(Note: Last year, I wrote "One Entire Season of Baseball From the 1970s," reviewing the 1971 season. My goal is to repeat the exercise every summer, selecting a different decade. We'll present the 1960s version Monday through Thursday this week, five teams at a time, introducing each team with salient figures from their season. Monday's entry is here.)
The Game Off the Field, 1965: The American League expanded from eight teams to 10 in 1961, adding the Los Angeles Angels and Washington Senators. The National League did the same in 1962, adding the Houston Colt .45s and New York Mets. This necessitated a change in schedule as well, as teams went from playing each opponent in an eight-team league 22 times (154 games in total) to playing each opponent in a 10-team league 18 times (162 games total).
Eleven of the 20 teams drew more than one million fans in 1965, led by the Dodgers (2.6 million), Astros (2.2 million), and Mets (1.8 million). The laggards were the Athletics (528,344; they would move from Kansas City to Oakland in three years), Braves (555,584 in their last season in Milwaukee), and Senators (560,083; they moved to Texas after the 1971 season).
Salary figures from this time were so incomplete they need to be taken with a 50-pound bag of rock salt, but the average payroll for the 12 teams for which there is data was $326,483, which equates to $2.5 million in current dollars. As of Opening Day this year, there were 386 players making more than the average 1965 team payroll adjusted for inflation. Baseball’s Reserve Clause, which bound players to teams in perpetuity, was still in effect, and the Supreme Court would uphold it seven years later in Flood v. Kuhn. It was overturned in 1975, leading to free agency and far better compensation for players.
Baseball’s amateur draft began in June of 1965. Prior to 1965, deep-pocketed teams were able to sign the best amateurs, creating long-running dynasties. (The Yankees, Mets, Dodgers, and Cardinals, all with substantial financial resources, voted against creating the draft.) The bidding war for Rick Reichardt, an outfielder who signed with the Angels for $205,000 in 1964, is seen as the catalyst for the draft’s creation. The first three players chosen in the inaugural draft were Arizona State outfielder Rick Monday, Montana high school pitcher Les Rohr, and Massachusetts high school pitcher Joe Coleman.
The 1965 National League First Division
5. Milwaukee Braves, 86-76: .882. The four most productive positions in the National League in 1965 (as measured by OPS) were Giants center fielders (primarily Willie Mays) at .971, Braves right fielders (primarily Hank Aaron) at .944, Reds right fielders (primarily Frank Robinson) at .900, Cubs third basemen (exclusively Ron Santo) at .890, and … Braves catchers at .882.
And no, this wasn’t an anomalous year in which catchers hit; National League backstops had a .681 OPS in 1965, besting only pitchers, shortstops, and second basemen. Joe Torre, who started 96 games for the Braves at catcher (and 46 more at first base), hit .291/.372/.489 and won a Gold Glove. His backup, Gene Oliver, started 58 games at catcher and 49 at first base, hitting .270/.336/.482.
The 1965 season was a career-year for the 30-year-old Oliver, who notched career-highs in hits, doubles, homers, runs, slugging percentage, OPS, and total bases. It was not a career-year for Torre, though. Today’s fans know Torre primarily for his role as Yankees manager and the guy in the commissioner’s office who suspends people. Back in the 1960s, though, he was one of the game’s bright young stars.
He finished second to the Cubs’ Billy Williams in the Rookie of the Year voting in 1961, when he was 20, and from 1961 to 1968 he hit .294/.356/.462 at a time when the National League averaged .252/.313/.375. He was an above-average hitter for 14 straight years, 1961 to 1974. Only eight of those seasons were with the Braves, however. In March of 1969, the Braves traded him to the Cardinals for first baseman Orlando Cepeda. Over the rest of their careers, Torre generated 25.6 WARP (23.3 with the Cardinals) while Cepeda tallied 8.9 (8.3 with the Braves).
4. Cincinnati Reds, 89-73: 8. Every regular position player for the Reds was an above-average hitter in 1965 (as measured by both OPS+ and TAv): Catchers Johnny Edwards and Don Pavletich, first basemen Gordy Coleman and Tony Perez, second baseman Pete Rose, third baseman Deron Johnson, shortstop Leo Cardenas, and outfielders Tommy Harper, Vada Pinson, and Frank Robinson.
The team’s .273/.339/.439 slash line led the majors in batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage. Since 1965, the only National League teams with above-average hitters at every position are the 1976 Reds, 1987 Giants, and the 2005 Reds. The team also had starting pitcher Jim Maloney, who was 12th in the league in innings (255 1/3), fourth in ERA (2.54), fifth in FIP (2.74), 14th in DRA (3.20), fifth in strikeouts (244), and had a 20-9 record.
So why did they finish fourth? Because their starters, despite Maloney’s heroics, had a 4.04 ERA, third-worst in the league, and the bullpen ERA of 3.53 was the league’s fourth worst. The team’s home, Crosley Field, was a hitter’s park, particularly for left-handed batters, but this was the league’s third-worst pitching staff adjusted for park, ahead of only the 1962 expansion Astros and Mets. Only two of the seven relievers with 25 or more innings had an ERA better than the league average of 3.33, and the Reds had only two starters who qualified for the ERA title, tying the Astros and Mets for fewest in the majors.
The Reds were also unlucky. They had the best run differential in the league, and their Pythagorean win-loss record of 93-69 was a game better than that of the first-place Dodgers and third-place Pirates. Their third-order record of 95-67 was five games better than the second-place Giants. Partly as a consequence of their bullpen, the Reds lost nine games that they led after seven innings. Only the Phillies, with 12 losses, fared worse.
3. Pittsburgh Pirates, 90-72: 4-14. The Pirates were third in the league in TAv, at .264, and had a better park-adjusted ERA than even the champion Dodgers. Roberto Clemente hit .329/.378/.463 and was eighth in the league in WARP. Right-handed starter Vern Law was 17-9 with a 2.15 ERA (third in the league) and lefty Bob Veale was 17-12 with a 2.23 FIP (second in the league).
They played .500 or better against eight of their nine National League opponents, including every team with a winning record. So why couldn’t they finish closer to Los Angeles than seven games? Because the ninth team was the 80-81 Cardinals, and the Pirates were only 4-14 against them. Only the lowly Astros (4-14 against the Braves, 3-16 against the Giants) and Mets (4-14 against Houston and Pittsburgh) could match Pittsburgh’s futility against St. Louis.
The team lost 27 one-run games all season; seven were against the Cardinals. Pirates pitchers had a 2.86 ERA against the rest of the league; it was 4.30 against the Cardinals. Pirates batters had a .703 OPS against the rest of the league; it was .665 against St. Louis. Clemente batted .182/.193/.182 against the Cardinals, striking out in 25 percent of his plate appearances, more than double his rate against the rest of the league.
Veale was hammered in five starts (0-3, 5.40 ERA) and Law, despite a 1.67 ERA against St. Louis, managed only a 1-3 record, with the Pirates scoring just four runs in his three losses. Give Pittsburgh an even record against the Redbirds and they’d have tied the Giants for second place. Add a couple more wins to that, and there would’ve been a three-game playoff for the National League championship.
2. San Francisco Giants, 95-67: 9. How do you have Willie Mays, in arguably his best season ever—.317/.398/.645, leading the league in homers, OBP, SLG, total bases, and TAv—and a pitching staff that was third in the league in ERA, fourth in FIP, and second in DRA, and still finish only in second?
This is how: Giants leadoff hitters had a .278 on-base percentage, ninth in the National League (barely avoiding last, as the Cubs were at .277). Similarly, Giants no. 2 hitters had a .267 on-base percentage, ninth (barely, the Mets were at .266) in the National League. For good measure, Giants no. 8 hitters had a .267 on-base percentage, also ninth in the league.
The Giants had three of the best hitters in the league that year: MVP Mays, first baseman Willie McCovey (.276/.381/.539), and third baseman Jim Ray Hart (.299/.349/.487). They ranked first, fourth, and 11th in the league in TAv. But shortstop Dick Schofield (.203/.272/.251) contributed nothing on offense, yet was the primary leadoff hitter (105 games started). The second spot in the order was filled for 112 games by Alou brothers Jesus and Matty, who combined for a .265/.285/.354 line.
So despite the contributions of Mays, McCovey, and Hart, the Giants, playing in a hitters’ park, managed just 4.18 runs per game, fourth in the National League.
1. Los Angeles Dodgers, 97-65: 1. Sandy Koufax’s 1965 rank in PWARP, our measure of overall pitcher value, was tops in not just the 1965 season but of all pitchers since 1950. Koufax has a complicated legacy—he pitched in only 12 seasons, was mediocre in half of them (4.10 ERA from 1955-1960, exactly equal to league-average adjusted for park and league), and benefited from pitching in a run-suppressing ballpark in a low-scoring environment. But there's no question of his dominance in his last six years (129-47, 2.19 ERA, 35 shutouts from 1961-1966), nor that 1965 was his finest season.
His 11.8 PWARP was more than two wins better than the runner-up, San Francisco’s Juan Marichal, with 9.5. Among ERA qualifiers, he led the majors in wins (26), complete games (27), winning percentage (.765), innings (335 2/3), batting average allowed (.179), on-base percentage allowed (.227), OPS allowed (.507), ERA (2.04), DRA (1.85), cFIP (52), and WHIP (0.86).
Yes, he pitched his home games at Dodger Stadium, which was the most run-suppressing National League park, and he was ridiculous there: 1.38 ERA, .420 OPS allowed, 33.1 percent strikeout rate, 6.7 K/BB, 0.71 WHIP. But his road numbers (2.72 ERA, .589 OPS allowed, 26.0 percent strikeout rate, 1.01 WHIP, 4.4 K/BB) all rank among the top six in the league as well. Koufax won his second Cy Young award, unanimously, back when there was one award for the majors, not one for each league.
And then there were the strikeouts. Koufax struck out 382 batters, obliterating the record of 349 set by Rube Waddell in 1904, setting a standard that’s been eclipsed only once in the 51 seasons since (Nolan Ryan, 383 in 1973). He struck out 29.5 percent of the batters he faced, the most ever at the time (and still the 35th-most in history) while walking only 5.5 percent, a 5.4 K/BB ratio that at the time was the sixth-best ever, trailing only Cy Young in 1904-1906, Christy Mathewson in 1908, and Walter Johnson in 1913.
This has nothing to do with Koufax, but the Dodgers led the majors with 97 position player sacrifice bunts. No other team had more than 67. First baseman Wes Parker led the majors with 19.
Tomorrow: The 1965 American League second division.