June 16, 2019

Catching Up With the ’64 Phillies: Mauch the Platoonmeister

Fifty years ago, at the end of play on May 1st, the Philadelphia Phillies had gotten off to a 10-2 start and were two games up on the competition.  (San Francisco was second, St. Louis third, half a game behind the Giants, and Cincinnati–off to a 7-7 start and having just lost a two-game set to the Phillies–was four back.) Rookie Dick Allen (then known as “Richie”) was batting .431 and already had 6 home runs and 13 runs batted in. This second in a continuing series on the tale of the 1964 Phillies–(we all know how that ended)–focuses on manager Gene Mauch’s platooning not only at four positions, but Allen and Johnny Callison in their position in the batting order.

Phillies skipper Gene Mauch

Phillies skipper Gene Mauch

With perhaps not the strongest of teams, Mauch was very much an activist in configuring his daily line-up and batting order to best take on the opposing team’s starting pitcher. After several decades of being not much practiced, platooning began making a comeback in post-World War II major league baseball and was headlined by the success of Casey Stengel’s 1950s line-up machinations at the helm of the Yankees.  By the 1960s, probably about half the major league teams had a position player platoon at one position or another–particularly at catcher if, like the Dodgers with Johnny Roseboro, they had a quality backstop who happened to bat left-handed.

With the possible exception of Mr. Stengel, Mauch platooned his starting line-up to a historically unprecedented extent in 1964.  For most of the season he platooned at four positions: behind the plate with left-handed Clay Dalrymple and right-handed veteran Gus Triandos; at first base, the left-handed rookie John Herrnstein paired off with veteran right-handed Roy Sievers and, in September, with another veteran right-hander, Vic Power; in left field, left-handed journeyman Wes Covington shared time first with Danny Cater and then Alex Johnson, both right-handed batting rookies; and in center field, the lefty Tony Gonzalez with the righty Cookie Rojas.  Tony Taylor at second base, Allen at third, and Callison in right field were the only Phillies written into Mauch’s line-up every day.  At shortstop, Bobby Wine began the season as the starter, but his .200 batting average by the end of July contributed to Mauch giving Ruben Amaro most of the playing time in August and September and using Wine extensively as a late-inning defensive replacement after pinch hitting for Amaro, who was not exactly causing angst in the hearts of opposing pitchers.

Mauch’s first base platoon did not stand the test of time.  The 36-year old Sievers hit a three-run home run in his first at bat of the season, but the lifetime .267 hitter with 318 career home runs was a bust for the Phillies, with only 4 home runs and batting only .182 against southpaws.  He was dispatched to the Washington Senators in mid-July.  The 26-year old Herrnstein hit only .235 against right-handed pitchers, which helps to explain why two-thirds of his career at bats were in 1964.  The Phillies resolved their lack of first base offense when they acquired the veteran Frank Thomas from the Mets to be a regular in the line-up, but a broken thumb suffered in a takeout slide on September 8 sidelined him for the next two weeks, forcing Mauch to again platoon at first base, this time pairing Herrnstein with Vic Power.  Covington held up his part of Mauch’s left field platoon with 13 round-trippers, 53 RBI and a .280 average against righties, and Cater did well with a .333 average against southpaws when he played, before a broken arm cost him all of the month of August and limited him to three starts and 23 plate appearances when he returned in September. Replacing Cater as the right-hander in Mauch’s left field platoon, Alex Johnson hit .400 in August but only .220 in the crucial final month.  Behind the plate, 93 of Dalrymple’s 110 starts were against righties, against whom he hit .242, while the 33-year old Triandos hit .248 against southpaws.

The unexpected position platoon was the one in center field, where Tony Gonzalez started out as an every day player.  A left-handed batter, Gonzalez had hit .306 as a full-time regular the previous year with an average better than .300 against both righties and lefties.  He had a horrible time of it against lefties from the beginning in 1964, however, going 4-for-31 in games started by southpaws before Mauch decided towards the end of May he had best platoon in center field, using Cookie Rojas as the right-handed batter. Gonzalez wound up hitting .278 on the season, and got on base 35 percent of the time, but batted only .157 against pitchers of the left-handed persuasion.  The versatile Rojas started 52 games against southpaws in center field, with a .267 average against them.

But the most interesting of Mauch’s platoons was in his batting order between two of his core regulars who also happened to be the Phillies’ most dangerous hitters–rookie sensation Dick (“Richie”) Allen and star right fielder Johnny Callison.  From the very beginning of the season until early June, Mauch swapped the two between second and third in the order, depending on the starting pitcher.  He had right-handed Allen batting second and the left-handed Callison third when the Phillies faced off against a righty, and Callison second and Allen third when a southpaw took the mound.


At only 22, Dick Allen was the Phillies’ hitting star

Having Callison bat second against southpaws was most effective if the lead-off batter, Tony Taylor, got on base because, with the first baseman having to hold him on, it opened up the right side of the infield for Callison to pull the ball, increasing the odds of his getting a hit and of runners on first and third if he singled into right field.

Through the first two months of the season with this platoon alignment in the batting order, Callison hit .299 with 4 home runs and 20 RBI and Allen, off to a great start, was leading the league with 10 home runs and had 24 RBI and a .301 average.  Unfortunately, Taylor was batting only .228, had an on-base percentage that was a mere .290, and had scored only 15 runs in 27 games by the time May turned to June.  (Taylor ended up the season with a .251 average, batting sixth or seventh in Mauch’s batting order in 40 percent of the games he played, with Gonzalez or Rojas batting lead-off in virtually every game after mid-July.)

In June, presumably awestruck by Allen’s power, Mauch moved his slugging third baseman into the clean-up spot and penciled Callison third in the batting order, where both remained on a daily basis (more or less) until mid-August, when Mauch went back to alternating the two for the rest of the season (more or less) between second and third in the order depending on the starting pitcher. Suffice it to say for now that Callison’s HR / RBI / BA line for the season in the 42 games he batted second was 3 / 33 / .247, compared to 23 / 70 / .284 in the 114 games he hit third in the order.  Allen’s numbers were 12 / 36 / .270 when he batted second (64 games); 8 / 23 / .363 when he batted third (32 games); and 9 / 32 / .345 in the 66 games he was in the clean-up spot.

There will be more to say about Allen’s place in Gene Mauch’s line-up in a post later this summer, and much to come to set the stage for the Phillies’ epic collapse of  ’64.

The following is the link to the first post of this series:  http://brysholm.blogspot.com/2014/03/fifty-years-ago-introducing-1964.html

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