Tuesday, December 20, 2022

Denis Menke; An Enigma


TRIVIA WINNER: Congrats to Rich Klein of Grand Prairie, TX, who identified the answer we were looking for in that in 1964 Bill Skowron played 73 games for each of two teams; Washington and the White Sox. By the way he also hit into 7 double-plays with each but we were looking for the Games Played. The Prize: Starbucks Gift Card.

NEW TRIVIA CONTEST:  By answering the TRIVIA QUESTION CORRECTLY you are automatically entered into a weekly drawing for a Starbucks Gift Card.  Please enter via and please put your mailing address in with the answer so we can send you the gift card in the mail.

ANSWER to the Trivia question in the previous column: Bill Skowron played in 73 games in 1964 for both the Senators and the White Sox.

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NEW TRIVIA QUESTION:  Who was the starting shortstop Denis Menke would eventually replace when he came up to the Braves in 1962?

NOTE: A Special Shout-out to Craig McGraw who sent us a photo of him using his winning Starbucks card in Mexico at 88 Pesos per cup. Thanx Craig, Drink UP!

When it comes to steady players in the 1960s the word enigma comes to mind when discussing shortstop Denis Menke. Menke was pretty much a starting shortstop for the Braves, the Astros, and later in his career as a member of the Big Red Machine. He had flashes of real positives at the plate mixed in with some downers. He held his job despite probably being one of the worst fielding shortstops in the NL.

Menke came up with the Milwaukee Braves in 1962 as a 21 year old with some pop in his bat. In 1963 he became a starter with modest success, but in 1964 he became a start shortstop. By today's standards he'd likely get a 6-year contract worth $150 million. In reality back then he was making about $20,000 a year. That was far less than minimum wage today (Today at $15 an hour an employee makes about $31,000). When he signed with the Braves he was given a $175,000 bonus. That would be $1.6 million today.

In his breakout 1964 season he smacked 20 homers, batted .283 and drove in 65 Runs.  He rivaled many of the start shortstops of the era, and was well ahead of many as there were light hitters such as Roy McMillan, Hal Lanier and Al Weis around at the time. Where he did not shine is in the field. In 1964 he committed 25 errors at short and fielded a lowly .964. It became his trademark.

Weighted against a modern day statistic; Total Fielding Runs Above Average, Menke was horrible at -25. It makes a purist wonder how could they keep him on the field. He was moved around to second and third base occasionally but a natural shortstop, the era was a victim of him. He played, he hit and drove in runs but often gave up more than he drove in.

Menke was sent to Houston in a deal with Denny Lemaster which brought shortstop Sonny Jackson to Atlanta. He was later moved to Cincinnati in the massive and lopsided Joe Morgan deal. He would play behind Dave Concepcion there. He made the All-Star Team in 1969 and received a few votes for MVP despite making 24 errors and the following year made 28 errors but batted .304. It was his only .300 plus season. His lifetime BA was .250 with 101 homers over 13 seasons.

Menke would go on to coach in the minors and the majors with several teams. He died in 2020 at the age of 80.  

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