SABR

Nestor Chavez

This article was written by Alfonso L Tusa C.

Nestor Isaias (Silva) Chavez, a tall, slim right-hander, who pitched in two games for the San Francisco Giants in 1967, was born July 6, 1947, in the family's home at Calle Las Mercedes in Chacao, Venezuela. He was the fifth of seven children of Sebastian Chavez and Carmen Silva: Marilu, Gladys, Zaira, Valerio, Nestor, Miguel, and Jesus. Nestor became acquainted with baseball because his father managed an amateur team in a neighborhood league. He started to play in the streets and open spaces, gradually spending more and more time in games. Carmen would ask him to run errands for her, but he couldn't resist playing in a game and always returned home late. Carmen spoke to Sebastian, and Nestor began playing in an organized league. He played shortstop at first, but one day when the team ran out of pitchers the manager asked him to start the game, which Nestor won for the Chacao Halcones.

Nestor began to attract attention because he always kept the Halcones' games close. The manager of Los Celis, one of the best juvenile teams, arranged an exhibition game with the Halcones. Los Celis won easily, but Dario Celis talked with Chavez after the game, telling him, "You have a whip in your arm. Come to play with us and you'll become a better pitcher." Chavez took him up on the offer, did well, and became known as El Latigo. Spanning the 1962 and 1963 seasons he won 17 consecutive games. Then came a memorable game against Nueva Esparta in the sixth Nacional Juvenile Championship on August 13, 1963. Chavez battled for 12 1/3 innings before losing 6-3. Distrito Federal won the championship the next day.

Chavez signed a professional contract on September 26, 1963, with the San Francisco Giants organization, and joined the Orientales team in the Venezuelan Winterball League. He made his debut with Orientales on December 3, coming on in relief in the ninth inning against La Guaira. He surrendered a walk but no hits or runs as Orientales lost, 9-8.

Chavez went to play with the Decatur Commodores in the Class A Midwestern League. Appearing in 28 games, starting eight and completing three, he managed a 6-4 slate. Nestor's won-lost record was deceptive, however, as he carried a 5.27 ERA, striking out 67 while surrendering 110 hits and 36 walks in just 99 innings.

Nestor made his debut with the Magallanes Navigators for the 1964-65 season. He won his first game in the league on December 5, 1964, defeating La Guaira, 11-1, in a complete game. Chavez was taken on as a replacement for La Guaira for the playoffs, which La Guaira won. For his part, Chavez appeared in 21 games, going 3-4 with a 3.55 ERA; in 81 2/3 innings he gave up 110 hits, 32 earned runs, and 25 walks, but managed to strike out 44. The hits and walks are disturbing, but there are two possible explanations. Chavez could have surrendered some hits and walks with two out and nobody on base, causing no damage. Or some of those baserunners came after teammates' errors in the field, in which case Chavez gave up some unearned runs. With all those hits and walks, he was fortunate to have as good an ERA as he did. For his efforts Chavez was named Rookie of the Year in January 1965.

Chavez's 1965 season with Decatur was special. He set a Midwest League record with a string of 17 consecutive complete games from May 27 to August 18 while leading the league with 23 starts and seven shutouts among his 20 complete games. Chavez compiled a 12-9 record with an excellent 2.15 ERA. Over 193 innings he gave up 153 hits, struck out 163, and walked only 46.

Returning to the Venezuelan Winterball League for the 1965-66 season with Magallanes, Chavez appeared in 13 games, starting 11, completing three, and pitching a shutout. Pitching 78 innings, he gave up 85 hits while striking out 41, issuing 18 walks. He won 5 and lost 3, posting a 3.00 ERA, but 103 baserunners in 78 innings suggests that he had some very good luck. On January 5, Nestor defeated the Cleveland Indians' and Valencia's Steve Hargan, 2-1, driving in the winning run with a single in the fifth inning. The Valencia Industriales took him on February 4 as a "substitute" player for the playoffs.

Nestor's next stop was with the Phoenix Giants in the Class AAA Pacific Coast League. There he received valuable advice from Giants immortal Carl Hubbell and teammate veteran hurler Don Larsen, who taught him not to raise his left leg so high so that he could stay in the game longer. As a spot starter appearing in 30 games, 7 of them starts, Chavez went 7-5 with a 4.56 ERA, the result of 40 runs in 79 innings. He still gave up too many hits (82) but helped himself with 47 strikeouts and only 21 walks. Nestor finished the season at Waterbury in the Class AA Eastern League. He achieved his 3-3 record and 2.70 ERA in 8 games with 6 starts, 50 innings, only 37 hits, 31 strikeouts, but a mildly alarming 22 walks. Despite his .500 mark, he was learning to keep people off the bases, always a good sign.

In the highlight of the 1966-67 season in Venezuela, on November 20, Nestor threw a two-hit shutout for Magallanes over the Aragua Tigers. Valencia took him as a substitute player the following January 28 for the playoffs. For the season Chavez went 6-7 with a nice 2.69 ERA. Overall, he appeared in 20 games with 14 starts, two complete games, and a shutout. In 117 innings he gave up 119 hits, striking out 76 and walking 29.

Chavez capped off his season by marrying Carmen Elena Von Der Brelje on February 10, 1967.

Back in the States, Nestor began the season with Phoenix. He appeared in 10 games, nine of them starts, with two complete games. His 6-3 record was deceptive, for in just 61 innings he gave up 78 hits and 20 walks while striking out 43. It added up to a 5.76 ERA. He was sent back to Waterbury, where he did much better: 18 games, all of them starts, 15 complete games, and seven shutouts for an outstanding 1.77 ERA. The results were a 12-5 record based on 136 innings, just 98 hits and 38 walks, with 102 strikeouts. One excellent outing came on June 25, 10-inning, complete-game 2-1 win over York.

His work would earn him a call-up to the Giants in September.

Chavez made his debut on September 9, answering skipper Herman Franks's call in the seventh inning with the Giants trailing the Cubs, 6-1. He got Billy Williams to ground out, shortstop Hal Lanier to first baseman Jack Hiatt. He walked Ron Santo, but Ernie Banks flied out to Willie Mays in center. Chavez next allowed a single to Randy Hundley. His situation worsened when Bob Raudman reached first on Lanier's error, with Santo scoring. Adolfo Phillips singled to left to bring in Hundley. He finally ended the frame by striking out Rich Nye. It was neither the best nor worst of major league debuts. Ironically, two future members of the Hall of Fame and another that many people believe belongs in the Hall didn't do much with him.

Nestor didn't pitch again until September 30, in Candlestick Park against the Phillies. Relieving Bill Henry with the game scoreless in the fourth inning, Chavez went right to work, striking out Gary Sutherland. He then walked Don Lock. Ricardo Joseph popped up to center fielder Ken Henderson, who fired to Jack Hiatt at first to double up Lock.

Chavez started the fifth by retiring Johnny Briggs on a fly to Henderson. Bobby Wine grounded to second, Bob Schroder throwing him out at first. Jimmy Schaffer then popped up to Schroder.

Leading off the Giants' fifth, Hiatt grounded out, pitcher John Boozer to Joseph at first. Frank Johnson singled to right. Dick Dietz doubled to left center, scoring Johnson. Bobby Etheridge singled to short, Dietz staying at second. Chavez forced Etheridge at short, Wine to Cookie Rojas, Dietz going to third. Cesar Gutierrez popped to catcher Schaffer in foul territory. The Giants led, 1-0.

Nestor came back in the sixth, handling Clay Dalrymple's grounder and throwing him out at first. Rojas singled to left. Tony Taylor grounded to short, and Gutierrez forced Rojas at second and threw to first to complete the double play.

Leading off the seventh, Sutherland reached first on Chavez's error. Johnny Callison grounded back to the mound, with Chavez throwing to Gutierrez for the force. Tony Gonzalez singled to left, moving Callison to second. Briggs grounded to Hiatt, with Chavez completing the putout at first. Callison and Gonzalez advanced to third and second, respectively. Bill White, hitting for Wine, drew an intentional walk to load the bases. Chavez struck out pinch hitter Doug Clemens, batting for Grant Jackson, to complete the inning and protect the Giants' 1-0 lead.

Lindy McDaniel pitched the eighth and ninth to nail down the 1-0 Giant win. Chavez had his first and only major league win as a reward for four innings with two hits, two walks (one intentional), two strikeouts, and his own error.

Returning to Venezuela and Magallanes, he beat La Guaira, 2-0, with a four-hitter on October 14. Two weeks later he defeated Valencia's Roberto Munoz, 1-0. Despite these outstanding efforts, he could post only a 5-6 mark and a 3.82 ERA. He started 18 of the 22 games in which he appeared, giving up 125 hits and 29 walks in 113 innings. He helped himself with 81 strikeouts.

Performing as a substitute player for the Caracas Lions, however, he set a Venezuelan Winterball League record on January 23, 1968: He retired 25 batters in a row while pitching a one-hitter to beat Valencia, 3-0. With Chavez's help Caracas won the championship.

Late January 1968 was a good time for Nestor Chavez. Just six days after his brilliant game against Valencia, Nestor Jr. was born.

Despite his fairly solid work in 1967, Chavez returned to Phoenix in 1968. He injured his right ankle badly sliding into third base on April 17. He recovered from the ankle injury but ended the season with pain in his right elbow. He started 13 games, while appearing in 17, and completed just one. His record was 5-5 with a 3.92 ERA the result of 37 earned runs in just 85 innings. He struck out 57 but gave up 92 hits and 19 walks.

On October 10, Dr. Jose Martinez Morales diagnosed calcium deposit in Nestor's right elbow. Because of the treatment Chavez was unable to play in the Venezuelan Winterball League. Three months after his diagnosis Dr. Martinez extracted the calcium deposits from Nestor's elbow. Nestor Chavez would never pitch again.

Chavez's minor league totals over five years show some promise: 51 wins and 34 losses (a .600 winning percentage), 135 games, 85 starts, 45 complete games, 14 shutouts, 709 innings, 655 hits, 514 strikeouts, 209 walks, 260 earned runs, and a 3.30 ERA. Given a little more time, he might have put together a nice major league career, but it wasn't to be.

Nestor Chavez died March 16, 1969, in a plane crash at Grano de Oro Airport in Maracaibo, Venezuela. There were no survivors.

The Magallanes team retired Chavez's number 23 the following October.


Sources

www.baseball-reference.com.
www.sabr.org.
www.retrosheet.org.
www.Midwestleague.com.
www.TheSportingNews.com.

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