Too Good to Double Up

 

Glancing Back, and Remembering Don Buford

Don Buford combined speed and bat control to end his 10-year major league career as the player least likely to hit into a double play – among all players in major league history. In 4,553 official at-bats, Buford grounded into double plays only 34 times in his career. He averaged 1 GDP for every 138 at-bats. Continue reading

Big on Wins

 

Glancing Back, and Remembering Jim Nash

Jim Nash’s career started in a blaze of wins for a team unaccustomed to winning. But in many ways, “Jumbo’s” arrival marked a turning point in the fortunes of the Athletics’ franchise.

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Jim Nash was 13-13 in 1968 with a 2.28 ERA. His six shutouts were the second-most in the American League that season (behind Luis Tiant’s nine shutouts.)

Nash was signed by the A’s in 1963 and was successful almost immediately in the Kansas City farm system, winning 14 games in both 1964 and 1965. He started 1966 with Mobile in the Class A Southern League, going 7-4 with a 2.63 ERA when he was called up to Kansas City. He made his major league debut on July 3, 1966, going 6.1 innings to beat the Detroit Tigers 10-4.

Nash won three more decisions in July, and won his first three decisions in August before losing to the New York Yankees. It would be his only major league loss of the year, finishing that season at 12-1 with a 2.06 ERA. He was runner-up in the Rookie of the Year voting to White Sox outfielder Tommie Agee.

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Jim Nash had a remarkable rookie season for the Kansas City Athletics in 1966. Called up in July, Nash was 12-1 with a 2.06 ERA over the rest of the season.

Nash followed up in 1967 with a 12-17 season and a 3.76 ERA. He posted a 13-13 record in 1968 with a 2.36 ERA (for the Oakland A’s), and finished the 1960s with an 8-8 season in 1969. By this time, the A’s had developed young arms like John Odom and Catfish Hunter, making Nash expendable. He was traded to the Atlanta Braves for outfielder Felipe Alou.

Nash pitched two-plus seasons in Atlanta, with a combined record of 23-17 and a 4.49 ERA. In June of 1972, the Braves dealt Nash (with Gary Neibauer) to the Philadelphia Phillies for Joe Hoerner and Andre Thornton. He made eight starts for the Phillies, going 0-8. He was released by the Phillies following the 1972 season, and retired with a career record of 68-64 with a 3.58 ERA.

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Met Hit Machine

 

Glancing Back, and Remembering Cleon Jones

The New York Mets’ “miracle” of 1969 was assembled one piece at a time … a pitcher here (like Tom Seaver or Jerry Koosman), a center fielder there (Tommie Agee), a veteran first baseman who didn’t want to go to Houston (Donn Clendenon) and a manager to pull it all together (Gil Hodges).

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Cleon Jones was the leading hitter for the 1969 World Series champion Mets. His .340 batting average in 1969 was third-highest in the National League.

Another integral piece to this pennant puzzle was a hit machine patrolling left field named Cleon Jones.

Jones was signed by the Mets in 1963. He got his first big league hit that same season and made the Mets’ roster permanently in 1966, when he batted .275 with eight home runs and 57 RBIs. He batted .297 in 1968 (sixth best in the National League). In 1969, Jones came up with his best season in the Mets’ miracle year: .340 batting average, 25 doubles, 12 home runs and 75 RBIs.

After hitting .277 in 1970, Jones batted .319 in 1971 with 14 home runs and 69 runs batted in. In the next three seasons, he averaged 10 home runs and 53 RBIs while hitting for a combined .264. A knee injury limited him to 21 games in 1975 before he was released by the Mets in July. Jones signed with the Chicago White Sox in 1976 and appeared in 12 games, batting .200, before retiring at age 33.

In 13 major league seasons, Jones posted a career batting average of .281 with 1,196 hits. He was a member of the National League All-Star team in 1969.

 

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Hero to the Hapless

 

Glancing Back, and Remembering Jack Fisher

Right-hander Jack Fisher was 86-139 during an 11-year major league career. He played for five different teams, and pitched his best for baseball’s worst team ever, the New York Mets of the early 1960s.

Jack Fisher was part of the young pitching staff that propelled the Baltimore Orioles to pennant contention in the early 1960s. As a starter-reliever for the Orioles in 1960, Fisher was 12-11 with a 3.41 ERA … the last winning season of his career.

Jack Fisher was part of the young pitching staff that propelled the Baltimore Orioles to pennant contention in the early 1960s. As a starter-reliever for the Orioles in 1960, Fisher was 12-11 with a 3.41 ERA … the last winning season of his career.

Nicknamed “Fat Jack” by Hall of Fame pitcher Hoyt Wilhelm, Fisher was a large man who could throw hard and could pile up quality innings, a strength that made him more valuable than his won-lost record alone. Fisher was a good enough pitcher to be in the position to lose a lot of games. The teams he pitched for were bad enough to hang losses on him despite his talent and competitive grit.

Fisher signed with the Baltimore Orioles in 1957 and made his major league debut at age 20 in 1959, going 1-6 for the Orioles. Fisher won 12 games for the Orioles in 1960 and 10 in 1961. Because he threw hard, Fisher was susceptible to giving up home runs, and he gave up two of the most famous home runs of the early 1960s. He was on the mound in Boston for Ted Williams’ last at-bat in 1960, serving up the home run pitch that launched the Splendid Splinter into retirement. A year later, it was a Fisher pitch that Roger Maris sent into the seats for home run number 60, tying Babe Ruth’s single-season record.

Jack Fisher struggled through four seasons with the New York Mets, compiling a record of 38-73 with a combined 4.12 ERA.

Jack Fisher struggled through four seasons with the New York Mets, compiling a record of 38-73 with a combined 4.12 ERA.

Following a 7-9 1962 season, Fisher was traded to the San Francisco Giants in the deal that brought Mike McCormick and Stu Miller to Baltimore. After going 6-10 for the Giants in 1963, he was drafted by the New York Mets and was a starter for those woeful Mets teams over the next four seasons, going a combined 38-73. He led all National League pitchers in losses in 1965 (8-24) and 1967 (9-18).

The Mets dealt Fisher to the Chicago White Sox in December of 1967 in a six-player deal that brought Tommie Agee and Al Weis to New York. Fisher spent one season each with the White Sox (8-13 with a 2.99 ERA in 1968) and with the Cincinnati Reds (4-4 in 1969) before retiring. His career earned run average of 4.06 would have made him a winner with a lot of teams, but not with the Mets and White Sox of the 1960s.

Jack Fisher gave up two of the most famous home runs of the early 1960s: Ted Williams’ “farewell” home run in 1960, and Roger Maris’ 60th in 1961.

Jack Fisher gave up two of the most famous home runs of the early 1960s: Ted Williams’ “farewell” home run in 1960, and Roger Maris’ 60th in 1961.

 

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Go Get ‘Em.

 

The Glove Club: Jim Landis

During his 11-year major league career, Jim Landis was an outstanding center fielder who could also hit (enough) for average and occasional power.

Jim Landis collected five consecutive Gold Gloves from 1960-1964. His .993 fielding percentage in 1963 topped all American League outfielders.

Jim Landis collected five consecutive Gold Gloves from 1960-1964. His .993 fielding percentage in 1963 topped all American League outfielders.

He was signed by the Chicago White Sox in 1952 and spent the next five years working his way through the White Sox farm system (after two years of military service). He debuted with the White Sox in 1957 at the age of 23, batting .212 in 96 games.

He became the White Sox regular center fielder in 1958, batting .277 with 15 home runs and 64 RBIs. From 1958 through 1963, Landis batted a combined .258 while averaging 13 home runs and 61 RBIs per season. His most productive season offensively came in 1961, when he batted .283 with 22 home runs and 85 RBIs. He also won his second of five consecutive Gold Gloves that season.

After eight seasons in Chicago, Landis was sent to the Kansas City Athletics (with Mike Hershberger and Fred Talbot) in a three-team deal that brought Tommie Agee, Tommy John and John Romano to the White Sox and sent Rocky Colavito to the Cleveland Indians. He hit .239 for the A’s in 1965, and then was traded to the Indians for Phil Roof and Joe Rudi.

Jim Landis’ most productive season offensively came in 1961, when he batted .283 with 22 home runs and 85 RBIs.

Landis batted .222 for Cleveland in 1966, and spent 1967 playing for three teams. He was traded by the Indians with Doc Edwards and Jim Weaver to the Houston Astros for Lee Maye and Ken Retzer. Then in June he was traded by the Astros to the Detroit Tigers for Larry Sherry. The Tigers released Landis in August and he signed as a free agent with the Boston Red Sox. He spent a week in Boston, and then was released. He hit a combined .237 for the 1967 season.

Landis retired after 11 major league seasons with a career batting average of .247. He was a member of the American League All-Star team in 1962.

The Dodgers’ Hit Machine

 

Glancing Back, and Remembering Tommy Davis

In many ways, Tommy Davis is remembered – if at all – as one of the most over-rated hitters of the 1960s. It’s not only unfortunate, but grossly unfair. Few players in baseball history can match the offensive numbers that Davis put up, on either an individual season or career basis.

Tommy  Davis was the National League batting champion in both 1962 and 1963. In 1962, he led the major leagues in batting average (.346), hits (230) and runs batted in (153). He finished third in the MVP sweepstakes behind teammate <a rel=

In fact, most of the players who can at least match Tommy’s hitting statistics have a place of honor in the Baseball Hall of Fame.

While Davis may not have the numbers to qualify for Cooperstown, his outstanding career was, in fact, tempered only by the extraordinary expectations he created with his own outstanding performance at the beginning of his career.

Davis was signed by the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1956 and made his debut with the club as a pinch hitter in 1960. By 1961 Davis was a reserve player for the Los Angeles Dodgers, hitting .276 his rookie year. He became the Dodgers’ everyday left fielder in 1961, batting .278 with 15 home runs and 58 RBIs.

Nothing prior to 1962 suggested the kind of hitting monster Davis was to become that season. He won the National League batting title with a .346 average and led the major leagues in hits (236) and RBIs (153). He also achieved what would be career highs in runs (120), doubles (27), home runs (27) and slugging percentage (.535).

A single-season fluke? Davis proved otherwise in 1963 when he claimed his second consecutive batting championship, hitting .326 with 16 home runs and 88 RBIs. Yet it seemed like a “down” season compared to his output in 1962. And in 1964 his offensive numbers slipped further, to 16 home runs, 86 RBIs and a .275 batting average.

His productivity came to a crushing halt in 1965 when an aggressive slide into second base resulted in a fractured ankle. While never known for basepath speed, the injury nevertheless hurt his career. Davis was never the same player after it.

He rebounded in 1966 to hit .313, but it would be his last season in Dodger blue. The Dodgers traded Davis and Darrell Griffith to the New York Mets for Ron Hunt and Jim Hickman. Davis extended his comeback by hitting .302 for a full season in New York, with 16 home runs and 73 RBIs. But he was traded again after the 1967 season, this time to the Chicago White Sox in a six-player deal that brought Tommie Agee and Al Weis to the Mets. Davis led the White Sox in hitting (.268), and was promptly drafted by the expansion Seattle Pilots, his fourth team in four years.

Tommy Davis lasted 18 years in the major leagues, playing for 10 different teams and compiling a .294 career batting average. He hit .300 or better six times.

Tommy Davis lasted 18 years in the major leagues, playing for 10 different teams and compiling a .294 career batting average. He hit .300 or better six times.

Davis hit .271 for the Pilots in 123 games before being traded to the Houston Astros. Less than a year later, Davis was purchased by the Oakland Athletics, and then sold to the Chicago Cubs two months after that.  In all, he played for 10 different teams from 1966 to 1976, his last year in the majors. His longest stop was with the Baltimore Orioles from 1972 through 1975.

Despite his travels, Davis never really stopped hitting until the end of his playing career. He batted .324 for the A’s in 1971 and .306 for the Orioles in 1973, when he drove in 89 runs for the O’s. Altogether, Davis played 18 seasons in the big leagues and tallied 2,121 hits for a .294 career average.

Heady numbers for an “under” achiever.

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How a Traded Manager Brought the Mets a Miracle Center Fielder

 

Swap Shop: Tommie Agee’s Path to New York

He was a hot prospect during his rise through the Cleveland Indians’ farm system. And with the Chicago White Sox, he was the American League’s best rookie in 1966.

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But Tommie Agee will always be remembered best as the kid in center field who propelled the New York Mets to their first National league pennant, and then to the miracle that was the 1969 World Series.

Here’s how he got to New York:

Agee was raised in Mobile, Alabama and grew up with future Mets teammate Cleon Jones. He won a baseball scholarship to Grambling University, and was signed in 1961 by the Indians.

For five years he toiled in the Indians’ farm system, making short trips to the Cleveland roster, but hitting only .200 in a combined 53 at-bats for the Tribe. On January 20, 1965, Agee was traded with pitcher Tommy John and catcher John Romano to the White Sox in a three-team deal that sent outfielder Jim Landis to the Kansas City Athletics and brought Rocky Colavito back to Cleveland. After one more season in the minors, Agee had his breakout in 1966 with the White Sox. He batted .273 with 22 home runs and 86 runs batted in. He finished third in the American League in both runs scored (98) and stolen bases (44). He won the Gold Glove for his work in center field, and was a member of the All-Star team.

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Gil Hodges made acquiring Agee his first priority on joining the Mets in 1967 as the team’s new manager.

Agee came back to earth in 1967, batting .234 with 14 home runs and 52 RBIs. It would be his last season in Chicago.

Actually, two trades brought Agee to the Mets. The first involved former Dodgers first baseman Gil Hodges, for the previous five seasons the manager of the Washington Senators. Following the 1967 season, the Mets sent pitcher Bill Denehy and $100,000 to the Senators for Hodges to manage in New York. One of the first areas for improvement that Hodges wanted for the Mets was in center field. Hodges wanted defense and power. He specifically wanted Agee.

The Mets accommodated their new manager. On December 15, 1967, less than a month after Hodges joined the club, the Mets sent four players (including outfielder Tommy Davis and pitcher Jack Fisher) to the White Sox for Agee and infielder Al Weis. Both would play pivotal roles in the Mets’ 1969 World Series triumph.

One of Agee’s “miracles” in center field during the 1969 World Series.

One of Agee’s “miracles” in center field during the 1969 World Series.

 

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A Honey of a Hitter

 

Homer Happy – John Romano

During the 1960s, no American League catcher hit more home runs than John (Honey) Romano. From 1960 until his retirement in 1967, the right-handed hitting Romano swatted 124 home runs, second only to Joe Torre among major league catchers.

John Romano hit 124 home runs during the 1960s, the most by any American League catcher.

John Romano hit 124 home runs during the 1960s, the most by any American League catcher.

Romano was signed by the Chicago White Sox in 1954 and spent five seasons in the White Sox farm system before being called up in September of 1958. In 1959 he hit .294 playing sparingly as the White Sox backup catcher, and in the off-season was traded with Norm Cash and Bubba Phillips to the Cleveland Indians for Dick Brown, Don Ferrarese, Minnie Minoso and Jake Striker.

With the Indians, Roman gradually took over the day-to-day catching duties from Russ Nixon. He finished the 1960 season with a .272 batting average, 16 home runs and 52 RBIs. In 1961, his first full-time season, Romano hit .299 with 29 doubles, 21 home runs and 80 RBIs. He followed up in 1962 by hitting 25 home runs with 81 RBIs. He was selected for the American League All-Star team in both 1961 and 1962.

In 1963, Romano fractured his little finger in a collision at home plate. The injury not only cost him 40 games that season. It never properly healed and caused pain in his batting swing for the rest of his career. Romano hit .216 in 1963, and never regained the power he had before his injury. He hit .241 in 1964, his last season with the Indians. The Tribe traded him back to the White Sox (along with Tommie Agee and Tommy John) in the deal that brought Rocky Colavito back to Cleveland.

In 1961, his first full-time season, Romano hit .299 with 29 doubles, 21 home runs and 80 RBIs.

In 1961, his first full-time season, Romano hit .299 with 29 doubles, 21 home runs and 80 RBIs.

With Chicago in 1965, Romano hit .242 with 18 home runs and 48 RBIs. He followed that in 1966 with a .231 batting average, 15 home runs and 47 RBIs. He closed out his career after spending the 1967 season with the St. Louis Cardinals. He appeared in only 24 games, hitting .121 in 58 at-bats.

An excellent defensive catcher, Romano finished his career with a .990 fielding percentage. He hit .255 over a 10-year career, with 129 home runs.

 

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Series-Saving Catches

 

The Glove Club: Tommie Agee

Tommie Agee’s excellence as a center fielder bordered at times on the spectacular. He was at his best in the clutch, and found no better stage for his outfield speed and grace – and his out-capturing glove – than in baseball’s most miraculous World Series.

Tommie Agee had his best all-around season in 1969 with the New York Mets, with clutch hitting and outstanding fielding.

Tommie Agee had his best all-around season in 1969 with the New York Mets, with clutch hitting and outstanding fielding.

Signed by the Cleveland Indians in 1961, Agee showed talent that generated comparisons with Willie Mays. His hitting never approached Mays-ian output, but his talent as an outfielder made comparisons with Say Hey somewhat plausible if not completely fair.

After five seasons in the Indians’ farm system, Agee was traded to the Chicago White Sox in 1965, and won Rookie of the Year honors for a 1966 season when he batted .273 with 22 home runs and 86 RBIs. He also stole 44 bases and won the Gold Glove, his first of 2 in his career.

Agee struggled at the plate in 1967, and was acquired by the New York Mets at the direction of new manager Gil Hodges. After hitting only .217 for the Mets in 1968, Agee regained his hitting stroke in 1969, batting .271 with 26 home runs and 76 RBIs. He was a force in the Mets’ lineup throughout their season-long march to the National League pennant.

The Mets won the 1969 World Series with clutch hitting from Donn Clendenon, Al Weis and Cleon Jones. But it was Agee who saved it with his glove in the critical third game.

The American League champion Baltimore Orioles came into the 1969 World Series as heavy favorites to beat the Mets. The Orioles, behind the six-hit pitching of Mike Cuellar, beat Tom Seaver and the Mets 4-1 in the opener, while Jerry Koosman knotted up the Series at 1-1 by shutting down the Orioles 2-1 in the second game.

In Game Three, Agee led off the game with a home run off Orioles’ starter Jim Palmer. It proved to be all the runs that New York would need, thanks to Agee’s “amazin’” defensive performance. With two outs and runners at first and third in the top of the fourth inning, O’s catcher Elrod Hendricks hit a screaming liner to left-center field that Agee ran down and caught in the webbing of his glove just before crashing into the wall.

One of Tommie Agee's "miracles" in center field during the 1969 World Series.

One of Tommie Agee’s “miracles”
in center field during the 1969 World Series.

In the seventh inning of the same game, Paul Blair came to bat with two outs and the bases loaded. Blair hit a fly ball to right center that Agee chased down and grabbed with a diving catch, saving at least three runs. The Mets won the game 5-0 and swept the last two games of the Series to make the Mets the last world champions of the 1960s.

 

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