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.

With his strength, every pitch was a potential souvenir. His last manager with the Washington Senators, the legendary Ted Williams, called Howard the strongest man in baseball. No one questioned Williams’ hitting acumen, and no one could argue his point about Howard.

In 1968, the “Year of the Pitcher” when most of major league hitting was in a coma, Howard hit home runs as if the regular season were simply extended batting practice. He launched 44 homers that season – ten of them within a single week – eight more than Willie Horton and the rest of the American League’s sluggers. He hit 136 home runs from 1968-1970, none of them cheap.

While known primarily for his size and strength, Frank Howard was also a fine all-around athlete. At Ohio State, he was an All-American in basketball as well as baseball.

What Howard brought to the batter’s box wasn’t fair. He was more than just another lumbering slugger. Matching his strength was an athletic ability practically unheard of in a hitter his size. He had been an All-American in basketball (as well as baseball) at Ohio State before signing with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1958.

His minor league career lasted only two seasons, when he butchered minor league pitchers for 37 home runs in 1958 and 43 in 1959. He was ready for the big time.

In 1960, Howard walked away with National League Rookie of the Year honors by batting .268 with 23 home runs and 77 RBIs. A thumb injury limited him to only 15 home runs in 1961, but a healthy season in 1962 produced 31 home runs with 119 runs batted in.

After hitting 23 home runs as a rookie in 1960, Frank Howard led the Los Angeles Dodgers with 31 home runs and 119 RBIs in 1962.

Despite that kind of productivity at the plate, the Dodgers – and in particular, manager Walt Alston – saw Howard primarily as a platoon player. And pitcher-friendly Dodger Stadium seemed more conducive to slashing hitters like Tommy Davis and to the base path speed of Maury Wills and Willie Davis. Howard just didn’t seem to fit in with the Dodgers’ offensive strategy. Plus Howard’s power output appeared to be declining: to 28 home runs in 1963 and 24 in 1964, and he drove in less than 70 runs both seasons.

So in December of 1964, the Dodgers sent Howard to the Washington Senators as part of a seven-player swap that brought Washington’s ace pitcher, Claude Osteen, to the West Coast.  Playing for the worst team in the American League and battling injuries season-long, Howard batted .289 for the Senators in 1965 and led the team with 21 home runs and 84 RBIs. After hitting only 18 home runs in 1966, he doubled that total in 1967.

The 1968 season was when Howard lifted his slugging to elite status. While the rest of the American League was hitting for a combined .230 average, Howard batted .274 and led the league with 44 home runs, 330 total bases and a .552 slugging percentage. His 106 RBIs were second best in the league (to Ken Harrelson‘s 109).

For six days in May of 1968, Frank Howard was a home run machine – hitting 10 homers in six games and only 20 at-bats. He finished the 1968 season with 44 home runs and 106 runs batted in.

This was also the season when Howard went on a home run tear in May, blasting ten home runs in six games and doing it in only 20 at-bats. Howard did even better in 1969, batting .296 with 48 home runs and 111 RBIs. Harmon Killebrew led the league in both home runs and RBIs that season, but Howard was the league leader with 340 total bases and was fourth with a .574 slugging percentage. In 1970, he would lead the league in home runs (44) and RBIs (126).

Howard retired in 1973 with 382 home runs and 1,119 RBIs. He posted a career batting average of .273 and a .499 career slugging average. At his peak as a slugger, from 1967 through 1970, Howard averaged 43 home runs and 108 RBIs per season.

 

 

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Full Throttle in Center

 

 

Glancing Back, and Remembering Willie Davis

For nearly the entire 1960s, center field in Dodger Stadium was patrolled by one of the fastest men in baseball during that decade, Willie Davis. Replacing Hall of Famer Duke Snider in 1961, Davis played 14 seasons with the Los Angeles Dodgers (out of an 18-season major league career) and, by the time he retired, held more than a handful of Dodger records, with both his bat and his glove.

Willie Davis collected more base hits than any Dodger since the team moved to Los Angeles in 1958. He retired with a .279 career batting average.

Willie Davis collected more base hits than any Dodger since the team moved to Los Angeles in 1958. He retired with a .279 career batting average.

Davis was a three-sport athlete in high school when he was signed by the Dodgers in 1958. He made his debut with the Dodgers in 1960 and had taken over the center field position from Snider by the end of 1961. In his first full season as a starter, Davis hit .285 for the Dodgers in 1962, with 21 home runs and 85 RBIs. He batted a combined .279 in his 14 seasons with the Dodgers.

Davis made full use of his tremendous speed both at the plate and in the outfield. He led the National League in triples in 1962 (10) and in 1970 (16). Teamed with shortstop Maury Wills at the top of the Dodger batting order, he gave middle-of-the-lineup hitters such as Tommy Davis, Frank Howard and Ron Fairly plenty of RBI opportunities, and was capable of driving in runs himself, recording a career high of 93 RBIs in 1970. While Wills was the Dodgers’ premier base stealer during the 1960s, Davis was no slouch in the “theft” department, and was a better all-around hitter than Wills. Davis stole 20 or more bases in a season 13 times in his career, with a career best of 42 in 1964.

The 1960s featured an abundance of outstanding defensive center fielders, and Davis was one of the best of the best. He led all National League outfielders in total putouts in 1964 (400) and in 1971 (404). He finished in the top five in that category 12 times in his career. He remains fourth all-time in career putouts as a center fielder (5,278).

Willie Davis stole 20 or more bases 13 times in his 18-year career.

Willie Davis stole 20 or more bases 13 times in his 18-year career.

In December of 1973, the Dodgers traded Davis to the Montreal Expos for pitcher Mike Marshall. Davis hit .295 in his only season in Montreal, and then was traded to the Texas Rangers for Pete Mackanin and Don Stanhouse. He played for only two months with the Rangers, and in June of 1975 was shipped to the St. Louis Cardinals for Ed Brinkman and Tommy Moore. He also made brief stops with the San Diego Padres and the California Angels before closing out his playing career in Japan.

Davis retired with 2,561 hits and a career batting average of .279. He has more hits than any Dodger since the team moved to Los Angeles in 1958, and his 31-game hitting streak in 1969 remains the franchise record. During his career, Davis won three Gold Gloves and was an All-Star twice.

 

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Center of Power

 

Glancing Back, and Remembering Duke Snider

Throughout the 1950s, major league baseball was blessed with a trio of center fielders unmatched before or since. Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays and Duke Snider had no peers as all-around players. And the Duke, generally considered the third of the three, posted hitting numbers and consistent fielding that deservedly put him in the class of Mantle and Mays.

Duke Snider hit 326 home runs during the 1950s, the most of any major leaguer during that decade. He also batted .308 for the decade and averaged more than 100 RBIs per season.

While the peak years of his long and productive career came during the 1950s, Snider played in half the decade of the 1960s.

Signed by the Dodgers in 1943, Snider made the big league team in 1947 and was Brooklyn’s starting center fielder by 1949, when he hit .292 with 23 home runs and 92 RBIs. He hit .321 in 1950, with 31 home runs and 107 RBIs. From 1950 through 1956, Snider averaged 35 home runs and 113 RBIs per season, leading the National League in home runs (43) in 1956 and leading the league in RBIs (136) in 1955. Snider led the National League in runs scored each season from 1953 through 1955. He hit 40 or more home runs every season from 1953 through 1957.

A chronic knee condition and the cavernous right field in the L.A. Coliseum limited Snider’s productivity when the Dodgers moved to Los Angeles in 1958. He made a strong comeback in 1959, hitting .308 with 23 home runs and 88 RBIs in leading the Dodgers to the 1959 World Series title. But entering the 1960s, Snider was relegated to a part-time role, with his center field post taken over by the fleet Willie Davis.

Duke Snider returned to New York in 1963 as a member of the New York Mets. He batted .243 with 14 home runs and 45 RBIs.

Duke Snider returned to New York in 1963 as a member of the New York Mets. He batted .243 with 14 home runs and 45 RBIs.

Snider spent 16 seasons with the Dodgers, the last coming in 1962. He hit a combined .300 over that period, with 389 home runs and 1,271 RBIs. In 1963 he was purchased by the New York Mets, and spent the 1964 season with the San Francisco Giants before retiring at the end of that campaign.

An eight-time All-Star, Snider was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1980.

 

 

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Koufax Blanks Cardinals for 101st Victory

 

This Week in 1960s Baseball …

(June 12, 1964) Pitching his third shutout and sixth complete game of the 1964 season, Sandy Koufax pitched a four-hitter as the Los Angeles Dodgers blanked the St. Louis Cardinals 3-0.

Sandy Koufax

Sandy Koufax

The victory raised Koufax’s season record to 8-4. It was the left-hander’s 101st career victory.

The Dodgers scored the only run Koufax would need in the fourth inning. Willie Davis scored from third base on a Tommy Davis single to right field.

The Dodgers added two more runs – both unearned – in the seventh inning. Junior Gilliam scored on a bases-loaded error by Cardinals second baseman Julian Javier. Maury Wills scored on a Willie Davis RBI single.

All three Dodger runs were scored off Cardinals’ starter Ernie Broglio (3-5).

Koufax struck out six Cardinals batters and walked three. The shutout lowered his earned run average to 2.01.

His 101st career victory came in his tenth major league season. In his first six seasons, Koufax won only 36 games. He would win 129 games over the last six of his 12-year career.

Ernie Broglio lost to Koufax in what would be his last appearance in a St. Louis Cardinals uniform.

Ernie Broglio lost to Koufax in what would be his last appearance in a St. Louis Cardinals uniform.

This is the last game Broglio would pitch for the Cardinals. Three days later, he was traded with Doug Clemens and Bobby Shantz to the Chicago Cubs for Lou Brock, Jack Spring and Paul Toth.

 

 

 

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