Every Monday, this space names the Texas Rangers Stars of the Week. These are the guys who went above and beyond during the previous week. Each week two position players and one pitcher get special mentions. For position players, there’s a Star of the Week for a full week’s performance and one recognizing an outstanding single game. The pitching Star of the Week could be either.
The Rangers have both the youngest and the second youngest players in the big leagues and they’re platooning at second base. Luis Sardinas is the second youngest but he only plays about 25% of the games at second base. The other 75% goes to the youngest player in the majors, Rougned Odor. While he did wow Rangers fans with an upper deck shot for his first major league home run a couple of weeks ago, he was still hovering at the Mendoza line at the start of the week. But oh what he did on Saturday gave fans their first real inkling why the kid with the funny name (and the younger brother with the same funny name) is one of the top prospects in the Rangers’ system. In the top of the fourth inning, with the Rangers leading 2-1, Odor smacked a line drive that went just over the glove of Miguel Cabrera and down the right field line. By the time the Tigers’ Torii Hunter got it back to the infield, Roogie was standing on third base with a triple and two RBI to make it 4-1. Three innings later, Odor faced highly touted rookie Corey Knebel, making his major league début. With the bases full of Rangers, Odor went deep to right, just missing a home run and ending up with the same result, a triple. This one plated three runs. In the ninth, Odor blooped a double to left off knuckleball throwing utility player Danny Worth and came home to score on a Michael Choice double to close out a 12-2 Rangers victory. Odor’s final line: 4 for 5 with a run, an infield single, a double, two triples and 5 RBI. Meanwhile in Arizona, injured second baseman Jurickson Profar must have felt a chill go down his spine. Here’s the video of Odor’s big day:
For the first time in three weeks, there was some competition for the Offensive Player of the Week. The middle of the line-up, Alex Rios and Adrian Beltre, both performed in above average fashion, hitting above .400 with an OPS above 1.000. Still, there’s a lot to like about how the bottom third of the Rangers order hit and even more to like about the change made at catcher. At the start of the week, the Rangers optioned J.P. Arencibia to AAA Round Rock after only managing to accrue eight hits in 60 at bats over the course of 20 games. Even for a player with power potential, a .133 average isn’t going to cut it in the big leagues, especially if you add two passed balls, seven wild pitches allowed, two errors and just an 18% caught stealing rate. Texas recalled Chris Gimenez, a journeyman catcher playing for his fourth big league team in five years. All Gimenez did was get five hits in his first three games, 62.5% of the total Arencibia managed in 20. While Rios and Beltre played more games with bigger success in all departments, Giminez added instant offense to a position that woefully lacked all season long, getting 5 hits in his first 13 at bats with a double and two RBI. Gimenez got himself a lot of new fans and Twitter followers over the past seven days.
The toughest part about the last couple weeks of Rangers baseball is knowing that beyond Yu Darvish, it is doubtful a Rangers starting pitcher is even going to make it to six innings, let alone seven. Colby Lewis, considering his age and the injuries he’s coming back from, is probably six innings max on a good day. Robbie Ross Jr. was getting shelled and got moved back to the bullpen, Scott Baker got a start and will get replaced this week by Joe Saunders, Nick Tepesch just got recalled from Round Rock and hasn’t yet established what we can expect from him. And then there’s Nick Martinez. Following two early season starts, Martinez went to the bullpen for five games, then returned to a starting role due to the season-ending injuries to Martin Perez and Matt Harrison. His first two starts back in the rotation have been against two of the highest powered offenses in the American League. Against the Blue Jays May 18th, the rookie gave up only a single run in five innings of work. Saturday, he drew the start against 7-1 Rick Porcello and the Detroit Tigers, featuring three of the AL’s top hitters in former Ranger Ian Kinsler, Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez. While Porcello was getting shelled for the first time this season, Martinez more than held up his end, going six strong innings and giving up just a single run. Martinez has yet to top six innings in any start but he’s shown no fear of big league hitters despite never pitching above AA ball before this year. His performance Saturday was just one of the shots in the arm the Rangers have needed:
The Week That Was & The Week That Will Be
Talk about taking the bad with the good or the good with the bad. Just a few days ago most folks, including a high percentage of Rangers fans, were ready to write the season off after the announcement that Prince Fielder would be the latest Rangers player to miss the rest of the season due to injury. On the same day, Rangers brass announced Jurickson Profar had re-aggravated his shoulder injury and would miss significantly more time than expected and might not appear with the Rangers until 2015. Add them to the aforementioned losses of Perez and Harrison and you’ve got the makings of big trouble.
So what did the Rangers do? First, they made several roster changes. Gone was Arencibia, replaced by Gimenez. Fielder got placed on the DL and utility infielder Donnie Murphy got activated. Ross went to the bullpen, Baker was given his next start. And then, to the surprise of just about everyone but their manager, the Rangers started winning again.
It started humbly enough, gaining a split at home with the Mariners before heading out for the longest road trip of the season, 11 games starting with four a AL Central leading Detroit. Despite having been swept in Cleveland, the Tigers already had a big lead in the Central due to a strong starting rotation and an offense that could beat you with both power and speed. Despite long odds, the Rangers went into Detroit and not only took three of four from the Tigers, they beat them into submission by a combined score of 35-15. Along the way, they beat 7-1 Rick Porcello 12-2 and then followed it up by pounding Justin Verlander for nine runs en route to a 12-4 pasting on Sunday. The Claw and Antlers, a staple of the 2010 World Series team, appeared again in the series and Texas got incredible production from the lesser names like Gimenez, Odor, Leonys Martin and Michael Choice.
The road trip continues all this week with a four game set in Minnesota against the surprising Twins (and the original Washington Senators) followed by three in the Rangers’ original home of Washington DC as the Senators reincarnated against the current team residing there, the NL East Nationals. The good news is the Rangers have three day games remaining in the week. Last week, all four of their wins came during the day and Texas is now 11-5 in day games following their Memorial Day win over the Twins to start this week. Texas only needs two more wins to garner a winning record for the road trip. If they manage that, which would put them at 3-4 for the week at the least, I think most fans would be happy considering the shape of the current roster.
Things were not going well in the Kennedy White House on September 5th, 1962. In another month, the Cuban Missile Crisis would hit. Here in September, things were already heating up over a possible confrontation with the Soviet Union. With a new Communist dictator, Fidel Castro, now firmly in control in Cuba, President Kennedy announced September 5th the United States would use any means necessary to prevent Cuban aggression anywhere in the Western Hemisphere.
Meanwhile, in the Eastern Hemisphere, the Soviet Union was claiming a US U-2 spy plane had flown over Soviet airspace five days before, despite a US ban on such flights agreed to as a result of the downed U-2 plane during the latter days of the Eisenhower administration in 1960. The US government had to admit that yes, the plane may have “inadvertently” violated Soviet airspace, but it was an honest mistake and the reconnaissance ban was indeed still in effect. No, September 5th, 1962 wasn’t shaping up as a particularly good day for the Kennedy Administration. Why, it could be enough to forever tarnish the name of John Kennedy.
That night, the expansion Washington Senators were suiting up to play a doubleheader with the previous Washington Senators team, now playing as the Minnesota Twins. The Twins were on a 4-game winning streak and came to town sporting an 80-61 record. The Senators, now in their second season, checked in at a meager 54-88 under manager Mickey Vernon. The pitching match-up was Dave Stenhouse for the Senators against Dick Stigman for the Twins.
Minnesota struck early, plating two runs in the first on a 2-run Harmon Killebrew home run. The Senators first consisted of two groundouts and a fly to right. The Twins added another run in the second on a lead-off homer from catcher Earl Battey. The Senators went quietly on 2 strikeouts and a fly to center.
The Twins chased Stenhouse in the third. After a sacrifice fly plated the fourth run of the game, Stenhouse walked the next two batters and got an early trip to the showers. Another run would score to make it 5-0 after just 2 1/2 innings of play. The Nats went down in the third, again on two strikeouts and a fly to center.
By the time the bottom of the sixth inning came, the Twins were not only up 5-0, their pitcher Dick Stigman had faced 15 batters and recorded 15 outs. A walk was the only blemish on his record and a double play took care of that baserunner in a hurry.A fly ball and a groundout put Stigman in rarefied air: a no-hitter through 5 2/3 innings. With two outs and the pitcher’s spot in the line-up scheduled to bat, Vernon decided to send a pinch-hitter to the plate. It would be the batter’s major league debut, in front of maybe 7,000 fans.
The batter stepping to the plate in DC Stadium in Washington, DC on September 5th, 1962? John Kennedy.
No, he wasn’t the President of the United States, but he shared the same first and last name of the President. Coincidentally, he also shared the same birthday as JFK, May 29th.
So here was John Kennedy, making his major league debut in Washington DC in the middle of the John Kennedy Administration. We already know JFK wasn’t enjoying a great day in office that day. How would his namesake do in the batters box facing a pitcher throwing a no-hitter?
The 21-year-old from Chicago did what every kid dreams of when he hits the big leagues: he homered in his first major league at-bat. Stigman lost his no-hitter and his shutout to DC’s own John Kennedy.
It would be perhaps the only day John Kennedy bested his better known namesake throughout the Kennedy administration. Although the baseball player John Kennedy enjoyed a 12-year major league career and even played in two World Series with the Dodgers, his overall career numbers in Washington in 1962 and ’63 consisted of a .212 batting average in 50 games with only 6 RBI in 104 AB’s with 8 walks and 29 strikeouts in that span, along with one home run, achieved in his first major league at bat.
Nellie Fox was a Hall of Fame player. Inducted by the Veterans Committee in 1997, Fox enjoyed a 19 year career as a second baseman, mainly for the Chicago White Sox. Fox was the epitome of the “pesky” hitter. He only hit 35 home runs in his career, but he struck out less than any player of his era. Look at Fox’ career stats at Baseball-Reference.com and you’ll see that in an average 162-game season, Fox would strike out only 15 times. The man made contact with the ball, constantly, and rode it to a career .288 average.
Fox ended his career with the expansion Houston Astros in 1964 and 1965. Another Hall of Fame second baseman, Joe Morgan, credits Fox for helping him with his approach at the plate and to baseball. It is this aspect that Nellie Fox isn’t as well known for, but he should.
Ted Williams was also a Hall of Famer. The Splendid Splinter was perhaps the best pure hitter in baseball history, A career .344 hitter, Williams is baseball’s all-time On Base Percentage leader, reaching base over 48% of the time for his career.
Both Fox and Williams were great players. The first time they got together after their playing careers was nothing short of miraculous.
The expansion Senators had been in the American League since 1961 and had nary a single winning season to show for it. In 1968, they were coming off a 65-96 campaign under first-year manager Jim Lemon. New owner Bob Short, who three years later would move the team to Texas, decided a change was needed. Lemon was dismissed and the Senators, also hurting at the gate, made a decision that was as much based on getting people through the gates as they were with improving the team. They hired one of the greatest players of all time, Ted Williams, to manage the team.
Williams had to cringe when looking at his team for the first time. He was taking over a team that had a TEAM batting average of .224 in 1968. Even taking away pitchers’ at bats, the Senators hit a woeful .231.
Williams wasn’t hired as a hitting coach. He was the manager. Someone else would have to handle the day to day chores of working with the batters. In fact, it might have even been a necessity. Williams was cantankerous as a player and had a little patience when dealing with athletes who didn’t match his own talent level. Williams turned to his fellow All-Star, Nellie Fox. Fox, the hitting coach for the ’68 team, stayed on board and would be Williams’ hitting coach through his entire tenure as manager of the Senators and Rangers.
Both the manager Williams and the hitting coach Fox had reputations for making contact, not striking out much and drawing walks. Both routinely walked multiple more times than they struck out. Now they were coaching a team for whom recognizing the strike zone was a challenge. The Senators big slugger, Frank Howard, hit 44 home runs and drove in 106 runs in ’68, but he also struck out 141 times. Epstein struck out 91 times while only managing 13 homers.
Williams had not yet written his book “The Science of Hitting.” He had it in his head, though, and for the first time, he had a blank canvas to put it to the test. In Nellie Fox, he had a kindred hitting spirit who had better rapport with the players and who could help explain things better, having been a player who had to work harder than anyone to milk everything he could get from his limited athleticism.
The 1969 Rangers were essentially a carbon copy of the ’68 team in terms of personnel. Among the players Fox inherited was first baseman Mike Epstein, a power hitter with a .234 average in ’68; second baseman Bernie Allen (.241), center fielder Del Unser (.230), right fielder Ed Stroud (.239) and shortstop Ed Brinkman (.187). Fox had his work cut out for him.
Here’s what Williams and Fox accomplished in their first year with the Senators. Epstein went from .234 to .278. In ’68 he had 48 walks and 91 strikeouts. In ’69 he improved to 85 walks and 99 strikeouts. His home run output also increased dramatically, going from 13 to 30 in one year’s time. Second baseman Allen only went from .241 to .247 in batting average but his OBP went from .301 to .337, thanks to increasing his walks from 28 to 50. Frank Howard still slugged his way to 48 homers and 111 RBI, but his walks went from 54 to 102 while cutting his strikeouts from 141 to 96. Del Unser’s batting average went up 56 points in one season. And perhaps the biggest turnaround at the plate came from the light-hitting shortstop.
Ed Brinkman had a reputation as a great defensive shortstop. The problem with Brinkman was he couldn’t hit a lick in the majors. One of the original Senators thanks to a September call-up in 1961, Brinkman entered the 1969 season as a career .208 hitter. He had a little extra base power, with a career high 8 home runs in 1964, but he was a pretty free swinger. In 1964, he had 26 walks and 99 strikeouts. Two years later he walked only 29 times while whiffing 105 times. Brinkman was a mess, so much so that by ’68 he had lost his job to Ron Hansen, getting it back only because Hansen was traded to the White Sox.
Brinkman never became what could be considered an outstanding offensive player, but he blossomed and had the best years of his career under the tutelage of Fox and Williams. From .185 in 1968, Brinkman became a .266 hitter in 1969. From someone who once had 105 strikeouts to 29 walks, the 1969 season saw Brinkman draw a career high 50 walks while striking out a mere 42 times. The 1970 season turned out even better, with Brinkman hitting about the same at .262, while increasing his walks to 60.
As a team, the Senators as a team saw their batting average increase from .224 to .251, their On Base Percentage increase from .287 to .330 and their runs scored from 524 to 694, all with virtually the same players from the previous year. Not surprisingly, the Senators went from 65-96 in 1968 to 86-76 in 1969, the only winning season the Senators had before moving to Texas.
Ted Williams gets all the credit for the Senators 1969 season and, in fact, earned AL Manager of the Year honors that season. At the very least, Nellie Fox deserves an honorable mention for the part he played on that team.
- Remembering The Washington Senators, Part 1 (mlblogsonestrikeawaytwice.wordpress.com)
Longtime readers of this blog know I’ve been a Texas Rangers fan since before they were the Texas Rangers. Fanhood for me started when the Rangers were the second incarnation of the Washington Senators (the original Senators became the Minnesota Twins).
This is the 40th Anniversary of the Rangers being in Texas. As much as this current run pleases me I fear, as Abraham Lincoln so famously put it, people will little note nor long remember the 11 years the team spent in our nation’s capitol before moving to Arlington. The Senators only had one winning record in their 11 seasons in Washington and never finished above 4th place in the American League.
There was usually very little to talk about with the Senators, although they did make waves in the last few years by 1) hiring Ted Williams to be their manager in 1969; 2) trading for former 30-game winner Denny McLain; and 3) signing Curt Flood, the man who famously sat out of baseball to challenge the reserve clause that kept players from becoming free agents.
On occasion, then, this space will cover some aspect of the Senators years and I find no better place to start than looking at one of the stranger years by any pitcher, that of Darold Knowles in 1970.
Coming off a year in which he was named to the All-Star team in 1969, Knowles truly had one of the best bad records of any relief pitcher in history in 1970. He tied for tenth in the American League with 14 losses, the only relief pitcher to be among the loss leaders. Ok, you say, but he was pitching for a bad team. Maybe so, but they weren’t that bad. The 1970 Senators finished at 70-92. In fact, they won enough games that Knowles was third in the American League in saves with 27 (career high). The pitching staff was right in the middle of the pack in ERA and defensively the Senators ended with the highest fielding percentage in the AL. Despite not being historically bad, when the 1970 season ended, Knowles stood at 2 wins, 14 losses, 27 saves, 10 blown saves and a 2.04 ERA. He was third in the AL in appearances with 71 (career high) and fourth in Games Finished with 49.
Knowles’ best stretch in the 1970 season cam from May 18th to June 19th, when he allowed only one earned run in 25 1/3 innings pitched, a 0.35 ERA. The one run he gave up in that 15-game span resulted in a blown save and a loss, so he was only 1-1 over that month with ten of his saves. The next run he gave up came in the second game of a doubleheader with the Orioles, when he was forced to go 5 2/3 innings in a 13-inning game after pitching an inning in the first game as well.
Through the first five innings, Knowles allowed two walks and no hits to the team that had gone to the World Series the previous year. Finally, in his sixth inning of work, Knowles gave up a lead-off double to Dave Johnson. An intentional walk to Mark Belanger followed. After getting pinch-hitter Curt Motton to pop out his sacrifice bunt attempt and getting Don Buford to pop out to short, Merv Rettenmund hit a walk-off single to center that plated Johnson. Naturally, the one run meant Knowles was tagged with the loss.
Overall, part of the problem for Knowles was Washington’s woeful offensive attack. The Senators finished last in the AL in batting in 1970 at .238, something that must have irritated their Hall of Fame manager Williams to no end. For his role as closer, Knowles really had no margin for error. If he gave up a run, the odds were pretty good the Senators wouldn’t be able to come back.
Everything about Darold Knowles’ 1970 season says it was among the best of his career and one many relief pitchers would envy: only 4 home runs given up in 119 innings pitched (career high), an ERA+ of 174, WAR of 3.3 (career best), a .231 Batting Average Against, a .644 OPS Against and only two baserunners stole a base while he was pitching. Knowles only allowed 27% of his inherited runners to score. He gave up more than two runs only once all season. He pitched in both games of a doubleheader four times. Yet all most people will remember about Darold Knowles in 1970, if they remember or do a quick glance at the record books at all, is that 2-14 record.