The real ‘Golden Age’ of Baseball
During the decade of the ’60s, our country appeared to be coming apart at the seems.
We nearly turned a cold war into a nuclear war over missiles in Cuba, we had a United States president and a civil rights leader assassinated, and a war began in Vietnam, which sparked protest and riots in city streets and on college campuses.
Generations clashed and were torn apart.
I was only a boy during the ’60s and although I was aware of all the radical change and chaos in our country, my life was consumed with baseball.
Every baseball fan has his or hers favorite decade, their Golden Age of Baseball. Mine, obviously, is the 1960s.
Despite all the chaos outside stadiums during the ’60s, baseball prospered like no other decade in its history.
Here’s my case.
Pitching and Power
No other decade had such a robust collection of great pitchers and great sluggers.
So many pitchers dominated during the decade. A total of 82 pitchers won 20 or more games a season, and one pitcher won 31.
St. Louis’ Bob Gibson, L.A. Dodgers’ Don Drysdale, Sandy Koufax and Detroit’s Denny McLain set several records during the decade.
Koufax won the Cy Young three times in four years and was just un-hittable.
One significant accomplishment was in 1968, as McLain went 31-6 (Dizzy Dean won 30 games in 1934), and no other pitcher since then has reached that mark.
With all that superb pitching, there were as many hitters who were able to have Hall of Fame level hitting performances year in and year out.
These were the hitters like Cincinnati Reds’ and Baltimore Orioles’ Frank Robinson, San Francisco Giants’ Willie Mays, Milwaukee Braves’ and Atlanta Braves Hank Aaron and Pittsburgh Pirates’ Roberto Clemente just to name a few.
From 1960 to 1969, Aaron led the major leagues twice in runs scored and three times in RBIs. He hit over .300 in eight different seasons during the decade and scored at least 100 runs in nine out of the 10 years.
A Hall-of-Fame Decade
A total of 53 Hall of Famers played in the 1960s, more than any other single decade in baseball history.
But let’s be honest, it was easier getting into the HOF when there were fewer players populating it.
During this decade, eight pitchers would eventually win 300 or more games during their careers. That is one-third of all the 300-game winners in major league history pitched in the ’60s.
The eight were Warren Spahn, Early Wynn, Steve Carlton, Nolan Ryan, Don Sutton, Phil Niekro, Gaylord Perry and Tom Seaver.
Prior to the decade of the ’60s, there were just four perfect games pitched in the major leagues since 1900. However, Jim Bunning (June 21, 1964), Koufax (Sept. 9, 1965) and Jim “Catfish” Hunter (May 8, 1968) pitched perfect games in the ’60s.
Last Triple Crown
It’s very difficult to win a Triple Crown (batting average, home runs, RBI). However, in the decade, Frank Robinson and Carl Yastrzemski did it back-to-back in 1966 and 1967. And no other player has even come close to winning the Triple Crown since, which has been 44-consecutive seasons.
Gibson and Lolich in the 1968 Series
Well, I hated it at the time, and it’s one performance I’ll never forget, but Gibson’s 17 strikeouts in Game 1 of the 1968 World Series was very impressive.
But my beloved Detroit Tigers rallied from a 3-1 deficit to win the Series as lefty Mickey Lolich picked up three wins and even beat Gibson in Game 7 on two days’ rest. Now that’s amazing.
Those Amazin’ Mets
The majority of sports fans believe the most astonishing outcome of any sporting event is the United States hockey team winning the gold medal in the 1980 Olympics.
For me, that’s a close second. My No. 1 astonishing outcome came in the fall of 1969 when the New York Mets stunned the heavily-favored Baltimore Orioles.
I guess you had to live through the Mets’ first few seasons to really appreciate how “amazin’” this championship was. But the 1968 New York Mets, which was only its seventh season, went 73-89 and finished ninth in the 10-team National League.
It didn’t exist in the 1960s
In my mind, baseball in the 1960s was near perfection as any game could get. Not only for the above reasons, but for what didn’t exist in the game.
There were no agents, no designated hitters, no steroids, no free agents, no over-paid players, no divisions, no wild card teams, no World Series games in November, and no player strikes.
That’s why the 1960s were so special to me. It was my “Golden Age of Baseball.”