Posts Tagged ‘Claude Osteen’

“But They Who Trust in the Lord…”

April 28, 2012

“..shall renew their strength.” Isaiah, Chapter 40, verse 31 (JPSV)

Baseball has a long history of being connected to religion. I don’t mean all the fans at home and in the stands with their palms together going “please, Lord, let him get a hit.” I’m talking about on the field. It goes back at least to Billy Sunday in the 1880s and probably longer. Today you see and hear it with frequency. So far I’ve noted no “Tebowing” but watch for the player stepping into the batter’s box who crosses himself, watch for the guy who crosses home and points a finger to the sky (sometimes in memory of a parent or sibling, but frequently in acknowledgement of his faith). How many times have you heard an interview begin with the phrase, “I’d like to thank my Lord and Savior”? I suppose that the most famous moment of religion in baseball occurred almost 50 years ago in October 1965.

Sandy Koufax pitching

In 1965, the Los Angeles Dodgers won their second National League pennant in three years. Their unquestioned star was left-handed starter Sandy Koufax. On his way to a second Cy Young Award and second place in the MVP voting, he won the pitching triple crown with 26 wins, an all-time record 382 strike outs and and ERA of 2.04. That, of course, meant that everyone knew who was going to start game one of the World Series against the American League champion Minnesota Twins.

Except that there was a problem. The sixth of October 1965 was Yom Kippur, one of the most important days in the Jewish religious tradition and Koufax was Jewish. He announced, quietly, to his team he would not pitch on such a holy day. The press got wind of the story and it took off. It made the front page of newspapers (including the local paper in the town where I lived) and created something of an uproar. First, probably 80% of baseball fans had no idea Koufax was Jewish (he’d never made a point of it) and even less knew what Yom Kippur was all about. He had not been averse to pitching Friday night or Saturday afternoon games, but this was different and a lot of people didn’t understand how. In some places he was vilified, in others praised. But he maintained his stance, refused to comment publicly on the issue and went about his business preparing to pitch game two.

Well, Don Drysdale pitched game one and was shelled. Then Koufax took the mound for game two. He gave up one earned run (and one unearned) and the bullpen collapsed leading to a 5-1 Twins victory and 2-0 Twins lead in games. They could only win one more. Claude Osteen pitched a masterful game three, Drydale came back in game four, and Koufax won both game five and seven (the latter a three hit shutout) and picked up the Series MVP award.

He pitched one more year then retired. The religious stand became a major part of his legacy to both Jews and non-Jews alike. Many saw it as a stand for principle, something ball players aren’t known for as a rule.


The Way to Win: The Antithesis of Murder’s Row

August 11, 2010

Walter Alson while the team was in Brooklyn

In the 1960s baseball changed, going back to something like the Deadball Era. Now the home run didn’t disappear, but it went from being the primary element of the game to a supporting role. The starring role went to Deadball staples speed and pitching. No team epitomized that more than the 1962-1966 Los Angeles Dodgers. 

I admit to being a Dodgers fan, but I also acknowledge that this team, particularly the 1965 version was one of the weaker teams to ever dominate an era. The ’65 Dodgers were dead last in home runs with 78 and seventh (in a 10 team league) in hitting. Of course they could pitch and run. They also played defense pretty well. They were the antithesis of the great Yankees dynasties, but they were built, personnelwise, very much like those Bronx teams. In the period they won two World Series’, lost one, lost a three game playoff and finished sixth (1964). 

Walter Alston was the manager. He’d gotten into one game for the Cardinals back in the 1930s, then took up managing. He joined the Dodgers when they were in Brooklyn and was the manager when they won their first World Series in 1955. He went with them to Los Angeles and led them to another Series win in 1959. By the 1960s he was well established, considered knowledgable, and was well liked my most of the clubhouse. The “most” is key. Apparently there was some question about how well he’d handled integrating the team as more and more black players arrived in the late 1950s an early 1960s (he came on board well after 1947 so was not there for the initial arrival of black players). There’s no evidence of overt racism that I can find, but a number of black players didn’t like him. And he didn’t particularly like Sandy Koufax (bad move, Jack) although he recognized the talent. 

The team had two stars, both, as you would expect, pitchers. Don Drysdale won the 1962 Cy Young award and Sandy Koufax won the same award in 1963, 1965, and 1966.  Back then there was only one Cy Young awarded (not one in both leagues) which should tell you just how dominant the two Dodgers stars were. BTW Koufax is still the only pitcher to win three Cy Young’s unanimously (with Bob Gibson, Juan Marichal, and Drysdale in the same league no less). He also won the 1963 MVP award. 

The Dodgers had some really good players to go along with their stars. Maury Wills led off, played shortstop, led the league in stolen bases, won the 1962 MVP, and gets sporadic support for the Hall of Fame (although not from this quarter). Willie Davis was a good fielding (except for one inning in 1966-ouch) center fielder, Tommy Davis won back-to-back batting titles (before getting hurt), and Frank Howard was a monster who provided what little power the Dodgers had. After going to Washington he won a couple of home run titles. 

The team went through a number of role players in the five-year period. Johnny Roseboro was an excellent catcher who hit a little, Ron Fairly could handle both first base and the outfield (after Howard went to Washington), Lou Johnson took Howard’s place as the power hitter (such as it was), Jim Lefebrve won the 1965 Rookie of the Year Award, and Wes Parker was a slick fielding first baseman who took Fairly’s place. The third pitcher was originally Johnny Podres, who had by this time become something of a role player. Claude Osteen replaced him late in the run, and Don Sutton was a rookie in 1966 going 12-12 at the start of a Hall of Fame career. Then there was Jim Gilliam, maybe the ultimate role player. Put him at second, put him at third, stick him in the outfield. It didn’t matter, he performed well in each. 

There was a one-year wonder also. Phil Regan replaced Ron Perranoski as the closer in 1966. He went 14-1 with 21 saves. He never had another year even vaguely approaching that season. Perranoski is sort of a one-year wonder. His 1963 was by far his greatest year, but his other years weren’t the drop off that I associate with one-year wonders. 

On the surface this team is absolutely unlike the great Yankees dynasties. If you look at the types of players, even they look different. But if you look at a more generalized view of the team, you find it’s made up in the same style as the other teams mentioned in previous posts. I’ll wrap this up in the next post.