Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Walter Alston, Dean Among Managers

TRIVIA QUESTION:  How many World Series titles did Walter Alston's clubs win during his career?  

ANSWER TO TRIVIA QUESTION IN THE PREVIOUS COLUMN:  While first sacker Jim Gentile made his main mark with the Baltimore Orioles, it was the Brooklyn Dodgers who signed him originally. After a season in Los Angeles he was traded to the O's. 

No one could ever deny having great pitchers such as Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale made the basis of a winning team, but it takes a great manager to make that base into a formidable unit lasting more than a decade. While Walter Alston's teams won 2040 regular season games during his 23 year stint managing the Dodgers, 878 of those came in the decade of the 1960's.
Aside from finishing in 8th place twice at the end of the decade (after Koufax retired) and one 7th place finish, Alston won three pennants and finished in second place twice from 1960-69. His two World Series titles speak volumes as well. 

He didn't have the hitters Ralph Houk of the Yankees had. Houk also had the likes of Whitey Ford and other substantial pitchers. Alston stressed speed, pitching and defense along with a history of making the right moves at the right time.

In a game against Pittsburgh for instance in 1965, with the game scoreless in the 10th, he let pitcher Koufax lead off the bottom of the inning! Koufax drew a walk from Don Cardwell and came around to score the winning run. His mastery of using Maury Wills, whose On Base Percentage never reached higher than .355, to lead off and terrorize pitchers with his base stealing prowess, was masterful. Wills led the league in steals six times in the 1960s.

Dodger baseball in the mid 1960's basically consisted of the following. Wills walked, he stole second, Jim Gilliam sacrificed him to third and Willie Davis hit a sacrifice fly to bring Wills home. Koufax pitches a shutout and the Dodgers win 1-0. 
Alston was at his best in the middle years considering he won both pennants in 1965 and 1966. The 1965 team, which went on to beat the Twins in the World Series, finished in 7th place in NL hitting at .245 and a paltry 78 home runs. The 1966 team fared much better with 108 dingers and a .256 team BA. Still 8th in the league in homers, they were crushed by the O's in the Series 4-0.

During the 60's the club for the most part hung around the middle to bottom of the pack as a hitting team. Early on they did get strong years from Tommie Davis, Frank Howard and some others but pitching and defense is what held the Alston clubs together. The 1967 season was probably the Skipper's most frustrating. 

After losing Koufax, who retired after the 1966 season, due to arthritis, Drysdale remained strong despite his 13-16 record. Hitting was non existent as the club only smacked 82 home runs and finished 10th in team batting at .236, even lower the following year. In the year of the pitcher (1968) they only hit 67 homers with a .230 BA.

It was change which permeated 1967. The club traded Wills to Pittsburgh and Gene Michael took his place batting .202, while the newly acquired Bob Baily didn't deliver (.227), Koufax was gone, Gilliam retired and Ron Hunt arrived. Ron Fairly declined to hit .220, Wes Parker had an off season and while the pitching held up, only 23-year old Bill Singer had a winning record among the starters, 12-8. The team leader in home runs was part-time outfielder, Al Ferrara who belted 16 in only 122 games. He also lead the squad in batting .277.

Alston would manage through the 1976 season, winning one more pennant in 1974. By the way he spent his entire career as a manager on a one year contract, year to year. 

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