Posts Tagged ‘Johnny Podres’

Adios, Newk

February 20, 2019

Don Newcombe

Don Newcombe died yesterday. He was 92. He’s not the last Brooklyn Dodgers player, but he was close. Both Carl Erskine and Sandy Koufax are still around, and I presume there are others. This will be the second of these I’ve done in Black History Month, and it reminds us how many of the black pioneers are gone.

Newcombe spent time in the Negro Leagues, then followed the Dodgers minor league plan (Nashua, Montreal) before arriving in Brooklyn. He was Rookie of the Year in 1949, Dodgers ace by 1950. Ralph Branca gave up the home run that cost the Dodgers the 1950 pennant, but Newcombe was on the mound earlier and couldn’t hold off the Giants. He won 20 games in 1951, went off to the Korean War in 1952 and 1953, then came back for two more great years in 1955 and 1956. The 1956 season got him an MVP and the first ever Cy Young Award. In 1956 they only gave out one Cy Young for all of Major League Baseball.

He faded after that, didn’t make the transition to Los Angeles well, was traded to Cincinnati, then to Cleveland, and was done at 34. For his career he was 149-90 with an ERA of 3.56 (ERA+114), 1.209 WHIP, and 29.6 WAR.

Back then, sportswriters didn’t talk much in public about the dark side of a player. I didn’t know Newcombe had a drinking problem until years later. It certainly curtailed his career (as did Negro League time, although he was only 23 as a rookie). He got over it and became one of those ex-players teams called on to counsel players with personal problems, particularly alcohol. By all accounts, he was pretty good at it. In some ways it is his greatest contribution to the game.

There was always a knock on him; he never won a World Series game. In five starts he was 0-4 with an ERA of 8.59. He gave up 29 hits in 22 innings, but walked only eight while striking out 19. He gave up a couple of critical home runs to Yogi Berra in the Series (Berra did that to a lot of hurlers) and was seen as a bust in postseason play.

I remember him from my childhood. He was huge on the mound and intimidating (not Bob Gibson intimidating, but intimidating nonetheless). He was never a particular favorite of mine. I leaned toward Jackie Robinson, Duke Snider, Roy Campanella, and Carl Furillo. And later Don Drysdale and Johnny Podres overshadowed him in my world (Koufax didn’t hit his stride until Newcombe was gone). I’ve come to realize that was youthful ignorance and he should have been right up there with the others. So this is by way of mourning a loss and making a belated apology to him.

RIP, Don Newcombe, and please, God, let’s not do any more of these this month.

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The End of a Dynasty: Games 1 and 2 (Yankee Stadium)

September 8, 2015

After a brief hiatus to look at my ongoing Hall of Fame project, it’s back to the 1963 World Series. It’s very difficult to say an ordinary World Series is decided in the first two innings of the first game, but in 1963 it’s possible that’s true. Between the pitching of Los Angeles’ ace and the Dodgers hitting the tone was set for the entire Series.

Game One (2 October 1963)

Sandy Koufax

Sandy Koufax

For game one, the New York Yankees sent ace Whitey Ford to the mound against the Dodgers. Los Angeles countered with their own ace, Sandy Koufax. With the twin aces toeing the rubber, most people expected a pitcher’s duel. In the top of the first, Ford set down Los Angeles on two strikeouts and a grounder. Koufax was even better striking out Tony Kubek, Bobby Richardson, and Tom Tresh in order. In the top of the second with one out Frank Howard doubled to center. Ex-Yankee Moose Skowron, playing first, singled to score Howard. Another single by light hitting Dick Tracewski sent Skowron to second, then catcher John Roseboro slugged a three run home run to right field. A fly and a strikeout got Ford out of the inning. Then Koufax went back to doing what he’d done in the first inning. He struck out Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris for five consecutive strikeouts to open the game. Elston Howard finally hit the ball, a foul to the catcher, as the Yanks went down in order.

In the third, Jim Gilliam led off with a single, was erased on a fielder’s choice that left Willie Davis on first. A single by Tommy Davis sent Willie Davis to third. An out later, Skowron singled again to plate Willie Davis with the fifth run. In the bottom of the third Koufax must have tired or something because he recorded only one strikeout. The other two outs were recorded on a grounder to second and another foul. Ford got out of the fourth without giving up a run, then Koufax, who’d made one of the outs in the top of the fourth, went back to the mound and struck out three more Yankees.

The fifth was critical. Ford got out of a jam and New York finally got a hit off Koufax. after a strikeout (what else?) and another foul out (again, what else?), the Yanks put together three consecutive singles to load the bases. Koufax then proceeded to strikeout pinch hitter Hector Lopez (hitting for Ford) to end the threat. In the sixth reliever Stan Williams set Los Angeles down in order, then Koufax did the unthinkable, he went through an inning without striking out a man. He gave up two walks but twin pop outs, one to second, the other to third, got him out of the inning. In the seventh he added one more strikeout.

The Yanks finally broke through in the eighth. Needing six outs for a shutout, Koufax struck out one, gave up a single to Kubek, struck out another, then gave up a two run blast to Tresh to make the score 5-2. Los Angeles went in order in the top of the ninth. A line out, a single, and a fly brought up pinch hitter Harry Bright. Koufax proceeded to strike him out (of course he did) to complete the victory.

It was Sandy Koufax’s game. He gave up two runs, on six hits, walked three, and struck out 15. The strikeouts were a World Series record (replacing former Brooklyn Dodgers pitcher Carl Erskine). But it’s important to recall Moose Skowron’s two singles which plated two runs and set up Roseboro’s big home run. As a former Yankee who’d been let go from a World Series champion, it must have been a true joy to help bring down the team that let him go.

Game 2 (3 October 1963)

the Moose with some guy named Musial

the Moose with some guy named Musial

The second game of the 1963 World Series saw a contrast on the mound. New York started rookie Al Downing, famous as a flamethrower. Los Angeles sent 1955 Series MVP Johnny Podres to toe the rubber. Podres’ rookie campaign was 1953 and it had been a while since anyone described him as a “flamethrower.”

Flames or not, Downing was in trouble from the beginning. The Dodgers put up two runs in typical Los Angeles fashion in the top of the first. Maury Wills led off with a single, then stole second. Jim Gilliam followed with a single that sent Wills to third. Yankees right fielder threw the ball to home in order to keep Wills from scoring. Gilliam took the chance and advanced to second. Willie Davis then doubled to right to score both runners. Downing then settled down to pick up the three outs without Davis scoring.

Podres also let a man on in the first, but he didn’t get beyond first. Then for the next two innings the teams matched zeroes. In the top of the fourth, Dodgers first baseman Bill “Moose” Skowron led off. He’d played nine years for the Yanks, but was let go at the end of the 1962 season. Signed by LA, he’d gotten into 89 games, hit .203 with four home runs, and 19 RBIs (all career lows). Looking for something like payback, he smashed a Downing offering deep into the right field seats to make the score 3-0.

Through the next three and a half innings, the pitchers dominated the game. There were a few runners, but only one man reached second (on an error). In the top of the eighth, the Dodgers picked up one more run on a Willie Davis double and a Tommy Davis triple. Podres got through the bottom of the eighth without significant damage (he gave up a single), then LA went out in order in the top of the ninth. The Dodgers needed three outs to take a 2-0 lead in games.

Mickey Mantle led off with a long fly to left that Tommy Davis corralled for out one, then Hector Lopez smashed a ground rule double to put a man on second. For the first (and only) time in the Series, the Dodgers made a pitching change. Out went Podres, in came relief ace Ron Perranoski. He immediately gave up an Elston Howard single to plate a run for the Yankees. Then a fielder’s choice recorded the second out. That brought up Clete Boyer who fanned to end the game with a 4-1 score and give the Dodgers their 2-0 lead in games.

Podres had pitched well. He gave up the one run on six hits and one walk. Lopez’s double was the only extra base hit he allowed. He also struck out four. Downing went five innings, gave up three runs, on seven hits (one each double, triple, and home run) and one walk. He struck out six and took the loss. Wills’ leadoff single, stolen base, and advance to third followed by Gilliam taking the extra base on a throw home and the single by Willie Davis (who had two RBIs and one run scored in the game) was typical for how the power strapped Dodgers scored. They may have been the winning runs, but Skowron’s blast was decisive (and much more Yankee-like).

The Series took a day off as the teams flew to Los Angeles. The Yanks need a pair of wins to send the Series back to New York. Los Angeles needed to go 2-1 to end the World Series at home.

The End of a Dynasty: the 1963 Dodgers

August 29, 2015
Ron Perranoski

Ron Perranoski

There are a couple of misconceptions about the 1963 Dodgers. One is that they were never supposed to make the World Series. A second is that all they could do was pitch. In 1962 the Dodgers had taken eventual champion San Francisco to a three game playoff before losing the playoff in the third game. So reality is that Los Angeles was a formidable team a year early with both the MVP (Maury Wills) and the Cy Young Award  winner (Don Drysdale). Additionally Tommy Davis won the 1962 batting title and led the National League in RBIs. Allegations that the team could pitch but not hit fail when you understand that Davis repeated the batting title in 1963, the team finished first in stolen bases, and in the middle of the pack (in a 10 team league) in hitting, OBP, runs, hits, and even home runs (seventh). It wasn’t the 1927 Yankees, but the team could hit a little.

Walter Alston was in his 10th year managing the Dodgers. His record was 99-63 (almost a duplicate of 1962’s 101-61). He’d managed the Dodgers’ two previous World Series victories (1955 and 1959) and had supervised the move from Brooklyn to Los Angeles in 1958.

John Roseboro was the catcher. He’d replaced the legendary Roy Campanella in 1958 and maintained his job into 1963. He was solid, unspectacular, a good teammate and hit all of.236 with nine home runs and an OPS+ of 91 with 1.9 WAR (BBREF version).

The infield was also solid, and occasionally spectacular. Ron Fairly was at first. He hit .271 and had 12 home runs, good for third on the team. His 77 RBIs were second, while his OPS topped out at .735 (OPS+ 120) with 2.8 WAR. Jim Gilliam, a Brooklyn holdover, was at second. He hit .282, stole 19 bases, bunted well, was third on the team with 201 total bases, had 5.2 WAR (good for second on the team), played an excellent second base and did all those things managers wanted the two hitter to do. Maury Wills was the spectacular part of the infield. He hit .302, scored a team high 83 runs, stole 40 bases, and was credited with reestablishing the stolen base as an offensive weapon. It wasn’t really true but it was believed. Third base was in flux. Ken McMullen ended up playing more games there than anyone else, but hit all of .236 with neither power nor speed. By the time the World Series came around he was out of the lineup with Gilliam replacing him at third. That left second open and Dick Tracewski took over the position. He was a good fielder but hit .226 with one home run and 10 RBIs.

The outfield had two Davis’s and a Howard. The aforementioned Tommy Davis was in left field. He hit .326 to repeat as batting champion, and his home run total was second on the team at 16. His RBIs had fallen off to 88, but it still led the team. His OPS+ was 142 with a 3.9 WAR. The other Davis was center fielder Willie. He was generally a good fielder who could run. He hit only .245, but stole 25 bases and scored 60 runs, which equaled his RBI total. The power came from Frank Howard who was a genuinely huge man for the era. He played right field, hit .273, led the team with 28 home runs, had an OPS of .848 (easily first on the team), led all everyday players with and OPS+ of 150 and had 4.1 WAR.

The bench was long, if not overly good. Six players (including Tracewski mentioned above) were in 50 or more games and three more played at least 20 games. Wally Moon, at 122, played the most games. He hit .262 with eight home runs, 48 RBIs and 41 runs scored. Former Yankee Moose Skowron got into 89 games and had 19 runs scored, 19 RBIs, and four home runs. Doug Camilli was the primary backup catcher.

But no matter how much the Dodgers hitting was overlooked, the pitching dominated the team. Don Drysdale was the reigning Cy Young Award winner and went 19-17 with an ERA of 2.63 (ERA+ 114), 315 innings pitched, 251 strikeouts, a WHIP of 1.091, and 4.7 WAR. But he’d ceded the ace title to Sandy Koufax. Koufax was 25-5 with an ERA of 1.88 (ERA+ 159), 11 shutouts, 306 strikeouts, 0.875 WHIP, and 9.9 WAR. All, except ERA+(which was second) were first among NL pitchers. All that got him the NL MVP Award and a unanimous Cy Young Award in an era when only a single Cy Young Award was given. The third pitcher was 1955 World Series MVP Johnny Podres. He went 14-12 with an ERA of 3.54, 1.311 WHIP, and 0.3 WAR. Pete Reichert and Bob Miller, neither of which figured in the World Series, were the other pitchers with double figure starts.

Ron Perranoski was the ace of the bullpen with a 16-3 record and 21 saves. His ERA was 1.67 (ERA+ 179) with 4.5 WAR. Larry Sherry (another World Series hero–this time in 1959), Dick Calmus, and Ed Roebuck were the other bullpen men with 20 or more appearances. Sherry had three saves.

The Los Angeles hitting was underrated in 1963, but the pitching was first rate. If the pitching did its job, and the hitting did much of anything at all, it was a team that could compete with the New York Yankees in the World Series.

Shutting ’em Down in Game 7: Bums Win

September 25, 2014
The Podres statue at the Hall of Fame

The Podres statue at the Hall of Fame

Game seven of the 1955 World Series is arguably the most famous game in Brooklyn Dodgers history. April of 1947 is its only rival. Finally, after years of frustration going back to 1901 the Dodgers finally were World Champions. It had last occurred in 1900.

The Dodgers were playing the Yankees for the sixth time (’41, ’47, ’49, ’52, ’53 are the others) and were 0-5. Some had been good Series’ (particularly 1947) but Brooklyn always lost. The 1955 team was still very much the same team as the 1952 and 1953 teams but there were significant changes. First, Walter Alston was now the manager. He’d been a minor league manager for a while, but in 1954 took the leadership of the team. The infield was different from the more famous “Boys of Summer” infield. Gil Hodges was still at first and Pee Wee Reese still held down shortstop, But Jim Gilliam now spent more time at second than anyone else. He could also play the outfield in for game seven he was in left. Utility man Don Zimmer was at second. Jackie Robinson now was the primary third baseman, but for game seven he was on the bench with Don Hoak at third. Carl Furillo and Duke Snider were still in right and center field, but Sandy Amoros did most of the work in left. As mentioned earlier, on 4 October 1955 he started on the bench. He didn’t stay there. Roy Campanella having his last good year, was the MVP winning catcher.

The pitching staff was in transition. Don Newcombe was still the ace, Carl Erskine was fading, Billy Loes was still there, but a key newcomer (he’d been around awhile, but wasn’t anything like a star) was 22-year old Johnny Podres. Ed Roebuck and Clem Labine did the bulk of the bullpen work, but 19-year old bonus baby Sandy Koufax was on the roster (he didn’t pitch in the Series). Podres, the game three winner, got game seven.

He faced a Casey Stengel New York Yankees team that, after a string of five consecutive World Series victories, had finished second in 1954. They were back with a new lineup that included Moose Skowron at first, Gil McDougald at second, Andy Carey at third, and shortstop Billy Hunter. Gone was Johnny Mize while Billy Martin, Phil Rizzuto and Joe Collins were on the bench. Mickey Mantle and Hank Bauer were in center field and right field with Irv Noren doing most of the work in left. Elston Howard had finally integrated the Yanks in ’55 and now backed up in left.

MVP Yogi Berra caught a staff that included Whitey Ford, Bob Turley, Tommy Byrne, Bob Grim and Don Larsen. Ford was the ace, with Turley a close second. Larsen was still learning (and would figure it all out in one game the next World Series). Byrne had a good year but as usual walked more than he struck out. He drew game seven which was played in Yankee Stadium.

Both pitchers got through the first inning without incident. Byrne gave up a walk in the second and Podres gave a double to Skowron, but no runs came across. It stayed that way to the top of the fourth. With one out, Campanella doubled, then went to third on a grounder to short. Hodges then singled to left scoring Campy with the initial run of the game. In the bottom of the fourth New York got a runner as far as third before a pop up to short ended the threat.

Reese led off the top of the sixth with a single then went to second on a Snider bunt. An error by Skowron made Snider safe. Then a Campanella bunt put runners on second and third with only one out. Byrne intentionally walked Furillo to load the bases, then gave up the mound to Bob Grim. Hodges hit a long sacrifice to right center that scored Reese with an unearned run. A wild pitch (that didn’t allow Snider to score) and a walk reloaded the bases, but pinch hitter George Shuba grounded out to end the inning. As a short aside, it’s a measure of how much the game has changed that both Snider and Campanella, the three and four hitters, laid down bunts in a critical situation.

Shuba’s pinch hit was critical to the game. It removed Zimmer from the lineup and forced Gilliam to take second. That brought Amoros into the game in left. That immediately made a difference. Martin, playing second in this game, walked to lead off the bottom of the sixth and went to second on a bunt by McDougald, who was safe at first. Berra then slammed a drive down the left field line. Amoros, a left-hander, got to the line, stuck up his glove (on his right hand) and snagged the ball. A toss to Reese and a relay to Hodges completed a double play. Bauer then grounded out to end the threat. Most experts agree that Gilliam, with his glove on his left hand, would have never been able to make the play in left, but southpaw Amoros became an instant Brooklyn hero.

It was the turning point of the game. Podres allowed two base runners in both the seventh and eighth innings but worked out of both jams without damage. In the ninth a comebacker to the pitcher, a fly to left, and a ground out short to first ended the game and brought Brooklyn its first World Series championship. Brooklyn went crazy.

The big heroes were Amoros with a great catch and throw, Campanella with a run scored and a key bunt, Hodges with both RBIs, and Reese with a run and a fine relay on Amoros’ catch and throw. But the biggest hero was Podres. He’d pitched a complete game shutout. It was true that it wasn’t a masterpiece. He’d allowed eight hits (the Dodgers only had five) and walked two, but he’d also struck out four and pitched out of each jam. It was the first year an MVP for the World Series was awarded. Podres won it easily.

The Yanks played well. McDougald had three hits, but was doubled up in the sixth on Reese’s relay. Skowron had a double, but also an error, while Berra had the only other extra base hit for New York and smashed the ball to left that started the double play that was so pivotal to the game.

The game marked the high water mark for the Brooklyn Dodgers. The next year they were back in the World Series, but lost to the Yankees. In 1957 they had a bad year and by 1958 were relocated to Los Angeles. They did well there winning again it 1959. A handful of the 1955 winners were still around: Snider, Furillo, Gilliam, Zimmer, and Koufax among others. Most notably for fans of the 1955 team, so was Podres. He pitched two games and picked up the win in game two.

 

 

Shutting Out in Game 7

October 9, 2013
Babe Adams about 1909

Babe Adams about 1909

There is nothing in baseball quite like game 7 of the World Series. It is the ultimate moment for two teams, one of which is going to be overjoyed while the other goes into deep mourning. Over the history of the World Series, there have been 36 times that the Series went to a game 7. This does not count the handful of best of nine Series’. That’s about a third of the time, which is  a number that somewhat shocked me. I presumed there were more. I wanted, in conjunction with the playoffs, to look at the game 7 phenomena. When I began  doing so, I noticed something interesting (at least to me). If about a third of all World Series’ climax with a game 7, a quarter of those game 7’s have been shutouts. Here’s a quick look at the game 7 shutouts in World Series history.

1909–Babe Adams, a really obscure deadball pitcher for the Honus Wagner led Pittsburgh Pirates threw the first game 7 shutout in the very first game 7 (not counting the game 7 that was part of the 1903 best-of-nine Series). He defeated Ty Cobb’s Detroit Tigers 8-0. He gave up six hits (none to Cobb), walked one and struck out one.

1934–The next game 7 shutout occurred in 1934. The St. Louis Cardinals “Gas House Gang” led by starting pitcher Dizzy Dean corralled the Detroit Tigers 11-0.  Dean gave up six hits (like Adams), struck out five and didn’t walk any. This is the game made famous for Tigers fans throwing fruit at Joe Medwick.

1955–We next have to skip all the way to the first Brooklyn Dodgers World Series champion to find the next game 7 shutout. Johnny Podres shut out the Yankees 2-0, on eight hits, two walks, four strikeouts, and a famous catch by Sandy Amoros.

1956–The Yankees returned the favor the next season when journeyman Johnny Kucks gave up three hits and three walks while striking out one on the way to an 11-0 beating of the Dodgers.

1957–For a decade known mostly for its hitters, the 1950s produced three consecutive game 7 shutouts. This time Braves right-hander Lew Burdette shut out the Yankees 5-0. He gave up seven hits, walked one, and struck out three.

1962– After a five-year break, the baseball god’s decided it was time again for another game 7 shutout. This time the Yankees defeated the Giants 1-0 in a game most famous for Bobby Richardson’s grab of Willie McCovey’s liner to end the game. Ralph Terry picked up the win by striking out four while giving up four hits and not walking a man.

1965–This game became the standard for judging Sandy Koufax. On two day’s rest he tossed a three hit shutout, walking three and striking out 10. The Dodgers scored two runs.

1985–Bret Saberhagen shut down St. Louis on five hits and two strikeouts without a walk, as Kansas City won 11-0 in the aftermath of the Don Denkinger blown call game.

1991–Jack Morris pitched the only game 7 shutout that went into extra innings. The Twins knocked off the Braves 1-0 with Morris giving up seven hits, walking two, and striking out eight. As a great little bit of trivia, Lonnie Smith participated in both the 1985 and 1991 games (obviously a number of Yankees and Dodgers participated in the 1955, 56, and 57 showdowns). Smith won one (1985) and lost one (1991).

That’s the list. A couple of quick observations are in order. Only the Dodgers and Yankees win two of these, 1955 and ’65 for the Dodgers and 1956 and 1962 for the Yanks. The Dodgers win the only two pitched by left-handed pitchers (Podres and Koufax). The three biggest game 7 blowouts (’34, ’56, and ’85) all ended up as 11-0 shutouts (wonder what are the odds on that). Finally, only Koufax and Dean are Hall of Fame pitchers (Morris has a year left on the ballot, plus the Vet’s Committee, so maybe there will be three). Some pretty obscure pitchers (Adams and Kucks) have also won a game 7 shutout. Want to take bets on whether there will be one this season or not?

Winning Quick

July 5, 2013
Frank Howard

Frank Howard

You ever notice how often you hear that you just gotta stay close and we’ll get ’em in the late innings? Or how about this one, “We need to knock ’em out quick.”? Nice ideas. Both work. You can win either way. There are good examples of each. In the next couple of posts I want to look at two World Series confrontations that occurred almost back to back. They are good examples of each way of winning.

 In the long history of the Dodgers-Yankees rivalry, there has only been one sweep, the 1963 World Series. It was a great case of winning the game in the first couple of  innings. And of course, as a Dodgers fan, it’s one of my favorites.

The 1963 Series was a contrast in teams. The Dodgers were young. Of everyday players competing in 50 or more games, Jim Gilliam at 34 and Wally Moon at 33 were the geezers. The Yankees were older. Yogi Berra, Elston Howard, Hector Lopez, and Harry Bright were all 33 or more. The Yankees were still a power team. They had 188 home runs, 714 runs, a .403 slugging percentage, and only 42 stolen bases. In contrast, the Dodgers had 110 home runs, 640 runs, a.357 slugging percentage, and a league leading 124 stolen bases. Los Angeles offset that with pitching. They featured Sandy Koufax, Don Drysdale, and aging (he was all of 30 but had been around since 1952) but still effective Johnny Podres. New York countered with Whitey Ford, Jim Bouton, and Ralph Terry. Not bad, but only Ford was the equal of the Dodgers main starters.

Game one set the tone for the entire Series. In the bottom of the first, Koufax struck out Tony Kubek, Bobby Richardson, and Tommy Tresh in order. Then in the second he struck out Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris before getting Elston Howard to foul out to catcher Johnny Roseboro. In between the Dodgers put up four runs in the second on a double, two singles, and a Roseboro home run. The Yankees never recovered. By the second inning, the game was  done. Koufax struck out 15, including every Yankees starter except Clete Boyer,  gave up six hits (including a Tresh two-run homer with the game already decided), and shut New York down. I was in school when the game started, but was able to listen to the first two innings on the radio in class (we had a couple of very compliant teachers). You could tell it was over.The crowd was stunned to silence. I missed the third inning getting home, but when the TV went on for the fourth, you could see the Yankees dugout was equally stunned. Of course as a Dodger fan I was in heaven, but a  couple of friends of mine who weren’t LA fans were watching with me. Both told me New York was done. Not just for the game, but for the Series.

They were right. In game two the Dodgers put up two runs in the top of the first on two singles, a steal of third, and a Tommy Davis double. Although he got two more runs (one in the fourth, one in the eighth), Podres didn’t need more help. He only struck out four (OK, he wasn’t Koufax, but then no one else was either), but scattered six hits and wasn’t in trouble until the ninth when, with one out, he gave up a double and single to plate a run. In came reliever Ron Perranoski who set down the next two hitters to finish the game.

Game three was Saturday, so I finally got to watch the entire thing. It was a great pitching duel between Drysdale and Bouton. Again the Dodgers scored early. With one out in the first, Gilliam walked, went to second on a wild pitch after the second out, then came home on another Tommy Davis hit, this one a single. That concluded the scoring for the entire game. Drysdale pitched a three hit shutout, striking out nine. Bouton was almost as good. He gave up four hits and struck out four, but he walked five (to Drysdale’s one). Again the Dodgers quick strike was decisive.

That led to game four on Sunday. I have no idea if anyone thought the Yankees could win. I was at a friend’s house for the game. There were five of us, including the friend’s dad. None of them were Dodgers fans, but all of them agreed we were going to watch the Bums win the Series that day. The Yanks showed up looking defeated, but, much to their credit, put up their best showing of the entire Series. For a change the Dodgers didn’t score early. Through six innings Whitey Ford was magnificent. He gave up two hits, walked one, and struck out four. Unfortunately one of the hits was a huge fifth inning home run by Frank Howard. The Dodgers hadn’t scored early but they were ahead. Koufax was almost as good as Ford. By the seventh, he’d struck out five, given up three hits, and hadn’t walked anyone. But in the seventh, New York got the run back on a homer by Mickey Mantle. The bottom of the seventh gave the Dodgers a second run on a three base error by Joe Pepitone and a sacrifice fly by Willie Davis. Koufax then picked up another strikeout in the eighth and struck out two more in the ninth. A routine grounder to short ended the Series.

It’s never been considered a great World Series (except by a few diehard Dodgers fans), but it was a great example of being able to score early. With an excellent starting staff (the Dodgers used one reliever for two-thirds of an inning in the entire Series) a team who scores early, even if only a run or two can really put the opponent in a deep hole. That’s exactly what LA did in 1963.

The Loser Wins

June 23, 2011

Bobby Richardson

For a long time baseball had no World series MVP. It seems the people in charge thought that fans were bright enough to figure out who did the best job in the Series. You had the advantage of being able to watch or listen or read accounts of the games and make your own choice as to who you thought was the MVP of a particular World Series. All that changed in 1955 when MLB decided to pick a Series MVP. Johnny Podres of Brooklyn won the first. Of course fans can still argue among themselves if the “experts” got it right, but there is now an official MVP. They have a lot in common, those MVPs, but being on the winning team isn’t one of them. The 1960 MVP played for the losers.

The 1960 World Series is primarily noted for Pirates second baseman Bill Mazeroski’s World Series winning home run leading off the bottom of the ninth in game seven. But Maz wasn’t the MVP. Neither was anyone else on the Pirates. The winner was Bobby Richardson, the other second baseman.

Richardson came to New York in 1955, and by 1957 was taking over as the regular Yankees second baseman. He hit in the mid-.200s, had no power, could run a little, but didn’t steal many bases with the power-laden lineup around him. He was a good enough second baseman, but not really stellar. Later in his career he improved and won several Gold Gloves.

 By 1959 he was the everyday second sacker and had moved into the seventh or eighth position in the order. His average improved and his OBP finally got to .300. He didn’t strikeout much (which is good), but didn’t walk much either (not so good).  In 1960 he hit .252 (his career average is .266), had 115 hits and 35 walks, and scored all of 45 runs. His OBP was .303. So far he was a run-of-the-mill middle infielder who hit low in the order most of the time.

The 1960 World Series was his coming out party. He exploded against Pirates pitching. He hit .367, slugged .667, had an OBP of .387, for an OPS of 1.054. He had a home run in game three, scored eight runs in five of the seven games (missing four and five), had two doubles and two triples, and led both teams with 12 RBIs (a record for the Series). By game seven he was  leading off for New York, and would continue to do so for much of the rest of his career. His stats are MVP numbers, but Mazeroski hit the home run and the Pirates won game seven and you gave the MVP to a winning player. They gave Richardson the MVP anyway. It’s still the only time a player on the losing team has won the World Series MVP (it’s happened a couple of times in the earlier rounds of the playoffs, but not in the Series.).

Richardson went on to have a solid career with New York, retiring in 1966. For his career he had an OBP of .299 (which is terrible for a leadoff man), slugged all of  .335, and ended up with an OPS of .634 (OPS+ of 77). He scored 643 runs in 1412 games. Not great numbers, but a  solid career. He went on to coach some in college. But he’s always going to be known for one World Series and one bit of trivia. I guess that’s not bad for a  player.

My First Big League Game

October 20, 2010

Fenway Park

I grew up in two small towns far from the meccas of Major League Baseball. So I never saw a game in person until I joined the army in 1967. I spent a couple of months in basic training at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri (“Fort Lost in the Wood, Misery” to all of us trainees). Then I went to Massachusetts for specialized training. It was there that I finally had time and money to attend my first big league game.

It was about an hour bus ride into Boston from the post.It wasn’t all that far, but the traffic made it take an hour. Then you could get the subway out to Fenway Park to catch a game. They had a special ticket booth where you could go if you were in uniform. The tickets there were 50 cents a pop for unassigned seats in the bleachers. A buddy who’d done it before went with us (there were four of  us) and showed us the ropes, including the little detail that if you stood up in the mezzanine for the first inning you could find out where the empty seats were and get a better view of the game than you got from the bleachers. The game was a double-header and in those days you got both ends for one ticket, so we had to get up between games and lounge around until the second inning started to make sure the same seats weren’t being used for game two. On this day they weren’t.

They say the experience is unique. The sights, the sounds, the smells are all special. Well, frankly I don’t remember any smells. I think we had a hot dog and a beer, or maybe it was a soda, but I don’t remember the smell of the hot dog or the wood on the seats. The sights and sounds? Well, that’s different.

Let me say here that I’ve never been a Boston fan. As a Dodgers fan you hate the Yankees, so that should make you at least somewhat partial to the Red Sox, right? Didn’t work with me. Didn’t care for the BoSox either. All that means that Fenway Park held no special place in my Southwestern US heart. The field was nice. I was stunned by how big the outfield actually was. Outfields to me were from the school yards or Little League or the Junior High fields where I played, or at most the High School diamond. This outfield was massive. It seemed to go on forever until it hit that stupid wall in left field. The “Green Monster” struck me as an eyesore. I’d never  seen it in color before (black and white TV) and so although I knew it was “Green”, I’d never actually contemplated what that meant. It was quirky, but ugly. The stands were old, the sight lines OK from where we sat, the seats creaked. At my age I understand creaking a bit better than I did then. All in all the place was OK, but you could tell there were problems.

The games, however, were different. The Sox were playing Detroit that day, 14 May 1967, a Sunday. I’m surprised how much I remember about the games. I jotted down what I remembered, then went to Retrosheet and looked the games up. Turned out I was right about what I remembered. In what follows, what I got from Retrosheet is in the parens. The Sox won both games (8-5, 13-9). I remember both Denny McLain and Mickey Lolich pitched for Detroit (McLain in game one and Lolich game two) and that Jim Lonborg pitched one of the games (the first). I remembered both were high scoring games (see the scores mentioned above) and that former Dodgers Johnny Podres and Larry Sherry pitched in a game (both were in game one and Sherry also worked the second game). I remembered Al Kaline scoring, knocking in a couple of runs, and making a heck of a catch for the final out in one of the innings of game one (the second inning). I recall that there were a lot of home runs (among others, Willie Horton had two in game two, Norm Cash hit a homer in game two, and Carl Yastrzemski had a home run in both games).  I remember wondering how Yaz could hit with his bat held that high. Got that one wrong. Finally I remember that the pitching was dreadful that day (50 total hits by both teams over both games).

I left happy. We caught a bus back to the post, talked about the games all the way back, never realizing this was “The Impossible Dream” year for Boston. It was my first ever Big League game and I was content.

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.