Andrew Benintendi’s link to the of promise on the 1961 Red Sox
Andrew Benintendi has departed Boston and the ladies of Red Sox Nation are weeping his departure. Good looks are certainly a plus and if Benintendi’s bat matched his looks the lefty hitter with the sweet swing would still be here. The Red Sox simply cut their losses.
Benintendi is not alone in Red Sox or baseball lore of players who never reached the level of performance predicted. Of course, at 26 years old, Benintendi has a long way to go before this number one pick is stamped as a baseball failure. I will now take a step back – a very long step – to 1961 and players who faded despite such promise. And just how that may be connected to the Benintendi trade.
A towering right-hand pitcher won the 1961 Rookie of The Year Award (ROY). Don Schwall was a master of the sinkerball and it reflected in his statistics with a league-best 0.4 HR/9. For his seven-year major league career that was consistent given finishing with a remarkable 0.6 HR/9. Then comes the downside.
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When you mention the downside with pitchers the most notable ingredient is control. Schwall posted a 5.5 B/9 against a 4.6 K/9. When you are forced to toss it down Broadway it may not leave the park, but it can leave outfielders roaming the grounds to collect nasty extra-base hits. Schwall finished the season 15-7 and despite the warning flags, success was anticipated.
In 1962, Schwall fell apart going a near reverse at 9-15. His earned run average increased from 3.22 to 4.94. And those walks! The final was a 6.0 BB/9 and a 4.4 K/9. Traded to the Pirates, Schwall never put the talent back on the tracks and was finished with a career 49-48.
Schwall had internal competition for ROY with second baseman Chuck Schilling. Schilling was a smooth fielder who had a respectable sting in his bat hitting .259 for the 1961 season. His glovework forced the sensible move of sending Pete Runnels to first base. Schilling finished third in the balloting for ROY, but became the Red Sox MVP. Good things lay shear.
In 1962, a curse hit in the form of a wrist injury. That altered Schilling’s MLB career as his average dropped. By 1964, the Red Sox had Dalton Jones and Felix Mantilla at second. After the 1965 season, Schilling was traded to the Twins and retired when optioned to the minors. In five Boston seasons, Schilling hit .239. One injury prevented the possibility of a lengthy and productive career.
Size mattered on the 1961 Boston staff and Tracy Stallard resembled a linebacker rather than a pitcher. Stallard had a cup of coffee in 1960 (four games) and in 1961 was expected to take a regular turn in the rotation. This was an awful Red Sox team and awful usually means opportunity. Stallard made just 14 starts in his 43 games.
Stallard threw hard – very hard – and he had the control disease – a 6.5 BB/9. When Stallard was around the plate consistently he was tough – very tough. The high or lowlight of the season was allowing Roger Maris to hit a home run number 61 at Yankee Stadium.
Stallard was traded to the Mets where he once lost 20 games – not a difficult task with the Mets of that age. That was followed by the Cardinals where Stallard briefly put it together going 11-8 and a 3.2 BB/9. The next season he deteriorated and was gone.
Failure or disappointment in one location may not apply to a second or third location. The local boy eventually makes good applies to Belmont’s Wilbur Wood. In the days before the baseball draft Wood signed with the Red Sox for a hefty bonus and then was rushed through the minors. The lefty surfaced in Boston in 1961 as a 19-year-old.
Wood made one start in late June losing to Cleveland. That started the minors-majors yo-yo for a few years before Boston gave up on Wood. Just a 0-5 record before going to Pittsburgh in a straight player sale. That disaster was followed by a trade to the Chicago White Sox. Some folks find Jesus and Wood found the knuckleball.
From 1967-1970, Wood was the bullpen for Chicago leading the AL three times in appearances. In 1971, Wood was moved to the rotation and had four straight 20+ win seasons including a 24-20 double/double in 1973. Wood made the All-Star squad three times with the ChiSox and some of the numbers are staggering when compared with today’s hurlers.
A total of 181 starts in a four year period. Innings pitched of 1,681.2 over five years. Starting consecutive games? Did that. Starting both games of a doubleheader? Did that. A knee injury finished off his career with an impressive 164 wins.
A disappointment for the 1961 season was Carl Yastrzemski. Yaz hit just .266 with 11 home runs but certainly demonstrated his defensive acumen. By 1963, Yaz had his first batting title and his first Gold Glove. In 1967, the culmination of patients by management was achieved with a remarkable season. The rest is baseball history.
Just what awaits Benintendi? A few years ago I pictured him as a future batting champion. Now his stock has become a penny stock. Kansas City has a roomy ballpark and Benintendi may have some nice extra-base opportunities. Benny has played just eight games at Kaufman Stadium, but he has a .485 average and a pair of home runs.
There is another possible tale of redemption and that is Franchy Cordero. At 26 years old, disappointment has followed Cordero like a stray puppy looking for a treat. First, it was the Padres and then the Royals and now the Red Sox. Once a highly-touted prospect with excellent power potential. Now a bust. Or maybe not?
That is the risk the Red Sox and Royals have taken. Benintendi could be the position version of Wood or Schwall. And Cordero could fade into oblivion or be a mini version of David Ortiz. The best result would be both Benintendi and Cordero reach what was predicted for both.