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

Dodgers Wallop Cubs 10-2; Koufax Whiffs 18

 

This Week in 1960s Baseball

(April 24, 1962) Los Angeles Dodgers left-hander Sandy Koufax today tied a major league record by striking out 18 batters in a nine-inning game.

The Dodgers beat the Chicago Cubs 10-2 at Wrigley Field in Chicago. Continue reading

Sometimes Size Counts

 

Homer Happy: Frank Howard

Frank Howard made opposing pitchers cringe. At six-foot-seven and 255 pounds, he was an imposing presence at the plate. Not even the higher mound (15 inches high until 1969) gave pitchers as much of an advantage. At his height, he could still nearly look them in the eye. Continue reading

Man Mauls Mets … and Cardinals Soar

 

Lights Out: Stan Musial Demolishes New York Mets’ Pitching

When: July 8, 1962

Where:  Polo Grounds, New York, New York

Game Time: 2:47

Attendance: 12,460

When the National League’s oldest player came up against its youngest team, the result was devastating to the arms on the New York Mets’ pitching staff. Continue reading

Clutch Master

 

Glancing Back, and Remembering Jim Hickman

As a hitter, Jim Hickman specialized in both power and good timing. During his 13-year major league career, Hickman became more dangerous in the batter’s box in the game’s waning innings, when big hits counted most and Hickman consistently came up big. Continue reading

Dodgers Go Power Hunting … and Bag a Moose

 

This Week in 1960s Baseball

(November 26, 1962) The Los Angeles Dodgers, looking to boost their run-scoring, today announced the acquisition of New York Yankee first baseman Bill Skowron in a trade for starting pitcher Stan Williams.

To improve their run scoring in 1963, the Los Angeles Dodgers acquired slugging first baseman Bill “Moose” Skowron from the New York Yankees. Skowron struggled during the regular season, but batted .385 against the Yankees during the 1963 World Series.

To improve their run scoring in 1963, the Los Angeles Dodgers acquired slugging first baseman Bill “Moose” Skowron from the New York Yankees. Skowron struggled during the regular season, but batted .385 against the Yankees during the 1963 World Series.

“Moose” Skowron, 31, hit .270 for the World Series champion Yankees in 1962, with 23 home runs and 80 RBIs. In nine seasons with the Yankees, Skowron batted .294 while averaging 18 home runs with 75 RBIs per season. His best season with the Yankees was 1960, when he hit .309 with 26 home runs and 91 RBIs.

Williams, 25, went 14-12 for the Dodgers in 1962. From 1960 through 1962, the hard-throwing right-hander won 43 games for the Dodgers, but his ERA increased each year, from 3.00 in 1960 to 3.90 in 1961 to 4.46 in 1962. His strikeouts per nine innings decreased from 7.6 in 1960 to 5.6 in 1962.

In acquiring Skowron, the Dodgers were looking for more offense to keep pace with their West Coast rivals, the National League champion San Francisco Giants. The Dodgers finished second to the Giants in 1962, losing two out of three league playoff games that were needed when both teams finished the regular season tied for first place.

The Dodgers already had the National League RBI leader in Tommy Davis (with a franchise record 153 RBIs in 1962). Davis was also the National League batting champion in 1962 (.346), an accomplishment he would repeat in 1963 (hitting .326). Skowron’s bat was expected to produce more runs while protecting Davis in the batting order.

To acquire Skowron, the Dodgers gave up pitcher <a rel=

The trade turned out better for the Dodgers than it did for the Yankees, but only slightly. Williams went 9-8 for the Yankees in 1963 and 1-5 the following year. Skowron struggled against National League pitching. He appeared in only 89 games for the Dodgers, hitting .203 with four home runs and 19 RBIs. Skowron’s only saving performance for the Dodgers came in the 1963 World Series, where he hit .385 against his former team, including a three-run homer in Game Two.

The Year He Was Everything But MVP.

 

Career Year: Tommy Davis (1962)

In his 1962 break-out season, outfielder Tommy Davis did everything he needed to do to claim the National League’s Most Valuable Player award.

Everything, that is, except to actually win it.

Here’s how it happened.That season’s MVP went to teammate Maury Wills. Looking back a half-century, and looking at the numbers for both players, it’s hard to justify how Davis got passed over.

Tommy Davis - Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder won the National League batting title in 1962 and 1963

Tommy Davis – Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder won the National League batting title in 1962 and 1963

Tommy Davis was signed by the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1956. He never batted below .300 in 4 minor league seasons. In 1959, with Spokane in the Pacific Coast League, Davis batted .345 with 18 home runs and 78 RBIs. He made his major league debut with the Los Angeles Dodgers at the end of the 1959 season, striking out in his only plate appearance.

Davis opened the 1960 season on the Dodgers’ roster, and gradually took over full-time duties in center field from Duke Snider and Don Demeter. He finished the 1960 season batting .276 with 11 home runs and 44 runs batted in. In 1961, Davis batted .278 with 15 home runs and 58 RBIs. He played 86 games in the outfield, at all three positions, and played 59 games at third base. He was, essentially, a utility player for the Dodgers.

That would change in 1962. He opened the season as the team’s everyday left fielder, and was hitting .316 at the end of April. In May he batted .336 with five home runs and 25 RBIs, and in June Davis batted .354 with three home runs and 32 RBIs. By the All-Star break, Davis was batting .353 with 15 doubles, 15 home runs and 90 RBIs. He made his first All-Star appearance that season.

While Davis was leading the National League in hits, runs batted in and batting average, he wasn’t getting national media attention for his monster season. During the first half of the season, the media reserved their Dodger focus on a pair of pitchers – Don Drysdale and Sandy Koufax – who were having outstanding seasons in leading the Dodgers to the top of the National League standings. At the All-Star break in 1962, Drysdale was 15-4 with a 2.88 ERA. Koufax, an 18-game winner in 1961, was 13-4 with a 2.15 ERA and led the major leagues with 202 strikeouts. Drysdale would go on to win the Cy Young award with a 25-9 record, while an arm injury would limit Koufax to only one more victory over the rest of the 1962 campaign.

The other media “distraction” from Davis’ season was a record-breaking performance by Dodger shortstop Maury Wills. By late July, it became obvious that Wills was on his way to breaking the single season record for stolen bases held by Ty Cobb. It would be the second consecutive year when a hallowed baseball record was under assault, as only a year before there was a media frenzy following Roger Maris’ (and Mickey Mantle’s) chase of Babe Ruth’s record for home runs in a single season.

Tommy Davis led the NL with 230 hits in 1962, the most in 25 years.

Wills eventually caught Cobb’s record of 96 stolen bases and finished the season with 104, a season which the Dodgers and the San Francisco Giants finished in a dead heat, requiring a three-game playoff which the Giants won. It was an exciting season on many fronts.

And Tommy Davis? Lost in the shuffle of a heated pennant race and outstanding individual performances, Davis led the National League with 230 hits (32 ahead of Wills and Frank Robinson), 153 RBIs (12 ahead of Willie Mays) and a .346 batting average. He also finished fourth in the league in doubles and total bases, fifth in triples and slugging (.535 percentage), and seventh in stolen bases.

In the MVP voting, Davis finished third behind Wills and Mays. Stolen bases and triples were the only offensive categories in which Wills was the league leader.

It would be the best season of Tommy Davis’ career. He would lead the National League in hitting again in 1963 with a .326 average, but his power numbers would drop to 16 home runs (compared to 27 in 1962) and 88 RBIs, down 65 from the previous season. He would suffer a broken ankle during the 1965 season that would compromise his speed for the rest of his career, though Davis would remain a steady hitter throughout his 18-year career, retiring after the 1976 season with a .294 career batting average.

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Tommy Guns Down Gibby

 

Lights Out – Tommy Davis’ game-ending home run beats Bob Gibson 1-0.

When: June 18, 1962

Where:  Dodger Stadium, Los Angeles, California

Game Time: 2:18

Attendance: 33,477

 

Tommy Davis had a “dream” season in 1962.

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Sandy Koufax (10-2) pitched a five-hit shutout, striking out nine Cardinals.

Coming into that campaign, he was a .277 career hitter who never drove in more than 58 runs in a season. All he did in 1962 was lead the major leagues in hits (230), RBIs (153 – still the Dodger franchise record) and batting average (.346). He also had a career-best 27 home runs and struck out only 65 times in 711 plate appearances.

One season transformed Tommy Davis from unknown part-time player to one of the most dangerous hitters in the game. And though he would repeat as National League batting champion in 1963 and collect over 2,000 hits in an 18-year major league career, he would never again approach his hitting productivity of 1962.

Especially, hitting in the clutch.

The game between St. Louis and Los Angeles on June 18, 1962 was a showcase for emerging stars … starting with the starting pitchers. On the mound for the Dodgers was Sandy Koufax, who was beginning to demonstrate the overpowering dominance that was to carry him through the 1962 season. Koufax entered the game at 9-2 with a 2.86 ERA and a league-leading 137 strikeouts in only 116.1 innings. The Cardinals’ starter was Bob Gibson, 8-4 coming into the game with a 3.17 ERA, though opponents’ batting average against Gibson was only .198 up to this game. After the game, that average would not climb much higher.

Bob Gibson (8-5) allowed the Dodgers only three hits, but the last one was a Tommy Davis walk-off.

Bob Gibson (8-5) allowed the Dodgers only three hits, but the last one was a Tommy Davis walk-off.

During his career, Davis struggled against Gibson (an affliction shared by many National League batters), hitting only .167. And in this game Davis would only go one for four, striking out twice. But as so often happened during his magical 1962 season, Davis made that one hit count.

Through the first eight innings, Koufax and Gibson were locked in a scoreless duel. Koufax had allowed only four hits, Gibson only two. In the top of the ninth, Koufax got two outs before Ken Boyer singled to left. Now a pair of future Hall of Famers faced each other as Stan Musial stepped into the batter’s box. But Musial had no opportunity to advance Boyer, who was caught trying to steal second, ending the inning.

In the bottom of the ninth, Gibson got Ron Fairly out on a soft fly to second baseman Julian Javier. Davis was the next batter, and the game’s last, as he sent a line drive into the left field seats for a 1-0 Dodgers victory.

It was the first shutout for Koufax in 1962. He would pitch only one more in that injury-shortened season that would result in the first of his five consecutive ERA crowns (with 2.54).

For Gibson – who eventually led the league in shutouts with five in 1962 – it was another tough loss in what would be a 15-13 season with a 2.85 ERA.

And for Tommy Davis, his walk-off blast marked the third time that one of his home runs gave Koufax a 1-0 victory.

 

 

 

 

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An Extra Dose of Sweet

 

Glancing Back, and Remembering Lou Johnson

“Sweet Lou” Johnson was the centerpiece of the Los Angeles Dodgers‘ offense in the mid-1960s. In those seasons, the Dodgers were winning pennants, but they were doing it primarily with the best pitching in the major leagues … with arms like those of Sandy Koufax, Don Drysdale, Johnny Podres, Claude Osteen and Ron Perranoski.

The Dodgers of 1965 and 1966 generally didn’t score a lot of runs, but they scored enough to win. Those teams manufactured runs with their legs as well as their bats. And Lou Johnson was an integral part of that “just enough” offense.

Lou Johnson spent 13 season in the minors before finally winning an everyday role with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1965.

Lou Johnson spent 13 season in the minors before finally winning an everyday role with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1965.

Johnson was an all-around star athlete, who excelled particularly on the basketball court. He was signed by the New York Yankees in 1953.

He spent the next 13 years working his way into a full-time major league gig. His first opportunity came in 1962 with the Milwaukee Braves after brief appearances the two previous seasons with the Chicago Cubs and Los Angeles Angels. He appeared in 61 games with the Braves, batting .282.

In May of 1963, Johnson was traded by the Braves to the Detroit Tigers for shortstop Chico Fernandez. It meant another two seasons in the minors, but the turning point in Johnson’s career came just before the start of the 1964 season when Johnson was traded to the Dodgers for pitcher Larry Sherry.

Johnson spent 1964 in the minors and started the 1965 season as a reserve outfielder for the Dodgers. In early May the team’s hitting star and two-time batting champion, Tommy Davis, suffered a season-ending broken ankle. Johnson took over in left field and hit .259 in 131 games, with 24 doubles, 12 home runs, 58 RBIs and 15 stolen bases. In the 1965 World Series against the Minnesota Twins, Johnson hit .296 with two home runs and four RBIs.

Lou Johnson’s best season with the Dodgers came in 1966, when he batted .272 with 17 home runs and 73 RBIs.

Lou Johnson’s best season with the Dodgers came in 1966, when he batted .272 with 17 home runs and 73 RBIs.

He was the Dodgers’ starting left fielder for the duration of the team’s 1966 pennant-winning season. He hit .272 with 17 home runs and 73 RBIs. He followed up in 1967 by hitting .270 with 11 home runs and 41 RBIs.

Johnson would play for only two more major league seasons. Following the 1967 campaign, the Dodgers sent Johnson to the Cubs, who traded him in June of 1968 to the Cleveland Indians for outfielder Willie Smith. Johnson hit .257 in 65 games with the Tribe, and just before Opening Day of 1969 he was traded to the California Angels for outfielder Chuck Hinton. Johnson hit .203 for the Angels, playing in only 61 games that season, and retired at the end of the season at age 34.

Johnson finished his eight-season major league career with a .258 batting average.

 

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He Brought His Heart to San Francisco

 

Swap Shop: How Billy Pierce Became a Giant … Who Saved a Pennant

In more than one way, Billy Pierce was the difference that got the San Francisco Giants into the 1962 World Series, and he accomplished this when he was generally considered washed up and a shell of what he had been a decade before.

In his prime during the 1950s, <a rel=

Billy Pierce was regarded by many as the best pitcher in the American League. In his prime during the 1950s, Billy Pierce was regarded by many as the best pitcher in the American League.

The glory years for Pierce came in the 1950s when, as the ace of the Chicago White Sox staff, he rivaled New York Yankees southpaw Whitey Ford for recognition as the best left-hander in the American League, if not the American League’s best pitcher, period.

Pierce was signed by the Detroit Tigers and traded to the White Sox in 1949. He was a combined 27-30 in his first two seasons with the White Sox, and then won 15 games in both 1951 and 1952, followed by an 18-12 campaign in 1953. After slipping to 9-10 in 1954, he won 15 games again in 1956 (while leading the major leagues with a 1.97 ERA) and was a 20-game winner for the White Sox in 1956 and in 1957. He led the league in complete games from 1956 through 1958, and overall posted a 186-152 record in 13 seasons with the White Sox.

In November of 1961, San Francisco sent Bob Farley, Eddie Fisher and Dom Zanni to the White Sox for Pierce and Don Larsen. It was one of the most important moves made by the Giants’ front office over that winter, as Pierce, who was 10-9 in his last season with Chicago, won his first eight decisions for the Giants. He moved to the bullpen through the heat of the summer, and returned to the starting rotation in August, winning five out of six decisions.

After going 10-9 in 1961, his final season with the White Sox, Billy Pierce was 16-6 for the Giants in 1962 – including a victory in the first game of the playoff with the Dodgers.

After going 10-9 in 1961, his final season with the White Sox, Billy Pierce was 16-6 for the Giants in 1962 – including a victory in the first game of the playoff with the Dodgers.

The 1962 National League regular season ended in a dead heat between the Giants and their West Coast rivals, the Los Angeles Dodgers. Finishing the regular season at 15-6, Pierce was selected by Giants manager Al Dark to pitch the opener of the three-game playoff and responded with a three-hit, 8-0 shutout. Game Two in Los Angeles saw the Dodgers tie the playoffs with an 8-7 victory.

On October 3, 1962, the playoff and the pennant race came down to a single game. In the top of the third, an RBI single by Harvey Kuenn and a sacrifice fly by second baseman Chuck Hiller gave the Giants a 2-0 lead. The Dodgers scored one run against Juan Marichal in the fourth inning and took the lead in the sixth inning on Tommy Davis’ two-run homer.

In the seventh inning, the Dodgers went up 4-2. In the top of the ninth, the Giants scored four runs on only two hits, and led 6-4 with the Dodgers coming up for their last at-bats.

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On two days’ rest after pitching a three-hit shutout, Billy Pierce closed out the Dodgers in the ninth inning of the third playoff game, preserving a come-from-behind victory and the National League pennant.

In the bottom of the ninth, Dark turned again to Pierce to wrap up the game and the pennant. After shutting out the Dodgers just two days before, Pierce added one more scoreless inning to his playoff ledger, retiring the Dodgers in order to give the Giants their first National League pennant since 1954.

 

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