Posts Tagged ‘Camilo Pascual’

50 Years On: the Team on the Rise

August 6, 2015
Al Worthington baseball card

Al Worthington baseball card

Between 1936 and 1964 the New York Yankees absolutely dominated the American League. They won every pennant but a handful. Detroit won two (1940 and 1945), Cleveland had two (1948 and 1954), St. Louis (1944), Boston (1946), and Chicago all got one (1959). All the others belonged to New York. That streak came to an end fifty years ago at the hands of a very unlikely franchise; a franchise that seldom won much of anything, the Washington Senators/ Minnesota Twins.

The 1965 Twins were new to Minnesota, having moved from Washington in 1961. They finished seventh in 1961, moved to second in 1962, dropped back to third the next season, then slid all the way to sixth in 1964. In 1965 they finally broke through, winning the AL pennant by seven games over the White Sox with the Yanks collapsing all the way to sixth, 25 games out of first. That was fifty years ago and that makes it as good a time as any to look at both teams.

The Twins went 102-60 in 1965. It was a pitching era dominated by great hurlers, especially in the National League. That being said, Minnesota won with their hitting. The team led the AL in runs, hits, doubles, and average. It came in second in triples, total bases, OBP, slugging and OPS. They were fourth in home runs and stolen bases. By contrast, the pitchers ranked in the middle of the pack in most stats. Their high was third in ERA (and in earned runs allowed) and the low was seventh in strikeouts. They did manage to finish second in saves, which was still a new stat and not viewed the same way we view it today.

The manager was Sam Mele. He was Minnesota’s first manager, taking up the reigns in 1961. He lasted through 50 games in 1967. His overall record was 524-436 and the Twins were his only managerial stint. After being fired, he ended up working for the Red Sox until his retirement.

The pitching staff was, as mentioned above, not the heart of the team, but it was sufficient to put a pennant on the flag pole in Minnesota. Four men started more than 12 games. Jim Kaat started 42 of them. He went 18-11 with an ERA of 2.83 (126 ERA+ and a BBREF WAR of 0.4). His WHIP was 1.248. He led the team with 154 strikeouts, but gave up more hits than he had innings pitched. He could also hit a little, racking up a home run, nine RBIs and a .247 average (an OPS+ of 63). The ace was another Jim, Jim “Mudcat” Grant. He was 21-7 with an ERA of 3.30 (ERA+ of 108 and a 2.7 WAR). Another Jim, this time Perry, started 19 games. He went 12-7 with a 2.63 ERA (136 ERA+ and 2.5 WAR). Veteran Camilo Pascual was 9-3 in 27 games, all starts, had an ERA of 3.35 (107 ERA+ and 0.7 WAR) and struck out 96. Dave Boswell was 20 and Jim Merritt was 21. Both started a few games and ended up with ERA+ numbers over 100.

The bullpen, which was set up differently in 1965 than today, was led by Al Worthington. He had 21 saves, a2.13 ERA, and a team leading ERA+ of 168. He got to the big leagues in 1953, didn’t do much as a starter, and by 1959 was in the bullpen. In 1965 he was 36 with three more good seasons still ahead of him (including an AL leading 18 saves in 1968).

Earl Battey did the bulk of the catching with Jerry Zimmerman as his primary backup. Battey was a decent catcher (his caught stealing rate was a league leading 48%) who hit reasonably well. In 1965 he hit .297, walked more than he struck out, had six home runs, and 60 RBIs. His 3.2 WAR was sixth on the team. Zimmerman hit .214.

The normal infield consisted of Don Mincher, Jerry Kindall, Zoilo Versalles, and Rich Rollins from first around the horn to third. Shortstop Versalles had a career year hitting .273 with a 115 OPS+ and 7.2 WAR. It got him the AL MVP award. He led off for Minnesota and stole 27 bases while being caught only five times. Hidden in an OBP of .319 are 122 strikeouts, about three for every walk he took. Mincher was a bopper who hit .251 with 22 home runs (fourth on the team). Both Kindall and Rollins were mediocre hitters, who by World Series time were spending a lot of time on the bench. Kindall hit all of .196 and was replaced by Frank Quilici, who at least hit .200 (actually .208). Rollins’ problem was simple; he had to make room for Harmon Killebrew. Killebrew was hurt during the year and Rollins replaced him. When “Killer” returned, Rollins was bench material. Killebrew was problematic at best at third. Never much of a fielder (to call the arm “scatter arm” is to do a grave injustice to “scatter armed” infielders everywhere), Killebrew played third like he should have been a first baseman (or an outfielder, or a designated hitter, or…), but the Twins needed the bat and Mincher was at first. Killebrew hit .269 with 25 home runs in 400 at bats. He had 75 RBIs and 72 walks (to go with 69 strikeouts) and put up an OPS+ of 145 to go with 4.3 WAR (third on the team). In other words, it was your normal Harmon Killebrew year.

The outfield was the domain of five men: Bobby Allison, Jimmie Hall, Tony Oliva, Joe Nossek, and Sandy Valdespino. Both Allison and Hall had power. Each hit at least 20 home runs (23 for Allison, 20 for Hall) while Valdespino was a superior fielder. The star was Oliva. He hit a league leading .321 to win his second consecutive batting title. His 185 hits also led the AL. He had 16 home runs and 98 RBIs to go 107 runs scored and 283 total bases. His OPS+ was 141 and his WAR 5.4. Other than the players listed above, no player appeared in more than 25 games.

The Twins made a run at the World Series title, ultimately losing in seven games to the Los Angeles Dodgers. In both 1966 and 1967 they finished second, then slid to seventh in 1968. They rebounded in 1969 to win the first ever American League West title. They would lose a playoff to Baltimore three games to none. They would repeat in 1970, again losing the playoff to Baltimore, then fall back to third and ultimately fail to make another playoff until the 1985 season when they finally won a World Series, the first since the team was in Washington all the way back in 1924.

The Pride of Havana

November 16, 2011

Dolf Luque, the Pride of Havana

There is a long history of baseball in Cuba. One source puts its origins in the 1850s and 1860s. For Cubans in the Major Leagues it’s a lot newer. It begins with Adolfo Luque (there were other Cubans before him, but he was far and away the most successful) who was a pretty fair pitcher.

Luque was from Havana, born in 1890. He pitched well in the Cuban leagues, was spotted by Major League scouts, and picked up by the Boston Braves (now in Atlanta) in 1914. There were immediate problems. The racial attitudes of the era made it difficult for a non-“white” individual to do well in the big leagues. Dark skinned players, like fellow Cuban Martin DiHigo, were completely banned from the Majors. American Indians like Chief Bender were ridiculed, and light-skinned Latin players like Luque were supposed to be too hot-tempered to play. And, unfortunately, Luque, like many of us, had a temper. It was to create problems for him for most of his career. As I want to look more at his stats than his temper, I’m not going to concentrate on the incidents (especially the Stengel incident). There are plenty of references about them online.

Luque pitched four games for the Braves in 1914 and 1915, going 0-1 with big ERA’s for the time. He ended up back in the minors until Cincinnati picked him up in 1918. He stayed there through 1929.  Going 10-3 mostly in relief, he helped the Reds to the 1919 World Series. He pitched five innings over two games giving up no runs, one hit, no walks, and striking out six. In doing so he became the first Latin American native to play in a World Series. His best year was 1923 when he went 27-8 and led the National League in wins, ERA, shutouts, winning percentage, and ERA+. It was a notable improvement considering he’d led the NL in loses the previous year.  He led the NL in ERA, WHIP, ERA+, and shutouts again in 1925, although he posted only a 16-18 record. His career followed a fairly normal projection and by 1929, he was 38, had a 5-16 record, and was sent to Brooklyn. He spent two years with the Dodgers. Neither were particularly bad years, but his ERA was rising and he was giving up more hits than he had innings pitched. At age 41 he went to the Giants where he became a reliever. He was good at it putting up acceptable numbers in both 1933 and 1934. In the former year he got back to the World Series for the second time. He relived in game 5, pitching 4.1 innings of scoreless ball, striking out five and giving up only two hits. When the Giants scored in the top of the tenth, Luque shut down Washington in the bottom of the inning to clinch the World Series championship for New York.

He pitched two games in 1935, getting one last win, then retired to coach with the Giants. He remained with the Giants as a coach off and on through the Second World War, then retired from the Majors for good. During his playing days and while a coach in New York, Luque spent his winters in Cuba, and later in Mexico, working with Winter League players. He played, coached, and managed a number of great island teams. He was instrumental in developing Major League players like Sal Maglie, Bobby Avila, and Camilo Pascual. He managed through the 1956 season and died of a heat attack in July 1957. He was later inducted into both the Cuban and Mexican baseball Hall of Fame.

For his Major League career, Luque was 194-179 (,520 winning percentage), had an ERA of 3.24 (ERA+ of 118), a 1.288 WHIP, and 16 shutouts. He struck out 1130 while walking 918. Over 3220 innings he gave up 3231 hits and 1161 earned runs. All in all not a bad career for a man who got started late (he was 27 when he caught on with Cincinnati), played year-round, and had to face the challenges of perceptions about Latin ball players. He deserves a lot more recognition, particularly among Latin players, then he gets.