Baseball players gain membership in the Hall of Fame because of their superior talent and subsequent accomplishments that raise them above their mere mortal peers. Despite their legendary feats, even these all-time great encounter struggles from time to time during their careers. Some of these bumps in the road make sense (like facing other Hall-of-Fame players), while others defy explanation. Nonetheless, let’s take a look at some of the more interesting examples.
Mickey Mantle Hitting at Cleveland’s Municipal Stadium: The switch-hitting outfielder is one of baseball’s most iconic figures, hitting a combined .298 with 536 home runs during an 18-year career with the New York Yankees. For whatever reason, he just wasn’t the same player when playing on the road in Cleveland. Perhaps it was playing in a facility that was also known as “The Mistake by the Lake” because of its cold and windy conditions. The Mick played 159 games there over the years, and while he bashed 36 home runs, he hit a pedestrian .267 with an 83 OPS+ and struck out 135 time—the most he had in any park as a visitor.
Hank Aaron Batting Against Reliever Jim Brosnan: The Home Run king could obviously handle pitchers of all stripes, as he hit .305 with 755 home runs during his 22 seasons in the majors. Unfortunately, he had the darndest time figuring out the right-handed Brosnan. In 49 career at-bats against him, he mustered just seven hits (.143 batting average) with only one walk.
Brosnan pitched for four teams over nine seasons, posting a 3.54 ERA. While he could never be accused of being a slouch, he was also certainly not a star, so his total dominance of one of the greatest hitters who ever lived remains a mystery.
Sandy Koufax Facing the Cincinnati Reds: The great southpaw typically toyed with the opposition like a hangry (yes, hangry, not hungry) cat might with a mouse, going 165-87 with a 2.76 ERA. However, for whatever reason, when he suited up against the Reds, he pitched with the abandon of your average fourth starter. In 57 career games (45 starts) against them, he was 19-20 with a 3.74 ERA. It’s the only team against which he has a losing record—in fact he had at least a .593 winning percentage versus every other team he faced during the regular season. Additionally, it is his highest ERA against any one team by a full half run.
While the Reds weren’t an annual second-division team during Koufax’s 12 major league seasons, they also finished as high as second place only twice during that time, making his struggles against them all the more perplexing.
Willie Mays Batting Against Pitcher Max Surkont: The right-handed Surkont posted just two winning records in nine major league seasons with five teams, finishing up at 61-76 with a 4.38 ERA. However, he morphed into Cy Young when facing the Say Hey Kid.
Mays, who hit .302 with 660 home runs during his distinguished career, managed just three hits in 32 at-bats against his tormentor. Other than a double, he had no other extra-base hits, and he also whiffed six times (again surprising, as Surkont was not a strikeout pitcher—fanning just 4.3 batters per nine innings during his career).
Bob Gibson Pitching Against Third Baseman Richie Hebner: “Feared” is a term so loosely thrown around in sports that it often loses meaning. However, it aptly described the right-handed Gibson. He terrorized the National League for 17 years, accumulating a 251-174 record and 2.91 ERA. Known for his penchant for pitching inside and getting strikeouts (3,117 in his career), it’s hard to imagine batters looking forward to facing him—with the possible exception of Hebner.
Hebner had a solid 18-year major league career, hitting .276 with 203 home runs. Surprisingly, those numbers were enhanced by the 62 at-bats he had against Gibson. In those matchups, he collected 24 hits (good for a .387 batting average), 10 walks and five home runs—all while striking out just eight times. Perhaps even more shocking is the fact that although he had the hurler’s number, he managed to escape without being hit by a pitch from his nemesis.
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