Catfish Served to Perfection

 

This Week in 1960s Baseball

(May 8, 1968) In front of only 6,298 Oakland fans, Catfish Hunter today hurled the first American League perfect game in 46 years as the A’s defeated the Minnesota Twins, 4-0.

In pitching the first perfect game in the American League in more than 40 years, Jim “Catfish” Hunter allowed seven ground balls and nine outfield flies. He struck out 11.

In pitching the first perfect game in the American League in more than 40 years, Jim “Catfish” Hunter allowed seven ground balls and nine outfield flies. He struck out 11.

Hunter (3-2) struck out 11 Twins batters in pitching the gem. He was also the game’s hitting star, with three RBIs on three hits, including a double.

The losing pitcher for the Twins was Dave Boswell (3-3).

The 22-year-old Hunter would finish the 1968 season with a 13-13 record and a 3.35 ERA. He was still three years away from his first 20-victory season. He would win 20 or more games five times in the 1970s.

 

The Sweetest Swing This Side of North Side

 

Glancing Back, and Remembering Billy Williams

The Chicago Cubs of the 1960s were something of an enigma: all that talent – especially in the heart of the line-up, and so little to show for it. (Of course, the same thing might also be said about the Cubs of the ‘20s, ‘30s, ‘40s, and ‘50s.)

Left fielder Billy Williams was the National League Rookie of the Year in 1961 and the NL batting champion in 1972.

Left fielder Billy Williams was the National League Rookie of the Year in 1961 and the NL batting champion in 1972.

How did the Cubs, with the likes of Hall of Famers Ernie Banks and Ron Santo playing nearly every day, consistently have to struggle so hard to reach .500, much less contend? And add a Billy Williams to that equation, and the Cubs of the 1960s become all that much more puzzling.

Because out of that trio of offensive superstars, Billy Williams might just have been the best of the three during the 1960s.

Williams was consistent, not spectacular. His swing was so compact, so smooth and sweet, that it’s somewhat surprising he won only a single batting title during his 18-year career.  He never led the league in home runs or RBIs, and led only once in runs and hits (both coming in 1970). But between 1961 and 1973, William never had fewer than 20 home runs or 84 RBIs.

All told, during those 13 seasons, he averaged 28 home runs with 98 RBIs, batting a combined .298. He batted over .300 five times during that period. He ranks twelfth among home run hitters during the 1960s.

From 1962-1969, Billy Williams was the model for consistent performance. He batted a combined .293 and averaged 28 home runs and 95 RBIs per season. He also played in an average of 162 games per year.

From 1962-1969, Billy Williams was the model for consistent performance. He batted a combined .293 and averaged 28 home runs and 95 RBIs per season. He also played in an average of 162 games per year.

All three of those great Cub players were also three of the most durable in the National League, but no one was more durable than Williams. From 1962 through 1970, Williams averaged 162 games per season, appearing in more than 162 games for three of those seasons. He set the league record for consecutive games with 1,117 in 1970, a record that stood for more than a dozen years.

Williams was Rookie of the Year in 1961 and an All-Star six times.  He was a Cub for all but the last two seasons of his career, when he was a designated hitter for the Oakland A’s (and made his only post-season appearance in the 1975 American League Championship Series, going hitless in seven at-bats).  He finished his career with more than 400 home runs and over 1,400 RBIs. He was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1987.

Make Mine a Mc-Thirty

 

Lights Out: Denny McLain Becomes Baseball’s Last 30-Game Winner

When: September 14, 1968

Where:  Tiger Stadium, Detroit, Michigan

Game Time: 3:00

Attendance: 33,688

 

Only one man on earth knows what it feels like to be a 30-game winner. That man is Denny McLain, and that feeling came to him in a game he nearly gave away.

Denny McLain was 31-6 with a 1.96 ERA in 1968. He pitched 28 complete games, six of them shutouts.

Denny McLain was 31-6 with a 1.96 ERA in 1968. He pitched 28 complete games, six of them shutouts.

McLain was a bulldozer all season long, the league’s best pitcher pitching for the league’s best team. His first two starts resulted in no decisions, but he won his next five starts, was 8-1 at the end of May and 14-2 at the end of June. McLain went 7-1 in July to become a 20-game winner before August 1, and was 5-2 in August to enter the season’s final month with a 26-5 record.

He won his first three starts in September, and the Oakland Athletics came to Detroit on September 14 to face McLain with his 29-5 record and a 1.95 ERA. A’s starter Chuck Dobson and McLain traded zeroes over the first three innings. The A’s scored two runs in the top of the fourth with Reggie Jackson’s twenty-seventh home run of the year. Then the Tigers chased Dobson in the bottom of the fourth with a three-run home run by Norm Cash.

The A’s came back in the top of the fifth, as Bert Campaneris singled in Dave Duncan to tie the score at 3-3. Jackson put the A’s back on top in the sixth inning with his twenty-eighth home run, and the game remained 4-3 through the eighth inning.

McLain retired Sal Bando, Jackson and Dick Green in order in the top of the ninth, throwing a third strike past Green for his tenth strikeout of the game. In the bottom of the ninth, Al Kaline led off with a walk. Dick McAuliffe hit a pop foul to Bando, and then Mickey Stanley singled off A’s pitcher Diego Segui, sending Kaline to third.

Denny McLain was the epitome of balanced productivity during his Cy Young season in 1968. He was 14-2 through June, and 17-4 during the second half of the season.

Denny McLain was the epitome of balanced productivity during his Cy Young season in 1968. He was 14-2 through June, and 17-4 during the second half of the season.

The next batter, Jim Northrup, smashed a hard grounder to Danny Cater at first.  Cater fielded the ball and threw to third to keep Kaline from scoring, but the ball got by Bando, allowing Kaline to score the tying run and advancing Stanley to third. Willie Horton singled to drive in Stanley with the winning run, the run that made Denny McLain the first 30-game winner in the American League in 37 years, and the last man to do it in the Twentieth Century.

 

 

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A’s Add Fingers

 

This Week in 1960s Baseball

(December 24, 1964) – Today the Kansas City Athletics signed a lanky right-handed pitcher-outfielder named Roland Fingers.

Rollie Fingers in 1969

Rollie Fingers in 1969

By the time the pitcher Rollie Fingers would win a spot on the Athletics’ roster in 1968, the franchise had moved from Kansas City to Oakland.

By the time Fingers had closed out his major league career after 17 seasons, he would have accumulated 341 career saves, a Cy Young award (1981), a Most Valuable Player award (1981), a World Series MVP (1974), three World Series rings, a place in the baseball Hall of Fame (inducted in 1992) and a handlebar moustache (plus the $300 bonus he earned from Charles Finley for growing it).

Lots of Hits in a Compact Package

 

Glancing Back, and Remembering Vic Davalillo

Vic Davalillo lived on his speed – with his bat, and with his legs in the field. He was a solid contact hitter at the start of his career, and one of the game’s best pinch hitters as his 16-year major league career wound down.

Vic Davalillo was the starting center fielder in the 1965 All-Star game, coming into the game leading the American League with a .345 batting average. He finished the season third in the league with a .301 batting average.

Vic Davalillo was the starting center fielder in the 1965 All-Star game, coming into the game leading the American League with a .345 batting average. He finished the season third in the league with a .301 batting average.

Davalillo was signed by the Cincinnati Redlegs in 1958 and was purchased by the Cleveland Indians after the 1961 season. In 1962 he hit .346 for Jacksonville to lead the International League.

He opened the 1963 season as the starting center fielder for the Indians, hitting .304 in June when a Hank Aguirre fastball resulted in a broken wrist. He played a total of 90 games that season, leading the Indians with a .292 batting average.

Davalillo hit .270 in 1964 with a career-high 156 hits and 21 stolen bases (third best in the league). He also won the Gold Glove award that season. In 1965, Davalillo was hitting .345 at the All-Star break to lead the American League in batting. That earned him the starting center field position in the All-Star game. His batting average fell off in the second half of the season, and he finished with a .301 batting average, third best in the American League.

Davalillo hit .250 in 1966 and rebounded in 1967 with a .287 average, though he was being platooned and facing mostly right-handed pitchers. In 1968 he was traded to the California Angels for outfielder Jimmie Hall. He hit a combined .277 that season, batting .298 for the Angels in 93 games as a full-time player. In May of 1969, he was traded to the St. Louis Cardinals for outfielder Jim Hicks.

Davalillo could hit throughout his career. At age 41, he led the Mexican League with a .384 batting average. That led to one more tour in the major leagues, as one of baseball’s best pinch hitters for the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Davalillo could hit throughout his career. At age 41, he led the Mexican League with a .384 batting average. That led to one more tour in the major leagues, as one of baseball’s best pinch hitters for the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Davalillo hit .311 for the Cardinals in 1970 and was traded again – this time to the Pittsburgh Pirates (with pitcher Nelson Briles) for Matty Alou and pitcher George Brunet. He hit .285 for the Pirates in 1971 and .318 in 1972. In 1973 he was purchased by the Oakland Athletics. He played sparingly for the A’s, mostly as a pinch hitter, and was released after the 1974 season.

Davalillo spent the next three seasons in the Mexican league, winning that league’s batting title in 1977 with a .384 average. He was purchased by the Los Angeles Dodgers in August of 1977 and hit .313 for the rest of that season. He played three more seasons for the Dodgers as a utility player and one of the game’s best pinch hitters. He retired after the 1980 season with 1,122 hits and a .279 career batting average.

Baseball’s Best .500 Pitcher?

 

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.

No pitcher in the 1960s understood frustration as well as Joe Horlen. From 1964-1966, pitching for the Chicago White Sox, Horlen had a combined ERA of 2.40, yet a won-loss record of only 36-35.

No pitcher in the 1960s understood frustration as well as Joe Horlen. From 1964-1966, pitching for the Chicago White Sox, Horlen had a combined ERA of 2.40, yet a won-loss record of only 36-35.

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.

Horlen’s best season came in 1967. He was 19-7 and led the American League with a 2.06 ERA and six shutouts. It was his only All-Star season.

Horlen’s best season came in 1967. He was 19-7 and led the American League with a 2.06 ERA and six shutouts. It was his only All-Star season.

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).

 

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