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Friday, August 12 2022 @ 05:33 pm UTC
1960 Revisited   
By Bobster

A day by day account of the Pirates' 1960 season.

2010 is the 50th anniversary of the 1960 Pirates. I have compiled a day by day account of that season for my own sake and would like to post it daily for the OnlyBucs readers. I have researched that season for years through various books, tapes, box scores, wire service reports, play by play accounts from retrosheet.com and conversations with members of that team who I have had the pleasure of meeting at the Pirates fantasy camps. Some may recall that I did the same thing some years ago on the Pirates MLB message board but I have enhanced it since then. I’ve tried to provide a daily account of what was going on in that season in terms of players, plays, the front office moves, and some background information regarding the 1960 season. I don’t claim to be an authority. Much of this information is available on the internet for those who wish to put it all together. But I’ve researched it for years and compiled it here for easy reference. For those who recall that season, it might bring back fond memories, some long forgotten. For those who only heard about it and know it mainly as the season Mazeroski made famous, it might fill in the blanks. For those interested enough to read it, I hope you enjoy it.

Background: The decade preceding 1960 had been mostly awful for the Pirate franchise. They finished last or next to last each year from 1950-1957. The W-L records were abysmal in those years:

1950: 57-96
1951: 64-90
1952: 42-112
1953: 50-104
1954: 53-101
1955: 60-94
1956: 66-88
1957: 62-92

But the turning point that would ultimately result in a championship in 1960 occurred 2 years earlier in 1958. The 1958 Bucs (84-70) were led by slugging thirdbaseman Frank Thomas with 35 HRs and 109 RBIs. Left fielder Bob Skinner batted .321 with 13 HRs and 70 RBIs. 21-year old second baseman Bill Mazeroski had 19 HRs. They had strong outfield defense with CFer Bill Virdon (.267, 9 HRs, 46 RBIs) and RFer Roberto Clemente (.289, 6 HRs, 50 RBIs). 33 year old Ted Kluszewski, a prolific HR hitter in his prime with the Reds over 11 years, began the year at 1B, but back problems had turned him into a singles hitter. Rookie Dick Stuart, a HR machine in the minors, was recalled in July and provided 16 HRs and 48 RBIs in half a season as “Big Klu” went to the bench. Dick Groat batted .300. Hank Foiles was an excellent defensive catcher but provided little offense. He hit only .205 in 1958. The bench featured outfielders Roman Mejias and John Powers, catchers Danny Kravitz and Bill Hall, infielder Gene Baker (who missed the second half of the season with a ruptured knee) and infielder Dick Schofield (obtained in a mid-season trade with the Cardinals).

Bob Friend went 22-14 and finished 3rd in the Cy Young voting. Vern Law went 14-12. Rookie George “Red” Witt went 9-2 with a dazzling 1.61 ERA, 3 shutouts, and three 10-strikeout games, and rookie Curt Raydon had a respectable season, going 8-4 overall and 8-3 in his 20 starts. Hard luck Ron Kline was just 13-16 but had a better ERA (3.53) than Friend (3.68), Law (3.96) or Raydon (3.62). Kline’s luck was so bad that in 1956 he had led the Pirates’ starters in ERA with 3.38 but also led the league in losses with a 14-18 record. The bullpen in 1958 featured Elroy Face (5-2, 2.89 ERA, 20 saves), veteran Bob Porterfield, rookie Ron Blackburn and lefties Don Gross and Bob Smith. But Gross and Smith were the only lefties on the entire pitching staff. The Pirates had no lefthanded starters.

The Pirates were in second place on August 12, 1958 just 4 games behind Milwaukee. But they would get no closer. The remainder of the season was spent in second place ranging from 6 to 8 games behind the Braves, who won the 1958 NL pennant. But the team that had been an NL doormat from 1950-1957 had become a contender in 1958.

In 1959, the Pirates sought to build on their fine 1958 season. They needed to add a lefthanded starting pitcher and get more offense from the catching position. GM Joe Brown worked out a blockbuster deal with Cincinnati by trading away his best player in Frank Thomas. Thomas was a 3-time All-Star and had finished 4th in the NL MVP voting after his sensational 1958 season. He had been on the cover of Sports Illustrated in July 1958. His 35 HRs and 109 RBIs had been second in the NL to Ernie Banks in both departments. But the Pirates were no longer rebuilding. They were ready to challenge. And in exchange for Thomas, prospect John Powers and 2 spare parts, they were able to add a veteran lefthanded starter in Harvey Haddix, an excellent hitter in veteran catcher Smoky Burgess and a veteran thirdbaseman to replace Thomas in Don Hoak.

But 1959 turned into a huge disappointment for the Bucs. They badly missed the power that Frank Thomas had provided. Burgess was a huge upgrade offensively over Foiles and Hoak was a steady contributor, hitting .294. But neither was known as a power hitter. In fact, the 1959 Bucs had very little power. They were last in the NL in HRs and 14th among the 16 MLB teams. Stuart led them with 27 HRs but Bob Skinner’s 13 HRs was next best. Burgess had 11 and no one else was in double digits in HRs. Mazeroski came to camp overweight, battled injuries and slumped to just 7 HRs and a .241 average. Clemente injured his elbow in May and missed 50 games. Fourth outfielder Roman Mejias hit just .236. Friend also came to camp overweight and went 8-19. Kline was 11-13. Witt, practically unhittable as a rookie in 1958, had elbow problems and went 0-7 with a 6.93 ERA. Raydon developed a cyst on the index finger of his pitching hand and then a sore arm after the 1958 season and never pitched in the majors again. Lefthander Harvey Haddix was just 12-12. Righthanded starter/reliever Bennie Daniels struggled with a 5.45 ERA. In the bullpen, Gross had arm problems. The NL did not have a 90-win team in 1959. The Dodgers and Braves finished the season tied for first at 86-68. In a best 2 out of 3 game playoff, the Dodgers swept the Braves 3-2 and 6-5 to win the pennant. The Pirates finished in 4th place at 78-76. But there were positive signs. Stuart, in his first full season had batted .297 with 27 HRs. In Burgess, the Pirates now had one of the better hitting catchers in baseball. Hoak was a solid offensive contributor, an excellent defensive thirdbaseman and a strong clubhouse presence. Haddix pitched a perfect game for 12 innings before losing it in the 13th. Vern Law went 18-9 and Elroy Face was an incredible 18-1 (yes, 18-1) in relief.

Following the disappointing 1959 season, Joe Brown attempted to add power to the lineup but to no avail. He tried unsuccessfully to acquire Washington’s Harmon Killebrew. He also negotiated with Kansas City attempting to acquire Roger Maris. The Sporting News reported that Brown rejected a proposed deal that would have sent Groat, Virdon, Foiles and Kline to the A’s for Maris, shortstop Joe DeMaestri and catcher Hal Smith. The New York Yankees ended up acquiring Maris and DeMaestri. Thwarted in his attempt to add power, Brown instead improved the team’s depth. Although the Maris/DeMaestri/Smith deal had fallen through, Brown still ended up acquiring Smith in an exchange of catchers, with Foiles going to Kansas City. Smith, 29, a righthanded hitter, would platoon with the 33-year old lefthanded hitting Burgess behind the plate. The Bucs traded Kline, a very durable starter, to the Cardinals for outfielder Gino Cimoli, 30, and 25 year old minor league pitcher Tom Cheney. Cimoli had been a starter for the Cardinals, usually in center field, but also filling in at the corner OF spots as needed. He had little power but had been among the league leaders in doubles and triples in 1959. The Pirates were looking to upgrade their outfield, where Roman Mejias had batted only .236 as the fourth outfielder in 1959, including an extended stint as the starting right fielder while Clemente was out for 50 games during which Mejias batted just .224. Cimoli would assume that role in 1960. Cheney would begin the year in AAA. And Bob Oldis, 32, a good defensive catcher, was selected in the rule 5 draft from the Yankees.

MLB rules in 1960 permitted teams to carry 28 players on opening day. They had 30 days to get down to 25 players. The 1960 opening day roster consisted of infielders Stuart (1B), Rocky Nelson (1B), Mazeroski (2B), Hoak (3B), Groat (SS), Schofield (inf), Baker (inf), outfielders Skinner (LF), Virdon (CF), Clemente (RF), Cimoli (of), Joe Christopher (of), Mejias (of), catchers Burgess, Smith, Oldis and Kravitz, and pitchers Friend (RHP), Law (RHP), Haddix (LHP), Jim Umbricht (RHP), Daniels (RHP), Face (RHP), Fred Green (LHP), Gross (LHP), Paul Giel (RHP), Witt (RHP) and Joe Gibbon (LHP).

The starting lineup in 1960 was essentially the same as in 1959, with Stuart at 1B, Mazeroski at 2B, Hoak at 3B, Dick Groat at SS, Skinner in LF, Bill Virdon in CF, Roberto Clemente in RF and Burgess catching. And reserves Nelson, Schofield, Baker, Mejias, Christopher, Kravitz and pitchers Friend, Law, Haddix, Face, Green, Giel, Gross, Daniels, Umbricht and Witt had all been with the Pirates for all or part of the 1959 season. The new faces on the team in 1960 were Cimoli, Smith, Oldis and rookie Gibbon. The Pirates hoped that this group would get them back to where they had been in 1958 and then some.

Coming April 12: Opening day. Friend vs Spahn in Milwaukee.

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