Strat-O-Matic Shines in 1959 AL Replay
Drama and Statistical Accuracy in a Historic Finish
By Glenn Guzzo
This has never happened in Major League History. It had never happened for me. But my 1959 American League replay – using the as-played schedule and starting pitchers, and distributing AB and IP carefully – ended in a three-way tie for first place.
Real-life flag winners Chicago, underachievers by six games in this replay, were in the photo finish with overachieving Detroit and New York, all at 88-66.
As you would expect, this required a sensational final weekend. But we’re going to bury the lead in order to tell you that this remarkable replay had many memorable occasions.
On the final weekend alone:
n Washington’s Harmon Killebrew hit his league-tying 48th homer on Saturday afternoon. On the same day in Cleveland, Rocky Colavito hit his 49th. Actual: They tied for the title with 42.
n Washington’s Camilo Pascual won his 19th game that Saturday, tying him with Early Wynn for the league lead. But Wynn became the only 20-game winner the same day. That and other achievements earned Wynn the Cy Young Award. Actual: Wynn was the only AL pitcher with at least 20 wins (he had 22) and won the Majors’ lone Cy Young Award.
n Entering the final day, Sunday, Sept. 27, Detroit’s Harvey Kuenn was atop the league with a .352 batting average and Boston’s Pete Runnels was second at .348. A good day for Runnels (at hitter-friendly Fenway against the pitching-poor Senators) and a bad one for Kuenn (at hitter-friendly Briggs Stadium, but against tough White Sox pitcher Bob Shaw) could reverse the leader board. Runnels went 1-for-1 with a league-record 5 walks and 4 runs scored to finish .349. Kuenn went 4-for-4 (collecting his 200th and 201th hits in the last two AB) to finish .357. Actual: Kuenn won the batting crown at .353 and led the league with 198 hits. Runnels was third at .314, behind Al Kaline. Kaline, who hit .323 in this replay (vs. .327 actual) finished third instead of second.
Both this replay and the actual ’59 AL had five other .300 hitters and three were the same guys: Baltimore’s Gene Woodling (.312 replay vs. .300 actual), Cleveland’s Minnie Minoso (.305 vs. .302) and Chicago’s Nellie Fox (.303 vs. .306). New York’s Bobby Richardson fell just short in the replay (.299) and just made it in real life (.301).
n Kansas City, which clinched the cellar early, lost 8 in a row in a seeming death spiral towards 100 losses, which they would suffer if they lost their final 4 in Cleveland. In the first game of Friday’s doubleheader, it looked like the Athletics would end their misery, as Johnny Kucks took a 2-hit shutout and a 1-0 lead into the bottom of the 9th. Kucks got the first two men. Then Woodie Held smashed a groundball 3B-X at Hal Smith, a 4e21 there. Smith, primarily a catcher in his career, but who played mostly at third base in ’59, was actually the best available fielding third-sacker for the Athletics in this game. He couldn’t come up with Held’s grounder, scored a single. George Strickland then hit another groundball 3B-X and Smith muffed it for an error. Remarkably, pinch-hitter Russ Nixon then hit a third straight groundball 3B-X at Smith, who turned it into a run-scoring single and error, and putting runners at second and third. Jimmy Piersall followed with a groundball SS-X to Joe DeMaestri, a 2e34 who promptly booted it. After mishandling four straight X chances, the Athletics trudged off the field with their heads hung in a 2-1 defeat.
That was loss #97. But instead of folding, the hostile Athletics slaughtered the Tribe in the doubleheader nightcap, 19-1. The Athletics finished 56-98, 11 games behind seventh-place Washington, which won 8 of its last 10.
n Baltimore’s Billy O’Dell, defending his likely ERA title with a final start on the final day in New York, saw it balloon mid-game from 2.26 to 2.46, while Wynn was in the clubhouse at 2.47. O’Dell’s ERA finally settled at 2.42. Actual: O’Dell was 2.94, several places behind teammate Hoyt Wilhelm (2.19).
n This replay replicated the real 1959 AL leaders in runs (Detroit’s Eddie Yost), hits (Kuenn), doubles (Kuenn), homers (Colavito), RBIs (Boston’s Jackie Jensen), total bases (Colavito), walks (Yost), batting average (Kuenn), on-base average (Yost), stolen bases (Chicago’s Luis Aparicio), wins (Wynn), pitcher strikeouts (Detroit’s Jim Bunning), innings (Wynn), games pitched (Chicago’s Gerry Staley), complete games (Pascual), walks allowed (Wynn) and perhaps more.
n The League hit .252, with .323 on-base, .382 slugging and .704 OPS. Actual: .253, .323, .384 and .707.
This league also had two no-hitters, both by White Sox: Dick Donovan vs. Baltimore and Wynn vs. Detroit. Kansas City’s Bob Cerv went 6-for-6 in a 9-inning game against Boston.
The Red Sox once scored 22 runs in a game (22-5 vs. Kansas City), Washington beat Detroit 20-1 and the Yankees once had 29 hits (against Boston).
The tease is over: Here is how the three-way tie at the top came about:
On September 18, the regular season’s final 10 days began with New York holding a ½-game lead on Detroit, a 2-game lead on Chicago and the schedule advantage. The Yankees had five of their final seven games at home and had to play only fourth-place Boston, seventh-place Washington and sixth-place Baltimore.
Detroit and Chicago had six games against each other, home-and-home, while the White Sox had a single game in Cleveland against the recently hot Indians and the Tigers had two at home against Kansas City.
September 18-20: The Yankees split two with Boston. After losing the first 10-0 to Frank Baumann’s 3-hitter, New York achieves a miraculous comeback in game two, scoring three in the 9th, and the final run on a pitcher’s error, to win 6-5.
Chicago, with the league’s best home record, but a losing record on the road, scores a stunning sweep at home vs. Detroit: 2-1, 4-1 and 2-1, as pitchers Shaw, Donovan, Billy Pierce and Staley all starred against the league’s top-scoring offense.
The Sox now trail the Yanks by just ½ game, but take a 34-39 away record on the road for their final four games. Detroit is seemingly devastated, now 2 back and in third with just five games to play.
September 22-24: After an off-day for everyone, the Yankees split two games in Washington. They lose the first to 19-game loser Pedro Ramos’ face-saving 2-hitter, his best outing of the year, and then barely win the second, 3-2.
In Cleveland, Wynn wins his 19th, 2-1 against the hottest starter in the league, Cleveland’s Jim Perry. Detroit batters KC twice, as Bunning wins his 17th and Paul Foytack wins his 18th.
Great finale ahead: Yanks and Sox now tied, with Detroit 1 back. Three games to play.
Friday, September 25:
In Detroit: Tigers 2, White Sox 0 … Big-eared lefty Don Mossi twirls a 2-hitter and carries a big bat, too: His two-run homer off Pierce’s card in the fifth inning provides all the scoring. This increases the likelihood of a three-way tie, especially when …
In New York: Orioles 5, Yankees 3 (in 10 innings) … After a tangle between Baltimore’s Jerry Walker and New York’s Whitey Ford, outfielder Bob Nieman smashes his 25th homer of the season against Yankees’ reliever Duke Maas in the extra frame.
We now have a three-way tie for first place with two games to play.
Saturday, September 26:
In Detroit: White Sox 6, Tigers 3 (in 10 innings) … Wynn throws a 3-hitter for 9 innings, then gets his 20th win while in the dressing room as the Sox score 3 in the 10th against Tigers reliever Tom Morgan.
In New York: Yankees 6, Orioles 2 … Mickey Mantle’s 23rd homer, a 3-run job in the 6th inning, is too much for the league’s worst offense to overcome.
We’re back to where we started the weekend: Yanks and Sox tied, Tigers one back.
Sunday, September 27:
In Detroit: Tigers 7, White Sox 2 … The game turns on one play, with two out in the 6th inning: Tigers catcher Lou Berberet hits a HR 1-6 / flyout 7-20 on Shaw’s card. Sox RF Harry Simpson tries to rob Berberet with a leap at the wall, but he’s a 4 and can’t come down with it. It’s a grand slam! Tiger relievers Ray Narleski and Morgan allow just one run over the final 5 innings to keep this one in check. The scoreboard-watching Tigers and Sox now pray for a miracle comeback by the Orioles, who are trailing in New York.
In New York: Orioles 7, Yankees 6 … The Yankees trash ERA-ace O’Dell, and seize a 6-1 lead after 3 innings. Two unearned runs in the 4th bring the Orioles back to 6-3, but it’s still that way in the 8th. With New York’s best bullpen men, Ryne Duren and Bobby Shantz fatigued, the Yankees called on Maas to relieve in the 6th. He retired the first seven O’s he faced and eight of nine. He had two out and one on in the 8th when he collapsed. He walked Gus Triandos and light-hitting OF Barry Shetrone to load the bases and pinch-hitter Fred Valentine stroked a two-run single on Maas’ card. Then pinch-“hitter” Joe Ginsberg tied the game with a very unlikely hit on his own card. In the 9th inning against Ralph Terry, the Orioles had two on, two out when Triandos reached first on a SINGLE 1-4. Yankee-nemesis Nieman followed with a run-scoring walk on his own card. In the bottom of the 9th, with relief ace Billy Loes already used, the Orioles call on Hal “Skinny”Brown for his first save of the season. He got the Yankees in scary fashion: With one out Mantle hit a ballpark homer chance (1-9) and missed it. Then Elston Howard hit a ballpark homer chance, but the chance for right-handed hitters in the spacious left field at Yankee Stadium is … Zero.
In the real 1959, the National League had a best-of-three playoff won in two games by the Dodgers over the Braves. But there’s never been a three-way tie and surely no time for a round-robin that could still leave the teams tied.
I decided it this way:
The Yankees split the season series with both the White Sox and the Tigers. The Sox beat the Tigers 14 games to 8. So after one day off, Detroit will play first at New York in a one-game bid to face the White Sox in Chicago, where one game will decide it all. This will keep the World Series on schedule and the AL winner will have been undefeated in the playoffs. (I thought about making the second series a best-of-three, but why shouldn’t the first-game loser also have that opportunity? And anything more than the two games now planned would force a reset of the World Series, which began Oct. 1, 1959.)
In the first game, it will be Don Mossi (13-9, 2.90, but 5-2 vs. New York) against Whitey Ford (at 13-8 the Yankees’ biggest winner), two lefties working the Yankee Stadium advantage against opponents who both fared much better against right-handers this season.
After another day off, the host Sox will live or die with their Cy Young winner, righty Early Wynn (20-12, 2.47), against either Detroit’s Jim Bunning (17 wins, 235 strikeouts) or New York’s Art Ditmar (his 2.60 ERA was the Yanks’ best) or Jim Coates (who started only 4 games, but was a remarkable 11-1, 2.76). Both Yankees pitched equally well vs. Chicago in the regular season. This probably depends on whether Coates is needed in relief against Detroit, and Casey Stengel is keeping everybody guessing.
DETROIT at NEW YORK
DETROIT 2, New York 0 … Don Mossi again comes up huge for the Tigers and again baffles the Yankees.
The Tigers manage just 4 hits, but the first – Al Kaline’s single with two out in the 5th vs. a wild Whitey Ford (4.2 IP, 8 W) scored the first run. Eddie “The Walking Man” Yost, who had walked an astonishing 150 times in the regular season, scored the run after getting one his three walks in this game and moving to second on one of Frank Bolling’s three sacrifices. In the 6th, Yost hit a sacrifice fly on a missed HR 1-12 on Don Larsen‘s card for other run.
Each team had stranded men in scoring position four times in the first 5 innings as Ford and Mossi worked out of trouble. But once he had a 2-0 lead, Mossi was at his best. He yielded only Bill Skowron‘s leadoff single in the 6th and Mickey Mantle‘s one-out single in the 8th. Both Mantle and Skowron missed ballpark home runs in this game at Yankee Stadium, which gives right-handed hitters no chance. At fatigue 8 to begin the 9th (135 pitches at that point) and on a short leash, Mossi got Elston Howard, Hank Bauer and Yogi Berra 1-2-3 on routine plays to complete his 7-hitter (3 walks, 6 strikeouts).
DETROIT at CHICAGO
DETROIT 4, Chicago 3 … The odds seem against the Tigers, who already have over-achieved, now have to win their second straight on the road, and do it against the league’s most dominant home team and its rested Cy Young winner, Early Wynn. The Tigers seemingly would need some breaks – and they get them in a 4-run 5th inning against Wynn. Later, the White Sox’ 9th-inning rally falls short.
In the first 4 innings, Tigers (twice) and Sox (3 times) repeatedly had men in scoring position with 0-1 out, to no avail. Tigers broke through in the 5th thanks to a succession of hits on low splits. With one out, Gail Harris singled and Jim Bunning, trying to bunt, went to 2 strikes before hitting a SI 1-6 on his own card. Eddie Yost walked to load the bases and Frank Bolling grounded out to second vs. a defense with corners in to plate the first run. Harvey Kuenn then hit a SI 1-2 to drive in the second run and Charley Maxwell hit a SI 1-4 to score the third. After an intentional walk to Al Kaline re-loaded the bases, Lou Berberet stroked a clean single that scored the fourth run, but Maxwell’s potential fifth run was dead on arrival on a lethal throw by LF Al Smith.
In the bottom of the 5th, Smith led off with a ballpark HR 1-6 vs. Bunning. A second run scored in the inning when Luis Aparicio, who had doubled, advanced all the way from second on a two-out wild pitch.
The game was scoreless after that until the 9th, as Pete Burnside entered to get the Sox 1-2-3 in the 8th and Turk Lown and Gerry Staley each threw two scoreless innings for the White Sox. Nine straight Sox had been retired starting the 9th, when the Tigers went to 18-game winner Paul Foytack for the save in his first relief appearance of the season. Sherm Lollar immediately singled and, with one out, Billy Goodman did, too. Foytack got Smith to hit into a force play at second, but pinch-hitter Earl Torgeson singled to make it 4-3 and put runners at 1st and 2nd. With the speedy Smith at second, Chicago fans hoped for a single by Aparicio, the only Sox hitter with 2 hits this day. But Little Luis hit a routine grounder to end the game.