Here’s the latest guest post from Joe Guzzardi, a regular Wednesday and Saturday contributor here.
In 1952, when Philadelphia A’s pitcher Bobby Shantz won the American League Most Valuable Player award, I was a nine-year-old kid growing up in Dodgerless Los Angeles and rooting for the Hollywood Stars.
I remember wondering how it was possible that Shantz, not much bigger than me at 5’6” and 135 pounds, could be mowing down Ted Williams and Yogi Berra in the big leagues when I was still throwing pop flies to myself in my backyard.
No one could deny that in 1952 Shantz hit his peak. Posting a 24-7 win-loss record for a fifth-place team, Shantz garnered the MVP award in a landslide by easily outdistancing New York Yankee stars Allie Reynolds, Mickey Mantle and Yogi Berra.
Shantz led the American League in wins, winning percentage (.774), fewest walks per game (2.03), finished second with 27 complete games, third with a 2.48 ERA and 152 strikeouts, tied for third with five shutouts, fourth with 255 innings pitched and fifth in fewest hits per game (7.39).
In his first major league appearance on May 1, 1949, Shantz pitched two-thirds of an inning of scoreless relief against the Washington Senators.
As inconspicuous as his debut was, Shantz showed what he was all about five days later. On May 6 Shantz notched his first big league win when at Briggs Stadium, Detroit, he entered the game in the fourth inning in relief of Carl Scheib. For the next ten innings, Shantz held the Tigers to two hits and one earned run while striking out seven.
A’s manager Connie Mack, a former catcher, kept Shantz from using his most effective pitch (the knucleball) and was predisposed to more physically intimidating hurlers like Joe Coleman, Lou Brissie and Dick Fowler. But when Mack retired after the 1950 season, new pilot Jimmy Dykes gave Shantz more rest and let him use off speed pitches. The result: in 1951, an 18-10 record for a 70-84 Athletics team.
In 1957 the Athletics, now located in Kansas City, traded Shantz along with Art Ditmar, Jack McMahan, Wayne Belardi and two players to be named later to the Yankees in exchange for Irv Noren, Milt Graff, Mickey McDermott, Tom Morgan, Rip Coleman, Billy Hunter and a player to be named later.
Used mostly as a spot starter with Whitey Ford, Don Larsen, Tom Sturdivant and Bob Turley, Shantz went 11-5 and led the major leagues in ERA with a 2.45 mark.
Lost in the annals of time is Shantz’s disappointing role for the Yankees in the famous 1960 World Series against the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Shantz pitched two-thirds of an inning (scoreless) in both the second and fourth games. In the second, he earned a save for Turley.
In the seventh game, the wheels came off. Shantz entered the game in the third inning and held the Pirates scoreless for four innings. But in the bottom of the eighth, Shantz gave up singles to Gino Cimoli, Bill Virdon and Dick Groat before coming out in favor of Jim Coates.
All three eventually scored and the earned runs were charged to Shantz. The Pirates tallied twice more before eventually winning the game, 10-9, and the series, 4-3.
Manager Casey Stengel decision to leave Shantz in may have cost him his job. During the regular season, Shantz never pitched more than four innings. Why Stengel left Shantz in for the fifth is a baseball mystery.
The following year Shantz landed with the Pirates and subsequently pitched for the Houston Colt .45s, St. Louis Cardinals, Chicago Cubs and Philadelphia Phillies.
Over his career Shantz, a three time All Star, sparkled in the 1952 contest when in the fifth inning he struck out Whitey Lockman, Jackie Robinson and Stan Musial. Had the game not been called because of rain, Shantz might have broken Carl Hubbell’s record of five in a row.
He also won eight Gold Gloves including the first four years (1957-1960) it was awarded.
In a baseball oddity, Shantz and his brother catcher Billy were teammates on the Philadelphia A’s (1954), Kansas City (1955) and the Yankees (1960). However, they were only battery mates in Kansas City.
In 2010, the Philadelphia Sports Hall of Fame elected Shantz. The Pottstown native now lives in Ambler, PA.
Joe Guzzardi belongs to the Society for American Baseball Research as well as the Internet Baseball Writers Association of America. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org