Tuesday, April 24, 2018

When Baseball Officially Changed

TRIVIA QUESTION:  When baseball was credited with it's beginnings it was based on which team's activities as a traveling or barnstorming club?  

Boston's Bill Monbouquette was the last pitcher to face Satchel Paige in Paige's illustrious career. In the second inning with two out and a man on first Monbo would strike out Paige to end the inning. It would be Paige's last at bat in the big leagues although the A's pitcher did go on to pitch a perfect third inning to end his career.

In 1903 the first official World Series was played when the Boston Americans bounced the Pittsburgh Pirates 5 games to 3. Baseball had officially entered the new world after it's beginnings in 1885 as official baseball to most historians. Post season games before this were considered "exhibition games" and not official championship series. The game's origins are actually traced back to 1869 so the 1969 season was the official 100th anniversary of the game.

When Babe Ruth was traded to the Yankees and then in 1920 set the world on fire with 54 home runs, baseball turned another corner. Baseball was rescued from the Black Sox Scandal of 1919. This might also be considered the end of the dead ball era.

Baseball thrived through the decades, with a quick time out for the war years, but it prospered until the end of the 1960's. In 1969 baseball, the game we all love, would change forever. Divisional Play would begin and the lines would be blurred as to which team was the best in each league forever - the best team to go onto the World Series.

Baseball expanded in 1969 by adding two teams to each league giving them 12 each. It was easy, after adding San Diego, Montreal, Kansas City (with the A's moving to Oakland) and Seattle (which only played there for one year) to divide the leagues into two, six team divisions. The winners would square off to see who would represent their league in the Series. 

It was also the first time a team was stationed outside the US as Montreal was ushered in. Along with this came another first; an expansion team won the World Series. The New York Mets took the Baltimore Orioles to task to really claim the title "The Amazin' Mets."

The AL was divided strictly on geographical lines while the NL got pressure from the big boys in Chicago and New York. They wanted old competitors and more lucrative schedules to stay so the Cubs and the Mets would be in the same division. The Reds (in Ohio) and the Braves (in Georgia) were placed in the West (with Houston, Los Angeles, San Diego and San Francisco).

Rule changes were huge too. In 1968 batters hit a new low as pitching dominated (Carl Yastrzmeski won the AL batting title at .301). Bob Gibson's ERA was 1.12, while Don Drysdale pitched nearly 59 consecutive scoreless innings. So in their infinite wisdom the owners changed the strike zone to make it smaller and lowered the pitching mound by five inches. Less downhill velocity should add more flat pitches and more offense (aka Home Runs) to excite the fans. That was the thinking.

It worked. In 1968 the 10 NL teams hit 891 home runs, while in 1969 the 12 NL teams belted 1470 homers. If you subtract the 224 home runs hit by the two expansion teams you still get 1246 home runs or an increase of 355 dingers.

In the AL there were 1104 homers hit in 1968. The following year they hit 1649. Subtract the 223 hit by the expansion clubs, you still get 1426 for an increase of 322. The numbers for each league were so close you have to be impressed with the owners decision. There were other factors such as the weakening of the pitching talent by adding two clubs to each league but the numbers did show an increase and this is what they were looking for.

It was also the year the "SAVE" became an official relief pitching statistic although it's definition has changed much over the years since then.  

A spring training boycott led to delays and the battle over the collective bargaining agreement. It ended in late February with the players winning major concessions. 

And while you may not remember any logo's before 1969, it was the year baseball got its official logo created by Jerry Dior to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the game (officially founded in 1869). 

For fans of the era, it was the end of baseball as we knew it. Baby Boomers and Old Timers would blast baseball's hierarchy for the changes,  but nonetheless, the game survived and even thrived. It would still be a few years before Free Agency (the next big change) would take place but for fans of the 60's, the end of the decade was the end of what we all loved. 

Many fans did leave the game, replaced by new fans, fans who finally got the chance to see their team never again fall into 10th place. Divisions did bring new hope to the lower level clubs and especially those fans who were among the 2000 faithful to show up each night to watch a club continue to lose and be mired in the "second division."
Thank you to those of you who purchased my book after reading this column. It has been appreciated. 

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Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Satchel Paige pitching at age 58

TRIVIA QUESTION:  Who struck out Satchel Paige in his final at bat in the game described below?  

Bobby Darwin came up during the second season of the Los Angeles Angels as a pitcher. He evidently didn't make that much of an impression and was later converted to an outfielder who had a decent career with the Minnesota Twins and later returning to Chavez Ravine with the Los Angeles Dodgers. He did pitch in three games for the Dodgers going three innings while giving up four runs. His record as an MLB pitcher was 0-1 in four games total. As a hitter he batted .251 over his career, smacking 83 home runs but he also led the league in another dubious category. Three times he struck out more than any other batter in a season, 145, 137 and 127. 

Who was the last player to ever get a hit off the great Satchel Paige? A lot of names might run through your mind considering the man who said he "pitched long enough to put butts in the seats" spent an entire career in the Negro Leagues before becoming a big leaguer in 1948.
Before we answer the question let's set the scenario. In September, 1965 the Kansas City A's signed Paige to a contract. Whether it was a stunt by promoter extraordinaire Charlie O. Finley or whether it was a bonafide (usually with Charlie O., the word is "bonehead") attempt to let the fans get one last look at the grand old man. Either way it was a full treat for everyone in baseball, or anyone who just loves the game.

Paige was signed on the 10th of September at age 58! The A's were long out of the race and were on their way to a 103 loss season and landing in 10th place in the American League, 43 games back of the Twins. They would finish 10th in attendance with barely over half a million fans entering the ballpark. In fact, they rarely drew more than a few thousand people. On September 24th, they only put 2304 fans into Municipal Stadium. 

When it was announced Paige was pitching the night of the 25th, attendance soared. Old Satchel put 9289 "butts in the seats." Four times as many people came out to see the nearly 60 year old hurler compared to the night before. The opponent? The lowly Boston Red Sox who were just four games better than the A's at that point in the season on their way to a ninth place finish.

Satch got the start and for three innings he was untouchable. And that was that. He faced 10 batters in three innings, did not give up a run, struck out one and did not walk a batter. The lone hit was by Red Sox future Hall of Famer, Carl Yasztremski. A harmless double in the first.
Paige began the game getting Jim Gosger to pop out. He ended his string getting Gosger to ground out to short. He faced one over the minimum and was remarkable. He left leading 1-0 in a game the A's eventually lost to Boston, 5-2. He didn't qualify for the win if they had won. He was taken out after three innings with the minimum needed by a starter being five innings. He was relieved for the last time by Diego Segui.
Paige got his final at bat in the big leagues in that game. He struck out.  

Paige's career was legendary. There was talk he would be the first player to break the color barrier but that honor went to Jackie Robinson. Hit finally got his chance with the Indians in 1948 and pitched in the World Series. He was 42 and faced two batters, got them out, and also was called for a balk. A rarity at any level, let alone a World Series game. That season he went 6-1 with a 2.47 ERA.

During his Major League career he saved 33 games, or five more than his 28 wins. He lost 31. His 3.29 ERA was respectable, especially for a pitcher who game to the big leagues at an advanced age. He pitched for four other seasons after the initial rookie year. At age 45 he tossed 138 innings and at age 46 he threw another 117. In 1952 he also tossed a pair of shutouts. 

Paige passed away in Kansas City in 1982 at the age of 76. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1971 as the first of the Hall's Negro League Inductees.
Thank you to those of you who purchased my book after reading this column. It has been appreciated. 

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Wednesday, April 4, 2018

An Angelic Season 1962

TRIVIA QUESTION:  Who was the young pitcher for the Angels in 1962 at 19 years old, who would stake his claim as a major league outfielder starting a few years later, when he starred for the Twins in the 1970's?  

Wilbur Wood came over from the Pirates to the White Sox in 1967 in the Juan Pizarro trade, and after initially serving in the relief corps, became a starter who eventually would make history by starting both games of a double header. His knuckleball, teamed with that of Hoyt Wilhelm, gave both their own catchers fits as well as opposing hitters.

It usually takes years for an expansion team in major league baseball to reach the .500 mark, let alone have a winning season. When what looks like an ordinary run of the mill expansion team achieves a winning mark in only it's second season, it's reason to celebrate. Bring on the 1962 Los Angeles Angels. Not only did they finish with a winning record, they finished in third place in the American League (86-76) and spent almost a week, midway through the season, on top of the heep.
How did a team with only 137 Home Runs (7th in the AL) and a team Batting Average of .250 (6th out of 10 teams) end up in third place? Pitching. The team finished with an ERA of 3.70 (2nd in AL), second in inning pitched, first in Saves with 47 and amazingly gave up only 118 Home Runs to the opposition, which was the best in the AL. That was an accomplishment, considering they faced teams like the Yankees (199 HR) and Tigers (209 HR) who had major clubbers.

On July 4th, the Angels took a double-header from lowly Washington and were a half game up in the American League, sitting in first place. They were 45-34. They followed this happiness up by dropping three straight to the Red Sox and fell from first to third, 2.5 games back and never recovered. The club still toyed with moving up and got within a game but it wasn't to be.
Carried by newly found ace Dean Chance (14-10) and helped along by the playboy pitcher Bo Belinsky (10-11), and starters Ken McBride (11-5), Eli Grba, Don Lee and Ted Bowsfield, it was the bullpen which chose to shine. Actually it was "from the bullpen," because manager Bill Rigney chose the unusual route of using his starters to close out games often. 
                                                                       (AP Wire Photo)
For instance, yes the club led the league in Saves with 47. Of those 47 Saves, 13 were by guys who were normally in the rotation. This included 8 from Chance. The rest of the Saves were really done by committee. In, all 11 different pitchers were credited with a Save with the most registered by Tom Morgan with 9. Aside from the 8 from Chance, aging Ryne Duren also had 8. Of course the well traveled Duren lost 9 of 11 decisions on the season too.

It wasn't that the team couldn't hit; it could. It just did not hit home runs and only two starters batted at least .280. Billy Moran hit .282 and Lee Thomas batted .290. The pair cranked 43 homers between them. Add in the 37 Leon "Daddy Wags" Wagner hit and you get 80 of the teams 137. Felix Torres with 11 was the only other player in double figures.

A key to this team as well was they put the ball in play, rarely striking out and they got their share of walks finishing fourth in the AL. Albie Pearson led them with 95 free passes. They also grounded into 110 double plays which was not good. 

The team seemed to be on the rise. A young Jim Fregosi was getting ready to take over at Shortstop, Chance was on the verge of becoming a 20 game winner and Tom Satriano, Freddy Newman and Ed Kirkpatrick would be around for most of the decade.
The winning was not to be sustained. The team was aging quickly with 13 players, 30 years old or more. The following seasons would see the departure of outfielder Chuck Tanner, Duren, Art Fowler (39) and Eddie Yost. The following year the club dropped to 70-91, falling into 9th place. In 1964 they returned to winning (82-80) and moving up to fifth place.

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, March 28, 2018

When Wilhelm Ruled

TRIVIA QUESTION:  Who was the other knuckle ball pitcher the White Sox employed during the 1960's who usually came in as Hoyt Wilhelm's set up man?  

In 1965 the Braves played their last season in Milwaukee.  Their last home game was September 22, an extra inning game they lost. The final out fittingly was made by the great Henry Aaron, who hit a rocket. The problem was, with one out and the Braves trailing the Dodgers by a run, Mack Jones who had singled, was running with the pitch. Aaron hit a line drive to center which Willie Davis grabbed and doubled up Jones before he could get back to first base; a double play, game over with Milwaukee in the rear view mirror.

In the era of the 1960's there probably was not a more dominant relief pitcher than Hoyt Wilhelm. Uncharacteristically he was also one of the most traveled pitchers of his era. During the 60's, he switched teams four times. During those years his ERA was under 2.00 six times and another three times it was less than 2.65.

Only in 1960 did he miss the mark with a respectable 3.31 ERA. Of course he tossed 147 innings, pitched in 41 games and started 11 of those. He was coming off a season where he led the league in ERA at 2.19 and pitched a career high 226 innings. Who could blame him for being a bit tired going into the turbulent 60's?

If you were wondering how he did it, it was the famous knuckle-ball which led his repertoire. How many knuckler's he threw during his 1103 (2254 in his career) innings during the era, no one will ever know. The key here was he averaged 110 innings per season while four times eclipsing 130. All but three games were in relief and he never started after 1960.

For the 1965 White Sox he went 144 innings, giving up only 88 hits and striking out 106 on his way to a 7-7 season with a 1.81 ERA.

In the midst of all of this was the fact Wilhelm was 37 years old when the decade of the 60's began. Maybe he would have put it in perspective in that he was still five years younger than the newly elected President John F. Kennedy. Known as "Old Sarge," To really put it in perspective and indicative of Wilhelm's career was in 1968 he pitched in four of final six games in the White Sox season. It was Chicago's worst season of the decade as they finished 36 games out of first place. What makes this short little string so amazing is; Wilhelm was 45 years old.

The only downside to his career came in 1961 and he really wasn't to blame. As Roger Maris was chasing the Babe on his way to 61 home runs, Wilhelm was brought in specifically to keep Maris from hitting the ball out.
It was game 154 for New York and Orioles manager Lum Harris brought in the knuckle-baller to pitch to Maris in the latter's final at-bat. Maris had 59 home runs. Commissioner Ford Frick had ordered that if anyone were to break Ruth's record it would need to be in the same number of games the Great Bambino had played in, 154. Not the 162 played in 1961.

In the film 61*, Harris orders Wilhelm to not throw anything but the wiggly knuckler. Hitting a knuckle-ball high and deep is tough enough but with the pressure building and the obvious move to stop Maris, all the Yankee slugger could manage was a weak ground ball. He would not "break" Ruth's record then, by Frick's rule.
During his career Wilhelm pitched for nine teams and was elected to the Hall of Fame. During the 1950's he tossed a no-hitter. Overall, he won 124 games in relief, saved 228, pitched in 1070 games, his lifetime ERA was 2.52 with a lifetime WHIP of 1.1. He led both leagues in ERA once, and the NL twice in Win-Loss percentage.

He also threw 90 Wild Pitches and due to the nearly exclusive use of the knuckle-ball the number of passed balls by catchers is far to many to count. His former catcher Gus Triandos is quoted as saying "Heaven is a place where no one throws a knuckle-ball."

When you figure he didn't enter the big leagues until he was 29 years old and retired at 50, it makes him one of the most amazing stories in baseball history. His only post season action was in 1954, pitching two scoreless innings for the Giants. In the 1960's his average salary was $28,000 a season.

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, March 21, 2018

The Last Milwaukee (HOME) Run

TRIVIA QUESTION:  Who made the final out for the Milwaukee Braves in the teams final game in Milwaukee?  

In 1966 the Pittsburgh Pirates brought up a young left-handed pitcher who announcers said hadn't seen much of the big city being from Ewing, KY. Woody Fryman made the most of his rookie season in Pittsburgh, winning 12 and losing 9. Fryman failed to improve in Pittsburgh and was traded after the 1967 season to Philadelphia. He bounced around the majors pitching until he was 43 years old. His final record was 141-155.

 Gene Oliver pretty much spent his entire major league career in the 1960's. The journeyman catcher, outfielder and first baseman had some milestones along the way but there was one moment in time you could call "that moment." It was pretty significant at the time, but over the years it's gone the way of a newspaper in the sun - faded.

It was a fairly nice night at County Stadium in Milwaukee where 12,577 fans would watch their beloved Braves play for the very last time. Wednesday, September 22, 1965 would mark the final time the Braves would dress for a game in the place where less than a decade earlier they had gone on to play in back to back World Series.
The club had fallen hard. After the Series' there were back to back second place finishes and then they were mired around the middle of the pack. This season they would finish in fifth place, but a respectable 10 games above .500. 

Still, the likes of Henry Aaron, Joe Torre and Eddie Mathews were moving on to Atlanta for the 1966 season. There they would build the foundation which later on would set records for the most divisional titles. 

For now, however, it was playing out the string and the string included facing Sandy Koufax as the Dodgers came to town. Koufax was having an amazing season. He would win 26 games in 1965 and set a record with 382 strikeouts. His ERA was 2.04. However on this night, he was no match for the battling Braves. He would face another lefty, Wade Blasingame. Neither would be around for the final out.

Oliver was having his best season by far and would smash a career high 21 dingers, drive in 58 and hit a respectable .270. Tonight it was his night.

Koufax mowed the Braves down in order in the first and after the Dodgers scored to take a 1-0 lead, the fire balling lefty couldn't find his way to start the second. Three straight singles by Torre, Oliver and Mathews loaded the bases for light hitting Frank Bolling. Bolling who'd been the regular second sacker for the Braves for a decade was in his final season as the full-time second baseman. He was a career .254 hitter and hit just a few homers over the years. He could still reach the seats and it's exactly what he did here.
He promptly smashed a Koufax pitch out of sight for a grand slam, 4-1 Braves. Koufax retired the side after that. Meanwhile, Blasingame was nearty setting the Dodgers down. 

In the third after Mack Jones led off with a homer and Aaron singled, Koufax was gone. Howie Reed came in and forced Torre to bang into a double play. Then came Oliver. Not known for his speed he would use all of it in this at bat. 

Reed served up a pitch which Oliver hit into left on a rope. Lou Johnson wasn't known for his defense and the ball skipped away cleanly. As it did, Oliver turned on the speed and rounded the bases ahead of a throw home for an inside-the-park home run, making the score 6-1. It was the last Brave's homer in Milwaukee.

It was no. 19 on his way to 21. He would get another single and a walk before the game ended, going 3-4. Never mind Jimmy Lefebvre, the rookie second baseman for the Dodgers would hit the final homer at County Stadium against the Braves. It was a 2-run shot to left off Blasingame.  

Blasingame would start to falter in the 5th and after giving up a total of six runs gave way to Billy O'Dell. The game went into extra innings before the Dodgers won it in the 11th. The aforementioned Lou Johnson singled in Maury Wills with the winning run. After three hours and 38 minutes the final game in Milwaukee for the Braves, came to an end. 
Just imagine the conversations in the clubhouse after that. 

Oliver retired after the 1969 season. Beginning in 1966 his average dipped below .200 often and never really got un-tracked again. He went on to Philadelphia, Boston and the Cubs ending his career with 93 home runs and a .246 lifetime BA.  

It was a milestone year certainly for Oliver and the Braves. With his 21st homer the Braves set a new NL record with six player hitting 20 or more in a season. On June 8th Torre, Mathews, Aaron and Oliver hit 10th-inning home runs in a Braves victory over the Cubs, setting a major league record for most home runs in an extra-inning game.

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!!

Please pick up a copy of my book "Tales of My Baseball Youth; A Child of the 60's" at, or on Amazon.