The 1968 NL Rookie of the Year voting was dead heat between two very deserving candidates. Catcher Johnny Bench would hit .275 and slug 15 homers en route to securing 10.5 first place votes to edge out Mets’ southpaw, and future Phillie, Jerry Koosman who went 19-12 with a 2.08 ERA for the prestigious award. Bench, of course, would be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame while Koosman would become the answer to a trivia question (who does Nolan Ryan share his rookie card with?) despite being a multiple-time All-Star and winner of 222 Major League games.
The American League race for Rookie of the Year in 1968 was, well, not as exhilarating. Yankees’ hurler Stan Bahnsen ran away with ROY voting in a pretty weak class. Reggie Jackson, who by today’s rules would have still been an eligible rookie, hit 29 homers with 14 steals but was not eligible for the award. Second place fell to center fielder Del Unser of the Washington Senators who hit .230 with one homer and 11 steals.
Unser was drafted three times before signing with Washington in June 1966 and reached the Majors by Opening Day 1968. Unser would patrol center field for the Sens before being traded in a massive, eight player deal in December 1971 to Cleveland. Unser would be dealt to Philadelphia in November 1972 in a deal that involved Oscar Gamble going to Cleveland in return. Unser was a solid player during his first stint in Philadelphia, hitting .276/.345/.413 with 22 homers in from 1973 to 1974, grading out as the seventh-most valuable center fielder in the National League per fWAR. Before returning to Philadelphia in March 1979, Unser would be dealt twice more, first to the New York Mets as part of the Tug McGraw trade and then to Montreal in a deal that netted the Mets some of the best sideburns in baseball history on the face of Pepe Mangual.
Unser hit just .196 in a part-time role for the Expos in 1978 and was a free agent until March 29, 1979, just prior to Opening Day. The now-34 year old veteran would be used mostly as a late inning defensive replacement or pinch hitter and hit .298/.354/.482 with six homers. His most memorable moment, or moments perhaps, came when he hit three pinch hit home runs in three consecutive at-bats, becoming only the second Major Leaguer ever to do so, on June 30, July 5, and July 10.
Unser would reprise his role with the Phillies in 1980 where his timely hitting off the bench was one of the key ingredients in sending the Phillies to their first World Series victory. Unser was smack dab in the middle of the eighth inning rally in Game 5 of the NLCS, driving in Greg Gross via single en route to a 7-5 lead. In the tenth inning with the game knotted at seven, Unser hit a one-out double and scored the pennant-winning run on a Garry Maddox double to center field. Unser’s postseason magic would continue: Unser hit a pinch-hit, RBI double that split the gap in left-center off of Dan Quisenberry (video here, including a report on George Brett‘s hemorrhoids (!)) and helped the Phillies take a 6-4 win in Game 2. In Game 5, Unser would hit an RBI double in the top of the ninth that knotted the game at three before scoring the winning run on a Manny Trillo dribbler.
The 1980 postseason would, more or less, be Unser’s swan song in the Major Leagues. After hitting .455/.455/.727 in 11 1980 postseason appearances, Unser would reach the plate just 90 more times for the Phillies from 1981 through 1982 and retired quietly in June.