Re-imagining the Big Zone ‘60s, revisited:  part two

Last time, we began our return to the mid-1960s, and our consideration of what impact that period’s expanded strike zone had on the way we perceive the batting performances of prominent players.

Now we’ll look at the tier of stars just below the very best.

All adjusted stat lines are presented in blue font. For our methodology, please see the References and Resources section below.

Two 3TOers

Jim Wynn

The Toy Cannon was generally underrated at the time, but in recent decades has become recognized (at least by nerds like us) as an outstanding player. Wynn was elected into the Hall of Merit.

The feat of hitting an adjusted total of 41 homers in 1967 while playing home games in the Astrodome is pretty phenomenal. That would be the most homers hit by any Astro until Jeff Bagwell blasted 43 in 1997. Then again, Wynn’s actual 1967 total of 37 homers was the most hit by any Astro until Bagwell hit 39 in the strike-shortened 1994.

That little cannon did indeed pack a wallop.

 Year  Age   AB    R    H   2B   3B   HR  RBI   BB   SO   BA  OBP  SLG  OPS
 1963   21  252   34   63   10    5    4   30   35   49 .251 .342 .386 .727
 1964   22  221   21   51    7    0    6   20   28   54 .231 .316 .339 .655
 1965   23  570  100  161   31    7   24   81   97  117 .283 .387 .490 .877
 1966   24  422   69  111   22    1   20   69   47   75 .263 .338 .461 .799
 1967   25  600  113  154   30    3   41  118   85  127 .256 .349 .521 .871
 1968   26  548   94  152   24    5   29   74  104  121 .277 .392 .497 .889
 1969   27  495  113  133   17    1   33   87  148  142 .269 .436 .507 .943
 1970   28  554   82  156   32    2   27   88  106   96 .282 .394 .493 .887
 1971   29  404   38   82   16    0    7   45   56   63 .203 .302 .295 .597

Bob Allison

This guy was a very similar player to Wynn, yet even more overlooked/underrated. And, unlike Wynn, Allison seems to be largely forgotten today.

He wasn’t quite as good as Wynn; Allison was mostly a corner outfielder while Wynn was mostly a center fielder. Wynn was a better base stealer, and perhaps most significantly, Wynn logged about 35% more career plate appearances. But their overall talent profiles were quite alike, and, from the standpoint of career OPS+, they’re nearly identical: 128 for Wynn and 127 for Allison.

 Year  Age   AB    R    H   2B   3B   HR  RBI   BB   SO   BA  OBP  SLG  OPS
 1960   25  501   79  126   30    3   15   69   92   94 .251 .367 .413 .780
 1961   26  556   83  136   21    3   29  105  103  100 .245 .363 .450 .813
 1962   27  519  102  138   24    8   29  102   84  115 .266 .370 .511 .881
 1963   28  533  109  149   26    4   39  101  104  101 .279 .397 .561 .958
 1964   29  498  100  147   28    4   35   95  106   92 .295 .419 .581 .999
 1965   30  442   79  106   15    5   25   86   84  106 .240 .362 .468 .830
 1966   31  169   38   38    6    1    9   21   35   32 .227 .358 .432 .790
 1967   32  501   81  133   22    6   26   83   85  106 .266 .373 .492 .865
 1968   33  474   70  121   17    8   24   58   60   91 .255 .339 .478 .817
 1969   34  189   18   43    8    2    8   27   29   39 .228 .333 .418 .751
 1970   35   72   15   15    5    0    1    7   14   20 .208 .345 .319 .664
When they were center fielders

Curt Flood

He achieved historic status for his self-sacrificial legal challenge of the Reserve Clause, but because of that no one seems to simply consider Flood the ballplayer. He wasn’t a major star, but he was remarkably durable and consistent, delivering a high average and first-rate center field defense.

Flood’s early-career re-invention of his hitting style was among the more remarkable in history. Though he was a little guy, in the minors he’d been a home run hitter, and in his first three seasons in the big leagues Flood kept using the big-swing approach. But when he finally became convinced that at the major league level his was warning-track power, in 1961 Flood totally changed his approach and became a contact-focused up-the-middle hitter.

Such a transformation seems easy, but in fact has proven extraordinarily difficult to pull off, and thus very rare. Among the few cases comparable to Flood’s in this regard is that of another marvelous defensive center fielder, Garry Maddox, who redesigned his swing between 1972 and 1973.

 Year  Age   AB    R    H   2B   3B   HR  RBI   BB   SO   BA  OBP  SLG  OPS
 1960   22  396   37   94   20    1    8   38   35   54 .237 .303 .354 .657
 1961   23  335   53  108   15    5    2   21   35   33 .322 .391 .415 .806
 1962   24  635   99  188   30    5   12   70   42   57 .296 .346 .416 .762
 1963   25  670  124  208   36    9    6   70   48   53 .310 .357 .416 .773
 1964   26  687  107  219   26    3    6   51   50   49 .319 .365 .390 .755
 1965   27  625  100  199   31    3   12   92   59   46 .318 .377 .436 .813
 1966   28  633   71  174   22    5   11   86   30   46 .274 .307 .378 .685
 1967   29  521   75  179   25    1    6   55   43   43 .343 .393 .427 .820
 1968   30  625   79  193   18    4    6   66   38   54 .309 .349 .377 .726
 1969   31  606   80  173   31    3    4   57   48   57 .285 .344 .366 .710
 1970   32  (Refused to play)
 1971   33   35    4    7    0    0    0    2    5    2 .200 .300 .200 .500

Felipe Alou

The senior member of la familia Rojas became so prominent as a manager in the 1990s and 2000s that some modern fans seem only dimly aware that he was once a player, and moreover quite a good player.

Alou’s playing career arc was unusual. He was always a free swinger in stereotypical “nobody walks off the island” mode, and he almost always hit for a good average. But he was big and strong, and hit with good power while not striking out much. Then, in his mid-30s, a point when many excellent veteran hitters become their most power-centric, Alou evolved into an extreme contact hitter and his power production evaporated.

 Year  Age   AB    R    H   2B   3B   HR  RBI   BB   SO   BA  OBP  SLG  OPS
 1960   25  322   48   85   17    3    8   44   16   42 .264 .299 .410 .709
 1961   26  415   59  120   19    0   18   52   26   41 .289 .333 .465 .798
 1962   27  561   96  177   30    3   25   98   33   66 .316 .356 .513 .869
 1963   28  571   83  165   33    9   22   91   31   81 .289 .326 .494 .820
 1964   29  419   66  109   27    3   10   56   35   38 .260 .317 .411 .728
 1965   30  562   88  172   30    2   25   86   36   58 .305 .347 .502 .849
 1966   31  675  135  227   34    6   34   82   28   47 .336 .362 .556 .918
 1967   32  580   84  163   27    3   17   48   37   46 .281 .324 .424 .749
 1968   33  670   80  218   39    5   12   63   55   52 .326 .377 .453 .830
 1969   34  476   54  134   13    1    5   32   23   23 .282 .319 .345 .664
 1970   35  575   70  156   25    3    8   55   32   31 .271 .308 .367 .675
 1971   36  469   52  135   21    6    8   69   32   25 .288 .333 .409 .742
Shortstops with some sock

These days one often hears the 1960s derided as the decade of ridiculously light-hitting middle infielders. Certainly, any decade featuring the likes of Ed Brinkman, Hal Lanier and Ray Oyler has something to answer for in that regard. Nor were some of the era’s big-name middle infielders, such as Bobby Richardson and Maury Wills, exactly sluggers.

But the truth is that while the defense-first orientation was taken to an extreme in some cases, a fraternity of hard-hitting middle infielders did persist through the period. Here are some shortstops who hit the long ball once in a while.

Denis Menke

Nagged by leg injuries during his tenure with the Braves, Menke didn’t enjoy consistent health until playing for Houston, and there the Astrodome suppressed his power stats. He was a very good player, featuring well-rounded offensive production as well as solid defensive versatility.

 Year  Age   AB    R    H   2B   3B   HR  RBI   BB   SO   BA  OBP  SLG  OPS
 1962   21  146   12   28    3    1    2   16   16   38 .192 .277 .267 .544
 1963   22  523   64  126   17    4   12   55   43   98 .241 .298 .358 .656
 1964   23  511   87  149   30    5   22   72   79   71 .291 .386 .500 .886
 1965   24  183   18   46   14    1    4   20   21   26 .250 .327 .408 .735
 1966   25  459   61  119   21    4   17   66   82   81 .258 .371 .430 .801
 1967   26  422   41   99   15    3    8   43   75   57 .234 .350 .338 .688
 1968   27  547   62  140   24    6    7   62   74   75 .256 .345 .359 .704
 1969   28  553   72  149   25    5   10   90   87   87 .269 .369 .387 .756
 1970   29  562   82  171   26    6   13   92   82   80 .304 .392 .441 .833
 1971   30  475   57  117   26    3    1   43   59   68 .246 .328 .320 .648

Leo Cardenas

The slick-fielding Cardenas was a slim little guy who didn’t swing the bat the way slim little guys are supposed to. No slap hitter, Cardenas took a full rip, and while he wasn’t a model of consistency, he provided nice RBI production from the back end of the lineup.

 Year  Age   AB    R    H   2B   3B   HR  RBI   BB   SO   BA  OBP  SLG  OPS
 1960   21  142   13   33    2    4    1   12    6   32 .232 .264 .324 .588
 1961   22  198   23   61   18    1    5   24   15   39 .308 .353 .485 .838
 1962   23  589   77  173   31    4   10   60   39   99 .294 .341 .411 .752
 1963   24  570   46  138   23    4    8   53   27   94 .242 .276 .338 .614
 1964   25  603   67  156   34    2   10   76   47  102 .259 .313 .370 .683
 1965   26  563   72  166   26   11   12   63   69   93 .295 .372 .446 .819
 1966   27  574   65  151   26    4   22   90   52   81 .263 .324 .438 .762
 1967   28  383   33  101   15    3    2   23   39   71 .263 .332 .335 .667
 1968   29  456   50  110   14    2    8   45   42   77 .242 .305 .331 .636
 1969   30  578   67  162   24    4   10   70   66   96 .280 .353 .388 .741
 1970   31  588   67  145   34    4   11   65   42  101 .247 .300 .374 .674
 1971   32  554   59  146   25    4   18   75   51   69 .264 .321 .421 .742

Rico Petrocelli

His monster 1969 season was clearly more a fluke than a simple reflection of the strike zone/mound height change from 1968 to ’69. But this exercise makes clear that the still strongly productive level at which Petrocelli settled in 1970-71 was something he was building toward as a younger player.

 Year  Age   AB    R    H   2B   3B   HR  RBI   BB   SO   BA  OBP  SLG  OPS
 1963   20    4    0    1    1    0    0    1    0    1 .250 .250 .500 .750
 1964   21  (In minor leagues)
 1965   22  326   42   78   16    2   14   36   42   66 .239 .325 .432 .757
 1966   23  527   64  129   21    1   20   65   47   92 .245 .307 .401 .708
 1967   24  496   59  132   25    2   19   73   57   86 .266 .341 .438 .780
 1968   25  410   45   99   18    2   13   51   36   68 .241 .302 .391 .693
 1969   26  535   92  159   32    2   40   97   98   68 .297 .403 .589 .992
 1970   27  583   82  152   31    3   29  103   67   82 .261 .334 .473 .807
 1971   28  553   82  139   24    4   28   89   91  108 .251 .354 .461 .815

Eddie Bressoud

Petrocelli seems to be fairly well remembered these days, but the Red Sox shortstop he replaced seems almost forgotten. And while Bressoud wasn’t as good as Petrocelli, during that brief three-year peak he was darn close.

While pursuing his playing career, Bressoud went to school in the offseason, getting an AA degree from Los Angeles City College, and then a bachelor’s from UCLA. Upon his retirement from pro baseball, he received a master’s degree in education at San Jose State, and for many years was both head baseball coach and dean of physical education at De Anza College in Cupertino, Calif.

 Year  Age   AB    R    H   2B   3B   HR  RBI   BB   SO   BA  OBP  SLG  OPS
 1960   28  386   37   87   19    6    9   43   35   72 .225 .290 .376 .666
 1961   29  114   14   24    6    0    3   11   11   23 .211 .276 .342 .618
 1962   30  599   79  166   40    9   14   68   46  118 .277 .329 .444 .773
 1963   31  502   67  134   24    6   22   66   60   86 .267 .345 .471 .817
 1964   32  573   95  173   43    3   17   61   83   92 .301 .390 .474 .864
 1965   33  299   32   70   12    1    9   28   33   71 .233 .311 .367 .678
 1966   34  409   53   95   16    5   11   54   54   99 .232 .322 .376 .697
 1967   35   67    9    9    1    1    1    1   10   17 .134 .254 .224 .478

Dick Groat

OK, OK, he almost never hit the long ball. But Groat, though he was certainly overrated, was a very good singles-and-doubles-hitting shortstop. This exercise makes it clearer than ever that Groat’s 1963 season was the best of his career, far better than his 1960 performance that quirkily won him an MVP award.

Groat was an interesting athlete. As well as a baseball player, he was an All-American basketball star at Duke (and even played briefly in the NBA), and played nearly 1,900 major league games at shortstop, where he was regarded as displaying excellent range (he sure made a lot of errors, so he better have had excellent range)—yet Groat demonstrated an appalling lack of skill as a base stealer, swiping just 14 in 41 attempts over his 14-year career. It strongly suggests that that the quickness and agility required to excel at playing basketball and playing shortstop aren’t the same thing as baserunning speed.

 Year  Age   AB    R    H   2B   3B   HR  RBI   BB   SO   BA  OBP  SLG  OPS
 1960   29  573   85  186   26    4    2   50   39   35 .325 .371 .394 .765
 1961   30  596   71  164   25    6    6   55   40   44 .275 .320 .367 .687
 1962   31  678   76  199   34    3    2   61   31   61 .294 .325 .361 .686
 1963   32  639   94  209   45   11    7   81   65   54 .327 .389 .464 .853
 1964   33  643   77  193   37    6    1   77   51   39 .301 .352 .382 .734
 1965   34  593   61  155   27    5    0   58   65   46 .261 .334 .324 .658
 1966   35  590   64  158   22    4    2   59   46   35 .268 .321 .330 .651
 1967   36   97    8   16    1    1    0    6   12   10 .161 .251 .193 .444

Jim Fregosi

This big-yet-graceful shortstop wasn’t great at anything, but he was good at everything, and was durable and consistent as well. Alas, much to the Mets’ chagrin, once his knees went bad Fregosi was suddenly good at pretty much nothing.

 Year  Age   AB    R    H   2B   3B   HR  RBI   BB   SO   BA  OBP  SLG  OPS
 1961   19   27    7    6    0    0    0    3    1    4 .222 .250 .222 .472
 1962   20  175   15   51    3    4    3   23   18   27 .291 .356 .406 .762
 1963   21  599   92  177   30   12   10   55   42   96 .295 .341 .436 .777
 1964   22  511   95  146   23    9   20   80   83   81 .285 .385 .483 .868
 1965   23  609   73  174   20    7   17   71   62   99 .285 .352 .423 .775
 1966   24  617   86  160   34    7   14   74   77   82 .259 .342 .407 .749
 1967   25  597   83  178   24    6   10   62   57   71 .298 .359 .409 .767
 1968   26  620   85  156   22   13   10   54   69   94 .252 .327 .378 .705
 1969   27  580   78  151   22    6   12   47   93   86 .260 .361 .381 .742
 1970   28  601   95  167   33    5   22   82   69   92 .278 .353 .459 .812
 1971   29  347   31   81   15    1    5   33   39   61 .233 .317 .326 .643

Dick McAuliffe

The possessor of perhaps the most bizarre batting stance in history (he pointed the bat straight toward the sky with his arms fully extended, as though attempting to dislodge a frisbee from a tree) also was probably the single most underrated player of his era. McAuliffe wasn’t a good hitter for average, but he was nonetheless an outstanding run producer, thanks to exceptional strike zone discipline and the kind of home run power rarely found in middle infielders.

Defensively McAuliffe was so-so; he handled shortstop for a few years but became a full-time second baseman at the age of 27.

I recall the radio and TV broadcasters during the 1968 World Series never tiring of touting the fact that McAuliffe had gone the entire regular season without grounding into a double play. That was pretty cool, of course, and as a left-handed batter who generally hit the ball in the air, and was prone to strike out a little bit, McAuliffe was the sort who would always be tough to double up. But the fact that McAuliffe was the everyday leadoff man for a ball club whose seventh-, eighth- and ninth-place lineup slots put up OBPs in 1968 of .282, .239 and .216 respectively might have had a little to do with it.

 Year  Age   AB    R    H   2B   3B   HR  RBI   BB   SO   BA  OBP  SLG  OPS
 1960   20   27    2    7    0    1    0    1    2    6 .259 .310 .333 .643
 1961   21  285   36   73   12    4    6   33   24   39 .256 .322 .389 .711
 1962   22  471   50  124   20    5   12   63   64   76 .263 .349 .403 .752
 1963   23  574   85  155   19    6   14   67   74   70 .270 .353 .399 .752
 1964   24  562   94  139   19    7   26   73   89   89 .248 .350 .448 .798
 1965   25  408   67  109   14    6   17   60   57   57 .267 .357 .452 .809
 1966   26  435   92  123   17    8   25   62   76   74 .282 .389 .533 .923
 1967   27  562  102  138   17    7   24   72  121  109 .246 .380 .430 .810
 1968   28  576  105  148   25   10   18   62   95   92 .256 .361 .427 .789
 1969   29  271   49   71   10    5   11   33   47   41 .262 .369 .458 .827
 1970   30  530   73  124   21    1   12   50  101   62 .234 .358 .345 .703
 1971   31  477   67   99   16    6   18   57   53   67 .208 .293 .379 .672
The cream of the catching crop

The 1960s were bracketed by decades featuring remarkable clusters of all-time great catchers: The ’50s presented Yogi Berra and Roy Campanella, and the ’70s brought forth Johnny Bench and Carlton Fisk. Thus, in comparison, the ’60s tend to seem like a pretty thin decade for catchers, but in fact several were quite good.

Tom Haller

Not quite a star, perhaps, but Haller was a rock-solid producer.

When Haller was with the Giants, Candlestick Park wasn’t fully enclosed (that remodeling would take place in 1970-71). The wide-open-to-the-elements configuration made for famously hilarious and unpredictable wind gusts, but the prevailing wind direction was toward right field. Taking full advantage of this, the 6-foot-4 lefty-batting Haller swung with a big uppercut and lofted high fly balls, as indicated by his ratio of doubles to home runs.

Whether it was a conscious effort on Haller’s part following his trade to Los Angeles in 1968 (Dodger Stadium at that time was a very difficult home run park), or whether it was just an involuntary evolution as his bat speed declined with age, in his 30s Haller was a distinctly different hitter, with a shorter, more compact stroke. In his final few seasons, Haller didn’t pull the ball much, and instead reliably delivered line drives.

 Year  Age   AB    R    H   2B   3B   HR  RBI   BB   SO   BA  OBP  SLG  OPS
 1961   24   62    5    9    1    0    2    8    9   23 .145 .260 .258 .518
 1962   25  272   53   71   13    1   18   55   51   59 .261 .384 .515 .899
 1963   26  301   35   79    8    1   15   49   44   42 .262 .356 .451 .807
 1964   27  392   48  102   15    3   18   53   64   47 .260 .363 .448 .811
 1965   28  426   44  110    4    3   18   54   54   62 .259 .342 .407 .749
 1966   29  475   82  117   20    2   30   74   61   69 .247 .333 .485 .818
 1967   30  460   60  119   24    5   15   54   72   57 .258 .358 .433 .791
 1968   31  479   41  140   28    5    4   59   53   70 .293 .363 .401 .764
 1969   32  445   46  117   18    3    6   39   48   58 .263 .337 .357 .694
 1970   33  325   47   93   16    6   10   47   32   35 .286 .351 .465 .816
 1971   34  202   23   54    5    0    5   32   25   30 .267 .346 .366 .712

Tim McCarver

On the other hand, everybody’s favorite TV color man was a line-drive hitter from the get-go. Though he was pretty big and strong, even as a very young player McCarver was extremely contact-oriented, largely eschewing the long ball.

He was a good, dependable hitter, but by no means a great one. Still McCarver achieved one remarkable feat by leading the league (indeed, leading the major leagues) in triples in 1966. How many other catchers have led their league in triples? Well, there was Pudge Fisk in 1972, and no one has done it since. Before that, you have to go way, way, way back … all the way back to Buck Ewing in 1884.

You know, Joe, he was a pitch-snagger … (wait for it) … who hit three-baggers!

 Year  Age   AB    R    H   2B   3B   HR  RBI   BB   SO   BA  OBP  SLG  OPS
 1960   18   10    3    2    0    0    0    0    0    2 .200 .200 .200 .400
 1961   19   67    5   16    2    1    1    6    0    5 .239 .239 .343 .582
 1962   20   (In minor leagues)
 1963   21  410   43  122   13    7    4   56   31   40 .297 .347 .395 .741
 1964   22  470   59  139   20    3   10   58   46   41 .296 .359 .415 .774
 1965   23  413   53  117   18    2   12   53   36   24 .284 .341 .425 .766
 1966   24  549   55  155   20   13   13   75   42   35 .282 .333 .439 .772
 1967   25  477   75  145   27    3   15   76   62   30 .303 .384 .470 .854
 1968   26  438   39  114   16    6    6   53   30   29 .261 .308 .362 .671
 1969   27  515   46  134   27    3    7   51   49   26 .260 .323 .365 .688
 1970   28  164   16   47   11    1    4   14   14   10 .287 .346 .439 .785
 1971   29  474   51  132   20    5    8   46   43   26 .278 .337 .392 .729

Earl Battey

This burly backstop’s heyday was rather brief. First he spent several years sitting on the White Sox bench, blocked by Sherm Lollar. And he thoroughly ran out of gas at a pretty young age.

But for the few years in between, Battey was an exceptionally good all-around catcher.

 Year  Age   AB    R    H   2B   3B   HR  RBI   BB   SO   BA  OBP  SLG  OPS
 1960   25  466   49  126   24    2   15   60   48   68 .270 .346 .427 .773
 1961   26  460   70  139   24    1   17   55   53   66 .302 .377 .470 .847
 1962   27  522   58  146   20    3   11   57   57   48 .280 .348 .393 .741
 1963   28  514   71  151   18    1   29   93   70   70 .293 .379 .499 .878
 1964   29  409   36  114   18    1   13   58   59   45 .279 .370 .425 .795
 1965   30  399   40  122   23    2    7   66   58   21 .305 .393 .423 .816
 1966   31  368   33   97   13    1    4   38   50   28 .263 .351 .339 .689
 1967   32  110    7   19    3    1    0    9   15   22 .171 .270 .218 .488

Elston Howard

And then there’s this guy, to whom Fate seemed personally dedicated to preventing becoming a regular major league catcher. The long road included two-and-a-half seasons in the Negro Leagues and two-and-a-half more in the minors (through all of which he was at least as much an outfielder as a catcher), plus a two-year hitch in the military for good measure. Then when he finally made it to the majors, at the age of 26, he was deployed not as a regular at catcher, the outfield, or anywhere else, but as a roving supersub for five more years.

It wasn’t until he was in his 30s that Howard was finally able to edge past Berra and settle in as the Yankees’ regular catcher. But once he got the opportunity, Howard made the absolute best of it, performing as a full-fledged star for several years, and even copping an MVP (though the merit of that can be debated).

All in all this long and completely singular career is a tricky one to assess. The experts over at the Hall of Merit did a good job of wrestling with it, and decided that Howard doesn’t quite make that cut, but his case is clearly deserving of consideration. He was a very fine player.

 Year  Age   AB    R    H   2B   3B   HR  RBI   BB   SO   BA  OBP  SLG  OPS
 1960   31  323   29   79   11    3    6   39   28   43 .245 .298 .353 .651
 1961   32  446   64  155   17    5   21   77   28   65 .348 .387 .549 .936
 1962   33  494   63  138   23    5   21   91   31   76 .279 .318 .474 .792
 1963   34  493   83  146   22    6   31   94   40   63 .295 .349 .553 .902
 1964   35  557   70  179   28    3   17   93   55   68 .321 .383 .472 .855
 1965   36  395   42   95   16    1   10   50   28   60 .240 .290 .360 .650
 1966   37  414   42  109   20    2    7   39   43   60 .264 .332 .369 .702
 1967   38  317   24   58    9    0    4   31   24   56 .184 .242 .255 .496
 1968   39  205   24   51    4    0    6   20   25   42 .249 .331 .350 .681

Bill Freehan

His hitting was a little inconsistent, but that’s the only knock. Most frequently, Freehan was a superb all-around catcher, offensively and defensively, whom the Hall of Merit has seen fit to induct.

 Year  Age   AB    R    H   2B   3B   HR  RBI   BB   SO   BA  OBP  SLG  OPS
 1961   19   10    1    4    0    0    0    4    1    0 .400 .455 .400 .855
 1962   20   (In minor leagues)
 1963   21  303   41   76   13    2   10   40   45   52 .251 .348 .404 .751
 1964   22  526   76  162   15    8   20   88   42   63 .308 .359 .480 .839
 1965   23  435   50  105   16    0   11   48   45   58 .241 .313 .354 .666
 1966   24  497   52  120   23    0   13   51   46   67 .241 .305 .367 .673
 1967   25  523   73  152   24    1   22   82   84   66 .290 .389 .467 .856
 1968   26  546   81  148   25    2   28   93   75   59 .271 .359 .476 .834
 1969   27  489   61  128   16    3   16   49   53   55 .262 .342 .405 .747
 1970   28  395   44   95   17    3   16   52   52   48 .241 .332 .420 .752
 1971   29  516   57  143   26    4   21   71   54   48 .277 .353 .465 .818

Joe Torre

Having never watched Josh Gibson play, the greatest hitting catcher I’ve ever seen was Mike Piazza. But the next best, at least for a short while, was this guy.

Torre wasn’t much of a defensive catcher, but he could handle the position when he was in his 20s. And his bat was just exquisite: Torre was a lot like Piazza, in fact, in the manner in which his stroke was calm, easy and well-balanced, yet delivering scorching power to all fields. (I wonder whether Gibson’s approach was along the same lines.)

Torre didn’t get as much Hall of Fame consideration as he deserved (though he’ll eventually almost certainly go in with his managerial career added in), but the Hall of Merit voted him in strictly as a player.

 Year  Age   AB    R    H   2B   3B   HR  RBI   BB   SO   BA  OBP  SLG   OPS
 1960   19    2    0    1    0    0    0    0    0    1 .500 .500 .500 1.000
 1961   20  406   40  113   21    4   10   42   28   60 .278 .330 .424  .754
 1962   21  220   23   62    8    1    5   26   24   24 .282 .355 .395  .750
 1963   22  507   63  153   20    4   15   79   48   73 .302 .363 .448  .811
 1964   23  609   96  201   38    5   22  121   42   62 .330 .373 .517  .890
 1965   24  529   75  158   22    1   30   88   70   73 .299 .381 .513  .894
 1966   25  553   92  179   21    3   40  112   69   57 .323 .399 .588  .987
 1967   26  482   74  137   19    1   22   75   57   70 .285 .360 .465  .825
 1968   27  429   50  120   12    2   11   61   39   67 .279 .339 .393  .732
 1969   28  602   72  174   29    6   18  101   66   85 .289 .361 .447  .808
 1970   29  624   89  203   27    9   21  100   70   91 .325 .398 .498  .896
 1971   30  634   97  230   34    8   24  137   63   70 .363 .421 .555  .976
Hall of Fame fielders

These next three guys have Cooperstown plaques, but vastly more on the basis of what they contributed with the glove rather than with the bat. Still, each had something to offer in the offensive half of the inning.

Luis Aparicio

While Aparicio’s base-stealing contribution wasn’t adding as much value as his teams believed, it was adding value. Through his peak years Little Looie was swiping 50 bases a year at an 80%+ success rate, and that’s terrific. But the volume of outs did largely drown out the bases gained.

His defensive value was unambiguously extraordinary, not only in quality but in volume; Aparicio was tremendously durable. The combination of career length, defensive excellence and base thievery persuaded the Cooperstown electorate. But the Hall of Merit voters weren’t sold, considering Aparicio essentially equivalent to Rabbit Maranville, who’s also HOF yes, HOM no.

 Year  Age   AB    R    H   2B   3B   HR  RBI   BB   SO   BA  OBP  SLG  OPS
 1960   26  600   86  166   20    7    2   61   43   39 .277 .323 .343 .666
 1961   27  625   90  170   24    4    6   45   38   33 .272 .313 .352 .665
 1962   28  581   72  140   23    5    7   40   32   36 .241 .280 .334 .614
 1963   29  607   81  156   19    8    6   50   42   32 .257 .305 .342 .647
 1964   30  584  103  160   21    3   11   41   57   47 .274 .338 .377 .715
 1965   31  569   74  132   21   10    9   44   53   52 .232 .298 .351 .649
 1966   32  666  107  189   26    8    7   45   38   39 .284 .323 .378 .700
 1967   33  551   61  132   23    5    4   34   33   41 .240 .283 .324 .607
 1968   34  628   61  170   25    4    4   40   38   40 .271 .313 .345 .658
 1969   35  599   77  168   24    5    5   51   66   29 .280 .352 .362 .714
 1970   36  552   86  173   29    3    5   43   53   34 .313 .372 .404 .776
 1971   37  491   56  114   23    0    4   45   35   43 .232 .284 .303 .587

Bill Mazeroski

It’s certainly the case that Forbes Field suppressed Mazeroski’s home run totals, but his power wasn’t better than Grade B anyway. And given that his OBP performance was worse than Aparicio’s, and that his speed was average at best, Mazeroski’s defensive excellence had to pull an awful lot of weight to take him all the way to Cooperstown.

Moreover, Mazeroski’s defensive excellence wasn’t broad-based, as his range was nothing special. Mazeroski’s tremendous defensive renown boils down to one single skill: his double play pivot. But the good news for Mazeroski was that his double play pivot was probably the best any second baseman has ever displayed.

It was one of those things where, really, you had to see it to believe it. The toss would come to Mazeroski from the shortstop or third baseman and then just instantly be on its way to first base. It wasn’t a case that if you’d blink, you’d miss it; watching the event with both eyes wide open, you still missed it.

Thus the analysis becomes simply one of how many runs Mazeroski’s double play wizardry saved the Pirates, and whether that total balanced against his so-so offense (and the fact that Mazeroski pretty quickly broke down after the age of 30) adds up to a contribution equivalent to those of Hall of Famers in the forms we’re more accustomed to seeing. After rigorous consideration, the Hall of Merit concluded that, outstanding performer though he was, Mazeroski’s totality of achievements don’t quite get there.

 Year  Age   AB    R    H   2B   3B   HR  RBI   BB   SO   BA  OBP  SLG  OPS
 1960   23  538   58  147   21    5   11   64   40   50 .273 .320 .392 .712
 1961   24  558   71  148   21    2   13   59   26   55 .265 .298 .380 .678
 1962   25  572   55  155   24    9   14   81   37   47 .271 .315 .418 .733
 1963   26  539   48  136   23    3    9   58   37   43 .253 .301 .356 .656
 1964   27  607   73  167   23    8   11   71   33   48 .276 .313 .395 .708
 1965   28  499   58  139   18    1    7   60   21   32 .279 .308 .359 .666
 1966   29  627   62  169   23    7   18   91   36   57 .270 .309 .414 .723
 1967   30  646   69  174   26    3   10   85   35   51 .269 .306 .365 .671
 1968   31  511   40  132   19    2    3   46   44   35 .258 .317 .323 .640
 1969   32  227   13   52    7    1    3   25   22   16 .229 .298 .308 .606
 1970   33  367   29   84   14    0    7   39   27   40 .229 .283 .324 .607
 1971   34  193   17   49    3    1    1   16   15    8 .254 .303 .295 .598

Brooks Robinson

He obviously wasn’t a great hitter, but this exercise helps make clear that for a few years there in the mid-1960s Robinson was a pretty darn good one. And like Aparicio, he was exceptionally durable for a very long time. The Hall of Merit electorate concurred with the BBWAA on this one, and Brooksie is in.

 Year  Age   AB    R    H   2B   3B   HR  RBI   BB   SO   BA  OBP  SLG  OPS
 1960   23  595   74  175   27    9   14   88   35   49 .294 .329 .440 .769
 1961   24  668   89  192   38    7    7   61   47   57 .287 .334 .397 .731
 1962   25  634   77  192   29    9   23   86   42   70 .303 .342 .486 .828
 1963   26  595   74  154   27    4   12   74   53   78 .259 .319 .379 .699
 1964   27  620   91  202   37    3   31  130   59   59 .325 .384 .544 .928
 1965   28  566   90  173   26    2   20   88   54   44 .305 .366 .464 .830
 1966   29  627  101  174   37    2   25  111   65   33 .277 .345 .464 .808
 1967   30  616   97  170   26    5   24   85   62   50 .277 .343 .454 .797
 1968   31  614   72  160   38    6   19   83   51   51 .261 .317 .434 .751
 1969   32  598   73  140   21    3   23   84   56   55 .234 .298 .395 .693
 1970   33  608   84  168   31    4   18   94   53   53 .276 .335 .439 .774
 1971   34  589   67  160   21    1   20   92   63   50 .272 .341 .413 .754
Peaking early

These two guys shared a lot in common. Both were left-handed hitters, and slender, diminutive athletes whose speed wasn’t surprising given such a build, but whose power certainly was. And, alas, neither’s full career matched its early trajectory.

Johnny Callison

The shape of Callison’s power production is what’s so curious. Check out his SLG column: amazingly consistent from 1963 through 1965, and then just as amazingly consistent from 1966 through 1970—only with the tone dropped by an octave.

Callison’s career didn’t really have an arc. It was more like three mesas in a row, the high one in the middle.

 Year  Age   AB    R    H   2B   3B   HR  RBI   BB   SO   BA  OBP  SLG  OPS
 1960   21  288   36   75   11    5    9   30   45   70 .260 .360 .427 .787
 1961   22  455   74  121   20   11    9   47   69   76 .266 .363 .418 .781
 1962   23  603  107  181   26   10   23   83   54   96 .300 .363 .491 .854
 1963   24  633  106  185   38   11   29   86   58  103 .292 .351 .523 .875
 1964   25  661  112  186   31   10   34  115   42   88 .281 .324 .515 .839
 1965   26  625  103  168   26   16   35  112   66  108 .269 .339 .532 .871
 1966   27  619  103  176   42    7   12   61   65   77 .284 .352 .434 .785
 1967   28  562   69  151   31    5   15   71   64   58 .268 .343 .425 .768
 1968   29  402   51  101   19    4   15   44   48   65 .251 .332 .433 .765
 1969   30  495   66  131   29    5   16   64   49   73 .265 .332 .440 .772
 1970   31  477   65  126   23    2   19   68   60   63 .264 .348 .440 .788
 1971   32  290   27   61   12    1    8   38   36   55 .210 .298 .341 .639

Vada Pinson

Unlike Callison’s, Pinson’s performance didn’t suddenly drop to a lower plane, but gradually faded after his tremendous early success. Moreover, even through his best period Pinson was presenting a sawtooth great year-good year-great year-good year pattern; he never really established a particular level of performance and held it.

The early peaks followed by the long irregular tail always prompted me to question Pinson’s accepted birth year of 1938; his career sure looks like it would be a more plausible fit for someone born a few years earlier than that. But no researcher I’m aware of has found evidence to contradict his officially recognized birthdate, and moreover Pinson’s daughter graciously joined in the Hall of Merit discussion thread regarding Pinson and vouched that, as far as she knows, her dad was born on Aug. 11, 1938.

 Year  Age   AB    R    H   2B   3B   HR  RBI   BB   SO   BA  OBP  SLG  OPS
 1960   21  652  107  187   37   12   20   61   47   96 .287 .339 .472 .811
 1961   22  607  101  208   34    8   16   87   39   63 .343 .379 .504 .883
 1962   23  619  107  181   31    7   23  100   45   68 .292 .341 .477 .818
 1963   24  660  106  212   39   14   24  117   42   74 .321 .362 .533 .895
 1964   25  632  109  173   24   11   25   93   48   92 .273 .325 .467 .792
 1965   26  677  107  212   36   10   24  104   50   75 .313 .360 .503 .864
 1966   27  625   77  185   37    6   18   84   38   77 .296 .337 .459 .795
 1967   28  657  100  194   29   13   20   73   30   80 .296 .326 .471 .798
 1968   29  504   66  140   30    6    6   53   37   55 .278 .328 .396 .723
 1969   30  495   58  126   22    6   10   70   35   63 .255 .303 .384 .687
 1970   31  574   74  164   28    6   24   82   28   69 .286 .319 .481 .800
 1971   32  566   60  149   23    4   11   35   21   58 .263 .295 .376 .671
A power trio

Norm Cash

Stormin’ Norman’s mind-boggling 1961 performance is of course the single most arresting element in his career. But even if one completely ignores that season, a slightly odd feature remains: Cash’s walk rate was at its highest in his first few years, and then gradually declined as he aged, quite contrary to the typical pattern.

But mostly what this exercise reveals (as does any non-cursory look at Cash) is just how darn good he was. The lowest OPS among these 12 seasons is .820. He didn’t quite make Hall of Merit muster, but he got the serious consideration he deserves.

 Year  Age   AB    R    H   2B   3B   HR  RBI   BB   SO   BA  OBP  SLG   OPS
 1960   25  353   64  101   16    3   18   63   65   58 .286 .402 .501  .903
 1961   26  535  119  193   22    8   41  132  124   85 .361 .487 .662 1.149
 1962   27  507   94  123   16    2   39   89  104   82 .243 .382 .513  .895
 1963   28  498   74  138   20    1   29   87  103   70 .277 .401 .494  .895
 1964   29  484   70  128   16    5   25   92   81   61 .264 .370 .475  .845
 1965   30  472   87  129   24    1   33   91   89   57 .273 .388 .539  .927
 1966   31  610  108  175   19    3   35  103   76   84 .286 .366 .501  .867
 1967   32  493   71  123   17    5   24   80   94   93 .249 .369 .451  .820
 1968   33  415   55  112   16    1   28   70   45   65 .270 .342 .512  .854
 1969   34  483   81  135   15    4   22   74   63   80 .280 .368 .464  .832
 1970   35  370   58   96   18    2   15   53   72   58 .259 .383 .441  .824
 1971   36  452   72  128   10    3   32   91   59   86 .283 .372 .531  .903

Rocky Colavito

An interesting guy in several regards:

1) Colavito was your prototypical slugger in that he had thunderous power, didn’t hit much for average, was quite slow, and had a cannon for a throwing arm. But in one regard he was most unusual among players of this type: He was rather difficult to strike out.

2) Lots of players decline in their early 30s. But Colavito didn’t just decline, he went full-steam into a brick wall.

3) His name. Isn’t it perfect?

 Year  Age   AB    R    H   2B   3B   HR  RBI   BB   SO   BA  OBP  SLG  OPS
 1960   26  555   67  138   18    1   35   87   53   80 .249 .317 .474 .791
 1961   27  583  129  169   30    2   45  140  113   75 .290 .402 .580 .982
 1962   28  601   90  164   30    2   37  112   96   68 .273 .371 .514 .885
 1963   29  603  101  168   30    2   24  101   97   72 .279 .379 .457 .836
 1964   30  594   98  167   33    2   37  113   96   52 .282 .381 .532 .914
 1965   31  599  102  177   31    2   29  119  107   58 .295 .402 .498 .900
 1966   32  538   75  132   14    0   33   80   88   75 .245 .351 .455 .806
 1967   33  384   33   91   14    1    9   55   57   38 .238 .336 .348 .683
 1968   34  206   23   45    5    2    9   27   33   32 .217 .327 .391 .718

Roger Maris

This exercise illustrates the degree to which Maris’ mid-career breakdown was perceived as more drastic than it was, because of the reduction in scoring conditions beginning in 1963. But it remains a rather stunning breakdown.

 Year  Age   AB    R    H   2B   3B   HR  RBI   BB   SO   BA  OBP  SLG  OPS
 1960   25  499   98  141   18    7   39  112   70   65 .283 .371 .581 .952
 1961   26  590  132  159   16    4   61  142   94   67 .269 .372 .620 .992
 1962   27  590   92  151   34    1   33  100   87   78 .256 .356 .485 .841
 1963   28  315   59   87   15    1   25   59   40   37 .277 .359 .571 .930
 1964   29  519   95  150   13    2   29   79   72   72 .289 .375 .486 .861
 1965   30  156   24   38    7    0    9   30   33   27 .246 .379 .462 .841
 1966   31  351   41   84    9    2   14   48   42   56 .240 .320 .401 .721
 1967   32  414   71  111   19    7   10   61   60   57 .269 .361 .420 .781
 1968   33  313   28   82   19    2    6   50   28   35 .262 .322 .388 .711
The lumbering company

Finally, the stats of these three behemoths speak for themselves. So how about just some anecdotes.

Dick Stuart

Bill Wise on Stuart: “In an era of rubber stamps, the 6’3″, 210-pound Red Sox first baseman remains a bona fide original.”

In Ball Four, Jim Bouton relates:

It was Dick Stuart-story day today, and this one was about the time Johnny Pesky was managing the Red Sox and Stuart was playing for him and showing up late for a lot of things. For some reason this upset Pesky, so he called a meeting to talk about MORALE. Stuart was late for it. In fact he didn’t show up until about half an hour before the game (three is considered about right) and he walked right into the middle of the meeting.

All eyes were on him as he opened the door to the clubhouse and, without missing a beat, opened his double-breasted jacket, paraded to the center of the room with his hips swinging, did a pirouette and said, “And here he is nattily attired in a black suede jacket by Stanley Blacker, with blue velvetine pants and shoes by Florsheim. The handkerchief is by Christian Dior.”

Everybody went nuts. Even Pesky had to laugh.

 Year  Age   AB    R    H   2B   3B   HR  RBI   BB   SO   BA  OBP  SLG  OPS
 1960   27  438   48  114   17    5   23   83   39  107 .260 .317 .479 .796
 1961   28  532   83  160   28    8   35  117   34  121 .301 .344 .581 .925
 1962   29  394   52   90   11    4   16   64   32   94 .228 .286 .398 .684
 1963   30  618   90  166   26    4   46  130   51  133 .269 .325 .549 .874
 1964   31  610   81  175   28    1   36  126   43  121 .286 .333 .515 .848
 1965   32  543   59  131   20    1   31  105   45  126 .241 .299 .452 .752
 1966   33  180   12   45    1    0    8   24   23   40 .250 .334 .383 .718
 1967   34     (Played in Japan)
 1968   35     (Played in Japan)
 1969   36   51    3    8    2    0    1    4    3   21 .157 .204 .255 .459

Boog Powell

Zander Hollander on Powell:

Massive man … Has grown bigger each season in the majors … As a rookie in 1962 weighed 230 pounds and claims to have driven a Volkswagen … Banned from Lakeland (Fla.) Little League at age 12 because he was already 5-7 and weighed 165 pounds … A 215-pound star tackle on Key West High School football team quarterbacked by George Mira.

 Year  Age   AB    R    H   2B   3B   HR  RBI   BB   SO   BA  OBP  SLG   OPS
 1961   19   13    0    1    0    0    0    1    0    2 .077 .077 .077  .154
 1962   20  400   44   97   13    2   15   53   38   79 .243 .311 .398  .709
 1963   21  496   74  135   23    2   28   91   57   81 .272 .347 .494  .841
 1964   22  429   82  128   18    0   43  109   88   84 .298 .417 .640 1.058
 1965   23  477   60  122   21    2   19   80   82   86 .255 .365 .426  .790
 1966   24  497   86  147   19    0   37  121   77  116 .295 .390 .560  .950
 1967   25  419   59  101   15    1   14   61   64   87 .241 .341 .383  .724
 1968   26  555   66  142   22    1   24   94   84   90 .256 .354 .431  .785
 1969   27  533   83  162   25    0   37  121   72   76 .304 .383 .559  .942
 1970   28  526   82  156   28    0   35  114  104   80 .297 .412 .549  .961
 1971   29  418   59  107   19    0   22   92   82   64 .256 .379 .459  .838

Frank Howard

Robert Kalich on Howard:

The first time I saw Frank it was at Madison Square Garden. He was on the Ohio State basketball team and a fantastic rebounder. He looked as strong then as Hercules does in those horrible movies, and when I saw him later in the dressing room, he looked even stronger.

He is six feet, seven and weighs 285 pounds. And it’s all muscle. He is the biggest and strongest man ever to play in the majors, and he can hit a ball as far as anyone …

… he hits some that will be remembered forever, and one of them was hit in New York in a World Series game off Whitey Ford. It was hit at the shortstop and Kubek leaped, just missing it as the low liner was about 10 feet high. It never elevated to any height but kept going on a line until it crashed into the bleacher wall 457 feet from the plate.

A ball has no right to be hit that hard, and The Monster lumbered into third base with a triple, as the players and fans and Whitey looked on in dismay.

 Year  Age   AB    R    H   2B   3B   HR  RBI   BB   SO   BA  OBP  SLG  OPS
 1960   23  448   54  120   15    2   23   77   32  108 .268 .320 .464 .784
 1961   24  267   36   79   10    2   15   45   21   50 .296 .347 .517 .864
 1962   25  493   80  146   25    6   31  119   39  108 .296 .346 .560 .906
 1963   26  422   64  119   17    1   31   71   38  108 .281 .341 .545 .886
 1964   27  437   66  102   14    2   26   76   59  105 .233 .324 .455 .780
 1965   28  522   59  155   23    6   23   93   64  104 .297 .373 .497 .871
 1966   29  498   58  142   20    4   20   79   61   96 .286 .364 .461 .825
 1967   30  524   79  138   21    2   40   98   69  144 .264 .350 .539 .888
 1968   31  604   87  170   29    3   48  117   62  131 .282 .349 .581 .931
 1969   32  592  111  175   17    2   48  111  102   96 .296 .402 .574 .976
 1970   33  566   90  160   15    1   44  126  132  125 .283 .416 .546 .962
 1971   34  549   60  153   25    2   26   83   77  121 .279 .367 .474 .841
Next time

We examine the very greatest hitters of the 1960s.

References & Resources
Bill Wise, 1964 Official Baseball Almanac, New York: Fawcett, 1964, p. 32.

Jim Bouton, Ball Four: My Life and Hard Times Throwing the Knuckleball in the Big Leagues, New York: World, 1970, p. 52.

Zander Hollander, The Complete Handbook of Baseball: 1971 Edition, New York: Lancer, 1971, p. 17.

Robert Kalich, The Baseball Rating Handbook, New York: Barnes, 1969, pp. 198-199.

Some notes on methodology:

The precise percentage differences derived between MLB 1963-68 and 1960-62/69-71 averages:

Runs: 10.5873%
Hits: 3.9586%
Doubles: 4.958%
Triples: 1.726%
Home runs: 10.2001%
Walks: 15.4743%
Strikeouts: -7.883% (yielding a multiplier of 0.92693)

The percentage change in triples is too small to show up in any individual player season. I think this makes intuitive sense: In a higher-scoring 1963-68 era, there certainly would have been more opportunities to stretch doubles into triples, but correspondingly, less incentive to take the risk.

An impact of a greater rate of hits is an increase in at-bats. I used a simple method to increase at-bats: Every batter’s at-bats are increased by his number of increased hits. Outs are constant, of course, and I assume as well a constant rate of double plays and baserunning outs—probably not exactly proper assumptions, but close enough for our purposes. What the increase in both hits and at-bats for batters yields is generally about an eight-point increase in batting average in the .240-to-.300 range; that is, a .270 hitter usually emerges as a .278 hitter.

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