Scratching Out Wins

 

Glancing Back, and Remembering Jack Kralick

Jack Kralick was a slender, left-handed starting pitcher with first-division stuff … and second-division teams playing behind him. He could be dominating – even un-hittable – on occasion. He had an appetite for innings, and kept his team in the game.

As a member of the Cleveland Indians, Jack Kralick led the team in wins in both 1963 (13-9) and 1964 (12-7).

As a member of the Cleveland Indians, Jack Kralick led the team in wins in both 1963 (13-9) and 1964 (12-7).

Kralick was signed out of Michigan State University by the Chicago White Sox in 1955. He never pitched in Chicago. He was released by the White Sox in 1958 and signed immediately as a free agent by the Washington Senators, making his debut with the Senators at the end of the 1959 season. He was 8-6 as a rookie with the Senators in 1960, posting a 3.04 ERA as a starter-reliever, with seven complete games (and two shutouts) in 17 starts.

Kralick moved with the franchise to Minnesota in 1961 and went 13-11 as part of the Twins’ starting rotation. He pitched 242 innings for the Twins, posting a 3.61 earned run average with 11 complete games and two shutouts. He was 12-11 for the Twins in 1962.

In May of 1963, Kralick was traded to the Cleveland Indians for pitcher Jim Perry. At 13-9, Kralick led the Tribe staff in victories (tied with Mudcat Grant) and posted a 2.92 ERA, best among the Indians’ starters that season.

He started strong in 1964, going 8-4 with a 2.60 ERA in the first half of the season, and was named to the American League All-Star team. He finished the 1964 season at 12-7 with a 3.21 ERA, leading the team in victories for the second consecutive season.

Jack Kralick pitched a no-hitter against the Kansas City Athletics in 1962. He retired the first 25 batters he faced until a ninth-inning walk spoiled his bid for a perfect game.

Jack Kralick pitched a no-hitter against the Kansas City Athletics in 1962. He retired the first 25 batters he faced until a ninth-inning walk spoiled his bid for a perfect game.

The 1964 season was one of transition for the Cleveland pitching staff, with the influx of young arms like those of Sam McDowell, Luis Tiant, Sonny Siebert and Tommy John. Kralick, now 30, was a senior member of the staff, and faded to 5-11 in 1965, spending more time coming out of the bullpen than working in the starting rotation. He was 3-4 mopping up in relief in 1966, and appeared in only two games in 1967 before being purchased by the New York Mets. He retired rather than report to the Mets.

In his nine-season career, Kralick posted a 67-65 record with a 3.56 ERA. He pitched a 1-0 no-hitter against the Kansas City Athletics on August 26, 1962. He retired the first 25 batters he faced before walking George Alusik in the ninth inning.

 

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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 Hit Miser Strikes Again

 

Lights Out: Sam McDowell Pitches Back-to-Back One-Hitters

 

When: May 1, 1966

Where: Municipal Stadium, Cleveland, Ohio

Game Time: 2.51

Attendance: 9,655

He came into the 1966 season as the reigning American League champion in strikeouts (325 in 1965) and ERA (2.18). And Sam McDowell started out the 1966 season proving he was not only the league’s most overpowering pitcher, but also, at his best, almost unhittable.

Sam McDowell pitched back-to-back one-hit shutouts in 1966.

Sam McDowell pitched back-to-back one-hit shutouts in 1966.

McDowell opened the season with 3 victories in his 4 April starts, including a complete game victory over the New York Yankees and a one-hit shutout against the Kansas City Athletics. Six days following his one-hitter, he faced the Chicago White Sox and did what only three major league pitchers had done before.

McDowell squared off against White Sox left-hander Tommy John, who had won 14 games for Chicago in 1965 after being acquired from the Indians the previous winter. After pitching a scoreless first inning, John gave up a two-out double to Pedro Gonzalez. The next Tribe batter, shortstop Larry Brown, singled to drive in Gonzalez.

It would be the only run of the game.

John would allow only four more hits in pitching through the seventh inning. Reliever Bob Locker pitched a scoreless eighth inning for the White Sox. But allowing even one run wouldn’t be good enough against McDowell that day.

McDowell not only pitched his second consecutive shutout that day (and third consecutive complete game), but also tossed his second consecutive one-hitter, a feat that hadn’t been done since Lon Warneke pitched back-to-back one-hitters in 1934. (Of course, Johnny Vander Meer pitched back-to-back no-hitters in 1938.) McDowell faced 34 White Sox batters, striking out 10 (for the second consecutive game) and walking five. The only White Sox hit came in the third inning when Don Buford doubled.

Prior to McDowell, the last pitcher to throw consecutive one-hitters was Lon Warneke in 1934.

Prior to McDowell, the last pitcher to throw consecutive one-hitters was Lon Warneke in 1934.

McDowell would win only five more games the rest of the season. Ongoing shoulder problems reduced his number of starts, and generally feeble support from Cleveland bats limited McDowell to only a 9-8 season, even with five shutouts, a league-leading 225 strikeouts and a 2.87 ERA.

 

 

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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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Thinking Man’s Pitcher

 

Glancing Back, and Remembering Steve Hargan

There is one aspect of major league pitching that is better today than it was in the 1960s: the medicine behind it. In the days before Tommy John surgery and rotator cuff repair, arm injuries were, more often than not, fatal to a promising pitcher’s career. Misdiagnosed injuries too often led to conditions that could be avoided – or rehabilitated – today.

Steve Hargan was 14-13 with a 2.62 ERA in 1967, leading the American League with 6 shutouts and finishing second in complete games.

Steve Hargan was 14-13 with a 2.62 ERA in 1967, leading the American League with 6 shutouts and finishing second in complete games.

Today’s sports medicine might well have extended the career of a Hall of Famer such as Don Drysdale, or an outstanding hurler who might have been a HOFer such as Mel Stottlemyre, or a pitcher who showed great promise and occasional flashes or brilliance such as Steve Hargan.

Hargan was an outstanding all-around athlete who attracted the attention of major league scouts with his fastball. He was signed by the Cleveland Indians in 1961 and spent the next four seasons moving methodically through the Indians’ farm system. In Class D ball he learned the art of throwing the slider from Hall of Famer Hal Newhouser, and the addition of that pitch began his transformation from thrower to pitcher.

In 1965 Hargan was invited to the Indians’ spring training camp, but found the Tribe’s starting rotation already well-stocked with the likes of Sam McDowell, Sonny Siebert, Luis Tiant, Ralph Terry and Jack Kralick. Hargan opened the 1965 season at the Indians’ AAA club in Portland, going 13-5 with a 2.91 ERA in 24 starts. He was called up to Cleveland in August and went 4-3 with a 3.43 ERA as a starter and reliever.

He started the 1966 season in the Cleveland bullpen, but worked his way into the starting rotation and finished that season at 13-10 with a 2.48 ERA. He went 14-13 with a 2.62 ERA in 1967, leading the American League with six shutouts and finishing second in complete games (to Dean Chance) with 15.

That was when the arm problems began. He started experiencing tendonitis and bone spurs in his pitching elbow and went 8-15 in 1968 and 5-14 in 1969. Now primarily a sinkerball pitcher, Hargan had a strong comeback season in 1970, going 11-3 with a 2.90 ERA. But his arm problems returned in 1971 when his record slipped to 1-13, and he was returned to the minors in 1972 after an 0-3 start. It looked like his career was over at age 29.

Hargan made an impressive comeback to the big leagues, going 12-9 for the Texas Rangers in 1974 and 9-10 with a 3.80 ERA in 1975. He worked primarily as a reliever for the Rangers in 1976, going 8-8. He was drafted by the expansion Toronto Blue Jays prior to the 1977 season, was traded back to the Rangers and then was traded to the Atlanta Braves. His combined record for 1977 was 2-6 with a 6.55 ERA. He retired after the 1977 season.

Hargan put in 12 major league seasons – eight with Cleveland – for a combined record of 87-107 with a 3.92 ERA. He was a member of the American League All-Star team in 1967.

 

 

 

 

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Whoever Thought He Would Last So Long, or Win So Many?

 

Glancing Back, and Remembering Tommy John

Tommy John revolutionized baseball in the mid-1970s, with an able assist from his surgeon, Dr. Frank Jobe. The introduction of Tommy John surgery, which replaced a damaged ligament in his elbow, effectively doubled his own career. John’s amazing recovery from that surgery – a recovery that resulted in 164 wins over the next 13 seasons – validated the surgical procedure that bears his name and has extended the pitching careers of dozens of major leaguers.

In 26 major league seasons, Tommy John won 288 games, seventh highest among left-handers in major league history.

In 26 major league seasons, Tommy John won 288 games, seventh highest among left-handers in major league history.

But Tommy John was also a heck of a pitcher before his famous surgery, as demonstrated by the fact that he had already accumulated 124 major league victories prior to his 1974 operation.

A two-sport star in high school, John was signed by the Cleveland Indians in 1961 and made his debut with the Tribe at the close of the 1963 campaign. His rookie season in 1964 produced a 2-9 record with a 3.91 ERA.

With the Cleveland pitching staff already boasting the presence of proven young arms such as Sam McDowell, Luis Tiant and Sonny Siebert, John became expendable, especially in a trade that would bring Rocky Colavito back to Cleveland.  So John was traded to the Chicago White Sox with Tommie Agee and John Romano. In Chicago, he earned an immediate place in the White Sox starting rotation, going 14-7 with a 3.09 ERA. He followed that with a 14-11 campaign in 1966, lowering his ERA to 2.62.

In 1967, John’s six shutouts were the highest total in the major leagues, but a low-scoring White Sox offense led to a 10-13 record on the season. The run drought in Chicago continued in 1968, when John went 10-5 on a 1.98 ERA. His 9-11 record in 1969 marked the first of three losing seasons with Chicago. In 1971 he was traded with Steve Huntz to the Los Angeles Dodgers for Dick Allen. In six seasons with the Dodgers, John had a record of 87-62, his best season with the Dodgers coming in 1977 when he went 20-7 with a 2.78 ERA.

John had back-to-back 20-win seasons for the New York Yankees in 1979 and 1980, and went on to pitch for another decade, making stops with the California Angels and Oakland A’s before closing out his career with the Yankees.

In 26 major league seasons, John won 288 games, seventh highest among left-handers in major league history.

 

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