July 24, 2019

The Glory Days: Stocking the Angels and Senators

June 1, 2012 by · Leave a Comment 

On December 14, 1960, an expansion draft was held to stock the Los Angeles Angels and Washington Senators. The eight American League teams were required to pull seven players apiece from active rosters (as of August 31, 1960) and eight additional players from their 40-man rosters and make them available for the draft.

The Senators and Angels would pay $75,000 each for 28 players they took in the draft. No more than seven major league players could be taken from any existing team. Both expansion franchises were required to pick at least 10 pitchers, two catchers, six infielders and four outfielders. Los Angeles and Washington also had the option of drafting one non-roster player from each existing team at a price of $25,000.

The Angels made Eli Grba the first player ever chosen in a major league expansion draft. The 26-year-old right-handed pitcher with control troubles was taken from the New York Yankees. He was signed by the Boston Red Sox in 1952 and traded to the Yankees in 1957. Grba pitched 131 innings and compiled an 8-9 record, walking 30 more batters than he struck out, while appearing in 39 games with the Yanks in 1959 and 1960.

Players in the draft who had been stars but were past their prime included Ted Kluszewski, Dale Long, Eddie Yost, Bobby Shantz, Tom Sturdivant and Bob Cerv. Big Klu averaged 43 home runs and 116 RBI in a four-year stretch with the slugging Cincinnati Reds. Long set a major league record (since equaled by Don Mattingly and Ken Griffey Jr.) by homering in eight consecutive games for Pittsburgh in 1956.

Shantz was the American League MVP in 1954 when he won 24 games for the Philadelphia Athletics, then managed more than seven victories only once over the last 11 years of his career. Yost, the third baseman known as the “Walking Man,” had drawn an average of 119 bases on balls for Washington and Detroit over an 11-year span.

Cerv clouted 38 home runs one year for Yankee “farm team” Kansas City before the Pinstripes brought him up to the “majors” (acquiring him in a trade). Sturdivant won 16 games in back-to-back seasons for pennant-winning Yankee teams, but won just eight games over the next three years. He was the kid of this group at age 30. The others were at least 34.

The Angels used their 13th pick to get Yost, their 18th to get Cerv, and their 23rd to get Kluszewski. But they really cleaned up on youngsters. Los Angeles grabbed Jim Fregosi from Boston after the Red Sox had signed him a year earlier, right-hander Dean Chance from Baltimore after the Orioles had signed him almost two years earlier and Buck Rodgers from Detroit.

Fregosi, who was 19, would be the Angels’ regular shortstop for nine years. Chance, who was 20, would be their ace pitcher for five years before being traded to Minnesota. Rodgers, 22, had played five years on Detroit farm teams. He would be the Angels’ everyday catcher for six seasons.

Los Angeles also got 26-year-old Albie Pearson from Baltimore with a minor league selection. The diminutive (5-foot-5) outfielder had spent five years in the Red Sox’s minor league system and played two and a half seasons in the majors before being sent back down. Pearson would be a solid center fielder for the Angels for five years.

The most productive early selection by L.A. was Ken McBride, 25, taken with the seventh pick. The right-handed pitcher, who worked 27 innings in parts of two seasons with the Chicago White Sox, averaged a dozen wins over his first three years with the Angels. They used another pitcher drafted from the White Sox, Jim McAnany, to get outfielder Lou Johnson in a trade with the Cubs. Then, two days after their first season opened, the Angels swapped Johnson to Toronto of the International League for Leon Wagner.

“Daddy Wags” had accumulated 548 at-bats in three years in the big leagues, establishing himself as an all-hit, no-field outfielder by totaling 22 home runs and 10 errors. He clouted 28 homers and drove in 79 runs for Los Angeles in 1961 (with six errors). Ken Hunt, a promising outfielder, had two brief stays with the Yankees. With L.A., he broke in with a boom, bashing 25 home runs and leading the club with 84 RBI. His stats over the next (and last) three years in the majors did not come close to equaling 1961.

The Angels drafted catcher Earl Averill Jr. and first baseman Steve Bilko, a couple of journeymen with reputations, but without major league success. Averill was the son of the Hall of Fame outfielder by the same name. Bilko, a 250-pounder, had slugged 148 home runs over a three-year period in the minor leagues, but had managed just 48 in 1,280 big league at-bats.

The Thomas boys were real finds for L.A. Not related, Lee and George both joined the club via transactions after the 1961 season had started. Lee Thomas, a left-handed hitter with a good bat and bad glove, had languished seven years on Yankee farms. In May, the Angels obtained him, hard-throwing, hard-living relief pitcher Ryne Duren and pitcher Johnny James from New York for Cerv and another drafted player, pitcher Tex Clevenger. They purchased George Thomas, who played third base and the outfield, from Detroit in late June. The Tigers’ bonus baby had one major league at-bat since signing in 1957.

Lee hit 24 home runs, George 13, Averill 21 and Bilko 20. Led by Wagner and Hunt, the Angels hit 189 home runs – second in the American League only to the mighty Yankees – and scored the fourth-most runs in the league. They led the AL in strikeouts at the plate and on the mound. The Angels got 12 wins from McBride and 11 each from Grba and Ted Bowsfield, a lefty picked up from the Cleveland Indians as part of the expansion draft, but after the draft’s completion.

Veterans Art Fowler and Tom Morgan combined to save 23 games for the Angels. They bought Fowler, a 38-year-old who had not pitched in the majors the previous season, from the Dodgers. Morgan, known as “Plowboy”, was involved in two multi-player trades in 1957 and had pitched for Detroit and Washington in 1960. He was purchased from the Minnesota Twins the month after the expansion draft.

Managed by Bill Rigney, the former Giants’ infielder and skipper, the Angels enjoyed some immediate success. They won 70 games in their first season and finished in eighth place in the 10-team American League, 38 and a half games behind the pennant-winning Yankees and nine games ahead of Washington and Kansas City, who shared the cellar.

Los Angeles used 46 players in 1961, including 18 pitchers. McBride and Duren, he of the thick-lensed glasses, represented the Angels on the American League All-Star team.

Whereas the Angels had five players to hit 20 or more home runs in 1961, the Senators had none. Six Angels had at least 59 RBI. Two Senators had that many.

Washington’s first selection in the expansion draft was Shantz, who was traded two days later to Pittsburgh for Bennie Daniels, R.C. Stevens and Harry Bright. Daniels would lead Senators pitchers in 1961 with 12 wins. Washington used its 14th pick to take Yankee spare part Long, who hit 17 home runs that season as did outfielder Willie Tasby, snared from the Red Sox with the 19th selection. He was 28 years old, the same age as 23rd pick Gene Green, who was one of six additional selections taken by the Senators. Green, a catcher by trade, came over from Baltimore and also played some outfield. He led Washington with 18 homers and had 62 RBI, one less than team leader Tasby.

Dick Donovan, who had enjoyed some fine years with the White Sox, was not taken until the fourth-from-the-last selection in the draft. He went 10-10 in his only season with the Senators and led the American League with a 2.40 earned run average. The very next year, he won 20 for Cleveland.

Daniels and Joe McClain, two other members of the starting rotation, allowed less than four earned runs per nine innings and were the main reasons Washington’s team ERA was sixth-best in the league. The new Senators, who were managed by two-time American League batting champion Mickey Vernon, ended their first season at 61-100, while the old Senators – the Twins – finished 70-90 and in seventh place.

Proving they were no fluke, the Senators lost 101 games in 1962 and ended up in the basement all by themselves.

Meanwhile, the Angels shocked the baseball world in ’62. They stayed in the American League pennant race much of their second season before finishing with 86 wins, good for third place. Wagner and Lee Thomas drove in more than 100 runs apiece and combined to slam 63 home runs, while rookie Dean Chance won 14 games to lead a pitching staff that posted the second-stingiest earned run average in the league.

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