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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McLain Fans 14 … in Relief

 

This Week in 1960s Baseball

(June 15, 1965) – Denny McLain today set a single-game record for strikeouts by a relief pitcher as the Detroit Tigers scored four runs in the bottom of the eighth inning to edge the Boston Red Sox 6-5.

Denny McLain shut down the Boston Red Sox first-inning rally by striking out the two batters he faced … and the next five he would face.

Denny McLain shut down the Boston Red Sox first-inning rally by striking out the two batters he faced … and the next five he would face.

McLain struck out 14 batters in 6.2 innings of relief work. He also struck out the first seven batters he faced, setting a major league record.

The Red Sox scored three runs in the first inning off Tigers starter Dave Wickersham. Wickersham lasted only one-third of an inning before giving way to McLain, who proceeded to strike out Eddie Bressoud and Bob Tillman to end the inning.

McLain fanned the Red Sox in order in the second inning, and then struck out Carl Yastrzemski and Felix Mantilla in the third inning before retiring Lee Thomas on a ground out.

Willie Horton’s 14th home run in the bottom of the eighth inning – a three-run blast – capped the Tigers’ 6-5 comeback victory over the Boston Red Sox.

McLain allowed a pair of runs in the fifth inning, which put the Red Sox ahead of the Tigers by a score of 5-2. The Tigers scored four runs in the eighth on Gates Brown’s RBI single and Willie Horton’s three-run home run off Red Sox reliever Dick Radatz (4-4). Fred Gladding (2-1) pitched scoreless eighth and ninth innings for the Tigers and picked up the victory. Gladding allowed no hits and struck out four batters.

The 21-year-old McLain would finish the 1965 season at 16-6 with a 2.61 ERA. He struck out 192 batters in 220.1 innings pitched.

 

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Yaz Rides Cycle for Five-RBI Game

 

This Week in 1960s Baseball

(May 14, 1965) At Fenway Park, Boston Red Sox left fielder Carl Yastrzemski drove in five runs in a losing effort to the Detroit Tigers, 12-8.

Yastrzemski’s five-RBI game was built on a five for five batting performance – hitting for the cycle plus an extra home run (and a walk).

On May 14, 1965, <a rel=

On May 14, 1965, Carl Yastrzemski hit for the cycle plus an extra home run (and a walk). He drove in five runs.

Yastrzemski’s first hit was a two-run home run off Detroit starter Denny McLain in the bottom of the first.

In the second inning, Yastrzemski ripped a three-run homer off McLain, putting the Red Sox up 5-0. The Tigers came back with five runs in the top of the third inning to tie the game.

Yastrzemski drew a walk off Tiger reliever Ed Rakow in the fourth inning, and tripled off Rakow in the sixth. In the bottom of the eighth, Yaz singled off Larry Sherry. Then in the bottom of the tenth he doubled off Terry Fox, the game’s winner, to complete the cycle-plus.

The Tigers won the game in the top of the tenth by scoring four runs off Bosox reliever Dick Radatz. An RBI double by Don Demeter, an RBI single by Willie Horton, and Norm Cash’s two-run double gave the Tigers the 12-8 victory.

Yastrzemski would finish the 1965 season batting .312, second in the American League to Tony Oliva’s .321. He would lead the major leagues in doubles that year with 45.

 

What a Beautiful Swing

 

Glancing Back, and Remembering Jim Northrup

It would be hard to find a picture of Jim Northrup swinging a bat that didn’t reveal the beauty of his swing: level, compact with excellent arm extension, picture perfect.

Jim Northrup had a career batting average of .267. He batted .295 in 1969, with 25 home runs.

Jim Northrup had a career batting average of .267. He batted .295 in 1969, with 25 home runs.

He was also a solid fielder with a good arm who could play any of the outfield positions. He was a valuable member of the Detroit Tigers for more than a decade.

Northrup was signed by the Tigers in 1960 and made his major league debut at the end of the 1964 season. By 1966 he was playing regularly for the Tigers, sharing time on a talented outfield roster for Detroit that included Al Kaline, Willie Horton, Mickey Stanley and Gates Brown.

His best season came in 1968, when Northrup played a pivotal role in the Tigers’ success that season. He hit .264 with 21 home runs and 90 RBIs. He also had 29 doubles and seven triples. He was outstanding in the 1968 World Series against the St. Louis Cardinals, batting .250 with two home runs and eight RBIs, including a grand slam in Game Six and a key hit off Bob Gibson in the Tigers’ come-from-behind victory in the deciding seventh game.

Grand slams were something of a specialty for Northrup in 1968. In addition to his World Series blast, he hit four grand slams during the regular season, including two in one game and three in a single week.

He followed up in 1969 with another solid season, batting .295 with 25 home runs and 66 RBIs. From 1966 through 1972 as a regular for Detroit, Northrup hit .270 and averaged 24 doubles, 17 home runs and 67 RBIs per season.

During the 1968 season, Jim Northrup hit three grand slam home runs in a single week … two of them in one game. He finished that season with 21 home runs and a career-high 90 runs batted in.

During the 1968 season, Jim Northrup hit three grand slam home runs in a single week … two of them in one game. He finished that season with 21 home runs and a career-high 90 runs batted in.

After 11 seasons in Detroit, he was sent to the Montreal Expos and, 21 games later, was purchased by the Baltimore Orioles. He played for Baltimore in 1975 and then retired with 1,254 hits and a career batting average of .267.

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When a Great Outfielder Came Up Short

 

Glancing Back, and Remembering Mickey Stanley

The Detroit Tigers of the mid-to-late 1960s had plenty of run-scoring firepower throughout the batting order … with the likes of hitters such as Al Kaline, Norm Cash, Willie Horton, Bill Freehan, Jim Northrup and Dick McAuliffe – all of whom could hit for average and power. Offensive prowess like that made the Tigers the perfect team for an outstanding center fielder like Mickey Stanley, whose excellent arm and glove made him one of the best American League center fielders in the late 1960s, and one of the most versatile at World Series time.

A Detroit Tiger for his entire 15-year career, Mickey Stanley won four Gold Gloves in the outfield.

A Detroit Tiger for his entire 15-year career, Mickey Stanley won four Gold Gloves in the outfield.

Stanley spent his entire 15-year major league career with the Tigers. He was signed by Detroit in 1961 and made his debut with the Tigers at the end of the 1964 season. His excellent fielding ability made him worth keeping on the roster in a part-time role, and Stanley hit often enough to confirm that he was capable of being more than a late-inning defensive replacement. Stanley hit .289 as a part-timer in 1966, and had become the Tigers’ starting center fielder by 1968.

1968 was the year of the Tigers, as Detroit took the American League pennant by 12 games. Stanley hit .259 that season while winning the first of three consecutive Gold Gloves. (He would win four Gold Gloves altogether during his career.) Toward the end of the regular season, Tigers manager Mayo Smith approached the league’s best center fielder about switching to shortstop, especially for the post-season. Stanley replaced the light-hitting Ray Oyler at shortstop for the Series, allowing the Tigers to take advantage of the bats of Kaline, Horton & Northrup (who replaced Stanley in center) throughout the Series … which the Tigers won in seven games over the St. Louis Cardinals.

Mickey Stanley was an outfielder for all but 16 games of his major league career. He played nine games at shortstop at the end of the 1968 season, and moved to full-time shortstop for the 1968 World Series, making only two errors in 32 fielding chances.

Mickey Stanley was an outfielder for all but 16 games of his major league career. He played nine games at shortstop at the end of the 1968 season, and moved to full-time shortstop for the 1968 World Series, making only two errors in 32 fielding chances.

That season marked the first time Stanley had played shortstop at any level of organized baseball.

Stanley hit only .235 in 1969, but reached new career highs with 16 home runs and 70 RBIs. He hit for a career-high .292 in 1971, and set a personal best in power production with 17 home runs in 1973, the year he won his fourth Gold Glove award.

Stanley retired after the 1978 season. He finished with a .248 career batting average.

 

 

 

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Make Mine a Mc-Thirty

 

Lights Out: Denny McLain Becomes Baseball’s Last 30-Game Winner

When: September 14, 1968

Where:  Tiger Stadium, Detroit, Michigan

Game Time: 3:00

Attendance: 33,688

 

Only one man on earth knows what it feels like to be a 30-game winner. That man is Denny McLain, and that feeling came to him in a game he nearly gave away.

Denny McLain was 31-6 with a 1.96 ERA in 1968. He pitched 28 complete games, six of them shutouts.

Denny McLain was 31-6 with a 1.96 ERA in 1968. He pitched 28 complete games, six of them shutouts.

McLain was a bulldozer all season long, the league’s best pitcher pitching for the league’s best team. His first two starts resulted in no decisions, but he won his next five starts, was 8-1 at the end of May and 14-2 at the end of June. McLain went 7-1 in July to become a 20-game winner before August 1, and was 5-2 in August to enter the season’s final month with a 26-5 record.

He won his first three starts in September, and the Oakland Athletics came to Detroit on September 14 to face McLain with his 29-5 record and a 1.95 ERA. A’s starter Chuck Dobson and McLain traded zeroes over the first three innings. The A’s scored two runs in the top of the fourth with Reggie Jackson’s twenty-seventh home run of the year. Then the Tigers chased Dobson in the bottom of the fourth with a three-run home run by Norm Cash.

The A’s came back in the top of the fifth, as Bert Campaneris singled in Dave Duncan to tie the score at 3-3. Jackson put the A’s back on top in the sixth inning with his twenty-eighth home run, and the game remained 4-3 through the eighth inning.

McLain retired Sal Bando, Jackson and Dick Green in order in the top of the ninth, throwing a third strike past Green for his tenth strikeout of the game. In the bottom of the ninth, Al Kaline led off with a walk. Dick McAuliffe hit a pop foul to Bando, and then Mickey Stanley singled off A’s pitcher Diego Segui, sending Kaline to third.

Denny McLain was the epitome of balanced productivity during his Cy Young season in 1968. He was 14-2 through June, and 17-4 during the second half of the season.

Denny McLain was the epitome of balanced productivity during his Cy Young season in 1968. He was 14-2 through June, and 17-4 during the second half of the season.

The next batter, Jim Northrup, smashed a hard grounder to Danny Cater at first.  Cater fielded the ball and threw to third to keep Kaline from scoring, but the ball got by Bando, allowing Kaline to score the tying run and advancing Stanley to third. Willie Horton singled to drive in Stanley with the winning run, the run that made Denny McLain the first 30-game winner in the American League in 37 years, and the last man to do it in the Twentieth Century.

 

 

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Tiger Power

 

Homer Happy: Willie Horton

There was plenty of power to be found in the Detroit Tigers lineup during the 1960s. Pitchers facing the Tigers were taking on the bats of Al Kaline, Norm Cash, Bill Freehan, Jim Northrup and Dick McAuliffe. At the opening of the 1960s, the Tigers had added the reigning American League home run champion in the person of Rocky Colavito, who averaged 35 home runs for the Tigers over the next 4 seasons.

 In 15 seasons with the Tigers, Horton batted .276 with 262 home runs and 886 RBIs.

In 15 seasons with the Tigers, Horton batted .276 with 262 home runs and 886 RBIs.

When Colavito was dealt to the Kansas City Athletics after the 1963 season, he was replaced in left field for 1964 by Don Demeter, acquired over the winter from the Philadelphia Phillies. However, in September of 1964, the Tigers brought up an outfielder who had hit 28 home runs and batted in 99 runs at Syracuse in the International League. That outfielder was Willie Horton. In 25 games with the Tigers at the end of the 1964 season, Horton hit only one home run with 10 RBIs, but he earned a shot at the starting job in left field, and the next spring he won that job.

Horton was a stand-out in his first full season with the Tigers, batting .273 with 29 home runs and 104 runs batted in. He would be a fixture in the heart of Detroit’s lineup for the next decade. From 1965 through 1969, he averaged 28 home runs and 89 RBIs per season.

In 1968, Horton’s bat was pivotal to the Tigers’ successful pennant run. He had a career-best 36 home runs and batted in 85 runs, fourth highest in the American League. During the 1968 World Series against the St. Louis Cardinals, Horton batted .304 with one home run and three RBIs.

Horton’s power numbers declined gradually through the 1970s, with the single exception being 1975 when he hit 25 homers with 92 RBIs. In 15 seasons with the Tigers, Horton batted .276 with 262 home runs and 886 RBIs. In 1977 the Tigers traded Horton to the Texan Rangers, and he played for five teams over the next four seasons. He had one more stand-out season, in 1979, batting .279 for the Seattle Mariners with 29 home runs and 106 RBIs. He retired after the 1980 season with 325 career home runs in 18 major league seasons.

Horton was a four-time All-Star.

 

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