Tag Archives: San Frncisco Giants

Willie McCovey & My World Series Nightmare: Part 1

Being a fan of the team that loses the baseball World Series is a disappointing experience. It is a deeper frustration than your favorite football team losing the Super Bowl.  That is just one game.  But with the World Series, you have the emotionally draining ebb and flow of four to possibly seven games.  I could see this emotional frustration on the faces of Los Angeles Dodgers’ fans during this year’s World Series.  The Boston Red Sox defeated the Dodgers 5 – 1 at Dodger Stadium this past October 28 to win the 2018 Series 4 games to 1.  It would be the second straight year Dodger fans had to watch the opposing team celebrate winning the World Series at the Dodgers’ home field.  The Houston Astros won Game Seven of the 2017 Series 5 – 1 in front of the frustrated Dodger fateful.  The last two World Series have been horrible experiences for Dodger fans.  Both have been like nightmares.

Being a rabid baseball fan for just over 60 years, I can relate to what the Dodgers’ fans experienced; I have had more than a few World Series nightmares.  The Milwaukee Braves losing three straight to the New York Yankees after being ahead three games to one in the 1958 World Series and the St. Louis Cardinals blowing their three games to one lead to the Detroit Tigers in the 1968 Series were two of my nightmares.  I still cringe remembering Curt Flood misplaying Detroit’s Jim Northup’s long fly ball as the Cards’ lost Game Seven.

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Willie McCovey

Another of my World Series nightmares involved Hall of Fame first baseman Willie McCovey who died October 31, three days after the end of this year’s Series.  Eighty years old, the six-time National League All-Star lost his battle with an infection and other on-going health issues at the Stanford University Medical Center.  Tributes from both inside and outside of professional baseball are still continuing to come for the big (6’4”, 198 lbs.) left-handed slugger who my older brother and I along with others called “Stretch”.  Born January 10, 1938 in Mobile, Alabama; McCovey made his Major League debut with the San Francisco Giants July 30, 1959 getting four hits against Hall of Fame pitcher Robin Roberts of the Philadelphia Phillies.  He finished the season hitting .354 with 13 HRs in 54 games and received the National League Rookie of the Year award.

After his sensational 1959 rookie season, McCovey fought a batting slump through the summer of 1960 hitting .238 in 101 games with 13 HRs and even spent time back in the minor leagues.  He regained his hitting stroke in 1961(18 HRs, 50 RBIs, .271 BA in 106 games) and created a dilemma for the Giants.  Both McCovey and 1999 Hall of Fame inductee Orlando Cepeda were first basemen.  In order to get both their bats in the line-up one of them had to play in the outfield, not the strongest position for either.  However, with Hall of Fame outfielder Willie Mays covering ground in center field, it worked in 1962 as the Giants won the National League pennant with McCovey and Cepeda splitting time between playing first base and right or left field.

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That set the 1962 World Series between the San Francisco Giants and the defending champion New York Yankees.  The main reason for my World Series nightmares at that time, the Yankees had won 8 Series in the prior 13 years and were favored to win in 1962 for their ninth.  Be sure to read Part Two of this post to see how my hope for a World Series win by the Giants turned into another nightmare for me.

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Remembering “Sad” Sam Jones

Past feature articles, game summaries, and game box scores of African-American newspapers indicate there were at least 29 no-hitters thrown in Negro League baseball.  Most notably there were two by Satchel Paige and one each by Hilton Smith, Andy Cooper, “Smoky” Joe Williams, and Leon Day; all Hall of Fame pitchers.  The “invisible color line” that kept African–American ballplayers out of the Major Leagues was not erased until 1947 which was too late for these and many other good Negro League hurlers who were by then either dead or passed their prime.  But there were younger Negro League pitchers that got their opportunity in the Major Leagues; “Toothpick” Sam Jones was one of them. He is the only former Negro League pitcher to throw a Major League no-hitter.

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Born 12/14/25 in Stewartsville, Ohio, Jones also spent a portion of his youth in West Virginia. He left for military service before starting the life of a coal mine worker as were many of his family members and friends.  He played with a local black team while stationed in Orlando, Florida in 1947 and caught the eye of Quincy Trouppe, then the manager of the Negro American League (NAL) Cleveland Buckeyes.  Jones signed in time to help the team win the NAL pennant, but they lost to the New York Cubans in the 1947 Negro League World Series.  Jones got his nickname from having a toothpick in his mouth while on the pitching mound.

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With Quincy Trouppe 1952

It would be 1950 when the Cleveland Indians finally noticed the talented right-handed hurler that had been in their own backyard. However, Jones pitched in only 16 games with the Indians in four years before being traded to the Chicago Cubs after the 1954 season. Once in the National League, the talented pitcher proved what he had done in the Negro Leagues was no fluke.   Opponents claimed Jones, a power pitcher standing at 6’4” and weighing 200 pounds, had the best curveball in the National League.  He faced batters with a never-changing, expressionless look on his face which resulted in him also being called “Sad” Sam.  That is the nickname I mostly remember.  But opponents also said Jones had a mean streak exhibited by his pitches; he hit 14 batters in 1955 (league leader).  There was an ongoing intense confrontation whenever Henry Aaron faced Jones that is well documented.  Jones struggled at times with control of his pitches; he led the National League in walks four times.  But he also could be overpowering; being the league leader in strikeouts three years and pitching 17 shutouts in his 12 year Major League career.  He became a two-time National League All-Star, winning 21 games with the San Francisco Giants in 1959 and 18 in 1960.

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But it was on May 12, 1955 as a Chicago Cub that Jones pitched himself into the Major League Baseball record book with a 4-0 no-hitter against the Pittsburgh Pirates.  It was a “Sam Jones” pitched type of game.  He struck out six batters, walked seven, threw a Wild Pitch, and was helped with two double plays.  In the ninth inning, he walked the first three hitters before striking out the final three.

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He retired after pitching with the Baltimore Orioles in 1964, the sixth team played with during his time in the Major Leagues; Cleveland Indians 1951 – 1952,  Chicago Cubs 1955 – 1956, St. Louis Cardinals 1957 – 1958 and 1963, San Francisco Giants 1959 – 1961, and Detroit Tigers 1962.  On November 5, 1971, the 45 years old Jones died of throat cancer.

“Sad “Sam Jones won 102 games in the Major Leagues. He lost 101.  No doubt the inconsistent control of his pitches cost him victories early in his career, but he still had 1,376 career strikeouts.  And no former Negro League pitcher, other than Don Newcombe, had the success in the Major Leagues as Sam Jones.

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To learn more about the Negro League baseball era, read “Last Train to Cooperstown: The 2006 Baseball Hall of Fame Inductees from the Negro League Baseball Era”.  To order go to (http://booklaunch.io/kevinlmitchell/last-train-to-cooperstown) http://www.klmitchell.com

 

 

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