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1958 On Deck for Classic Baseball

 

By Glenn Guzzo

 

Answering a frequently asked question, Steve Barkan reports that the 1958 season is the next classic baseball season he is researching. Strat-O-Matic expects to release the season sometime in 2011.

 

The 1958 season is the missing link in Strat-O-Matic’s run of seasons from 1954 to present. Though seldom remembered for great individual statistical achievements or dramatic pennant races, 1958 was historically significant season for many reasons:

 

  • The Dodgers’ debut in Los Angeles and the Giants’ debut in San Francisco after their controversial defections from New York.

 

  • Casey Stengel’s last World Series victory, his seventh in 10 years, as the Yankees became the first team since 1925 to rally from a 3-1 Series deficit to win the crown.

 

  • The last World Series appearance for the Braves in Milwaukee, the repeat NL champs.

 

  • Following Roy Campanella’s paralysis in an off-season car accident, the Dodgers began remaking their ultra-stable 1950s lineup with rookie John Roseboro.

 

The Dodgers and Giants left New York suddenly and their haste showed in California. The Dodgers were not yet in beautiful Chavez Ravine, their long-time home near downtown LA, but in quirky Memorial Coliseum. The Giants debuted not in legendary, windy Candlestick Park, but in the minor-league Seals Stadium (pop. 22,900 when the stands were full).

 

Still, the teams thrived with healthy attendance while playing mediocre baseball with an infusion of young talent.

 

The Giants fared best, improving from sixth in 1957, their last season at the Polo Grounds, to third, 15 wins better. They did it with Rookie of the Year 1B Orlando Cepeda (.312-25-96 and an NL-best 38 doubles) leading a crop of rookies that included regulars Jim Davenport (3B), Willie Kirkland (RF), Bob Schmidt (C) and platoon left-fielders Felipe Alou and Leon Wagner. They had fine veteran examples in CF Willie Mays (.347-29-96, 31 stolen base) and P Johnny Antonelli (18-13).

           

In LA, where the 440-foot power alley to right field help drain Duke Snider of his power, but a 251-foot left field fence (with a 40-foot screen) allowed the home team to finish second in the NL in home runs, the Dodgers needed a late rally to climb out of the cellar, a mere two games better than Philadelphia.

 

Still, the Phillies had the major-league batting champ in .350-hitting Richie Ashburn, who also led the majors with 13 triples and stole 30 bases. And in Chicago, the fifth-place Cubs’ Ernie Banks won the first of his two consecutive NL MVP awards by hitting .313-47-129, marks good enough to lead the league in homers and runs batted in.

 

Pittsburgh finished in the first division for the first time since 1948, driven by a cluster of developing young players who would be the core of the 1960 team that gave the Pirates’ their first pennant since 1927: Roberto Clemente, Bob Virdon, Bob Skinner, Dick Stuart, Bill Mazeroski, Dick Groat, Bob Friend and Vern Law (all in their 20s).

 

Young pitching helped Milwaukee repeat as NL pennant winners by a comfortable eight games. Carlton Willey, a 27-year-old rookie, led the NL with four shutouts and had a 2.70 ERA. Joey Jay, 22, had a 2.13 ERA and Juan Pizarro, 21, had a 2.69 ERA. Combined, they had a 22-16 record, offsetting the loss of Bob Buhl to injury for most of the season. Meanwhile, Milwaukee mound mainstays Warren Spahn 22 games and Lew Burdette won 20. Hank Aaron (.326-30-95), Wes Covington (.330-24-74) and Eddie Mathews (31 HR) carried the offense.

 

But Milwaukee could not replicate its 1957 World Series magic, when Burdette won three times to beat New York in seven games. With Spahn winning twice and Burdette once, the Braves took a 3-games-to-1 lead. But the Yanks hammered Burdette in Game 5 to win 7-0 behind Major League Cy Young winner Bob Turley (who was 21-7, 2.98 in the regular season).

 

Returning to Milwaukee, the Braves and Spahn lost critical Game 6 in extra innings, as Yankee rookie reliever Ryne Duren, who led the AL with 20 saves, got the win. In Game 7, Burdette started on two days’ rest and gave up four runs in the eighth inning to break a 2-2 tie and lead New York to victory. Turley, also on two days’ rest, entered the game in the third inning, allowing only one run the rest of the way to pick up the win.

 

That sealed a successful season for the Yankees, who won the AL easily by 10 games over Chicago and 13 over Boston. Turley, Duren (who allowed a miserly 4.5 hits/9 innings) and Whitey Ford (14-7, 2.01) were the pitching stars, while Mickey Mantle (.304-42-97) led the AL in homers, walks (129) and strikeouts (120) for a team that led the league in runs, homers, batting average and slugging average.

 

Boston’s Ted Williams led the league in batting (.328-26-85) and Cleveland’s Rocky Colavito had the league-best slugging average (.620) while batting .303-41-113.

 

But none of these sluggers won the league MVP award, which was awarded to RBI leader Jackie Jensen, the fine-fielding Boston right-fielder who hit .288-35-122 with 99 walks.

 

Diminutive Washington outfielder Albie Pearson won the rookie of the year award by hitting a light .275 as the only rookie regular position player.

 

Both of 1958’s no-hitters were in the American League: Detroit’s Jim Bunning beat Boston and Baltimore’s Hoyt Wilhelm shut out New York, 1-0. It was Wilhelm’s only 1958 victory for Baltimore after his mid-season trade from Cleveland, where he won two.