(from Out of the Park
Baseball web site)
|A familiar sight in 1956: Ken Guettler, right, congratulated|
by Shreveport Sports manager Mel McGaha after
one of his 62 home runs (Texas League photo).
They kept going out of Shreveport's Texas League Park and other TL parks through June and July and, on Aug. 12, with his sixth consecutive game with a home run, Guettler hit No. 56, breaking the league record of 55 that had been held by Clarence "Big Boy" Kraft of Fort Worth since 1924.
There were 31 games remaining in the season. Imagine that.
By the time, Guettler was done, he led the TL in homers, RBIs (143) and runs (115), batted .293 ... and -- surprise -- was named the league's Most Valuable Player.
But here's a couple of strange twists: (1) He didn't even lead the minor leagues in home runs that year ... Dick Stuart -- later to be known in the majors as Dr. Strangleglove (he was awful defensively) -- hit 66 for Lincoln (Neb.) in the Western League; and (2) his great year didn't help the Sports much (they finished seventh in the TL, 16 games below .500, 27 games out of first) and seventh in attendance (an average of 1,115 fans per home game).
And it was his last great season. Mr. Peters, the Sports' owner who was an independent operator (meaning the team didn't have a major-league tie-in; he bought and sold players on his own), sold him to the Milwaukee Braves' organization.
But in 1957, Guettler was outmatched in Triple-A (at Wichita in the American Association), then hurt a shoulder diving for a fly ball, wound up back in Double-A (Atlanta, Southern Association) and back in the Texas League the next year (in Dallas). But he wasn't the player he had been. Three seasons -- and only 12 home runs -- after Shreveport, he was done.
Maybe these days, with 14 more teams than existed then (with 350 more major-league players) and, with the designated hitter, he might've made the big leagues. As it was, he was simply Shreveport's Greatest Player.
I really don't remember him that well; I was too young and too new to baseball that summer. But I certainly remembered the name, and the feat, and I'm sure I saw him hit a few home runs.
My friend Jon Pat Stephenson remembers that Guettler "hit high fly balls, very high, and they just carried and dropped over the fence."
Texas League Park, later to be called SPAR Stadium, was mostly a hitters' park, but home runs weren't that cheap. In the 1950s, the outfield fence was double-decked, so it had to be about 20 feet high -- which meant not many line drives would go out. Guettler had the right stroke, though.
"He hit very few cheap home runs," Mel McGaha, the player-manager that year, told Rick Woodson for a Shreveport Journal column in the 1970s. "He hit the kind of fly balls that looked like the outfielders would catch. But pretty soon the outfielder would have his back against the fence and the ball would keep going."
In February 1988 -- during my one year as sports editor of The Shreveport Times -- I received a note (a postcard, I believe) from Selma Pett of Bay City, Mich., Ken Guettler's hometown. Selma was Ken's sister.