Tuesday, December 10, 2019

McCarver on Third with a Triple x 13

TRIVIA QUESTION: He was known as an outstanding pinch-hitter. So much so that in 411 games he appeared 159 in the pinch. Over 1000 plate appearances, he played five different positions and once hit .348 but did not qualify for the batting title. In his six year career he played for three different teams, two of them twice. Who was he?
ANSWER TO TRIVIA QUESTION IN THE PREVIOUS COLUMN:  In 1966, Marvelous Minnie Rojas was on the club and about to become one of the finest closers of the decade. However before Rojas blossomed in 1967, it was hard throwing big Bob Lee who led the Angels in Saves with 16. Rojas had 10. 

It's hard to imagine a catcher leading the league in triples but in 1966 the Cardinals Tim McCarver did exactly that. He gathered 13 of them! In fact, he's the only catcher to ever solely lead the league, either league, in triples in the history of modern baseball dating back to 1900. In 1972 Carlton Fisk tied for the league lead in the AL with Joe Rudi. No catcher besides McCarver led the majors in triples.

The 1966 season was an interesting one for the Cardinal catcher. He had been the regular at the position for the past two seasons. He played in more games this season than any other with 150, coming off his lowest of the 1960s the previous year at 113. It was his career high. He made the All-star team for the first time, he had the most hits (149) in his career, and his most at bats (543).

Despite McCarver's efforts the club finished 6th in the National League, well out of contention. The following year however, they rebounded, McCarver again shined and they won the pennant and the World Series. 

The fact McCarver hit 13 triples in 1966 was a real phenomenon.  Busch Stadium was moderately big but it wasn't like Forbes Field or Yankee Stadium with "triple alleys." It was only 386 to the power alleys and 414 to center. Interestingly enough, seven of the 13 triples were on the road. Of the 13 he hit one off of Sandy Koufax in what was the last and best year of Sandy's career. It came at Dodger Stadium. His last was on September first at home, and he hit two in the spacious Astrodome, but none in Pittsburgh's Forbes Field.

The rest of McCarver's career was involved in controversy on and off the field. Comments he made as a broadcaster infuriated several players and some fans. He was also involved in the Curt Flood trade to the Phillies which touched off the battle over the "reserve" clause.  

Despite his 1966 prowess with the league leading 13 triples, he never came close to double digits again in the three bagger department. The most he ever hit aside from 1966 was seven. His career total was 57 over 21 years or 2.71 per year. Subtract the 1966 season and you get 2.0 per year. To say it was a phenomenal season for the Cardinal catcher, would be an understatement. 

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