Friday, September 21, 2012

#434 - Ken McMullen

Here we have the solution to a long-standing problem in LA: the third base position. Ken McMullen, here posing at Shea, came to the Dodgers in a big trade prior to the ’73 season to fill a hole that had been plaguing the team for many a season. And he did, too, hitting .350 out of the box for LA in ’73. Then he pulled a muscle in his back before the eighth game of the season and all of a sudden 1973 became to Ken what 1925 was to Wally Pipp and what Job’s whole life must have been like for him. The guy that took Ken’s place the week he was recuperating – Ron Cey – ended up taking his place the next eleven years. On top of that Ken’s wife was pregnant which should have been a joyful time but for Ken was not so exclusively because his wife was also sick with breast cancer. And she was an exceptionally selfless woman because she wouldn’t let anyone treat her until after she was sure the baby was out of danger, which meant out of her. So ’73, a year that started with so much promise for him, ended up being a big trying experience. But Ken, regularly regarded as one of the nicest guys ever associated with the game, rose to the challenge, supporting his wife, and becoming a pinch-hitter deluxe beginning this year when he had five homers and 18 RBI’s in only 85 at bats. But by the time this card came out Ken would be on leave from LA and back home in Oxnard tending to his wife just before she passed away. Pretty sad stuff especially since they both seemed like special people.

Ken McMullen was a big three athlete when he was signed to a pretty fat bonus – around $60,000 – by Dodger scout Lefty Phillips in 1960. He starred in hoops and played outfield and the corner infield spots in high school and once broke open a state playoff game with an 11th-inning triple that was nullified when the field’s sprinkler system came on. After a nice ’61 in C ball - .288 with 21 homers, 96 RBI’s, and a .415 OBA – he moved up to Triple A in ’62, played mostly outfield, and hit .281 with 21 homers and 81 RBI’s. He then got some games in LA during the stretch run and the playoffs against the Giants. In ’63 it was back to Triple A and third for a couple months before he was recalled to LA and would eventually take over their third base gig before – in another example of bad timing – he went down with an injury and missed the Series. In ’64 it was back to Triple A, sandwiching some games up top, where he split time between first and the outfield. After the season he was involved in his first big trade, joining Frank Howard, Pete Richert, Phil Ortega, and Dick Nen in going to the Senators for Claude Osteen and John Kennedy.

In DC McMullen took over at third base where over the next few seasons he would quietly become one of the AL’s best fielders. He also demonstrated some decent power, regularly finishing among the club’s top three in RBI’s and homers. He peaked offensively in ’69 with his highest double and RBI totals and best full-year average in a year he greatly benefitted from the tutelage of new manager Ted Williams. After a few games in DC to start the ’70 season he was sent to California for Rick Reichardt and Aurelio Rodriguez where he replaced the latter guy at third and revived his numbers considerably as the Angels made a strong division drive. He then got to play for Lefty Phillips, the guy who signed him, in ’71 but suffered through the turmoil of  that season and posted a 17-game hitting streak in a ’72 in which he put up one of his best averages but saw a significant reduction in his power due to a back issue. After that season he returned to LA with Andy Messersmith for Frank Robinson, Bill Singer, Bobby Valentine, Billy Grabarkewitz, and Mike Strahler. Back with the Dodgers he reprised his pinch hitter role in ’74 and ’75, both years putting up awfully good RBI totals in his few at bats. Those two seasons he also investigated playing in Japan but when he was released in ’76 spring training instead went to Oakland. There he would split time between third, first, and DH in a season in which he recorded his most at bats since ’72. But he only hit .220 with little power and after a very similar year with Milwaukee in ’77 he was done. Ken finished with a .248 average with 156 homers and 606 RBI’s. His lone post-season appearance was a strikeout against Pittsburgh in the ’74 NL playoffs. Defensively he is currently 62nd in putouts and 51st in assists all-time for third basemen.

McMullen stayed busy in his off-seasons, most of which were spent back in Oxnard. He ran a baseball camp and some golf tournaments with Jim Colborn who also grew up in that area. He also became actively involved in his family’s auto business. By the early Eighties he began working with the Dodgers in community relations and in the middle of the decade he and Colborn tried to bring a minor league team to his hometown. He still remains an associate of the Dodgers and resides in Camarillo.

On his card back Ken gets recognition for his defense and his team MVP. In the late Sixties Mickey Mantle said Ken was the most under-rated player in the game.

These guys get hooked up by Ken’s old roommate:

1. McMullen and Ed Brinkman ’65 to ’69 Senators;
 2. Brinkman and Lerrin LaGrow ’72 to ’74 Tigers.   

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