Denis Menke

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Denis John Menke

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Biographical Information[edit]

Denis Menke, who played 13 seasons in the big leagues, played a variety of infield positions. He had 841 games at shortstop, 420 at third base, 233 at second base, and 162 at first base. And he didn't just play back-up - at different times, he was his team's regular at each position. As a hitter, he had 101 major league home runs, playing largely during the second dead-ball era.

Menke was born in Bancroft, IA, and attended St. John's High School there. He signed with the Milwaukee Braves as a free agent in 1958 and played in their minor league system from 1958 to 1962. Most notably, he hit .336 with 28 home runs for the Yakima Bears in 1960.

Denis broke into the majors in April of 1962, and became a regular in 1963. With the Braves in 1964 he had perhaps his best major league performance, putting up an OBP of .368 and also slugging .479 while serving as the regular shortstop on a Braves team that won 88 games. Denis' 20 home runs were almost as many as the 24 hit by the 30-year-old Hank Aaron or the 23 hit by the 32-year-old Eddie Mathews, and Denis amassed the 20 home runs in fewer plate appearances than either Aaron or Mathews. It remained the record for a Braves' shortstop until 2021, when his total was finally surpassed by Dansby Swanson.

After the 1967 season, the Braves traded Menke to the Houston Astros. The Astros' second baseman Joe Morgan suffered an injury and played very little during 1968, so the Astros put Menke at second base. In 1969 and 1970 he went back to shortstop. He had a good year with the bat in 1970, hitting .304 with 92 RBI; he led the Astros in RBI in both 1969 and 1970.

On May 4, 1969 Denis Menke, playing shortstop for the Astros, participated in 5 double plays in a 9-inning game. This is the all-time major league record for double plays in a nine-inning game by a shortstop (shared with many others). The visiting San Francisco Giants grounded into double plays to end the 1st, 3rd, 7th and 9th innings. There were also ground ball double plays in the 4th, 5th and 8th. Dooley Womack was on the mound for the Astros for the first four double plays. Fred Gladding was pitching for the last three. Astros second baseman Joe Morgan also participated in 5 double plays. Astros first baseman Curt Blefary participated in all 7 double plays that the Astros turned that day. The Astros won the game, 3-1. In 1971 he was the team's first baseman as Roger Metzger played shortstop.

After the 1971 season he was part of the famous trade that brought him, Joe Morgan and others to the Cincinnati Reds for Lee May, Tommy Helms and others. Manager Sparky Anderson used him as the third baseman as the Reds won their division in each of 1972 and 1973. Denis appeared in the 1972 World Series.

In 1973, Denis had an on-base percentage of .368, an astounding figure given his batting average of .191 (in 139 games!). In a mere 322 plate appearances he walked 69 times. For hitters with 100 games in a season, Menke has the highest OBP in history with a sub-.200 average.

After the 1973 season he was traded back to the Astros and finished out his career with them in 1974. He managed in the minors from 1977 to 1979.

In 1993 he was a hitting instructor for the division-winning Philadelphia Phillies. He was the hitting coach for the Reds from 1997-2000.

As of 2008 he was retired and living in Florida, where he died in 2020.

His uncle, John Menke, played in the Western League in 1937. His father, Walter Menke, played in the minor leagues from 1936 to 1938. His brother, Alan Menke, played in the Minnesota Twins organization from 1962 to 1964.

Notable Achievements[edit]

  • 2-time NL All-Star (1969 & 1970)
  • 20-Home Run Seasons: 1 (1964)

Related Sites[edit]