Hall of Fame Travel Companion

 

Glancing Back, and Remembering Al Smith

Outfielder Al Smith was traded three times during his 12-year major league career. In the first two of those trades, to Chicago and to Baltimore, Smith had the distinction of being traded with a future Hall of Famer. He also distinguished himself as a good hitter whose legs and bat produced plenty of runs. Continue reading

How to Spark a Batting Order

 

Glancing Back, and Remembering Dick Howser

Dick Howser was a dependable shortstop who brought an occasional sting to the batting order. His brief major league playing career proved to be a prelude to his extremely successful later career as a major league manager.

Howser was signed by the Kansas City Athletics in 1958 and broke in with the club as the team’s starting shortstop in 1961. He hit .280 his rookie season, with 29 doubles, 45 RBIs and 37 stolen bases. He played more games at shortstop than anyone else in the American League, and he led the AL shortstops in putouts and errors.

His batting average slipped by more than 40 points in 1962. In 1963 the A’s traded Howser and catcher Joe Azcue to the Cleveland Indians for catcher Doc Edwards and cash.

His 1963 trade to the Cleveland Indians rejuvenated Dick Howser’s bat. He hit .256 in 1964 with a career-best 53 RBIs and 101 runs scored.

His 1963 trade to the Cleveland Indians rejuvenated Dick Howser’s bat. He hit .256 in 1964 with a career-best 53 RBIs and 101 runs scored.

Howser had a strong 1964 season as the Tribe’s shortstop. He hit .256 with 23 doubles and 52 RBIs, and he put a dependable bat behind lead-off hitter Vic Davalillo. Howser scored 101 runs (second in the league behind Tony Oliva) and led the American League in plate appearances (735) and sacrifice hits (16). He also stole 20 bases. He played more games at shortstop than anyone else, and was second in shortstop putouts to Ron Hansen while finishing third in shortstop assists (behind Hansen and Dick McAuliffe).

Again, an outstanding first full season was followed by two seasons of diminishing offense, and the Indians dealt Howser to the New York Yankees. He was a utility infielder for the Yankees for two years before retiring after the 1968 season. He finished his eight-season major league career with a .248 batting average.

 

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Welcome to the Homer Ward

 

Glancing Back, and Remembering Pete Ward

While it’s no overstatement to say that pitching dominated the 1960s, it’s just as safe to say that, in the 1960s, pitching dominated the Chicago White Sox, especially in that team’s contending seasons.

Pete Ward was the American League Rookie of the Year in 1963 with a .295 batting average, 22 home runs and 84 RBIs.

Pete Ward was the runner-up for American League Rookie of the Year in 1963 with a .295 batting average, 22 home runs and 84 RBIs.

With solid starting arms such as Gary Peters, Joe Horlen and Juan Pizarro, and relievers such as Hoyt Wilhelm and Eddie Fisher, the White Sox featured the league’s deepest staff. And they needed it, with also one of the weakest hitting lineups in the American League.

The one “power” spot in the White Sox lineup came from a left-handed batter named Pete Ward.

Ward was signed by the Baltimore Orioles in 1958 and appeared in eight games with the Orioles at the end of 1962. That winter he was a throw-in in the blockbuster trade that brought Ron Hansen, Dave Nicholson and Wilhelm to the White Sox for Luis Aparicio and Al Smith.

Ward replaced Smith at third for the White Sox and made an immediate impact, beating the Detroit Tigers on Opening Day with a seventh-inning home run, the start of an 18-game hitting streak. For the season Ward hit .295, fifth in the American League, with 22 home runs, 84 RBIs, and 80 runs. He finished second in the league in total bases (289), hits (177), and doubles (34), and was named American League Rookie of the Year.

Ward followed up in 1964 by hitting .282 with 23 home runs and 94 RBIs. An off-season auto accident led to back and neck problems that would plague him, and cut his offensive productivity, for the rest of his career. He slipped to 10 home runs in 1965 and only three in 1966.

Ward made something of a comeback in 1967 with 18 home runs and 62 RBIs, but the weak Chicago lineup meant fewer good pitches to hit. His 18 home runs led the team, with only two other White Sox hitting as many as 10 home runs that season. His walks increased to 61 in 1967, and then to 76 in 1968, when Ward hit .216 with 15 home runs and 50 RBIs.

Lingering injuries forced Ward into a part-time role in 1969, and he spent one year as a reserve player for the New York Yankees in 1970 before retiring.

Ward finished his nine-year career with a .254 batting average and 98 home runs.

Grace and Guts at Short

 

The Glove Club: Ron Hansen

Ron Hansen was hardly the prototype for the 1960s shortstop. The shortstops of that era tended to be physically compact and quick, with sure hands and a bat loaded mostly with singles. That was the prescription for the shortstops of that era, led notably by the likes of Luis Aparicio, Tony Kubek, Dick Groat and Roy McMillan. (The glaring exception, of course, was Ernie Banks, the game’s best slugging shortstop since Honus Wagner.)

Ron Hansen was the American League Rookie of the Year in 1960, when he hit 22 home runs with 86 RBIs for the Baltimore Orioles.

Ron Hansen was the American League Rookie of the Year in 1960, when he hit 22 home runs with 86 RBIs for the Baltimore Orioles.

Hansen stood out from that group, both physically and as a hitter. He was huge by shortstop standards, standing six-foot, three inches and weighing nearly 200 pounds. And he could hit with power. He hit 22 home runs with 86 RBIs in 1960, when he was an All-Star and the American League Rookie of the Year. Both marks proved to be career bests for Hansen, who was plagued by back problems throughout his baseball career. From 1963 through 1965 – the only consecutive full seasons he could manage in a 15-year major league career – he averaged 13 home runs and 66 runs batted in.

But any hitting was a bonus. Hansen’s strength was his defense. And it was formidable.

He was graceful, almost fluid, as a shortstop, and quicker than he appeared. He had great range and a great arm. He made any infield a better defensive unit, and made pitchers better with his presence in the field.

As a rookie with the Baltimore Orioles in 1960, Hansen led American League shortstops in putouts. He led the league again in putouts in 1964 as a member of the Chicago White Sox. He led American League shortstops twice in double plays and four times in assists. Inexplicably, he never received a Gold Glove for his consistently outstanding fielding.

Playing for the Washington Senators in 1968, Ron Hansen completed the first unassisted triple play in the American League in 41 years.

Playing for the Washington Senators in 1968, Ron Hansen completed the first unassisted triple play in the American League in 41 years.

In 1965, Hansen set a record for handling 28 chances at shortstop in a double header. Playing for the Washington Senators in 1968, he completed the first unassisted triple play in the American League in 41 years.

When he first saw Hansen play as a rookie, New York Yankees manager Casey Stengel remarked to the press, “That kid looks like he was born at shortstop.”

Maybe he was.

Baltimore’s Grand Slammer

 

Homer Happy: Jim Gentile

Before the presence of Boog Powell or Frank Robinson in the Baltimore Orioles’ lineup, the slugger that opposing pitchers were most likely to work around was first baseman Jim Gentile. And for good reason.

Jim Gentile averaged 30 home runs and 94 RBIs as an everyday player from 1960-1964.

Jim Gentile averaged 30 home runs and 94 RBIs as an everyday player from 1960-1964.

In the early 1960s, Gentile wielded the most powerful bat in the Orioles’ batting order, and one of the most potent in the American League. You walked him when you could, because when you couldn’t it would probably cost you some runs. And when you couldn’t walk him because the bases were full, you were especially in trouble. Gentile had a particular knack for rising to a bases-loaded occasion and clearing the bags with one swing. It’s something he did more than once, even in one game.

The Brooklyn Dodgers signed Gentile right out of high school in 1952. At six-foot-three and over 200 pounds, power came naturally to him. And he showed off that power through eight minor league seasons in the Dodgers’ farm system.

Gentile hit 245 minor league home runs, and never fewer than 18 at any minor league stop. But Gentile spent eight fruitful but unrewarding years in the minor leagues because the Dodgers had no room for a slugging first baseman in Brooklyn. Gil Hodges owned first base for the Dodgers, and during the 1950s, he hit more home runs than any other National League player except one: teammate Duke Snider.

So Gentile faithfully crushed minor league pitching everywhere he was sent: 34 in Pueblo, 28 in Mobile, 40 in Ft. Worth, 24 in Montreal and 27 in St. Paul. He also regularly hit more than 25 doubles a year and usually batted near the .300 mark. But he was no Gil Hodges. Gentile joined the Dodgers for quick looks in both 1957 and 1968, appearing in a total of 16 games and hitting one home run with five runs batted in.

His break came in October of 1959 when he was traded to the Orioles. He had an impressive rookie season in 1960, batting .292 with 21 home runs and 98 RBIs. He and Orioles pitcher Chuck Estrada (18-11 in 1960) tied for runner-up in the Rookie of the Year voting behind another teammate, shortstop Ron Hansen.

Jim Gentile hit five grand slam home runs in 1961, including consecutive grand slams in one game.

Jim Gentile hit five grand slam home runs in 1961, including consecutive grand slams in one game.

Gentile had his best season in the major leagues a year later. He batted .302 and belted 46 home runs with 141 RBIs (tied with Roger Maris for the most in the American League). His 46 home runs and .646 slugging percentage were both third in the American League (behind Mickey Mantle and Maris). Gentile also tied a major league record with five grand slam home runs in 1961. His hitting consecutive grand slams on May 9 was a major league first.

Gentile’s 1962 season would have been a career year for some players, but it was still a major comedown statistically from what he had done the previous year. He hit 33 home runs (13 less than in 1961) with 87 RBIs (a drop of 54). His batting average tumbled more than 50 points to .251.

After Gentile’s hitting numbers slid for a second consecutive season in 1963 (24 home runs, 72 RBIs), the Orioles dealt him to the Kansas City Athletics for first baseman Norm Siebern. The trade temporarily rejuvenated Gentile’s power hitting, as he stroked 28 home runs for the A’s in 1964. But his days as a significant power threat were nearly at an end. He hit 17 homers in 1965 in a season split between the A’s and the Houston Astros. He managed only nine home runs for the Astros and Cleveland Indians in 1966, his last season in the major leagues.

Gentile hit 179 home runs in the major leagues, but was an everyday player for only five seasons. From 1960-1964 – his “everyday” seasons – Gentile averaged 30 home runs and 94 RBIs per season. He was a three-time All-Star during those five seasons.

Who knows how many home runs he could have accumulated if the Dodgers had traded him a few seasons earlier?

Blockbuster Deal Sends Wilhelm to White Sox

 

Swap Shop – Chicago and Baltimore Trade Future Hall of Famers

It was a trade that saw the exchange of two future Hall of Famers.

In 5 seasons with the Orioles, Wilhelm was a combined 43-39 with a 2.42 ERA.

In 5 seasons with the Orioles, Wilhelm was a combined 43-39 with a 2.42 ERA.

On January 14, 1963, the Baltimore Orioles acquired All-Star shortstop Luis Aparcio and outfielder Al Smith from the Chicago White Sox for four players, including reliever Hoyt Wilhelm,

The White Sox also received shortstop and 1960 Rookie of the Year Ron Hansen, outfielder Dave Nicholson and infielder Pete Ward as part of the deal. Ward would have an outstanding years for the White Sox, hitting 22 home runs and driving in 84 runs to win the Rookie of the Year award for the 1963 season.

Aparicio played for five seasons with the Orioles, batting .251 and stealing 166 bases. He won two more Gold Gloves with the Orioles, and claimed nine Gold Gloves during his 18-year career. In 1967, he was traded back to the White Sox in the deal that brought Don Buford to the Orioles.

Aparicio played for 5 seasons with the Orioles, batting .251 and stealing 166 bases.

Aparicio played for 5 seasons with the Orioles, batting .251 and stealing 166 bases.

In five seasons with the Orioles, Wilhelm was a combined 43-39 with a 2.42 ERA. He appeared in 185 games – 43 as a starter – saving 40 games while pitching five shutouts, the only shutouts of his career. He also pitched his only no-hitter with the Orioles, and led the American League with a 2.19 ERA in 1959, when he recorded a career-high 15 victories. Wilhelm would spend six seasons with the White Sox, appearing in 361 games and saving 98 with a combined 1.92 ERA.

Both Aparicio and Wilhelm were destined for future Hall of Fame induction. Speed and defense made Aparicio the American League’ premier shortstop from the mid-1950s to the mid-1960s. An 11-time All-Star, he collected 2,677 hits (more than any shortstop until he was passed by Derek Jeter). Aparicio played more games at shortstop than any other player in major league history (2,581). He was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1984.

Throughout the 1960s, no relief pitcher was as consistently effective as Wilhelm. His 1,070 career appearances were the major league record at the time Wilhelm called it quits. He remains the all-time major league leader in career wins in relief (124) and career innings pitched in relief (1,871).

An eight-time All-Star, Wilhelm was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1985.

Great Hands, Amazing Feet

 

Glancing Back, and Remembering Luis Aparicio

In the six years before Maury Wills “resurrected” the stolen base as an offensive weapon, another shortstop was using the stolen base – and two of the surest hands in baseball – in launching a career that led straight to Cooperstown.

Luis Aparicio won 9 Gold Gloves at shortstop, 7 with the Chicago White Sox and 2 with the Baltimore Orioles.

Speed and defense made Luis Aparicio the American League’s premier shortstop from the mid-1950s to the mid-1960s. His impact on the league was almost immediate. A native of Venezuela, Aparicio was signed by the Chicago White Sox as an amateur free agent in 1954 and was Chicago’s starting shortstop in his rookie season two years later.  The 1956 season marked the first of nine consecutive years when Aparicio led the American League in steals (with a career high of 57 in 1964). He was selected as Rookie of the Year for the 1956 season.

As the team’s lead-off hitter, Aparicio was the spark plug for the White Sox offense until he was traded to the Baltimore Orioles prior to the 1963 season (in a deal that included Ron Hansen and future Hall of Fame reliever Hoyt Wilhelm). He played for the Orioles for five years, leading the league twice in stolen bases and winning two of his nine Gold Gloves during his tenure in Baltimore. Aparicio was traded back to the White Sox before the 1968 season, closing out the 1960s with the Pale Hose. Aparicio retired after the 1973 season, his third with the Boston Red Sox.

An 11-time All-Star, Aparicio collected 2,677 hits on a career batting average of .262, with a total of 506 stolen bases. The 342 bases Luis Aparicio stole during the 1960s rank him first among American League base stealers during that decade.

Aparicio played more games at shortstop than any other player in major league history (2,581) and retired with more assists (8,016) than any other shortstop in history. (Today he still ranks second in this category behind Ozzie Smith.) He was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1984, the first native of Venezuela to be so honored.