Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Koufax Amazing Perfect Game

TRIVIA QUESTION:  When Sandy Koufax tossed his fourth no-hitter, whose record did he break for the most no-hitters thrown by a major league pitcher?  

Tony Conigliaro was beaned by the Angels Jack Hamilton in an incident which basically ruined a career about to happen. Tony C. would eventually get traded to the Angels where he had one more really good season.

The fact Sandy Koufax pitched one of the most perfect of Perfect Games on September 9, 1965 overshadowed another brilliant pitching performance the very same night. The opposing pitcher; Bob Hendley. The game itself was voted the greatest game ever pitched by SABR in 1995.
The Dodgers were on their way to the National League Pennant and a World Series win over the Minnesota Twins. The Cubs were on their way to an eighth place finish, 25 games back of Los Angeles. Koufax was putting the finishing touches on his best year to date. Hendley, a journeyman was two years away from being out of baseball. 

Hendley ended up 4-4 with a 4.35 ERA in 1965. Koufax finished 26-8, 2.04 with a record 382 strikeouts. He too would be out of baseball soon, calling it a career after perhaps his greatest season, 1966 due to arm trouble. 
The Cubs were loaded with good and up and coming players mixed with aging stars. The infield of Ernie Banks, Glenn Beckert, Don Kessinger and Ron Santo would be among the finest of the era. Add Billy Williams and it was a line-up to be reckoned with. The pitching wasn't bad with rookie Ken Holtzman and some aging stalwarts in Dick Ellsworth, Larry Jackson and Ted Abernathy. All of them had something left in the tank.

The Dodgers had pitching, speed, defense and absolutely no hitting. Lou Johnson led the team with 12 homers along with rookie Jimmy Lefebvre. Maury Wills and Jim Gilliam were the only hitters at .280 or better and Ron Fairly led the team with 70 RBI. Wills had 94 steals. Koufax and Don Drysdale won 49 games between them.

The Dodger plan that season; a walk, a steal, a sacrifice and a sacrifice fly equals one run and the pitching made it stand up. A run without an official at bat was their moniker.

This night however belonged to Koufax, Hendley and L-A's Sweet Lou Johnson who was a Cubs rookie back in 1960. He would be a hero in the World Series later in the year with a pair of homers. This night he proved how valuable he was to the Dodgers.
Koufax didn't allow a baserunner and struck out 14 Cubbies including the side in the ninth. The game holds the record for fewest base runners in a perfect game (both teams), with two. It is the only complete 9 inning game in Major League Baseball history where the winning team sent fewer than 27 batters to the plate, since the Dodgers did not bat in the ninth playing at Dodger Stadium.

Both pitchers were throwing no-hitters until the 7th inning when Johnson doubled with two out. He was left stranded there but by then the damage had already been done. The Dodgers scored in the fifth without the aid of a hit and the run was UNearned. The Dodgers led 1-0 in this amazing game.

In the fifth, Johnson (there is that man again) drew a lead off walk. Fairly, batting fifth in the line-up laid down a sacrifice bunt to move Sweet Lou to second. Johnson then tried to steal third and he did, but catcher Chris Krug's throw went wild and Johnson came home to score the only run of the game. 

Hendley and Koufax continued their mastery through the rest of the game with Hendley allowing just the one hit, and the one walk (both to Johnson) and there was only one error in the game (Krug's). 

With their last gasp the Cubs sent Krug, Joey Amalfitano and Harvey Kuenn to the plate in the ninth. Koufax got all three swinging. In fact he struck out the last six men he faced including Santo, Banks and Byron Browne (the last five swinging). In all just over 29,000 fans saw the game of their lives and even though Los Angeles fans were known to leave early, few left before the final out.  Ironically the two pitchers would face each other five days later with Hendley winning 2-1.
Krug, born on Christmas Day and a Los Angeles native, only played in 19 more big league games after the 1965 season. Hendley went 9-8 in the balance of his career closing it out in 1967, Koufax premature end to a career came after the '66 season in which he went 27-9 with a 1.73 ERA. Lou Johnson continued to play until 1969 finishing with the Cubs, Indians and Angels with 48 career homers and a .258 average.
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Wednesday, May 2, 2018

The Red Sox Fall From Grace

TRIVIA QUESTION:  To which team was Tony Conigliaro traded when the Red Sox decided to move their power hitting outfielder?  

Baseball may have actually been inaugurated midway through the 1800's, but it really began as a "major league" sport in 1869. The team which led the charge by barn storming was the Cincinnati Red Legs.

Usually when a team wins a championship it can be counted on to at least be competitive the following year. Oftentimes however, this is not the case. Consider the case of the 1968 Boston Red Sox. In 1967, led by Triple Crown Winner Carl Yastrzemski and 22-game winner Jim Lonborg, they won the American League pennant. While they took the World Series to seven games, they lost to St. Louis.

Come 1968 they were expected to be right back in it. As it turns out on Opening Day, April 10th, 1968 they were. They beat Detroit 7-3 and were in first place. It would be the ONLY day they spent atop the American League all season.

When the dust settled the Red Sox were in fourth place, 17 games behind the Denny McLain led Tigers. He won 31 games that season and the Tigers did what the Sox failed to do the previous year; beat St. Louis in the Series.
It wasn't as if the Sox were bad. They were not. They had numerous four and five game winning streaks and no really prolonged losing streaks. At one stretch in July they won 11 of 12 games, sandwiched around the All Star Game in Houston. They never lost more than four in a row, either.

Boston finished 10 games over .500, so how on earth did they manage to end up 17 games out of first place? A return to form from the previous year by Yaz may have made a difference. The HOF left fielder went from a line of .326, 44 homers and 121 RBI to winning the battle title again with a .301 average, 23 home runs and 74 RBI. 

The supporting cast went down the tubes. First baseman George Scott went from .303 and 19 homers to a measly .171 and three dingers. Joe Foy went from .251 to .225, Rico Petrocelli dropped from 17 homers to 12. The devastating loss of Tony Conigliaro was offset by Ken Harrelson's 35 homers and 109 RBI. 
Conigliaro was hit in the face by a pitch from the Angel's Jack Hamilton during an incredible 1967 and missed the entire 1968 season. He did come back with two strong seasons after that but the injury did cut short his career. Harrelson, a part time player in "67 turned it on the following season.

The pitching didn't really fail the Sox in 1968, the year of the pitcher. That is with the exception of the club's ace. Lonborg dropped from 22 wins to 6-10. The reliable Gary Bell went from 12-8 to 11-11, while Jose Santiago was very consistent. When your team is led by Ray Culp (16-6) and an aging Dick Ellsworth at 16-7, something is amiss.

Actually Bell, Culp, Ellsworth and Santiago were amazing. All were right around 3.00 in the ERA department. Lonborg was a disaster though. His drop off in wins by 16 and his ERA of 4.29 could not be overcome as he barely pitched more than 100 innings.  Consider this; hypothetically, if Lonborg had matched his 1967 output, the Red Sox would have finished just ONE game back, NOT 17.
Defensively both Scott and Petrocelli were stellar but Mike Andrews at second base and Foy at third committed 48 errors between them. Believe it or not when it came to infield defense and errors the four starters were better in 1968. 

So again, what happened? The bench was a big problem. In 1967 the club got lots of production from reserves, especially Jerry Adair and Dalton Jones. The following season the bench went from strong to anemic. Both players dropped around 40 points or more and failed to contribute as they did before. The same can be said for most of the other back up players.

Perhaps it wasn't the fact the Red Sox became suddenly bad, it was the fact the Tigers became suddenly incredible. The Tigers went from a respectable 91 wins to 103 on their way to the World Series Title. Baltimore finished second with 91 wins leaving the Red Sox virtually tied with Cleveland with 86. 

Sometimes its not how well you play, it's how well the competition played and this pretty much sums up the year of the pitcher in Boston. 

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

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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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