A Flood of Flawless Fielding

 

The Glove Club: Curt Flood

From 1963 through 1968, the National League Gold Glove Awards for outfielders were won by three players. The same three outfielders. Year after year.

Roberto Clemente. Willie Mays. Curt Flood.

The fact that two of these outfielders are center fielders should not go unnoticed. No left fielder could approach Mays and Flood in the field. (Clemente, of course, owned right field in the National League during the 1960s.) Any team would find room for both in the outfield.

No one could argue with the inclusion of Mays. He was among the first Gold Glove winners when the award was initiated in 1957. He won a Gold Glove every year through the 1968 season. And he probably would have won a half-dozen more in the 1950s if the Gold Glove had been offered.

Was Mays the best center fielder of all time? Maybe. But defensively, Flood could give Say Hey a run for that title. His prowess in the outfield was clearly comparable to that of Mays. And in some fielding aspects, Flood surpassed Mays.

For instance …

Curt Flood’s consistency in center field was unmatched by any other outfielder of his era (including Willie Mays). Flood set a record for errorless games (226), playing the entire 1966 season without making an error.

Flood had the speed to cover the center field space. And for the most part (more than any other center fielder before – even Mays), he covered it flawlessly. He went through the entire 1966 season – making 394 putouts and six assists – without committing an error.

From September 3, 1965 through June 4, 1967, Flood ran an errorless games streak of 226, setting a National League record.  During that streak, Flood fielded 568 total unerring chances, setting a major league record.

During the 1960s, Flood led all National League center fielders in putouts four times and in assists three times. He led NL center fielders in fielding percentage three times, including his “perfect” 1966 season. Altogether during the 1960s, Flood won seven Gold Gloves.

Along with his fielding, Flood brought a potent bat. He batted .300 or better six times during the 1960s, with a combined batting average of .297 for the decade. He led the league in hits with 211 in 1964, and finished in the top ten in hits five times, in doubles four times and in triples once.

Offensively, maybe Flood couldn’t match the amazing Mr. Mays. But with his range and dependability in the field, Flood was a match for any center fielder who ever played the game.

 

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Trust the Law

 

Career Year: Vern Law – 1960

Vern Law was a lanky right-hander whose fortunes as a pitcher improved steadily throughout the 1950s … just as his team, the Pittsburgh Pirates (his only major league team over a 16-year career), clawed its way out of the bottom of the National League standings by the close of the 1950s.

Pitching for weak Pirate teams in the early 1950s, Vern Law struggled to a 40-57 record in his first five seasons.

By 1960, the Pirates had improved all the way to World Series champions. And in 1960, the best season in Law’s distinguished career, he was acknowledged as baseball’s best pitcher.

After two seasons in the minors, Law joined the Pirates in 1950. In his first five seasons, he was 40-57 with a 4.56 ERA. He registered his first winning season at 10-8 in 1957, with a seventh-place team. When the Pirates finished second in 1958, Law was 14-12 with a 3.96 ERA. When the Pirates finished fourth in 1959, Law emerged as the team’s ace at 18-9 with a 2.98 ERA. It was the best season of his career, so far …

Law’s first start of the 1960 season came in the season’s second game. At Cincinnati, he shut out the Reds on seven hits, backed by five RBIs from Roberto Clemente and four RBIs from Bill Mazeroski, for a 13-0 waltz. He made only two more starts in June, winning both with complete games.

Vern Law’s 1960 season was the best of his career: 20-9 with a 3.08 ERA. He also won two World Series games and was the winning pitcher in the second All-Star game.

Law made seven starts in May, winning four and losing one with three more complete games. He was 4-2 in June with another three complete games. At the All-Star break, Law was 11-4 with a 2.52 ERA. He retired Brooks Robinson and Harvey Kuenn in the bottom of the ninth inning to preserve a 5-3 win for the National League and teammate Bob Friend. In the second All-Star game four days later, Law was the starter (and winner), allowing no runs and one hit in two innings as the National League won 6-0.

Law won his last two starts in July, and then won six straight decisions in August. He finished August at 19-5 with a 2.84 ERA. The Pirates led the rest of the National League by 5.5 games.

After being so strong, so consistent, Law faltered in September. In six starts, he was 1-4 with a 4.43 ERA. The Pirates finished five games ahead of the second-place Milwaukee Braves. And Law had a new best season: 20-9 with a 3.08 ERA. Law led the National League with 18 complete games. His 271.2 innings pitched were fourth most in the league.

Law capped off a fine 1960 season by winning a pair of World Series games with a 3.44 ERA. And though he finished third in the league in victories (Warren Spahn and Ernie Broglio each won 21 games.), Law won the Cy Young voting handily over Spahn, Broglio and Lindy McDaniel.

Despite leading the National League in only one pitching category – with 18 complete games – Vern Law won the Cy Young Award as baseball’s best pitcher in 1960.

Law wouldn’t have another season like that in the seven seasons he had remaining. He would win 17 games in 1965, and finish with a career record of 162-147 with a 3.77 ERA.

 

 

 

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Sammy Puts the Whammy on the National League

 

Career Year: Sammy Ellis – 1965

In the early 1960s, right-hander Sammy Ellis had one of the most promising pitching arms in the Cincinnati Reds organization. Signed by the Reds prior to the 1961 season, Ellis won 10 games (with a 1.89 ERA) in the Sally League in his first professional season, and then won 12 games at the AAA level in each of the next two seasons.

As a rookie in 1964, Sammy Ellis was the Cincinnati Reds most effective closer, with ten victories and 14 saves.

Ellis was outstanding in 1964, his rookie season. He and Billy McCool formed the rookie bullpen tandem for a Reds team that finished second to the St. Louis Cardinals. Ellis led the team with 52 appearances and 14 saves. He was 10-3 with a 2.57 ERA. He struck out 125 batters in 122.1 innings.  And he finished sixteenth in the voting for Most Valuable Player (won that season by Cardinals third baseman Ken Boyer).

It’s more common than not for an outstanding rookie season to be followed by a less-than-stellar campaign. But not in the case of Sammy Ellis.  His 1964 season positioned him as one of the National League’s best relief pitchers. The follow-up 1965 season would establish him as one of the circuit’s best pitchers – period – at least for one year.

Ellis moved out of the bullpen, and opened the season in the Reds’ starting rotation. And he started fast, winning his first four starts and seven of his first nine. In June, he was 5-1 with four complete games. On June 25, he beat the Milwaukee Braves 3-1 with an 11-inning complete game, striking out 10. Four days later, Ellis pitched 14 innings against the Pittsburgh Pirates, allowing only four hits and striking out 10 batters. The Pirates won 2-1 in the bottom of the sixteenth inning on Roberto Clemente’s RBI single off McCool.

Ellis barreled through July and August, piling up innings and wins. At the end of August, he was 17-8 with a 3.70 ERA and 12 complete games. He made nine starts (with one relief appearance) in September, going 5-2.

Sammy Ellis was an All-Star in 1965, when he was 22-10 with a 3.79 ERA. In 39 starts, Ellis pitched two shutouts and 15 complete games.

For the entire 1965 season, Elis was 22-10 with a 3.79 ERA. His 263.2 and 183 strikeouts were both tenth in the league. His 22 wins were fourth most in the National League, and his 15 complete games were sixth most. He led National League pitchers in only one category: Ellis allowed a league-high 111 earned runs.

It would be not only the best season in the seven-year major league career of Sammy Ellis, but the last when he would post a winning record. Plagued by shoulder miseries, his record slipped to 12-19 in 1966, and in 1967 he was 8-11. After going 9-10 for the California Angels in 1968, Ellis started the 1969 season with the Chicago White Sox. He was 0-3 in five starts before being traded to the Cleveland Indians for pitcher Jack Hamilton.

The Indians assigned Ellis to the AAA Portland Beavers. He never made it back to the big leagues as a player. But he continued in baseball for the next three decades as a minor league pitching instructor and as pitching coach for the Yankees, White Sox, Cubs and Reds, among others.

 

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Livin’ Fat on Line Drives

 

Glancing Back, and Remembering Bob Skinner

Bob Skinner spent 12 years in the major leagues as a player, nine of those seasons with the Pittsburgh Pirates. He was a versatile and accomplished outfielder and clutch hitter who was not always a regular but found plenty of opportunities to play in whatever role was needed on a given day.

Bob Skinner hit a career-best .321 in 1958. It was the fifth-best batting average in the National League that season.

He signed with the Pirates in 1951 and was the team’s regular first baseman in his rookie season of 1954, batting .249 with eight home runs and 46 RBIs. He returned to the minors in 1955 (batting .346) and rejoined the Pirates for keeps in 1956. He hit .305 in 1957 and .321 in 1958, fifth best in the National League.

From 1958 through 1962, Skinner hit a combined .290 for the Pirates, averaging 27 doubles, 13 home runs and 67 runs batted in per season. When the Pirates won the National League pennant in 1960, Skinner contributed a career-best 86 RBIs, second on the team to Roberto Clemente.

In 1963, Skinner was traded to the Cincinnati Reds for Jerry Lynch. He batted a combined .259 that season, with three home runs and 25 RBIs. In 1964 he was traded to the St. Louis Cardinals, where he batted a combined .273 over the next three seasons as a pinch hitter and part-time player. His best season in St. Louis came in 1965, when he batted .309 with five home runs and 26 RBIs.

Skinner retired after the 1966 season with a career batting average of .277. He collected 1,198 hits with 197 doubles and 103 home runs. Following his playing career, Skinner stayed in the game for another three decades as a scout, coach and manager.

 

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Johnny, Take Us Home!

 

This Week in 1960s Baseball

(July 7, 1964) The National League today won the All-Star game 7-4 on a walk-off home run by Phillies right fielder Johnny Callison.

Johnny Callison’s three-run homer off Dick Radatz was the game winner for the National League All-Stars.

Johnny Callison’s three-run homer off Dick Radatz was the game winner for the National League All-Stars.

Callison, who entered the game in the fifth inning as a pinch hitter for pitcher Jim Bunning, flied out in his two previous at-bats. His ninth-inning home run off Boston Red Sox reliever Dick Radatz was his only hit of the day.

The American League opened the scoring in the first inning on Harmon Killebrew’s RBI single off NL starter Don Drysdale. The NL took the lead in the fourth inning on solo home runs from Billy Williams and Ken Boyer. The Nationals added another run in the fifth inning when Dick Groat doubled off Camilo Pascual, bringing home Roberto Clemente.

The American League tied the game when Brooks Robinson tripled home two runs in the sixth inning, then took the lead on Jim Fregosi’s sacrifice fly in the seventh inning. The AL led 4-3 going into the bottom of the ninth, with Radatz on the pitching mound.

Juan Marichal pitched a scoreless ninth inning to pick up the victory. Marichal was also the winning pitcher in the first 1962 All-Star Game, and had a career ERA of 0.50 in eight All-Star apearances.

Juan Marichal pitched a scoreless ninth inning to pick up the victory. Marichal was also the winning pitcher in the first 1962 All-Star Game, and had a career ERA of 0.50 in eight All-Star appearances.

Willie Mays walked to open the ninth inning, stole second base, and then scored on Orlando Cepeda’s single, tying the game. With runners at first and second base, Radatz struck out Hank Aaron for the inning’s second out. But Callison ended the All-Star thriller with one stroke.

It would be Callison’s last All-Star appearance.

The Cardinals’ Strong Right Arm

 

Glancing Back, and Remembering Bob Gibson

Hard-throwing, dominating, intimidating: throughout the 1960s, no pitcher was as consistently effective as the Cardinals’ Bob Gibson.

In a decade loaded with great pitchers, no one won more games than Gibson in the post-season. A power pitcher with great control and a seemingly indestructible arm, Gibson only got better as the decade progressed, and continued his dominance of hitters into the 1970s.

Bob Gibson won 251 games and pitched 56 career shutouts – more than any other St. Louis Cardinals pitcher.

Bob Gibson won 251 games and pitched 56 career shutouts – more than any other St. Louis Cardinals pitcher.

Gibson was called up to the Cardinals in 1959. By 1961, he was a member of the starting rotation, a job he would keep for the next 15 years. The next year he won 15 games with an ERA of 2.81. He had 15 complete games, and he led the majors with five shutouts. He also struck out 208 batters that season, and would strike out 200 or more batters in a season nine times in his career.

Gibson posted 18 victories in 1963. In the Cardinals’ championship season of 1964, Gibson won 19 games during the regular season. In the 1964 World Series, he posted two complete game victories, including the deciding seventh game. His performance earned him the Series Most Valuable Player Award. At the end of 1964, Gibson was clearly the Cardinals’ ace, and his best years were still ahead of him.

In 1965 and 1966, Gibson won 20 and 21 games, respectively. He was on his way to another 20-victory campaign in 1967 when a Roberto Clemente line drive fractured his leg and sidelined him for the second half of the season.

The Cardinals cruised to the National League pennant even without Gibson, who was able to come back and pitch in the World Series against the Boston Red Sox. In Game One, Gibson struck out 10 batters and allowed only six hits en route to a 2-1 victory. He returned in Game Four, this time giving up only five hits in pitching a 6-0 shutout. In the seventh game, he dominated again, taking his third World Series victory by a score of 7-2, with 10 strikeouts and surrendering only three hits. For the second time in the decade, Gibson was selected as the World Series MVP.

Bob Gibson won seven World Series games, the most by any pitcher in the 1960s. He was named World Series MVP in both 1964 and 1967.

Bob Gibson won seven World Series games, the most by any pitcher in the 1960s. He was named World Series MVP in both 1964 and 1967.

A healthy Bob Gibson no doubt looked forward to pitching a full season in 1968, but he could not have imagined the kind of season he would experience. In leading the Cardinals to another National League pennant, Gibson went 22-9 with a microscopic 1.12 ERA. He led the league in strikeouts (268) and led the majors in shutouts (13), pitching 28 complete games. He won both the Cy Young and Most Valuable Player Awards.

In the 1968 World Series against the Detroit Tigers, Gibson struck out a record 35 batters in 27 innings pitched. He won his initial two starts in that Series, though he lost a Game Seven, only the second World Series loss of his career. It would be Gibson’s last World Series appearance.

Gibson closed out the 1960s by going 20-13 in 1969, with an ERA that “ballooned” to 2.18. His last 20-victory season was 1970, when 23-7 earned him his second Cy Young Award. In his 17-year career, Gibson won 251 games and registered over 3,000 strikeouts. He also pitched 56 shutouts and won nine Gold Gloves.

Bob Gibson was twice named the National League Cy Young Award winner, in 1968 (22-9 with a 1.12 ERA) and in 1970 (23-7 with a 3.21 ERA).

Bob Gibson was twice named the National League Cy Young Award winner, in 1968 (22-9 with a 1.12 ERA) and in 1970 (23-7 with a 3.21 ERA).

Gibson finished as the Cardinals’ career leader in nearly every pitching category, including victories, complete games (255), games started (482), shutouts (56), and strikeouts (3,117). He was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1981, his first year of eligibility.

 

 

 

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Battle of the Titans

 

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

Attendance: 8,725

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.

Hank Aaron His run-saving catch sent the game into extra innings.

Hank Aaron
His run-saving catch sent the game into extra innings.

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.

Roberto Clemente His two home runs put the Pirates ahead twice. His tenth-inning homer proved to be the game winner.

Roberto Clemente
His two home runs put the Pirates ahead twice. His tenth-inning homer proved to be the game winner.

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.

With two outs in the bottom of the tenth, Felipe Alou singled to left. But with the tying run at first and Aaron on deck, Francona struck out to end the game.

Feigner Fans ‘Em

 

This Week in 1960s Baseball

(February 18, 1967) He was one of the top strikeout pitchers of the 1960s … though he never pitched in the major leagues.

And on this day he put on a pitching exhibition that supported any claim that he was the best strikeout artist ever.

“The King” Eddie Feigner

“The King” Eddie Feigner

Eddie Feigner could pitch a softball (underhanded, of course) clocked at speeds up to 104 mph (though some claimed it was more like 114 mph). Feigner barnstormed America for more than 50 years with a four-player team known as “The King and His Court.”

Just prior to spring training in 1967, Feigner pitched an exhibition at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, striking out six consecutive major league hitters.

But not just any major league hitters. Feigner fanned (in order) Willie Mays, Roberto Clemente, Brooks RobinsonWillie McCoveyMaury Wills, and Harmon Killebrew. All six won the Most Valuable Player Award during the 1960s. All but Wills have been enshrined in the Baseball Hall of Fame.

If hitters of their stature couldn’t touch a fat Feigner-launched softball, how would they have fared against a baseball?

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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The Center of Pirate Success

 

Glancing Back, and Remembering Bill Virdon

Bill Virdon was a classy outfielder who patrolled center field for the Pittsburgh Pirates for nearly a decade. His game smarts showed as a player and later as a big league manager, the longer of his baseball careers.

Bill Virdon played center field for the Pittsburgh Pirates for more than a decade. He was a Gold Glove winner in 1962.

Bill Virdon played center field for the Pittsburgh Pirates for more than a decade. He was a Gold Glove winner in 1962.

Virdon played a necessary role in the Pirates’ World Series championship season of 1960. Yet he was originally signed by the New York Yankees in 1950. He never played in Yankee pinstripes (though he later managed in that uniform). In 1954, the Yankees dealt Virdon and two other players to the St. Louis Cardinals for Enos Slaughter. He was Rookie of the Year for the Cardinals in 1955, hitting .281 with 17 home runs and 68 RBIs.

In 1957, Virdon led the majors by appearing in 157 games, accomplished by the fact that he was traded to the Pittsburgh Pirates one month into the season for Bobby Del Greco and Dick Littlefield. Virdon finished the season batting .319, what would be the highest batting average of his career. During the Pirates’ pennant-winning season of 1960, Virdon batted .264 with eight home runs and 40 runs batted in.

Over the next decade, he would hit a combined .259 for the Pirates. He led the National League with 10 triples in 1962.

Bill Virdon was the National League Rookie of the Year in 1955, batting .281 with 17 home runs and 68 RBIs.

Bill Virdon was the National League Rookie of the Year in 1955, batting .281 with 17 home runs and 68 RBIs.

Virdon was a premier defensive outfielder, winning the Gold Glove in 1962. His work in center field was often overshadowed by the spectacular fielding and throwing of his teammate in right field, Roberto Clemente.

He retired after being released by the Pirates in 1965 (though he tried a six-game comeback in 1968). Virdon finished his career with 1,596 hits.

 

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