Posts Tagged ‘Willie Davis’

The End of a Dynasty: Games 3 and 4 (Dodger Stadium)

September 10, 2015

Up two games to none in the World Series, the 1963 Los Angeles Dodgers came home in early October halfway to a victory over the New York Yankees. They played the Yanks a number of times before, only winning once (1955). If they could win two of three In LA, they would double that total.

Game 3 (5 October)

Don Drysdale

Don Drysdale

For the third game, Los Angeles led with the reigning Cy Young Award winner, Don Drysdale. For the season he’d been overshadowed by mound mate Sandy Koufax, but he was still a formidable pitcher. He drew 21 game winner Jim Bouton as his pitching opponent.

Drysdale got through the first inning without a problem. Then the Dodgers, as they’d done before in the Series, struck early. With one out in the bottom of the first, Jim Gilliam walked. A lineout and a wild pitch sent him to second. National League batting champion Tommy Davis then lined a single scoring Gilliam with the first run of the game. A foul to the catcher ended the inning with the Dodgers ahead 1-0.

It was all Drysdale needed. He pitched a magnificent nine inning shutout. In the second and the sixth, runners got as far as third, and died on the bag. He was in most trouble in the second when a single, a hit batsman, and an intentional walk with two outs loaded the bases. Drysdale then struck out the opposing pitcher to end the threat. For the game he hit the one man (Drysdale always seemed to hit a lot of batters), allowed the one intentional walk, and gave up only three hits, all singles (and never more than one an inning), and picked off a batter. He struck out nine.

After giving up the run in the first, Bouton was almost as good. He gave up four hits, struck out four, and gave up the one run. He did walk five, one the critical walk to Gilliam in the first. It was a good performance, not good enough.

Drysdale pitched the game of the Series (Koufax’s 15 strikeout performance in game one not withstanding) and gave Los Angeles a three games to none lead. They needed one more win in four tries to claim their second title (the other was in 1959) since arriving in LA. With Koufax on the mound in game four, the odds looked good.

Game 4 (6 October)

Jim Gilliam

Jim Gilliam

To begin game four both teams did what they needed to do, they started their aces: Sandy Koufax for the Dodgers and Whitey Ford for the Yanks. Both men were on that day. Through four innings, no one scored. In fact no one got beyond second base. In the bottom of the fifth, LA finally broke through when big Frank Howard crushed one to deep left to put the Dodgers up 1-0. It held up until the seventh, when Mickey Mantle connected for a long drive to left that knotted the game 1-1. It was a historic home run because it tied Mantle with Babe Ruth for the most home runs by any player in World Series history (15).

In the bottom of the seventh, the Dodgers struck again and as was usual for this Series, Jim Gilliam was in the middle of it. He led off the inning with a roller to third. New York third baseman Clete Boyer picked it up and fired to Yankees first baseman Joe Pepitone. In 1963 most male baseball fans still wore white shirts to public events. It was a warm enough day for most of them to shuck their jackets and Pepitone swore he lost the ball in the sea of white shirts. Whether he did or not, he missed the ball and by the time it was retrieved Gilliam was safe at third. Willie Davis followed with a long sacrifice fly that gave the LA a 2-1 lead.

The Yanks tried to rally in the eighth. With one out, Phil Linz singled, but was erased on a double play. The Dodgers failed to dint the scoreboard in the bottom of the eighth, leaving them ahead by one run with three outs needed to clinch the World Series. Bobby Richardson led off the inning with a single, then Koufax struck out two Yanks to put the Dodgers within one out of a championship. An error put runners on first and second and brought up Hector Lopez. He rolled a grounder to short and a throw to first made the Dodgers champs. For his two complete game victories, Koufax was named Series MVP.

It’s very difficult to call a four game sweep a great Series, but 1963 was certainly a very good World Series. Three games (all but the first) were very close and New York had a lot of chances to tie or win games. It was also, as is appropriate for a 1960s World Series, dominated by pitching. The Dodgers pitchers had a collective ERA of 1.00. They gave up four total runs, all earned, walked five, struck out 37, and gave up 22 hits. The Yankees weren’t much worse. Their ERA was 2.91 with 12 earned runs (one unearned), with 11 walks, 25 strikeouts, and only 25 hits given up.

But in fairness to the hitters, they didn’t do all that badly either. LA hit all of .214 for the Series, but had thee doubles, two triples, and three home runs (of 25 total hits). New York hit only .171 with five extra base hits. Jim Gilliam was an unsung hero for the Dodgers. He hit only .154, but scored three runs on two hits and three walks. Willie Davis and John Roseboro had three RBIs, as did Yankees castoff Moose Skowron. No New Yorker scored more than one run and only Tom Tresh had more than one RBI (he had two–both on his home run), but Mickey Mantle did tie Babe Ruth for total World Series home runs.

For New York it was the first World Series loss in three tries under Ralph Houk. It signaled the beginning of the end for the Yankee dynasty that had dominated baseball for four decades. They would get to another Series in 1964, but lose it also. Then there would be a long dry spell until 1976 (which they also lost) and 1977 when they were able to win another World Series (and get revenge on LA). For the Dodgers it was the first of three pennants in four years and the first of two championships (the other was 1965).

 

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 Out in Game 7: Apex

October 3, 2014
Zoilo Versalles

Zoilo Versalles

 

The 1965 Minnesota Twins were on the verge of winning the first World Series in Minnesota history. The team, which just a few years ago were the Washington Senators, had never taken an American League pennant since moving to Minneapolis. The last time the team tasted postseason was 1933, when they’d lost to the Giants. The only time they’d ever won it all was 1924. So for the team this was new territory. They were home to play game seven against the Los Angeles Dodgers. Standing in their way was Sandy Koufax.

The Twins lineup for 14 October had Don Mincher at first, Frank Quilici at second, MVP Zoilo Versalles at short, and Hall of Fame third baseman Harmon Killebrew. The outfield was Cuban refugee Tony Oliva in right, Joe Nossek in center, and Bobby Allison in left. Earl Battey was catching 18 game winner Jim Kaat. Al Worthington and Jim Perry (Gaylord’s brother) were available in the bullpen. Killebrew, Mincher, and Allison all contributed 20 or more homers to the team with Versalles slugging 19. Oliva was two-time batting champion and led the AL in hits. Despite a couple of exceptions (Quilici and Nossek both hit less than .220) it was a reasonably formidable lineup.

And it had to face the most formidable pitcher in 1965 baseball. Koufax was 26-8 with a National League leading ERA, eight shutouts, and a record-setting 382 strikeouts. He was also coming off a perfect game in September. Unfortunately for the Dodgers he was also pitching on two day’s rest, rather than his normal rest. He had around him a team that was dead last in the NL in home runs. They were also in the bottom half of the league in average, slugging, OBP, OPS, doubles, triples, and hits. They did lead the NL in stolen bases and didn’t strike out a lot. The lineup for game seven saw Wes Parker at first, Dick Tracewski at second, Maury Wills at short, with utility man Jim Gilliam at third. If you’ve been following this series of posts, you’ll remember Gilliam was critical in game seven of 1955. The outfield was Lou Johnson, Willie Davis, and Ron Fairly from left around to right, and John Roseboro did the catching.

The Dodgers put a man on in the first, but failed to score. In the bottom of the first, Koufax got out of the inning by striking out two after having walked two. In the second he struck out two more, then gave up his first hit in the third, a single to Versalles. Then he struck out two more to end any threat. In the top of the fourth, Lou Johnson led off with a home run. Fairly followed with a double, then came home on a Parker single. That took Kaat out of the game and brought in Worthington who got out of the inning without further damage.

The score was still 2-0 in the bottom of the fifth, when Quilici doubled (Koufax’s second hit allowed), and pinch hitter Rich Rollins walked.  A pair of grounders got him out of it. The Dodgers had a couple more scoring chances but failed to touch home. Koufax pitched well into the bottom of the ninth. Oliva led off the inning with a groundout, then Killebrew singled. Koufax proceeded to strike out both Battey and Allison to end the game and the Series. On two days rest, Koufax had pitched a three hit shutout with 10 strikeouts. He’d also allowed three walks, but only one after the first inning. He was named World Series MVP (for the second time–1963).

For both teams the 1965 World Series was an apex. The Twins managed to win a couple of more division titles after divisional play began in 1969 but didn’t get back to the World Series until 1987. They won that one and the one in 1991. In both cases they won all four home games and lost all three road games. For their history the Twins are 0-9 on the road and 11-1 at home. Game seven of 1965 is the only home loss by a Twins World Series team.

For the Dodgers it was also an ending. They won a pennant in 1966, but lost the Series to Baltimore. They won a couple of more pennants later, but didn’t notch another World Series championship until 1981. They’ve won once since (1988).

It was also the apex for Koufax. Over the years the 1965 Series has become his defining moment, and game seven his defining game. Other games, like his perfecto or his 15 strikeouts in game one of the 1963 World Series, are somewhat well-known, but it is the seventh game of 1965, along with his Yom Kippur stand (also in the 1965 World Series) that have become his trademark moments. He had one more great year in 1966 then retired. He made the Hall of Fame on his first try.

 

 

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.

Clank

March 23, 2011

This is not a pretty story. It is the story of a good player, a player who was, in his time, one of the best at his position. For the most part his teammates liked him. He was well-respected. Then he made an error, actually three of them, and he went to his grave known among a lot of fans for one inning of one game. Unfortunately for Willie Davis it was a World Series game.

In 1961 Davis became the regular center fielder for the Los Angeles Dodgers. He was no Duke Snider, but he was pretty good. More known for his glove than his bat, he roamed the outfield with LA through 1973. He made some errors, but had great range. He led the league in putouts once and was in the top three in assists twice. He hit well enough to bat second for much of his career, had little power, but good speed and was perfect for hitting behind Maury Wills. He helped the Dodgers to World Series wins in 1963 and 1965.

In 1966 the Dodgers got back to the World Series, playing Hank Bauer’s Baltimore Orioles. They lost game one, but with Sandy Koufax on the mound for game two, there was a reasonable chance at evening the Series. Through four innings neither team scored, then Boog Powell led off the fifth with a single. After a foul out, Paul Blair lifted a fly to center. The next sound you heard was “clank.” That’s the sound of a baseball hitting an iron glove. Davis lost the ball in the sun, couldn’t get good leather on it and the ball dropped in for a two-base error, Powell heading to third. So far, no harm. That brought up Andy Etchebarren who hit another fly to center. “Clank.” Davis dropped it, Powell scored. Then to compound the error, Davis picked up the ball and tossed it toward third base. It sailed. No, it didn’t sail, it flew. It flew all the way across the Milky Way. No one was going to catch it and Blair trotted home with Etchebarren to third. After a second out, Luis Aparicio hit a clean double to end the scoring with three unearned runs. The Orioles scored one more run off Koufax and another later in the game while the Dodgers were shut out by Jim Palmer. The team never recovered from the three consecutive errors and were swept in the Series. The three errors on two hit balls is still a World Series record. For your information, Davis had one more play in the game. He recorded the out.

Davis went on to have several more fine years in LA, hitting over .300 a couple of times after they lowered the mound, but he was always known for the errors. Koufax never blamed him, neither did the team. The fans were another story. By the end, many forgot it because he was too good a player to hold it against him forever and as luck would have it the game was Koufax’s last (and became much more famous for that than for Davis’ clanking). But others never forgot and there were some “boo”-birds in the stands on old-timers day.  When he died in 2010, it came up, but wasn’t the centerpiece of most of the articles about him. I guess that’s all Davis might have asked.

Willie Davis

The Center Fielders

March 11, 2011

The loss of Duke Snider and a spring training have gotten me to thinking about one of baseball’s glamour positions, center field. So for the next short while I’m going to turn to the position on this site. Some posts will be my standard bios with commentary, others will be on different issues.

Did you ever notice just how many really good center fielders there were? I didn’t say “great”, I said “really good.”  Jim Edmonds is one of those. He just retired and I have to admit I loved watching him play. It wasn’t his hitting that I enjoyed, although it was pretty good too, but it was his play in the field. It seem like the guy could catch everything, no matter how far he had to run or how far he had to stretch out. Torii Hunter is another of those that I simply love to watch field. I’ve been known to offer up a prayer to the effect of “Let someone hit a shot to center just so the world can see Edmonds  (or Hunter) go get it.” Sometimes it gets answered.

Those kinds of guys have existed for a long time. I remember the 1966 World Series pitted Paul Blair against Willie Davis, two truly fine enter fielders of the era. The Series turned on pitching (and three errors on two consecutive plays by Davis) but both were tremendous in the field (Ok, not Davis in game 2). In 1941 Joe DiMaggio faced off against Pete Reiser. In 1927 it was Earle Combs against Lloyd Waner. I could go further back.

But you know what? There aren’t really a lot of great center fielders. Now I suppose we’ll all have different definitions of “great” and that’s part of the joy of baseball. But to make a partial point about it, take a look at the last 30 years of Hall of Fame voting (1981-2010). In 1980 Duke Snider got in. In the 30 years since there have been only two or, depending on where you put Robin Yount and Andre Dawson, three or four center fielders make the Hall. The only two sure center fielders are Richie Ashburn in 1995 by the veteran’s committee and Kirby Puckett by the writers in 2001. To me Yount is a shortstop and Dawson plays right, but others may disagree.  Considering how many quality center fielders there have been in the last 30 years, that’s not a lot being defined as “great.”

Take a minute, sit down, and draw up your own list of the five greatest center fielders ever, leaving out 19th Century and Negro League players and concentrating on the players since 1901. Here’s mine alphabetically: Cobb, DiMaggio, Mantle, Mays, Speaker. Yours may vary and that’s not the point. I’ll bet it didn’t take long to come up with the list, did it? Now go to 10. See if it doesn’t get really harder as you get toward nine and ten (passing Griffey, Puckett, and Snider as examples). Mine did. And by 15 I was beginning to list guys like Edmonds and Hunter who I knew weren’t “great.”

This problem isn’t unique. Try it with first basemen or third basemen or left fielders. You get the same results. There are a few truly amazing players, then an entire truckload of very good ones.  But I want to stick with center fielders for a few days.

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.