Thursday, September 17, 2015

Barney Schultz, 1926-2015

Some athletes are remembered for a long and distinguished career. Some are remembered for a few big moments, good and otherwise.

Barney Schultz is remembered for one pitch. And that's unfortunate.

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George Warren Schultz was born on August 15, 1926 in Beverly, Burlington County, New Jersey, on the Delaware River, between Trenton and Camden and near Philadelphia. (I can find no record of why he was called "Barney.") He went to Burlington City High School, and signed with his "hometown" Philadelphia Phillies right out of it.

In those days, high school ballplayers usually didn't go to college. Many were thrown right into the professional leagues while still teenagers, with poor results. Schultz struggled, not even reaching Class A ball (a level that would be relabeled Triple-A in the next few years) until 1950, when he was nearly 24 years old. He went through 6 different organizations before he finally debuted with the St. Louis Cardinals, on April 12, 1955, already 28 years old.

Even after his debut, he didn't stick in the majors. After pitching 19 games for the Cards in 1955, he was sent back down, appearing 13 times for the Detroit Tigers in 1959, before finally getting back in with the Chicago Cubs in 1961. (He had pitched in Houston in 1960 and '61, but those were that city's last 2 years in the minors, before expansion made it a major league city.) At 34, he had appeared in a grand total of 32 major league games.

Part of the problem was that Schultz was ineffective as a starting pitcher, and, in those days, if you couldn't go 9 innings, you weren't a real man. Most teams weren't willing to convert a pitcher into a relief specialist. The Yankees had been an exception from the 1920s onwards, with men like Wilcy Moore, Johnny Murphy, Joe Page, Bob Grim and Luis Arroyo.

Another part of the problem was that he threw an unorthodox pitch, the knuckleball. As Jim Bouton would later point out in his book Ball Four, the knuckler simply wasn't trusted, mainly because catchers were trusted, and they hated catching the wobbly pitch. Hoyt Wilhelm became the best reliever of the era, because he could control the knuckleball, and Gus Triandos, his catcher on the Baltimore Orioles, had an oversized catcher's mitt (soon banned) that could handle it.

For this reason, when Schultz would be brought in, manager Johnny Keane of the Cardinals, who reacquired him in 1963, would take out starting catcher Tim McCarver, and bring in backup catcher Bob Uecker brought in, because the Cards didn't respect the weak-hitting but decent-fielding Uecker. Indeed, once Uke became a standup comedian and then a comic actor, he would use this experience for self-deprecating humor, including the classic line, "The best way to catch a knuckleball is to wait until it stops rolling, and then pick it up." (Charlie Lau, who built a career as the game's most respected hitting instructor despite being not much of a hitter himself, said, "There are two theories on catching the knuckleball. Unfortunately, neither of them works.")

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The Cards had a good pitching staff, and Schultz became its bullpen anchor. In all, he appeared in 227 major league games, all in relief, 107 of them for St. Louis. In 1964, he appeared in 30, finishing 22, going 1-3, but had a 1.64 ERA, a 0.932 WHIP, and 14 saves -- not a bad total for the era, especially when you've got Bob Gibson determined to complete his games.

Schultz appeared in 4 games in the 1964 World Series between the Cardinls and the Yankees. He saved Game 1 at the original Busch Stadium (formerly named Sportsman's Park) in relief of Ray Sadecki. He relieved Gibson in Game 2, but couldn't stop the bleeding as the Yankees scored 4 runs in the 9th inning to win it.

Game 3 was held on October 10, a perfect autumn afternoon in New York, with all the flags fluttering around at Yankee Stadium and the bunting a striking red, white and blue. The game was 1-1 going to the bottom of the 9th.

Keane brought Schultz in to relieve Curt Simmons. Mickey Mantle was due up first. Elston Howard was next. Mickey watched Schultz's warmup tosses, all knuckleballs, and got confident. He turned and said, "You can sit down, Elston. This game's over."

Mickey came up, and Schultz threw one pitch. Mickey crushed it, sending it into the upper deck in right field. Yankees 2, Cardinals 1. It was the 16th home run in World Series play for Mickey, breaking Babe Ruth's record. And he did it against the Cardinals, the team he grew up supporting as a boy in Oklahoma. He would hit 2 more homers in that Series, and his 18 World Series home runs remains an all-time record.

Keane didn't bring Schultz in for Games 4 and 5, both of which the Cardinals won. He did bring Schultz in to pitch in the 8th inning of Game 6, a 5-run Yankee inning that sent the Series to a Game 7. Gibson went the distance, and the Cardinals won, 7-5, to take the World Championship.

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Schultz was now 39 years old, and the 1965 season was his last in the majors. He spent the 1966 season in the minors, and was briefly called back up at the end of the season, so that, under the rules of the time, he could qualify for an MLB pension.

He returned home, to Edgewater Park, near his hometown of Beverly, and his off-season jobs of carpenter and haberdasher became his full-time jobs. The Cards called him back to be a minor league pitching instructor, and he was their pitching coach from 1971 to 1975. Another of his former teams, the Cubs, made him their bullpen coach in 1977, but that was his last job in baseball, at age 51.

He had a wife and children, and was elected to the South Jersey Baseball Hall of Fame. He died on September 6, at the age of 88.

The man was a World Champion, for one of baseball's proudest franchises. He should be remembered for that, and not for one pitch. Especially since his team won the Series anyway.

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