Tuesday, March 27, 2012

1965: A year of change for baseball

The last year I collected baseball cards was 1965, one sign of the late beginning of my adolescence.  The nation was also going through changes that year.  It was the first full year of President Lyndon Johnson’s administration.  Malcolm X was assassinated that winter (February 21).  And after bloody civil rights demonstrations in Selma, Alabama, the Voting Rights Bill of 1965 was passed by Congress that summer.  The passing of time results in changes to each aspect of our lives, even to the game we love; baseball. There were three changes in Major League baseball that occurred or were about to occur during the 1965 season I remember.

The frustration of New York Yankee haters finally was relieved in 1965.  After winning the American League pennant nine out of the previous 10 years and four World Series, the stronghold the dreaded Yankees had on the rest of the league was over.  The effect of aging and nagging injuries had taken its toll on Mickey Mantle, Whitey Ford, Yogi Berra, Elston Howard, Roger Maris and the other core players on the team.  Their farm system was not able to restock the team with young players with big league talent.  And they could no longer dump their older players in trades for younger prospects of other teams as they had done in the past.  Losing the 1963 and 1964 World Series were clear signs of the team’s pending demise.  In 1965, they finished in sixth place and would not win their next pennant until 1976,

The Houston Colt 45’s were renamed the Houston Astros and opened the season playing in the first indoor baseball stadium, the Astrodome; called “The Eighth Wonder of the World”.  The first game in the new facility was an exhibition contest between the Astros and New York Yankees on April 9; and Mickey Mantle hit the first Astrodome home run.

My first exposure to baseball was from Henry Aaron and the World Champion 1957 Milwaukee Braves.  However, by 1965; only Aaron and an aging Eddie Mathews were the remaining star players from the successful  Braves teams that won more games than any other National League franchise between 1953 and 1960 (719).  With fan attendance in Milwaukee declining and a great financial opportunity luring by becoming the first Major League franchise in the south, Braves management moved the team to Atlanta after the season. 

What do you remember about the 1965 baseball season?

Friday, March 16, 2012

Remembering Don Mincher

During the late 1950s and early 1960s there were many utility players in the American League that would have been perfect Designated Hitters.  They were good at hitting a baseball, but had fielding liabilities that kept them on the bench accept for pinch hitting situations.  But the American League did not put the Designated Hitter Rule into place until 1974, after the careers of these players were over.  Don Mincher was one those players.  Mincher died this past March 4, 2012, he was 73 years old.

Initially signed by the Chicago White Sox in 1956, Mincher was a part of the successful effort to be competitive by the lowly Washington Senators in 1960.  He was acquired from White Sox that April, but Senators’ fans did not get to see much of him.  The team moved to Minneapolis after the season and became the Minnesota Twins.

By 1964, the Twins were a contending team with a power hitting line up of future Hall of Famer Harmon Killebrew, Bob Allison, Jimmie Hall, Earl Battey, and 1964 newcomer Tony Oliva; all capable of hitting the ball a long way.  When Don Mincher played first base in place of Killebrew, opposing pitchers did not get much of a break.  Mincher was also a home run threat.

After the Twins hit six home runs against my hometown Kansas City A’s on May 2 that year; my friends and I decided to go see this power show on display the next day.   The A’s won both games of the doubleheader, but what I remember most was the rocket shot home run Mincher hit the second game.  

When Killebrew missed a part of the next season, 1965, due to injury; Mincher stepped in and helped the Twins win the pennant.  He hit 22 home runs and drove in 65 runs.  He also hit a home run in the Twins’ Game 1 World Series win.

Leaving the Twins after 1966, Mincher became an All Star at first base for the California Angels in 1967 and the Seattle Pilots in 1969.  His last season was 1972, the year before the Designated Hitter Rule was initiated.  Mincher would have been the ideal Designated Hitter.  He hit 200 career home runs as basically a reserve player.   I believe he would have been a nightmare for opposing pitchers as a DH.

Who else do you think would have been a good DH from Mincher’s era?  What about Gates Brown or Dick Stuart?