Tuesday, June 16, 2020

The STRONGEST Hitters of the 1960s

TRIVIA WINNER: Congrats to Jim Bowersox of Cincinnati, Ohio, who correctly answered the trivia question about the fact Red Schoendienst managed the St. Louis Cardinals in 1968. This week a new Trivia Contest. The Prize this week again is a Starbucks Gift Card. 

TRIVIA QUESTION: Of the five home runs hit completely out of Dodger Stadium, only one was hit by a Dodger player. Who was that player?  
Red Schoendienst managed the St. Louis Cardinals in 1968. He had a very successful playing career with the Braves, Cards and Giants, then went onto manage St. Louis in 14 seasons and 1999 games. He won two pennants and one World Series (1967).

 If you were to measure the strongest hitters of the 1960's, not the best hitters and not even the guys with the most home runs, but the "strongest" hitters, who would they be? We are talking about guys who if you asked "could they ball break in half when they hit it" strong. Guys who "MASHED" the ball. There are several candidates but we'll look at maybe the top five. I understand there are guys who are not on THIS list who should be, but it is up to you to decide yourself who should be on this list. (Noted others at the end of the column).

It is hard to imagine any stronger left handed hitter than Willie Stargell. A guy who could not only hit the ball to the moon, but to the "Stars." Seven times he hit the ball over the roof at Forbes Field in Pittsburgh when no one else did it more than once. Done only 18 times in the field's history, it was a massive and high shot to say the least.

Manager Chuck Tanner said of Stargell “He doesn’t just hit pitchers, he takes away their dignity.”

Only five baseballs have been hit completely OUT of Dodger Stadium, and Stargell did it twice, including the longest at 506 feet. I actually was at one of those games and heard the other on the radio. Just the sight of big Willie pinwheeling his bat getting ready to time a pitch was enough to send shivers down the spine of any pitcher. And when it was all over, "Willie the Starg" would belt 475 homers and win an MVP Award.
From the right side of the plate, were there any who were more powerful than Harmon Killebrew? I mean c'mon; his name speaks volumes, "Killer." The site of the stocky Idaho  farm boy coming to the plate meant whatever pitch was thrown had a chance to go as far as one could imagine. Perhaps Crash Davis said it best in "Bull Durham," when he told Nuke Laloosh, "Anything that travels that far ought to have a damn stewardess on it, don’t you think?”

Killebrew made the 500 home run club, with 573 and like Stargell would win an MVP Award. Eight times he would belt 40 or more homers in a season, six times either leading the AL or landing in a tie. 

Willie McCovey just looked like he was going to hit anything coming his way into the stratosphere. "Stretch" came to the plate and held the bat low, swinging it back and forth, then all of sudden it was held high. The pitcher knew if it was going to be a low strike he might as well turn and watch it end up in the Bay. McCovey would close his 22 year career with 521 homers and an MVP Award.
Number four has to be Frank Howard. Hondo was 6'7" and was really headed to the NBA (drafted by the Philadelphia Warriors) but chose baseball as a career. His ROY of the year campaign of 1960 only set the stage for what would happen not by his first team, the Dodgers, but by the lowly Senators who acquired him. His home run total was 382 but from 1968-1970 he was THE man. Twice belting 44 homers sandwiched around a 48 home run campaign. 

Pitchers saw the massive frame approaching with a 37-inch, 35-ounce toothpick in his hand and they shuttered. At 255 pounds he was solid from head to toe and the muscles might have put Ted Kluszeswki to shame if MLB had let Howard play sleeveless. C'mon, he was so big and powerful he ranked three nicknames "Hondo", "The Washington Monument" and "The Capitol Punisher."
Fifth on our list is Dick Allen. He burst on the scene as a rookie in 1964 and with 29 homers was named ROY. He only hit 40 once in his career which was plagued by injury and battles with the front office, but make no mistake about it, he was a strong force at the plate. He was at the top of the league twice in home runs and ended with 351 and an MVP Award to go with his Rookie of the Year.

Honorable mention goes to sluggers Frank Robinson, Dave Kingman, Dick Stuart, Mickey Mantle, Rocky Colavito, Orlando Cepeda, Boog Powell, Willie Horton and Jim Ray Hart. Guys like Mantle, Aaron and Mays were not on this list because they were more pure hitters who happened to hit home runs, rather than hitters who mashed the ball into oblivion. Although a good case can be made for Mantle.

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