1967's Impossible Dream
Prior to the beginning of the 1967 campaign, Boston Red Sox' new manager, Dick Williams, promised that his team would “win more games than we lose”. The Las Vegas odds-makers tabbed the Sox as 100-1 long-shots to make the World Series.
Williams was right, Vegas was wrong.
The Red Sox had many highlights, as well as a few low-lights, on their way to the American League pennant, in what many called “The Great Race”. Four teams entered the final weekend of the season with a chance of winning the pennant outright. It took the Tigers dropping the second game of a doubleheader to the Angels to finalize the pennant for the Red Sox (who were listening to the game in their clubhouse.
All told, the top three runners up finished no more than three games behind Boston.
The Red Sox became the first American League Champion to reach seventy losses in a season, and Williams would be the first Sox skipper to reach the Series in his rookie season at the helm.
The Sox would win their first pennant since 1946, and would face the Cardinals in the Series, just as they did in...1946. And St. Louis would win in seven games...just like in...yes, 1946.
The early season showed the rest of the League what the Sox were capable of, as Rookie pitcher Bill Rohr became just the fifth pitcher to pitch a one-hitter in his debut. Future teammate Elston Howard, then of the Yankees, doubled off of Rohr to get the only hit. A week later, Rohr pitched another complete game victory over the Yankees. He wouldn't win another game that season. He would be sent to the minors, and eventually made it back to the majors the following year with the Indians, where he would earn his third and final career win.
Local star Tony Conigliaro, from nearby Revere, Massachusetts, was easily one of the most players on the Red Sox. Destined for super-stardom, he reached 100 career home runs faster than anyone else in American League history.
Tragically, in August of 1967, Tony C was hit in a face by a pitch by Jack Hamilton of the Angels, and nearly died. He suffered a fractured cheekbone, a dislocated jaw, and damage to his left retina. He was taken from the field on a stretcher, and didn't return to the field until 1968.
Carl “Yaz” Yastrzemksi was the cream of the crop in the American League. Winning the American League's second Triple Crown in as many years (Frank Robinson of the Orioles won it in 1966), Yaz easily was voted the League's MVP Award. (Not unanimous, but more on that in a minute)
For the SABRmetric heads out there, Carl finished with a WAR (Wins Against Replacement) number of 12.4. The only other player who reached that number or higher during a season was another former Red Sox, Babe Ruth) In fact, over the course of his career, Yaz reached base 5,305 times, which is the fifth highest total in history.
And in a totally random statistic, Yastrzemski became just the third player with ten or more letters in his last name to hit forty or more homers in a season.
There were quite a few future stars who debuted in 1967. Hall of Famers Johnny Bench, Rod Carew, Reggie Jackson and Tom Seaver, along with Graig Nettles, Amos Otis, Joe Niekro and Sparky Lyle.
Seaver and Carew would each be named the Rookie of the Year in their league. Since the inception of a Rookie of the Year for each league, this marked the second time that both winners would become eventual Hall of Famers. The other time previous? 1956, when Luis Aparicio and Frank Robinson were the winners. (It then happened in 1977, with Andre Dawson and Eddie Murray)
Seaver would be the first Met to win the Rookie of the Year, and Carew the Twin's second. (Tony Oliva in 1964)
For the White Sox, Joe Horlen won the ERA title. No White Sox pitcher has won it since.
In Los Angeles, the Dodgers had their first ever rain-out on April 21st. The next postponement for them would be 724 games later, in 1976.
Jim Bunning of the Phillies would set a dubious record by losing five 1-0 games in 1967. He finished at 17-15, and became the oldest pitcher (at the time) to lead his league in strikeouts.
In the Bronx, Mickey Mantle became the sixth player to join the 500 home run club, behind Babe Ruth, Jimmie Foxx, Mel Ott and Ted Williams.
In Houston, rookie Don Wilson became the fifth National League rookie to pitch a no-hitter. However, Wilson's was the first both on AstroTurf and indoors.
And Eddie Mathews became the seventh player to reach 500 home runs in his career. He is the only player to have done it as a Houston Astro, and hitting it off of San Francisco's Juan Marichal marks the only time a 500th home run was given up by a future Hall of Famer.
At Shea Stadium, the Mets held on to a slim lead over the Pirates...but the Bucs had the bases loaded with no one out in the top of the ninth. Then...the unthinkable happened. Clutch hitter Bill Mazeroski and hit into a game ending triple play...the kind of stuff that only happens in the movies.
Well, that's what happened.
The Mets and Pirates agreed to film the scene before a game, for the movie “The Odd Couple”
so, it never happened. As an interesting side note, originally the movie producers wanted Roberto Clemente to be the batter, but he declined because he though that the scene might show him in a bad light.
If you have ever seen the film, or seen the scene, it is next to impossible to discern any of the players.
But, speaking of Clemente, he became the first batting champion with 100 strikeouts.
In Minnesota, the Twins became the first team with three pitcher to have 200 or more strikeouts in a season. Dave Boswell, Dean Chance and Jim Kaat all reached that plateau.
Utility player Cesar Tovar, who would garner the only other Most Valuable Player vote apart from Triple Crown winner Carl Yastrzemski, set the American league record for appearing in 164 games during the season.
In San Francisco, Mike McCormick became the first Giants pitcher to win the Cy Young Award. In the first season when the award was given for each league, McCormick and Boston pitcher Jim Lonborg (who is the first Red Sox winner as well) it marks the only time that both winners were 20 game winners for the only time in their career. And was the first time that either winner did not finish in the top ten in ERA.
For the Cubs, 1967 marked the first of six straight twenty win seasons for Fergie Jenkins. The Cubs reached first place on July 2nd, the first time that they were in first this late in the season since 1945. Winning that game in Chicago that put them in first, many of the die-hards waited in the stands until the pennants atop Wrigley Field were re-arranged to show the Cubbies in first.
Unfortunately, they lost the following day, and didn't make it to the top again during the season.
Pitcher Don Larsen, who didn't play in the majors in 1966, pitched sparingly for the Cubs in 1967, and announced his retirement from the game. He was the last active player that played for the St. Louis Browns.
Now, we'll get to Kansas City, where Charlie Finley and the local government were at odds. For several years, the A's and Kansas City had been bickering and arbitrating, and suing and negotiating ways to keep the A's in town, with an agreeable lease on their stadium.
This all came to a head when the Kansas City city council voted to approve funding for a brand new state of the art football facility for the Kansas City Chiefs, but 'nickel and dimed' Finley and the A's, who nickel and dimed them right back.
Finley, who was quite a showman, realized the power of marketing, and the ramifications beyond the Athletics's ball-club. Often forgotten is the fact that Finley was very instrumental in getting the Beatles to perform at Municipal Stadium in 1964, paying the Beatles a then unheard of $150,000 for one performance. The Beatles played for thirty-two minutes.
This concert was the lowest selling concert of that tour, selling just over 20,000 tickets. Some put the low attendance to the local animosity towards Finley, who is estimated to have lost upwards of $100,000 of his own money on the concert.
Turmoil followed the Kansas City club all season long, both on and off the field. There was an incident on a commercial flight from Baltimore (The A's were the only team that did not use charter flights, saving the ball-club $50,000 per year) where there were some adult beverages consumed, and a rowdiness that ensued. The details are sketchy as to what did happen on the flight, but word reached Finley, who was at home in Indiana.
Finley asked manager Alvin Dark to look into the issue, and handle it. Dark said he would take care of it, but it wasn't to Charlie's satisfaction.
Finley called pitcher Lew Krausse and informed him that he was fined and immediately suspended from the team until further notice. He then instructed one of his public relations people to type a memo to be posted immediately in the clubhouse stating that from now on, there would be no alcohol consumption of any kind during air travel. Alvin Dark was given his own personal copy of the memo, as per Finley's instructions, and was incensed. Dark believed that he handled the matter in the best way, only to have Finley turn it upside down.
The players were none too happy, and resolved to answer Finley in a very public way.
As fate would have it, Finley met with Dark on a trip to Chicago. They had a private meeting, in which Finley discussed the way that Dark should have handled the airplane issue. Finley accused Dark of creating an 'us against him' mentality on the ball-club. Dark disagreed, saying that he was more concerned with the harmony and morale of the club.
After a few hours, and calmer demeanors, the talk turned to the ball-club at large. Dark, a seasoned baseball man, and one regarded to have a great eye for talent, flat out told Finley that this team would be a serious contender by1971. Finley agreed , and after a few more hours had passed, he had not only forgiven Dark, but had offered him a contract extension.
They called a press conference, and as they walked together, a reporter asked Finley about the rebuttal. Finley hadn't heard about it, so he asked Dark, who said that he knew about I, but thought the players would confer with him before releasing it. They hadn't.
Finley was incensed, and fired Dark on the spot. Conveniently enough, Luke Appling just happened to be staying at the same hotel, at Finley's behest, meaning that Finley had in mind to fire Dark at the outset of their initial meeting. Finley made various threats to his players and they responded back with the first unfair labor practice charge brought against a major league ball-club.
A's first-baseman Ken Harrelson called Finley a “menace to baseball”, which led Finley to 'fire' Harrelson. This was a most unusual, and unprecedented move. Had he placed Harrelson on waivers, the A's may have been able to recoup a bit of money. Instead by releasing, or firing him, he voided the contract, which made Harrelson a free agent immediately, and free to negotiate his own deal with whichever club he desired. (Major League Baseball closed the loophole that made this possible, so it couldn't happen again...players released in this manner had to be placed on irrevocable waivers first, and could then be claimed by a team who could negotiate a deal)
Harrelson, after a couple of days, contemplated apologizing to Finley, but then he began getting approached by teams looking to sign him. He parlayed that into a $75,000 contract with the World Series bound Red Sox, with a deal in place for 1968.
Also for the A's, the deal was set, however, and Oakland was to be the new home of the A's, beginning with the 1968 season. This news prompted United States Senator Sy Symington, who represented Kansas, to call Oakland, “The luckiest city this side of Hiroshima”.
There were threats and lawsuits made by Kansas City, the most serious was Senator Symington's threat to look into revoking Major League Baseball's anti-trust exemption, a threat the baseball took as real. The American League owners scrambled, and agreed to an expansion, which would happen sometime before the 1971 season, and would include a franchise for Kansas City and Seattle.
This angered their national League counterparts, who were sure that the leagues would negotiate for the northwest territory that the AL had now claimed. After several meetings, the National announced that they would not challenge the rights to the Seattle area, and that they would also prepare an expansion in the same time frame, and would involve franchises on two of the following cities: Buffalo, Dallas, Denver, Milwaukee, Montreal and/or San Diego.
Back in Oakland, Finley's first order of business was to hire a new Vice President of baseball operations. Joe DiMaggio. This move was considered a coup, as many couldn't believe that the Yankees hadn't hired DiMaggio for a job beyond a Spring Training hitting instructor/goodwill ambassador. The reality of the hire was two-fold. DiMaggio, who had grown up in the Bay Area gave the A's a local flavor immediately. And secondly. He was two years of service short to qualify for the maximum pension allowance.
On the field, Jim “Catfish” Hunter became the last pitcher to hurl five innings in an All-Star Game. The 1967 game, held in Anaheim, was the longest Mid-summer Classic, ending in fifteen innings. Cincinnati third-baseman Tony Perez hit a game-winning homer off of Hunter to cement the NL victory.
The final score was 2-1, and all three runs were scored on solo homers. In addition to Perez, Dick Allen of the Phillies and Brooks Robinson of the Orioles also went deep in the game.
But the majority of the news came out of St. Louis, where the Cardinals won the pennant handily, besting the second place Giants by ten and a half games. They won one hundred and one games during the season, and although it took them seven games, they were able to beat the Red Sox in the World Series.
The first oddity is one that I haven't been able to verify, but according to legend, Roger Maris hit a one in a billion homer. Let me explain with the hard facts...Maris was traded to the Cardinals by the Yankees for third baseman Charley Smith. He wore uniform number nine with the Yankees (where it has been retired), and the same number with the Cardinals. On May ninth, Maris hit his first National League home run. Those are the facts .
The legend goes, and it has been difficult to verify this beyond one source, was that the homer went into the stands, landing in the ninth seat of the ninth row. All the nines converging make it possibly the most unique homer in major league history.
But I digress...
On July 15th, while hosting the Pirates, in a game the Cardinals would eventually lose, they lost more than just the game. Pirates slugger Roberto Clemente lined a ball off of pitcher Bob Gibson's leg. Gibson went down like he was shot, as Clemente reached base.
The trainer for the Cardinals came running out to the mound, and began tending to Gibson, who was in a lot of pain. He began spraying ethyl chloride on the injured area, but Gibson complained that the cooling agent was not in the right spot, and wasn't helping with the pain. The trainer pointed out to Gibson that he was spraying the 'baseball shaped dent' in Gibson's skin.
After a few moments, Gibson, one of the fiercest competitors the game has known, was on his feet, ready to try a few warm up tosses to see if he could continue, which he was able to do.
The game continued, and Gibson walked Willie Stargell, then got Bill Mazeroski to pop out. He reached a full count on Donn Clendennon, so he 'tried to open up on a fastball' when his fibula 'snapped in two'.
Gibson missed fifty-two games, but returned with a 7-1 victory over the Phillies.
In other Cardinals news, Lou Brock became the third player to make 200 hits, but finish batting below .300. (Jo-Jo White and Maury Wills did it before him) Not known for his slugging, Brock became the first to hit five homers in his teams first four games.
Orlando Cepeda won the National League Most Valuable Player Award, by a unanimous vote, just the third National Leaguer to do so. (Carl Hubbell and Frank Robinson had done it previously.)
The World Series featured the Red Sox and the Cardinals, as I mentioned earlier. The Cards won in seven games. Lou Brock stole a record seven bases during the Series, including three in the seventh game. (He would steal seven in the '68 Series as well)
Red Sox pitcher Jose Santiago became the first pitcher to homer in his first World Series game, and is the only pitcher in baseball history to hit a homer in a game that resulted in his team's loss.
OK, now on to the boring statistics....
The Power rankings were true to form, with the top five teams:
- CardinalsWorld Series ChampsRed SoxAmerican League ChampsWhite Sox4th in ALGiants2nd in NLTigers2nd in AL
First. Let's look at the American League pitching, where they fared 5% better than their National League counterparts. This season appears fairly flat, with the AL pitchers faring better than the pitchers, but the National League hitters faring 4.9% better than their American League brethren.
Combining those quotients means the leagues were pretty evenly matched, overall.
In our initial ranking, raw numbers, our leaders are:
- PitcherTeamW-LERASavesJoe HorlenWhite Sox19-72.060Hoyt WilhelmWhite Sox8-31.3112Moe DrabowskyOrioles7-51.6012Gary PetersWhite Sox16-112.280Dean ChanceTwins20-142.621Steve HarganIndians14-132.620Jim LonborgRed Sox22-93.160Al DowningYankees14-412.630Earl WilsonTigers22-113.270Sonny SiebertIndians10-122.384
You will notice a lot of White Sox pitchers, which figures since they had the best pitching in the league, but their offense was sixth best, which is why they didn't finish higher. For comparison sake, the Red Sox had the second best pitching, and then the top offensive team, which propelled them to the League Championship.
Now, as we compare the pitchers to their team's performances, we get this list:
- Catfish HunterA's13-172.810Moe DrabowskyAboveAl DowningAboveSteve HarganAboveSonny SiebertAboveJoe HorlenAboveDean ChanceAboveLuis TiantIndians12-92.742Mel StottlemyreYankees15-152.960Jim LonborgAbove
That brings us to this list of top American League pitching performances, with their post season voting results:
- Joe Horlen2nd in Cy Young, 4th in MVPMoe DrabowskyNo votesSteve HarganNo votesAl DowningNo votesHoyt WilhelmNo votesDean Chance13th in MVPJim Lonborg1st in Cy Young, 6th in MVPGary Peters9th in MVPSonny SiebertNo votesEarl Wilson12th in MVP
With the beginning of each league awarding a Cy Young Award, this seemed to get in the way of pitchers also garnering MVP votes, with the belief of some voters that there should be one award now for pitchers, and one for everyday players. Their minds were changed after the 1968 season, when pitchers won the MVP Award for both leagues.
Now, over to the National league pitchers, our initial numbers bring us this list:
- Ted AbernathyCubs6-31.2728Juan MarichalGiants14-102.760Mike McCormickGiants22-102.850Fergie JenkinsCubs20-132.800Jim BunningPhillies17-152.290Dick HughesCardinals16-62.673Bob GibsonCardinals13-72.980Phil NiekroBraves11-91.879Mel QueenReds14-82.760Ken JohnsonBraves13-92.740
In the National League, the Cardinals had both the top pitching and the top hitting team.
The NL pitchers against their team's average performances:
- Phil NiekroAboveTom SeaverMets16-132.760Ken JohnsonAboveMike CuellarAstros16-113.031Don WilsonAstros10-092.790Fergie JenkinsAboveJim BunningAbovePat JarvisBraves15-103.660Ron TaylorMets4-62.388Ted AbernathyAbove
The Mets and Astros had the worst two pitching staffs in the league, so the 4 players listed above were helped by that fact.
Our top overall pitchers in the National league then, are as follows:
- Phil NiekroNo votesTed Abernathy20th in MVPKen JohnsonNo votesTom SeaverRookie of the Year, 22nd in MVP (tie)Fergie Jenkins3rd in Cy Young, 12th in MVPJim Bunning22nd in MVP (tie)Juan MarichalNo votesMike McCormick1st in Cy Young, 6th in MVPMike CuellarNo votesFrank LinzyNo votes
Linzy, pitching for the Giants, was 7-7 with a 1.51 ERA and 17 saves.
Now to look at the American League offense, despite having the first Triple Crown winner in ten years, the league didn't fare as well as a whole as the National League. The top hitters initially were:
- PlayerTeamHRRBIAVGSBCarl YastrzemskiRed Sox44121.32610Frank RobinsonOrioles3094.3112Al KalineTigers2578.3088Harmon KillebrewTwins44113.2691Tony OlivaTwins1783.28911Bill FreehanTigers2074.2821Don MincherAngels2576.2730George ScottRed Sox1982.30310Brooks RobinsonOrioles2277.2691Frank HowardSenators3689.2560
And then compared to their team's average performance, we get:
- Frank RobinsonAboveAl KalineAboveCarl YastrzemskiAboveHarmon KillebrewAboveDon MincherAboveFrank HowardAboveMickey MantleYankees2255.2451Rick MondayA's1458.2513Ken McMullenSenators1667.2455
Then we get our final top ten ranking of:
- Carl Yastrzemski1st in MVPFrank Robinson11th in MVPAl Kaline5th in MVPHarmon Killebrew2nd in MVPDon Mincher21st in MVP (tie)Tony Oliva19th in MVPBill Freehan3rd in MVPFrank HowardNo votesBrooks RobinsonNo votesGeorge Scott10th in MVP
And then over to the National League, our initial look brings us:
- Roberto ClementePirates23110.3579Dick AllenPhillies2377.30720Hank AaronBraves39109.30717Orlando CepedaCardinals25111.32511Ron SantoCubs3198.3001Jim Ray HartGiants2999.2891Jimmy WynnAstros37107.24916Willie McCoveyGiants3191.2763Tim McCarverCardinals1469.2958Lou BrockCardinals2176.29952
Now comparing to their teams, we get:
- Dick AllenAboveHank AaronAboveRoberto ClementeAboveTommy DavisMets1673.3029Jim Ray HartAboveJimmy WynnAbovePete RoseReds1276.30111Willie McCoveyAboveTony PerezReds26102.2900
That brings us to our final top ten ranking of:
- Roberto Clemente3rd in MVPDick Allen19th in MVPHank Aaron5th in MVPOrlando Cepeda1st in MVPRon Santo4th in MVPJim Ray Hart17th in MVP (tie)Jimmy Wynn11th in MVPWillie McCovey29th in MVPTim McCarver2nd in MVPPete Rose10th in MVP
So, if I were to have had voting privileges, my vote would have been as follows:
American League Player of the Year:
American League Pitcher of the Year:
National League Player of the Year:
National League Pitcher of the Year: