Sunday, December 30, 2012

13 Players You May Not Know From the 1940's But Should

The 1940's were a decade of struggling to survive economic trouble and international chaos and a decade of one drastic change that took too long to occur.  Several of the teams regularly at the bottom of the league in the 1930's rose to become consistent contenders.  The Braves, Red Sox, Indians, Dodgers and even the Browns reached the World Series.  The Giants, Athletics and White Sox fell on very hard times.  The league saw some of the best, closest races ever including the 1948 American League race that ended in a one game playoff between the Indians and Red Sox.

The baseball world was shocked on June 2, 1941 to learn that Lou Gehrig had passed away from ALS.  It seemed unbelievable that Lou Gehrig, often used as the poster boy of good health and physical prowess, could die so young of a disease so crippling.  Gehrig had started noticing some issues in 1937 but thought it was maybe his age catching up with him and slowing him down.  As the team reported for Spring Training in 1938 Gehrig noticed he was having problems with everyday tasks like lifting his legs to put on his pants and tying his shoes.  His coordination was off and he somehow just couldn't hit the way he used to hit. Gehrig went to the Mayo Clinic and was told of his diagnosis.  The man known as "Iron Man" was eroding before the eyes of the world.  Gehrig remained positive but there was no cure and his case of the disease ravaged his body quickly.

The greater part of the decade was interrupted by World War II.  Just six months after the death of Gehrig, the United States was attacked at Pearl Harbor, forcing the country into the conflict.  The league continued to operate through the war, however, many of the leagues great players including Ted Williams, Joe DiMaggio, Bob Feller and Hank Greenberg were sent off to fight in the war.  While the players were away, the Browns snuck into the 1944 World Series.  The war played havoc, not only with the outcome of the seasons, but the way games were broadcast.  Due to fears of air raids or the enemy getting intelligence about the weather patterns to plan attacks, broadcasts were not permitted to give any detail at all about the weather or temperatures.  When games went into rain delays the announcers just kept talking until the game resumed as though it were just a pause in the game.  During a St.Louis Browns game that went to rain delay Dizzy Dean, broadcasting for the Browns, ran out of filler material and told the listening audience "I'm not allowed to tell you why this game is being held up, but if you just stick your head out the window I'm sure you'll figure it out."

The World Series' played during the decade saw some great moments.  The Dodgers reached the Fall Classic in 1941 for the first time since 1920 and looked to be serious contenders for years to come.  They were still missing one piece but would have it by the end of the decade.  The Tigers lost the 1940 World Series in 7 games to the Reds, then rode the strength of Greenberg's return from war in 1945 all the way to a World Series win in 7 games over the Cubs.  The Red Sox reached the World Series for the first time since 1918 but would lose in 7 games to the Cardinals.  The 1948 World Series was between two surprise teams, neither of which had been in the World Series in decades. The Indians were in their first World Series since 1920 and the Braves since 1914.  The Indians won but have not won since.

The 1945 World Series saw the casting of a curse that still terrorizes Cubs fans today.  The Cubs led the best of seven series 2 games to 1 and were getting ready for Game 4 at Wrigley Field.  Billy Sianis, owner of Billy Goat Tavern in Chicago, bought two tickets to the game. One for himself and one for his mascot, a billy goat.  He apparently was allowed to bring the goat into the stadium, however, when he found his seat several of the other fans in the area felt the stench of the goat was too much to stand.  They complained and the Cubs officials asked Billy and his goat to vacate the premises.  Sianis was furious and sent a telegram to Mr. Wrigley which told him the Cubs would  "lose this World Series and you will never win a World Series again because you insulted my goat."  Cubs fans will point to the angry tavern owner (and not to the fact that they have routinely had sub par players and often owners who refused to spend the money needed to bring in the pieces they were missing or made poor personnel decisions) to explain the fact that the Cubs haven't won a World Series.  (They also ignore the nearly 40 years without a World Series win before the curse was invoked).

There was one change that took way too long to happen, yet, when it did, it completely changed the way the game was played.  Branch Rickey had long wanted to integrate the game and there had been a few half hearted attempts by others throughout the years.  Bill Veeck had once tried to buy the Phillies organization and fill out the roster with all players from the Negro Leagues but when the other National League owners heard of his plan they made sure the team was sold to someone else.  Rickey realized that once African Americans were allowed to risk their lives to fight for the country overseas, it made no sense to keep them from playing the national past time when they came home.  Rickey searched long and hard to find the right person to break the color barrier.  Had he looked forever he never would have found a better person.

Jack Roosevelt Robinson was an All-American football star at UCLA, an Olympic champion, a military veteran and a member of the Negro leagues.  Rickey called him to his office and explained his plan:  Jack would be signed to play for the Dodgers with the understanding that no matter what happened, regardless of the things yelled at him, objects thrown at him, attempts to spike him or intimidate him Jack couldn't fight back  He couldn't respond.  This was not just about the success of Jack.  This was about the success of an experiment to see if the country would be able to accept this mixing of the races.  The pressure that Robinson was under is beyond comprehension.  There was no one he could turn to and discuss the loneliness, the hurt, the stress, the anger.  When Robinson stepped on the field in 1947 he had to ignore the intentional spikings, the pitches aimed at his head, the insults and angry curses from the fans.  When the team bus stopped for dinner at a restaurant Jack sat alone on the dark bus waiting for the team to finish eating.  If he was lucky one of the players would bring him cold take out, otherwise he went hungry.  When the bus stopped to fill up with gas, Jack had to pray the gas station would have a restroom for "colored" or he would at least be able to sneak into the "whites only" restroom.  Otherwise it would be a hell of a long trip.  When the Dodgers reached St. Louis, Cincinnati or Chicago and the white players went to their fancy hotels with room service and a pool, Jackie had to go to the roach motels, the only ones where African Americans were allowed, or hope there was a prominent family in town who would take him in for a few days.  No rookie has ever had more pressure or worse conditions and few rookies have had better years.  He stole 29 bases (including stealing home several times), scored 125 runs, hit 31 doubles, and laid down 28 sacrifices.  There's a reason the rookie of the year award is named after him.  Halfway through the season, when it became clear that Rickey and Robinson had succeeded, nearly every team was looking to integrate.  The teams that did not adapt to the new league would be the teams that were at the bottom of the standings over the years to come.

Although the names of Jackie Robinson, Joe DiMaggio, Ted Williams and Bob Feller will be the names that are remembered thirty, forty or fifty years from now (or more), every decade has tremendously talented, successful players who make wonderful contributions to the success of their teams, organizations and the league as a whole. Unfortunately many of the players who fall into this category will be forgotten, overlooked and generally ignored. Here are 13 players* from the decade you may not remember but you definitely should:

Mickey Owen

Career Teams:  St.Louis Cardinals (1937-1940), Brooklyn Dodgers (1941-1945), Chicago Cubs (1949-1951) and Boston Red Sox (1954).
All Star Appearances: 1941, 1942, 1943 and 1944.
MVP Voting: 1942 (4th)
The fourth game is often the crucial game of a World Series.  It can put a team up by an almost insurmountable 3 games to 1 lead or it can even the series at 2.  If your team is an underdog, looking to upset one of the all-time great teams, you need a quick boost of confidence, something that tells your team, without any words, "These guys aren't so great.  We can beat these guys."  The 1988 Dodgers had the Kirk Gibson home run.  1954 Giants had Willie Mays's great catch.  The 1941 Dodgers had Pete Reiser's Game 4, 5th inning, 2 run home run to put the Dodgers ahead 4-3.  The Dodgers pitchers tip toed through the landmines of the Yankees lineup for the next three innings and retired the first two batters of the 9th inning.  One more out and the Dodgers had the series tied and confidence moving through the rest of the Series.  Tommy Henrich stepped in to face Hugh Casey and was quickly down to his final strike.  Casey threw the next pitch low in the zone and Henrich swung and missed.  Strike 3 game over...except...  The ball broke so sharply that it bounced right past Mickey Owen, the Dodgers catcher.  The movement of the ball was so ridiculous that some later claimed it was a spitter.  Regardless, the ball went far enough away for Henrich to reach first.  The next batter was Joe DiMaggio who singled and was followed by a two run Charlie Keller double, a Bill Dickey walk and a Joe Gordon two run double.  The Dodgers lost the game and lost the next day as well.  The one thing that everyone knew about Mickey Owen the rest of his career was that one passed ball.  Owen was never a gigantic offensive threat (he never hit higher than .286 and never hit more than 4 Home Runs in a season) but he was usually a very strong fielder.  He rarely reached double digits in errors for a season and did not allow more than 11 passed balls in any season while usually throwing out more than 50% of potential base stealers.  Owen was drafted into the Navy for World War II and when he returned was unable to reach an agreement with the Dodgers so he signed a contract with a team in the Mexican League, which was attracting returning players with higher salaries.  The commissioner was furious and suspended all players who signed with the Mexican League indefinitely (it would be hard to imagine them caring that they were suspended from a league they weren't part of anymore).  After three years the Mexican League shut down and the offending players were begrudgingly allowed to sign with major league teams.  Owen joined the Cubs and although he was a good contributor on some truly terrible Cubs teams, he would forever be remembered for the passed ball that allowed the Yankees to win Game 4.

Frank "Buck" McCormick

Career Teams: Cincinnati Reds (1934 and 1937-1945), Philadelphia Phillies (1946-1947) and Boston Braves (1947-1948).
All Star Appearances:  1938, 1939, 1940, 1941, 1942, 1943, 1944 and 1946.
MVP Voting:  1938 (5th), 1939 (4th), 1940 (1st), 1942 (27th), 1943 (9th), 1944 (13th), 1945 (24th) and 1946 (34th)
The Cincinnati Reds are often overlooked for their historical success as an organization.  The Cardinals, Yankees, Red Sox, Braves and even the Pirates are viewed as the paragons of success.  Many think the Big Red Machine teams of the 1970's were the most successful period for the Reds.  True, the 1930's were not the best of times for the Queen City franchise but they ended with marked improvement.  Frank McCormick was a big reason for the turn around.   As the Reds started their assault on the top of the league, Buck was leading the league in hits three years in a row (1938-1940), led the league with 128 RBI in 1939 and won the MVP of the league in 1940 hitting .309 with 44 doubles and 19 Home Runs.  McCormick played in the World Series three times (1939 Reds, 1940 Reds and 1948 Braves). His best appearance was in the Reds 1939 loss to the Yankees.  As the rest of the team struggled to hit (Lonny Frey went 0-17 in the series) McCormick hit .400 with 1 run, a double and an RBI.  The Reds came back the next year, McCormick's MVP year, and beat the Tigers in a 7 Game World Series.  In the 7th inning of Game 7, with the Reds trailing 1-0 McCormick led off the inning with a double (only the 5th hit of the day for the Reds).  It sparked a rally.  Jimmy Ripple followed McCormick with another double scoring Buck with the tying run.  A sacrifice bunt, intentional walk and a sacrifice fly later, the Reds scored the go ahead (and eventual World Series winning) run.  The rally was sparked by the league MVP and forgotten star Frank McCormick.

Phil Cavarretta

Career Teams:  Chicago Cubs (1934-1953) and Chicago White Sox (1954-1955)
All Star Appearances:  1944, 1946 and 1947
MVP Voting:  1943 (28th), 1944 (14th),1945 (1st), 1946 (10th), 1947 (23rd), 1948 (24th) and 1952 (23rd)
Fans of teams who have long stretches without a World Series title love to find a reason (other than the poor teams they fielded) to explain why the team hasn't won.  The Red Sox had the curse of Babe Ruth.  The Phillies (and Flyers, and Eagles, and 76ers) had the curse of William Penn.  The White Sox had the curse of the Black Sox.  The Cubs (still) have the curse of the Billy Goat.  Had you mentioned the curse to Phil Cavarretta he would have thought you were insane.  The Cubs, to Cavarretta, were a team constantly on the verge of a World Series win, they just always faced strong competition in the Series: The Philadelphia Athletics, the Yankees, the Tigers.  Their losing had nothing to do with a curse and definitely nothing to do with Phil Cavarretta.  The Cubs reached the World Series three times during Phil's tenure.   In Cavarretta's MVP season the Cubs took the Tigers to a Game 7.  It was an ugly series. The Cubs of the 1930's and 1940's had a reputation of being brutal on opposing players.  Their bench often was identified as one of the most vicious in taunting opponents.  The Tigers scored five times in the first inning of Game 7.  The inning was set up by a stunning sacrifice bunt by Hank Greenberg, the Tigers' version of Babe Ruth.  The Tigers manager Steve O'Neill said "that bunt upset them the rest of the game."  To the Cubs it wasn't over yet.  Cavarretta went 3-4 with a run and an RBI but it wasn't enough.  Cavarretta hit .423 with 2 doubles, a Home Run, scored seven runs and drove in 5 for the Series.  It would be the last time the Cubs would reach the World Series.

Joe "Flash" Gordon

Career Teams:  New York Yankees (1938-1946) and Cleveland Indians (1947-1950)
All Star Appearances: 1939, 1940, 1941, 1942, 1943, 1946, 1947, 1948 and 1949
MVP Voting: 1938 (12th), 1939 (9th), 1940 (23rd), 1941(7th), 1942 (1st), 1943 (25th), 1947 (7th) and 1948 (6th).
The Major League Baseball Hall of Fame has a Veterans Committee to review the borderline Hall of Fame players who were not originally elected.  The committee is made up of Hall of Fame members.  There are some who feel the Committee is pointless or just flat out stupid (I personally think they do a great job).  One of the deserving members of the Hall of Fame that was elected through this process was Joe Gordon.  There were a lot of people who complained that Gordon got in only because he was a Yankee and that it showed a Yankee bias.  I even saw someone write that it was "another undeserving" Yankee in the Hall of Fame.  Joe Gordon definitely deserves to be in the Hall of Fame.  A 9 time all star, 6 time World Series participant (5 time champion) and 1942 league MVP, Gordon lost three years in the prime of his career to serve in the military during World War II.  If nothing proves that he was not just another Yankee getting into the Hall of Fame, look at his contributions to the World Champion 1948 Indians.  He set career highs (even for a former MVP) in Home Runs and RBI and hit .280 for the year. Gordon was the double play partner for Cleveland's legend Lou Boudreau and his veteran, winning experience helped settle the Indians younger players.  Gordon had four hits in the 6 game series victory against the Braves, including a home run.  There is no doubt that Gordon belongs with the best of the best.

Vern Stephens

Career Teams:  St.Louis Browns (1941-1947), Boston Red Sox (1948-1952), Chicago White Sox (1953), St.Louis Browns (1953), Baltimore Orioles (1954-1955) and Chicago White Sox (1955)
All Star Appearances: 1943, 1944, 1946, 1948, 1949, 1950 and 1951
MVP Voting: 1942 (4th), 1943 (9th), 1944 (3rd), 1945 (6th), 1946 (19th), 1947 (31st), 1948 (4th), 1949 (7th) and 1950 (24th).
The St.Louis Browns reached the World Series once in their existence.  That's not a typo.  The St. Louis Browns won the American League pennant by 1 game over the Tigers and reached the 1944 World Series.  It would be easy to blow off the Browns success as only being made possible by the gigantic amount of talent that was sent to Europe to serve in the war.  True, the Browns had the least amount of men sent overseas. (insert joke here about the Browns players not even being good enough to be drafted).  Yet if they were that "lucky" to reach the World Series you would expect them to fall flat on their face when they faced the powerhouse Cardinals in the World Series.  They may not have had to face Joltin' Joe, Rapid Robert Feller, Hammerin' Hank Greenberg or Teddy Ballgame in the American League pennant race but they still faced a strong Cardinals team in their third straight World Series. The Cards had lost men too but Stan Musial, Danny Litwhiler, Marty Marian, Walker Cooper and Whitey Kurowski were still there.  The Browns team leader was unquestionably Vern Stephens, their shortstop.  He had lasted through some unbelievably bad Browns teams (he would last through quite a few more) but his 1944 season was probably his best.  He hit .293, drove in 109, scored 91 and hit 24 home runs.  The Browns got that momentum boost that Mickey Owen let slip past him.  They won the first game 2-1 as Denny Galehouse dominated the strong Cardinal lineup.  Game 2 was an 11 inning 3-2 Cardinals win and the Browns felt they could have easily been up 2 games to 0.  The Browns proved they were serious with a Game 3 6-2 victory but the pixie dust wore off and the Cardinals won the next three to close out the series.  The Browns never returned to the Series and within a few years Stephens was dealt to the Red Sox (along with half the Browns team).  The trade that brought Stephens to Boston was very similar to the trade this off season that sent half of the Marlins to Toronto.  The trade worked out for Boston.  Stephens went on to lead the league in RBI twice (he drove in 159 runs in 1949) and hit 29, 39 and 30 Home Runs in his first three years in a Red Sox uniform.  1948 was his best year in Boston.  As Ted Williams struggled with injuries, Stephens kept the Red Sox in the race, eventually allowing them to tie the Indians for first place.  In the 1948 one game playoff with the Indians, Cleveland took a 1 run lead in the first.  Stephens did what he did best:  he drove in a run to tie the game up.  Unfortunately, Ken Keltner saw to it that the Indians beat out the Red Sox.  The strong Red Sox teams of the 1940's are usually attributed to four main players:  Ted Williams, Bobby Doerr, Johnny Pesky and Dom DiMaggio.  Yet while they were the guys getting on base, Stephens was the one driving them in to the plate.

Ken Keltner

Career Teams: Cleveland Indians (1937-1949) and Boston Red Sox (1950)
All Star Appearances:  1940, 1941, 1942, 1943, 1944, 1946 and 1948
MVP Voting:  1938 (14th), 1939 (12th), 1942 (14th), 1943 (34th) and 1948 (14th)
Every organization, whether brand new or one of the original sixteen, has their glory days.  Their one time period where the fan base can point to and say "That was our best time.  It will never be that good again."  Cubs fans have to go all the way back to the 1900's.  Braves fans will point to the 1990's.  I suppose Rockies fans can point to 2007.  Indians fans point to the 1948 season.  That was the last time Cleveland won a World Series.  The third baseman for the Indians' great team was Ken Keltner.  When the Indians and Red Sox tied at the end of the 1948 regular season, a one game playoff was set for Fenway Park.  Winner went to the World Series, loser went home for the winter.  The game was tied at 1 in the top of the fourth.  With Lou Boudreau and Joe Gordon on base, Ken Keltner untied the score with one swing.  Keltner launched a three run Home Run to give the Indians a 4-3 lead and knock Denny Galehouse out of the game.  As the tribe knocked off Bob Elliott and the Braves, Keltner's bat cooled off (2-16, .083 and 0 extra base hits).  Keltner had already done his job.  He had gotten the Indians to the World Series.

Bob Elliot

Career Teams: Pittsburgh Pirates (1939-1946), Boston Braves (1947-1951), New York Giants (1952), St. Louis Browns (1953) and Chicago White Sox (1953)
All Star Appearances: 1941, 1942, 1944, 1947, 1948 and 1951
MVP Voting: 1942 (9th), 1943 (8th), 1944 (10th), 1945 (16th), 1947 (1st), 1948 (13th) and 1950 (24th)
Here's a trivia question to stump your friends with:  Who led the National League in hits during the 1940's?  Not Stan Musial or Pee Wee Reese or Phil Cavarretta.  It was Bob Elliott.  Similar to George Kell, Elliot played for the Pirates and Braves while they were struggling and finishing in the bottom of the league routinely.  Unlike Kell, Elliot was able to break into some national attention by winning the MVP in 1947 (Jackie Robinson's first year in the league) with a .317 average, 35 doubles, 22 Home Runs and drove in 113 runs as the Braves started climbing the standings ladder.  The next year they reached the top for the last time in Boston.  Elliott played well in the 1948 World Series, hitting .333 with 2 Home Runs, 4 Runs and 5 RBI.  Unlike George Kell, Elliott has not reached the Hall of Fame.

Pete Gray

Career Teams:  St. Louis Browns (1945)
All Star Appearances: None
MVP Voting:  None.
Jim Abbott was an amazing pitcher who overcame being born without a hand.  Pete Gray overcame similar obstacles.  At the age of 6, Pete Gray was in an accident where his arm was caught under a moving train.  The arm was amputated at the elbow.  As the Major Leagues saw their best talent of he 1940's sent to Europe to fight the war, the teams needed to fill out their roster with able bodied men not able bodied enough to be drafted.  Pete Gray likely would not have made the majors had it not been for the shortage of players, but he was doing just fine for Memphis in the minors.  Gray stood in the batters box from the left side and held the bat with his left (back) hand.  Obviously he couldn't follow through on his swing so he hit mostly singles (of his 51 hits only 8 were for extra bases.  He had two triples and six doubles).  To field the ball he kept his glove on his left hand.  When he fielded the ball he very quickly removed the glove and transferred the ball to his left hand.  It was so quick you almost couldn't believe it was possible.  He played in only 77 games and hit .217 but for his short time in the league he was a media sensation.

Vince DiMaggio

Career Teams: Boston Bees (1937-1938), Cincinnati Reds (1939-1940), Pittsburgh Pirates (1940-1944), Philadelphia Phillies (1945-1946) and New York Giants (1946)
All Star Appearances: 1943 and 1944
MVP Voting:  1941 (21st) and 1945 (33rd)
Occasionally baseball scouts find a gold mine of baseball talent in one area.  In the early part of the century everyone seemed to come from the crop of Irish immigrants.  In the 1920's it seemed to be the San Francisco area.  In the 1950's when the Aaron brothers, Willie McCovey and Tommie Agee came in the league they all came from Mobile, Alabama.  In the 1970's it was the Dominican Republic.  The 1930's seemed to be the DiMaggio household.  Vince DiMaggio was a good player but he was no Joe DiMaggio.  Vince, the oldest of the DiMaggio brothers, never threatened Joe's popularity or achievements but he did have a decent ten year career. It is not fair to compare his numbers (or any one's numbers) to Joe's but the biggest contrast is in the strikeouts.  Vince led the league in strikeouts six times.  Joe never had more than 39 in a season.  For his career Vince struck out 837 times, Joe's career strikeouts were only 369.

Dom "The Little Professor" DiMaggio

Career Teams:  Boston Red Sox (1940-1953)
All Star Appearances:  1941, 1942, 1946, 949, 1950, 1951 and 1952
MVP Voting: 1941 (27th), 1946 (29th), 1948 (29th),1949 (16th), 1950 (14th) and 1951 (19th)
Dom was the youngest of the three DiMaggio brothers.  Similar to Vince, he was no Joe, but he was still one of the top players in the league.  If the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry isn't vicious enough, imagine the intensity you added by throwing a sibling rivalry into it.  The 1948 pennant race was a tight three way battle between the Indians, Red Sox and Yankees.  Dom was scheduled to get married on October 6th, assuming the Red Sox weren't in the World Series.  The final three games for the Red Sox were head to head against New York in Fenway.  With two games left the Red Sox won, knocking the Yankees, and Joe, out of contention.  The DiMaggio's were having a big family dinner at Dom's house that night.  On the way to dinner Joe turned to Dom and said "You knocked us out today but we're going to return the favor tomorrow."  It wasn't a joke.  It wasn't sarcastic or bitter. Joe had spoken.  Dom replied "I think you're forgetting, I may have something to do with that."  Dom did.  He hit a game winning home run to send Boston to a one game playoff with Cleveland (which the Indians ended up winning).  He missed three years of his career to serve in World War II but he did get to play in the 1946 World Series.  Dom had seven hits in the seven game loss to the Cardinals, 3 doubles and although the Red Sox were constantly close they never made it back for a second chance.

"Pistol" Pete Reiser

Career Teams: Brooklyn Dodgers (1940-1948), Boston Braves (1949-1950), Pittsburgh Pirates (1951) and Cleveland Indians (1952)
All Star Appearances:  1941, 1942 and 1946
MVP Voting: 1941 (2nd), 1942(6th) and 1946 (9th)
The St. Louis Cardinals were the first team to start using a farm system that fed directly into their Major League team and taught the young players the team's way to play the game.  The good news was that the Cardinals were able to build a strong team that was continuously near the top of the league.  The bad news was that they stockpiled talented young players they never intended to promote to the big leagues just so other teams couldn't use them.  The league didn't like it and forced the Cardinals to trade or release most of them.  Branch Rickey, the President of the Cardinals didn't want to lose Pete Reiser but he couldn't keep him.  He struck a deal with Larry MacPhail, President of the Dodgers and a long time friend.  He sold Pete Reiser's contract to the Dodgers for $100 with the understanding that he would come back to St. Louis when he was ready for the majors.  When the Dodgers manager Leo Durocher saw him in spring training he couldn't resist playing him.  He got an immediate notice from MacPhail never to play Reiser again and not to ask any questions.  Durocher ignored him.  Reiser very quickly became a star.  In his first full year in the majors, 1941, Reiser led the league in batting average, runs, doubles, triples, slugging percentage and hit by pitch.  In the World Series he hit only .200 but had 4 hits (a single, double, triple and the three run Home run that set up the Mickey Owen passed ball).  He was a "motor guy" who made the Dodgers offense go.  He could field, hit, run, throw. He did everything.  He had just one problem: he never knew when to stop.  In the middle of the 1942 season in a game against St.Louis, Reiser tracked a long fly ball from Enos Slaughter.  His teammates knew he wouldn't get it.  Reiser knew he would.  Sprinting straight back to the wall Reiser made the catch.  Reiser immediately collided head first, full speed, with the concrete wall in centerfield.  His skull was fractured.  Doctors told him he was done for the year but MacPhail refused to accept it and believed it was a personal affront to him that his star was being taken away.  Reiser suffered from double vision and dizzy spells but tried to force his way through the pain.  The doctor's were right.  It effected him terribly and long term. He struggled through the last few months and then was drafted for the military.  He returned after three years in the service but he wasn't the Reiser he was before.  Branch Rickey was furious with MacPhail for ruining what could have been a Hall of Fame  career.  Reiser is a legend in Dodgers history.  In the recent Captain America: The First Avenger film,the military is attempting to convince Steve Rogers that he is still in the 1940's and not the present day.  In the background, as he wakes from his coma, can be heard a play by play of a Dodgers game.  It is an inside the park home run for Pete Reiser.

Joe "The Fireman" Page

Career Teams:  New York Yankees (1944-1950) and Pittsburgh Pirates (1954)
All Star Appearances:  1944, 1947 and 1948.
MVP Voting:  1947 (4th) and 1949 (3rd).
The nickname given to Joe Page pretty much says it all.  For four tremendous years in the 1940's he put out fires set by the Yankees starters.  If the game started to get dangerous the alarm was rung and Page rushed in to close it down.  This was before a relief pitcher was a glamorous job.  It was looked at as an insult not as a specialty.  Page didn't care.  Between 1947 and 1950 Page saved 73 games, including an amazing (for the time) 27 saves.  Like nearly all relievers (except for Lee Smith, Mariano Rivera and Trevor Hoffman) Page had a short shelf life.  He was sent to the minors half way through the 1950 season and never recovered his strong form from the previous three years.   

Rip Sewell

Career Teams: Detroit Tigers (1932) and Pittsburgh Pirates (1938-1949)
Al Star Appearances: 1943, 1944 and 1946
MVP Voting: 1940 (25th), 1943 (6th) and 1944 (11th)
Rip Sewell developed a pitch that Richard Pryor's character in "Brewster's Millions" would have been proud of. Sewell called it the "eephus pitch".   Here's how it worked.  A good fastball (not a Randy Johnson fastball) is in the mid to high 90's miles per hour.  All pitchers want to have a good off speed pitch, probably in the mid to high 80's, to fool the batter a little and upset their timing.  The thing about pitching an offspeed pitch is that the motion needs to be a mirror image of your fastball motion or the change in speed won't fool anyone.  Sewell had only an average fast ball but one day he decided to take a little off the pitch.  The pitch moved only about 55 miles per hour.  That wasn't the weirdest part.  The pitch had an arc to it, not like a curve ball or a sinker.  It was an arc like a lawn dart.  It went about 20-25 feet up and came down (hopefully) through the strike zone.  It was like slow pitch soft ball with an over hand motion.  Batters couldn't resist it.  Imagine being a home run hitter and getting a pitch easier than batting practice to swing at.  The only problem was no one could hit this damn thing.  The pitch wasn't something you can use every pitch but it was effective enough to earn Sewell a place in the 1946 All Star Game.  The National League got slaughtered 12-0.  Sewell and the eephus pitch were the most memorable moment in the game.  Ted Williams stepped into face Sewell in front of the home town fans in Fenway.  Williams had heard all about this pitch but had never faced Sewell before.  As Williams stepped up to the plate, the greatest hitter who ever lived, couldn't resist it.  He yelled out to Sewell "C'mon Rip, show me that damn eephus pitch you got!"  Sewell chuckled and unleashed the high arcing, slow moving toss.  Williams waited on it and fouled it off.  Williams laughed.  Sewell laughed.  Then Williams, still smiling, got serious about his work.  "Let's go Rip.  Throw it again."  Then Rip Sewell did what no other pitcher had ever done.  He let Ted Williams know exactly what was coming.  Ted Williams did what no one else had been able to do before and never would again.  He knocked Rip Sewell's eephus pitch for a Home Run.

* Author's Note:  Just as in the last few weeks, and as may be seen in the next few weeks as we move through this series of articles, I did my best to keep this to one player per position, however, the farther we move from these eras, the easier it is to forget these types of players (and even some hall of fame players).  It is important to remember as we follow the sport that the superstars are not the only ones making contributions to the success of a team.  This is not a comprehensive list of players who fall into this category from this era, it is simply my choice of players who best represented their position and have become forgotten or misunderstood.  Your list is probably different.  Email me yours or leave a comment.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

14 Players You May Not Know from the 1950's but Should

Saying the 1950's were dominated by the New York teams would be putting it mildly.  New York owned the 1950's.  At least one of the three New York teams (Yankees, Dodgers and Giants) appeared in all but the 1959 World Series and that was because the Dodgers and Giants had moved to the west coast by then.  They were so dominant that the three New York teams won 16 (17 if you count the Dodgers 1959 pennant in LA) of the twenty league pennants (AL and NL combined) in the decade.  New York players also won 11 MVP awards, six rookies of the year and two of the four Cy Young Awards given out in the decade.

Although New York was the center of the baseball universe in the decade, it was not the only place baseball was played.  The Yankees may have won the American League almost every year of the decade but Al Lopez broke the Yankees stranglehold twice, amazingly, with two different teams.  Lopez was the manager of the decade without a doubt.  Casey Stengel constantly won with the Yankees big salaries (for that time period), strong scouting system and ability to trade strong young talent for players that filled needed holes.  Lopez had to build the team with his own judge of talent.  He worked with Hank Greenberg in both Cleveland and Chicago to build consistently strong teams.  Although the Yankees always seemed to finish far ahead, Lopez's teams often finished a distant second or third but far above the 4th-8th place teams. 

The 1950's were a decade of change and movement.  After having stayed relatively the same for decades teams started to migrate.  Cities were no longer able to support two major teams.  The Boston Braves moved to Milwaukee, the Washington Senators moved to Minnesota to become the Twins.  The Philadelphia Athletics became the Kansas City Athletics, the St.Louis Browns moved to Baltimore and became the Orioles and, most painful of all, the Dodgers left Brooklyn and the Giants left New York City.

It was the first full decade of baseball without segregation (on the field).  After the success of Jackie Robinson nearly every team signed an African American player, raiding the Negro Leagues for the stars and driving the league out of business.  Satchel Paige, Henry Aaron, Willie Mays, Monte Irvin, Ernie Banks, Frank Robinson, Don Newcombe, Roy Campanella.   These were the young players (although Paige was not so young) that infused the game with an energy and would carry it into the future.  Nearly every team was quick to follow the Dodgers and recognize the talent that was available in the Negro Leagues. Only the Phillies, Red Sox and Yankees failed to react to the new landscape and two of the three suffered for it during the decade (the Yankees would suffer for their slow movement in the late 1960's through the early 1970's).  The Phillies felt that their 1950's Whiz Kids team would be successful for the entire decade but their failure to consider scouting African American players kept them from being a competitive team the rest of the decade and by 1958 they were the worst National League team.  The Red Sox suffered a similar fate.  When Jackie Robinson entered the league the Red Sox usually were competing for a top spot (always coming up just short) but as the other teams began to accept the changes, and the Red Sox ignored them, they fell back into the middle of the pack and were only helped into the upper division by the habitually terrible teams of the Athletics and St. Louis Browns.

The saddest story of the fall of the Negro Leagues were the players who never had a chance to play in the Major Leagues once the color barrier was broken, not because of talent but because of age.  No player is represented better in this category than Buck O'Neil.  O'Neil played and managed in the Negro leagues and coached briefly for the Cubs after the Negro Leagues shut down but by the time Jackie Robinson had broken the color barrier O'Neil was too old to play and no team would dream about giving an African American a manager job (that was nearly thirty years away).  O'Neil loved the game, lived the game.  Seeing the love of the game in the smile of Dave Henderson, Hal McRae, or Chipper Jones seems almost gloomy compared to the love of the game that radiates from one word out of the mouth of Buck O'Neil.  There are hundreds of players who we can lament not having the chance to play in the Major Leagues but one of the biggest disappointments is that Buck O'Neil never got to manage in the Majors, let alone play.  Buck's knowledge of the game, passion for the game and ability to teach the game, might have ranked him with some of the greatest managers of all time. O'Neil was a gracious man.  His passion for the game came through in every word he spoke.  He had the right to be bitter.  Bitter that he was born too soon to get the opportunity to play.  Bitter that others had the opportunities that he didn't.  Bitter that others got the recognition he deserved.  He wasn't.  No better example exists than this: a few years before he passed away the Veteran's Committee of the Hall of Fame nominated a number of Negro League players to be inducted into the Hall of Fame.  Embarrassingly, unbelievably, O'Neill was not among them.  Not as a player.  Not as a manager. Not as a special ambassador of the game.   Unfortunately most of them had passed away or were not able to speak at the induction due to age.  To represent these players O'Neil was asked to speak on their behalf.  He could have spent the whole time saying what everyone else with a brain was saying: that he should have been included in the Hall of Fame.  Instead he said how happy he was to be able to speak for these players and how wonderful it was that these men were being recognized.  If you ever question that baseball is the national past time look up an interview with Buck O'Neil.  It will restore your faith in the game.

Although the names of Jackie Robinson,Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle,Yogi Berra, Duke Snider, Pee Wee Reese, Eddie Mathews and Henry Aaron will be the names that are remembered thirty, forty or fifty years from now (or more), every decade has tremendously talented, successful players who make wonderful contributions to the success of their teams, organizations and the league as a whole. Unfortunately many of the players who fall into this category will be forgotten, overlooked and generally ignored. Here are 14 players* from the decade you may not remember but you definitely should:

Sherm Lollar

Career Teams:  Cleveland Indians (1946), New York Yankees (1947-1948), St. Louis Browns (1949-1951) and Chicago White Sox (1952-1963)
All Star Appearances:  1950, 1954, 1955, 1956, 1958, 1959 and 1960
MVP Voting: 1950 (27th), 1955 (11th), 1956 (16th), 1957 (22nd) , 1958 (9th) and 1959 (9th)
Many people consider the Catcher to be the most important position on the field.  He is involved in every pitch of every game.  He calls every pitch and is usually the manager's representative on the field.  Very few players had more to do with the success of their team in the 1950's than Sherm Lollar.  The White Sox may have only cracked the Yankee dynasty once in the decade but they were consistently fighting the Indians for second place.  Lollar's best season coincided with the "Go-Go" White Sox's 1959 World Series appearance.  Lollar set career highs in home runs (22) and RBI (84) and although the Sox lost to the Dodgers in the World Series he hit one home run and drove in 5.  Lollar's biggest contribution was behind the plate and in the clubhouse.  Al Lopez trusted him completely and depended on him to run the team on the field.

Joe Adcock

Career Teams:  Cincinnati Reds (1950-1952), Milwaukee Braves (1953-1962), Cleveland Indians (1963), Los Angeles/California Angels (1964-1966)
All Star Appearances: 1960
MVP Voting:  1954 (8th), 1956 (11th), 1958 (22nd) and 1960 (19th)
Although the decade was dominated by the three New York teams the Milwaukee Braves had some tremendous success.  They nearly made the World Series in 1956 but fell apart down the stretch and were overtaken by the Dodgers who won the pennant by one game.  The Braves had one of the great one-two pitching punches in history with Warren Spahn and Lew Burdette.  Their offense was extremely powerful with two of the greatest hitters in the history of the game:  Henry Aaron and Eddie Mathews.  It was easy for Joe Adcock to get lost in the big names.  Adcock was a truly powerful bat and even hit a ball clear out of Ebbett's Field, estimated as the longest ball hit in (or out of) Ebbett's Field.  Considering Duke Snider and Gil Hodges played there on a regular basis, it is a pretty impressive shot.  The Braves made the World Series two years in a row (1957 and 1958), both 7 game classics against the Yankees.  Playing in Milwaukee in a decade dominated by New York teams made it even more difficult to get attention.  Adcock could have made a name for himself while the world was watching the World Series but he didn't have eye popping numbers in the two World Series.  He had only 7 hits combined over the two series and had 0 extra base hits but Joe Adcock was a big reason for the Braves success.

Chuck "The Rifleman" Connors

Career Teams:  Brooklyn Dodgers (1949) and Chicago Cubs (1951)
All Star Appearances:  None.
MVP Voting: None.
Kevin Joseph Aloysius Connors played a total of 67 career games.  One of them for the Brooklyn Dodgers and 66 for the Cubs and hit just 2 home runs and .238.  All games were played at first base and he made 8 career errors.  It was a brief, unsuccessful career.  Connors did gain a lot of success after leaving the diamond by getting in front of a camera.  Connors became an actor and gained a lot of attention playing his signature character, "The Rifleman".  The show ran for five years on ABC debuting in 1958.  The show featured many big name guest stars including Buddy Hackett, Sammy Davis, Jr and Don Drysdale. CBS is currently considering a remake of the show but no cast or debut date has been announced.

Nellie Fox

Career Teams:  Philadelphia Athletics (1947-1949), Chicago White Sox (1950-1963), Houston Colt .45's/Astros (1964-1965)
All Star Appearances:  1951, 1952, 1953, 1954, 1955, 1956, 1957, 1958, 1959, 1960, 1961 and 1963
MVP Voting:  1951 (17th), 1952 (7th), 1954 (9th), 1955 (7th), 1956 (14th), 1957 (4th), 1958 (8th), 1959 (1st), 1960 (18th) and 1963 (26th)
If Sherm Lollar was the field general of the White Sox in the 1950's Nellie Fox was the generals assistant.  He was the face of the White Sox during a dark period for the team and although he was considered one of the best in the game he played for a very poor team that made it difficult for anyone outside of Chicago to recognize his contributions.  In that sense he is very much like Tony Gwynn and Robin Yount.  Fox came up in the Philadelphia Athletics organization but was never recognized by Connie Mack as the talent he was.  There is a story that is usually told that when Mack waived Fox, Clark Griffith of the Washington Senators wanted to claim Fox's contract from Philadelphia but was cautioned by Connie Mack not to waste his $10,000 as Fox had no talent (it is usually explained that Mack was senile by this point but these stories are not always reliable).  Fox was then traded to Chicago for a Catcher named Joe Tipton who played a total of 417 career games.  Fox went on to a Hall of Fame career.  Similar to Yount and Gwynn, Fox did get a brief shot at the World Series.  He won the MVP in 1959 as the "Go-Go White Sox" dethroned the Yankee dynasty.  Fox was never a big power hitter but he had 34 doubles, scored 84 and drove in 70.  Along with Lollar, Fox was a clubhouse leader and was trusted heavily by Al Lopez.  Similar to Yount in 1982 Fox had a great Series and had the "Go-Go Sox" won the World Series he likely would have been considered for the MVP of the series.  Fox hit .375 with three doubles and four runs.  When he retired from the game Fox held several all time White Sox records.  He made the Hall of Fame but never quite got the nation wide recognition he deserved.

Red Schoendienst

Career Teams:  St. Louis Cardinals (1945-1956), New York Giants (1956-1957), Milwaukee Braves (1957-1960) and St. Louis Cardinals (1961-1963)
All Star Appearances:  1946, 1948, 1949, 1950, 1951, 1952, 1953, 1954, 1955 and 1957
MVP Voting: 1946 (26th), 1949 (10th), 1952 (10th), 1953 (4th), 1954 (13th) and 1957 (3rd).
Red Schoendienst played on three of the greatest teams in the history of the game (1946 Cardinals, 1957 and 1958 Braves) but each time he was overshadowed by the bigger names.  He played with names that are the most identifiable in the history of the game: Hank Aaron, Eddie Matthews, Warren Spahn, Stan Musial, Willie Mays, Willie McCovey.  Schoendienst was always overshadowed but always a strong presence in the lineup.  Similar to George Kell (keep reading you'll get to it) he made ten all star games in 15 years but unlike Kell he won the World Series twice and lost a third in seven games.  Schoendienst had his best series the year his Braves lost in seven games, hitting .300 with 9 hits and 3 doubles.  After retirement (and long after his entrance into the Hall of Fame) Schoendienst remained a legend in St. Louis.  He became a coach for the Cardinals as part of the legendary 1980's World Series teams.  Similar to Don Zimmer in the 1990's with the Yankees, seeing Schoendienst on the bench often brought a chuckle of the silly old man sitting on the bench.  Yet his comical appearance covered a brilliant baseball mind.

Alvin "The Swamp Fox" Dark

Career Teams:  Boston Braves (1946 and 1948-1949), New York Giants (1950-1956), St. Louis Cardinals (1956-1958), Chicago Cubs (1958-1959), Philadelphia Phillies (1960) and Milwaukee Braves (1960).
All Star Appearances: 1951, 1952 and 1954.
MVP Voting:  1948 (3rd), 1949 (25th), 1951 (12th), 1952 (12th), 1954 (5th) and 1957 (17th)
Every team needs a player with a Napoleon complex.  Someone who is not afraid to show his temper.  Someone who will fight back, if not for an insult done to him, then at least for an insult done to a teammate.  In hockey they're called the enforcers.  In baseball they're called "red asses". The A's in the 1970's had Bert Campaneris.  The Royals of the late 1970's and 1980's had George Brett.  The Giants in the 1950's had Al Dark.  Dark was never afraid to mix it up with the big guys, especially the Dodgers, though at 5'11" and 185 pounds Gil Hodges probably used bats bigger than Dark.  Anytime something went bad between the Dodgers and Giants you could bet Alvin Dark was at the start of it.  Although he was best known as a Giant, Dark was also a big contributor to the 1948 National League Champion Boston Braves.  Dark was the rookie of the year that year but fell flat in the World Series hitting only .148 as they lost to the Indians in 6 games.  He got his revenge in 1954 against the Indians.  The Indians were a heavy favorite in the Series but the Giants shocked everyone.  Dark had 7 hits and a .412 average to help lead the Giants to their last World Series victory in New York.

George Kell

Career Teams:  Philadelphia Athletics (1943-1946), Detroit Tigers (1946-1952), Boston Red Sox (1952-1954), Chicago White Sox (1954-1956) and Baltimore Orioles (1956-1957).
All Star Appearances:  1947, 1948, 1949, 1950, 1951, 1952, 1953, 1954, 1956 and 1957
MVP Voting:  1944 (22nd) , 1946 (16th), 1947 (5th), 1948 (16th), 1949 (8th), 1950 (4th), 1951 (15th) and 1953 (26th)
George Kell played for 15 years and appeared in close to 1800 career games.  He was an all star ten times, won a batting title and ended his career with 385 doubles and a .306 batting average.  Yet if you were to tell someone that George Kell is a Hall of Fame member the immediate response would probably be "Who the hell is George Kell?"  In 15 years he played in 0 postseason games and he rarely played on teams that finished closer than 15 games behind the first place team. Unlike Nellie Fox, who toiled in obscurity and finally got a shot at the World Series late in his career, Kell was the invisible superstar for his entire career, and his Hall of Fame status as well.

Al Rosen

Career Teams:  Cleveland Indians (1947-1956)
All Star Appearances:  1952, 1953, 1954 and 1955
MVP Voting:  1950 (17th), 1952 (10th), 1953 (1st) and 1954 (15th)
Star players of the Jewish faith in the early years of the game were few and far between.  There was Hank Greenberg then Al Rosen then Sandy Koufax.  The anti-Semitic stereotype of the day was that Jewish boys had no interest in sports.  Rosen once told the story of a high school football coach who questioned why he wanted to play the sport because he couldn't believe his people would want to play a contact sport.  When he was younger Rosen said he was glad his name was "ambiguously" Jewish so that it didn't draw attention to his religion.  As he got older he said he wished his name was more Jewish, like Rosenberg, so that no one would doubt it.  Regardless of his religion, Rosen was a great ballplayer. He won an MVP in 1953 leading the league with 115 runs, 43 home runs and 145 RBI.  He had a short playing career (only 10 years) but he went on to become a great executive for the Yankees and helped George Steinbrenner build the Yankees World Series teams in late 1970's.

Larry Doby

Career Teams:  Cleveland Indians (1947-1955), Chicago White Sox (1956-1957), Cleveland Indians (1958), Detroit Tigers (1959) and Chicago White Sox (1959).
All Star Appearances:  1949, 1950, 1951, 1952, 1953, 1954 and 1955
MVP Voting:  1948 (29th), 1950 (8th), 1952 (12th) and 1954 (2nd)
Everyone remembers the first person to accomplish a major feat but it is rare the second person to do it is recognized.  Jackie Robinson will forever be remembered for breaking the color barrier in the Major Leagues but few remember Larry Doby was the first African American to play in the American League.  Doby debuted in July 1947, just a few months after Robinson.  He didn't have the success of Robinson, but he also didn't have the support from his ownership that Robinson had and didn't have the talent that Robinson had (but no one had Robinson's talent). Doby had a very good career playing for the Indians and White Sox both under the management of Al Lopez.  Whereas Robinson gained a reputation for being a team player who got along with his teammates, Doby had a reputation for having a bit of a sour reputation and was not always liked in the clubhouse.  Doby's greatest season was the Indians' greatest season.  Doby led the league in home runs and RBI in 1954 as he finished 2nd in the MVP voting.  When the Indians slumped in the World Series Doby only hit .125.  Doby is often considered a failure because he didn't achieve the numbers that Robinson did but it is unfair to compare the two. 

Carl "The Reading Rifle" Furillo

Career Teams: Brooklyn/Los Angeles Dodgers (1946-1960)
All Star Appearances:  1952 and 1953
MVP Voting:  1946 (36th), 1949 (6th), 1950 (30th), 1951 (19th), 1953 (9th), 1955 (21st), 1956 (21st)  and 1958 (23rd).
The Dodgers clubhouse in the 1950's was a fun place to be.  Duke Snider, Pee Wee Reese, Jackie Robinson, Gil Hodges, Carl Erskine, Roy Campanella.  You can almost picture each one of them with a big smile on their face.  Who wouldn't smile when you got a World Series bonus check almost every year.  Apparently Carl Furillo didn't smile much.  In the histories of the Brooklyn Dodgers Furillo is alternately portrayed as dumb, angry and racist.  He denied all of these.  When the Dodgers announced they were signing Jackie Robinson several players decided to pass a petition that they would give to the Dodgers management expressing their disapproval.  Furillo swore to the day he died that he didn't sign it, though some claimed he did.  In the "Jackie Robinson Story" movie there was a character that Furillo felt was meant to portray him.  The character was portrayed as one of the players who fought against having Robinson join the team.  Furillo was furious and claimed that he had not done anything to hinder Robinson.  Regardless of the personality, Furillo was one of the great defensive players in the game.  No one played right field like Carl.  A local merchant named Abe Stark advertised on the right field wall with a sign that said "Hit Sign, Win Suit".  Stark never had to give away a single suit because Furillo patrolled rightfield so well.  Furillo should likely be in the Hall of Fame but is hurt by the fact that so many of his teammates have already been elected.

Cal Abrams

Career Teams:  Brooklyn Dodgers (1949-1952), Cincinnati Reds (1952), Pittsburgh Pirates (1953-1954), Baltimore Orioles (1954-1955) and Chicago White Sox (1956).
All Star Appearances:  None.
MVP Voting:  1954 (26th)
Visit Brooklyn in the 1960's and there are two names you never want to mention:  Walter O'Malley and Cal Abrams.  It would be like mentioning General Sherman in Atlanta, mentioning Scott Norwood in Buffalo or mentioning Bucky Dent in Boston.  Just a whisper of these names would probably spark some cursing, some angry looks and probably a spit just for good measure.  So what did Cal Abrams do to garner such hatred?  He took about three or four (or none depending on where you were sitting) extra steps and cost the Dodgers the 1950 pennant.  Philadelphia's "Whiz Kids" had shocked everyone by sticking with the Dodgers and Giants in the National League.  The Phillies led the Dodgers by two games with two games left to play in the season.  The last two games of the season were head to head in Brooklyn.  The Dodgers took game 1 cutting the lead to one game.  If the Dodgers won the last game of the regular season there would be a three game playoff to decide the National League pennant, lose and the Phillies would play the Yankees in the World Series.  The game was tied 1-1 in the bottom of the 9th when Cal Abrams led off the inning with a walk.  Pee Wee Reese sent him to second with a single.  2 on, 0 out and Duke Snider at bat.  Snider lined a single to center.  Abrams was moving on contact, it was clear it would fall.  Richie Ashburn, the Phillies centerfielder, did not have a great arm.  The third base coach didn't hesitate, he waved Abrams home.  Abrams hit the third base bag and made a wide turn.  He went about four steps wide as he headed home.  Ashburn fielded the ball on one hop and fired home on the fly.  Abrams was out at the plate.  The Dodgers failed to score, even with Reese on third and Snider on second with only one out and Robinson, Hodges and Furillo due up.  The game went to the top of the 10th tied when Dick Sisler hit a three run Home Run to give the Phils a 3 run lead and the National League pennant.  The reaction to Abrams was immediate and angry.  Cal played another season and a half in Brooklyn but he was forever blamed for the loss of the 1950 pennant just like Ralph Branca would be blamed for the 1951 loss.

Johnny Podres

Career Teams:  Brooklyn Dodgers (1953-1966), Detroit Tigers (1966-1967) and San Diego Padres (1969)
All Star Appearances:  1958, 1960 and 1962
MVP Voting:  1961 (14th)
The Dodgers pitching staff in the 1950's had some names that are still remembered today:  Carl Erskine, Don Newcomb, Ralph Branca.  Very few remember Johnny Podres, yet he won the most important game in Brooklyn's history.  He was in only his third year as a major league pitcher and he was known more for his nightlife reputation than his pitching reputation.  Podres was given the job of doing what Newcombe and Erskine had never done before:  beat the Yankees in a Game 7 of the World Series.  The Dodgers had lost to the Yankees in the World Series in 1947, 1949, 1952 and 1953.  Each time they lost it seemed there was a cruel new way for it to happen.  This year would be even more cruel because they would lose without even having their best out there.  Podres had already won Game 3 but pitching when your team is 2 games down and 5 games left  is different than an all or nothing game.  Podres showed no signs of nerves.  He easily got the first 5 batters, then, after giving up a ground rule double to Moose Skowron he closed out the 2nd inning.  He had to work out of trouble a few times.  With 2 outs in the third he walked Rizzuto (nothing angers a pitcher more than a 2 out walk) and gave up a single to Billy Martin.  Gil McDougald hit a ground ball toward third and it looked like Rizzuto would score the first run.  He slid into third base and as he slid the ball hit Rizzuto.  He was out.  Inning over.  Still scoreless.  He gave up a leadoff double to Berra in the fourth but got the next three batters.  The biggest threat was in the 6th.  Berra hit a ball that looked like it would be a game tying base hit but Sandy Amoros made one of the great catches in World Series history then doubled off Billy Martin to end the threat.  With two on and one out in the 8th he worked his magic again.  In the 9th the Dodgers led by two and needed just three outs to win their first ever World Series.  Podres got Skowron on a ground ball, Bob Cerv on a fly ball and Elston Howard on a ground ball to Pee Wee Reese.  The Dodgers were finally World Champs and Johnny Podres was the World Series MVP.

Bob Lemon

Career Teams:  Cleveland Indians (1946-1958)
All Star Appearances:  1948, 1949, 1950, 1951, 1952, 1953 and 1954
MVP Voting:  1948 (5th), 1949 (9th), 1950 (5th), 1952 (8th), 1953 (16th), 1954 (5th) and 1956 (10th)
The 1954 Indians are legendary.  They did only one thing wrong all year.  They got upset in the World Series.  The greatest team in history  is rarely recognized as one of the best because the New York Giants swept them out of the post season.  Similar to the undefeated Patriots team who were upset by the Giants in the Super Bowl the Indians are now designated as "a very good team" but are not always spoken of with the great teams.  The Indians won 111 games.  21% of those games (23 wins overall, tied with Early Wynn for the most in the league) were won by  Bob Lemon.  Lemon was what would be called a "work horse" pitcher.  He routinely led the league in innings pitched and complete games.  The heavy work load may have had a lot to do with his short career.  He pitched only 13 years in the majors (only 9 as a full time starting pitcher) and won 207 games.  Lemon later became a manager and managed the 1978 Yankees (a team that his Cleveland teammate Al Rosen helped to build) to an unbelievable come from behind World Series Championship.

Early Wynn

Career Teams:  Washington Senators (1939-1948), Cleveland Indians (1949-1957), Chicago White Sox (1958-1962) and Cleveland Indians (1963)
All Star Appearances:  1947, 1955, 1956, 1957, 1958, 1959 and 1960
MVP Voting:  1943 (18th), 1947 (23rd), 1951 (16th), 1952 (5th), 1954 (6th), 1955 (20th), 1956 (13th) and 1959 (3rd)
Cy Young Voting:  1959 (1st)
Bob Lemon was one of the best pitchers of the American League during the 1950's.  Early Wynn was even better.  Al Lopez loved to have certain players with him wherever he went.  Early Wynn was player number one.  In both years where Lopez was able to get past the Yankees Early Wynn was his ace.  He won 23 for the 1954 Indians and 22 for the 1959 White Sox.  Wynn was also known for having a short fuse.  Umpires who gave Wynn a small strike zone were playing with fire.  One night when Wynn was positive he was being removed from the game (Lopez was coming out for his second visit of the inning) and was unhappy with the calls he was receiving ripped into the  umpire.  When the umpire told Wynn he was out of the game Wynn yelled back at him:  "What the hell do you think Lopez is coming out here for?  To bring me a sandwich?"

* Author's Note:  Just as you have seen over the last few weeks, and as may be seen in the next few weeks as we move through this series of articles, I did my best to keep this to one player per position. The summary of the decade is very short and is clearly missing some key information such as the Dodgers-Giants-Yankees rivalry, details on the move of the Dodgers and Giants as well as many other key points of the decade.  Because this was more about forgotten players than the decade as a broad point I have left these topics out and will likely cover many of them in the weeks to come. This is not a comprehensive list of players who fall into this category from this era, it is simply my choice of players who best represented their position and have become forgotten.  Your list is probably different.  Email me yours or leave a comment.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

14 Players You May Not Know from the 1960's But Should

The 1960's were bookended by two of the greatest upsets in the history of the game.  The Pittsburgh Pirates, who had not been to a World Series since 1927, surprised everyone by beating out the Dodgers, Giants and Cardinals to reach the World Series against the powerful Yankees.  If ever there was a David and Goliath story this was it.  Throughout the World Series the Pirates were outscored 55-27.  They won the close games and forced a Game 7.  Tied in the bottom of the ninth inning of Game 7 a light hitting second baseman named Bill Mazeroski hit an unexpected home run to end the series and topple the Yankees dynasty.  Following the loss Casey Stengel was fired by the Yankees.  He was told it was because he was seventy years old.  Casey told a reporter "I'll never make that mistake again."

The Yankees replaced Stengel with Ralph Houk and continued to dominate the American League in 1961 as Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris chased the biggest Yankee legend of them all, Babe Ruth.  As Mantle and Maris fought to top Ruth's 60 home runs, Yankees fans cheered for Mantle and booed Maris.  Mantle was viewed as a "true Yankee" and Maris was viewed as someone not worthy to carry Mantle's glove.  In the end Maris beat Ruth's record by one home run, yet commissioner Ford Frick, a big fan and previous publicist of Ruth's wouldn't let this stand.  He declared that Maris's record would go in the books with an * to draw attention to the fact that Maris had more games in the season than Ruth. 

The 1960's were a decade of continuous movement in the baseball landscape.  1962 saw the first expansion of the National League.  To compensate the National League fans in New York who were devastated over the loss of the Giants and Dodgers, the Mets were created (though based on the way they played for the first few years it seemed like a punishment rather than an appeasement).  The 1962 Mets are still the perfect example of a bumbling baseball team.  They were the true Major League version of the Bad News Bears.  Along with the Mets came the Houston Colt .45's in the National League.  The Los Angeles Angels and the Washington Senators (replacing the original Washington Senators who were now the Minnesota Twins) joined the American League in 1961.  By the end of the decade four more teams would come into play as the Montreal Expos, San Diego Padres, Kansas City Royals (replacing the Kansas City Athletics who had moved to Oakland) and the Seattle Pilots (who would very shortly become the Milwaukee Brewers). 

There were some great surprise teams who had one single year of success and gave us some of the greatest World Series of all time.  The 1960, 1962, 1964, 1965, 1967 and 1968 Series all went 7 games.  Starting with the Pirates in 1960, nearly every year had a surprise team reach the World Series (1961 Reds, 1962 Giants, 1964 Cardinals, 1965 Twins, 1966 Orioles, 1967 "Impossible Dream" Red Sox, 1968 Tigers and 1969 "Amazin'" Mets).  Although the 1964 Cardinals were listed as a surprise team, the Cardinals were truly the great team in the decade.  The St. Louis Cardinals had the most dominant pitcher of the decade with Bob Gibson, the most dominant base stealer in Lou Brock, the most dominant fielder in Curt Flood and the greatest team of the decade reaching the World Series in 1964, 1967 and 1968, each one a seven game classic.

With the addition of four teams to each league the Major Leagues created the divisional format for 1969.  There were now four divisions: American League East (Yankees, Orioles, Red Sox, Tigers, Indians and Senators), American League West (Athletics, Royals, Twins, Pilots, White Sox and Angels), National League East (Phillies, Cubs, Cardinals, Mets, Expos and Pirates) and National League West (Dodgers, Giants, Braves, Reds, Padres and Colt .45's).

The new format led to the first ever Championship Series rounds, a best of five series to determine the World Series participants.  The first NLCS was the Braves and the Mets (both surprises).  The first ALCS was the Twins and the Orioles.  The Orioles were supposed to destroy the comical underdog Mets.  The Orioles stuck to the script in the opening game winning 4-1 and entering the 9th inning of Game 2 tied at 1.  Then the miracle happened and the "Amazin's" went off script to win the next four games for their first World Series title.  It was the perfect end (unless you're an Orioles fan) to a decade full of unexpected World Series teams and upsets.

Although the names of Sandy Koufax, Don Drysdale, Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris, Tom Seaver, Bob Gibson, Frank Robinson, Brooks Robinson and Henry Aaron will be the names that are remembered thirty, forty or fifty years from now (or more), every decade has tremendously talented, successful players who make wonderful contributions to the success of their teams, organizations and the league as a whole. Unfortunately many of the players who fall into this category will be forgotten, overlooked and generally ignored. Here are 14 players* from the decade you may not remember but you definitely should:

Jerry Grote

Career Teams:  Houston Colt .45's (1963-1964), New York Mets (1966-1977), Los Angeles Dodgers (1977-1978), Kansas City Royals (1981) and Los Angeles Dodgers (1981)
All Star Appearances:  1968 and 1974
MVP Voting: None
Certain pitchers have a specific Catcher they insist on having behind the plate when they pitch.  Bob Welch of the Oakland A's demanded that Ron Hassey catch for him instead of Terry Steinbach.  When Greg Maddux pitched for the Braves he insisted on having Eddie Perez catch instead of Javy Lopez. Tim Wakefield insisted on having Doug Mirabelli catch instead of Jason Varitek because Mirabelli knew how to handle the knuckleball.  Tom Seaver, one of the best pitchers of the 1960's and one of the greatest pitchers ever, insisted that Jerry Grote catch when he pitched.  It was a matter of comfort and trust.  With Jerry Grote as the Mets' Catcher, the Mets manager could relax knowing that Grote could call a game better than any Catcher, possibly ever.  Grote would think ahead of the game and envision the entire thing unfold before it happened.  If a poor or average hitter would come up in the middle innings of the game with the Mets ahead, Grote would have the pitcher give the batter a pitch to hit.  Grote believed that if the batter got a hit in the middle innings he would be satisfied with his one hit for the day and be less likely to fight as hard in the late innings.  Grote was also a master of manipulating a game.  He would look at the pace of the game and anticipate who was likely to bat in the late innings.  If it looked like a team's big hitters were likely to come up in the late innings, Grote would ease up on a few batters to get the part of the batting order he wanted to face up in the ninth.  Very few catchers have ever been able to call a game like Grote.

John Roseboro (+)

Career Teams:  Brooklyn/Los Angeles Dodgers (1957-1967), Minnesota Twins (1968-1969) and Washington Senators (1970)
All Star Appearances:  1958, 1961, 1962 and 1969
MVP Voting:  1961, 1965 and 1966
Being a Catcher in the Dodgers organization in the early 1950's was not a very promising career path.  You were sitting behind Roy Campanella, the three time MVP, definite future Hall of Fame member and undisputed greatest Catcher on the planet.  When Campanella was paralyzed in a car accident, Roseboro was forced into action.  It wasn't the way you want to get a job but Roseboro made the best of it.  When the Dodgers moved to the west coast Roseboro went with them.  The rivalry between the Giants and Dodgers moved west with the teams.  Dodgers-Giants was always ugly but it was ugliest when they were fighting for first place. It was never uglier than August 22, 1965.  Juan Marichal, the Giants' pitcher, had a reputation as a knock down pitcher.  He knocked down Maury Wills and Ron Fairly in the first inning.  Pitching for the Dodgers was Sandy Koufax, who refused to ever throw at a batter.  When Marichal stepped up to bat, Roseboro wouldn't allow Marichal to get back to the bench without receiving a message and if the message didn't come from the mound it would come from behind the plate.  As Roseboro returned Koufax's first pitch he made sure it was close enough to Marichal's face to trim his mustache.  Marichal let Roseboro know that it better not happen again.  It did.  Marichal turned around and used the only weapon he had.  His bat.  He slammed it down on Roseboro's head at least three times and was ready to pound some more but was tackled before he could inflict more pain.  It is one of the ugliest scenes in the history of sports.  Roseboro recovered after receiving 14 stitches and missing some time.  Marichal later apologized to Roseboro and the two became close friends but the image of Roseboro vs. Marichal is the most violent image of the Dodgers-Giants rivalry.  Roseboro continued on a strong career and helped the Twins become a consistent playoff team at the end of the decade.

Norm Cash

Career Teams:  Chicago White Sox (1958-1959) and Detroit Tigers (1960-1974).
All Star Appearances:  1961, 1966, 1971 and 1972
MVP Voting:  1961 (4th), 1962 (31st), 1965 (33rd), 1966 (12th), 1968 (23rd) and 1971 (12th).
When you think of American League power hitters Norm Cash is not one that comes to mind.  Yet, Cash hit a total of 377 in his career.  He never led the league and never hit more than 41 in a season.  When he hung up his spikes at the end of the 1974 season Cash was fourth in AL history behind Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig and Ted Williams.  He has since been passed by many players as the home run numbers became inflated but those names are pretty illustrious.  Cash's best year was 1961.  He led the league in Batting Average, Hits, Intentional Walks (even more than Maris or Mantle) and On Base Percentage and set career marks in Hits, Triples, Home Runs, Stolen Bases, Runs, RBI and Batting Average.  Unfortunately that was the year Maris and Mantle battled each other to beat Babe Ruth's single season home run record.  Cash was an integral part of Detroit's 1968 World Series win.  Game 7 of the 1968 World Series was scoreless heading into the top of the 7th.  With 2 outs Cash took a 2-1 pitch for strike 2.  He turned to  the umpire and said "Come on,  it's outside".  He shook his head and took ball 3.  One strike away from moving to the 8th inning scoreless, Cash drove the next pitch to right field for a single setting off a three run rally.  The Tigers won Game 7 by a score of 4-1.

Tony Taylor

Career Teams:  Chicago Cubs (1958-1960), Philadelphia Phillies (1960-1971), Detroit Tigers (1971-1974) and Philadelphia Phillies (1974-1976)
All Star Appearances:  1960
MVP Voting: 1963 (16th)
If someone asked you to name the top 10 Phillies of all time Mike Schmidt, Steve Carlton and Jimmy Rollins would probably be the first to come to mind.  Very few would think of Tony Taylor, yet he sits in the top ten of several Phillies historical categories.  It would be hard to argue that he had the historical impact on the organization of a Pat Burrell or Cole Hamels but Taylor worked in Philadelphia when the only people who went to Phillies games were probably there as some form of punishment.  Taylor was part of one of the most infamous Phillies teams in history.  The 1964 Phillies led the National League by 6 1/2 games with only twelve games left in the season.  For a team that had won 90 games to that point in the season winning another five or six should have been nothing.  Don't forget this was the Phillies.  After taking the 6 1/2 game lead they immediately lost the next 10 games while the Cardinals caught fire and took over first place. 

Dick Groat

Career Teams: Pittsburgh Pirates (1952-1962), St.Louis Cardinals (1963-1965), Philadelphia Phillies (1966-1967) and San Francisco Giants (1967)
All Star Appearances:  1959, 1960, 1962 1963 and 1964
MVP Voting: 1957 (15th), 1960 (1st), 1962 (16th) and 1963 (2nd).
Few players are fortunate enough to play in a World Series Game 7 and be involved in one of the greatest moments of World Series history.  Even fewer players have that chance twice.  In the 1950's the Yankees seemed to be involved in the World Series every year.  When the Pittsburgh Pirates faced off against the Yankees in 1960 few gave the Pirates a chance.  When the Yankees took  a big lead heading into the bottom of the 8th of Game 7 everyone assumed the Pirates' magical season had ended.  Groat, the NL MVP in 1960, led the charge and drove in the first run of the inning with an RBI single.  A few batters later he scored on a big, game tying, 3 run home run by Hal Smith.  The Pirates went on to win the game with the most famous series ending home run in history.  The Pirates glory days didn't last too long into the 1960's and by 1963 Groat was traded to the Cardinals. It was a great move for the Cardinals, who had fallen on hard times since their last World Series in 1946.  With Groat's leadership and steady fielding the Cardinals were able to overcome the collapsing Phillies, fight their way to the World Series and force the heavily favored Yankees into a classic Game 7. Although Groat had only 5 hits in the 1964 World Series he played a big part in helping to topple the great Yankee dynasty...twice.

Ken Boyer

Career Teams:  St.Louis Cardinals (1955-1965), New York Mets (1966-1967), Chicago White Sox (1967-1968) and Los Angeles Dodgers (1968-1969)
All Star Appearances:  1956, 1959, 1960, 1961, 1962, 1963 and 1964
MVP Voting:  1956 (28th), 1958 (13th), 1959 (10th), 1960 (6th), 1961 (7th), 1962 (18th), 1963 (13th), 1964 (1st).
With seven All Star Appearances, five Gold Glove awards and an MVP award it would be hard to imagine Ken Boyer as a forgotten player.  Yet as the Cardinals began to dominate the decade Boyer seemed to always be the man overshadowed.  Overshadowed by Stan Musial's constant .300 average, by Lou Brock's stolen bases, by Bob Gibson's million strikeouts and, amazingly, even by Tim McCarver stealing home during a World Series game.  During his years in St.Louis Boyer was a consistent .300 hitter, consistently drove in close to 100 runs, scored close to 100 runs and hit between 25 to 30 home runs.  As the Musial era ended and the new Cardinals dynasty started Boyer was one of the few links between the eras.  In the 1964 World Series the Cardinals were viewed as lucky to have made it that far and as the Yankees threatened to take a 3 games to 1 lead the sports writers were writing their stories saying their early predictions had been dead on.  Down 3-0 in the top of the 6th the Cardinals loaded the bases with one out. Boyer stepped in and slammed a pitch to left field.  The grand slam gave the Cardinals a 4-3 lead and completely turned the series around.  That would have been a great World Series for anyone, yet Boyer wasn't done.  In Game 7 the Cardinals were up 6-0 when Mickey Mantle hit a three run home run to cut the lead in half and lead fans to believe some Yankee magic might be in the making.  But Boyer put the Cardinals back up by four with a solo home run.  The Yankees tried to rally in the 9th led by a solo home run by Clete Boyer, Ken's brother.  They became the first brothers to homer in the same World Series game.  Although Boyer has somehow been overlooked for the Hall of Fame his number was retired by the St.Louis Cardinals organization. 

Gene Freese

Career Teams:  Pittsburgh Pirates (1955-1958), St.Louis Cardinals (1958), Philadelphia Phillies (1959), Chicago White Sox (1960), Cincinnati Reds (1961-1963), Pittsburgh Pirates (1964-1965), Chicago White Sox (1965-1966) and Houston Astros (1966)
All Star Appearances:  None.
MVP Voting:  None.
Gene Freese did not have a tremendously long career and it was not a tremendously amazing career but the Cincinnati Reds had an amazing season in 1961 and Gene Freese was a big part of that team.  Going into the 1961 season few gave the Reds a chance.  It was assumed the Dodgers, Giants, Braves or Cardinals would be fighting for a World Series spot and the Reds were expected to be somewhere in the bottom half of the league.  Freese held down the hot corner while having his best, most complete offensive season.  He had career highs in Runs (78), Hits (159), Home Runs (26) and RBI (87).  He also had near career highs in Doubles (23), Stolen Bases (8) and Batting Average (.277).  Freese did not have a great World Series, only one hit and three walks with four strikeouts, but none of the Reds really had a great Series.  The Yankees knocked the Reds out in 5 games and Freese never did quite play the same again.  In spring training of 1962 Freese broke his ankle.  His career was not over but he would never play another full season.

Curt Flood

Career Teams:  Cincinnati Reds (1956-1957), St. Louis Cardinals (1958-1969) and Washington Senators (1971).
All Star Appearances:  1964, 1966 and 1968
MVP Voting:  1963 (24th), 1964 (11th), 1965 (15th), 1966 (20th), 1967 (13th) and 1968 (4th)
For students of the game it may be insane to see Curt Flood on a list of players that are unknown but sadly the casual fan doesn't hear about Curt Flood nearly enough.  The Cardinals dominated the 1960's with players like Stan Musial, Bob Gibson, Lou Brock and Tim McCarver.  Even with these hall of fame players there were several other big contributors to their decade of dominance.  No one did more for St. Louis than Curt Flood.  He was one of the best defensive players of the decade.  No one patrolled centerfield better than Flood and his seven straight Gold Gloves proved it.  Unfortunately Flood is now known for just two things and both detract from the greatness he had achieved.  First, in the 1968 World Series, just a few batters after Norm Cash started what turned out to be a game winning rally, Jim Northrup hit a fly ball to Flood.  Flood stood just outside the afternoon shadows as the ball left the bat.  He saw the ball and reacted immediately.  There was little doubt the gold glove winner had reacted right.  He took a few steps in, then headed towards left.  Flood could fly and he was moving quickly, when suddenly, he turned and started heading back to the wall.  He still had a chance to get there but he stumbled. He didn't fall but he lost about two steps.  By the time he recovered he had just enough time to throw his glove up but the ball had moved too far even for him to reach it.  The ball fell just over his head and rolled to the wall for a two run triple.  In just two bad steps Flood went from the best defensive centerfielder in the game to "that guy who couldn't catch a fly ball".  Flood played the 1969 season and even won another Gold Glove but after the 1969 season the Cardinals traded Flood and Tim McCarver to the Philadelphia Phillies.  Flood told the Cardinals he didn't want to go.  He loved St.Louis.  He loved the fans, the stadium, the organization, the city. He knew very little about Philadelphia other than the reputation it had for race problems.  This was before Catfish Hunter and before Messersmith and McNally fought for free agency.  This was the days before players had "no-trade clauses".  If a team wanted to trade you, you were gone.  Flood refused.  He told the league that he was not a piece of property they could sell without his permission.  He took his fight to the U.S. Supreme Court asking to have the "reserve clause" overturned.  He lost.  The Phillies, a bad enough team already, didn't need the extra headache and shipped Flood to the Washington Senators.  After one year in Washington Flood retired.  He fled the US and became a recluse eventually passing away in 1997.

Johnny Callison

Career Teams:  Chicago White Sox (1958-1959), Philadelphia Phillies (1960-1969), Chicago Cubs (1970-1971) and New York Yankees (1972-1973)
All Star Appearances: 1962, 1964 and 1965
MVP Voting: 1962 (18th), 1963 (15th), 1964 (2nd) and 1965 (24th)
When the Mets collapsed at the end of the 2007 season, the Red Sox imploded at the end of the 2011 season and the Braves fell apart at the end of the 2011 season, long time fans of Philadelphia  breathed a deep sigh of relief.  It meant that they could finally stop hearing that their 1964 season was the biggest failure in baseball history.  For nearly the entire 1964 season the Phillies had the rest of the National League decidedly beaten.  With just 12 games left in the season the Phillies held a 6 1/2 game lead.  The leader of the Phillies was Johnny Callison.  As the rest of the team folded under the pressure Callison did everything he could to keep the team afloat.  Over the last twelve games Callison hit .250 with 3 home runs (all in one game which the Phillies lost) and a double, driving in 10 and scoring 7.  It wasn't enough.  The Cardinals passed the Phillies for first place and eventually won the World Series.  Callison had his best season of his long career and finished second behind Ken Boyer of the Cardinals for the MVP award.

Vada Pinson

Career Teams:  Cincinnati Reds (1958-1968), St. Louis Cardinals (1969), Cleveland Indians (1970-1971), California Angels (1972-1973) and Kansas City Royals (1974-1975)
All Star Appearances: 1959 and 1960
MVP Voting:  1959 (15th), 1960 (18th), 1961(3rd), 1963 (10th) and 1964 (18th)
As teams develop talent and make constant adjustments to their rosters they need to make decisions to keep one player and not another.  Sometimes they decide correctly and sometimes they don't.  In the 1990's the Braves decided to keep Andruw Jones and discard Jermaine Dye.  It was the right decision.  In the 2000's the Angels chose to keep Bobby Wilson and not Mike Napoli.  That may have been a bad decision.  The 1960's Reds had to make the same decision.  The Reds surprised everyone by making the World Series in 1961 and Vada Pinson was a big reason why.  Pinson seemed to be an all around player: strong defensively, good speed and decent power.  The Reds had another talented young outfielder named Frank Robinson.  To be fair to Pinson, the Reds didn't need to get rid of Robby and they didn't suffer too much with Vada in the outfield.  Bill DeWitt, the Reds GM, decided that Frank Robinson needed to go.  When people complained DeWitt tried to explain that it would be alright because Robinson may have only been 30 but he was "an old 30".  Robinson went on to become one of the greatest players in the history of the game and Pinson became an above average player who made great contributions to the Reds organization and several other teams in his career, but he was not Frank Robinson.  Robinson and Pinson will forever be remembered as the two young outfielders who helped the Reds to the 1961 pennant but Frank is the one who gained immortality.

Tony Conigliaro (+)

Career Teams: Boston Red Sox (1964-1970) California Angels (1971) and Boston Red Sox (1975)
All Star Appearances: 1967
MVP Voting:  1965 (33rd) and 1966 (28th)
The 1967 Red Sox were in 4th place, only winning 4 of their last 12 games and their season was starting to fade away as they faced the California Angels on August 18th.  The score was 0-0 heading into the Red Sox half of the 4th.  The Sox needed this game to save their season.  The Sox had the heart of their order coming up.  Jack Hamilton threw the pitch to Tony C. up in the zone but got the ball too far in.  Petrocelli knelt in the on deck circle and heard it before he could process what had happened.  He ran to Tony Conigliaro as Tony C. laid face down in the dirt.  The pitch had shattered Conigliaro's face, severely fracturing the cheek bones and orbital socket.  Conigliaro was one of the great up and coming stars of the game and along with Yaz and Rico was expected to lead the Red Sox  into the postseason for a decade or more.  After Tony C. was carried off the field Petrocelli drilled a triple and scored on an error.  The Red Sox won the 1967 pennant and had a chance to win their first World Series since 1918 but without the potent bat of Tony C. in the lineup they lost game 7 to the Cardinals.  Conigliaro tried to make several comebacks but he just couldn't see the ball the same way and his numbers slipped.  He had one last great season in 1970 where he hit .266 with 36 Home Runs but he was traded to the Angels after the season as Boston started to rebuild their team.  Had Conigliaro not been injured the history of the Red Sox, the World Series, including the 1967, 1975 and 1986 World Series and the story of Major League Baseball may have been much different.

Jim "Kitty" Kaat

Career Teams: Washington Senators (1959-1960), Minnesota Twins (1961-1973), Chicago White Sox (1973-1975), Philadelphia Phillies (1976-1979), New York Yankees (1979-1980) and St.Louis Cardinals (1980-1983)
All Star Appearances: 1962, 1966 and 1975
MVP Voting:  1966 (5th), 1967 (20th) and 1975 (28th)
Cy Young Voting#:  1975 (4th)
The rule is unofficial, but traditionally if you win 300 games as a pitcher you are guaranteed to get into the Hall of Fame.  Apparently 283 wins over a 25 year career doesn't quite cut it.  Jim Kaat was the best fielding pitcher in his era with no close runner up.  Kaat won 16 Gold Gloves as the best fielder at his position.  If you don't think fielding the ball from the Pitcher's position is tough, try following through on a pitch going 90+ miles an hour with your momentum taking you toward third base when a batter bunts a ball towards first base.  As your body falls away from the ball you have to make an immediate reaction to decide whether you are fielding the ball to throw to first or sprinting to first to cover the bag.  Not an easy play.  Just ask Danny Cox.  When the 1965 Minnesota Twins surprised everyone by reaching the World Series, Jim Kaat was their ace.  He won 18 games with a 2.83 ERA.  When the Twins faced the Dodgers in a 7th game Kaat was the obvious choice to start.  He didn't pitch terribly.  He gave up 2 runs, 5 hits and a walk in 3  innings but when you're playing a seventh game and you're facing Sandy Koufax, the manager gives you a very short leash.  The Dodgers went on to win Game 7 2-0 with Koufax only allowing 3 hits.  No one could have beaten Koufax that day.  Kaat 's 1966 season was even better, though the Twins were not.  Kaat won 25 games in 1966 and dropped his ERA to 2.75.  Kitty moved from team to team as his career progressed making the playoffs with the Phillies in 1976 and the Cardinals in 1982.  Since his retirement Kaat has been a broadcaster.  He still broadcasts live games for MLB Network and is one of the most insightful and classy broadcasters ever.

Harvey "Kitten" Haddix

Career Teams: St. Louis Cardinals (1952-1956), Philadelphia Phillies (1956-1957), Cincinnati Reds (1958), Pittsburgh Pirates (1959-1963) and Baltimore Orioles (1964-1965)
All Star Appearances:  1953, 1954 and 1955
MVP Voting:  1953 (17th)
Cy Young Voting#: None
I didn't realize until I started minutely researching Harvey Haddix that his nickname was Kitten and that having both Jim Kaat and Harvey Haddix on this line would make a feline family.  There is no intentional theme of cats in this week's article although both Haddix and Kaat were "south paws".   Haddix was not a Hall of Fame caliber pitcher but he was better than near perfect one night.  On May 26 1959 Haddix faced off against Lew Burdette and a Milwaukee Braves team that featured some great hitters like Henry Aaron, Eddie Matthews and Joe Adcock (haven't heard of Adcock before?  Check back next week).  When Lew Burdette struck out in the bottom of the 9th it was the 27th straight batter retired, a perfect 9 innings.  The only problem was that the game wasn't over.  Although the Braves had not put a single person on base, the Pirates had been unable to capitalize on any of their own 8 hits.  The game moved through the 10th, 11th, 12th and 13th.  The Pirates put runners on base in each inning and the Braves couldn't get anyone on base until the bottom of the 13th.  The inning started off with an error by the thirdbaseman ending the perfect game but still leaving the no hitter in tact.  Three batters later Joe Adcock drilled a double to right-center field scoring the game's only run.  Haddix had been perfect for 12 innings and lost on an unearned run in the 13th inning.  Haddix made major contributions to the Pirates' 1960 miracle season.   Although he only won 11 regular season games he won 2 in the World Series.  The Pittsburgh pitching staff was abused in the 7 game series with a collective ERA of 7.11.  They lost games by scores of 16-3, 10-0 and 12-0.  Fred Green had a Series ERA of 22.50.  Harvey Haddix was the savior of the pitching staff.  His 2.45 ERA was easily the best on the team and when Bill Mazeroski drilled a home run to end the World Series Haddix was the winning pitcher, his second win of the series.

Relief Pitcher:
Moe Drabowsky

Career Teams:  Chicago Cubs (1956-1960), Milwaukee Braves (1961), Cincinnati Reds (1962), Kansas City Athletics (1962-1965), Baltimore Orioles (1966-1968), Kansas City Royals (1969-1970), Baltimore Orioles (1970), St. Louis Cardinals (1971-1972) and Chicago White Sox (1972)
All Star Appearances:  None.
MVP Voting: None.
Cy Young Voting#: None.
Before the 1990's no one ever said "I want to be a relief pitcher when I grow up."  When kids ran out on the field to choose positions for a pick up game no kid ever yelled "I got closer."  For a long time being a relief pitcher was an insult.  It was a useless position that meant you were only good enough to pitch when the other guy proved he was so bad it wasn't worth leaving him in to get knocked around anymore.  Being a journeyman relief pitcher was even worse.  It meant no team wanted you to start and no team wanted you to even do the mop up duty.  Moe Drabowsky was all of these things but he did his job well.  He would never be confused for a Hall of Fame player, or even an All Star pitcher but in Game 1 of the 1966 World Series Moe Drabowsky changed the history of baseball in just a few innings.  Since moving to Los Angeles in 1958 the Dodgers had reached the World Series four times.  Since moving to Baltimore from St.Louis the Orioles had reached their first World Series.  No one gave the Orioles a chance.  The Dodgers were dominant.  The Orioles were...well, no one knew because no one had heard of them.  Game 1 was started by Don Drysdale, big double D, the most intimidating man in sports.  The O's weren't intimidated and took a 4-0 lead.  The Dodgers started to make a rally in the 3rd inning and Moe Drabowsky came in to keep the Orioles in the lead.  With the bases loaded he struck out the first batter he faced, then walked in a run and got the final out by forcing John Roseboro to pop out.  It was the last trouble he would have on the day.  He retired the next 10 batters in a row, allowed a walk and a single, then retired the next 8 batters to end the game, striking out 11 Dodgers in the process.  Drabowsky's win set the tone for the Orioles' four game sweep and launched the glory days of Orioles baseball that would stretch into the 1980's.  For the Dodgers it was the end of the Drysdale-Koufax era and would lead to a rebuilding that would result in the Garvey/Cey/Lopes/Russell era of the 1970's.

* Author's Note:  Just as in the last few weeks, and as may be seen in the next few weeks as we move through this series of articles, I did my best to keep this to one player per position, however, the farther we move from these eras, the easier it is to forget these types of players (and even some hall of fame players).  It is important to remember as we follow the sport that the superstars are not the only ones making contributions to the success of a team.  This is not a comprehensive list of players who fall into this category from this era, it is simply my choice of players who best represented their position and have become forgotten.  Your list is probably different.  Email me yours or leave a comment.
+-For readers interested in seeing the vivid pictures of the John Roseboro/Juan Marichal incident or the results of the Tony Conigliaro beaning, they are easily found all over the internet.  I felt it was important that I not use these images for my article.  Both Tony C. and John Roseboro have become known for these two moments which lasted no more than a few minutes.  Unfortunately, Roseboro's great career and the great potential of Conigliaro, have been largely ignored and focus has been placed on the gruesome images of these moments.  It is important to remember that both players made tremendous contributions to championship seasons for their teams and their career cannot be defined by just these few moments.
#-  The Cy Young award was not awarded until  1956.  Between 1956-1966 there was one award for both leagues.  It was not until 1967 that the American and National leagues each awarded a Cy Young trophy.