Jan 29, 2013

Wondrous Seasons of the Past: Dick Groat in 1960

(Note: I know this is a 1956 Topps card and not a 1960 Topps card, but they're both horizontally oriented)

Which team was probably the most unlikely World Series winner of the 1960s?  The 1960 Pirates might qualify (if it weren't for those Miracle Mets of '69).  Imagine, you know you are a good team; you did just win the NL pennant after all, and yet your opponent is the Yankees.

I'm sure just coming out of the '50s that the Yankees were considered a version of baseball royalty.  They had won championships 6 times in the last 10 years, and made it to the World Series 8 of the last 10 years.  They had the top star in the AL in Mickey Mantle, a tour de force who had not had a season with a less than 150 OPS+ since 1953.  They had the reigning AL MVP in Roger Maris and also Yogi Berra lurking as a utility player.

We know the rest of the story.  The Yankees outscore the Pirates something like 55-27 in the World Series and lose the a crazy back and forth 7th game until Bill Mazeroski led off the bottom of the 9th with a home run off Ralph Terry.  This was the first World Series in which someone from the losing squad won MVP honors (Bobby Richardson with a then-Series record 12 hits).

Dick Groat was a not a major participant during this World Series.  He only had a .500 OPS overall....the Yankees did beat the Pirates with two shutouts after all.  He did score the tying run in the bottom of the 8th on Hal Smith's 3 run home run, ultimately putting the Pirates ahead 9-7 in the 7th game, the play that had the highest change in win probability.  His single that inning originally decreased the deficit from 7-4 to 7-5 before all the theatrics really ensued.

But that's not really what Dick Groat is remembered for that year.  He was the NL MVP after all.  He did not lead the Pirates in any major categories except sacrifice hits and batting average, but he had an all-around spectacular year.  He hit .325/.371//.394 (115 OPS+) with 2 HR and 50 RBI.  That batting line seems sparse, but for a shortstop during that time period, it was pretty big.

Statistically, he finished 8th in overall Wins above Replacement (WAR), 1st in Defensive WAR,  1st in batting average, 3rd in hits, 1st in range factor/game, and 2nd in fielding percentage for a shortstop.

Intangibly, he was the captain of the team with the best record of the NL.  He also was the Lou Gehrig Memorial Award winner as baseball man of the year.

Here is what Dick Groat said about that magical year of 1960. “We had such a phenomenal year, we didn’t think anyone could beat us,” he said. “We’d come from behind 40-some times from the seventh inning on. That becomes contagious. You pretty much believe you’re not supposed to lose.”( Reference: www.baseballsavvy.com).

 So, as one of the statistical leaders and the ultimate intangible leader and tablesetter on the winning team of 1960, he truly had a wondrous season.

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