Sad news. Baseball lost a couple of World Series heroes this month with the passing of Jose Pagan and Jim Northrup.
Two names lost to the passage of time. Recalled, perhaps, by the generation that watched them play, but virtually unknown to any other. Good players, solid contributors, but certainly not perennial All-Stars or Hall of Famers.
Yet, both had their moment in the sun. Both fashioned the winning hit of a World Series. Not a Series game, but the entire Series.
Pagan, 76, died on June 7 of Alzheimer’s disease. He played 15 years in the majors, hitting an even .250. In his career, he scored 387 runs and knocked in 372. He hit 52 homers and stole 46 bases. Modest numbers, to be sure.
Pagan reached the big leagues with the Giants in 1959. The native Puerto Rican was part of the Giants’ famed Latino contingent that included Juan Marichal, Orlando Cepeda and the Alou brothers.
By 1961, Pagan had supplanted Eddie Bressoud as the Giants’ regular shortstop. In 1962, he set a club record that still stands: he played in 164 games. The records from the Giants’ three-game pennant playoff with the Dodgers counted in the regular season statistics. He also played in all seven World Series games, hitting .368.
"I would say he was one of the tough guys in that 1962 season," Felipe Alou told Chris Haft of mlb.com. "This guy could really do a lot of stuff: steal big bases, make big plays. He always came up with something big to win the ballgame."
Proof of Alou’s assessment: in that ’62 season, Pagan hit .259 with 7 homers, 57 RBI, 73 runs and 13 stolen bases. Yet he finished 11th in the MVP voting — ahead of Alou and Cepeda.
"One of the best .260 hitters I’ve ever seen," Cepeda told Haft. "People talk about shortstops and don’t mention Jose Pagan. Many times in ’61 and ’62 when myself, McCovey, or Mays were going through tough times, Jose picked everybody up."
He was still doing so at the end of his career. Traded to the Pirates in 1965, reduced range relegated him to utility status for the rest of his career. He only averaged 193 at bats per season through 1973, his final year.
But he did get 15 at bats in the 1971 World Series, including one in the eighth inning of Game 7. His double off Oriole ace Mike Cuellar knocked in Willie Stargell with the Pirates’ winning run in a 2-1 game.
Pagan coached for the Pirates from ’74 through ’78. His dream was to manage in the big leagues. Sadly, at that time, baseball hadn’t yet decided that the likes of Felipe Alou, Cito Gaston and Ozzie Guillen were managerial material.
Northrup, 71, died on June 8 after a seizure. He had battled rheumatoid arthritis and Alzheimer’s for several years.
A Michigan native, Northrup excelled at all sports. He earned 15 varsity letters at Alma College, where the ballpark’s scoreboard bears his name.
But his chosen sport was baseball, and the Tigers his chosen team. He signed in 1960, got five at bats late in 1964, and stayed with the club for 10 years. He played briefly with the Expos and Orioles in ’74, and finished his career in Baltimore in ’75.
An outfielder with a sweet left-handed swing patterned after his boyhood idol, Ted Williams, Northrup hit .267 over his career, with 153 homers, 603 runs and 610 RBI.
"He was a good man," teammate Gates Brown told George Sipple of the Detroit Free Press. "I tell you one thing, he came to play. One thing you could depend on, he was going to put the bat on the ball in some kind of way. And 1968, that was his year. He was tough all year. He let you know that he was there."
Ah, yes, 1968. In The Year of the Pitcher, Northrup led the Tigers with 90 RBI and 153 hits, adding 21 homers with a .264 average. The Tigers won 103 games, and their first pennant since 1945.
Northrup set a record that summer by belting three grand slams in a single week. Two came in consecutive at bats. He led the league with four grand slams for the season.
He hit his fifth early in Game Six of the World Series, which the Tigers won, 13-1, to force a seventh game.
Not only were they facing the defending world champions, they were facing the Cardinals’ ace, Bob Gibson. He had gone 22-9 that year, with the unfathomable 1.12 earned run average. Gibson shut out the Tigers in Game One with a Series record 17 strikeouts. He won Game 4, 10-1, with the lone Tiger run coming on a Northrup homer.
In Game 7, Mickey Lolich matched Gibson with six shutout innings. In the Tigers’ seventh, with two out, none on, and two strikes on the batter, Norm Cash singled to right. Willie Horton followed with a ground ball single between third and short. Up came Northrup.
On Gibson’s first pitch, Northrup hit a drive to center. Curt Flood, at that time the best defensive center fielder in the game, came in a step, broke back, stumbled, and watched the ball sail over his head for a two-run triple.
"He slipped a little, but it still went 40 feet over his head," declared Northrup in a televised interview five years ago. "He never had a chance to catch it!"
Like Jose Pagan, Jim Northrup could always savor his moment in the sun.