SABR

Pat Jarvis

This article was written by Alan Morris.

The inaugural 1966 season of the Atlanta Braves began with Tony Cloninger as the ace of the pitching staff, but it ended with Pat Jarvis as the ace. Jarvis was in the middle of a so-so season with the Braves’ Triple-A Richmond club when Atlanta’s new manager, Billy Hitchcock, needed fresh arms. Assigned to the bullpen as a long reliever when he was called up on July 31, he soon got his chance to start and got six wins during the last months of the season. He captured team rookie-of-the-year honors and opened the 1967 campaign as the number two starter in the Braves four-man rotation.

Born in Carlyle, Illinois, on March 18, 1941, Robert Patrick “Pat” Jarvis was a big fan of the Cardinals. St. Louis was only 50 miles to the west and was home to the 1946 World Series champions and future Hall of Famer Stan Musial. “I loved all sports and played varsity baseball, basketball, and track at Carlyle High School,” recalled Jarvis. “Mom and dad supported my interest in athletics and I remember helping my granddad pump gas at his service station. When business slowed we would grab our gloves and play catch until the next car drove in.”1

After high school, Jarvis received a partial sports scholarship to attend Murray State University in Murray, Kentucky. His college coach, Johnny Reagan, showed confidence in the freshman and gave him an opportunity to pitch. He spent only a year at Murray State because a scout for the Detroit Tigers, Joe Mathes, happened to be in Pat’s hometown scouting a prospect named Tom Timmerman who was scheduled to pitch in a local all-star game. Timmerman was sick that day and Jarvis was called on to pitch. Mathes decided that since he was already there, he might as well see a ballgame: “The thing that impressed me about Pat Jarvis then was his competiveness and his strong arm,” Mathes said. “He had a good fastball and a willingness to learn. He wasn’t hard to sign either. No haggling over money, he just wanted to play baseball.”2

But Jarvis began his baseball career in the Chicago Cubs organization, pitching in 1960 for the Morristown (Tennessee) Cubs of the Appalachian League. He was signed by the Tigers in 1961 and played for Jamestown (New York) and in 1962 with Montgomery (Alabama), both in Class D Leagues. On May 8, 1962, Jarvis pitched a 15-inning complete game for Montgomery, losing, 3-1. He had an 11-8 record with eight complete games and a 3.05 ERA. He struck out 190 in 171 innings with a 3-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio.

The next season with Duluth-Superior in the Class C Northern League, Jarvis again assumed the role of workhorse. He and his roommate, 19-year-old pitcher Denny McLain, were responsible for 27 wins and led the team to a first-place finish.

Scouts for the Milwaukee Braves must have been paying attention to Jarvis ’s success because they traded for him in October 1963 for minor-league pitcher Bruce Brubaker. Jarvis had losing records with Double-A Austin in 1964 and part of 1965, but struck out 227 batters in 239 innings. Midway through 1965 he was moved up to the Triple-A Atlanta Crackers, for whom he started 10 games in Atlanta’s final minor-league season. Jarvis moved with the team to its new home in Richmond, Virginia, to start the 1966 season. The season did not begin well. During the Opening Day parade, he was riding in a convertible that made a sudden stop, throwing him out of the car. He suffered minor injuries and missed the first few weeks of the season. Then, in midsummer, just after Atlanta had fired Bobby Bragan, the new Braves’ manager Billy Hitchcock called Richmond manager Bill Adair and asked who was ready to help out the parent club, Adair said, “Jarvis is your man.”3

On August 4, 1966, Jarvis got his first opportunity to pitch in the big leagues. He was called from the bullpen at Wrigley Field in Chicago to start the fourth inning. He gave up a single to Byron Browne but got Randy Hundley to ground into a double play. A groundout by Don Kessinger, and his first inning was history. Jarvis recorded his first strikeout in the fifth when Cubs pitcher Dick Ellsworth fanned. A double, an infield pop, and a fly out to center ended the second and last inning of his major-league debut.

Jarvis made his first start in the second game of a doubleheader on August 13 in Atlanta Stadium against the Philadelphia Phillies. The Phillies took the first game before a crowd of 27,770. In the second game Jarvis was charged with the loss, giving up six hits, five walks and four runs in 4⅔ innings, striking out five. Four days later, facing the Houston Astros in the Astrodome, he pitched 5⅔ strong innings, giving up four hits and one run to earn his first major-league victory.

Jarvis did not get another start for 11 days but he spent the time wisely, working with pitching coach Whitlow Wyatt. The results were amazing. From September 2 through September 22 he reeled off five successive victories. During the winning streak he walked only one batter in 40⅓ innings. His September 16 victory over the Cincinnati Reds was a complete game four-hit shutout including nine strikeouts and no walks. Atlanta catcher Gene Oliver said, “This guy is unbelievable, he has a good fastball, slider, curve, change … and keeps them low and throws strikes. Any day I expect to see him walk on water.”4

“Whitlow Wyatt showed me how to throw the slider and suggested an overhand delivery instead of three-quarter arm and Billy kept running me out there every four or five days,” Jarvis said. Asked after his 7-0 shutout of the Reds, “Are you a cold-weather pitcher?” the rookie said, “No. I’m a big league pitcher.”5 Jarvis was one of the major reasons the Braves were the hottest team in baseball during the final two months of the 1966 season with 37 wins in 58 games. Of his success, Jarvis said, “I can’t believe all this … that I’m up here, but I have always had confidence in myself and thought I just needed to get a break. Concentration, my catchers here, they are always talking to me … keeping me in the game.”6

The Braves were full of promise as the team assembled in West Palm Beach for spring training before the 1967 season. Hitchcock and the Braves’ front office believed they had a competitive team that could win it all. Adequate pitching and a powerful hitting lineup featuring Hank Aaron, Rico Carty, Felipe Alou, Clete Boyer, and Joe Torre had fans and sportswriters feeling good. The pain of losing their first three games was quickly erased by a five-game winning streak, beginning with Jarvis’s victory against the Giants on April 14. He gave up three home runs and was charged with five runs, but got the 6-5 victory with 3⅔ innings of relief help from Phil Niekro, and home runs by Alou and Torre. But the first half of the season saw the Braves playing mediocre ball, never putting together a winning streak. They could not seem to beat the Reds or Cardinals but had reasonable success against other teams.

By mid-June Jarvis was sporting a respectable 5-2 record but with a not-so-respectable ERA of 5.93, leading him to say, “I’d rather be a winning pitcher than have a good ERA … if I got a choice.” Jarvis was still living the dream of playing for a major-league team. “Boy,” he said, “the bigs … something I’ve always dreamed about. I can’t believe it.”7 His manager, Billy Hitchcock, commented that this was Pat’s only drawback: “Pat challenges the hitters pretty well, but he’s got to believe he is the boss out there. He has to take charge and not be awed.”8

Jarvis had gained the respect of his teammates and with that respect came nicknames. Some called him Bad Body and others called him Jabbo, while the Braves’ announcer, Milo Hamilton, referred to him as Bulldog.9 A spectacular pitching performance on July 25 solidified Jarvis’s standing as the ace of the Atlanta staff. He faced 19-year-old Gary Nolan of the Reds in a classic pitching duel completed in under two hours, including a rain delay. Jarvis gave up two singles, but Torre threw both runners out trying to steal. Jarvis walked only one and faced only 29 batters. The Braves pushed across the only run of the game in the of the fifth on a triple by Denis Menke and a single by Woody Woodward. After the game Hank Aaron said, “This is the same guy who was worried all spring training about cutdown dates.”10

Jarvis continued his winning ways, finishing the ’67 season with a 15-10 record, 3.66 ERA, 194 innings, 118 strikeouts, and seven complete games. His team failed to match his success and finished in seventh place, 24½ games behind the pennant-winning Cardinals. The poor performance of the team in 1967 and candid comments from players about low morale cost Billy Hitchcock his job. He was succeeded by Luman Harris.

As the team assembled for the 1968 campaign, Braves third baseman Clete Boyer said, “Jarvis will win 15 games for us just on nerve and desire.”11 Harris was a big fan of Jarvis’s and referred to him as “my best pitcher.”12 These words played out as Jarvis had his best year in the majors in 1968. He lost the season opener, 2-1, in St. Louis in a pitching duel with Bob Gibson and reliever Ray Washburn, but went on to win 16 games. He pitched 256 innings, posting a 2.60 ERA with 157 strikeouts and only 50 walks. He pitched 14 complete games in addition to a game against the Mets on May 17 in which he went 11 innings without a decision, giving up four hits and one run in a game won by the Braves in 16 innings. Jarvis finished the year among the top 10 NL pitchers in wins, ERA, starts, and complete games.

Hopes were high as the 1969 season began. Hard-hitting outfielder Rico Carty was making a comeback from a bout with tuberculosis, which had caused him to miss the previous season. The pitching rotation was set with Jarvis, Phil Niekro, Ron Reed, and George Stone, supported by a strong bullpen anchored by Cecil Upshaw, Paul Doyle, and Claude Raymond. Orlando Cepeda, acquired in a trade with St. Louis during spring training in exchange for Joe Torre, brought big expectations of power for the middle of the lineup. Everything finally came together for the Braves, who spent 114 days of the season in first place. They went on a tear in September, winning 20 games and losing only six, to win the new Western division of the National League by three games over San Francisco. Jarvis won three games in September and could have won two more with more run support, losing twice by 2-1 during the home stretch.

Niekro and Reed were the workhorses for Atlanta that year, winning 23 and 18 games respectively. Jarvis pitched well but his ERA was a career-high 4.43. He did not make excuses, but many believed the lowering of the pitching mound from 15 inches to 10 inches prior to the season forced the 5-foot-10 pitcher to significantly alter his delivery. Although he contributed 13 wins, it did not meet his expectations. He was shooting for a 20-win season. In the end, no one on the Braves staff could stop the Mets, who swept the Braves in the first National League Championship Series by scores of 9-5, 11-6, and 7-4. Jarvis was the losing pitcher in Game Three.

Midway through the 1970 season, an article by Wayne Minshew in The Sporting News compared Jarvis and his unique pitching style to Jim Bunning. “It has to do with his follow-through … almost turning his back on the batter … sometimes landing on both knees.” Minshew noted that “Jarvis does not add new pitches, he puts in new steps. … They are calling him the Fred Astaire of the National League.”13 Jarvis responded, “It’s just the way I pitch. It’s the way Luman Harris and Paul Richards tell me I have to pitch. Other players get on me, call me ‘hot dog,’ but I’d rather have the opposing players and the fans on me than Harris and Richards.”14 Jarvis was not about to change. By midseason he was 10-7 and back to being referred to as the ace of the staff.

The season proved to be a long one as the Braves could not beat their Western Division rivals, the Dodgers, Giants, and Reds. The Braves were 18-36 versus those teams. They finished in fifth place but Jarvis had a good year with a 16-16 record, 254 innings pitched, and 173 strikeouts.

Jarvis looked for ways to give back to the Atlanta community that had embraced him as a star athlete. In addition to being honored by the Big Brothers organization and the March of Dimes for aiding their efforts, Jarvis decided he wanted to provide even greater assistance to troubled youth. He started a halfway-house program for young offenders. He contracted with the Georgia Department of Education’s Vocational Rehabilitation Program to provide counseling and job-placement assistance through the “Jarvis House” in Atlanta’s Poncey-Highland neighborhood.15 The program was successful and Jarvis was a frequent visitor at the house offering encouragement and motivation to the residents.

Jarvis pitched two more years for the Braves, losing his starter role after a lackluster 6-14 record during the 1971 season. He was a spot starter in 1972, appearing in 37 games, and then was traded on February 28, 1973, to the Montreal Expos for starting pitcher Carl Morton. Jarvis pitched for the Expos for one season strictly as a reliever, posting a 3.20 ERA while winning two and losing one with no saves. He was traded on December 20, 1973, to the Texas Rangers for first baseman-outfielder Larry Biittner but failed to make the team during spring training in 1974.

Devastated by his unconditional release by the Rangers, the 33-year-old Jarvis returned to his Dunwoody, Georgia, home wondering what was next. Someone asked if he would like to help in Zell Miller’s race for Georgia lieutenant governor. When Miller won, Jarvis was appointed the chief doorkeeper in the Georgia Senate. After two years he then ran for sheriff of DeKalb County and, perhaps due to his baseball fame, was easily elected and later re-elected several times, serving as sheriff for nearly 20 years.16 It ended poorly for Jarvis in 1995 when he was charged with using his office for financial gain. He pleaded guilty to federal mail fraud and was sentenced to 15 months in prison.17

A quick Internet search will suggest that Pat Jarvis’s claim to fame is that he was Nolan Ryan’s first strikeout victim, on September 11, 1966. The rest of the story is that Jarvis won the game, his fourth major-league victory. One will also discover that Jarvis gave up the 500th home run to Ernie Banks on May 12, 1970, and Willie Mays’ 599th on September 15, 1969. As of 2014 Jarvis owned a farm in Rutledge, Georgia, growing vegetables and flowers and supplying businesses with plants to sell. He lived with his wife, Gail, and five dogs.

As favorite teammates he named Phil Niekro, Mike Lum, Hank Aaron, Ron Reed, Wade Blasingame, and Clete Boyer. Jarvis even named one of his three sons after Boyer. Who was his favorite catcher? It was hard to choose between Bob Didier, Earl Williams, and Joe Torre. As for managers, he gave a slight edge to Billy Hitchcock over Luman Harris. His most memorable game was the 1968 season opener against Bob Gibson and the Cardinals. Jarvis posted a career record of 8-4 against St. Louis, the team he was a fan of during his younger days.

Last revised: June 23, 2015

 

Sources

The author had an in-person interview with Pat Jarvis, arranged through personal friend Emmanuel Petkas, on August 18, 2013, and a telephone interview with Jarvis on April 28, 2014.

 

Notes

1 Pat Jarvis interview, August 18, 2013. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes and information attributed to Jarvis come from that interview.

2 Wayne Minshew, “Mathes Praises Protégé Jarvis,” The Sporting News, September 7, 1968: 10.

3 Wayne Minshew, “Jarvis Jells as Starter – Junks Tepee Relief Plans,” The Sporting News, October 1, 1966: 11.

4 Ibid.

5 Ibid.

6 Ibid.

7 Wayne Minshew, “Jarvis Arm Key Weapon for Braves,” The Sporting News, July 29, 1967: 16.

8 Ibid.

9 Ibid.

10 The Sporting News, August 12, 1967: 28.

11 Wayne Minshew, “5 Pitchers Make Boyer’s Tough List,” The Sporting News, March 2, 1968: 27.

12 Wayne Minshew, “Jarvis, As Atlanta Hill Ace,” The Sporting News, June 15, 1968: 11.

13 Wayne Minshew, “Battler Jarvis … A Hurler Showing Something Extra,” The Sporting News, July 18, 1970: 26.

14 Ibid.

15 Reg Murphy, “Crime Fighter Jarvis Aiding Ex-Cons,” The Sporting News, March 14, 1979: 5. (Originally published in Atlanta Journal-Constitution Magazine.)

16 Ira Winderman, “Still a Star – Ex-Brave Pat Jarvis Swaps Cap for Badge,” Fort Lauderdale (Florida) Sun Sentinel, October 2, 1985.

17 Pam Easton, “Former DeKalb County Sheriff Pleads Guilty to Fraud,” Athens (Georgia) Banner Herald, January 22, 1999.

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