The first year I really started to pay attention to Major League Baseball was 1956. I was ten years old then. I had been taken to my first major league game–Milwaukee Braves at Cincinnati Reds– by my grandfather the previous season. From that point on I was hooked.
I lived equidistant in official mileage maps from Cincinnati and Chicago (150 miles), but Cincinnati being a much smaller city was easier to get to and from. The Cubs and White Sox both had radio signals easier to catch (on WGN and WCFL) than WKRC in Cincinnati which was inaudible during the day and would come in and out at night, but only if I had the radio positioned perfectly. None of the teams had games televised into the Indianapolis market which was where the stations I could see–with an outdoor antenna– were located.
But I was hooked on the Reds because theirs was the first major league park I ever had seen. From the towering light poles to the deep green of the grass and the slope in the outfield that made left and center fielders have to go uphill on many fly balls, it was magic! I didn’t really realize just how much different the game was then than the one I followed and worked in for over 25 years until I started clearing up things in my home office and storage room.
I have found many old record books and magazines that date back to my first days being a baseball fan. One from Sports Illustrated dated April 15, 1957 caught my eye.
In the back of the book someone had put together some statistics from the 1956 season that would be considered quite analytical today, but were rarely shown 60 years ago. Yet to compare some of them today shows how much the game has changed.
For instance, in the American League the top ten in on base percentage were all over .400. Ted Williams was tops at .479. Ray Boone was 10th at .403. Mickey Mantle was at .464. In the National League no player was on base .400. Duke Snider was tops at .399. Names like Musial, Frank Robinson, Eddie Mathews and Willie Mays were all in the top ten, but the .375 point which is what is currently considered minimum for being good was topped by only eight of the NL stars.
The most interesting of all the numbers was the category of strikeout and home runs. In fact a lead paragraph said, “The concentration of some hitters on home runs leads them to strike out more than they should. Only Ted Kluszewski and Yogi Berra homered more frequently than they fanned.”
“Only”…now since Barry Bonds, no one ever comes close to even breaking even between home runs and strikeouts. In 2015 the major league top ten in strikeouts ended at 158 with many more players in the +100 category.
The interesting facts from 1956: Of the top ten home run hitters in both leagues only two in each struck out as many at 100 times. Larry Doby (104) w/24 homers, and Jim Lemon (138) w/27 homers in the AL. In the NL, Duke Snider (101) w/ 43 homers and Wally Post (124) w/36 homers did it.
Kluszewski hit 35 homers and only struck out 31 times. Berra hit 30 homers and only fanned 29 times.
And remember Philadelphia Phillie catcher Stan Lopata. He his a credible .267 plus he hammered 32 home runs–striking out fewer than 100 times (93)-and led major league baseball in percentage of hits for extra bases. Over 50% of Lopatas hits were worth more than one base. He had fewer singles than extra base hits.
Their were a number of other listings in the magazine, but it will be gone soon. Missing a cover, it will be part of the clean out. But it found a way to live again before it goes. And we all were remembered just another way how baseball has changed in the last 60 years.