This Week in 1960s Baseball
Lights Out! – Houston Rookie Joe Morgan Goes 6 for 6.
When: July 8, 1965
Where: County Stadium, Milwaukee, Wisconsin
Game Time: 3:40
The Houston Astros opened the 1965 season with a major transition in the heart of their infield. In 1964, second base was patrolled by Nellie Fox, a future Hall of Famer who came to Houston after 14 years with the Chicago White Sox. In those 14 years, Fox had been an All-Star 12 times, won three Gold Gloves, hit .300 or better six times, led the American League in hits four times, and was the American League’s Most Valuable Player in 1959. By 1964, Fox was near the end of his exceptional career, hitting .265 and noticeably slower in the field.
Fortunately for Houston, an infield prospect named Joe Morgan was ready to step in on an everyday basis. In two minor league seasons, Morgan had hit for a combined .316. In 1964, he led the Texas League with 42 doubles and drove in 90 runs while batting .323. On Opening Day of 1965, he was the Astros’ starting second baseman (and collected half of the team’s four hits that day against Philadelphia’s Chris Short).
Morgan struggled at first, but improved his batting average steadily as the season progressed. He was hitting .226 by the end of May, but had raised his average to .249 by the end of June. As he entered the July 8 contest against the Milwaukee Braves, Morgan was hitting .259.
His average would jump up considerably after that game.
The game pitted Don Nottebart (1-6) against the Braves ace, Tony Cloninger (10-7). Neither starter made it past the fifth inning. Nottebart allowed 4 runs in his 5 innings of work, serving up solo home runs to Hank Aaron, Rico Carty and a pair of 1-run blasts to Felipe Alou. Though he would win 24 games on the season, Cloninger lasted only 4 innings today, giving up 5 runs on 8 hits, and Morgan played a big role in Cloninger’s early departure.
Morgan led off the game with his seventh home run of the season. He singled in the second inning but was caught stealing. In the fifth inning, Morgan’s eighth home run of the year sent Cloninger to the showers and put the Astros ahead 5-3. Leading off the seventh inning, Morgan doubled off reliever Dick Kelley and scored on Jim Gentile’s single. In the ninth inning, Morgan singled again and scored on a Rusty Staub hit to put the Astros on top by a score of 8-5 going into the bottom of the ninth.
It was a lead Houston couldn’t hold. Against reliever Mike Cuellar, an RBI double by Carty and a 2-run single by Mike de la Hoz tied the game at 8-8 and sent it into extra innings. Neither team scored in the tenth inning, and Morgan singled off Phil Niekro in the eleventh inning. He stole second and was stranded at third when the inning ended. Morgan didn’t have an opportunity to bat again, as the Braves scored a run in the bottom of the twelfth inning to win the game.
Morgan ended the day hitting six for six with four runs scored and three RBIs. In that single game, he raised his batting average 15 points to .274. He would finish his rookie season hitting .271 and lead the National League in bases on balls with 97.
The Astros would release Nellie Fox by the end of July, having replaced one future Hall of Fame second baseman with another.
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.
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.
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.
This Week in 1960s Baseball
(September 29, 1963) On the final game of the regular season, Houston outfielder John Paciorek had an outstanding major league debut as the Colt .45’s defeated the New York Mets 13-4 at Colts Stadium in Houston.
Paciorek went three for three and walked twice. He scored four runs and drove in three runs. Houston catcher John Bateman also drove in three runs.
With the bases loaded in the fourth inning and Houston trailing 4-2, Paciorek got his first major league hit by singling off Mets starter Larry Bearnarth, driving in Rusty Staub and Bob Aspromonte to tie the score. He singled off Ed Bauta in the fifth inning for his third RBI of the game.
The winning pitcher for Houston was Jim Umbricht (4-3).
John Paciorek is the brother of major leaguers Jim Paciorek and Tom Paciorek. His career was limited to that single game. He remained in organized baseball through 1969, playing in both the Houston and Cleveland minor league systems. But he never made it back to the big leagues, and never had the chance to improve his career numbers beyond that single game (including his 1.000 career batting average).
This Week in 1960s Baseball
Prior to the 1967 season, Mathews had been traded by the Atlanta Braves with a player to be named later and Arnold Umbach to the Houston Astros for Bob Bruce and Dave Nicholson. A nine-time All-Star in 15 seasons with the Braves, Mathews had hit 493 homers playing for the franchise in Boston, Milwaukee and Atlanta. His seventh round-tripper of the 1967 season made him the seventh major leaguer to reach the 500 home run plateau.
Mathews’ home run came in the sixth inning with two runners aboard. It was not Marichal’s best day. The Giants went into the sixth inning leading 4-3, but the first two Astros batters, Jim Wynn and Rusty Staub, opened the inning with back-to-back singles. Mathews came up and homered to put the Astros on top 6-4.
Marichal then walked Norm Miller (who had hit a three-run homer in the fourth inning) and gave up a single to Bob Aspromonte before being relieved by left-hander Joe Gibbon. Marichal left the game after allowing seven earned runs in five innings. The loss brought his season record to 12-8.
The winning pitcher was Dave Giusti (6-8), who allowed nine hits and five earned runs in seven innings, including a two-run homer by Giants third baseman Jim Davenport. The Giants also got a solo home run from Jim Ray Hart in the eighth inning. That home run came off Larry Sherry, who picked up his second save of the season.
Mathews would end the 1967 season with the Detroit Tigers. On the season, he would hit 16 home runs with 57 runs batted in. He would retire after the 1968 season with 512 career home runs, and he would be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1978.
Glancing Back, and Remembering Mickey Lolich
Every pitching staff can use a Mickey Lolich: lots of innings, lots of strikeouts, lots of wins. He’s the workhorse who keeps the pitching staff anchored. And on occasion, he rises to moments of true greatness, as Lolich did in October of 1968.
Lolich was signed by the Detroit Tigers in 1958 and was promoted to the big league club in 1963. He went 18-9 for the Tigers in 1964, and followed with a 15-9 campaign in 1965. After a pair of 14-victory seasons, Lolich went 17-9 during the Tigers’ pennant-winning 1968 season. But in the season when Detroit’s Denny McLain won 31 games, Lolich emerged as the Tigers’ other ace during the 1968 World Series against the St. Louis Cardinals.
Lolich went 3-0 in the Series, with three complete games and a 1.67 ERA. He struck out 21 batters in 27 innings, and even hit a home run in Game Two … the only home run of his 16-year career. Lolich was selected as the 1968 World Series Most Valuable Player.
From 1964 through 1974, Lolich never won fewer than 14 games or pitched fewer than 200 innings. Four times during that period, he pitched over 300 innings in a season and was twice a 20-game winner, with a 25-14 record in 1971 and 22-14 in 1972. In 1971, Lolich led the American League in victories, games started (45), complete games (29), innings pitched (376), and strikeouts (308). He finished second in the voting for the Cy Young award to Vida Blue, whose 24-8 season garnered both the Cy Young and MVP awards.
Lolich won 207 games for the Tigers in the 13 seasons that he pitched for them, and then was traded to the New York Mets in 1975 in the deal that brought Rusty Staub to Detroit. His one season in New York, plus two seasons with the San Diego Padres, produced a total of only 10 victories.
Lolich finished his 16-year major league career with a record of 217-195 and a 3.44 earned run average. A three-time All-Star, Lolich leads all American League left-handers in career strikeouts with 2,679, also the most among all Tigers pitchers. He is the Tigers’ career leader in wins and shutouts.
Lolich is third in career strikeouts among all lefthanders, following Steve Carlton and Randy Johnson. He is still the only southpaw to win three complete games in a single World Series.
Glancing Back, and Remembering Rusty Staub
Rusty Staub’s long and productive major league career began in the 1960s, first with the Houston Colts/Astros, and then the Montreal Expos, where he was that franchise’s first real star player.
A New Orleans native, Staub signed with Houston in 1961 and made his big league debut two years later at age 19. Staub struggled in his first two seasons with Houston, hitting a combined .221. But his batting average steadily improved, to .256 in 1965, .280 in 1966, and .333 in 1967, fifth best in the National League. In 1967 he led the league with 44 doubles. It was the only offensive category – and only time – when Staub would lead the league.
Yet he was one of baseball’s most productive hitters for nearly two decades. Staub hit .291 in 1968, and after that season was traded to the Expos. Nicknamed “Le Grand Orange” for his striking red hair, Staub had his best power seasons with the Expos (and away from the cavernous Astrodome). He hit .302 with 29 home runs and 79 RBIs in 1969, and followed up in 1970 with 30 home runs and 94 RBIs. Though his home run output for 1971 slipped to 19, he drove in 97 runs with a .311 batting average.
Staub played the next four seasons with the New York Mets. His best year in New York was 1975, when he tallied 105 RBIs. He was traded to the Detroit Tigers in 1976, and he proceeded to rack up RBI totals of 96, 101 and 121 from 1976 to 1978. He stayed in the major leagues through 1985, spending one season with the Texas Rangers as well as return engagements with Montreal and his last five seasons with the Mets.
Staub finished his 23-year career with 2,716 hits and a .279 career batting average. A six-time All-Star, Staub is the only player to collect 500 or more hits with four different teams. He is one of three players (including Ty Cobb and Gary Sheffield) to hit a home run before turning 20 and after turning 40 years of age.