The Hunt Is On

 

Glancing Back, and Remembering Ron Hunt

Ron Hunt was one of the first legitimate “stars” to play for the New York Mets. He was the first Mets player to start an All-Star game (as the National League’s second baseman in 1964), and he was runner-up to Pete Rose for Rookie of the Year honors in 1963. Continue reading

Giant Behind the Plate

 

Glancing Back, and Remembering Ed Bailey

Ed Bailey was a solid defensive catcher who was also dangerous with a bat in his hands. He lasted 14 years in the major leagues, playing for five different teams. Continue reading

How to Catch Brave Pitchers

 

Glancing Back, and Remembering Del Crandall

During his prime, Del Crandall was generally acknowledged as one of the smartest handlers of pitchers among major league catchers. During the 1950s, with Crandall averaging better than 125 games caught per season, the Milwaukee Braves pitching staff consistently ranked among the best in the league in ERA, one of the reasons that the Braves enjoyed so much success in the late 1950. And for the most part, the man calling those pitches for the likes of Warren Spahn, Lew Burdette and Bob Buhl was Crandall.

In 13 seasons with the Milwaukee Braves, Del Crandall was an All-Star eight times. His best season with the Braves came in 1959, when he hit 21 home runs with 72 RBIs.

In 13 seasons with the Milwaukee Braves, Del Crandall was an All-Star eight times. His best season with the Braves came in 1959, when he hit 21 home runs with 72 RBIs.

Crandall was signed by the Boston Braves and made his major league debut as a 19-year-old rookie a year later. He was the Braves’ back-up back-stop his first two season, and did military service during the next two years. He returned to the Braves – now the Milwaukee edition – in 1953 as the team’s everyday catcher, hitting .272 that season with 15 home runs and 51 RBIs.

Hitting amid a power-laden Braves lineup that included Hank Aaron and Eddie Mathews, Crandall’s power production increased over the next two seasons, swatting 21 home runs with 64 RBIs in 1954 and 26 home runs with 62 RBIs in 1955. In 1959, catching 146 games for the Braves, Crandall hit .257 with 21 home runs and 72 RBIs. He followed up in 1960 by hitting .294 with 19 home runs and 77 RBIs.

Shoulder problems sidelined Crandall for most of the 1961 season, and opened the door for a young Braves catcher named Joe Torre. Crandall returned to catch 90 games in 1962, hitting a career high .297, but he gradually began surrendering more playing time to the talented Torre. In 1963, his last season with the Braves, Crandall hit only .201.

 

Del Crandall batted a career-best .297 with the Braves in 1962, but split playing time with 21-year-old Joe Torre (left). He also won his fourth Gold Glove that season.

Del Crandall batted a career-best .297 with the Braves in 1962, but split playing time with 21-year-old Joe Torre (left). He also won his fourth Gold Glove that season.

In December of 1963, the Braves traded Crandall, along with pitchers Bob Hendley and Bob Shaw, to the San Francisco Giants for Felipe Alou, Ed Bailey and Billy Hoeft. In 1964, Crandall hit .231 for the Giants as a back-up for catcher Tom Haller, and was traded after the season to the Pittsburgh Pirates for Bob Burda and Bob Priddy. He spent one season in Pittsburgh and then played his final season with the Cleveland Indians. He retired in 1966.

In 16 major league season, Crandall hit .254 with 1,276 hits, 179 home runs and 657 RBIs. From 1954 through 1960, his prime years with the Braves, Crandall averaged 19 home runs and 62 RBIs per season.

But even with these respectable numbers, it was Crandall’s defense and pitch-calling ability that set him apart. He was an All-Star eight times and won four Gold Gloves. He led all National League catchers in assists six times, in fielding percentage four times, and in total putouts three times – a testament not only to his playing skills but also his durability in the game’s most physically demanding position.

No More Fastballs to This Guy

 

Lights Out: Tony Cloninger’s Twin Grand Slams

When: July 3, 1966

Where:  Candlestick Park,   San Francisco, California

Game Time: 2:42

Attendance: 27,002

Of course, in the 1960s, all pitchers did their own hitting. And some of them were pretty good at it.

Some of them, in fact, set hitting records that no non-pitcher has ever topped. That’s what Tony Cloninger did on July 3, 1966.

On his way to his ninth victory of the 1966 season, Cloninger helped his cause with a pair of grand slam home runs and another run batted in on an eighth-inning single. His nine RBIs in one game are still the major league record for a pitcher.

On his way to his ninth victory of the 1966 season, Cloninger helped his cause with a pair of grand slam home runs and another run batted in on an eighth-inning single. His nine RBIs in one game are still the major league record for a pitcher.

On that Sunday afternoon in front of 27,000 fans at Candlestick Park, Cloninger pitched a complete game, winning his ninth victory of the season in a 17-3 laugher over the hometown Giants. What made the game significant wasn’t Cloninger’s arm but his bat, and the nine runs it produced that afternoon (a major league single-game record for a pitcher).

Before he threw his first pitch, Cloninger already had a seven-run lead. In the top of the first inning, against Giants southpaw Joe Gibbon, the Braves struck for three runs on a Joe Torre home run. Gibbon gave up two more singles before being replaced by Bob Priddy, who walked shortstop Denis Menke to load the bases. The next batter was Cloninger, who sent the ball over the left-center field fence for a grand slam that made the score 7-0.

Cloninger was just getting started.

Batting in the top of the fourth inning against Ray Sadecki, Cloninger launched his second slam of the afternoon. And after flying out to left field to lead off the sixth inning, Cloninger collected his ninth RBI of the game in the eighth inning, singling to left off Sadecki to score Woody Woodward from third base.

Tony Cloninger wasn’t the only pitcher in this game to hit a home run. The Giants’ third pitcher, Ray Sadecki, hit a solo home run off Cloninger in the fifth inning.

Tony Cloninger wasn’t the only pitcher in this game to hit a home run. The Giants’ third pitcher, Ray Sadecki, hit a solo home run off Cloninger in the fifth inning.

Cloninger allowed three runs (all earned) on seven hits, including a pair of solo home runs: one by Giants catcher Tom Haller, and the other by the opposing pitcher, Sadecki. Pitchers’ bats that afternoon accounted for 10 RBIs. Not a bad hitter for a pitcher (with a .192 lifetime average), Cloninger hit .234 in 1966, with five home runs and 23 RBIs. Unfortunately, by 1966, he was on the downside of his pitching career, finishing that season at 14-11, 10 victories fewer than the previous year and the most he would ever again win in any single season.

Cloninger finished his 12-year career with 113 wins … and 11 career home runs.

Every Dozen Years or So …

 

This Week in 1960s Baseball

(February 13, 1968) For the first time in 12 years, West Coast rivals Los Angeles Dodgers and San Francisco Giants completed a trade.

Tom Haller

Tom Haller

The Dodgers sent infielders Ron Hunt and Nate Oliver to the Giants for catcher Tom Haller and minor league pitcher Frank Kasheta.

A seven-year veteran, Haller had been the Giants’ regular catcher since the team’s pennant-winning season of 1962. Twice an All-Star with the Giants, Haller’s best season with the team was 1966, when he had career highs in home runs (27), RBIs (67) and runs scored (74).

The 1968 season would be his best during four seasons with Los Angeles. In 1968, Haller would hit .285 with a career bests in hits (135) and doubles (27).

The key player in the trade for the Giants was Hunt. He broke in with the New York Mets in 1963 and hit .272 (finishing second in the Rookie-of-the-Year race to Pete Rose). He hit .303 in 1964 and was a member of the NL All-Star team that season and again in 1966.

Ron Hunt

Ron Hunt

Hunt had been traded to the Dodgers in 1967 in the deal that brought Tommy Davis to the Mets. He hit .263 in his only season in Los Angeles, and would hit a combined .262 in three seasons with the Giants. He would also play for the Montreal Expos and St. Louis Cardinals before retiring in 1974.

And the Dodgers-Giants trade of 12 years earlier? It was a trade that never really happened. The (then) New York Giants sent Dick Littlefield to the (then) Brooklyn Dodgers for an infielder named Jackie Robinson.

Robinson retired rather than report to the Giants, and the trade was voided.

 

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