New Frontiers

The majors as they existed when I was born in 1957 were pretty much the same as back when my mom was born in 1926.  There were two leagues, both with eight teams, playing a regular season of 154 games followed by a World Series between the two pennant winners.  In both years the Yankees represented the AL, and lost both times in seven games (to the Cards and then the Braves).  

Some details started to change in the 1950s.  The Braves moved from Boston to Milwauke in 1953, and this move was soon followed by the Browns & A’s moves to Baltimore and Kansas City.  Then in 1958, the Dodgers and Giants both jumped to LA and SF.  California, the state where Fitzgerald famously said dreams go to die, now marked baseball’s western frontier.  I imagine, after decades of stability, that the idea of expansion in 1961 must have been seen as hand-in-hand with other changes rippling through society.  I cannot say which was more upsetting to my mother in April of 1961, getting her head around the idea of an American League with 18 teams, or of Yuri Gagarin circling the Earth in a Soviet rocket ship.

Throwing out the first pitch at the opening contest between the new Senators (the old ones had just moved to Minnesota to become the Twins) was my mom’s idol, President John F. Kennedy.  There was a lot for everyone to like about JFK, but for her the special connection was shared Irish, Roman Catholic roots and kids about the same ages.  It was not mere rhetoric to say 1961 marked the passing of a torch between generations.  Ike was 27 years older than our new president, which I believe is the largest age-gap between any successive presidents.  Change, like Gugarin, was in the air, but as always is the case, conservative forces were rallying against the progressive aggenda.  It is hard now to imagine a world with Jim Crow laws, but segregation was still the norm even though all sixteen major league clubs were finally integrated by the time I was toddling about on my own two legs in 1959.  The Red Sox hold the dubious distinction of being the last to roster an African-American, a young back-up infielder named Pumpsie Green.

I have decided to replay the 1961 season next, in part as an homage to my mom.  This expansion year is also likely to be the oldest season that I will ever cover, and I think it will be one of the more interesting ones.  Will Roger Maris break Babe Ruth’s long-standing HR record (set when my mom was a baby)?  I also want to stretch my own comfort zone a bit to see if a “before my time" season can hold my interest.  But unlike Kennedy, who tried to prevent the next domino from falling in Asia, my replay of 1961 will be a celebration of the rapid changes in MLB involving franchise relocations and expansion.  Just as air travel allowed teams to pioneer landscapes in the west and south, giving America’s Pasttime a continental reach, I intend to push my own baseball memories outside my usual comfort zone.    

There was an extra step required in the league setup this year, since the NL still had just 16 teams.  My method for years with this sort of imbalance — and this will be really important starting in 1977, when there were 14 AL teams and only 12 in the NL — is to conduct a mini-draft of cut players to strengthen the new expansion teams (which have no other franchise with which to pair).

West Metro, the expansion Angels plus some scraps that were cut from the other teams, is off to a pretty good start (3-2).  This roster was a bit of a challenge to put together, given the Angels didn’t have a single 500-AB player — one assumes that manager Bill Rigney was an advocate of platooning — and had just four guys with as many as 400 ABs.  In the mini-draft they did manage to snag another pair of semi-regulars, infielders 23-yo Charley Smith (.248/11/50) and Jose Pagan (.253/5/44), but the Maroons will be having to nurse playing time to a degree that definitely was not present in the 1968 replay.  

Given the 17 hitter/13 pitcher roster format, as a rule of thumb rosters are constructed 2-deep at each position and then a precious wildcard slot can be assigned to one more.  Quite often that extra guy is used for extra depth behind the dish, and alas this was the case with West Metro.  The club's best catcher is Earl Averill, his defense was subpar (a ‘4’ with a +2 arm) but the .266/21/59 slash line makes him a force to be reckoned with.  But Earl had just 323 ABs, so the draft was used to bring in some nice depth (and maybe let him spend some time in the outfield.  24-yo Clay Dalrymple is a better defender, with a zero arm, and he hits lefty which makes a nice theoretical platoon, but a .220 average and just 5 HRs in 378 ABs isn’t something to get excited about.  The team’s third catcher, 23-yo Cam Carreon, has a more interesting .271 stick.

Depth was more of an issue at firstbase, where another trio has been rostered.  Steve Bilko (.279/20/59) is a lefty killer, and has plenty of ABs (294) to fill that role.  His platoon mate on the Angels was 36-yo Ted Kluszewski (.243/15/39), and the mini-draft netted the club another 282 ABs, the left-handed Norm Larker (.270/5/38).  Going 3-deep here forced the club to sacrifice some outfield depth, but there are some infielders who can patrol the outfield corners in a pinch, so it should work out ok.  For instance, the addition of Charley Smith at the hot corner will allow 23-yo George Thomas (.274/13/59) to be mostly used as an outfielder (where his defense is actually pretty good).

The starting middle infield will generally be some combination of a quartet of right-handers:  Jose Pagan, Jerry Kindall (.242/9/44), Bobby Malkmus (.231/7/31), and Joe Koppe (.251/5/40).  Note three of them were picked up in the mini-draft, so while this is a sad-sack group by just about any measure, it is still a lot better than what the Angels ran out there in their inaugeral season!

Albie Pearson

Saving the best for last, the Maroons outfield has its top 4 hitters (by WAR).  The star is Albie Pearson, a 5’6" lefty — Sport’s Illustrated ran a story about him called him “The Littlest Angel” — who is a ‘2’ in RF and had 96 walks to go along with his .288/7/41 slash line.  His .420 on-base makes him one helluva lead-off man!  Albie had a decent career, but due to back trouble was out of baseball by 1967.  He was known as being a religious player, and became a minister later in life.  As an interesting bit of trivia, in 1962 Pearson was picked to escort Marilyn Monroe onto the field on her birthday, as part of some kind of charity event.  Albie remembered it thusly: "On her 36th (and last) birthday, Marilyn Monroe goes to […] a baseball game, as promised. At the park, Angels outfielder Albie Pearson is chosen to escort Monroe to home plate for a charity presentation. A week later, Monroe is fired from her film. A few weeks after that, she is found dead at her L.A. home…  When she took her life, or whatever happened, it really devastated me. I looked into her eyes and she looked so lonely. I remembered every Bible verse I ever learned while I was staring at her. She asked me, ‘What? What is it you want to tell me?’ I didn’t want her to think I was some kind of a religious nut, so I held it in. It put my life on a different path from that day on. I saw past that woman’s beauty. I saw a lonesome, searching person. Her sadness had a profound effect on me."

A nice mix of sluggers and glove-men complete an outfield full of semi-regulars.  Ken Hunt (.255/ 25/84) is a little of both: a ‘2’ in CF and enough power to make his pedestrian average seem tolerable.  A pair of lefties are classic LF/DH types: Lee Thomas (.285/24/70) and Leon Wagner (.280/28/79).  The backup is Carroll Hardy (.263/3/36), who was picked up in the mini-draft.  His 281 ABs and ‘2’ glove ties the bow on a nice outfield that would otherwise lean too far to the left.

Overall, this roster has nine Angels hitters and eight that were selected in the mini-draft.  One original Angel with the sorting requirement of 360+ ABs and/or a WAR of 0.5+ who was cut: 2B Billy Moran (.260/2/22).  My thinking was that the team needed more than his 173 ABs, and essentially Malkmus took his spot on the roster.

SUMMARY LOOK AT WEST METRO HITTERS
CA (3): 930 ABs, 0 balance, and WAR of 1.3
1B (3): 839 ABs, 9R balance, and WAR of 3.9
2B (2): 652 ABs, 2L balance, and WAR of .6
3B (2): 723 ABs, 0 balance, and WAR of 1.3
SS (2): 772 ABs, 2L balance, and WAR of 1.5
LF (1): 453 ABs, 5R balance, and WAR of 3.0
CF (2): 760 ABs, 0 balance, and WAR of 5.0
RF (2): 879 ABs, 4R balance, and WAR of 8.1

Here are the historical ballpark ratings for Washington (note all IBC parks are 9’s across the board).  This shift should have a pretty dramatic effect on homers!

Ballpark Effect     Washington 
Lefty Singles         19 
Righty Singles         8
Lefty Homers           1
Righty Homers          1

It makes me a bit sad to see only one hitter on this roster, Leon Wagner, who was also playing in my 1968 replay.  This is not to say that the rest are all nameless faces — Clay Dalrymple, Jerry Kindall, and Jose Pagan all ring a bell — but I do begin to worry that a 7-year leap back into the mists of times may be less familiar than expected.  Hopefully, this is just an “expansion club” thing, though.  Regardless, let’s now move on to the mound corps.

The rotation is an improvement, at least as far as familiar faces are concerned. Ray Sadecki (14-10, 3.72, 223 IP) and Jack Fisher (10-13, 3.90, 196 IP) both pitched in my 1968 replay, which is good, but it saddens me to report that the entire group is basically a collection of 5th-starter types (for a league such as this).  A trio of original Angels are probably the headliners: Ken McBride (12-15, 3.65, 242 IP), Eli Grba (11-13, 4.25, 212 IP), and Ted Bowsfield (11-8, 3.73, 157 IP).  Getting the nod for “most confusing” is Ken Hunt, a pitcher with the same name as one of the club’s outfielders.  Neither of these Hunts had much of a career beyond 1961, which goes to show how an expansion year gives more chances to make the bigs but the chaff still gets separated from the wheat.

The bullpen is terrible, but the mini-draft has given it a desperately-needed infusion of mediocrity.  Tom Morgan (2.36, 10 saves) gives the team what seems like a real closer (in the modern sense), but with just 39 K’s in 92 IP this definitely isn’t today's Kansas.  The bullpen is stocked with vaguely-familiar names from this era, two who are pretty useful — Wes Stock (3.01) and and Art Fowler (3.64, 11 saves) — and two who have definitely seen better days — Ryne Duren (5.19, 104 IP) and Vern Law (4.70).  The staff is rounded out by Earl Francis (4.21, 103 IP) and Jim Donohue (4.18, 121 IP).

One pitcher with the sorting requirement of 120+ IPs and/or a WAR of 0.5+ didn’t make Dubuque’s final 30-man roster:  Ed Hobaugh (7-9, 4.42, 126 IP).  He looks decent enough, but a 1.63 WHIP made him an easy cut.

SUMMARY LOOK AT WEST METRO PITCHERS
RELIEF (2): 164 IPs, 5L balance, and WAR of 3.5
RELIEF/STARTER (6): 612 IPs, 13R balance, and WAR of 3.4
STARTER (5): 1030 IPs, 1R balance, and WAR of 15.7

Here is a link to the league rosters and current stats after the first week of play, and below is another link to the Strat-O-Matic league file, followed by the current standings. 

1961IB-5-10-2019.lzp

4/16/61 Iowa Baseball Confederacy        Won   Lost    Pct     GB
Waterloo Sailors (White Sox-Braves)       5      1    .833     --
Ames Little Cyclones (Orioles-Pirates)    5      1    .833     --
Des Moines Scarlets (Yankees-Cubs)        3      2    .600    1.5
West Metro Maroons (Angels)               3      2    .600    1.5
Davenport Knights (Tigers-Cards)          3      2    .600    1.5 
Iowa City Regals (Red Sox-Phillies)       3      2    .600    1.5 
Sioux City Crusaders (Indians-Reds)       2      3    .400    2.5 
Council Bluffs Falcons (A’s-Giants)       1      4    .200    3.5
Dubuque Golden Eagles (Senators)          1      5    .167    4.0
Cedar Rapids Saints (Twins-Dodgers)       1      5    .167    4.0

That’s all for this week. 

© John Kisner 2019