SABR

Jack Baldschun

This article was written by Andy Sturgill.

For five years beginning in 1961, no relief pitcher was more important to his team’s success than Jack Baldschun. Starting with a single pitch that the great Stan Musial said often “humiliated”1 the greatest hitters of the day, adding the ability to pitch four, five, and even six games in a row, and underscoring that with the confidence that he could get batters out in any situation, Baldschun, for a short period, was considered one of the premier relievers in the game. Perhaps Philadelphia Phillies manager Gene Mauch best summed up the right-hander’s value when he told the press in 1963, at the height of the pitcher’s skills, “He has a rubber arm, he makes the batters hit the ball on the ground, [and] he has the ideal temperament and confidence.”2 Those qualities made Baldschun the anchor of the Phillies relief corps.

Jack Edward Baldschun was born in the town of Greenville, Ohio, 95 miles north of Cincinnati, on October 16, 1936. There, around the turn of the century, Jack’s grandparents Franklin Baldschun and his wife, Louisa, began a farm. Their eldest child, Henry, worked for his father on the farm, and married Regina Krukeberg. The union produced two sons, Robert, born in 1932, and Jack.

If Henry was influential in his youngest son’s athletic development, Jack never said as much. Instead, the pitcher explained in the December 28, 1963, issue of The Sporting news, “My uncle brought me up as far as baseball was concerned.” Therein, however, lies a bit of speculation. In that interview Baldschun identified his “uncle” as a man named Maynard Wolf. The story noted that Wolf owned a fuel and coal company in Greenville. However, no one by that name appears in the genealogy of either of Baldschun’s parents, so whether or not Wolf was a blood relative is unclear. Regardless, Baldschun described Wolf as an “ex-semipro” player – who was a “good hitter and catcher but had a weak arm.” Wolf managed the sandlot team on which Baldschun played, and, Baldschun continued, “When I was no more than eight or nine … he took me around and he and I gave exhibitions before the games, with me pitching or shagging flies.”3

Baseball wasn’t the young man’s only athletic interest, however. In addition to baseball, Wolf also coached Baldschun in other sports, including golf. “When I was 16 years old I finished second in a Sealtest Dairy Company tournament with a 42 for nine holes,” and based on that performance, “I thought about taking golf up seriously.”4 It was a game that Baldschun thereafter played at every opportunity, usually posting scores between 85 and 90.

There was also another sporting activity that appealed to young Jack, and in this his father was central. “Harness racing interested me too,” Baldschun said. “My father owned some horses and he drove them in races in Ohio, Michigan, and Illinois. … I used to travel around with him during the summer.”5 Jack loved horses and harness racing, and served as a groom for his father. For a while he was undecided on whether to concentrate on baseball or become a harness racing driver.

Ultimately, Baldschun enjoyed baseball the most. At Greenville High School he played the sport for three years, while also lettering in basketball and track. During his junior year the school didn’t field a baseball team. Jack and some of his teammates got the principal to restore the program, with the football coach assuming baseball coaching duties as well.

By then Baldschun was already a known quantity in local baseball circles. “When I was about 11,” he remembered, “Tony Lucadello, who [signed 52 professional players,] was scouting for the Cubs at the time, saw me play in Greenville, and he wanted to take me to Chicago to be the Cubs’ batboy, but my parents refused. … Tony told me to let him know when I was a senior in high school. I did and he came down, but he never saw me play a decent game as we had a bad team. He wrote me before I went to college that there wasn’t anything he could do for me.”6 If Baldschun was disappointed by Lucadello’s rebuff we don’t know because soon other scouts were knocking on the right-hander’s door.

In the fall of 1954 Jack enrolled at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, and joined the baseball team in his freshman year. Opportunities to play at a higher level came quickly. In the summer of 1955, after the collegiate season, Baldschun played sandlot ball, and found himself in Nashville, Tennessee. The president of the league in which he was playing recommended Jack to the owner of the Nashville Volunteers (Southern Association), Ted Murray. Murray wanted to sign him but Baldschun declined, explaining that he wanted to attend college.

Another team was also interested in the pitcher. When Baldschun returned from Nashville, “there was a letter from [the] Cincinnati Redlegs waiting for me, asking me to come over for a tryout.”7 At the tryout Baldschun threw just a few pitches before Reds farm director Bill McKechnie, Jr. offered to sign him. McKechnie, though, wasn’t the only person impressed by the 18-year-old. An independent scout named Herbert Stromer, who was affiliated with the Nashville club, had also watched Baldschun and recommended him to Murray.8 This time, Murray offered to sign Baldschun and allow him to continue college. (“That was the first time I thought about doing that,” Baldschun later related).9 So before the 1956 season, the right-hander signed a contract with the Volunteers.

For one season, things went according to plan. In 1956, while enrolled at the university, Baldschun debuted with the Thibodaux (Louisiana) Senators, Washington’s entry in the Class C Evangeline League (it’s unclear how he ended up with the Washington affiliate). Used almost exclusively as a starter, he proved to be a workhorse, leading the team in innings pitched on the way to ten wins (although he also led the league in hits allowed). It was a promising debut.

The next year, though, due to an unforeseeable event, everything changed. Baldschun spent the entire season with the Wausau (Wisconsin) Lumberjacks, Cincinnati’s entry in the Class C Northern League. While there, he later recalled for The Sporting News, “I met my wife, Charlotte Kolbe … so I completed only two years of college because I got married just before the start of the 1958 season.”10 Their marriage eventually lasted nearly 52 years and produced two children, Kim, born in 1960, and Brad, in 1965.

Now baseball had become Baldschun’s profession. Despite playing on a poor team that year (Wausau finished sixth in the eight-team Northern League), he again proved a valuable starter, leading the team in wins, innings pitched, and ERA. After just two full seasons, it appeared he was well on his way to success. Soon, though, his upward climb came to an abrupt halt. For the first time, he was hampered by injuries. In 1958, he later recalled, “I started out that year at Savannah, went to Albuquerque after two weeks, and there I came up with a sore arm. They sent me to Visalia (California) and told me to throw out the soreness in the hot weather, but the more I pitched, the worse it got.”11 So, “the next year I changed my style of pitching.”12

Until then Baldschun had delivered the ball side-arm. But In 1959, now pitching for Topeka in the Three-I League, he began to throw the ball overhand. “I found that really helped my curveball,” he said, “but I threw too many of them and popped a muscle in my forearm. … I was out for a month and a half and was just about ready to give it up.”13

Johnny Vander Meer convinced him otherwise. The legendary southpaw, the only major-league pitcher to throw consecutive no-hitters, was the manager at Topeka. As a result of Baldschun’s injury, Baldschun recalled in 1963, “Cincinnati wanted to release me, but Vandy wanted to keep me. If I’d been released, I doubt if I would have kept at it. …Vandy convinced me that I should try again, and I started out at Nashville.”14

It was a move that probably saved Baldschun’s career – and ultimately propelled him to the major leagues. At Double-A Nashville in 1960, Baldschun related two years later, “my arm had really gone bad” – so bad, in fact, that “my wife wanted me to quit baseball.”15 After just five appearances his earned-run average was 7.62, so management decided to demote him to Single-A Columbia (South Carolina). On his last night with Nashville before departing, while warming up in the bullpen, Baldschun began “messing around with a screwball.”16 The catcher, who’d never seen him throw the pitch before, said to him, “Stick that scroogie in your pocket, Jack – your fast ball drops just as much.” “Just to show him,” Baldschun recalled, “I really put some stuff on a screwball. It surprised me – it jumped all over the place.”17 And with that pitch, Baldschun revived his career.

At Columbia he became a reliever, and, he recalled in December 1963, “I found I could throw the screwball just about where I wanted to. … I got confidence, too, and I felt it didn’t matter who was up there, that I could get him out.”18

As the season wore on, Baldschun became Columbia’s stopper out of the bullpen. While just 2-4 as a starter, he crafted a 10-5 record in relief. Amazingly, the screwball, which carried a reputation of hurting a pitcher’s arm, actually seemed to strengthen Baldschun’s. At Columbia he began to get lots of work. Three years later, by then an established major leaguer, he explained, “The muscle gets hard when I pitch a lot. The only thing that softens it is not pitching, which I hate. … I know I’ve got a freak arm, because most pitchers think the screwball weakens and hurts them. It isn’t logical, but it makes me stronger. I had a terrible arm in the minors – torn muscles in the forearm for two years – until the screwball saved me.”19

Despite the pitcher’s newfound effectiveness, Cincinnati, much to the dismay of Baldschun’s manager at Columbia, Max Macon, failed to summon him to the majors. It was a slight that neither Macon nor his star reliever could understand. Several years later, Baldschun recalled, “I know Macon recommended me to Cincinnati, but they never gave me a shot and they needed pitching then, too.”20 Indeed, Macon had become Baldschun’s biggest fan, telling the press that “I’d stake my reputation that this guy can win in the majors.”21 So when Cincinnati balked at recalling Baldschun, Macon recommended him to an old friend, Phillies manager Gene Mauch, with whom Macon had once roomed when both were with the Brooklyn Dodgers. If the Reds couldn’t use Baldschun’s screwball in their bullpen, perhaps the Phillies could.

As the minor-league draft approached in the fall of 1960, the Reds left Baldschun unprotected. Fearful of losing him, however, they attempted to hide the pitcher by placing him on the roster of their Charleston (West Virginia) club. The Phillies, though, were not fooled. At the Rule 5 draft, the Phillies selected Baldschun for $25,000. 22 After five years and eight different minor-league stops, he was leaving the only professional organization he’d ever known.

On Opening Day of the 1961 season, 24-year-old Jack Baldschun was finally a major leaguer. Yet, as the season got under way, he may have questioned whether he truly belonged. During the spring Mauch had used him sparingly, hoping, the manager admitted a year later, “to spring his screwball on National League hitters like an exploding cigar.”23 Perhaps as a result of that inactivity, Baldschun began the year poorly. While his major-league debut on April 28 at St. Louis was successful (in one inning of work he faced five batters, allowed no runs and one hit, and walked one), by June 27 he had appeared in 20 games, pitched just 25⅓ innings, and was 0-1 with a 7.11 ERA and no saves. Then something clicked. On June 29, at home against the Giants, Baldschun pitched a scoreless ninth inning, and from then until the end of the season his record was 5-2, with three saves and a 2.78 ERA. He had finally arrived, and for the next four years Baldschun was a regular, a fearsome presence in the Philadelphia bullpen.

Undoubtedly, the keys to Baldschun’s success were his durability and devastating screwball. It wasn’t the only pitch in his arsenal – he also possessed a sinking fastball, a curve, and a slider – but it was a one-of-a-kind pitch, and therefore kept hitters completely off balance. The secret to his screwball’s effectiveness, Baldschun contended, was in his delivery. “I throw my screwball different from most pitchers,” he said. “Most screwballs break on the same plane … like a slider. Mine drops … like a curveball thrown overhanded by a left-hander.”24

Moreover, he used a cutting motion that allowed the pitch to break in two directions. “Most righties break it so that it comes in on a right-handed hitter and away from a lefty,” Baldschun explained.” I also can throw it so that it breaks in the opposite direction.”25

“It’s not a curve,” Baldschun said. “It spins differently and breaks down like a scroogie.”26 Almost invariably he kept the pitch low in the strike zone, and by the time a batter recognized what it was, it was too late. “Batters have told me that they can’t pick up the spin, that the ball looks like a fastball up until five feet before it reaches the plate, (then) it sort of stops dead, then drops, sometimes as much as two feet.”27 The result was usually one groundball after another. “Not many guys can make you look as bad as Baldschun,” Stan Musial remarked. “It’s like swatting at a butterfly. He can humiliate you.”28

Beyond his signature pitch, Baldschun also thrived on work. When he arrived in Philadelphia the pitcher began a strenuous regimen of isometric exercises, and as his career progressed he remained diligent in their execution. He performed them before every game, and they kept his right forearm, which was thicker than his right biceps, strong and bulky, which Baldschun felt prevented injuries. “I think it helps me to come back day after day,” Baldschun said.29

“If this team needed it, I could pitch every day in relief, not going more than three innings. I think I could throw in over 100 games,” Baldschun said.30 For five years Mauch gave him ample opportunity to prove it. In 1961 Baldschun led the NL with 65 appearances; in 1962 and 1963, he was second to the Dodgers’ Ron Perranoski. Over his first three seasons Baldschun appeared in 197 games and set two league records (since broken); most relief appearances by a pitcher in his first three years, and most consecutive relief appearances over a three-year span.

The epitome of Baldschun’s endurance occurred in July 1961. On the 15th in Los Angeles, he had appeared in seven consecutive games; if he pitched against the Dodgers that night he would tie the record of eight straight, held by Elroy Face. The following spring, Baldschun remembered that night:

“If I tied Face’s record,” he said, “I’d get a national TV appearance. I mentioned it to Bob Lemon [Philadelphia’s pitching coach], who told Mauch. I think they wanted to use me. Chris Short was pitching – and you’d never figure a left-hander to last in that Coliseum. Three times he was in trouble. Three times I warmed up. Always a line drive or something got Chris off the hook, and he finished the game. Goodbye record.”31

In addition to his physical endurance, Baldschun was mentally tough. A week after the Los Angeles game he proved his mettle. On July 22 Baldschun’s father died, and the pitcher returned to Greenville for the burial. The day after the funeral Baldschun flew back to Philadelphia, tired, pale, and emotionally spent. That night he told Mauch, “You want me, Skip, I’m ready,” and that night Mauch once again called him from the bullpen.

On the mound Baldschun was fearless, and his confidence in his screwball was resolute. “Every moment “I have to think I’m better than the man with the bat in his hand,” he said. When a big hitter came to the plate, “You’re too busy thinking about how to get the hell out of the mess” to be worried about the outcome. “You don’t have time to scare.”32

A perfect example occurred on July 17, 1961. That day Baldschun faced the San Francisco Giants. In the seventh inning, protecting a 7-6 lead, he struck out Matty Alou, Willie Mays, and Orlando Cepeda. Afterwards he told the press, “My biggest thrill today was striking out Willie Mays and Orlando Cepeda. The screwball got Mays and I used it to fool Cepeda. I threw him two screwballs and then a fastball. He was expecting another screwball.”33 That was just the kind of makeup that compelled Mauch, in 1963, to call Baldschun “the best reliever in the business today.”34

As 1964 ushered in the first of Baldschun’s two final years with the Phillies, Mauch began to waver in that assessment. Although the manager continued to send him to the mound with regularity (that year of the Phillies’ infamous late-season collapse, Baldschun set career highs in games and saves), for the first time since establishing himself in the Phillies bullpen, it appeared his role as the number-one reliever might be in jeopardy. In 1963 young pitchers Dallas Green and John Boozer and veteran Johnny Klippstein had performed well in emergency roles, and Mauch used them in tight situations formerly reserved strictly for Baldschun. Then, in April 1964, the Phillies purchased veteran reliever Ed Roebuck from Washington, and he almost immediately became a sensation, at one point making 15 straight appearances without allowing a run. He too began to cut into clutch assignments that had previously been Baldschun’s domain.

By 1965 Baldschun’s final season in Philadelphia, the writing was on the wall for the right-hander. Not only did general manager John Quinn publicly question whether Baldschun could still perform at the pitcher’s customary level (“We have been concerned about Jack’s effectiveness in the National League. … He’s been around for five years and the batters know what to expect”), but Mauch had also begun to ask him to change the pitching style that had made him so successful.35

“I’ve always tried to make the batters hit my screwball,” Baldschun said in January 1966. “But a lot of time after getting two strikes on a batter, I’d come in with a fast ball or a slider. … You know, try to surprise ’em a little … [but] I had a couple of bad games last year, and then Mauch insisted I change. He wanted me to start batters off with fastballs and sliders … use my screwball as an ‘out pitch’… but my other pitches aren’t that good. The other team would have a few hits and few runs off me before I got a chance to throw my screwball. … Pretty soon I started to fight myself instead of the batter. When you do that, you might just as well walk off the mound.”36

Nevertheless, on June 7, 1965, in Philadelphia, versus Los Angeles, Mauch summoned Baldschun from the bullpen. It was the the 292nd relief appearance of Baldschun’s career, breaking the team record held by Jim Konstanty. It turned out to be the final highlight of Baldschun’s tenure in Philadelphia. Six months later, he was shipped to the American League, and shortly thereafter he became part of one of the most famous trades in baseball history.

It all came about because the Baltimore Orioles wanted Frank Robinson and the Cincinnati Reds wanted Baldschun. Talks had been brewing for a year. At the winter meetings in 1964, the Orioles and Reds had discussed scenarios in which Baltimore could acquire the Cincinnati superstar. One such deal involved the Phillies’ Baldschun; Cincinnati president Bill DeWitt cast covetous eyes on the pitcher, whom he’d tried to sign back in 1955. Accordingly, a year later a sequence of trades was made that satisfied both clubs – and the Phillies. First, on December 2, 1965, the Orioles traded first baseman Norm Siebern to the California Angels for outfielder Dick Simpson. Four days later the Phillies, who were seeking a right-handed hitter, traded Baldschun to the Orioles for outfielder Jackie Brandt and left-handed pitcher Darold Knowles. Three days later, the Orioles traded Baldschun, Simpson, and Pappas to Cincinnati for Robinson, and the deals were complete. Six years after being drafted away from the Cincinnati organization, Baldschun became a Red. (He wasn’t surprised to end up with Cincinnati. “After all,” he said, “I knew they had been trying to get me from the Phillies for two years.”37)

Baldschun had been an American Leaguer for just over 72 hours. Perhaps things might have worked out differently if he had stayed there. At the time of his trade to Cincinnati, in fact, he said, “When the Phils traded me to Baltimore, I figured I would have a fantastic year for them in ’66 … mainly because of my screwball. No one in the American League has seen it.”38 Instead, though, he stayed in the NL, where, as the Phillies had feared, his screwball was no longer a mystery.

As spring training got under way in 1966, Baldschun was 29 years old. If he had any inkling that his best days were behind him, he never voiced them. During the winter he and his family had remained in their home in Yeadon, Pennsylvania, where they’d lived for five years and he’d retained his offseason job as a salesman for a Philadelphia paper firm. Having added a few pounds over the years to what had been a 6-foot-1-inch, 175-pound frame, he had also worked out twice a week at the Philadelphia Athletic Club.

When he reported to the Reds for training camp, Baldschun was in good shape. His new teammates were impressed with his screwball, and glad they didn’t have to hit against him. But as things turned out, the season was a disaster for the veteran right-hander. In 42 games his record was 1-5 with a 5.49 ERA. Overnight, it appeared, Baldschun had lost his effectiveness.

The following season was even worse. When he arrived at training camp in 1967, Baldschun later recalled, “I got up one morning and found that my arm had locked on me.”39 That effectively signaled the end of his brief stay with Cincinnati. On April 2 Baldschun was sent to Buffalo, in the International League, to try to work out his problems. He performed well enough for a brief recall to the Reds in June. But the following year Baldschun hit rock bottom. It became apparent that Baldschun was no longer in Cincinnati’s plans, and the Reds assigned him outright to Indianapolis in the Pacific Coast League, where he remained for the entire season. Baldschun, naturally, was miserable.

“It was awful,” he recalled a year later. “I knew the Cincinnati club had no interest in me. I felt like a man serving time for a crime I didn’t commit. Detroit wanted me and I knew other clubs were interested but the Cincinnati people were embarrassed because I had been part of the trade when Frank Robinson went to Baltimore. They wouldn’t trade me because they were afraid of making another mistake, but they wouldn’t play me either. I’ve never been so frustrated.”40

By 1969 Baldschun appeared out of a job. Although he was still technically Cincinnati’s property, in February, at the request of the Oakland A’s, the Reds, who planned to release Baldschun, granted him a 30-day trial with Oakland; 1969 was an expansion year and the A’s had lost several pitchers to the new Seattle Pilots franchise, so Oakland was in desperate need of bullpen help.

In Arizona, despite pitching well for Oakland, Baldschun was the last player cut. Later, Oakland manager Hank Bauer, who’d been the Baltimore manager when Baldschun briefly became an Oriole, told the press that he’d wanted to keep Baldschun, but that owner Charlie Finley wanted to go with youth. On the afternoon of a spring-training game against San Diego, Bauer told Padres manager Preston Gomez that he was being forced to cut Baldschun, but that he thought the right-hander could help the Padres. So Gomez contacted Cincinnati, confirmed that Baldschun was available (he’d been released), and signed the veteran pitcher. The bargain-basement move was a boon for both Baldschun and San Diego, as he appeared in 61 games and won seven times for the expansion franchise.

It proved to be Baldschun’s last full major-league season. Although he went to spring training with the Padres, he was released on April 5, 1970, and sent to Salt Lake City as a player-coach. Still hopeful of making it back to the majors, he wrote to each AL club, but none showed interest. In July he was recalled to San Diego and appeared in his final 12 big-league games. Then, after making a lone appearance at Hawaii in 1971, the right-hander retired from the game for good.

After his baseball career ended, Baldschun moved with his family to Green Bay, Wisconsin, his wife’s hometown, and became a salesman for a lumber company. Charlotte died in January 2010 after a three-month battle with cancer. Their son Brad pitched for the Green Bay Blue Ribbons of the semipro Wisconsin State League. In 1986 he was a co-winner of the league’s Most Valuable Pitcher award.

 

This biography is included in the book "The Year of the Blue Snow: The 1964 Philadelphia Phillies" (SABR, 2013), edited by Mel Marmer and Bill Nowlin. For more information or to purchase the book in e-book or paperback form, click here.

 

Sources

Direct sources

Baldschun player file, National Baseball Hall of Fame, Cooperstown, NY

My sincerest appreciation to SABR members Bill Mortell for genealogical research and Rod Nelson for information pertaining to Baldschun’s signing.

Websites

http://www.baseball-reference.com/minors/player.cgi?id=baldsc001jac

http://www.baseball-reference.com/players/b/baldsja01.shtml

www.retrosheet.org

Newspapers

San Francisco Chronicle

Philadelphia Sunday Bulletin

Philadelphia Evening Bulletin

St. Louis Post Dispatch

The Sporting News

Los Angeles Herald Examiner

Atlanta Journal

San Diego Union

 

Notes

1 Philadelphia Evening Bulletin, August 26, 1963.

2 Unidentified clipping in Baldschun’s file at the Baseball Hall of Fame, dated August 17, 1963.

3 The Sporting News, December 28, 1963.

4 Ibid.

5 Ibid.

6 Ibid.

7 Ibid.

8 Stromer was identified by Baldschun on a questionnaire the pitcher completed for the SABR Scouts Committee.

9 The Sporting News, December 28, 1963

10 Ibid.

11 The Sporting News, December 28, 1963.

12 Ibid.

13 Ibid.

14 Ibid.

15 Philadelphia Sunday Bulletin, March 18, 1962.

16 Ibid.

17 Ibid.

18 The Sporting News, December 28, 1963.

19 Philadelphia Evening Bulletin, August 26, 1963.

20 The Sporting News, December 28, 1963.

21 Philadelphia Sunday Bulletin, March 18, 1962.

22 Baldschun’s selection was controversial. At the time, it was announced that he had been selected from Columbia and was the property of the Reds. However, Nashville, which originally signed him, claimed he’d never become Reds’ property, although he’d pitched in their system. Finally, an agreement was reached: Cincinnati received $16,000 of the $25,000 draft price; Nashville got the remaining $9,000 plus a minor leaguer from the Reds.

23 Philadelphia Sunday Bulletin, March 18, 1962.

24 Unidentified clipping in Hall of Fame player file, January 15, 1966.

25 New York Times, March 25, 1964.

26 Philadelphia Evening Bulletin, August 26, 1963.

27 The Sporting News, February 5, 1966.

28 Philadelphia Evening Bulletin, August 26, 1963.

29 Philadelphia Evening Bulletin, August 4, 1964.

30 Philadelphia Sunday Bulletin, April 5, 1964.

31 Philadelphia Sunday Bulletin, March 18, 1962.

32 Philadelphia Evening Bulletin, August 26, 1963.

33 San Francisco Chronicle, July 18, 1961.

34 Unidentified clipping in Hall of Fame player file, April 3, 1963.

35 The Sporting News, February 5, 1966.

36 Unidentified clipping in Hall of Fame player file, January 15, 1966.

37 Ibid.

38 Ibid.

39 Unidentified clipping in Hall of Fame player file, dated June 21, 1969.

40 San Diego Union, June 2, 1969.

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