Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Yankees & A's; A Wierd Ending

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TRIVIA QUESTION:  Pete Lovrich became the first player from his university to reach the major leagues. Several others have made it since. Where did Lovrich go to school?

ANSWER TO TRIVIA QUESTION IN THE PREVIOUS COLUMN: In a career which spanned 19 seasons and seven different teams, Dick Schofield suited up in a Cardinal uniform three different times. He broke in as a St. Louis rookie in 1953 before being traded to Pittsburgh in 1958. He followed those years with stops with the Giants, the Yankees and the Dodgers before heading back to St. Louis in 1968 as a free agent. The Cards eventually traded him to Boston who traded him back to St. Louis two years later. After 34 games the Cards sent him away for good. This time to Milwaukee where he finished his career in 1971 at the age of 36. In all he spent eight years with St. Louis.

It was one of the wildest games of the 1960's. There were 21 runs were scored over 12 innings and both starting pitchers each gave up six runs before being pulled. The real story was it would end with the winning run scored without a hit, with the winning pitcher getting his only big league win ever. When the Yankees pulled into Kansas City on July 15, 1963 they were 20 games over .500 and up by 5.5 games on their way to winning the AL pennant by 10 full games.


It was a game in which New York should have dominated. They were starting Whitey Ford, who would lead the league in wins and finish 24-7. He was facing Dave Wickersham of the A's. He was a pretty good pitcher who would close out the year 12-15 for a lackluster team. 
Leading 1-0 on a Johnny Blanchard homer, Ford went into the third inning pitching well enough. A walk to Bobby Del Greco, a triple by Gino Cimoli and a bunt put two runs across and the A's led 2-1. Ed Charles hit the first of his two homers in the fourth and it was 3-1. New York scored three in the fifth off Wickersham and went ahead 4-3. 


The A's fought back, and on a pair of singles and a double went up 5-4. The Yankees scored two in the sixth and Wickersham was gone, with John Wyatt taking over. Charles hit his second homer in the bottom of the inning and manager Ralph Houk had seen enough. Ford was gone, relieved by Stan Williams.
Wyatt and Williams battled each other into the ninth. In the top of the inning Blanchard drove in a run to give New York a 7-6 lead but Norm Siebern came back and drove in a run to tie it in the bottom of the inning off reliever Marshall Bridges. Ed Rakow and Bill Kunkel pitched a scoreless 10th but in the 11th, New York broke through.


Tom Tresh led off with a walk and Joe Pepitone and Elston Howard followed with back to back doubles. Later in the inning Clete Boyer singled to drive in Howard the New York put up a three spot, leading 10-7. It looked like it was all over. Closer Hal Reniff was called on to wrap it up. The A's were having none of it.


A walk, an error, a Jerry Lumpe double and a Doc Edwards single brought home three and it was all tied up at the end of 11. It was now 10-10 and the faithful of the 16,000-plus fans who stayed around for nearly four hours, were being treated to a game.


Little known rookie, Pete Lovrich took the mound for Kansas City in the 12th. A one out single by Bobby Richardson and a walk to Tresh put the game in jeopardy again. Lovrich reached back and struck out Pepitone and got Howard to ground out. It was the A's turn and they faced Bill Stafford who had relieved Jim Bouton (normally a starter who pitched to one batter in the 11th) who had relieved Reniff.
After there was one out, Stafford hit Del Greco with a pitch putting him on first. Lovrich was left to bat and laid down a perfect bunt moving Del Greco into scoring position. Cimoli drew a walk as Stafford didn't want to give him anything good to hit. If he did walk it set up force plays on the bags. Then the unexpected. He walked Wayne Causey to load the bases. 


Jerry Lumpe strode to the plate with two out, the bases loaded and the score tied 10-10. Lumpe hung in there and when the dust was settled, he'd drawn a walk, Del Greco scored and the game ended with the winning run coming across without a hit. It was a true "walk off" win for the A's. In a game which featured 21 runs on 30 hits, it was three walks and a hit batter which brought the winning run across. 
In all there were 13 walks issued in a game which took 3:44 minutes to play. Lovrich got the win. It was the ONLY win in his career. Lovrich only played the one season, pitched in just 20 innings and gave up 18 earned runs, five homers and struck out 16. He finished 1-1. The 20 year-old came to the plate once in his major league career and it was to bunt Bobby Del Greco to second base to set up the winning run in the only game he ever won. It doesn't get any better than that.


Thank you to those of you who purchased my book after reading this column. It has been appreciated. 

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Wednesday, September 12, 2018

The Double NO-NO

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TRIVIA QUESTION:  In his 19 big league seasons, infielder Dick Schofield played for seven different teams. He played for the Cardinals for eight of those seasons. How many different stints over that time did he play for St. Louis ?

ANSWER TO TRIVIA QUESTION IN THE PREVIOUS COLUMN: While Dave Nicholson was setting strike out records on the South Side of Chicago with the White Sox, it wasn't too much later the North Side got it's whiff of the Windy City. Dave Kingman came on the scene for the Cubs in 1978 and for two fulls seasons let the wind fly by striking out 111 and 131 times. The difference however between Kingman and Nicholson was Kingman did connect often enough and belted 28 homers in 1978 and 48 to lead the NL in 1979. In all during his career Kingman had 13 seasons in which he struck out at least 100 times. He played 16 seasons.

No-hitters are rare in major league baseball, coming at just a few each season. They are the stuff dreams are made of, and if you are a fan who was lucky enough to be at a game in which a pitcher tossed a no-no, it would be a memory for life. Imagine fans who had tickets to the Cardinals-Giants series in late September, 1968 at Candlestick Park. Imagine attending both games on September 17th and 18th? Imagine seeing back to back no-hit gems. Oh to be a season ticket holder that year!

It happened and it was one of the most rare feats in baseball history. On Tuesday night only 9,456 people turned out to see Bob Gibson face Gaylord Perry. It was the year of the pitcher, Gibson was having an incredible season in which he finished 22-9 and an amazing 1.12 ERA. Perry was 16-15 2.45 to finish a strong season. Gibson was marvelous, allowing just four hits. Perry was UN-hittable; literally.
Second baseman Ron Hunt, batting second, came up in the first inning and blasted one of his two homers on the year to give the Giants a 1-0 lead. Perry made it stand up. Perry walked only two and struck out eight different Cardinals in recording his nine strikeouts. The Cardinals never threatened and when Perry shut down Lou Brock (batting for Gibson), Bobby Tolan and Curt Flood in the ninth, it was all over.

Giant fans jumped for joy. For 1:40 minutes, a very quick game, San Francisco put the hurt on the Cardinals whom they still trailed by 11 games in the race for the NL title, eventually captured by St. Louis. But the joy was short lived. The next day a measly 4,703 fans turned out to see one of the greatest and yet rarest feats in the 100 year history of game; a second no-hitter. It was the revenge no-hitter if you will.

The Cardinals sent journeyman pitcher Ray Washburn to the mound, who during the year of the pitcher, was 12-7 at the time. San Francisco countered with Bobby Bolin. Washburn was having what would be his best season and finished 14-8, 2.26. Bolin had been better and was near the end of his best run. He'd close it out with a 10-5 record and a 1.99 ERA.
The two squared off in the afternoon after a night game. Washburn was magnificent if not a bit wild. He would walk five batters while striking out eight. Both pitchers were terrific for six innings. The Cardinals got the scoring going in the seventh when a one out single by Orlando Cepeda and a double by Mike Shannon made it 1-0.

The only threat to the no-no came in the seventh when Washburn issued a lead off walk to Hunt. After he struck out Willie Mays for the second time on the day, he issued a walk to Willie McCovey. Jim Ray Hart hit a gounder to second which Phil Gagliano fielded and tossed to Cepeda. Both runners moved up putting them both in scoring position. Washburn reared back and struck out Dick Dietz to end the inning and the threat.

The Cards scored a second run in the eighth when an infield single by Flood scored Dick Schofield from third to make it 2-0. Ducky had doubled and moved to third on a sacrifice bunt. 

After issuing a walk in the eighth, Washburn, taking a 2-0 lead into the ninth faced his most difficult test. He'd face Hunt, Mays and McCovey again. Two harmless infield grounders and a fly ball to center cemented Washburn's place in baseball history. He had pitched a no-hitter the very day after his team was no-hit by the same club and it took a bit longer. The game lasted 2:19. Amazing to say the least. The fact only 4700 fans saw the second game was pretty sad. It would be nice to hear from any fan who was at both games. Now that would be amazing.

Thank you to those of you who purchased my book after reading this column. It has been appreciated. 

Please share this blog with your friends and colleagues and leave a comment at the bottom of the blog if you have one. Thank YOU VERY MUCH!!

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Wednesday, September 5, 2018

The Nicholson Phenomena

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TRIVIA QUESTION:  There was another Dave who played on the other side of Chicago a few years later than Nicholson, and who struck out a lot. Who was he?
 
ANSWER TO TRIVIA QUESTION IN THE PREVIOUS COLUMN: Larry Jaster's first loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers came against Bill Singer on August 25th, 1967. Jaster pitched well but lost 2-1 and it came as he committed the ultimate pitcher's sin; he gave up a lead off double to opposing pitcher Singer. Jaster and the Cardinals were leading 1-0 in the sixth when Singer doubled and eventually came home as Lou Johnson and Willie Davis drove in runs. The Dodgers scored two in the inning and the Jaster winning streak came to an end. He had beaten them six straight times, five of them shutouts, all consecutive.

It's not often a player who misses the ball about half the time sticks around for more than a couple years in the big leagues, but then again there was Dave Nicholson. Nicholson might have fit right in, in today's free swining-home runs-at any cost atmosphere. In the 1960's though, Nicholson was a rather strange player.
In 1419 major league at-bats, he struck out 573 times. It was an amazing 40 percent of the time he came to the plate and walked away without hitting the ball fair. When you consider the fact he only walked 219 times, the whiffs were problematic. He was a slugger but never really achieved slugger status.

The height of Nicholson's ineptness came with the White Sox in 1963. It was his best overall year. He did hit 22 dingers, but only managed to eke out a .229 batting average. The mess started with his coming to the plate 520 time but with only 449 official at bats. In those 449 at bats he struck out 175 to lead the AL!

He did have 123 hits and drove in 70 runs. Imagine if he'd only struck out half as many times, how many runs he could have driven in. The Sox were a pretty good team in 1963 and deserved better. They finished second with 94 wins. 

The following season Nicholson saw his playing time reduced and only batted 351 times but still managed to strike out 126 times while seeing his average dip to .204. It seemed the Sox had seen enough of him but couldn't really find any takers. 
In 1965 he struck out 40 times in 85 at bats and that was the end of that. He was traded to Houston in a minor deal and improved on all his statistics after moving to the National League. He did bat 280 times with 10 homers, a .246 BA and only 92 strike outs in an Astro's uniform before being shipped off again. This time to Atlanta where he played in only 10 games before his career ended for good.

Swinging Dave Nicholson finished his career with a lifetime .212 BA and 61 home runs to go along with his 573 punch outs. 


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Wednesday, August 29, 2018

The Jaster Affect

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TRIVIA QUESTION:  In 1967 Larry Jaster beat the Dodgers 8-4 in his first start against them in the new season. When was the first time Jaster actually took a loss from the Dodgers?

 
ANSWER TO TRIVIA QUESTION IN THE PREVIOUS COLUMN: After winning the AL Pennant with 92 victories in 1967, the Boston Red Sox fell into oblivion in 1968. They dropped to 4th place with 86 wins. In the "Year of the Pitcher" 1967's MVP Carl Yastrzemski went from his Triple Crown season of .326, 44 HR and 121 RBI to winning the batting title at .301 while belting 23 homers and driving in 74.

Larry Jaster is a name which struck fear into Dodger fans and hitters during the 1966 season. He became known as the "Dodger Killer" or the "Creeper" because of the way he handled Los Angeles. Against the rest of the league he was well, rather pedestrian. And then there was that whole "Grand Slam" thing which you may be surprised to learn was more than just a World Series match up.

Jaster came to the Cardinals in 1965 as a reliever about to become a starter. The Redbirds had fine pitching including ace Bob Gibson, Nellie Briles and a young rookie by the name of Steve Carlton. Throw in Ray Washburn, Curt Simmons and Ray Sadecki and you had a formidable starting staff. Jaster got into four games, started three, completed all three, won all three and finished the season 3-0 with a 1.61 ERA.
On September 17, 1965 he made his debut in relief of Curt Simmons and tossed a perfect 1-2-3 inning. It was, as history would dictate, against the Dodgers. Before the season ended he would beat Houston twice and the Giants once. When 1966 rolled around he would take aim at the Dodgers.

On April 25th he squared off against Claude Osteen. Jaster tossed a 7-hit shutout, striking out seven and walking none. He was 2-1. On the July 4th weekend he would face Los Angeles again, and again he tossed a shutout allowing just three hits in beating Don Drysdale. Jaster was now 3-2. Three weeks later he beat Drysdale again with a five-hit shutout, striking out eight to run his record to 6-2.
On August 19th, another shutout against the Dodgers. This time a five-hitter and he was now 8-3. On September 28th, in his final start of the season he faced rookie pitcher and future Hall of Famer, Don Sutton. Jaster ran his record to 11-5 with another shutout on four hits. Five straight starts against the Dodgers and five shutouts which combined with his one relief appearance the previous season means Jaster shutout Los Angeles 46 consecutive innings. Against the rest of the 1966 National League he was 6-5.

But it did not stop there because in the 1968 World Series Jaster came to grips with another legacy; the Grand Slam Home Run. He came in to relieve in Game 6; a game the Tigers would go on to win 13-1. The key was in a big 10 run inning, Jaster would face Jim Northrup. The significance might be lost on the average fan but not the baseball historian.
You see, Northrup came to the plate with the bases loaded against Jaster. Northrup led the majors in 1968 by hitting four Grand Slam homers. A remarkable feat when you consider the all time, life time record for Slams was set by Lou Gehrig with 23. Jaster, as history would have it, gave up two grand slams himself in 1968.

It was analytics on steroids. It was the perfect match up of the guy with the most grand slams versus the guy who gave up the most grand slams, on the biggest stage in the sport. The result was to be expected; Northrup blasted a Jaster pitch into the right field seats to clear the bases. It made the score 8-0 and Jaster was removed.

When the series ended Jaster was gone to Montreal and he set another milestone; he threw the first major league pitch in Canada. He would finish the season 1-6 and moved onto Atlanta where by the end of 1972 his career was over.

During the 1970 season it should be noted he was involved in another bit or irony. He was struggling and in a game against his old club, Montreal, he faced former Dodger Ron Fairly. Fairly hit a grand slam and a few days later Jaster was back in the minor leagues.

Jaster ended his career with a record of 35-33 and forever many places in baseball history.


Thank you to those of you who purchased my book after reading this column. It has been appreciated. 

Please share this blog with your friends and colleagues and leave a comment at the bottom of the blog if you have one. Thank YOU VERY MUCH!!

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Wednesday, August 22, 2018

The Fall of the Birds

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TRIVIA QUESTION:  After winning the AL Pennant in 1967 where did the Red Sox finish the following year; 1968?
 
ANSWER TO TRIVIA QUESTION IN THE PREVIOUS COLUMN: One of the better clutch hitters of the 1960's Johnny Blanchard was a gem in the 1960 and 1961 World Series for the Yankees. In 1960 against the Pirates he hit .455 and came back in 1961 to bat .400 against the Reds. Included were two homers and five RBI in nine games

When the 1966 Orioles swept the Dodgers in four straight in the World Series after winning 97 games, everyone figured the Birds were on their way to a dynasty. Frank and Brooks Robinson were in their prime and Paul Blair was sailing along. A nice crop of young players led by Andy Etchebarren, Curt Blefary, Mark Belanger, Curt Motton, Dave May and a 24 year old Mike Epstein.
On the mound they were solid. Steve Barber, Tom Phoebus, Dave McNally, Jim Hardin, Wally Bunker and a 21 year old Jim Palmer. Veterans such as Pete Richert and Moe Drabowsky along with Eddie Watt were also in their prime.
Then how in the world did the 97 win O's in 1966 fall to 6th place with 76-85 record 15.5 games behind the Boston Red Sox? Frank Robinson had a solid year and no one could have expected him to duplicate his 1966 Triple Crown Year. Going from 44 homers to 30 while still hitting .311 was not the problem. Brooks Robinson had almost an identical season from the year before. Boog Powell did falter. 
Powell drove in half as many runs in 1967, his homers dropped from 34 to 13 and his batting average fell 53 points. Luis Aparicio saw his average drop 50 points and his steals fell off. With Belanger waiting in the wings, he was in his last year with Baltimore. Davey Johnson was about the same as was Etchebarren. Blefary had a similar season and Blair established himself as a star while leading the AL in triples and batting .293. 

Russ Snyder was an issue. After batting .306 during the championship year he lost 70 points in his BA the following season. He was dealt the following season to the Indians along with Aparicio in the deal which brought Don Buford to the O's.

When the hitting slipped the pitching had to as well. In 1966 McNally (13), Palmer (15), Bunker (10) and Barber (10) combined for 48 wins. The following season they worked together to win 17 games and only Phoebus won in double figures with 14. Palmer, was plagued by arm injuries in 1967.

During the next two seasons he struggled and after only 49 innings following the title season he was sent to the minors where he finally regained his form after undergoing surgery. He actually had been placed on waivers in 1968 and was left open in the expansion draft. Neither the Royals nor the Pilots selected him. In 1969 he returned to join the rotation and set off on being one of the best pitchers in baseball for several years. Eight times he would win 20 games or more.

The defense was about the same when it came to making errors, although Aparicio went from 17 to 25. They went from 755 to 654 in runs scored and in homers they dropped from 175 to 138 but still ranked third in the Al. They were fourth in runs scored. They actually gave up nine fewer runs in 1967.

In 1966 the club was about even home and away but were six games worse at home in 1967. They never won more than seven in a row and never lost more than six. The previous season they never lost more than four and that happened several times. 

Perhaps the reason lies in the fact they didn't get much worse, just everyone else got that much better. The pennant winning Red Sox improved by 20 games to 92 wins. And aside from a downturn in the home run category, there lies the rub.


Thank you to those of you who purchased my book after reading this column. It has been appreciated. 

Please share this blog with your friends and colleagues and leave a comment at the bottom of the blog if you have one. Thank YOU VERY MUCH!!

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