Little Lefties

May 19, 2020
I’m kind of fond of lefties, though I don’t have that honor myself, except in the political sense, which no one wants to read about. I used to throw up a left-handed hook shot in b-ball that felt surprisingly natural to me, as a right-handed hook shot felt very clumsy, which taught me, in a small way, how illogically ingrained handedness is. I would try to maximize the use of my lefthanded hook shot, after a few minutes of shooting everything with my natural right hand, by surprising my opponent: with my back to the basket, I would lift my left elbow in an attempt to juke him into thinking I was moving to my left and putting up a shot with my right hand but then suddenly go the other way and hook it with my left hand.
 

This move was effective until my opponent glommed on to the fact that I oddly had a lefthanded hook shot. When it worked (once or twice) it was a good weapon. Of course, playing multiple games against the same opponent, I could count on that particular move being neutralized from the get-go, and in the case of my brother guarding me, with verbal derision. He would refer to that move as my "lame paw shot" and pay no attention, other than laughter, to my attempted fake-out.

My brother was, and is, a natural lefty, and as a teenager was a pretty talented pitcher. For a short time in our youths, long after I’d given up my own fantasies about being able to play baseball on any sort of advanced or even competitive level, I imagined that he could do well as a lefthanded pitcher. His ball had movement, and he had motivation and athleticism. We were both about the same size, 6’0" and 170 or so, so I could see him on the mound, with Bob Murphy, the late Mets’ broadcaster, referring to him as "the wily little lefthander from Brooklyn" someday.

Murph used to call Al Jackson, who just died last year, "the little lefthander from Waco, Texas," which is why that phrase occurred to me. Jackson was even smaller than my brother, going about 5’10", 165, but he was easily the early Mets’ most consistent and effective starting pitcher, holding most of the team’s pitching records until Tom Seaver came along—lifetime wins, shutouts, IP. He didn’t win often, but he threw a lot of good, gutty games against superior teams while backed by a terrible defense and a worse offense. I described the best of these, a 1-0 victory to beat Bob Gibson at the end of the 1964 season, when the Cardinals needed a win desperately; for some reason, I seem to be obsessed with the end of the regular season in 1964, when so many of the players’ lives and careers hinged on that one week: Bobby Shantz’s career ended, Gibson’s and Whitey Ford’s were about to enter a whole new phase, one up, the other down, Bill Wakefield’s and Ronnie Locke’s seemed just about to get underway.

There’s something touching about smaller players, especially on the pitching mound. Tiny middle infielders (Pedroia, Patek, Rizzuto, Altuve, Morgan) seem naturally suited for their position. (I’ve always thought that shortness is a desirable trait in an infielder—not needing to bend over at such an acute angle to catch grounders seems less stressful on the lower back. Never heard my theory voiced by anyone who knows anything, but I’m sticking to it.) Pitchers, however, need to manufacture force, and size is always equated with force, so tiny pitchers seem to be at a great disadvantage. Nonetheless, they sometimes succeed, and occasionally even throw hard—I’m thinking of Ron Guidry, a reed-thin guy who threw very hard and very well. Tim Lincecum and Tom "The Blade" Hall also come to mind.

Mostly, short pitchers rely on their wiles, and a variety of junk pitches, to outwit their adversaries.  The careers of three of them—Jackson, Bobby Shantz, and Ronnie Locke—coincided in the sense that they were all managed by Casey Stengel with very different results. You haven’t heard of Ronnie Locke, but he fits the pattern I’m describing, briefly a very effective, undersized lefthander.

You’ve heard of Bobby Shantz. For a brief time, he was a superstar, peaking with a Sandy Koufax/Ron Guidry/Doc Gooden-type season that would have won Shantz a Cy Young Award if they’d had them back in 1954, Shantz’s age 24 season. With the Philadelphia Athletics, Shantz went 24-7. Immediately afterward, he blew out his arm and was never half as effective again. Stengel picked him up cheap in 1956 and made Shantz a cog in his Rube Goldberg system of starters/relievers/pinchrunners  in the Yankees dynasty in the late 1950s.

He really had a remarkable career, even outside of the Koufax/Guidry/Gooden year, especially considering he stood only 5’6" and never weighed the 139 pounds he was listed at. Or maybe he did, wearing his spikes and glove. His glove was particularly heavy, being made out of gold: He won an E.R.A. title for Stengel’s Yanks in 1957, won 8 Gold Gloves (the first in both leagues in 1957, then three in the  AL from 1958 through 1960, and then four in the NL from 1961 to 1964, when he retired), and got MVP votes in three seasons, including 1954 when he won the damned thing.

Not a guy you hear a lot about anymore, as 24-game winners go, but obviously a really good pitcher in his day. He was acquired by Stengel to be used "exclusively as a relief pitcher," according to his SABR-bio, "but an injury to left-hander Whitey Ford forced him to use Bobby as a starter." (Through July 4, in 12 appearances and 102 IP, Shantz went 9-1 with a 2.21 ERA.) Ford of course was also a little lefty, not quite as little as Shantz, but far from an overpowering physical specimen. Stengel seemed to like little lefties, in that his most productive pitchers on both the Yankees and the Mets, Ford and Jackson, fit into that mode, which makes Ronnie Locke’s story ring a bit tinny.

What? You’ve never heard of Ronnie Locke? Interesting.

Like Shantz, he retired from MLB at the end of the 1964 season. Unlike Shantz, whose 16-year career started in 1949, Locke’s career also had begun in 1964, making him one of two Mets’ relievers whose careers began and ended in 1964. The other one was Bill Wakefield, whom I have written about several times, on this site and off it. Wakefield was unusually effective in that bumper year for rookies, which made it doubly fishy to me that he never again pitched in the major leagues, especially considering the atrociousness of the Mets’ pitching staff in those days, and the scarcity of good young Mets players in particular.

Wakefield was Locke’s roommate on the road in 1964, as it happens, and the two shared more than just their hotel room and their status as rookies: they both put up some promising numbers. Among Mets pitchers who appeared in at least 25 games, Locke and Wakefield finished with the lowest ERAs, 3.48 and 3.62, respectively and respectably. They were both healthy, both young (22 and 23), and both went on to pitch for years in the minor leagues.

Neither of the roommates, however, would be able to make the 1965 Mets squad, which, as I’ve written, just seems queer to me. Wakefield appeared, at this late stage of life, to be philosophical about his truncated career, but Locke, when I spoke with him, still seemed puzzled and anything but philosophical.

Locke lives on the west coast of Florida these days (during the winter months), in Fort Myers, where he has a job, at age 78, taking tickets for the Red Sox in their training camp at Jet Blue Park. "I asked them to be a batting practice pitcher, but they have guys to take that job," Locke said. "I still throw pretty decent. I do not throw 90 MPH, but I throw decent. I play in the Roy Hobbs baseball tournament every year. They have different age groups. It’s fun."

I had hoped to drive cross-state this winter (I’m living on the east coast of Florida these days) and speak to Ron Locke face to face, but Covid-19 has made the trip dangerous and stupid. The Sox also, of course, had to cancel their spring training, and every other reason I had for travelling to Fort Myers also got cancelled, but I did speak with Locke by phone last year. (He lives in his native Rhode Island during the summer, and when I was driving from NYC to Boston last August, I decided against stopping off to interview him at that time, figuring I’d save it for spring training.) Some of these quotes come from our phone conversation, and others come from an interview Locke did with "Baseball Happenings" (https://www.baseballhappenings.net/2018/10/ron-locke-shares-wild-tales-of-casey.html). According to the "Happenings" article:

Locke grew up in Rhode Island playing fast pitch softball as a left-handed third baseman and became an All-State baseball player in South Kingston. It was there where he caught the attention of Len Zanke, a Cincinnati Reds scout. At his urging, he auditioned in 1961 for their club in Jersey City.

"He said, ‘Go to Jersey City, Dave Stenhouse (another Rhode Island native) is down there. Just go and try it,’" Locke shared. "I pitched to their catcher on the side and he said, ‘You’ve got a good fastball; that thing really moves.’ So I go up in the stands and I’m talking to the head guy there and he asks, ‘How big are you?’ I said, ‘Maybe 5’9"-5’10", 158 lbs.’ Well he said, ‘We don’t sign anybody here under six feet.’ So I left."

So one curious fact about Locke is that he had claimed at age 19 to stand "Maybe 5’9"-5"10", " which sounds to me like someone slightly under 5’9" talking, but his official height according to Baseball Reference is 5’11". Few people grow after age 19, so I take this quote to mean that Locke soon learned that telling people his true height was deleterious to his baseball career. (He’s also listed at 168 pounds, not the 158 he claims above, but putting on ten pounds after age 19 has historical precedents.)  He was a little lefty, but he threw a good fastball, a real good fastball.

Why do I assert that? Because after being rejected by the Reds’ scout at 19, he was signed up by the Mets’ scouts when he was 20 in 1962 and had a phenomenal season for them, the best minor-league season I’ve ever heard of any Mets’ minor-league pheeenom having:

"The Auburn team was going for the championship," Locke recalled. "They said, ‘Go out and throw against those guys, see how you do.’ Man, they could not even touch me. The more I threw, the more confidence I got. They signed me that year. This was 1962."

Locke joined Auburn in 1963 and set the league on fire. His 18-8 record with 249 strikeouts in 217 innings earned him a New York-Penn League first-team selection, alongside future major leaguers such as Tony Conigliaro, George "Boomer" Scott, and Paul Casanova. Little did he know that with only one year in the minors under his belt that his next season would be in the major leagues.

"I was always a small guy, I was never a big guy you know," he said. "I just got there, looked at the field and said, ‘What am I doing here?’ I am looking at all these tall pitchers and saying, ‘My god.’ In this day and age, they probably would not have looked at me."

 

Better yet, this little shrimp impressed Stengel in spring training of 1964 and he took Locke north, along with Bill Wakefield.

As is well documented, Stengel really didn’t differentiate between starters and relievers. If you could do one, he figured, you could do the other. Given that record (or that religious conviction), it is not surprising that he put Locke (and Wakefield) in his bullpen, despite track records and success handling workhorse loads.  The even-tempered Wakefield accepted Stengel’s judgment, but Locke resented it at the time and still resents being stuck in the bullpen to this day:

 

"To me, [Stengel] was a wacko," Locke said during a phone interview from his Florida home in 2013. "I don’t know if he didn’t like me or didn’t know my name. I never knew what he was going to do."

 

The wacko part of all this is that Stengel, as noted, kinda LOVED little lefties—Shantz, and Whitey (5’10", 178) Ford and Al Jackson. Even keeping Locke on his big-league roster after one season in single-A ball betokens a certain kind of fondness for Locke’s type of pitcher, but you can understand Locke’s frustration at Stengel’s reluctance to give him a real shot at a rotation slot. Stengel thought of relievers as failed starters, or of starters as successful relievers. His method was to give young pitchers like Locke and Wakefield an occasional start and see if they were ready for that promotion. In 1964, he gave Locke 3 starts and Wakefield 4.

Both pitched worse in in starting roles than when they were relieving, which kinda makes you wonder why he didn’t keep them in 1965 and beyond in relief roles.  But you can’t blame Ronnie Locke for wanting to start some more games, given his previous success as a starter the year before. Three starts isn’t that many to show what you could do, and he pitched really well in two of them.

He beat the Astros (then the Colt .45s) on August 2, giving up 2 runs in 7 IP https://www.baseball-reference.com/boxes/NYN/NYN196408022.shtml , and his other two starts were against the World’s Champion Dodgers on May 20th and September 5th, both of which he lost although he threw another quality start (2 runs in 6 IP) in the May 20th game https://www.baseball-reference.com/boxes/LAN/LAN196405200.shtml .  Locke remembers that game pretty well: it was tied up 1-1 in the fourth, and he walked Big Frank Howard to begin the inning. That’s OK, he promptly picked Howard off first base. Except the Mets first-baseman misplayed the pickoff (Baseball Reference: "Howard Picked off 1B, safe on E3, assist to 1; Howard to 2B"). That’s OK, he got the next batter to hit a fly ball to his rightfielder, Joe Christopher, who misplayed it into a single, and Howard scored, and that was the game. (Oddly, that run was scored as earned, despite the E3. The guy who hit the single that drove Howard in also advanced on a passed ball, though he didn’t score, and the Mets’ shortstop also committed an error in the sixth inning which also didn’t figure in the scoring. Not a good day for the Mets’ defense, but not an atypical day either.)

To me, two out of three starts going well is a good sign, but to Stengel—well, who knows what he was thinking? Locke is still puzzled, trying to figure that one out.

"I liked Stengel as a person," he told me, "not as a manager." Here is where Locke’s account gets a little strange. According to him, some of Stengel’s coaches felt he deserved a better shot at a starting job than Stengel gave him. Stengel wanted him to change his "herky-jerky motion" and to change his pitch selection.

Stengel’s decision-making struck Locke, as it had struck others, as mercurial. "He would send Larry Elliot [briefly a left-handed hitting outfielder for the 1965 and 1966 Mets] up to hit against Koufax," Locke complained.  And Locke remembers a choice of Stengel’s to remove him from one game in mid-batter when he was doing well. "I had two strikes on Deron Johnson, and he came out to the mound," Locke remembered vividly. The game was one that I’ve described before—it was the first night game ever played at Shea Stadium, May 4th, 1964, and it was also Bill Wakefield’s first start. Locke had replaced Wakefield in the 5th inning, when two left-handed hitters were due up next, Vada Pinson and Gordy Coleman.  When Locke walked Pinson, Deron Johnson, a righty, pinch-hit for Coleman. Stengel did not replace Locke with a righthanded pitcher immediately, but let him get ahead of Johnson, 0-2.

"We were playing against Cincinnati … we’re losing four, or five-nothing, and he gets me up," Locke said. "Deron Johnson was the next guy up; I threw two fastballs right by him on the outside corner. I looked over [to the dugout], and here comes Casey. I said, ‘I hope he’s not taking me out of the game. … He is walking across waving his hand to bring the pitcher in. He taps me on the shoulder and says, ‘Good job boy. We’re going to bring in a right hander.’ I wanted to bury him right there. I had two strikes on him and he took me out in the middle of the at-bat. I just left the game, but I was some ticked off!"

Actually, the Mets were losing by 4-2 when Locke came into the game, the Reds having scored two quick runs off Wakefield to begin the fifth inning https://www.baseball-reference.com/boxes/NYN/NYN196405060.shtml , so I suspect Stengel didn’t have a righthander warmed up quickly enough to put him in the game when Johnson was announced as the pinch-hitter.

"I had two strikes on him," Locke told me 55 years later. "I was going to throw him a knucklecurve" but it was not to be.

"Most of the time I threw a rising fastball," he said in a phone interview. "They called me a small Sandy Koufax, I had a fastball and a good curve. The knucklecurve was my strikeout pitch, when I got two strikes on you, I threw it just like a fastball. I never relied on a catcher. If it was 3 and 2 and if I could throw the curveball for a strike, that’s what I would throw." Mets coach "Eddie Stanky liked me," he said, and while

Locke was never sure if Stengel could identify him in a police lineup, he did have the attention of their Hall of Fame coach, Yogi Berra. Watching Locke closely with his keen catcher’s eye, Berra saw similarities with a former MVP teammate who was also a tough little left-handed pitcher.

"Yogi Berra thought I was like Bobby Shantz," he said. "He would come over and say, ‘Ronnie, if I was managing here, you’d be pitching every four days until you prove you couldn’t pitch.’ That’s what I wanted to hear, but that’s not the way it worked out."

OK, some time-line issues here. Question: which team and which league was Yogi Berra in during Locke’s one year, 1964, in MLB? Hint: it wasn’t the Mets and it wasn’t the NL. By the next spring, when Berra was a coach (and briefly a player) with Stengel’s Mets,  and Locke was in spring training, trying to make the team, do you really suppose that Berra was running around camp, during his first few weeks on the job, undermining Stengel by suggesting openly to young discontented Mets players that Stengel was unappreciative of their talents and that he would treat them better if only he, and not Stengel, were managing the team? It couldn’t have been later than spring training that Berra and Locke had this tete-a-tete because when the season started, Locke went to AAA and Berra remained on the Mets’ coaching staff.

It’s not as if Berra would have a hard time reminding Stengel of Locke’s similarity to Shantz—the three of them had been Yankees together Stengel’s (and Shantz’s) four years, from 1957 through 1960.

So Locke didn’t make the cut, despite the strong objections of several Mets’ coaches. But how about the Mets’ pitching coach? Locke also has an explanation about the new pitching coach for why he didn’t make the team.   "Locke made an impressive bid during 1965 spring training to return up north with the big league club," says Baseball Happening, "but a late decision by Warren Spahn to hyphenate his coach title to player-coach, forced Stengel to make a move.  ‘I was there for most of 1965 [spring training],’ [Locke] said. ‘Then Warren Spahn came over and was going to be our pitching coach. That was fine with me; it was going to be Tug McGraw and me in the bullpen. All of a sudden, Spahn decides he wants to be pitcher and pitching coach, so one of us had to take a hike, so I unfortunately got the call.’"

"All of a sudden"? Last-minute sandbagging of Locke by Spahn? Not quite. According to the New York Times of the previous November (11/24/1964), Spahn had been purchased from the Braves specifically to be the Mets’ pitching coach, replacing Mel Harder, on the condition (Spahn’s) that he be assured of a slot in the Mets’ starting rotation. The headline to the announcement read "METS GET SPAHN AS PLAYER-COACH AFTER PROMISE TO USE LEFT-HANDER AS STARTER," which the article goes on to describe in detail, so all this stuff about Spahn’s "late decision…to hyphenate his …title" and "forc[ing] Stengel to make a move" late in spring training doesn’t ring remotely true.

And since Spahn was staking out a place in the starting rotation, Locke’s role in the bullpen scarcely seems threatened, whether Spahn claimed that job in November or March. (As I argued in "A Quality Start in 1965" https://www.billjamesonline.com/a_quality_start_in_1965/?AuthorId=23&pg=6, Spahn was by far the Mets’ top starter in early 1965, so he clearly deserved a spot in the rotation, anyway.) No, Stengel, for his own mysterious reasons, decided to send Ron Locke (and Bill Wakefield) to the minors immediately following impressive rookie records in the bullpen. Among those mysterious reasons, though, we can probably safely eliminate "personal animosity to little lefthanders," since Stengel had clearly established that if he were prejudiced in any way, he was biased in favor of little lefties, not against them, and he didn’t object to starting them, as evidenced by Shantz, Ford, and Al Jackson.

So why did this unusually savvy, experienced, successful group of baseball men—Stengel, Berra, Spahn and Stanky—opt to send their two most promising young pitchers down to the minor leagues, never to be heard from again?  This decision is particularly peculiar given that the pitching staff was uniquely poor (the Seavers and the Koosmans and the Gentrys were still unsigned, probably still un-scouted) and especially inept—it wasn’t as if Locke and Wakefield were looking to crack the pitching staffs of the Dodgers, Orioles, or White Sox of the mid-1960s.

We’ll probably never know the answers, but it is of interest that the reasons that Ronnie Locke offers—Stengel didn’t like small pitchers, Spahn needed his slot on the staff, Berra lacked the power to pull hard enough in Locke’s favor—don’t really add up. So this little lefty went to the minors, for reasons we and he will never know, instead of going on to Bobby Shantz-like glory, or even Alvin Jackson-like glory.  Ronnie Locke turned 78 years old this past April.

 
 

COMMENTS (14 Comments, most recent shown first)

DrewEck
Since when (even today!) is 6’0,” 170 little?!?
7:55 PM May 22nd
 
DavidHNix
I remember Ron Locke, of course because I had his card.

But surely any discussion of crafty wee lefties is incomplete without two Billys, Pierce and Wagner.
9:25 PM May 21st
 
bhalbleib
My favorite Little Lefty is Larry Gura, although BR lists him at 6 foot 170, which doesn't seem all that little, but KC's other lefty (Splittorff) was a big guy and Larry always seemed tiny in comparison. Larry got to pitch a lot against the Yankees in the ALCS. Whitey kind of had a fetish for starting lefties against the Yankees, especially in the Bronx, a fetish that probably helped the Bombers win the pennant in '77, where, during the ALCS, Whitey started his best starter, the right handed Dennis Leonard, once (a Game 3 CG gem); didn't pitch his third best starter, another righty, Jim Colborn, at all; and started Splittorff in Games 1 and 5, #4 Starter Hassler in Game 2 and #5 starter Gura in Game 4. Neither Hassler or Gura, despite their favored lefthandedness, pitched well at all in their starts.
4:21 PM May 20th
 
jfenimore
The early Mets organization was very concerned with drawing NL fans to their ballpark (they outdrew the Yankees in '64, despite the fact that the Yankees won the AL pennant), and did not go all-in with young players (as did the Colt 45s). They brought back plenty of ex-NL stars (Snider, Hodges, Spahn) who were far past their prime.
3:58 PM May 20th
 
bearbyz
Great article. Ah memories, it plays tricks on us all. I remember certain scenes from movies 20 years ago and when I watch the movies now they had gone and changed those scenes.
3:33 PM May 20th
 
Steven Goldleaf
Correct. Thought I'd nabbed that typo. Thanks.
1:31 PM May 20th
 
Poincare
Bobby Shantz won the MVP in 1952, not 1954. Yogi Berra won the 2nd of his 3 AL MVPs in 1954.
12:35 PM May 20th
 
Gfletch
I was just thinking...do MLB players even have roommates any more?

Do you think it hurt both Wakefield and Locke that they were roommates? Did they bitch about the way they were being used, reinforcing each other enough to have their opinions reach the the ears of Stengel?
10:36 AM May 20th
 
Steven Goldleaf
WTMons10--I know. There are a lot of flaws in Wakefield's and Locke's record. This piece was more of an obsessive fan's moaning over lost careers than it is purely an analyst's rendering of the careers they did have. I can't claim to be a smarter baseball man than Stengel, Berra, Spahn and Stanky. (I think Whitey Herzog was also a Mets coach around that time). They were there, they made the call. But I do have to question categorically the early Mets' tendency to go with veterans so much--what was the point there? To win (maybe) 55 games instead of 52? If it were me, I'da bent over triple-backwards to give young players every break I could. The funny thing about Locke's control (I didn't use the quote) is that was one of the things he pointed out as a strong point of his game. "I had good control," is what I think I had in my notes but couldn't find a place in the piece for.
7:33 AM May 20th
 
villageelliott
Somehow my comment was posted twice. I am gonna blame it on the upgrade in the site.
10:26 PM May 19th
 
villageelliott
"He didn’t win often, but (Al Jackson) threw a lot of good, gutty games against superior teams while backed by a terrible defense and a worse offense. I described the best of these, a 1-0 victory to beat Bob Gibson at the end of the 1964 season, when the Cardinals needed a win desperately,,," (From the Article.)

I clearly remember that game. It was a Friday night, first of three games, last series of the 1964 season. The Cards needed to win one of the three against the last place Mets to clinch the pennant. No problem to this thirteen year-old.

Shades of '34. Casey showed St. Louis the Mets were still in the League. It may have been the Old Professors' finest moment managing the Mets.

Al Jackson faced 18 game winner Bob Gibson, who, after the All Star break, had came of age and strapped the Birdies on his back, carrying the team towards their first pennant in eighteen years.

The Cards seemed to have already lit their cigars before the game and played tight. However Gibby hung tough, scattering eight singles and striking out seven with no walks while pitching through three errors before being lifted for a pinch hitter in the bottom of the eighth.

Jackson was better, a five hit, one walk/two strike-out complete game-of-his-life shutout.

The only run of the game was scored in the third inning. With one out, left fielder George Altman singled, stole second, took third on a ground-out and scored on Ed Kranepool's two-out bingle.

The Cardinals and all of St. Louis were stunned. The standing at the end of the game:

Cards 92-68 ___
Reds 92-69 0.5
Phils 91-70 1,5

In a great stroke of fate, the Phils were in Cincinnati. Curiously, they were off on Saturday. The Cards were off, too, as the Mets whooped 'em, 15-5.

The Standings entering Sunday:

Cards 92-69 __
Reds 92-69 ___
Phils 91-70 1.0

The Cardinals were desperate. They had to win to at least force a three game playoff. If they lost and Reds won, elimination. If both they and the Reds won there would be a three game playoff for the pennant. If they both lost, there would be a three-way playoff with Both the Reds and the Phils .

On Sunday, Gibby came out of the bullpen to nail down the pennant when the Phillies who beat the Reds, tied for second.

Final Standings
Cards 93-69 ___
Phils 92-70 1.0
Reds 92-70 1.0

PS: In another of those Baseball Coincidence that only We True Fans Appreciate, George Altman, who scored the only run in Jackson's shut-out, had been traded by the Cardinals to the Mets for Roger Craig during the previous off-season. To sweeten the pot, the Cardinals threw in a little lefty who had been bouncing around the bushes since they signed him out of Stanford U three years earlier, Bill Wakefield.

10:24 PM May 19th
 
villageelliott
"He didn’t win often, but (Al Jackson) threw a lot of good, gutty games against superior teams while backed by a terrible defense and a worse offense. I described the best of these, a 1-0 victory to beat Bob Gibson at the end of the 1964 season, when the Cardinals needed a win desperately,,," (From the Article.)

I clearly remember that game. It was a Friday night, first of three games, last series of the 1964 season. The Cards needed to win one of the three against the last place Mets to clinch the pennant. No problem to this thirteen year-old.

Shades of '34. Casey showed St. Louis the Mets were still in the League. It may have been the Old Professors' finest moment managing the Mets.

Al Jackson faced 18 game winner Bob Gibson, who, after the All Star break, had came of age and strapped the Birdies on his back, carrying the team towards their first pennant in eighteen years.

The Cards seemed to have already lit their cigars before the game and played tight. However Gibby hung tough, scattering eight singles and striking out seven with no walks while pitching through three errors before being lifted for a pinch hitter in the bottom of the eighth.

Jackson was better, a five hit, one walk/two strike-out complete game-of-his-life shutout.

The only run of the game was scored in the third inning. With one out, left fielder George Altman singled, stole second, took third on a ground-out and scored on Ed Kranepool's two-out bingle.

The Cardinals and all of St. Louis were stunned. The standing at the end of the game:

Cards 92-68 ___
Reds 92-69 0.5
Phils 91-70 1,5

In a great stroke of fate, the Phils were in Cincinnati. Curiously, they were off on Saturday. The Cards were off, too, as the Mets whooped 'em, 15-5.

The Standings entering Sunday:

Cards 92-69 __
Reds 92-69 ___
Phils 91-70 1.0

The Cardinals were desperate. They had to win to at least force a three game playoff. If they lost and Reds won, elimination. If both they and the Reds won there would be a three game playoff for the pennant. If they both lost, there would be a three-way playoff with Both the Reds and the Phils .

On Sunday, Gibby came out of the bullpen to nail down the pennant when the Phillies who beat the Reds, tied for second.

Final Standings
Cards 93-69 ___
Phils 92-70 1.0
Reds 92-70 1.0

PS: In another of those Baseball Coincidence that only We True Fans Appreciate, George Altman, who scored the only run in Jackson's shut-out, had been traded by the Cardinals to the Mets for Roger Craig during the previous off-season. To sweeten the pot, the Cardinals threw in a little lefty who had been bouncing around the bushes since they signed him out of Stanford U three years earlier, Bill Wakefield.

10:24 PM May 19th
 
W.T.Mons10
Locke and Wakefield both had much higher FIPs than ERAs with the 1964 Mets. Locke walked more batters than he struck out, and that was with the big strike zone.
9:22 PM May 19th
 
abiggoof
Good stuff. The stories passed around, even by those in the know containing truth or truth of a sort, often raise questions when examined.

Just a minor point, BTW, it’s South Kingstown, RI. For reasons nobody knows, college programs and media outlets (even the AP) always get it wrong: It’s Kingston, West Kingston, North Kingstown and South Kingstown. I worked from 2000-12 at a small newspaper abutting the town of South Kingstown, which includes Kingston and West Kingston. None of the history-minded individuals I know ever indicated it was different at any point in the 20th century, which would have been relevant to many stories we discussed.
6:43 PM May 19th
 
 
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