1957 and was 7-5 as a starter and reliever for the Braves in 1958. He was a combined 15-19 for the Braves over the next two seasons, and in December of 1960 was traded with Juan Pizarro to the Reds for shortstop Roy McMillan.
Jay was slotted to be part of the Reds’ starting rotation for 1961, but no one could have realistically anticipated the season he would have. He started the season by losing his first three starts, with the Reds being shut out in the first two starts. But Jay won all six of his May starts and was 10-4 at the end of June. At the All-Star break he was 13-4 with a 2.55 ERA and seven complete games.
Jay was 4-2 in August and 3-2 in September. He finished the 1961 season at 21-10 with a 3.53 ERA. He tied with Warren Spahn for the National League lead in victories and his earned run average was eighth lowest in the league. He finished among the league’s top ten pitchers in innings pitched (247.1), strikeouts (157) and complete games (14). His four shutouts tied Spahn for the league lead.
Jay was 4-0 against his former team, the Braves, with a 2.57 ERA. His twentieth victory in September was a 1-0 shutout of Milwaukee. He was the first Reds pitcher to post a 20-win season since 1947.
Jay placed fifth in the voting for Most Valuable Player. He garnered the only first-place vote that wasn’t claimed by teammate Frank Robinson, the 1961 National League MVP.
Jay had another outstanding season in 1962, going 21-14. But then his career collapsed. He was 7-18 in 1963 and 11-11 in 1964. He won 15 games over the next two seasons, and was out of major league baseball for good following the 1966 season.
Glancing Back, and Remembering Jim O’Toole
In an era dominated by a left-hander named Sandy Koufax, it was difficult for any other National League southpaw to stand out. But from 1960 through 1964, in an unassuming way, left-hander Jim O’Toole won 81 games for the Cincinnati Reds, an average of 16 wins per season.
A Chicago native, O’Toole pitched for the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where he was signed by the Reds as an amateur free agent in 1957. He made the big league club in 1959, and moved into the Reds’ starting rotation in 1960, finishing the season 12-12 with a 3.80 ERA.
In 1961, O’Toole emerged as one of the best pitchers in the National League. He finished the season at 19-9, third in the league in victories to Warren Spahn and teammate Joey Jay, both of whom won 21 games. Down the stretch, O’Toole was a tiger for the pennant-winning Reds. From July 23 through the rest of the season, O’Toole went 11-1, winning his last 8 decisions. He also saved two games for the Reds. His 3.10 ERA was second best in the league. (Spahn led with 3.02).
He followed up with three more strong seasons for the Reds, going 16-13 in 1962, 17-14 in 1963, and 17-7 in 1964. His 2.66 ERA in 1964 was sixth best in the National League.
O’Toole was the starting pitcher for the National League in the 1963 All-Star game. He was the league leader in victories at that point with a 13-6 record. He finished the 1963 season with a career-high five shutouts.
O’Toole pitched for the Reds for two more seasons, going a combined 8-17. He appeared in 15 games with the Chicago White Sox in 1967, going 4-3 with a 2.82 ERA and one shutout.
O’Toole finished his 10-year major league career with a record of 98-84 and a 3.57 ERA.
This Week in 1960s Baseball …
(November 22, 1961) Frank Robinson, right fielder for the National League champion Cincinnati Reds, today was named National League Most Valuable Player.
Robinson became the first Cincinnati Red in 21 years to win the National League MVP. The previous Reds MVP was first baseman Frank McCormick in 1940.
Robinson claimed 15 out of the 16 first-place votes, the other first-place tally going to teammate Joey Jay, whose 21-10 record tied him with Warren Spahn for the league lead in victories. Jay finished fifth in the MVP voting overall.
Robinson led the league in only one hitting category, with a .611 slugging percentage. He batted .323 with 37 home runs and 124 runs batted in. Robinson finished second in the league with 117 runs scored.
Cepeda led the National League in both home runs (46) and RBIs (142). The National League batting champion in 1961 was Roberto Clemente at .351. Clemente finished fourth in the MVP voting.
Robinson’s outfield teammate, Vada Pinson, finished third in the MVP vote, Pinson was second in the league with a .343 batting average and led the league with 208 hits.