Thursday, July 28, 2016

A Good Day For Aces (60 Years Ago, July 29, 1956)

On Sunday, July 29th, 1956 (sixty years ago), Billy Pierce won his 16th game of the year and Don Newcombe and Brooks Lawrence won their 15th.

A Good Day for Aces (60 Years Ago, July 29, 1956)

In Chicago's Comiskey Park, southpaw Billy Pierce surrendered 7 hits to run his record to 16-4 as the White Sox beat up on the Red Sox, 11-2. Pierce was the ace of the Chisox staff and one of the best pitchers in baseball. With two months to go in the season, Pierce was well on his way toward being a 20-game winner for the first time in his (so far) nine-year career. The most games he had ever won was 18 in 1953, but Pierce also had three 15-win seasons for Chicago, including 1955the previous yearwhen he was 15-10 and led the majors in both ERA (1.97) and fewest hits plus walks (1.1) per inning . 

Meanwhile in Brooklyn, the Dodgers' Don Newcombe pitched a 5-hit, 1-0 shutout to go 15-5 on the season as the Dodgers downed the Cubs. The only run of the game was a home run by Pee Wee Reese, his 7th, off Chicago starter Jim Davis to break up a scoreless pitching duel in the eighth. Dee Fondy, with a pair of doubles, was the only Cub to reach second base; nobody made it to third. It was Newcombe's second shutout of the season. The first was also against the Cubs, back on May 8 at Wrigley Field, when he shut them down on only three hits. Only one Cub got as far as second base in that one.

Big Newk's victory was his 14th in 21 starts. He also got a win in his only relief appearance, which happened to be . . . against the Cubs, right here at Ebbets Field back on May 20. Having given up 6 runs in 2⅓ innings the previous day, Brooklyn manager Walt Alston called on him with one out in the fourth inning and two runners on, the score tied at 2-2, to get the Dodgers out of the inning. He got a double play and hung around for the rest of the game to pick up the win, his 6th of the year at the time, giving up an unearned run in the eighth. 

Back to July 26: we're now at Forbes Field in Pittsburgh where the Reds' Brooks Lawrence also won his 15th game, giving up just one run on four hits as Cincinnati beat the Pirates, 6-1. For Lawrence, the win was much welcomed after having lost his two previous starts, which were so far his only two losses of the season. Lawrence had gone into the All-Star break undefeated at 12-0 and improved to 13-0 on July 17 when he beat the Dodgers, 4-3. His double in the bottom of the ninth off Sandy Koufax started the game winning rally in that one. His victory that day pushed the third-place Dodgers five games back of the first-place Braves; the Reds were a game out in second.

It was four days later, on July 21 at home against the Pirates, that Brooks Lawrence suffered his first loss of the season, thanks to a three-run 9th-inning homer by Roberto Clemente that overturned a 3-1 Cincinnati lead. Two days later Lawrence won his 14th game pitching two innings of relief against the Pirates. This time he retired Clemente on a grounder to third in the eighth for his final out before being removed for a pinch hitter. The Reds won the game in the last of the eighth, making Lawrence the winning pitcher. He was now 14-1.

On just one day of rest after pitching those two innings in relief, Lawrence was back on the mound. On July 25. At Ebbets Field. In Brooklyn. Against Dodgers' ace Don Newcombe. The two right-handers hooked up in a classic pitchers' duel. Frank Robinson hit his 22nd home run of the season in the third, and Carl Furillo answered by hitting a long fly in the fourth. The game stayed tied at 1-1 until Duke Snider ended it with his 24th home run with one out in the bottom of the ninth. Both Newcombe and Lawrence now had 14 wins, and four days later they each won their 15th.

With two months to go, Newcombe and Lawrence both seemed sure bets to win 20—long the accepted standard of excellence in any given season for a pitcher. (The advanced metrics of recent years, not to mention significant changes in how pitchers are used, including the notion of 6-inning "quality starts" and the use of dedicated 7th and 8th and 9th inning relievers to secure victories, have diminished the importance of the 20-win season.) 

Big Newk had been a 20-game winner twice before, in 1951 (20-9) and 1955 (20-5), and was on a roll since starting the season 6-3 with a 4.15 ERA through May 25. Since then, he was 9-2 with a 3.01 earned run average in 13 starts, including six in a row for the month of July. His only blemish in July was surrendering 6 runs in just 1 inning in Milwaukee in his first start after the All-Star break, but the Dodgers came back to tie the score, taking him off the hook before they eventually lost the game.

Brooks Lawrence was in uncharted territory, for him. His 15th win before the end of July matched the number of games he won as a 29-year-old rookie for the St. Louis Cardinals two years earlier. But he started only 18 games that year, while relieving in 17 others, and was 9-2 as a starting pitcher and 6-4 in relief. The next year, ineffectiveness and health issues severely compromised his season; he pitched terribly (3-8, 6.56, mostly as a reliever); he was demoted; and he became expendable. So he was traded to the Reds for a journeyman southpaw named Jackie Collum. 

Four of Lawrence's 15 wins so far in 1956 had come in 8 relief appearances. He was 11-2 in his 21 starts. After following-up Lawrence's 15th win with another victory in the second game of their Sunday doubleheader, the Reds ended the day at 56-39, 2½ games behind the first-place Braves, but a game-and-a-half up on the third-place Dodgers. Now clearly the dominant starting pitcher on the Cincinnati staff, it was on the health and continued effectiveness of Brooks Lawrence that the Cincinnati Redlegs' 1956 pennant chances arguably rested. 

But Lawrence had now pitched 151 innings, just 7 less than he had pitched for the Cardinals in his 1954 rookie campaign. And there were two months to go, one of them the presumed-to-be-beastly hot August.

Monday, July 25, 2016

For the '56 Braves, Change Was Looking Good (Status of NL Race, July 26, 1956)

The Braves crushed the Giants, 11-0, on July 26, 1956, to take a 5½-game lead in the National League. Their lackluster beginning behind them, the 1956 Milwaukee Braves were now threatening to do to the National League what the Yankees were doing in the Americanrun away with the pennant. Led by a scorching hot Hank Aaron, the Braves had won 15 of their 17 games since the All-Star break, and they were now 32-10 (.762) since Fred Haney replaced Charlie Grimm as manager on June 17.

For the '56 Braves, Change Was Looking Good 
(NL Race, 60 Years Ago)

Sometimes change is good, even ifin the case of major league baseball, for examplethere is no intrinsic evidence one way or the other that one manager (in this case, Fred Haney) is better than another (Charlie Grimm). In fact, neither man(ager) would go down in history as one of the game's top-flight managers. 

Although Grimm did win three pennants with the Cubs (1932, 1935, and 1945since which the Cubs have not been back to the World Series), there was a sense that his mid-1930s Cubs could have been more successful than they were (and not just in the World Series). And although Haney would eventually lead the Braves to two pennants and win a World Series, his reputation has not lived down the widespread perception that he managed to manage the Braves out of a third straight pennant in 1959.

Even though they had been swamped by the Brooklyn juggernaut of 1955, the Braves were considered one of the best teams in baseball going into the 1956 season, and certain to give the Dodgers a run for their money. Whether Grimm's managerial talents or style were at fault, or not, the Braves' getting off to a 24-22 start was definitely disappointing for the quality team they had, and so he paid the price. More importantly, no sooner had Haney taken over than the Braves got hot, as in really hot, winning their first 11 games under their new manager. At the All-Star break, in what was developing into a very competitive National League pennant race, the Braves were second to the Reds, down by a game-and-a-half, and the Dodgers were third, half a game back of Milwaukee.

The Braves' first four games after the break were at home against the Dodgers. Since these were the two clubs everyone expected to battle it out for the right to play the Yankees in the World Serieswhich seemed safe to say, since the Yankees had command of the American League racethis series would be a marker of where the two clubs stood. By winning all four, the Braves sent a clear message they intended to be top dog, and if any other NL team was going to the World Series, they were going to have to go through Milwaukee first. 

Their fourth win in the series, on July 14, came in dramatic fashion. Joe Adcock erased a 2-0 Brooklyn lead by tagging Sal Maglie for a two-run homer in the seventh. (The Dodgers had acquired Maglie from Cleveland in mid-May. He may have been 39 years old, but Maglie was a tough-minded veteran who knew what he was doing on the mound. His first victory for the Dodgers was a three-hit shutout against the Braves in Milwaukee back on June 4.) Back to the July 14 game. The clubs battled into extra innings after Adcock's homer, whereupon Hank Aaron's one-out single with runners on first and second in the bottom of the 10th inning for a walk-off win completed the Braves' four-game sweep of the Dodgers.

Hank Aaron was just getting started. At the All-Star break, the Braves' young phenom was batting .309 with 9 homers and 40 runs batted in. After going 3-for-5, including his 15th home run of the year, and driving in 4 runs in Milwaukee's 11-0 clobbering of the last-place Giants on July 26, in the 17 games since the break, Aaron hit .452 with 18 RBIs. He had hit in all but one game since the break and had 12 multi-hit games.Twelve of his 33 hits were for extra bases, including 5 home runs. Aaron was now leading the league with a .340 batting average.

The Braves as a team were revving on all cylinders coming out of the All-Star break. In their 17 games after the season resumed, they scored 115 runs, whacked 29 home runs, and batted .292. On the pitching side, they gave up 58 runs and limited opposing batters to a .264 average. Warren Spahn, just 7-7 at the break, had complete-game victories in all three of his starts since then, giving up just 8 runs.

As they left New York City after their victory on July 26 for two games in Philadelphia with a record of 56-32, it was 88 games down for the 1956 Milwaukee Braves and 66 to go. Their lead was now 5½ games over the second-place Redlegs and 6 over the Dodgers. On Monday they would be returning to New York, this time to the borough of Brooklyn, for four games with the Dodgers.

The last time they were in Brooklyn, the Braves came to town having lost 10 of their last 15 games, and Charlie Grimm was the man(ager) in charge. After dropping the first two of four at Ebbets Field, they left with Fred Haney running the show. Change was good.  

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

1956 Yankees Wave Bye-Bye to Rest of League (July 20, Sixty Years Ago)

The first-place Yankees put away the last-place Kansas City Athletics on July 20th, sixty years ago, to extend their advantage over second-place Cleveland to 11 games. After beginning the month with only a 2-game lead over the White Sox, and the Indians 5½ behind, the Yankees' streak of 16 wins in their first 19 games in July had them now firmly in control of the American League pennant race. 

1956 Yankees Wave Bye-Bye to Rest of League

The Yankees began the month of July with three straight wins at home, two of them walk-offs. In the second game of a July 1st Sunday doubleheader against Washington, after Joe Collins's 2-run homer off Camilo Pascual in the 8th inning of the opener lifted the Yankees to a 3-2 win, Mantle blasted his 29th home run of the season with a runner on and the score tied 6-6 in the last of the 9th to end the game. The Mick had also homered in the 7th, that one erasing the Senators' 6-5 lead. 

Two days later, after an off day, Casey Stengel made the unconventional move of sending Mickey McDermott, a pitcher by professionbut a pitcher who could hitup to bat for Gil McDougald with the bases loaded and one out in the last of the 12th in a 3-3 game against the Orioles. That seemed odd, given that McDougald was batting .295 and was 2-for-5 on the day. As so often was the case with Mr. Stengel, his instinct proved the correct one; McDermott singled home the winning run for another Yankee walk-off. For more on Mickey McDermott's prowess with the bat, see my post of May 14 in this series on the 1956 season, "Batting 8th for the New York Yankees, the Pitcher ..." (link at end of article.)

Then it was off to Boston for the Yankees, who were walked-off by a Jimmy Piersall run-scoring single in the bottom of the 11th in the first game of a July Fourth doubleheader, but easily won the second game. Game 2 was the first time all year that Mickey Mantle was given a game off. It wasn't a day off, because he played in the first game. 

In fact, Mantle not playing the second game was less a nice gesture by Stengel to give his best player a breather than concern that Mantle might have reinjured his ever-troublesome right knee charging Piersall's single into center field trying to cut down the winning run at the plate in the opener. Failing to do so, he hobbled off the field and ended up missing the next four games. Mantle returned to play in the final game before the All-Star break, went 1-for-3 before being removed in the 5th inning, then played all 9 innings in the All-Star Game two days later, hitting a home run.

The Yankees' triumph in the second game of their Fourth of July doubleheader in Boston was the first of 11 straight victories that broke open the American League pennant race. It surely helped that five of those wins came consecutively against the only two clubs anyone thought could actually, seriously, challenge the New York Yankees for the 1956 pennant.

The All-Star break ended with the tied-with-Chicago-for-second Cleveland Indians coming to Yankee Stadium for three games beginning July 12. For the Indians, trailing the Yankees by  games, this was a pivotal series, and they went into it with their three best pitchersBob Lemon, Early Wynn, and Herb Scorelined up to face the Bronx Bombers. They got bombed, the Yankees won all three games, and the Indians left New York, New York down by 9½ games. The Yankees won the concluding game of the set, 5-4, in the last of the 10th when Billy Martin greeted relief pitcher Bob Feller, brought in specifically to face him, with a one-out bases-loaded single to drive in the winning run.

The 37-year-old Feller was by now worn out, pitching mostly in relief, and in his last major league season. This was his 10th appearance of the year, and he would pitch in just 9 more games before calling it a career. Feller's last two appearances were complete-game starts 15 days apart in September. He lost both games to go 0-4 for 1956, and 266-162 for his career. If not for missing three full seasons and most of a fourth serving his country during World War II, Bob Feller almost certainly would have been in the neighborhood of at least 340 wins.

The Yankees were the only team against which Feller had a losing record, winning just 30 of 67 decisions in 79 games (73 of them starts). One of those 30 wins was the second of his three no-hitters, a 1-0 masterpiece at Yankee Stadium on April 30, 1946, in which he fanned 11 but walked 5.

Anyway, back to 1956. 

Coming next to New York for a Sunday doubleheader on July 15 were the Chicago White Sox, tied with Cleveland for second, 9½ games back of the Yankees. This really was a make-or-break two games for the White Sox because they had lost 6 in a row. Whitey Ford outdueled Chicago ace Billy Pierce to win the opener, 2-1, and after the White Sox took a 5-4 lead in the top of the 10th of the nightcap, the Yankees won their fourth walk-off in their last 13 games when Hank Bauer lined a two-out bases-loaded single in the bottom of the inning to drive in the tying and winning runs. The White Sox had now lost 8 in a row on their way to a season-destroying 11-game losing streak before they were finally back in the win column.

After splitting their next four games with the Tigers, Kansas City came to New York for three games beginning on July 20. Whitey Ford's victory in the first of those games gave the Yankees their largest lead of the season. Their record at 60-28, the Yankees had won more than two-thirds of their games. 

With 88 games down and 66 to go, their lead over second-place Cleveland at 11 games and Chicago 13 games behind in fourth place, and with Mantle having a year for the ages, the Yankees had effectively said good-bye to the rest of the American League. Especially it being these were The New York Yankees, it was highly improbable they would not win their seventh pennant in the eight years of the Stengel regime, even with more than two months to go. The big question for the Yankees now was:

Might Mickey Mantle, with 31 home runs in the Yankees' first 88 games, keep up the pace to break Babe Ruth's record of 60 home runs in a single season? It took the Babe 94 games into the season to get to 31 in 1927, so the Mick was ahead of the Bambino. Both players had missed just four of their team's games by the time they hit their 31st home run.

For more on Pitcher Mickey McDermott, the Batter, see:

Friday, July 15, 2016

Friday the 13th in the 1956 NL Pennant Race

On Friday the 13th sixty years ago in 1956, Phillies' southpaw Curt Simmons singled off Reds' reliever Tom Acker in the 8th inning to drive in the go-ahead run in a 4-4 game at Cincinnati's Crosley Field, and shortstop Granny Hamner singled off reliever Don Gross in the 9th to add an insurance run to topple the Reds out of 1st place. Meanwhile, further west in Milwaukee, the Braves took two in their doubleheader with the Dodgers to regain first place. For those among the Redlegs who might have had a superstitious bentand baseball is replete with terrific stories about superstitionstheir Friday the 13th loss was justifiably, as it turned out . . . ominous.

Friday the 13th in the 1956 Pennant Race

At the All-Star break, the National League pennant race was down to three teams. In first place were the Cincinnati Redlegs at 44-30, there mostly by virtue of a strong power game. They led by 1½ games over the Milwaukee Braves at 41-30, who had played much better since changing managers in mid-June, and by two over the Brooklyn Dodgers at 42-32, hardly enjoying their runaway from the year before.

Beginning with their doubleheader sweep in St. Louis on the first day of July, Cincinnati had won 7 of 9 games before the All-Star break to be able to look down at the rest of the league at the official half-way mark of the season. Five of those victories were against the Cardinals, who were now outed as the pretenders they were. The Reds went into the break with 13 victories in their last 18 games, including winning 3 of 4 against the Dodgers in Brooklyn and splitting a two-game series with the Braves at home on July 2 and 3.

When baseball resumed following the National League's 7-3 victory in the All-Star Game, the Reds returned home to Crosley Field to take on the last-place Phillies. Their first game back on July 12, the Reds took a 3-2 lead into the 9th only to surrender 5 runs as their ace reliever, Hersh Freeman, gave up 3 hits and a walk to the five batters he faced. In Milwaukee, Bob Buhl shutout the Dodgers, 2-0, to pull the Braves within a half-game of the first-place Reds.

Brooks Lawrence was undefeated in 12 decisions when he took the mound for Cincinnati on Friday the 13th. His earned run average at the break was 3.48. But since his masterful 2-hit, 2-walk 6-0 shutout of the Dodgers in Brooklyn on June 22, Lawrence had pitched less elegantly in his three starts previous to this one, showing a propensity for giving up the long ball. In 13⅓ innings in starts against the Pirates, Cardinals, and Cubs, Lawrence had given up 10 runs on 21 hits, including 4 home runs; he had surrendered just 6 home runs in the 87 innings he had thrown before then.

Although he had won both of his previous starts against the Phillies, and had a third victory against them in 2 innings of relief in mid-June, Lawrence was hexed on this day. He gave up a home run to fellow All-Star Stan Lopata in the 1st, and after the Reds tied the score in their half of the inning, gave up a 2-run blast to Granny Hamner in the second to fall behind, 3-1. Lawrence had now given up 6 home runs in his last 15 innings. Judging that his ace did not have his best going for him this day, Reds manager Birdie Tebbetts pinch hit for Lawrence in the 2nd. A three-run homer by Gus Bell put the Reds in the lead, but the Phillies tied in the 4th, and scored single runs in the 8th and 9th to defeat Cincinnati a second consecutive day.

Friday the 13th was good luck for Milwaukee, and not so much for Brooklyn. The Braves scored 6 first-inning runs to end Don Newcombe's day before it hardly began on their way to an 8-6 win in the opener of a twin bill, then came from behind to win the second game 6-5. Including their 11-game winning streak immediately after Fred Haney replaced Charlie Grimm as manager, the Braves had now gone 19-8 under new management and now had a one-game lead in the standings.

The Dodgers were now 3½ games behind the Braves in third place. They had not been in first since May 20, when they were tied with the Braves and Cardinals. Since rising to 8 games above .500 when their victory over Milwaukee precipitated the Braves' managerial change, the Dodgers had gone just 13-14. But while Friday the 13th didn't leave the Dodgers in good spirits, it also didn't kill their spirit.

For the Cincinnati Redlegs, for whom it was now 76 games down with 78 to go, the morning of Friday the 13th turned out to be the last day in the 1956 season they would wake up in first place. And yet, they did not fade from contention. They just wouldn't cross the divide.

Monday, July 11, 2016


The American League went down to a 7-3 defeat in the 1956 All-Star Game, played on July 10th in Washington's Griffith Stadium. All of their runs came on a pair of 6th-inning home runs by Ted Williams (with a runner on) and Mickey Mantle off Braves' ace Warren Spahn. For Williams, his 4thand lastAll-Star home run hardly was as dramatic as any of his first three, in part because his league was already trailing by five runs. For Mantle, it was his 2nd All-Star home run, after a 3-run blast he hit the previous year. Although he played in 12 more All-Star Games, it also turned out to be the last for Mickey Mantle, All Star, as well as his last All-Star run batted in.

Introducing Your 1956 American League All-Stars (60 Years Ago)

Given they had a 6½ -game lead over both the Chicago White Sox and Cleveland Indians and had won exactly two-thirds of their games, it was no surprise that the New York Yankees had the most players on the 1956 AL All-Star squadsix. Batting fourth and fifth in manager Casey Stengel's All-Star starting line-up, although they hit third and fourth in Stengel's Yankee line-up, were Mickey Mantle and Yogi Berra. Mantle was having an epic year, leading the universewell, the majors, anywayin runs (70), homers (29), RBIs (71), and batting (.371).

The other Yankee All-Stars were second baseman Billy Martin, making the All-Star team for the first and only time in his playing career; their Mr. Versatility, infielder Gil McDougald, whose only previous All-Star selection was in his second big league season in 1952; and pitchers Whitey Ford and Johnny Kucks. 

In just his second year, Kucks was 11-4 and had become an unexpectedly important contributor to the Yankee cause because both Bob Turley, who was 17-13 with a 3.06 ERA in 247 innings the previous season, and southpaw Tommy Byrne, whose 16-5 record was the AL's best winning percentage in 1955, were pitching poorly so far this year. Ford, 10-4, had thrown 3 scoreless innings starting the 1954 All-Star Game and also pitched in the 1955 Game, giving up 5 runs in 1⅔ innings.

Neither Yankee pitcher started for the 1956 American League All-Stars. That honor went to White Sox ace Billy Pierce, who had won 13 of 16 decisions. Pierce had also been the starting pitcher for the American League in the 1955 All-Star Game.

The fifth-place Red Sox had five players make the All-Star team, including left fielder Ted Williams and first baseman Mickey Vernon in the starting line-up. Williams was voted in despite not starting any games between April 18 (the 2nd game of the year) and May 29 (34 games later) because of a foot injury when he slipped in the showers, which limited him in the games between to coming off the bench as a pinch hitter. 

Indicative of the difference in the two leagues when it came to integration, in this the 10th year since Jackie Robinson's 1947 debut, the National League All-Star team included seven black players from five different teamsFrank Robinson and Brooks Lawrence from the Reds; Hank Aaron from the Braves; Roy Campanella and Jim Gilliam from the Dodgers; Ernie Banks from the Cubs; and Willie Mays from the Giants. The American League All-Stars, by contrast, included just two black players, both from the same team. 

They were Kansas City Athletics first baseman Vic Power and outfielder Harry Simpson. Power had also made the 1955 AL All-Star team, getting into the game as a pinch hitter. Simpson, who broke in with Cleveland in 1951 but had spent all of 1954 back in the minors, was having an extraordinary year. His 60 RBIs at the break were second to Mantle.

Neither of the American League's outstanding and most prominent black players since integration made the 1956 All-Star squad. Larry Doby, who made seven straight All-Star teams from 1949 to 1955 playing for the Indians, was not selected in his first year with the White Sox. The 32-year-old Doby got off to a sluggish start with his new club and was injured for part of May, but had a strong June with 8 homers, 27 RBIs, and a .290 batting average in 30 games that month. Not enough to be named an All-Star. Doby's teammate, Minnie Minoso, a four-time previous All-Star, also did not make the 1956 AL team despite 45 run scored, 37 RBIs, and .311 batting average, as well as having hit .348 in the month of June. 

For all their excellence, both players had started All-Star games just onceDoby in 1950 and Minoso in 1954and remained, as of 1956, the only two black players to ever start for the American League team. As of 1956, Doby, Minoso, Satchel Paige in 1953, and now Simpson were the only black players to be American League All-Stars. 

Of course, that was not so much about snubbing black players for the AL All-Star team, whether by the fans voting or the managers selecting, as it was there were so few blacks on the rosters of American League teams.

The following is the list of the American League's starting position players, reserves, and pitchers for the 1956 All-Star Game with their key stats up to the All-Star break:

Kuenn, DET, SS
38 R
42 RBI
Fox, CHI, 2B
54 R
28 RBI
Williams, BOS, LF
21 R 39 GS
     5 HR      30 RBI
Mantle, NYY, CF
70 R
29 HR  
71 RBI
Berra, NYY, C
44 R
18 HR 
51 RBI
Kaline, DET, RF
48 R
12 HR 
54 RBI
Vernon, BOS, 1B
31 R
  8 HR  
41 RBI
Kell, BAL, 3B
23 R
27 RBI

McDougald, NYY, SS
30 RBI
Martin, NYY, 2B
23 RBI
Lollar, CHI, C
44 RBI
Boone, DET, 3B
12 HR 
33 RBI
Maxwell, DET, OF
17 HR 
39 RBI
Piersall, BOS, OF
35 RBI
Sievers, WAS, OF
17 HR 
54 RBI
Power, KC, 1B
52 GS
25 RBI
Simpson, KC, OF
12 HR 
60 RBI

Pierce, CHI * ( SP / ASG )
17 GS
Brewer, BOS
16 GS
Kucks, NYY
15 GS
Jim Wilson, CHI
15 GS
Ford, NYY *
16 GS
Wynn, CLE
17 GS
Sullivan, BOS
17 GS
Score, CLE *
15 GS
Narleski, CLE
    4 SV     
25 G relief
*  Left-handed pitcher

Friday, July 8, 2016


The 1956 All-Star Game was played on July 10th in Washington's Griffith Stadium. The Cincinnati Reds, atop the National League standings, had five position players in the NL All-Star starting line-up, and three other players selected by managers and coaches. The Milwaukee Braves and Brooklyn Dodgers, in second and third, each had four players make the All-Star team, none as starters.

Introducing Your 1956 National League All-Stars (60 Years Ago)

One would think that a club in first place by only a game-and-a-half would not have dominated the vote for starting position players quite the way the Cincinnati Redlegs did. One year before ballot-stuffing on behalf of Reds players caused major league baseball to take the privilege of voting for starting All-Stars away from the fans, leaving it to professionals in the game to select who deserved to play in the game, the middle of the Reds' infield, two of their three starting outfielders, and their catcher were all voted in as All-Stars. It was an honor that rookie Frank Robinson clearly deserved, and arguably so did catcher Ed Bailey, although a strong case might be made for Phillies' catcher Stan Lopata (see tables at end of this article).

The non-Reds who were starting NL All-Stars were Pirates' first baseman Dale Long and Cardinals' third baseman Ken Boyer and outfielder Stan Musial. Boyer was leading the league with 60 runs batted in, and Musial was close behind with 58. Ironically, Long bumped out of the starting line-up the Cincinnati player other than Robinson who was most deserving of the honor first baseman Ted Kluszewski, whose 22 home runs led the league. Kluszewski, however, did make the NL All-Star team as a back-up.

While Johnny Temple may have been the most deserving second baseman in the National League, the selection of Roy McMillanfor all his defensive excellenceto start at shortstop deprived Ernie Banks of a deserved privilege. The Cubs' shortstop was right behind Big Klu in home runs with 21; Banks did make the team as a reserve. 

In the outfield, the fan vote for Gus Bell to play alongside Frank Robinson and Musial in the outfield deprived the following three outfielders of a starting role, although all three were named to the NL All-Star team as reservesMilwaukee's Hank Aaron (batting .309 with 40 RBIs); the Giants' incomparable Willie Mays (hitting just .288 with 13 home runs, but successful in 19 of 21 stolen base attempts); and the Duke of Flatbush, Edwin Snider, who was almost half-way to a fourth straight 40-homer season with 19 round-trippers at the break while batting .295.

The Reds also had pitchers Brooks Lawrence, a righty, and southpaw Joe Nuxhall make the squad. Lawrence was leading the National League with 12 wins at the break, and he was undefeated. It was Pittsburgh right-hander Bob Friend (11-7), however, who got the start for the National League All-Stars. 

Notable among the other pitchers was the Phillies' Robin Roberts, whose 8-10 record at the break put potentially at risk the continuance of his string of six consecutive 20-win seasons; he had won 138 games between 1950 and 1955. Roberts went on to just miss a seventh straight 20-win year by one victory, finishing 1956 at 19-18.

The most noteworthy players who did not make the 1956 NL All-Star Game, certainly in historical retrospect, were Don Newcombe and Jackie Robinson. At 11-5, Newcombe was second in the league in wins along with Friend, but that wasn't enough to get him on the All-Star squad. Certainly unanticipated was that Big Newk would finish the year with 27 wins.

At 37 years old, Jackie was playing what would be his last year in baseball, although that decision would not be made until after the Dodgers tried trading him to the Giants after the season. He got off to a slow start, then spent most of the month of June on the bench nursing various aches and pains. Robinson was batting just .256. 

In his 10 major league seasons, Jackie Robinson was an All-Star just six times, every year from 1949 to 1954. He did not make the NL All-Star squad in his rookie year of 1947 despite his .310 batting average at the break as the only black player in major league baseball. (Larry Doby made his debut in Cleveland just two days before the All-Star break.) Robinson wasn't on the 1948 All-Star team either. Red Schoendienst was voted in as the starting NL second baseman that year. Chosen instead of Robinson as a backup at second base for the 1948 NL All-Stars was Giants second baseman Bill Rigney, who was batting .275 at the time. Jackie was hitting .295 at the 1948 break. 

It was not until 1949three years after he broke the major league's institutionally-arbitrary color barrierthat Robinson finally made an All-Star team. He had company with Newcombe and Campanella also making the 1949 NL All-Star team, and Doby was named to the AL team. Batting second and playing second base, Jackie Robinson became the first black player voted by the fans and the first black player to start in an All-Star Game. He went 1-for-4 and scored 3 runs of the National League's 7 runs. Jackie Robinson was 6-for-18 (.333) with 7 runs scored, 1 home run, and 4 RBIs in his six All-Star games.

The following is the list of the National League's starting position players, reserves, and pitchers for the 1956 All-Star Game with their key stats up to the All-Star break.

Temple, CIN, 2B
45 R
24 RBI
F. Robinson, CIN, LF
58 R
18 HR 39 RBI
Musial, StL, RF
43 R
14 HR 58 RBI
Boyer, StL, 3B
57 R
20 HR  60 RBI
Bell, CIN, CF
46 R
15 HR 41 RBI
Long, PIT, 1B
39 R
17 HR 50 RBI
Bailey, CIN, C
30 R
14 HR 33 RBI
McMillan, CIN, SS
26 R
34 RBI

Kluszewski, CIN, 1B
22 HR 55 RBI
Aaron, MIL, OF
9 HR  40 RBI
Mathews, MIL, 3B
13 HR 28 RBI
Crandall, MIL, C
11 HR 27 RBI
Snider, BRO, OF
19 HR 43 RBI
Campanella, BRO, C
11 HR  38 RBI
Gilliam, BRO, 2B
28 RBI
Repulski, StL, OF
7 HR  28 RBI
Banks, CHI, SS
21 HR 48 RBI
Mays, NYG, OF
40 R 19 SB
13 HR 36 RBI
Lopata, PHI, C
43 R
14 HR 45 RBI

Friend, PIT ( SP / ASG )
22 GS
Lawrence, CIN
    21 G    15 GS
Antonelli, NYG *
17 GS
Roberts, PHI,
18 GS
Spahn, MIL *
7-7  3 ShO
16 GS
Nuxhall, CIN *
    22 G       5 GS
Labine, BRO
7-3  11 SV
35 G relief
*  Left-handed pitcher

CORRECTION: In my previous post, "1956 Reds Power Into First Place," I wrote that the 18th home run that Duke Snider hit on July 1 led the league. I was wrong. Ken Boyer and Ernie Banks both had 20 home runs; Banks hit two against the Braves on July 1.