Even all these years later, selecting the most sensational ending in World Series history remains an easy call: 1960. It’s the only one that concluded with a Game 7 home run in the bottom of the ninth inning — Bill Mazeroski hitting it off Ralph Terry.
But the 1960 World Series remains memorable for another reason — even if that reason is, admittedly, somewhat less dramatic than a championship-crowning homer.
It featured two of the shortest pitchers ever: 5-foot-8, 155-pound Elroy Face of the Pittsburgh Pirates and 5-foot-6, 140-pound Bobby Shantz of the New York Yankees.
Neither is a mere footnote. Both had long and distinguished careers.
Shantz, a left-hander, won eight Gold Gloves in his 16 years in the big leagues, highlighted by his 1952 season with the Philadelphia Athletics when he won 24 of 31 decisions, threw 27 complete games and five shutouts, posted an earned-run average of 2.48 and won the American League Most Valuable Player award.
With the Yankees in 1960 he was used exclusively in relief, where he won five games, saved 11 and had an ERA of 2.79.
Face, one of the great pioneer closers before that term was widely used to refer to a team’s game-finishing bullpen stud, also had a 16-year big-league career, highlighted by his remarkable 1959 performance when he was 18-1 with 10 saves and an ERA of 2.70.
In the Pirates’ championship season of 1960, he won 10 games, saved 24 and posted a 2.90 ERA. When Face retired after the 1969 season, he was one of only four pitchers with both 100 wins and 100 saves (now there are 15).
Of particular note for you youngsters out there (that is, younger than 55), both Shantz and Face plied their trade in an era when teams’ best relievers routinely closed out games by pitching the final two (or more) innings and “save” wasn’t even a common term, let alone a statistic elevated to the giddy and glorified heights at which it now perches.
That 1960 Series featured two other notable little-guy pitchers: the Pirates’ 5-foot-9 Harvey Haddix, who got the Game 7 win and who in 1959 pitched 12 perfect innings before losing 1-0 in 13; and the Yankees’ 5-foot-8 Luis Arroyo, who would go on to win 15 games and save 29 for the 1961 powerhouse championship team that boasted the epic home-run duel between Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris.
Why all this fuss over short pitchers?
Well, Americans love to cheer for the little guy, right? In the opener of a recent three-game series at Oakland, baseball aficionados could cheer for two of today’s littlest: Toronto Blue Jays starter Marcus Stroman (5-foot-8) and A’s reliever Ryan Dull (5-foot-9).
Stroman, whose fastball can reach mid-90s velocity, has shown flashes of brilliance in his brief big-league career, but has been knocked around a lot lately.
Dull, drafted in the 32nd round (979th overall) by the A’s in 2012, is having a sensational year out of the bullpen and just might be a proverbial diamond in the rough.
Short pitchers just aren’t all that common and, despite baseball being a sport that lends itself more easily than, say, football or basketball to athletes whose physical size is more regular than big or tall, short pitchers who excel are as rare as players who don’t spit. In fact, in baseball’s long history, there might be only one other pitcher of truly slight physical stature in the same class as Shantz and Face.
Lee Viau, a 5-foot-4 right-hander, won 27 games for the 1888 Cincinnati Red Stockings, completing all 42 of his starts (unusual even in that era of manly men, as Mike Krukow might say) and pitching nearly 400 innings. In the following season he achieved the dubious distinction of being a 20-game winner and a 20-game loser. But hey, maybe that’s where a baseball truism was born: You have to be a really good pitcher to lose 20 games — why else would a manager keep giving you the ball?
In recent years, 5-foot-6 Danny Herrera and 5-foot-7 Tim Collins have pitched in the major leagues, but they had only limited success.
And in the early 20th century, 5-foot-4 Dinty Gearin and the unfortunately named Gene Krapp (5-foot-7) carved out brief but unremarkable careers.
Here’s hoping that Stroman and Dull eventually join Shantz, Face and Viau on baseball’s definitive short list — vertically challenged pitchers whose excellence helped them to stand tall on the mound.
Robert Rubino can be reached at RobertoRubino@comcast.net.