(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 and Tuesday's entry is here.)
The 1965 Awards and Postseason: The 1965 MVPs were San Francisco’s Willie Mays, who topped Sandy Koufax in the National League, and Minnesota’s Zoilo Versalles, who finished ahead of teammate Tony Oliva in the American League. There was just one Cy Young award until 1967, and Koufax won it unanimously. The Dodgers’ Jim Lefebvre and Baltimore’s Curt Blefary were Rookies of the Year, easily. Mickey Mantle won the Hutch Award, Pittsburgh’s Vern Law the Lou Gehrig Memorial Award, and Koufax the Babe Ruth Award, to name three awards you probably didn’t know about that exist to this day. There have been years in which the voters pretty clearly screwed up the voting for the major awards; 1965 was not one of them.
The Dodgers won the 1965 World Series, 4-3. Minnesota won the first two games at home, 8-2 and 5-1. The Dodgers won their three games at Dodger Stadium by a combined 18-2. The Twins took the sixth game, 5-1, to tie the series. In the seventh game, Koufax allowed three hits and three walks, striking out 10, in pitching a shutout to win 2-0. Koufax didn’t pitch in the first game of the series, which conflicted with Yom Kippur. (Koufax pitched the next day, giving up two runs in six innings in a 5-1 Dodger loss, but pitched shutouts in Games 5 and 7.) Don Drysdale started the first game in his place, and allowed seven runs in 2 2/3 innings, prompting him to supposedly say to manager Walter Alston after the game, “Hey, skip, bet you wish I was Jewish today too.”
The American League Second Division
10. Kansas City Athletics, 59-103: 378. A’s relievers made 378 appearances in 1965, by far the most in the majors. Washington was second with 327. (Frame of reference: Every team this year has used more than 400.)
You might assume that Kansas City had poor starting pitchers, and you’d be right. Red Sox starters allowed the most runs per start in the league, 4.88, but the A’s were second at 4.66. A’s starters allowed the highest ERA, 4.30; allowed the highest DRA, 5.30; pitched the fewest innings per start, 5.5; had the fewest quality starts, 74; had the lowest average Game Score, 49; bequeathed by far the most runners, 271; got the fewest strikeouts, 13.3 percent of batters faced; and allowed the highest OPS, .744.
And the beleaguered bullpen wasn’t much better. We’ve calculated pitcher WARP going back to 1951, and the 1965 A’s pitching staff’s -15.2 WARP (yes, 15.2 wins below replacement) is the 14th-worst of 1,666 team seasons. Per WARP, the A’s second-best pitcher in 1965 was reliever Paul Lindblad, who pitched 7 1/3 innings in four games. The fourth-best pitcher was 20-year-old Blue Moon Odom, who pitched one inning. The fifth-best pitcher was Tom Harrison, who pitched one inning, his only inning in the majors. The sixth-best pitcher was Satchel Paige, who at age 58, made one three-inning gimmick start. The seventh-best was shortstop Bert Campaneris, who pitched one inning on September 8 when, in another stunt by owner Charlie Finley, he played all nine positions in a game.
9. Boston Red Sox, 62-100: 1. The Red Sox won just one game against the Twins in 1965. Their 1-17 record in head-to-head play is the worst in the 10-team era (1961-1968 in the AL, 1962-1968 in the NL). Even the execrable 1962 Mets, with their 40-120 record, managed at least two wins against every team; they were 2-16 against the Dodgers and Pirates. Other 2-16 teams were the 1962 Orioles against the Tigers, the 1963 Mets against the Dodgers, and the 1964 A’s against the White Sox. None matched the Red Sox’s futility against the American League champions in 1965.
The average game between the clubs finished with a 7-3 score. Boston lost the first two games of the season series, 17-5 and 9-7, before beating the Twins 2-0 on May 27. They dropped the next 15 games. Only one game was decided by one run.
The Red Sox had a .681 OPS against Minnesota compared to .733 in their other games, but the real problem was pitching. Boston did not have a good pitching staff. The team’s ERA of 4.24 was last in the American League, as was their .734 OPS allowed, though those figures are a shade better if adjusted for hitter-friendly Fenway Park.
Still, the Twins destroyed them. In their 144 games against the other eight AL clubs, Boston had a 3.96 ERA. Against the Twins, it was 6.59. They surrendered a .253/.319/.395 slash line against the rest of the league and .315/.384/.506 against Minnesota. Dave Morehead (1-4, 3.60 ERA in five starts) was the only Red Sox starter with an ERA below 7.50 against Minnesota. On the other side of the ledger, four Twins batted .400 against Red Sox pitching—catcher Earl Battey (.457) and outfielders Bob Allison (.411), Jimmie Hall (.408), and Tony Oliva (.403)—and shortstop Zoilo Versalles scored 21 runs and was 10-for-10 as a basestealer against Boston.
8. Washington Senators, 70-92: 28.2. That’s the average age of Senators hitters (28.4, weighted by at-bats plus games played) and pitchers (28.0, weighted by three times games started plus games and saves), the oldest in the American League. The next-oldest were the Twins, White Sox, and Yankees, at 28.0, 27.9, and 27.8, respectively. The former two were first and second in the league, while the latter was the defending AL champion. The Senators were, of course, neither.
Washington joined the league in 1962, along with the Angels. The two teams took different approaches to building their teams. The Angels were the youngest team in the league in 1965, with an average age of 25.7. The only regulars on the Senators who were younger than 25 were shortstop Ed Brinkman (23), a standout fielder who hit .185/.251/.257, third baseman Ken McMullen (23), who was legitimately good, leading the team with 5.7 WARP, and pitcher Buster Narum (24), who compiled a 4.46 ERA over 24 starts and 22 relief appearances in his second and last year as a major-league regular.
The Angels had three regulars younger than 25: Shortstop Jim Fregosi (23), third baseman Paul Schaal (22), and center fielder Jose Cardenal (21). Their top three starters were Fred Newman (23), Dean Chance (24), and Marcelino Lopez (21). Lopez finished second in the Rookie of the Year balloting and Chance won the Cy Young Award in 1964. The Angels’ commitment to youth beat out the Senators’ preference for veterans. From 1965 through 1971—the last year before the Senators moved to Texas and became the Rangers—the Angels were 539-594, a .476 winning percentage, with winning seasons in 1967 and 1970. The Senators were the worst team in the league, 501-625, a .445 winning percentage, with its 86-76 record in 1969 the lone winning season in the franchise’s 11-year history.
7. California Angels, 75-87: .363. Angels cleanup hitters slugged .363. The second-lowest slugging percentage for no. 4 hitters in the league was Minnesota’s .424, a full 61 points higher. Cleanup hitters for the Angels had the worst batting average (.229) and on-base percentage (.290) in the league as well. The team tried 16 different players in the cleanup position, giving most of the playing time to lefty Willie Smith (.262/.316/.437) and 37-year-old righty Joe Adcock (.224/.297/.344).
Cleanup hitters are supposed to provide power, but six teams’ leadoff hitters had a higher slugging percentage than California’s no. 4 hitters, as did two teams’ no. 2 hitters, every team’s no. 3 hitters, seven teams’ no. 5 hitters, six teams’ no. 6 hitters, two teams’ no. 7 hitters, and five teams’ no. 8 hitters. The Angels were a poor-hitting team; their .639 OPS was the worst in the league by 15 points. Angels leadoff hitters (primarily Cardenal) and no. 3 hitters (primarily Fregosi) out-slugged the cleanup hitters. Second baseman Bobby Knoop, who mostly batted eighth, seventh, second, and sixth, out-slugged Angels cleanup hitters.
While baseball players sometimes change their preferred name—think Mike Stanton becoming Giancarlo Stanton—the Angels in 1965 became the only team in recent memory to change their name midseason, switching from the Los Angeles Angels to the California Angels in September.
6. New York Yankees, 77-85: 1925. The Yankees’ losing record in 1965 was their first since they went 69-85 in 1925.
As you might imagine, the team’s streak of 39 straight winning seasons is unparalleled in major-league history. Going into the 1965 season, the Yankees had won five straight American League pennants, nine of 10, and 14 of 16. They wouldn’t win another pennant until 1976.
CBS purchased an 80 percent interest in the Yankees prior to the 1965 season. During CBS’ ownership from 1965 through 1972, the team went 636-649, finishing in the upper half of its league or division only twice.
Starting in 1965, four different teams other than the Yankees won the American League pennant over four years (Twins, Orioles, Red Sox, Tigers), the first time that had happened since 1904-1907 (Red Sox, A’s, White Sox, Tigers).
Tomorrow: The American League first Division.