Thursday, July 9, 2009

The History of the Oriole Closer: From Zuverink to Sherrill - The 60's

The 1960's would see the end of the Paul Richards era, a championship during the brief Hank Bauer years and the dawning of the Earl Weaver regime. It would also see some of the best relievers in the game suit up in the Orange and Black.

Paul Richards still employed most of his relievers as spot starters but that practice basically ended with the arrival of Billy Hitchcock in 1962. By the time Hank Bauer took the helm, top relievers making starts was a virtually non-existent practice. "Firemen" were becoming increasingly specialized in their role and the best became highly coveted. Baltimore recognized the value and did their best to build some of the best bullpens in the American League


Reliever Record SV ERA IP
Hoyt Wilhelm 11-8 7 3.31 147
Jack Fisher 12-11 2 3.41 197.2
Wes Stock 2-2 2 2.88 34.1

After Hoyt Wilhelm's amazing 1959 season, he struggled as a starter in 1960. By mid-July, he was back to being a full time reliever and ended up finishing 24 games.

Frostburg native Jack Fisher was just 21 and continued his good work out of the bullpen in 1960. Out of all the young pitchers coming up through the Oriole system in the early 60's (a group that included Milt Pappas and Steve Barber), many scouts thought Jack Fisher was the best. Fisher was confident himself and was in a big hurry to get to the majors and prove it.

"I could have taken any (various offers from big league teams). But I picked Baltimore because the Orioles could give me a crack at the majors quickly, and from what I had heard Paul Richards had a way with pitchers."

"Fat Jack" would become a starter the next season but would never be more than an average starter in his 10-year big league career. He is more famous for home runs surrendered (he gave up Ted Williams final homer and Roger Maris' 60th) than for great exploits on the field. He would be part of the trade that would bring Stu Miller over from the Giants in 1963.

Rookie Wes Stock , returning from military service, showed up in late July and was better than either Wilhelm or Fisher down the stretch. More on him later...


Reliever Record SV ERA IP
Hoyt Wilhelm 9-7 18 2.30 109.2
Dick Hall 7-5 4 3.09 122.1
Wes Stock 5-0 3 3.01 71.2
Billy Hoeft 7-4 3 2.02 138.0

Wilhelm was now the primary fireman for the club. He would be on his way to a second All-Star appearance for the Orioles, this time as a reliever.

Dick Hall was a failed outfielder for the Pirates who had converted to a starter to save his career. (Branch Rickey had claimed that he would be the next Tris Speaker.) Unfortunately, he wasn't very good at that either. The Orioles traded for him in April of '61 and eased him into a relief role that he began to flourish in. Hall would become a fixture in the Baltimore bullpen throughout the 60's.

Stock continued to pitch well for the O's and would win 5 games while remaining undefeated. He posted two undefeated relief seasons for Baltimore (he went 7-0 in 1963) which at the time was the first occasion that a reliever had accomplished that feat twice. Stock would be traded to the Athletics for C Charlie Lau in 1964. Stock would go on to become a pitching coach for the Mets minor league system and was the pitching coach for the Athletics' 1973 and 1974 World Series championship teams.

Billy Hoeft's glory years were with the Tigers in the mid-50's. At this point, he was a 29-year-old veteran trying to keep his career afloat. His '61 performance helped as he won 7 games, primarily in relief.


Reliever Record SV ERA IP
Hoyt Wilhelm 7-10 15 1.94 93.0
Dick Hall 6-6 6 2.28 118.1
Billy Hoeft 4-8 7 4.59 113.2

Another fine season from Wilhelm, arguably his best season at the age of 39 and another All-Star appearance on his way to the Hall of Fame. The knuckleballer was the first relief pitcher elected to the Hall of Fame and would continue to pitch until his age 49 season.

Dick Hall, while never the primary "closer", was arguably the best reliever in the pen during many of his seasons with the O's. 1962 was one of them.

Hoeft fell off a bit in '62 but still saved 7 games. He would go with Jack Fisher to the Giants for Stu Miller in the offseason.


Reliever Record SV ERA IP
Stu Miller 5-8 27 2.24 112.1
Dick Hall 5-5 12 2.98 111.2

Stu Miller came over from the Giants and promptly led the AL in games pitched and was named "Relief Pitcher of the Year". He also came in 19th in the MVP voting and would finish in the top 20 in MVP voting three times during his Oriole career.

Dick Hall teamed with Miller and chipped in with 12 saves. Hall and Miller would team from '63-'66 as a dominant 1-2 punch out of the Oriole bullpen. They would combine for 66 wins and 130 saves over those four seasons.


Reliever Record SV ERA IP
Stu Miller 7-7 23 3.06 97.0
Harvey Haddix 5-5 10 2.31 89.2
Dick Hall 9-1 7 1.85 87.2

Harvey Haddix was 38 and had been a starter for most of his career. (He is most famous for pitching 12 perfect innings against Milwaukee in 1959...before losing the game in the 13th.)He was a dominant lefty out of the 'pen posting a 155 ERA+. He would hang around for one more season in Baltimore before hanging up his cleats.

Dick Hall did him one better, posting a 194 ERA+ for the finest season of his professional career.

Miller continued his good work. Milt Pappas once said, "Dick Hall has three speeds for his pitches: slow, slower and slowest." Regardless, he was nearly unhittable as he would post a 1.028 WHIP from '64-'66.


Reliever Record SV ERA IP
Stu Miller 14-7 24 1.89 119.1
Dick Hall 11-8 12 3.07 93.2

The dynamic duo is back in '65. This time it was Miller's turn for a career year and he came in 7th in the AL MVP voting.


Reliever Record SV ERA IP
Stu Miller 9-4 18 2.25 92.0
Eddie Fisher 5-3 13 2.64 71.2
Moe Drabowsky 6-0 7 2.81 96.0
Eddie Watt 9-7 4 3.83 145.2
Dick Hall 6-2 7 3.95 66.0

Hall was a bit banged up during the '66 season. Perhaps because of this, the Orioles acquired Eddie Fisher from the White Sox in June. Fisher had been named "Reliever of the Year" in 1965 and a lot of his success was attributed to a knuckler he learned from Hoyt Wilhelm while they were both pitching out of the Chicago bullpen. Fisher accumulated 13 saves in just over half a season for the Birds during their World Series push. Fisher was not so good in '67 however and was shipped off to Cleveland before the 1968 season.

Stu Miller's efforts garnered an 11th place finish in the MVP race. Stu was famous for throwing junk but asserted he still had a good fastball when interviewed in 1966:

Stu says his fastball is better than ever. "People get the idea that I throw nothing but junk, but I do have a good fast ball and I use it. I can't stand out there and throw it all day like Drysdale or Marichal but when I do slip it over on a batter it's travelling."

Rookie Eddie Watt acted as a swingman and racked up 4 saves. Watt would be a mainstay in the Baltimore bullpen well into the 1970's.

Of all of these talented relievers, only one made an appearance in the '66 World Series against the Dodgers. Moe Drabowsky was a 1965 Rule 5 draft pick from the St. Louis Cardinals, was undefeated out of the 'pen and struck out more than a batter per inning. Drabowsky struck out 11 batters in Game 1 of the World Series and earned Baltimore the win. The 11 strikeouts are still a World Series record for a reliever.


Reliever Record SV ERA IP
Moe Drabowsky 7-5 12 1.60 95.1
Stu Miller 3-10 8 2.55 81.1
Eddie Watt 3-5 8 2.26 103.2

Dick Hall was traded to the Phillies and the famed 1-2 punch of Miller-Hall became a three headed monster with Drabowsky leading the way. He again struck out more than 9 per game, had a 3.84 K/BB ratio and a 197 ERA+ for the defending champs.

Miller finished off his Oriole career in style with 8 saves and a 2.55 ERA. He was purchased by the Braves after the season but only appeared in two games after his departure. Miller finished his career only behind Wilhelm and Roy Face in saves. Interesting that the Orioles brass in the 60's believed enough in "the closer" that they employed two of the great trailblazers of that role.

Eddie Watt emerged as the heir apparent to Dick Hall, playing a fine second fiddle to Drabowsky.


Reliever Record SV ERA IP
Eddie Watt 5-5 11 2.27 83.1
Moe Drabowsky 4-4 7 1.91 61.1
Pete Richert 6-3 6 3.47 62.1

Eddie Watt continued to take on a heavier load and continued to perform.

Drabowsky had another great season in '68. He would be selected in the Expansion Draft by the Kansas City Royals after three stellar seasons in Baltimore.

In his first year exclusively as a reliever, lefty Pete Richert racked up 6 saves. Richert would have an larger role under Earl Weaver in the years to come.


Reliever Record SV ERA IP
Eddie Watt 5-2 16 1.65 71.0
Pete Richert 7-4 12 2.20 57.1
Dick Hall 5-2 6 1.92 65.2

Eddie Watt and Pete Richert provided a lethal lefty/righty combo out of the bullpen and would for the next three years. Dick Hall returned from a two-year exile in Philadelphia and turned in one of his best years as the Orioles would win the AL pennant.

Fireman of the Decade: Stu Miller

100 saves for Miller put him at the head of the class. His total would remain a club record for nearly 18 seasons.

Honorable Mention: Dick Hall

Hall plays second fiddle to Miller yet again.

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