Wednesday, February 28, 2018

The Mick; Two Homer Hangover

TRIVIA QUESTION:  The 1961 Yankees were considered baseballs second greatest team of all time, behind the 1927 Yanks. Where did the Tigers finish in 1961?  

In 1966 the player who spent most of the time playing third base was bonus baby Bob Bailey. Bailey shared some of the time at third with utility super sub, Jose Pagan. Bailey played left field against left handed pitching that season. The following year he was traded to Los Angeles along with shortstop Gene Michael for Maury Wills who took over at third in Pittsburgh in 1967. It was the same Gene Michael who later became famous as the Yankees executive. 

It became common knowledge after Jim Bouton published his tell all book "Ball Four," that Mickey Mantle had been known on occasion to tie one on. Well, it was more "on" than "on occasion." Mantle's drinking and carousing became the stuff legends were made of, whether or not it was good for baseball or the player.

The story we're about to detail is based on one of these incidents. We say one because to be honest   there were six times in Mantle's career this same thing happened - with or without the hangover. The story is about his hitting two homers in a game against Detroit. Since this story was relayed by a reader of this blog we'll look at the most logical game by looking into the archives. It was a story told to him by his friend and former player Frank House. For the story we must go back to September 3rd, 1961. Mantle was in his prime and it was also the last time he'd homer twice in a game against the Tigers. It was also the final season in the big leagues for House.

Our reader found our column in the Facebook Group Growing UP in the 60's. It is a fun group dedicated to cool stuff and a cool era.

The story as told to our reader was told to him by House, who was a journeyman catcher with the Detroit Tigers. After reading the story we searched the archives and found the game in which we believe House was talking about. The story is slightly different than told to our reader so while we can't be 100 percent sure it's the same game, you get the picture.

It was September 3rd, 1961 and the Yanks had pretty much wrapped up one of the greatest seasons in baseball history. It was the season Roger Maris hit 61 and Mantle was challenging him. An injury forced Mickey out of the final games of the season and he would finish with 54.

The Tigers were 86 and 50 and the game was taking place in New York. House, who did not start that game but came in later. The catcher at the time smelled alcohol on Mantle's breath when he came to the plate in the first. It was evident from the Tiger players, Mantle had probably not even been to bed from his escapades the night before. Maris had hit no. 53 the day before while Mantle had a single and an RBI. Mantle was stuck on 49 homers at the time.

Watching from the stands were 55,676 people as Mantle stepped in to face Jim Bunning in the bottom of the first with New York trailing 1-0. With two out and Maris on first via a single Mantle promptly hit a Bunning pitch to the deepest part of right field for a two run homer. Yogi Berra followed with a solo shot and New York led 3-1.

The Tigers bench marveled how Mantle with a hangover could take one of the best pitchers in the big leagues so deep in the first. Mantle was not done. Bunning struck out Mantle in the fourth, and again  in the sixth. Meanwhile the Tigers were slowly building off Yankee pitching and took a 5-4 lead into the bottom of the ninth.

When Mickey led off the bottom of the ninth, the Yanks a run behind, he faced Gerry Staley. Mantle, still likely with a splitting headache, took Staley deep to right-center to tie it up. Before the inning ended New York got a three run blast from Elston Howard to walk off an 8-5 win. Ronnie Kline gave up the blast in relief of Staley.

Frank House was behind the plate in that fatal inning. He told our reader he asked Mantle after the second homer, where he went for dinner the night before, because he and some of the other players wanted to go there too. The story we are telling differs only slightly from the one retold by House to the reader, but it seems this was the most logical game, despite some minor differences in the telling.

How true the story is we'll never know. House died in 2005 at age 75, Mantle is long gone and memories have faded over the years. The interesting part of the story is you couldn't blame the old catcher if some of the dates and facts were missing or faded. Six times Mantle hit at least two homers in a game against Detroit and House was there for almost all of them.

May 13, 1955 (3 homers), June 20, 1956, August 4, 1956, June 21, 1960, April 26, 1961 and September 3, 1961.

Here is a note from the reader regarding his friendship with Frank "Pig" House.

I had a close friend by the name of Frank "Pig" House. Today a good bit of Bessemer is named after him. He was the bonding and insurance agent for the company I worked for as a estimator for 18 years. As the estimator I was blessed to get to meet often with Frank in office visits and over lunches or dinners on a one on one basis. The stories he told over years were outstanding. Personal stories that are not recorded anywhere. The man had a picture on his desk of him tagging out Nellie Fox at home plate in Tiger Stadium.

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, February 21, 2018

Two Saves the Day

TRIVIA QUESTION:  Based on this particular column, who was the third baseman who led his position in turning double plays for the 1966 Pirates?  

In 1978 at the age of 39 Gaylord Perry won 20 games in a season for the fifth and final time in his career. Playing for the San Diego Padres, Perry went 21-6 on his way to 314 wins. He did lose 265 games in his career but 22 years in the big leagues is a rare feat and his accomplishments put him in the Hall of Fame. He also won 19 games in two different seasons. 

Probably the most important defensive play in baseball is the "double play." The "Twin Killing," the "Pitcher's best friend," and there was never a better duo to perform this action than Bill Mazeroski and Gene Alley of the mid-1960's Pittsburgh Pirates. In 1966 the Bucs pulled off what seemed impossible; 215 double plays in 162 games. 

Mazeroski was in the middle of most of them at second base. The defensive whiz ripped off 161 twin killings (an all-time record), Alley was part of 128 and the man at the end of the play at first base, Donn Clendenon took part in 182. So fluent was the Pirate infield at turning ground balls into a pair of outs the Buc's pitching staff came to rely on them in a big way.

Pittsburgh was in the race until the final weekend battling it out with the Dodgers and Giants for the NL Pennant.  The Bucs pitching was awful and if it wasn't for the hitting of MVP Roberto Clemente, Clendenon, Willie Stargell and the center field duo of batting champion Matty Alou and Manny Mota along with the improved Alley, the pitching would have put them in the middle of the pack. Except, the pitching was aided tremendously by all those double plays. 

The team ERA was 3.52 and no starting pitcher had an ERA under 3.02 which is where ace Bob Veale led them. The other starters at 3.8 were Woody Fryman and Steve Blass while the aging Vernon Law was at 4.14. He'd had a 17 win comeback season in 1965 but was now at the end of the run. Tommie Sisk was at 4.14. 

The bullpen ERA's weren't bad but the hits per innings were. The team was near the bottom of the league in giving up both walks and hits. Overall the team saw 1463 innings with 1445 hits and another 463 walks. Pirate pitchers basically had men on base every inning of every game with a WHiP of 1.3. But they did induce ground balls and ranked second in the league in giving up the least home runs.  

He may not have seemed like much of an acquisition but the man who became the all important closer for Pittsburgh in 1966 was Pete Mikkelsen. He basically shared time with Roy Face who had a decent season but was giving up the long ball. Mikkelsen, picked up from the Yankees, not only gave up eight homers in 126 innings but he induced 22 double plays trailing only starter Veale who had 28.

With the Bucs taking every game down to the wire it seemed the ace in the pen became the key to their pennant hopes in the closing months. While he did blow eight saves, getting 14 of 22 compared to Face who had 18 of 21, Mikkelsen turned out to be an important cog in the team's run for the pennant.

When the dust settled Pittsburgh would spend another winter at home. The following season Mikkelsen was released and picked up by the Cubs, known as the Deacon - Law (1960 Cy Young Award winner) retired after a short run, Face (18-1 in 1959) pitched for Pittsburgh until 1968 when he was sold to Detroit. 

In the 1967 season the infield duo of Alley and Mazeroski helped in the teams 186 double plays as the team trailed off and started to decline for a couple of seasons before bouncing back. Maz loved playing with Alley who early scouting reports said "he scoops up ground balls like a vacuum cleaner." While he played alongside Dick Groat, Dick Schofield and Freddie Patek, it was Alley who was really the master.

Most people believe Mazeroski made it to the Hall of Fame because of his historic homer in the seventh game of the 1960 World Series, but baseball historians realize it was his fielding which landed him in the Hall. Bill James once called him the best second baseman of all-time due to the number of runs he actually saved over his career. Eleven times he participated in 100 or more DP's and once he was involved in 96. In all he was part of 1706 twin killings. Of the top seven players with the most seasons in leading the league in double plays, Maz is the leader in three of them including nos. 1 & 3.

During his career he consistently ranked No. 1 in every defensive category at second base, won 8 Gold Gloves and played in 10 All-Star Games.  In addition, as a hitter he drove in 853 runs and scored 769 more which is pretty remarkable when you consider he only hit 138 homers in 17 seasons; all with Pittsburgh.
Thank you to those of you who purchased my book after reading this column. It has been appreciated. 

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Wednesday, February 14, 2018

The Amazing Giants

TRIVIA QUESTION:   While Gaylord Perry won 20 games twice for the Giants, he won 20 or more three other times in his career. Twice with Cleveland. What other team did he win 20 with?  

Former Philadelphia player Pancho Herrera played for the Kansas City Monarchs in the Negro Leagues. 

The San Francisco Giants were without a doubt, one of the most successful teams in the 1960's. In the 10 years of the decade they won 902 games or more than 90 wins per season, topping out with 103 in 1962. They lost the World Series to the Yankees in seven games. Despite their aforementioned success, it would be the club's only World Series appearance in the decade.

The team was always known for its sluggers. Willie Mays blasted 350 home runs in the 1960's while Willie McCovey hit 300 more. In the mid-1960's Jim Ray Hart came on the scene and added extra power twice hitting over 30 homers, while during the entire run the club had solid defensive players such as Jim Davenport and Hal Lanier.

Pitching really stood out however, led by the incredible Juan Marichal. Aside from a few social miscues Marichal was as dominant as his Los Angeles counterpart, Sandy Koufax. During the decade of the 1960's three times pitched 300 innings (299.2 in one of them), he won 191 games including 26 in 1968. He won 20 six times and 25 twice. His record in those three best years was 72-24 for an incredible .750 winning percentage.

There was Hall of Famer Gaylord Perry too. He won in double figures multiple times including a 21 win season. He pitched over 300 innings in a season in 1969 and twice tossed more than 290. Bobby Bolin had a career with the Giants. Tom Haller held up the catching duties and was strong behind the plate. 

There were other key players such as the Alou brothers who played in the same outfield for the Giants. Perhaps the Giants were too good and had too many good players. They shipped Felipe Alou off to Milwaukee/Atlanta where he enjoyed an all-star career. They sent Matty to Pittsburgh where he won the batting title in his first year there hitting .342. Jay was eventually moved to Houston.

Orlando Cepeda slugged his way around the bigs but couldn't play the outfield and wasn't going to move McCovey off first base. He was dealt to St. Louis where he won the MVP Award in leading the Cardinals to World Series twice.
Still they finished second five straight years to close out the '60's.  In 1962 they put it all together though. Cepeda blasted 34 homers, McCovey had 44 and Mays hit 38 while Felipe Alou added 20. Mays and Cepeda both hit over .300 while utility man Harvey Kuenn whacked .290. Marichal won 25, Jack Sanford 16 and Billy O'Dell 14 while a bullpen by committee shared 30 saves among 10 pitchers. Bolin and Billy Pierce shared the honors for the most with seven each.

 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, February 7, 2018

42 Homers Make the Phils Difference

TRIVIA QUESTION:   Before coming to the Phillies, Pancho Herrera played for what team in the Negro Leagues?  

The Chicago White Sox pitcher who won 29 games in 1919 and was portrayed in the film "Field of Dreams" was Eddie Cicotte. Reportedly Cicotte had a claus in his contract that if he won 30 games he'd get a huge bonus. He claimed the team held him back at the behest of team owner Charlie Comiskey as they had the pennant wrapped up and he didn't want to pay the bonus. This supposedly led to Cicotte's anger and helped him decide to join the conspirators in throwing the series for money. The following year he won 21 games and then was banned from baseball for life. He won 28 in 1917. Cicotte won his 29th game on September 19, 1919. However, he did get two more starts in the last seven games. On the 25th he went seven and got a no decision but to lend some credence to the theory of being held back, in his start on the 28th, he went only two innings giving up one run before being pulled. The Sox would go on to lose 10-9 but Cicotte was gone long before the game was decided.

Can 42 home runs in a season really make a difference? It seems so. The 1961 Philadelphia Phillies were a sorry lot. The likes of Pancho Herrera, Charley Smith and Ken Walters were just not enough for the '61 Phils to win more than 47 games. Finishing 47-107 it was the last year for long time ace Robin Roberts in a Philadelphia uniform. He went 1-10 in 1961 and after six 20-win seasons was sold to the Yankees. Before his career ended in 1966 he had been sold or traded and released by the Astros, Cubs and Orioles. He still won 52 games after the Phils let him go.

The rest of the 1961 pitching staff fared poorly as well. Art Mahaffey went 11-19, John Buzhardt 6-18,  Frank Sullivan 3-16 and even youngster Chris Short was 6-12. In all two others lost at least 10 games and no starter had close to a .500 record. 

At the plate the Phillie sluggers were the Phillie softies. The team leader in homers was Don Demeter with 20, but Tony Gonzalez with 12 and Herrera with 13 were the only players in double figures. Batting averages were soft as well. Gonzalez was the highest hitting starter at .277. 

Perhaps it was the youth factor. Aside from 40 year-old Elmer Valo the team average was 25 years, with four of the starters at 25 or younger. Four of the 13 pitchers were over 30 led by Roberts, 34. 

Somehow Gene Mauch turned his club around the following year winning 81 games and finishing in 7th place. Strangely enough the team got older, now over 27 years of age with the addition of Roy Sievers who banged 21 home runs, Frank Torre who hit .310 in a part time role and the improved Tony Taylor who led the team with 20 steals and came to the plate over 700 times. 

The homers went up. Demeter slapped 29, Gonzales hit 20 and Johnny Callison was an emerging star with 23. Both, along with Demeter batted over .300. In 1962 the team hit 42 more home runs than the previous season. It probably made the difference. They went from 7th in the league in homers to 4th in 1962.

The pitching showed improvement with the hitting as Mahaffey won 19, 36 year-old Cal McLish picked up 11, Jack Baldschun and Short won 23 between them. Interestingly enough, they committed about the same amount of errors in the two seasons.  

Herrera, the first Afro-Latino player for the Phils was prone to strike out way too much and commit too many errors. He was shipped off to Pittsburgh for Ted Savage and Don Hoak but was out of baseball before ever playing for Pittsburgh. Charley Smith was sent to the White Sox for Sievers and Buzhardt in a good trade. Smith bounced around the rest of the decade. Walters was sold to the Reds.

It wouldn't be long before Mauch had them contending and in 1964 they almost captured the NL title, only to fail miserably down the stretch and lost out to St. Louis.

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

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Wednesday, January 31, 2018

When the Owner Screws Up

TRIVIA QUESTION:   Who was the Chicago White Sox pitcher who won 29 games in 1919 and was portrayed in the film "Field of Dreams?"  

The 1968 All-Star Game ended with a 1-0 score with MVP Willie Mays scoring the only run of the game in the first inning. It was the year of the pitcher and while Don Drysdale was the winning pitcher, a HOF outfielder was the man who became the MVP.

In the classic baseball film "Field of Dreams" Shoeless Joe Jackson tells Ray Kinsella in response to the farmer's reasoning for adding lights to baseball fields; the owners thought it would bring in more fans and more money if they could play games at night. Jackson (played by Ray Liotta) answers back "phh, owners." He did it with a dismissive response, basically saying owners can do more to wreck the game than anyone else.

Such was the case with a rising star in Kansas City, who fell to earth way before he should have. Manny Jimenez was an outstanding hitter in the minor leagues and upon making his debut in 1962, he seemed to be on track for stardom. Jimenez batted .301 with 11 homers for the Kansas City A's.

In his first game on April 11, 1962 in front of only 4,064 fans in Kansas City, he faced the Twins Camilo Pascual and got three of the teams four hits off the all-star pitcher. It seemed he was well on his way. It should be noted the next night he did not even start. It was okay as only 854 fans remember it. That was the total attendance at game three of the 1962 season.
It was another week before Jimenez appeared again and he got a pinch hit in his only at bat. The season went on in strange fashion. When the dust settled on the A's season, they finished in 9th place out of 10 and won only 72 games while losing 90. Jimenez on the other hand capped an outstanding rookie season.

Not only did he bat .301, but slugged 11 homers and 24 doubles but he drove in 69 runs. Then in the off season owner Charlie O. Finley pulled Manny aside. He instructed him to stop trying to hit for average (he'd batted .340 in one minor league season) and to go for power. He wanted more home runs, like the Yankees asked Roger Maris to do after he was traded by the A's to New York. While Maris responded with 100 dingers over the next two years, Manny hit 12 over the next three years.

Not surprisingly, in his second year, the year after he debuted with 11 homers, he hit zero - none- nada! In addition, his average fell to .280, .225 and then .114. He was shipped off to Pittsburgh where he served as a pinch hitter and was out of baseball by the end of the 1969 season.

To take a rookie who could have been rookie of the year and turn him completely around, Finley later admitted what he did probably hurt the player more than helped. The proof was in the pudding.

Despite his devastating exit from MLB Jimenez did have some  highlights. He had three 4-hit games, including 3 home runs and 5 runs batted in vs. the Baltimore Orioles (July 4, 1964), ten 3-hit games, hit a combined .492 (32-for-65) against All-Stars Eddie Fisher, Sam Jones, Ken McBride, Camilo Pascual, and Juan Pizarro and hit a combined .429 (24-for-56) against Hall of Famers Whitey Ford, Ferguson Jenkins, Robin Roberts, Don Sutton, and Early Wynn.

Take it from Shoeless Joe; "phh owners."
Thank you to those of you who purchased my book after reading this column. It has been appreciated. 

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Wednesday, January 24, 2018

The Worst All-Star Game Ever

TRIVIA QUESTION:   While the 1968 All-Star Game in Houston was a washout when it came to excitement the highlight of game was not. In the year of the pitcher, who was named MVP of the game?  

In 1969 Jim Wynn, the Toy Cannon, whiffed and walked a lot. He walked 148 and struck out 142 times which means he came to the plate 290 times and did not put the ball in play. That is a season for most players today. 

If there was ever a year fans would vote an all-star game as the worst, it would have to be the 1968 game played in Houston. It not only was the year of the pitcher and the game proved the fact, it almost cost one of the great Hall of Fame players the rest of his career.

In 1968 pitching was king. Bob Gibson broke out with a new best ERA (1.12) not seen since the days of Grover Cleveland Alexander, 1.22 in 1915, and Denny McLain won 31 games for Detroit. The first time in 34 years a pitcher broke the 30 win mark (Dizzy Dean in 1934). It hasn't been done since and probably never will be seen again. It was also the year Don Drysdale pitched 58 consecutive scoreless innings.

The batting title in the American League was won by Carl Yastrzemski at .301. Make no mistake about it, pitching was king. So much so, the following year the mound was actually lowered to give hitters an added advantage and we've never seen a year off the mound like 1968 again.

When it came to voting for the mid-summer classic the line-up was filled by favorites of the fans, not the best players in the game. To prove a point; Harmon Killebrew was barely batting over .200 at the break and was named as the AL first baseman. It almost doomed his career.

Willie Mays was a last minute substitute to the starting line-up and was inserted into the lead off position. Mays was definitely at the end of his career and while he did hang on for a couple more seasons, his best was behind him at 37.

The game for the NL squad started off with Mays hitting a single to left off starter Luis Tiant. When Tiant tried to pick Mays off first base, Killebrew couldn't get to it and Mays ended up on second. When Tiant uncorked a wild pitch to Curt Flood, Mays took third. Flood eventually walked and Willie McCovey banged into a double play which scored Mays. 

That was it. It was the only time during the game a runner would cross home plate. NL wins it 1-0. The National Leaguers only had five hits,  the AL only three. Drysdale pitched three hitless innings to start it off. Drysdale got the win, Tiant the loss and to show you how weak the hitting was; No earned runs came across the plate. The only run was scored because of two errors and a double play ball. Now that's boring. Batters struck out a combined 20 times.

The other problem was Killebrew. In the third inning he stretched for a throw and tore  his hamstring and missed the next two months of the season. He did rebound the following year and was named MVP. But in 1968 he finished with .210 and 17 home runs.

The game featured many quirks including Pete Rose breaking his thumb in pre-game warm ups which is why Mays was inserted in the lead-off spot, Brooks Robinson injuring his back and lots of other stuff. Perhaps the most unusual thing was the ticket for the first All-Star Game in the Astrodome. The ticket was marked with a "Rain Check." Not likely it was going to be rained out, inside the Dome.

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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Thursday, January 18, 2018

Houston We Have a Problem

TRIVIA QUESTION:   When the dust settled on the 1969 Astros season one of their players came to bat 290 times and never hit a ball in fair territory . Who was that player? 

Rocky Colavito led the 1961 Tigers with 45 home runs, but he'd already crossed the 40 homer mark twice in his career before that. In 1958 he hit 41 and the following year he led the AL with 42, both with Cleveland. He finished his career with 374 homers over 14 years. In all, he belted 40 or more three times and at least 30 on four other occasions. 

It took Major League Baseball to completely revamp it's alignment to give the Houston Astro's the teams first shot at finishing with at least a .500 record. In 1969, after an existence of never winning half their games, the club which redefined what a modern stadium should be, finally did win 81 while losing 81 in a season.

Starting out in Colt Stadium, the team would eventually move into the spacious and modern Astrodome. Maybe Colt .45 signified the old west and the Texas persona but the Astrodome gave the club something else. It was now Houston; the home of NASA, spaceflight, reaching for the stars and the Astrodome did that. It was huge and it was above all else; indoors. Mosquitoes were not allowed. 

When the team closed out the 1964 season as the Colt .45's they only saw 715,000 fans come through the turnstiles. When they debuted in 1965 as the Houston Astros in the new stadium, attendance about tripled to 2.1 million. 

It didn't make much difference on the field however. They actually lost one more game than the previous year. Every year from 1962-1968 the club finished either in 8th, 9th or 10th place. When the decade came to a close they finished in 5th. Of course there were only six teams in their division. 

So what was it about this 1969 club which brought them to the brink of winning baseball? Fan Favorite Rusty Staub was gone to Montreal in the infamous Donn Clendenon trade. Shortstop Sonny Jackson was sent packing to Atlanta after the 1967 season, and a young Joe Morgan was bursting onto the scene. Ace Mike Cuellar was Traded with Tom Johnson and Enzo Hernandez to the Baltimore Orioles for John Mason and Curt Blefary. Cuellar would go onto win at least 20 games for the O's in four different seasons and 18 games twice. Blefary batted .253 in his only season with Houston before going onto the Mets.

Dave Giusti was traded to St. Louis and after one season onto Pittsburgh where he became a dominant closer in the NL. Larry Dierker did improve and won 20, while Don Wilson won 16. The team was steady with six of the starters appearing in nearly 150 games but none of them hit over .269 and Jim Wynn (the Toy Cannon) led the team by far with 33 homers. Morgan was second with 15.

So when did Harry Walker's club lock in that magical 81st win? With three games left in the season the Astros went to Los Angeles. On Tuesday, September 30th in front of 11,000 fans at Dodgers Stadium, they faced future Hall of Fame pitcher, Don Sutton. They needed to win at least one of the remaining three games to lock in that elusive .500.

In the third, after Blefary drove in a run, former Dodger Tommy Davis belted a two run homer to make the score 3-0 Houston. The Astros would go on to beat the Dodgers 6-3 but that all important fourth run in the game was driven in by none other than starting pitcher Denny Lemaster. Lemaster not only keyed the winning rally but he tossed a gem. 

Lemaster pitched a four-hitter, walking two and striking out 11, giving up only two earned runs. It was his 13th win of the season against 17 losses and assured his club a non-losing season. It would be three more years before Houston would finish above .500 and complete it's first winning season in club 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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