November 29, 2014

The Glory Days: More 1960s Stars Depart

May 22, 2012 by · 2 Comments 

There were other players who retired in the 1960s after having helped the Dodgers and Yankees make regular treks to the World Series in the late 1940s and into the 1950s. The best-known players from that group were Dodgers Carl Furillo, Johnny Podres, Jim “Junior” Gilliam and Clem Labine, and Yankees Bobby Richardson, Gil McDougald, Elston Howard, Bob Turley and Don Larsen.

And, of course, there was the Old Perfessor. Casey Stengel managed his last game in 1965. He was “retired” by the Yankees following the 1960 season, prompting Casey to say, “I’ll never make the mistake of turning 70 again.” In his 12 years as the Yanks’ skipper, they won 10 American League pennants and seven World Series titles.

Stengel managed the Mets from their inception in 1962 until the middle of the ’65 season, when he resigned with 1,905 career wins as a manager. One year after he left baseball, Stengel was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Stan Musial’s last season was 1963. The left-handed hitter with the corkscrew stance and silky-smooth swing was the National League’s answer to Ted Williams in consistency and hitting prowess. Musial, a three-time MVP, won seven batting titles.

He strung together one of the most impressive hitting-for-power-and-average streaks in major league history. From 1943-54 (he was in the military service in 1945), “Stan the Man” averaged more than 200 hits and 25 home runs per season. During that span, he batted as high as .376 and .365, dipping below .330 only once.

Musial, Williams, Mantle, Berra, Ford, Koufax, Drysdale, Snider and Spahn were among the future Hall of Famers to close out their playing careers in the 1960s. The others were Eddie Mathews, Richie Ashburn, Robin Roberts, Nellie Fox, Red Schoendienst and Early Wynn.

The saddest departure was made by Herb Score, the southpaw who flashed Koufax-like stuff before Koufax did it. Score struck out 508 batters in 476.6 innings in his first two seasons, earning the 1955 Rookie of the Year award and winning 20 games the next season.

The Cleveland Indians had themselves a 23-year-old ace, but not for long. Gil McDougald’s infamous line drive struck Score in the right eye in May of 1957, and he was never the same. He won 19 games over parts of seven frustrating years before retiring four games into the 1962 season.

Losing these players was tough for the game and for fans, who had come to know them as household names and steady stars. When the decade ended, Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, Roberto Clemente, Ernie Banks, Frank Robinson, Harmon Killebrew and Al Kaline were the biggest names still remaining from 1950s big league rosters.

All of them were bound for the Hall of Fame, as were additional ’50s holdovers Willie McCovey, Orlando Cepeda, Brooks Robinson, Luis Aparicio, Hoyt Wilhelm and Jim Bunning.

Vada Pinson did not leave baseball in the 1960s, but he did lose star status, and at the tender age of 27, when it appeared he would be reaching his prime. Pinson’s career started fast when he pounded out 205 hits and scored 131 runs as a 1959 rookie.

Two years later, he batted .343, finishing second in the batting race and third in the MVP voting (behind teammate Frank Robinson and runner-up Orlando Cepeda) as Cincinnati won the National League pennant.

Compared to Mickey Mantle because of his blazing speed and home run pop, the left-handed Pinson was beautiful to watch. He glided into the gaps to run down fly balls and was a graceful blur racing from first to third. He compiled a stat sheet from 1959-65 that was better than Mantle’s and every other big league center fielder, with the exception of Willie Mays.

During that seven-year period, Pinson averaged 194 hits, 105 runs, 27 homers, 88 RBI and 23 stolen bases. And he was durable, playing an average of 156 games.

There were questions, however, regarding Pinson’s consistency and stubbornness. Over that same seven-year span, he had more than 200 hits and batted over .300 in alternating seasons, never two in a row. Pinson might have done even better, but he seldom laid the ball down, saying he did not like to bunt. Not doing so probably deprived him of a substantial number of additional base hits and batting average points.

Pinson’s last great season was 1965, when he hit .305 with 204 hits, 22 home runs and 21 stolen bases. His 18-year major league career did not end until after the 1975 season, but the highest he batted over his last 10 years was .288. After hitting 20 or more homers six times in seven seasons, he did it just once after ’65.

There were a few things that contributed, at least partially, to Pinson’s decline. One was that he never got over having his roommate and close friend, Frank Robinson, traded away. Another was that Pinson suffered nagging hamstring injuries.

And, then, there was a fight with a Cincinnati sports writer, resulting in a court hearing. The Reds swapped Pinson to St. Louis following the 1968 season, and after one year with the Cardinals, he spent his last six seasons in the American League. His lifetime numbers are impressive enough, including 2,757 hits, 256 home runs, and 305 steals. But people were left wondering what might have been.

Another budding star of the 1960s was gone before his life really got going. Cubs second baseman Kenny Hubbs died in 1964 when the airplane he was piloting crashed. He was 22 and had played two full years in the majors, earning the National League Rookie of the Year Award in 1962.

Four Hall of Fame members also passed away during the decade, including Branch Rickey, who was elected for his innovative work as an executive. He was 83. Ty Cobb died a very bitter man at the age of 74, resenting baseball’s current standouts and regretting much of the life he had led. Jimmie Foxx was 67 when he choked to death on a piece of meat. Rogers Hornsby died at 66.

Big League lineups in the 1960s included standouts like Pepitone, Petrocelli, Callison, Flood, Stottlemyre, McCarver, No Neck and Sudden Sam. Stars such as the Dominican Dandy, Charlie Hustle, Yaz, Tom Terrific, Pops and El Tiante debuted during the decade along with Dick Allen, Johnny Bench, Joe Morgan, Ferguson Jenkins, Tony Oliva, Denny McLain and Steve Carlton. So did guys named Torre, Cox and LaRussa, all of whom would enjoy great success into the twenty-first century.

The names in sports page headlines were changing as the decade introduced new marquee players. There would be old teams in new places as well as brand new teams, which would trigger a totally different organization of leagues as well as the format used for the postseason. Major league baseball was about to undergo some very big changes.

Comments

2 Responses to “The Glory Days: More 1960s Stars Depart”
  1. Jim Devitt says:

    Great article. The 60’s were before my time, but many of these players were still involved in the 70’s from a managerial or coaching position. It’s interesting to contrast their life “after” playing to where they went. The Vada Pinson comments were especially meaningful. I had the pleasure of working with him in the late 70’s and early 80’s. What an exceptional, fun loving human.

    Thanks for taking me back.

  2. Bill Gallant says:

    There was also Tony Conigliaro in Boston.

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