|Born: March 20, 1933|
Goldsboro, North Carolina
|MLB: April 11, 1959, for the Chicago Cubs|
|NPB: 1968, for the Tokyo Orions|
|MLB: October 1, 1967, for the Chicago Cubs|
|NPB: 1975, for the Hanshin Tigers|
|Runs batted in||403|
|Runs batted in||656|
|Career highlights and awards|
George Lee Altman (born March 20, 1933) is an American former professional baseball outfielder who had a lengthy career in both Major League Baseball and Nippon Professional Baseball. A three-time National League All-Star, he appeared in 991 games over nine full seasons in the major leagues. Then, at age 35, he began an eight-year tenure in Japanese baseball, where he would belt 205 home runs and bat .309 with 985 hits.
Altman batted left-handed and threw right-handed; he was listed as 6 feet 4 inches (1.93 m) tall and 200 pounds (91 kg). He was born in Goldsboro, North Carolina, and graduated from Tennessee State University, an historically black college in Nashville, where he played varsity baseball and basketball.
Altman's first professional baseball experience came with the Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro leagues; he played three months for the team in 1955. He then was signed by the Chicago Cubs, on the recommendation of the legendary Buck O'Neil. He made the Cubs' roster in 1959 after two years in the minor leagues and two in the United States Army. He started 102 games in center field, including on Opening Day, when he went two for three against Don Drysdale in a 6-1 Chicago victory. Altman batted only .245 as a rookie, and his playing time diminished slightly in 1960, as he started at all three outfield positions, as well as at first base.
But he improved his batting average to .266, and in 1961 he claimed the Cubs' starting right field job, batted .303 in 138 games, smashed 27 home runs, and led the National League in triples with 12. In his first All-Star at bat, during that season's first midsummer classic (MLB played two such games from 1959 through 1962) at Candlestick Park on July 11, Altman hit a pinch hit home run off Mike Fornieles in the eighth inning; the National League ultimately prevailed in the wind-blown contest, 5-4.
He followed his 1961 season with another strong showing in 1962. Once again making the All-Star team, Altman set personal bests in games played (147), hits (170), batting average (.318) and stolen bases (19); he also slugged 22 homers. Altman was sixth in the league in stolen bases and fourth in on-base percentage. But the Cubs suffered through an embarrassing, ninth-place season, and in the 1962-1963 offseason, Altman became a major piece in a six-player trade with the St. Louis Cardinals that brought pitchers Larry Jackson and Lindy McDaniel to Chicago.
He became the 1963 Cardinals' starting right fielder and played a role in a pennant race that saw the Redbirds challenge the eventual world champion Los Angeles Dodgers into late September before a six-game losing streak doomed their chances. But Altman's production declined, as he was platooned and started only against right-handed pitching; his average fell 44 points to .274, and he hit only nine home runs. Again, he was traded in the off-season, sent to the last-place New York Mets for pitcher Roger Craig in November. Altman played four more years in the majors. Only in 1964, his only season with the Mets, did he play regularly. But he struggled offensively, hitting .230 in 124 games, again hitting only nine homers, and was traded back to the Cubs in January 1965.
He was a spare outfielder in both 1965 and 1966, and then, in 1967, he spent part of the year at Triple-A, where at age 34 he played regularly and regained his batting stroke. It served him well the following season, when he began his career in Japanese baseball. He played from 1968 through 1975 for the Lotte Orions and the Hanshin Tigers, and enjoyed seasons of 39, 34 and 30 homers--and four more years with 20 or more blasts--and batted over .300 six times. Highlights from his NPB career included leading the Pacific League in hits (170), runs (84), and RBI (100) in 1968; and being named to the "Best Nine" Pacific League team in 1968, 1970, and 1971. He credited martial arts training for baseball success in Japan.
In his nine-year major league career with the Cubs, Cardinals and Mets, Altman batted .269; his 832 hits included 132 doubles, 34 triples, and 101 home runs. He had 403 RBIs in 991 games played. He recorded a .981 fielding percentage playing at all three outfield positions and first base. In three All-Star Game appearances, his 1961 homer was his only hit in three at bats; he played errorless ball in the field over three innings as the National League's right fielder in 1961's second midsummer classic, played July 31 at Fenway Park.