SI Vault
A most happy season
Les Woodcock
October 05, 1959
Major league baseball put on a smash show in 1959 with two thrilling pennant races
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font
October 05, 1959

A Most Happy Season

Major league baseball put on a smash show in 1959 with two thrilling pennant races

View CoverRead All Articles View This Issue
1 2


Last spring, knowing baseball men said that the slick-fielding Chicago White Sox couldn't possibly win the pennant unless they added some power. Well, the Sox hit even fewer home runs in 1959 than they did in 1958 (and they were dead last in the league both seasons). The pennant-winning difference was the White Sox pitching staff. It developed into the best in baseball. For the first time Chicago had, in Turk Lown and Gerry Staley, two thoroughly reliable relief pitchers.

The Cleveland Indians, on the other hand, were loaded with power (first in home runs and runs scored). But their pitching was upset when Herb Score failed to come back (9-11) after two seasons of injuries. An inability to beat Chicago (7-15) killed whatever chances they had.

The New York Yankees were just another team fighting to make the first division. All the hitting, pitching, defense and depth that were supposed to make the Yanks invincible once again, vanished when the season started. The big three of Ford, Turley and Larsen slumped from last year's 44-20 record to 30-28. Mantle & Co. were led in batting by singles-hitting Bobby Richardson. There were no bright young replacements to step right up when Skowron was injured and veterans like McDougald and Bauer slowed down.

The Detroit Tigers obtained Yost, Bridges, Mossi and Narleski in preseason trades, and that made a lot of people feel that this team of talented individuals might win a pennant at last. But a horrendous 2-15 start killed their chances and cost Manager Bill Norman his job. The well-seasoned Jimmie Dykes took over and hustled the Tigers to within a half game of first by mid-June. Then they spent the rest of the year playing sub-.500 ball and barely made the first division. The Tigers had no trouble scoring runs. However, the touted pitching staff never did come through.

It was the worst of times for the Boston Red Sox. Ted Williams became a part-time .250 hitter; Mike Higgins started the season as manager and Billy Jurges finished it; every other team in the league increased its attendance except the Sox.

The Baltimore Orioles finished ahead of two other teams only because of their wonderful pitching. Here was a ball club that could neither hit nor score (seventh in batting and homers, last in runs), and—surprisingly for a Paul Richards team—couldn't field, either. Still, the Orioles managed to hang in third place most of the season. Hoyt Wilhelm won his first nine games, and Gus Triandos bashed 20 home runs by All-Star Game time. But Wilhelm was 6-11 the rest of the year and Big Gus, hampered by injuries and the frustration of chasing Wilhelm's knuckler, hit only five more homers.

The Kansas City Athletics had a high team batting average, but it didn't mean much. They got the men on base, but they couldn't get them home. Weak pitching (worst ERA in majors) and injuries to key players—Maris, Tuttle, Cerv, Chiti—further ruined the A's chances for a more respectable showing.

The Washington Senators had quite a season for a last-place ball club. For half the year they were the glamour team of the League. Home runs flew out of Griffith Stadium. An obscure bonus player named Harmon Killebrew hit so many homers he was voted the All-Star third baseman. The Senators moved up to fifth place. Then the home runs stopped. The Senators had nothing else to sustain them (last in batting, last in fielding). They lost 18 in a row and fell into the cellar.

[This article contains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]

1 2