SABR

Ike Delock

This article was written by Ray Birch.

A vital part of the Boston Red Sox teams of the 1950s and early 1960s, Ivan Martin “Ike” Delock, a gritty right-handed pitcher, was born, in Highland Park, Michigan. A Marine Corps veteran, he compiled an 84-75 record in a career which, with the exception of a one-month stint with the Baltimore Orioles in 1963, was spent entirely with the Red Sox. At 5-feet-11 inches and 175 pounds, Delock earned a reputation as a fierce competitor, despite playing for mediocre Red Sox teams.

Ike Delock was born on November 11, 1929, in Highland Park, the son of Croatian immigrants Martin (née Delac) and Amanda (Vukelic) Delock. Highland Park and adjoining Hamtramck are completely surrounded by Detroit. In 1929, Highland Park had a population of about 50,000, and was heavily dependent on the Ford Motor Company for employment. (Over the years, the decline of the auto industry and white flight have reduced the city’s population to under 15,000.) Ike’s father worked for Ford and his mother was a homemaker. An older brother, Joe, pitched in the Red Sox and Chicago White Sox farm systems from 1948 to 1951.

During his youth, Ike was a star athlete who graduated from Highland Park High School, playing baseball (third base), basketball (guard), and football (fullback). He also played in the Detroit Baseball Federation. While serving with the Marines from 1946 to 1948, he played with his camp teams at Great Lakes and Camp Lejeune at which time he began to learn how to pitch, mainly because there were no other pitchers on his team. His pitching prowess was established early on with the camp team, as he struck out 21 batters in his first start. Upon his departure from the service, Delock drew the attention of Red Sox scout Maurice DeLoof, who had come to the Delock household to sign Ike’s brother, Joe. Ike, who had been scouted by the New York Yankees, was asked by DeLoof how much the Yankees were offering him to sign. Ike told him, DeLoof offered more and both Ike and Joe signed with the Red Sox, without the scout having ever seen Ike on a baseball diamond.

Delock was assigned to the Auburn (New York) Cayugas of the Border League (Class C), where he compiled a 5-5 record on a last-place team in 1948. From there, Delock continued his baseball education and moved in 1949 to the Oneonta (New York) Red Sox of the Canadian-American League (Class C), managed by future Red Sox coach Eddie Popowski; in 1950 to the Roanoke (Virginia) Red Sox of the Piedmont League (Class B), managed by Red Marion, brother of Marty Marion, the St. Louis Cardinals’ former star shortstop; and in 1951 to the Scranton (Pennsylvania) Red Sox of the Eastern League (Class A). 1 Delock won 12 games in 1949 and 15 games in 1950, but it was at Scranton that he began to show great promise as a potential major-league pitcher, winning 20 games and losing 4, with an excellent 1.92 earned-run average, netting him a promotion first to the Birmingham (Alabama) Barons of the Double-A Southern Association at the tail end of 1951.

Projected as both a starting and relief pitcher, Delock broke spring training with the Red Sox in 1952 and appeared in his first major-league game on April 17; he came on in relief in the third game of the season with the Red Sox holding a 9-2 lead over the Washington Senators and pitched the bottom of the ninth, allowing a couple of hits but no runs.

Delock picked up his first win on the 24th, as the Red Sox beat the Yankees in an 11-inning game at Fenway Park. Ike worked the final inning and again gave up a pair of hits but escaped unscathed, striking out Mickey Mantle with the bases loaded and two outs. The Red Sox won in the bottom of the inning on a two-out, bases-loaded walk. After five days of rain delays, Delock won his second game the next time the Red Sox played. He pitched the final 2⅓ innings against his home-town Detroit Tigers, allowing no hits, and was the pitcher of record when Ted Williams hit a game-winning homer in his final at-bat before being recalled for Korean War duty with the Marines.

Delock lost games in relief on May 4 and May 13. His first start, on June 10, resulted in a loss, when he was driven out early by the St. Louis Browns in Boston, but the second time he was given a starting assignment, nine days later, he shut out the Browns in St. Louis with a 2-0 five-hitter. It was the first of his six career shutouts.

Delock stayed with the team until August 7; after the first game of that day’s doubleheader, he was optioned to Triple-A Louisville to make room for Ellis Kinder, who was returning from back problems. Delock’s demotion was brief—he won his only two appearances, both starts. Ike returned in time to start the August 22 game against the White Sox. He gave up only five hits in eight innings, but three of the hits went for extra bases, including two triples by Nellie Fox and a double by Chico Carrasquel. Boston lost, 4-1.

In 39 games during the 1952 season, Delock worked mostly out of the bullpen. He started seven games and had five saves in 95 innings of work. By season’s end, he had a record of 4-9 with a 4.26 ERA. The team ERA was 3.80 and only Mel Parnell (12-12) and Mickey McDermott (10-9) won 10 or more games.

The following spring, Delock was sent back to Louisville to start the season, where he finished 3-6 but with a 2.96 ERA in 12 games and 85 innings. He was recalled to Boston in July, appearing in 23 games. He had a 3-1 record, in 48 innings with an ERA of 4.44.

Entering spring training of 1954, Delock’s career was at a crossroads. Always a control pitcher, and having abundant confidence in his abilities, he knew nonetheless that he was in competition for a spot on the Red Sox roster; and this caused him to focus more on what it took to become a major-league pitcher. Taking the advice of Red Sox coach Del Baker, Delock changed his stride, which helped improve his control. 2 Despite his efforts, Delock was sent to Louisville, where he spent the entire 1954 season; this was his last minor-league season as he posted a 17-10 record, entirely as a starter, with a 3.29 ERA. He convinced the Red Sox brass that he had the right stuff to pitch in Boston.

Although Delock had arrived at Louisville discouraged, he showed an improved curveball and developed a slider, helped by teammate Bill “Lefty” Kennedy. 3 Louisville skipper Mike “Pinky” Higgins convinced Delock that he had everything to gain by having a great season, since the Red Sox were out of options on him and he would have to be with the major-league club the next year or somewhere else. 4 Using this as motivation, Delock not only had an effective season on the mound, but was a leader on a Colonels club that won the American Association championship and the Junior World Series over the Syracuse Chiefs of the International League. A highlight of the league playoffs was a 2-0, five-hit, 11-inning masterpiece victory hurled by Delock against Indianapolis’s Herb Score, who only allowed one hit in 10 innings. The championships also earned Higgins the manager’s job at Boston, and hastened Delock’s rise to the big club.

In 1955, despite being idled by a sore shoulder for nearly a month, Delock split time as a starter and reliever for the Red Sox, winning nine games and losing seven, with a 3.76 ERA. His fine season helped keep the Red Sox in the pennant race into August. Entering the 1956 season, Delock was pegged as a starting pitcher, but before long, after being approached by Higgins, showed his prowess as a reliever and he posted a record of 11-2 in that role, leading the league in relief victories. Many of his appearances were in long relief, allowing him to throw harder, rather than pacing himself when he was a starter. 5 Delock’s efforts earned him the Unsung Hero award presented by the Boston Baseball Writers after the 1956 season, and the Red Sox rewarded him with a contract which Delock described as “the best contract I’ve ever had.”

Back as a reliever in 1957, Delock seemingly made peace with his assignment to the bullpen. When asked about starting versus relieving, he offered the following:

“Well, as you know, all pitchers prefer to start, instead of working out of the bullpen. You have to figure there’s more money in starting. But after my talk with Mike (Higgins), I felt better about it. He assured me that if I did the job, I’d be paid. … There was a time when only the second stringers relieved. But no more. In fact, it’s getting to a point where the number one relief man is the most important member of your pitching staff.” 6

After a 9-8 record, mostly in relief, in 1957, Delock was returned to the starting rotation in June 1958, because previous starters for the Bosox were either hurt or ineffective. After beginning the year 4-0 as a reliever, Delock won his first six starts. In fact, including three straight victories in relief at the tail end of 1957, Delock ran off 13 consecutive wins before being defeated by the White Sox on July 26, 1958.7 Despite dropping five consecutive decisions from late August into September, he still pitched well enough to win 14 games in all, which earned him the Pitcher of the Year award given by the Boston Baseball Writers.

With the successes of the three previous seasons bolstering his confidence, Delock, now 28 years old, seemed poised to benefit from his pitching experiences, both as a starter and from the bullpen, with a big season. While speaking of Delock’s growth as a pitcher, Senators pitching coach Walter Beck observed:

“This pressure (of being a relief pitcher) strengthens a young pitcher, particularly under here (pointing to his chest). It builds up his confidence, hardens his spirit and determination. You can’t be successful in relief jams without getting better all over, without growing up in the trade.” 8

In 1959 Delock came to spring training determined to add another pitch to his repertoire – a changeup slider. 9But when he struggled as a starter in the first half of the season, as a result of elbow and shoulder injuries, he was moved back to the bullpen. He relished the change, as he went 5-0 over seven relief appearances through the middle of August. Always a poor hitter, with a lifetime .086 batting average, he hit his first and only home run in a game against the Tigers on June 10. When asked in a 2008 interview about his hitting, Delock said that, as a pitcher, he was often asked to advance a runner, either by a bunt or hitting the ball to the right side of the infield, thus lowering his average; despite this, he felt that he was a more than adequate hitter.

An injury to Delock’s elbow, which had surfaced during the 1959 season, continued into 1960 and he was sent to Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore for an examination, which showed muscular soreness. The diagnosis was that rest and time were the best remedies. Despite the late start to his season, in June, Delock managed to start 23 games, completing two of them, for a 9-10 record. Perhaps a measure of his frustration about his arm came on June 28 when, in a game in which he was knocked out after an inning and a third, he made obscene gestures in full view of the fans at the game. His actions merited a three-game suspension meted out by American League president Joe Cronin. Another interesting incident involving Delock occurred when Kansas City outfielder Whitey Herzog accused him of throwing spitballs; the allegation was never substantiated.

In 1961, Delock reported to spring training determined to improve on his 1960 season, but in 28 starts, his record was 6-9 with a 4.90 ERA, with only three complete games. The highlight of his season came on May 29 with a 2-1, five-hit decision over the Yankees, in which he outdueled Whitey Ford. After being appointed the player representative for the Red Sox in the offseason, Delock started the 1962 season slowly, with five consecutive no-decisions, until he put together three straight wins, two of them complete games.

However, on July 2, in a game against Minnesota, Delock tore ligaments in his right knee on a play while backing up home plate, causing him to spend 30 days on the disabled list. Upon his return, he beat the Orioles, 3-0, but then endured a string of four consecutive losses.

The combination of age (he was 33), injury, and ineffectiveness finally took its toll on Delock’s career in 1963, as he was released by the Red Sox on June 9, after not seeing eye-to-eye with manager Johnny Pesky. Delock was reportedly “shocked” and “stunned” by the team’s action. The Orioles then signed him, but released him on July 19, after 7 games (1-3, 5.04).

Asked in 2008 about memorable teammates from his days with the Red Sox, Delock quickly named Billy Consolo, Jerry Casale, Billy Goodman, Jackie Jensen, and Pete Runnels; his locker when he first came to the Red Sox was next to that of the great Ted Williams. Regarding his thoughts on pitching, he was adamant about pitchers today having too many pitches that they felt they needed to master. Delock said pitchers should try to master two pitches, and throw them from three different angles; his best two pitches were his fastball and his slider.

For his career in major-league baseball, Delock ended up with an 84-75 won-lost record and a 4.03 ERA in 329 games, of which he started 147. In 1,238 total innings, he struck out 672 batters while walking 530 and giving up 1,236 hits. Considering that the Red Sox frequently were below .500 and never were closer than 12 games behind the AL leaders at season’s end for his tenure in Boston, Delock’s career statistics, although not Hall of Fame worthy, were impressive enough to land him in the top 25 of all-time Red Sox pitchers in wins (23rd), games pitched (8th), saves (19th), innings pitched (24th) and strikeouts (23rd).

After retiring from baseball, Delock lent his name and expertise to the National Sports Camp in Windham, Connecticut (along with Virgil Trucks), and also worked as a sales representative for Northwest Airlines. After retiring, he moved to Naples, Florida, with his wife. Glenna. There are three children, a daughter, Leslie, and two sons, Robert and Larry.

 

Sources

Ike Delock, telephone interview, July 2008.

 

Notes

1 Ed Rumill, “Delock Satisfied with Fenway Park’s Barrier,” Christian Science Monitor, March 19, 1953: 14.

2 Ed Rumill, “Ike Delock Bears Down: Baker Tip Could Be Key,” Christian Science Monitor, February 23, 1954: 10.

3 Ed Rumill, “Delock Adds Slider For Final Try With Red Sox,” Christian Science Monitor, March 23, 1955: 12.

4 Tommy Fitzgerald, “Delock Rolls Along Winning, Waiting for Red Sox’ Last Call,” The Sporting News, June 30, 1954.

5 Bob Holbrook, “Delock’s Lockup Work Makes Mike Like Ike as No. 1 Reliever,” The Sporting News, July 11, 1956: 35.

6 Ed Rumill, “Satisfied Ike Delock Disputes Rickey Claim,” Christian Science Monitor, March 1, 1957: 6.

7 Hy Hurwitz, “Jensen Grabs RBI and HR Top Spots, Keeps Bosox Afloat,” The Sporting News, July 9, 1958: 22.

8 Ibid.

9 Ed Rumill, “Pitcher Ike Delock Set For Another ‘Big Year,’” Christian Science Monitor, March 20, 1959: 20.

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