1959 Washington Senators
Manager: Cookie Lavagetto 3rd Season (3rd with Washington 175-269-2)
63 W 91 L 619 RS 701 RA 8th AL 31 GB (Chicago 94-60-2)
4.02 RPG (AL = 4.36) 4.01 ERA (AL = 3.86)
.704 DER (6th AL)
Though Calvin Griffith had promised for years that the product on the field would look different, 1959 was the first year in a while where it looked to Washington fans like the team might turn the corner. Several surprised worked together the make the team look like a contender early in the season. The greatest factor was the emergence of several young players. Camilo Pascual had his best season as a pitcher, but the biggest change came from the batting lineup.
Harmon Killebrew and Bob Allison, both in their first full seasons as major leaguers, helped the club to make an assault on the all-time single-season home run record. The two new faces joined established power hitters Jim Lemon and Roy Sievers to be dubbed Washington’s version of “murderer’s row.” The four sluggers led the way as the Nats made a run at the AL lead in home runs for the first time in franchise history. By mid-July, the 1959 team set the Washington franchise record for home runs in a season with 121. They were on pace to win the AL race late in the season, but fell off slightly to end the season with a total of 163 home runs, four fewer than Cleveland’s total.
Despite all of the home run buzz, the Nats were unable to stay in the pennant race, and were a disappointment at the gate. For the third time in five years, Calvin Griffith announced his intentions to move the team to Minneapolis. Once again all of the familiar faces lined up to block the move, puzzling Griffith who had watched as the Braves, A’s, Dodgers, Giants, and Browns had all moved in the last decade with little to no legal struggle. When Griffith learned that he would likely not have the approval of six owners, the number necessary to approve the move, he formally rejected the Minneapolis offer without a formal vote of AL owners.
It appeared as though only two owners would vote with Griffith, the other five apparently had been swayed by commissioner Ford Frick’s opposition to the move. Frick did not want to see a team leave an established city, particularly with expansion on the table for 1961. In the same meetings that Griffith did not ask for a formal vote, it was decided that the Twin Cities area, along with Los Angeles, were the two top candidates for an expansion team.
In December, the Cincinnati Reds made an offer to Griffith that he turned down. The reported deal would have been Killebrew and Pascual for $1 million. The Nats will play in Washington for now, and will do so with both Pascual and Killebrew on the roster.
All Stars (5*) Bob Allison, Harmon Killebrew, Camilo Pascual, Pedro Ramos, Roy Sievers
*there were two All Star Games played in 1959, bold players were selected to both.
Franchise (1901-1959) 4141-4783-104; 8-11 WS
Bold = Player new to Washington in 1959
C Hal Naragon .241/.272/.277 0 HR -1.4 BFW 2 WS 4 FRAR -0.4 WARP3
C Clint Courtney .233/.308/.296 2 HR -1.9 BFW 3 WS 0 FRAR -0.2 WARP3
Naragon came to Washington in a May trade that sent 35-year-old backup catcher Ed Fitz Gerald to Cleveland. A career backup himself, Naragon went on to hold the regular catching job for the bulk of the season, the only time that will happen in his career. In 1960 the team will make a deal for a young catcher named Earl Battey, who Naragon will back up for the rest of his playing career. Due to Battey’s arrival, Courtney will become expendable and is traded to Baltimore for Billy Gardner before the 1960 season begins.
1B Roy Sievers .242/.333/.455 21 HR 0.7 BFW 12 WS 1 FRAR 2.5 WARP3
Sievers was a hot commodity in the off season before 1959, but Calvin Griffith held on to the slugger. Injuries contributed to an awful year for the slugger, and the emergence of Killebrew and Allison as power threats made him more expendable following the season. In the spring of 1960, Sievers was traded to the White Sox for Earl Battey, Don Mincher, and cash. It is entirely possible that Griffith got less value in the deal because he waited a year to move Sievers, but the trade will work out for both teams. Sievers spent six seasons in Washington and departed as the franchise’s all time home run leader, a mark that will soon be surpassed by Harmon Killebrew.
Career w/ Washington: 6 Seasons .267/.359/.500 134 OPS+ 180 HR 29.7 WARP3
Sievers will have two very good seasons in Chicago before being traded to Philadelphia. He’ll end his playing career with the expansion Senators in 1965.
2B Reno Bertoia .237/.302/.347 8 HR -1.2 BFW 5 WS 10 FRAR 1.2 WARP3
2B Ken Aspromonte .244/.321/.324 2 HR -0.7 BFW 4 WS 6 FRAR 0.9 WARP3
Bertoia came from Detroit in the Eddie Yost deal and was the primary second baseman for Washington. The Italian-born Bertoia held the job down until July, when Aspromonte was installed due to a hot bat and a slump for Bertoia. Aspromonte was also considered more valuable in the field by management, who considered third base to be Bertoia’s true position. The two were basically flip-flopped in the second half of the season in hopes that one would break out. It didn’t really happen for either. Aspromonte was traded to Cleveland early in the 1960 season and had his career best year there, while Bertoia stayed in Washington and was moved to third base.
SS Billy Consolo .213/.332/.267 0 HR 1.3 BFW 5 WS 25 FRAR 2.9 WARP3
SS Ron Samford .224/.262/.342 5 HR -0.6 BFW 3 WS 13 FRAR 1.1 WARP3
Samford was another product of the Yost trade. He was installed as the opening day short stop and pretty much held that job until late June when Consolo, who came in a June trade with Boston, was given a chance start. Consolo performed very well in the field, but his bat was a different story. Samford was out of the majors after hitting a home run in his last official major league at-bat on September 7. Consolo stuck around Washington to play a backup role in 1960. The franchise got a glimpse of its future in when Consolo went down with an injury in early August. In his place, the club brought up a 19-year-old Cuban named Zoilo Versalles.
3B Harmon Killebrew .242/.354/.516 42 HR 2.4 BFW 23 WS 13 FRAR 6.9 WARP3
Five years after being signed as a bonus baby, Harmon Killebrew finally got his chance to be a starter by order of Calvin Griffith. He made the most of what might have been his last chance to play major league baseball with an outstanding season. By early summer, the Killer was the talk of Washington. Herb Heft wrote this in a May issue of The Sporting News:
Killebrew had exhibited Mickey Mantle-like power from the time he first donned a Washington uniform at the age of 17. But he was prone to swipe at bad balls, he seemed to heavy around the hips, and to have bad hands and a scatter arm.
After four earlier trials with the Senators and three fair seasons at Charlotte (Sally) and Chattanooga (Southern), Harm has become and assured, relaxed performer… Some of the more romantic Senator fans were looking to Harm as the “Joe Hardy” of “Damnyankees” fame, come to deliver the Senators, at last, from the depths of the second division.
Killebrew finished his first full season tied with Rocky Colavito for the AL lead in home runs with 42.
LF Jim Lemon .279/.334/.510 33 HR 1.0 BFW 19 WS 13 FRAR 5.9 WARP3
In 1959 Lemon continued to be one of the most under appreciated talents in franchise history. High strikeout totals and the performance of Roy Sievers overshadowed Lemon’s very good seasons between 1956 and 1958. In 1959, his best season so far, Lemon was relegated to being listed fourth among the Washington “murder’s row” of Killebrew, Allison, Sievers, and Lemon. He was able to grab a bit of the spotlight late in the season, however, when the other three big bats were slumping. On September 5, Lemon hit two home runs and knocked in seven runs in a 14-2 Washington victory over Boston. He hit .333/.373/.667 with 7 HR from that day on, the final 20 games of the season.
CF Bob Allison .261/.333/.482 30 HR -0.1 BFW 18 WS 2 FRAR 4.3 WARP3
For the second straight season the American League Rookie of the Year was a member of the Washington Senators. Allison actually took the job of the prior season’s winner, Albie Pearson, who was traded early in the season. Prior to signing with the Twins, Allison played fullback for the University of Kansas football team. At 6’4″ 220 lbs he was an intimidating player, and was identified by trainer Doc Lentz, who had been an athletic trainer for 31 years and worked for both the Senators and the Redskins, as the strongest athlete Lentz had ever seen. Allison was well liked by his teammates and was called up to the majors despite mediocre numbers in the minor leagues. It paid off for the Senators, however, who were able to piece together one of the most feared lineups in the league thanks to Allison’s performance.
RF Faye Throneberry .251/.322/.388 10 HR -0.8 BFW 8 WS 2 FRAR 1.3 WARP3
Throneberry came from Boston in a 1957 trade, but didn’t crack the starting lineup until 1959. In 1960 he was a backup again, and was left unprotected for the expansion draft after that season.
OF Lenny Green .242/.314/.316 2 HR -0.7 BFW 3 WS 4 FRAR 0.5 WARP3
Green came to the Senators from Baltimore in exchage for 1958 rookie of the year Albie Pearson, who lost his job to Bob Allison.
1B/PH Julio Becquer .268/.296/.382 1 HR -0.7 BFW 3 WS 3 FRAR 0.6 WARP3
Becquer had his busiest- and best- season to date in 1959.
SP Camilo Pascual 17-10 2.64 ERA 1.14 WHIP 4.7 PW 24 WS 11.4 WARP3
Though Pascual’s biggest improvement came between 1957 and 1958, his win-loss record caught up to his other numbers in 1959, meaning that he finally got the attention that he deserved. Manager Cookie Lavagetto attributed Pascual’s success to a new found control, not just of his curve ball, but of his temper. Lavagetto suggested that when Pascual got angry, he would attempt to throw a fastball by the hitter, often ending in a home run allowed. Just three years removed from a then franchise record in home runs allowed, 33 in 1956, Pascual allowed just 10 long balls in 1959. Pascual’s previous temper was also often directed at teammates who made errors in the field. Perhaps illustrating his new attitude, when asked about a Killebrew error in the middle of the 1959 season, Pascual replied “Killebrew fumbled the ball but he hit plenty of home runs for me!” Pascual led the AL in complete games (17) and shut outs (6), including a three-hit, nine strikeout performance against the Kansas City A’s on September 15.
SP Pedro Ramos 13-19 4.16 ERA 1.22 WHIP -0.9 PW 10 WS 4.1 WARP3
Ramos led the AL in losses for the second straight season in 1959. Though his numbers certainly weren’t great, they weren’t as bad as his record looks either. Ramos was also responsible for starting one of the most violent brawls in recent memory. In a May 3 game against the Indians, Ramos, who had been a victim of a Billy Martin two-run home run earlier in the seventh inning, threw at least three pitches inside to Jimmy Piersall. After the final brushback, Piersall began to walk to the mound threatening Ramos with his bat. The umpires and managers scurried to the mound to diffuse the situation, which looked to be under control when Piersall started walking back to the batter’s box. That is when the brawl began, initiated by Cleveland manager Joe Gordon who would not back down. Piersall turned to see his manager in a fist fight with the opposing pitcher. That touched off several fights between different players around the field, and ended up in some heavy fines. Ramos didn’t back down despite being ejected and fined, saying after the game of Piersall “Lucky for him he didn’t touch me with the bat. If he did, I’d throw the ball between his eyes.”
SP Russ Kemmerer 8-17 4.50 ERA 1.42 WHIP -1.4 PW 7 WS 3.0 WARP3
SP Bill Fischer 9-11 4.28 ERA 1.36 WHIP -0.5 PW 8 WS 3.5 WARP3
Kemmerer and Fischer rounded out the starting rotation in 1959. Both were traded away during the 1960 season. Fischer was a former Marine drill instructor whose control on the mound was such that in 1962 with the Kansas City A’s he established a new major league record by going 84 1/3 consecutive innings without allowing a walk.
RP/SP Hal Griggs 2-8 5.25 ERA 1.59 WHIP -1.5 PW 1 WS 0.5 WARP3
The 30-year-old Griggs struck out just eight while walking 52 in just short of 100 innings pitched. This will be his last major league season.
RP Tex Clevenger 8-5 3.91 ERA 1.41 WHIP 0.5 PW 9 WS 4.2 WARP3
This was Clevenger’s best season in a Washington uniform. He was the most reliable member of the bullpen in 1959, serving as the team’s ace reliever for much of the season.
RP Chuck Stobbs 1-8 2.98 ERA 1.17 WHIP 0.5 PW 7 WS 2.6 WARP3
Stobbs returned to Washington after a brief stint with St. Louis at the end of the 1958 season. He will finish his career with the franchise, retiring after the 1961 season.
RP Dick Hyde 2-5 4.97 ERA 1.53 WHIP -0.8 PW 2 WS 0.8 WARP3
Hyde was a hot commodity on the trade circuit due to his success in 1958. Griffith was able to play the Yankees and the Red Sox to get maximum value for Hyde in a mid-June trade. Unfortunately, Hyde’s arm problems had already surfaced and the Red Sox sent him back to Washington complaining that they had been given a “sore-armed” pitcher. Hyde stuck around Washington for the rest of the year, but played mostly in the minors before he was purchased by Baltimore in the middle of the 1960 season. He retired after 15 games with the Orioles in 1961.
RP Hal Woodeshick 2-4 3.69 ERA 1.54 WHIP -0.3 PW 2 WS 0.4 WARP3
Woodeshick came from Cleveland with Naragon in the Fitz Gerald deal early in the season. He’ll play a prominent role in the Washington bullpen in 1960, and stayed in Washington for the 1961 season after he was drafted by the new Senators in the expansion draft.
1959 World Series
It took the Dodgers 55 years to bring a World Series title to Brooklyn, but they delivered one to Los Angeles in just their third season on the coast, a six-game victory over the Chicago White Sox.