Baseball is and will be a romance, but one of the most remembered decades in its beautiful history was that of the 60’s. The love for the game was stronger than ever and the people showed incredible passion for the sport and its players. A seat behind home at Yankee Stadium cost was $ 3. The cards of the players were bought for a penny. The game was a national obsession and enjoyed an eternal romance. In the United States there were times of change. The Beatles invaded with their music the radio and TV, the man walked on the moon and also fought a war in Vietnam. The country saw a great clash of generations.
In this decade, baseball expanded. The birth of new equipment arrived. I still have feelings of seeing the images of more than 200 people who witnessed with pain, the destruction of Ebbets Field in Brooklyn, and how, with tears in his eyes, the former catcher: Roy Campanella, of the now deceased Brooklyn Dodgers, received a bucket with the home plate ground, where he received millions of pitches in his catcher career, which because of a terrible traffic accident, had culminated.
The Dodgers moved from Brooklyn to Los Angeles, where they would win 2 World Series, and they would not be the only ones, since another team in New York was also leaving the city. The Giants, now would be in San Francisco and in 62, New York received the rebirth of a new team: ” The Mets ”. Other new teams were created in the decade, one of them was Los Angeles of Anaheim, who had the honor of inaugurating their season, with the first pitch made by the great Ty Cobb (which would be his last time in a baseball field before dying on July 17, 1961, boasting a 367 lifetime batting average, the Washington Senators left for Minnesota and changed their name to the Twins. The Senators who tried to continue with a new team in Washington failed and moved again, this time to Texas, where they would be called The Rangers. In Texas another team was also created, at the beginning called the ” Colts45 ”, but then they would change their name to Los Astros (team named in honor of the air bases that existed in the area), premiering new roofed park and creating the grass artificial. In other movements, the A’s went from Kansas to Oakland and the Royals were born (a team named in honor of two great teams that the city had, members of the so-called “Negro Leagues”, “The Royal Blues” and “The Monarchs”)
In New York, the Yankees, with Mickey Mantle as the main star at the beginning of the decade, enjoyed glory. Each time Mickey stood on the plate, the sound of the legendary Yankee Stadium simulated the sound of the ocean at night. From the beginning of this decade, until 1964 the Bronx won 5 times the American League. They started the 1960 with an incredible defeat against the Pittsburgh Pirates, thanks to the famous walk-off homerun by Bill Mazeroski, in what would be the first time that a final was decided by a homerun. Players remember that on the bus back home, Mickey did not stop to shed tears for the defeat.
But the Yankees were a feared team, with fearsome and powerful hitters. Red Sox pitcher Bill Monbouquette recalls that he used to watch them from the bench during the batting practices at Fenway Park. It was quite a show, the balls flew over the huge wall of left field, known as ” The green monster ”. About 150 balls were dispatched for each round. Al Forest, the field maintenance manager, climbed with a ladder to pick up those balls and Monbouquette, asked himself- “These are the guys I have to pitch today?” In the 61 due to the expansion, the regular schedule was increased from 154 to 162 games. Roger Maris of the Yankees, had won the MVP in the 60 and along with his teammate, Mickey Mantle, quickly began to connect very well to the ball, hit home runs after home runs, and this immediately attracted the attention of all. Maris, who was not a favorite of the public or the press, received all kinds of threats and insults, for being close to breaking the record of the idolized Bambino: Babe Ruth. The public loved Mantle, but the injuries affected him so much that with 54 homers, he went to the disable list in September leaving Maris in search of the big mark, which the then commissioner: Ford Frisch, in an attempt to preserve the imposed by Ruth, announced that it would put an asterisk to the records broke in more than 154 games. In the end, Maris despite everything, managed to connect his homerun 61, the last one that culminated the regular season and thus broke the record, despite carrying the asterisk in his brand. That season the Yankees would win the World Series against the Cincinnati Reds. After 61, the commissioner noticed the increase of the offensive production of the teams and decided to expand the strike zone and lower the mound of the pitcher 10 inches.
This brought “the era of pitching”, where only the new offensive star of Boston, Carl Yamstrenski, which replaced the legend, Ted Williams in left field, passed the 300 points of average and then won the MVP of 67.
In 62 the Bombers won again, this time against the Giants, who had in their team the 3 brother’s surnamed Alou: Jesus, Felipe and Matty.
It is worth mentioning that at this time things were still being done properly. The ball was caught with both hands, all bases were run and each was touched. Any player was sacrificed and all were able to make the basic moves of the game. That, however, would begin to change at the end of this decade. Players like Joe Pepitone, first baseman, came to the Yankee team with new ideas and modernisms. He installed a telephone in his dressing room for the first time. He was the first to challenge the rules of hairstyles and insisted on leaving long hair and whiskers abundant. This brought him controversy with the owner of the Yankees, Mr. George Wise. His teammates Mantle and Whitey Ford, played jokes all the time. Once, he was invited to dinner by the two giants of the Bronx. Joe was happy, he was going to dine with the legendary players, whom one day he admire as a young man, and today he was sharing the diamond with them. Mantle, gave him an address on a piece of paper and told him that the Restaurant was called “The Flame”. Joe went to the place, took a taxi and it took almost two hours to get to the outskirts of New York, where the place was supposedly located. When he arrived, he found the burned ruins of a restaurant, where a destroyed sign still showed the name ” The Flame ”. On another occasion, Mantle, put baby powder in his hair dryer. When he came out of the shower, Joe, decided to dry his hair, and he received a good dose of white powder all over his face.
The players’ contracts were low, and the athletes never thought about leaving their teams. Dodger’s outfielder Maury Wills recalls that after finishing the season with 104 steals, breaking Ty Cobb’s previous record with 94, he left happy the owner’s office, even though he did not receive an increase, but he was not traded and that was a joy for him because it meant the possibility of being a Dodger for life.
Frank Robinson, stellar player of the Cincinnati Reds, asked for an increase in 63: – ” I have more than 100 runs batted in ” – he told the owner of the team – which replied- ” But you left more than a 100 men on base”. Stellar players like Al Kaline, of the Detroit Tigers, had jobs in the winter, when there was no season.
The minimum of the league was $ 6000, this was until 1969. But all these things, which did not benefit the players, were for the fans. Those who were not afraid to give their hearts to their teams and their players. Even the baseball teams had great stars. The Cubs of 63 had on their roster: Ernie Banks, Billy Williams and Ron Santo among others. And although they did not put all the games on TV, the fans felt the teams as themselves and identified themselves with the names and numbers of the players. The pitchers worked every 4 days. Many threw 3 times a week. The stars wanted to face each other. They went out to throw and knew that they would be there all the game. The 9 innings. Leaving before the ninth, it represented that he had not done a good job. The Dominican pitcher, Juan Marishal, finished between 20 and 25 games per season. In ’63 there was a match between Marishal for the Giants and Warren Spahn for the Braves, where each pitched the 16 innings, until at the end of the 16th, the home team, Giants, walk off with a homerun of the great Willy Mays.
A decade highlighted by the great pitching, so much so that, in 1968 Tigers pitcher Danny McClain won 31 games setting a new record. Another legend, Bob Gibson, of the St Louis Cardinals, was undoubtedly the most feared and intimidating pitcher of that era. Gibson, who was even a member of the famous basketball team: ” Harlem Globetrotters ”, once refused to leave the mound with a broken leg. It would later impose the record of 7 consecutive starts winning in World Series and all of them complete games. The pitchers were throwing hit by pitches all the time, Don Drysdale, the Dodgers and Gibson were feared. The hitters knew that sticking to the plate could cost them dearly. A hitter who did well in his first few at-bats against a pitcher, knew he was going to get a message on his next time to the plate. But of all the pitchers of that decade, undoubtedly the best was Sandy Koufax, son of Jews, born in Brooklyn, and who initially wanted to be an architect, but was signed at age 19 by the Dodgers and sent directly to the majors without going through minor leagues with which he would change his idea of being an architect but he would become an artist of the mound. Sandy, never discussed counts with a referee, and managed to improve the lack of control of their releases at the beginning of his career to become the luminary that was. Despite not receiving much support from his team, he put the most incredible numbers of this stage. They say that in the eighth inning, he used to called his wife and said: ” Warm dinner, I’m on my way. ” In 1965 and already with much discomfort of his arm, he gave 382 strikeouts to his rival hitters. The same Koufax and his teammate and also star pitcher Don Drysdale, asked for an increase in 66 and did not receive an extra penny, being victims of not having a labor union for players, which would be born later and change the course of the history. After much glory and also a lot of pain in his throwing arm, sadly Koufax, decided to retire from baseball with only 31 years old and becoming 5 years later, the youngest member of the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown.
Something sad also in the sixties, was the decline of the great Mickey Mantle. Who the injuries no longer let him play and happened to be an ordinary player. When Mickey struck out in games, he cried when he arrived to the clubhouse. Not being able to help his team was something that the great Mickey did not accept. Mickey once confessed to his friend Whitey Ford, that he often had a nightmare, in which he saw himself entering the stadium, and heard the audience scream his name, but could not open the door to the playground and despaired until he woke up. That was his fear of failure. Some teams including the Yankees were slow in their integration process with players of color and Latinos. Elston Howard, in 1955 became the first, 8 years after Robinson’s debut to reach the Yankees. The Red Sox, even worse, were the last team to have a black player, when they finally hired the player Pumpsie Green. The National League was much fuller of Latinos and colored players only lost the All Star Game once in the decade. The great star of the league, was undoubtedly the stellar center fielder Willie Mays. Most valuable player of 65. He could do everything, the balls hit to the center field were caught as if they had been thrown at 3 feet. Latinos flooded the majors, facing not only discrimination, but also the language barrier. Cultural and racist insults were daily and common in their lives.
Another event of the sixties, was the retirement of the great hitter Ted Williams in 1966, when he hit a huge homer, in his last time at bat.There was also the trade of Frank Robinson, from Cincinnati to Baltimore, which would become the only player to win an MVP in each league. Frank joined a tremendous roster that featured pitchers Mike Cuellar (Cuban), Dan Nunnally, star Jim Palmer, and the most defensive third base of all time: Brooks Robinson, plus a new colorful director: Earl Weaver. Also the playoffs were created, where it was no longer the main thing to be the team that won more games in the regular season. The franchises continued to grow and the newly created Pilots from Seattle went to Milwaukee and became the Brewers, and in Montreal because of the world famous exhibition fair they named the new team ” The Expos ”. The Braves were leaving Milwaukee for Atlanta. The decade came to an end with the ” Miraculous Mets ” in 1969, winners of its first World Series in just 7 seasons created. From this moment, baseball was about to face a new stage. Which began with the famous case of Curt Flood. But that story I leave it for a next time.
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