Friday, January 25, 2013

#489 - Danny Murtaugh/Pirates Field Leaders

Danny Murtaugh had one of those mugs that looked like it was always old. Here he poses in the Pittsburgh dugout during the first year of his fourth term managing the team. Danny had heart problems – in the literal but certainly not figurative sense – and had to step down from the manager gig a couple times because of them. Danny was pulled back this time after his buddy Bill Virdon was fired in September; Virdon had replaced him for a time in ’71 and then full-time after Danny resigned following that season. The Pirates were a game under .500 but only two back when the change happened. Willie Stargell was having a great year and the new outfield kids Rickie Zisk and Dave Parker were stepping up but the loss of Roberto Clemente was a bummer and the sudden loss of control by staff ace Steve Blass was too much for Virdon to overcome. Danny got his team within a week into first place by a game-and-a-half. But the Mets were steamrolling then and Danny’s overall record of .500 the rest of the year wasn’t enough to fend them off. The Pirates finished third with a record of 80-82 and Danny went 13-13. My guess is that from the lack of either an armband or hint of a patch on his left sleeve that this photo is from an earlier tenure. That guy behind him could be Blass or even Virdon but it’s tough to speculate since I can’t even place the year.

Danny Murtaugh was born and raised in Chester, PA, where his high school only had a baseball team for one season so he played some industrial league and town ball during that time. In ’37 he and a bunch of his buddies headed to Maryland for a tryout by the Cards and Danny made the cut. That year and the next he played D ball, hitting .297 and .312 with lots of speed and a little power while playing second. In ’39 he hit .268 in Double A and in ’40 and ’41 he was back in Single A where he hit .299 and .317 before being sold to the Phillies in mid ’41. Philadelphia called Danny all the way up that year and he immediately took over second, impressing nobody with his .219 average, but a lot of people with his 18 stolen bases that led the league. He was a regular the next two seasons – though in ’42 he split time pretty evenly between second, short, and third – and raised his average each year to .241 and then .273. He didn’t strike out too much either and that last year put up a .357 OBA. Late that year, too, he got drafted by Uncle Sam and the next two years he would see service in both Europe and Asia in WW II, which was pretty rare. He came back in ’46 and despite a good spring training and opening game he was sold to the Cards that May. For St. Louis it was back to the minors where he hit .322. Then in ’47 he was drafted by the Braves and again stuck at Triple A mostly where this time he hit .302. After that season he was traded to Pittsburgh and in ’48 he would have his biggest season up top, claiming second while hitting .290 with 71 RBI’s, by far his highest total at that level. His average fell a bunch the next year as he lost some time to ailments but in ’50 he rallied to .294 with a lot more at bats. ‘51 was his last season in Pittsburgh and he was a reserve guy, finishing his MLB time with a .254 average with 49 stolen bases. He played a bit in the minors the next two years and finished at that level with a .297 average. In ’52 he continued his relationship with Pittsburgh by managing in the minors, which he did through ’55 when he was called up to coach the Pirates. In ’57 he replaced Bobby Bragan as manager and in ’60 took a team that lost 92 games his first year to the Series where he famously beat the Yankees. His first stint lasted through ’64 when he moved to the front office after suffering a heart ailment. He was replaced by Harry Walker and stint two for Danny was during ’67 when he replaced Walker after he was fired. Stint three came in ’70 when his health was well enough that he managed the team to the division title before again winning the whole thing in ’71. After again stepping down he took over in September ’73 and the next two years again won division titles. He retired again after the ’76 season and finished with a record up top of 1,115-950 and won Manager of the Year in both ’60 and ’70. His retirement didn’t last too long as he passed away shortly thereafter from a stroke. He was 59.

Don Leppert grew up in Indianapolis and then attended Wabash College where he played football and threw the discuss and javelin in addition – I assume – to playing baseball. I have read that he graduated and also that he only was there two years but given his career kicked off in ’55 when he was 23 my guess is the former. A catcher, he was signed by the Braves that year and hit .260 that summer in B ball. He spent the next three years in Double and Triple A where he hit around .230 but showed some good power with 20 homers in ’57. In ’59 he hit .270 in Triple A and then in ’60 hit .256 with 17 homers at the same level which prompted a sale to Pittsburgh. He began the year pounding the ball for a .386 average and was promoted to the Pirates that June. He played sparingly the next two seasons and after averaging about .267 was traded to the Senators. For the Nats Don had his biggest year in ’63, splitting starting time behind the plate and hitting .237 with six homers and 24 RBI’s in 211 at bats, his most up top. Those numbers got him named to the All-Star team but after a significant average drop in ’64 he returned to the minors. He hit .229 with 15 homers up top for his career. In ’65 he hit .338 as a backup for DC’s Triple A team and in ’66 finished as a player with Pittsburgh’s club. He finished with a .261 average at that level. He then began managing, going 61-59 for a Single A Pittsburgh club in ’67 before moving up to coach in the bullpen from ’68 to ’76. He was on the short list to succeed Murtaugh but when that didn’t happen he moved on to coach at Toronto (’77-’79) and then Houston (’80-’85) where he rejoined Bill Virdon. He then managed in the Twins system from ’86 to ’87, going a combined 128-150, before in ’88 taking over as the Twins director of minor league instruction. In ’93 he was moved to head of the team’s Florida operations. In ’97 he managed the Goldpanners in Alaska for a summer and went 38-18. I believe that since then he has been retired.

Bill Mazeroski was born in West Virginia and moved to Ohio as a young boy. There he was an all-state basketball guard as well as a shortstop. His coach got him a tryout with the Pirates and he was signed in ’54 when he was 17. He only hit .235 that year in A ball but his pivot was so amazing he was moved to second. In ’55 he hit .293 at that level and in ’56 .306 in the Pacific Coast League which leveled out somewhere between Double A and Triple A. Promoted to Pittsburgh that summer he immediately took over second base and he’d put on a defensive show until the early Seventies. Long knocked on his offense he actually turned in some pretty good numbers there as well. In ’57 he hit .283 and in ’58 .275 with 19 homers in his first year as an All-Star (he’d have seven of those) and a Gold Glove winner (eight of those). In the big Series year of ’60 he hit .273 with 64 RBI’s. In ’62 he led the NL in intentional walks and had 81 RBI’s. He topped out in ribbies in ’66 with 82. He generally stayed injury-free throughout the Sixties, missing about a month in ’65 when he tore a muscle in his throwing arm. In ’69, though, he tore a muscle in his leg and missed pretty much the whole season after June. He returned as the starter in ’70 but hit only .229 and had slowed considerably in the field. He finished the next couple seasons as a reserve behind Dave Cash. Retiring after the ’72 season he hit .260 with over 2,000 hits, 138 homers and 853 RBI’s. In the post-season he improved considerably with a .323 average, two homers, and five RBI’s in 12 games. Defensively he was a monster leading the NL nine times in assists (he is fifth all-time), five times in putouts (seventh), eight times in double plays (first), and three times in fielding percentage. He was a quasi-coach in ’72 and stayed on full-time in ’73. He quit well before this card came out to spend more time with his family. He opened and ran a golf course and restaurant back in Ohio for a number of years and started an annual fund-raising golf outing that is still ongoing. From ’79 to ’80 he coached for the Mariners and he has since then done spring training work for the Pirates. His number was retired in ’89 and he was elected to the Hall in 2001 in what became a very contentious event. In 2012 he was able to coach on the Pittsburgh bench for a game.

Don Osborn hailed from Idaho where he pitched in industrial and semi-pro leagues until 1929 when he threw a bit for a couple D level teams and then one in ’30. He then has a fat five-year blank on baseball-reference but actually pitched in the Washington-Idaho league during that time and from each year from ’33 to ’35 led his team to the pennant. In ’36 he signed with Seattle of the Pacific Coast League and went 11-9. But he fell to 2-10 the next year and then signed with Vancouver, a B level team that had a soft affiliation with the Cubs. After winning 18 games for them in ’38, 13 in ’39, and 18 in ‘40 he took over managing the team, won two titles in two years, and as staff ace went a combined 40-8. He then moved to Chicago’s PCL affiliate Los Angeles where he continued to pitch and manage the next five years, winning 18 in ’45. He continued to pitch and manage in the Chicago system through ’51, going 17-3 in ’48, and went 501-386 as a manager for them overall. From ’52 to ’57 he managed in the Phillies system, pitching occasionally, and put up a record of 465-400 for them. By then he’d picked up the handle Wizard of Oz for his ability to work with pitchers. He pitched his last game in ’54 and won over 220 games in the minors with an ERA of about 3.10 but never threw higher than Triple A. During the off-seasons of pretty much his whole career he was a stagehand in Hollywood. In ’58 he moved to the Pittsburgh system, first as a pitching troubleshooter and then as a scout. He took over various minor clubs for partial seasons in ’59, ’65, and ’67. During that time he coached Satchel Paige. From ’60 to ’62 he was a roving pitching coach which he also did in ’66-’67 and ’68-’69. In between he aped Danny Murtaugh with a bunch of stints up top as Pirates pitching coach, including ’63-’64, '70-’72, '74-’76, and ’78-’79. In ’73 he scouted for a season. Just prior to spring training of ’79 he had to step down due to illness. He passed away later that year from cancer at age 70.

Bob Skinner grew up in La Jolla, California and was signed out of high school by the Pirates late in 1950. In D ball the following summer he pounded the ball at a .472 clip before moving up to A ball where he hit .283. He then spent all of ’52 and ’53 pulling his military hitch in the Marines. When he returned in ’54 it was straight to Pittsburgh where he was moved to first base from his regular outfield position and hit .249 as a rookie. The move to first didn’t go crazy well and in ’55 Bob went back to Double A where he hit .346 around some injuries. He went back to Pittsburgh in ’56 as an outfield reserve but didn’t have a great sophomore season. That changed the next year when a hot start moved him to the regular left field job which he would retain through ’62. He hit .305 that year and then .321 in ’58 when he was an All-Star. By then he earned the nickname The Duke of La Jolla. In the Series year of ’60 he put up his biggest RBI total of 86 while hitting .273 and was again an All-Star. In ’61 he missed some time to injury but he bounced back nicely in ’62 with a .320 average, 20 homers, and 75 RBI’s. In ’63 Willie Stargell’s arrival pushed the Pirates to trade Bob to Cincinnati mid-year for Jerry Lynch. For the Reds Bob did back-up outfield work and pinch hit duty which he would continue to do for St. Louis after he was traded there during the ’64 season. That trade landed him back in the Series and he would play out his career with the Cards in ’66, finishing with a .277 average, 103 homers, and 531 RBI’s. He also hit .375 with a couple RBI’s in his six Series games. He moved into managing right away, going 116-91 in a season-plus in the Phillies system and winning a title in ’67. Midway through ’68 he moved up to Philadelphia to coach and then manage after Gene Mauch was fired in the wake of problems with Dick Allen. Philly was going through a long retrenchment then and Bob went 92-123 in a bit over a year until he resigned during ’69 after also having issues with Allen and management. He finished out the year back home announcing for the Padres. He then had a long run as a coach: for San Diego (’70-’73 and ’77); Pittsburgh (’74-’76, ’79-‘85); California (’78); and Atlanta (’86-’88). From ’89 to ’92 he managed in the Houston chain and went 276-292. Since ’93 he has been a scout for the Astros, though for the past few years on a limited basis.

The Pirates entry for the ’76 baseball centennial was alluded to above: Bill Mazeroski’s homer to win the ’60 Series. It was and remains the only walk-off homer to win the seventh game of a World Series. The first three games were offensive onslaughts by the Yankees who got 48 hits while taking a 2-1 lead. But in Games Four and Five Vern Law and Harvey Haddix gave up a combined 15 hits while winning two for the Pirates at the Stadium. A 12-0 Yankees blowout back at Forbes set up Game Seven in which NY tied things up 9-9 in the top of the ninth with a single by Mickey Mantle and a Yogi Berra groundout against Haddix, who’d just entered the game in relief. Mazersoki led off the bottom of the inning and smashed his famous shot to give Pittsburgh its first title in over 50 years.

We get to do the double hook-up since Danny played a bunch in the majors. First as manager:

1. Murtaugh managed Dock Ellis ’70 to ’71 and ’73 to ’75 on the Pirates;
2. Ellis and Doyle Alexander on the ’76 Yankees;
3. Alexander and Andy Etchebarren ’72 to ’75 Orioles.

Now as a player. This will be a long one:

1. Murtaugh and Ralph Kiner ’48 to ’51 Pirates;
2. Kiner and Ernie Banks ’53 to ’54 Cubs;
3. Banks and Milt Pappas ’71 to ’72 Cubs;
4. Pappas and Brooks Robinson ’57 to ’65 Orioles;
5. Robinson and Andy Etchebarren ’62 and ’65 to ’75 Orioles.

1 comment:

  1. Your first sentence is very true, my first thought about Murtaugh. I alway saw Danny as very old although he was 54 at the time.

    I think the all time champ is Red Scheondienst who looked 70 year old in 1969, but yet he is still alive today and attended Stan Musial's funeral.