In 1956, Sport Magazine surveyed all 16 major league managers to find out who they picked as their most reliable clutch hitters.
Some responses were surprising. Cincinnati Redlegs’ pilot Birdie Tebbetts picked Johnnie Temple instead of Ted Kluszewski and Frank Robinson while Bucky Harris tapped Ray Boone over Al Kaline or perennial .300 hitter Harvey Kuenn.
One pick was incomprehensible. Washington Senators’ manager Chuck Dressen selected Ernie Oravetz. Don’t feel badly if you don’t remember or never heard of Oravetz, a 145 pound, 5’4” reserve outfielder who in his two year career (1955-1956), hit no home runs and only batted in 36 runners. Adding to the oddity of Dressen’s choice, in 1955, Ortavetz hit .171 in 35 pinch hit appearances. By the end of 1956, Ortavez was out of baseball for good.
Maybe Dressen was having fun at reporter Milton Richmond’s expense. What Dressen told Richmond for the record was: “For a kid his size, he certainly did a man’s job in the clutch.”
Looking at the 1956 Senators’ roster, Dressen had several hitters that his 15 managerial peers certainly would have picked over Ortavez in critical situations: Clint Courtney, Pete Runnels (a future two-time batting champion), Roy Sievers (the 1957 American League home run and RBI leader), Jim Lemon (back-to-back 100 RBI seasons in 1959 and 1960) and the incomparable Hall of Famer slugger Harmon Killebrew who before he hung up his spikes would hit 537 four-baggers with 40 or more eight times
The sad news that Killebrew is suffering from deadly esophageal cancer has put him in the forefront of our thoughts and prayers.
In 1956, Killebrew was three years away from his break out 1959 season when he blasted 42 homers and knocked in 102. By 1960, Killebrew appeared on the cover of the Senators’ yearbook.
Here, in part, is how the Senators’ described Killebrew who still had 16 spectacular baseball years ahead of him:
Baseball’s most exciting new figure, Harmon burst into full stardom last year. He smashed 29 homers in the first three months and for a while threatened many of Babe Ruth’s home run records for a season. His tape measure clouts earned him the starting job for the American League in the All Star Game in Pittsburgh.
Harmon himself was so outstanding a high school footballer that he received a number of collegiate scholarship offers. The original Harmon Clayton Killebrew, grandfather of the star third baseman, was a legendary strongman, reputed to have been the heavy weight wrestling champion of the Illinois detachment of the Union Army during the Civil War.
During emotionally trying times when family and old friends struggle for their lives, we can often find comfort in remembering them during younger, happier days.