Learning to Trust the Knuckler

 

Glancing Back, and Remembering Wilbur Wood

Hall of Fame reliever Hoyt Wilhelm was not only the master of the knuckleball, but also its greatest evangelist. His promoting the pitch to bullpen teammates inspired at least two successful careers: one was the career of reliever Eddie Fisher, the other was the career of reliever-turned-starter Wilbur Wood.

Wilbur Wood had two successful major league careers – one as a reliever, the other as a starter. As a relief pitcher for the Chicago White Sox, Wood led the American League in appearances from 1968-1970, averaging 11 victories and 17 saves per season.

Wilbur Wood had two successful major league careers – one as a reliever, the other as a starter. As a relief pitcher for the Chicago White Sox, Wood led the American League in appearances from 1968-1970, averaging 11 victories and 17 saves per season.

Wood’s career was going nowhere when Wilhelm advised him to rely on his knuckleball and not simply treat it as an occasional trick pitch. Wood was signed by the Boston Red Sox in 1960 and pitched in the Bosox’s minor league system for five years with only occasional stops in Beantown.

He was purchased by the Pittsburgh Pirates in September of 1964 and finally won his first major league decision in 1965. He spent the 1966 season at the Pirates AAA affiliate in Columbus, going 15-8 before being traded to the Chicago White Sox for Juan Pizarro.

It was a trade that would change Wood’s career. He met Wilhelm, and listened.

He went 4-2 for the White Sox in 1967 with a 2.42 ERA. That was four times as many major league games as he had previously won in his career. In 1968 he set a major league record by appearing in 88 games, going 13-12 with a 1.87 ERA and 16 saves. In 1969 he made 76 appearances – all in relief – and went 10-11 with 15 saves. In 1970, his 77 relief appearances and 2.81 ERA produced a 9-13 record with 21 saves.

Then Wood made the last major transition of his career. He moved to the starting rotation, where the low physical stress of throwing the knuckleball allowed Wood to pitch more innings than any other starter in baseball – in fact more innings than any major league starter since the “Dead Ball” era prior to 1920. Wood went 22-13 in 1971 with a 1.91 ERA over 334 innings pitched. He averaged 21-16 with 45 starts and 348 innings per season from 1971 to 1975. And his earned run average over that period was 3.08.

As a starter, Wilbur Wood’s best season came in 1971, when he was 22-13 with a 1.91 ERA for the White Sox. He then won 24 games in each of the next two seasons.

As a starter, Wilbur Wood’s best season came in 1971, when he was 22-13 with a 1.91 ERA for the White Sox. He then won 24 games in each of the next two seasons.

 

Injury finally slowed Wood down, but it wasn’t his arm that gave out. In May of 1976, Tigers center fielder Ron LeFlore hit a vicious line drive back at Wood, shattering his knee cap. He made a valiant effort to come back, but was never the same pitcher, going 17-18 over his final two seasons and retiring after the 1978 campaign.

Wood finished with a career record of 164-156 and a 3.24 ERA. He was an All-Star selection three times.

 

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One Sweet Moose

 

Glancing Back, and Remembering Bob Moose

A Pennsylvania native, Bob Moose grew up with the dream of one day pitching for the Pittsburgh Pirates. For Moose it was a dream come true, as he eventually found success both as a starter and reliever for the Pirates, the only team he played for in a 10-year major league career.

Bob Moose pitched effectively as a starter or reliever. He threw a no-hitter against the New York Mets in 1969.

Bob Moose pitched effectively as a starter or reliever. He threw a no-hitter against the New York Mets in 1969.

Moose was a sandlot legend, a strikeout specialist from Little League through high school, when he was signed by the Pirates in 1965. He made his major league debut at the end of the 1967 season, pitching a complete game for his first big league win that season.

In 1968, as a starter and reliever for the Pirates, Moose went 8-12 with a 2.74 ERA and three shutouts. His best season came in 1969, when he went 14-3 with a 2.91 ERA. His .834 winning percentage was the highest in the major leagues that year. He also pitched a no-hitter against the New York Mets.

Moose won 11 games for the Pirates in each of the next two seasons, and appeared in three games in the 1971 World Series with no decisions. In 1972, as a member of the Pirates’ starting rotation, Moose won 13 games with a 2.91 ERA, pitching a career-high 226 innings. He won 12 games in 1973.

Bob Moose averaged 12 wins per season for the Pirates from 1969-1973.

Bob Moose averaged 12 wins per season for the Pirates from 1969-1973.

In 1974 Moose experienced arm problems for the first time in his career. The cause turned out to be a blood clot that required season-ending surgery and considerable rehabilitation to rebuild his arm strength. Moose appeared in only 23 games in 1975, going 2-2 with a 3.72 ERA. He came back in 1976 as the Pirates’ closer, appearing in 53 games with 10 saves, and now 29, he appeared ready to take on the closer’s role full-time going into the 1977 season. But Moose never had the opportunity. He was killed in an automobile accident on the way to participating in a charity golf tournament.

Moose finished his career with a 76-71 record and a 3.50 ERA.

 

 

 

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Blass from the Past

 

Glancing Back, and Remembering Steve Blass

The ace of the Pittsburgh Pirates pitching staff in the late 1960s, Steve Blass had a career that exemplified the shooting star, both in the height of his achievements and in their brevity. He came, he won, he faded into history, leaving behind a legacy of clutch wins and at times breathtaking performances that demonstrated why, at his best, he was among the best pitchers of his era.

In 1971, Steve Blass had one of his best seasons, going 15-8 with a 2.49 ERA and a league-leading five shutouts. He also won two World Series games.

In 1971, Steve Blass had one of his best seasons, going 15-8 with a 2.49 ERA and a league-leading five shutouts. He also won two World Series games.

Blass was signed by the Pirates in 1960 and never played for any other organization. He advanced through the Pirates’ farm system, slowly but steadily, and was successful at each level. He made his debut with the Pirates in 1964, going 5-8 with a 4.04 ERA as a spot starter and long reliever. He returned to Columbus in the International League in 1965, going 13-11 with a 3.07 ERA, and returned to the Pirates to stay in 1966 with a 11-7 record and a 3.87 ERA.

By 1968, Blass was the ace of the Pirates pitching staff, going 18-6 and leading the National League with a .750 winning percentage. His 2.12 earned run average was fifth best in the league, (teammate Bob Veale‘s 2.05 was third in the league) and his seven shutouts were third in the league behind Bob Gibson (13) and Don Drysdale (8) and tied with Jerry Koosman.

Blass won 16 games in 1969 and 10 games in 1970. The he strung together his two best seasons in leading the Pirates to back-to-back Eastern Division titles. Blass went 15-8 with a 2.49 ERA in 1971, leading the league with five shutouts. He won both of his World Series starts against the Baltimore Orioles. Blass outdueled O’s ace Mike Cuellar 5-1 in Game Three, pitching a three-hitter and striking out eight Orioles batters. Blass returned in Game Seven to pitch a 2-1 gem, allowing only four hits in winning the Series clincher for the Pirates.

In 1972, Blass was even better. He went 19-8 with a 2.49 ERA, pitching a career-high 249.2 innings. He was named to the National League All-Star team. In the National League Championship Series against the Cincinnati Reds, Blass won the opener 5-1, then pitched seven strong innings in Game Five, allowing only two runs on four hits in a game the Reds would win in the bottom of the ninth.

At age 31, Blass already had 100 career victories, 78 in the previous five seasons. He should have been at the peak of his career, but instead it was nearly at its end. He won only three games for the Pirates in 1973, and never won a major league game after that. For no explicable reason, he suddenly became plagued with chronic wildness, and never fully recovered, even during a return to the minors in 1974. He retired after being released by the Pirates that same year.

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Pirate Tower of Power

 

Homer Happy: Willie Stargell

For most of two decades, Willie Stargell was the most dangerous player in the Pittsburgh Pirates batting order. And one of the most popular to play in a Pirate uniform.

Willie Stargell hit 475 home runs with 1,540 runs batted in. He was an All-Star seven times and was the National League Most Valuable Player in 1979.

Willie Stargell hit 475 home runs with 1,540 runs batted in. He was an All-Star seven times and was the National League Most Valuable Player in 1979.

He was author of some of the most towering home runs in National League history. According to Don Sutton, Stargell’s strength could wipe away a pitcher’s dignity.

Stargell spent his entire 21-year major league career with the Pirates, making his major league debut in 1962. He hit 11 home runs as a part-time performer in 1963, and 21 home runs as a full-time left fielder in 1964. He would hit at least 20 home runs in 15 out of the next 16 seasons.

During his first eight seasons, the Pirates played in Forbes Field, a park whose dimension were not power-hitter friendly. The fence in left-center field was 457 feet from home plate, and home runs to dead right field had to clear a 20-foot screen that ran to right-center field. No wonder that, during the 1960s, Stargell hit no more than 33 home runs (in 1966).

When the Pirates moved to hitter-friendly Three Rivers Stadium in 1970, Stargell’s home run productivity jumped dramatically. He led the National League with 48 home runs in 1971 and 44 home runs in 1973. He hit 310 of his 475 career home runs from 1970 on.

Stargell’s one advantage during his years in Pittsburgh was the batting order hitting around him. He shared the outfield with two batting champions, Matty Alou and Roberto Clemente, who claimed five batting titles between them during the 1960s. The Pirates’ batting order in the 1960s also included Donn Clendenon, Manny Mota and Bill Mazeroski, as well as Manny Sanguillen, Al Oliver and Richie Hebner in the 1970s – the kind of bats that kept pitchers honest and consistently gave Stargell pitches he could launch.

Willie Stargell led the National League in home runs twice ... after the Pirates moved from Forbes Field to Three Rivers Stadium.

Willie Stargell led the National League in home runs twice … after the Pirates moved from Forbes Field to Three Rivers Stadium.

And “launch” them he did. In its 61 seasons, Forbes Field saw only 16 home runs clear the right field roof. Seven of those home runs belonged to Stargell. Only four times did home runs leave Dodger Stadium, and Stargell owned two of them. He hit the only home run to reach the upper deck of Montreal’s Olympic Stadium, a blast estimated at 575 feet. When he retired, Stargell could claim the longest home runs in at least half the National League parks.

Stargell retired after the 1982 season with 475 home runs and 1,540 runs batted in. He was an All-Star seven times and was the National League Most Valuable Player in 1979. He is the Pirates’ career leader in home runs, RBIs and extra-base hits. Stargell was voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1988.

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Dick Stuart Takes Potent Bat – and Legendary Glove – to Philly

 

This Week in 1960s Baseball

(November 29, 1964) The Philadelphia Phillies today added power to their line-up with the acquisition of right-handed slugger Dick Stuart from the Boston Red Sox.

In exchange for Stuart, the Phillies gave up left-handed starting pitcher Dennis Bennett (12-14).

Dick Stuart

Dick Stuart

Stuart had posted strong back-to-back seasons with the Red Sox. In 1963, he hit 45 home runs in his first season in Boston and led the American League with 118 RBIs. He followed up in 1964 with 33 home runs and 114 RBIs.

Prior to coming to Boston, Stuart had spent five seasons at first base for the Pittsburgh Pirates. He was the first major league player to hit 30 or more home runs in a season in each league.

The deal turned out better for Philadelphia than for the Red Sox. Stuart hit 28 home runs and drove in 95 runs during his only season with the Phillies. He was traded to the New York Mets before the 1966 season.

Dennis Bennett

Dennis Bennett

Bennett saw limited work with the Red Sox over the next three years, with a combined record of 12-13 with a 3.96 ERA.

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Maris Repeats as AL MVP

 

This Week in 1960s Baseball

(November 15, 1961) For the second consecutive year, Roger Maris has been named the American League’s Most Valuable Player.

Roger Maris - The American MVP in 1960 and 1961.

Roger Maris – The American League MVP in 1960 and 1961.

The new single-season home run record holder edged his New York Yankee teammate Mickey Mantle by four votes, 202-198.

The 1961 season was a banner year for Maris in nearly every hitting category. In addition to setting a new single-season home run record with 61, Maris also led the American League with 132 runs scored and 141 runs batted in. He also led the major leagues with 366 total bases.

It was the second consecutive season when Maris led the league in RBIs. He knocked in 112 runs in his 1960 MVP season.

The biggest difference between 1960 and 1961 for Maris (and his Yankee teammates) was how October turned out. In 1960, the Yankees lost a heart-breaking seven-game World Series to the Pittsburgh Pirates. In the 1961 World Series, the Yankees reclaimed the baseball championship by beating the Cincinnati Reds in five games.

Right Down Pittsburgh’s Alley

 

Glancing Back, and Remembering Gene Alley

For more than a decade, Gene Alley provided the ideal complement to Bill Mazeroski, the best second baseman in the National League during the 1960s (and maybe … ever).

Gene Alley played for 11 seasons, all with the Pittsburgh Pirates. He won the Gold Glove in both 1966 and 1967.

Gene Alley played for 11 seasons, all with the Pittsburgh Pirates. He won the Gold Glove in both 1966 and 1967.

Alley was an outstanding shortstop, with excellent range and an accurate throwing arm. Teamed at the keystone with Mazeroski, Alley provided the left half of the league’s most dynamic double play duo.

Alley’s entire major league career came with the Pittsburgh Pirates. He was signed by Pittsburgh in 1959 and made his debut with the club in 1963, hitting .216 in 17 games. He was called up midway through the 1964 season, hitting .211, and was the Pirates’ starting shortstop for the next eight seasons.

While it was his glove that earned him his playing time, Alley in his prime could also contribute from the batter’s box. He hit .299 in 1966 with 28 doubles and 43 RBIs, and in 1967 he hit .287 with 25 doubles and 55 RBIs. During his 11 seasons in Pittsburgh, Alley hit for a combined .254.

Gene Alley’s best season came in 1966, when he batted .299. In 1967, his first All-Star season, Alley batted .287 with a career-high 55 RBIs.

Gene Alley’s best season came in 1966, when he batted .299. In 1967, his first All-Star season, Alley batted .287 with a career-high 55 RBIs.

Alley won the Gold Glove for shortstops in both 1966 and 1967. He was a member of the National League All-Star team in 1967 and 1968.

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Tough in the Pinch

 

Glancing Back, and Remembering Manny Mota

Some hitters are better suited to the pressure and quick warm-up required of the pinch hitter. One of the best at that specialty was Manny Mota.

Manny Mota batted .332 for the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1966 and .321 in 1967.

Manny Mota batted .332 for the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1966 and .321 in 1967.

A native of the Dominican Republic, Mota was signed by the New York Giants as a teenager. After rising through the Giants farm system, he played in 47 games for the Giants in San Francisco before being traded after the 1962 season with pitcher Dick Lemay to the Houston Colt .45s for Joey Amalfitano. Before playing a single game with Houston, he was traded to the Pittsburgh Pirates for Howie Goss and cash.

Mota spent the next six seasons with the Pirates, hitting a combined .297. A contact hitter, Mota batted .332 for the Bucs in 1966 and .321 in 1967. His average slipped to .281 in 1968, and Mota was selected by the Montreal Expos as the second pick in the 1968 expansion draft.

Mota appeared in only 31 games for the Expos. In June of 1969, he was traded with Maury Wills to the Los Angeles Dodgers for Ron Fairly and Paul Popovich. He hit a combined .321 for both teams that season.

From 1974 to 1979, Manny Mota was used almost exclusively as a pinch hitter by the Los Angeles Dodgers. And he was one of the best in baseball, batting .313 as a pinch hitter over that period.

From 1974 to 1979, Manny Mota was used almost exclusively as a pinch hitter by the Los Angeles Dodgers. And he was one of the best in baseball, batting .313 as a pinch hitter over that period.

Mota played with the Dodgers for 12 more seasons, hitting a combined .315 in an LA uniform. His best season as a regular with the Dodgers was 1972 when he hit .323. During his last six seasons in Los Angeles, Mota was known primarily as a pinch hitter, and was one of the best in the game at that. He hit a combined .313 as a pinch-hitter during that period.

Mota retired after the 1980 season (he made one pinch-hit appearance in 1982) with a .304 career batting average. He was a member of the National League All-Star team in 1973, and remained with the Dodgers as a coach for more than 30 years after his retirement.

 

 

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Holdin’ Out for Amazin’

 

Glancing Back, and Remembering Donn Clendenon

How would the baseball history of the 1960s have been changed if Donn Clendenon had reported to the Houston Astros as traded in January of 1969? Because he refused to report to Houston, Clendenon ended the 1969 season not in the Astrodome but in a New York Mets uniform, playing into October, and winning the Most Valuable Player award for the 1969 World Series.

Donn Clendenon broke into the major leagues with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1961. In 1966, he batted .299 with the Pirates, hitting 28 home runs with 98 RBIs.

Donn Clendenon broke into the major leagues with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1961. In 1966, he batted .299 with the Pirates, hitting 28 home runs with 98 RBIs.

Clendenon was signed by the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1957 and made his rookie debut in 1961. He hit .302 as a part-time player in 1962, and by 1963 had replaced the departed Dick Stuart as the Pirates’ regular first baseman, hitting .275 with 15 home runs and 57 RBIs. The lanky Clendenon also had good speed for a man of his size, and had 28 doubles and 22 stolen bases in 1963.

He hit .282 in 1964, and then had a huge season for the Pirates in 1965, hitting .301 with 32 doubles, 14 home runs and 96 RBIs. He followed up in 1966 by batting .299 with 28 home runs and 98 RBIs.

Clendenon’s average slipped to .249 in 1967. His hitting improved in 1968, batting .257 with 17 home runs and 87 RBIs. But following the 1968 seasons, the Pirates elected not to protect Clendenon in the expansion draft, and he was selected by the Montreal Expos.

Three months later, the Expos traded Clendenon with Jesus Alou to the Houston Astros for Rusty Staub. Clendenon refused to report to the Astros, who were managed by former Pirate manager Harry “The Hat” Walker. Walker and Clendenon had clashed when both were in Pittsburgh, and when it became evident that Clendenon could not be persuaded to join the Astros, the deal was re-worked, allowing Staub to come to Montreal and Clendenon to stay with the Expos … for a short while. Clendenon played in only 38 games with the Expos (hitting .240) when he was traded to the New York Mets for Kevin Collins, Steve Renko and two minor league prospects.

As a member of the New York Mets, Donn Clendenon was the Most Valuable Player in the 1969 World Series, batting .357 with three home runs and four runs batted in.

As a member of the New York Mets, Donn Clendenon was the Most Valuable Player in the 1969 World Series, batting .357 with three home runs and four runs batted in.

With the Mets, Clendenon hit .252 while splitting first base duties with incumbent Ed Kranepool. He didn’t appear in the League Championship Series, which the Mets swept from the Atlanta Braves. But he did appear in the 1969 World Series between the New York Mets and the Baltimore Orioles … did he ever! Clendenon played in four of the five games and hit .357 with a double, three home runs and four RBIs. His performance earned him the Series MVP award.

Clendenon had a fine season for the Mets in 1970, batting .288 with 22 home runs and 97 RBIs. But now age 34, he would not match that kind of offensive performance again. He hit only .247 for the Mets in 1971, his playing time reduced in favor of Kranepool, and he was released by the Mets at season’s end. He signed with the St. Louis Cardinals and hit .191 in a part-time role, retiring after the 1972 season.

Clendenon played 12 major league seasons, hitting .274 for his career.

 

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Relief Everywhere

 

Oh, What a Relief: Ron Kline

Ron Kline’s career as a major league pitcher spanned 17 seasons and nine teams. He started his career as a starting pitcher, with mixed results, and experienced his best seasons after the age of 30, when he emerged as one of the American League’s most effective and durable relievers … yet is hardly counted today among the premier relievers of the 1960s despite putting up numbers that say he deserves that kind of accolade.

During the first decade of Ron Kline’s pitching career, he was 68-107 with a 4.14 ERA as a starter and reliever. He moved to the bullpen exclusively with the Washington Senators in 1962, and over the next six seasons he was 45-31 with a 2.52 ERA.

During the first decade of Ron Kline’s pitching career, he was 68-107 with a 4.14 ERA as a starter and reliever. He moved to the bullpen exclusively with the Washington Senators in 1962, and over the next six seasons he was 45-31 with a 2.52 ERA.

Kline was signed by the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1950 and made his major league debut in 1952, going 0-7 out of the Pirates’ bullpen that year. He spent the next two years in military service, and returned to the Pirates in 1955, going 6-13 as a starter and reliever. In 1956 he worked out of the Pirates’ starting rotation, making 39 starts and pitching 264 innings on his way to a 14-18 record and a 3.38 ERA. He won nine and 13 games in each of the next two seasons respectively, while losing 16 decisions both years. After an 11-13 season with Pittsburgh in 1959, he was traded to the St. Louis Cardinals for Tom Cheney and Gino Cimoli.

Kline was 4-9 in 1960, his only season with the Cardinals. He was purchased by the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1961, and was 8-9 that year, which he finished with the Detroit Tigers. After a 3-6 season with the Tigers in 1962, he was purchased by the Washington Senators.

It would be a career-lifting move for the 31-year-old right-hander, who had been 68-107 to this point as a starter and reliever. For the Senators, he would move to the bullpen and never move out. His numbers as a relief specialist revealed why.

For the Senators in 1963, Kline was 3-8 with a 2.79 ERA. He finished 46 of his 62 appearances and saved 17 games for a team that won only 56 on the season. He followed up in 1964 with a 10-7 season and a 2.32 ERA, appearing in 61 games and finishing 52 of them, with 14 saves.

Ron Kline led the American League with 29 saves in 1965.

Ron Kline led the American League with 29 saves in 1965.

In 1965, Kline led the American League with 29 saves, going 7-6 with a 2.63 ERA. In 1966, he tallied 23 saves with a record of 6-4 and a 2.39 earned run average. In the off-season, Kline was traded by the Senators to the Minnesota Twins for Bernie Allen and Camilo Pascual. He was 7-1 for the Twins in 1967 with a 3.77 ERA, and was traded only one season later to the Pirates for catcher Bob Oliver. Kline was 12-5 for the Pirates in 1968 with a 1.68 ERA.

He spent the 1969 season with three teams: the Pirates, the San Francisco Giants (traded for Joe Gibbon) and the Boston Red Sox. For the season, he was a combined 1-5 in 43 relief appearances. He signed with Atlanta for the 1970 season, but retired after only five appearances with the Braves.

In his prime, from 1963 through 1968, Kline appeared in 370 games (an average of 62 per season) with 45 victories, 95 saves and a combined ERA of 2.52. Kline finished with a career record of 114-144 and a 3.75 ERA.

 

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