SABR

Steve Barr

This article was written by Bill Nowlin.

Steve Barr pitched parts of 24 games in the major leagues. Though he was unable to carve out a longer career, he was nonetheless able to achieve more at this game than most of the rest of us. Born in St. Louis on September 8, 1951, Barr, a left-handed pitcher, was signed fresh out of Carson High School in Carson, California, three months before he turned 18, by longtime Red Sox scout Joe Stephenson. He had been selected by the Red Sox in the seventh round of the 1969 amateur draft. 

Barr worked his way up through the Red Sox farm system, slowly at first, with a 0-4 record with Jamestown (New York/Penn League) in 1969, walking 30 batters in 28 innings pitched and posting an 8.36 ERA. The following year, 1970, he pitched for Greenville in the Western Carolinas League, posting a 3-4 record in 15 games and an ERA of 4.38. He was placed on the disabled list on June 26 with a season-ending injury. In 1971, after being suspended from the beginning of the season until July 9, he finished the season with Winter Haven (Florida State League) and appeared in 10 games (1-1, 6.00 ERA). Barr played in 19 games in 1972 with Winston-Salem (Carolina League), again with a losing record (8-9), with an improved 4.19 ERA. And he married Katherine Anne Krieger in December. The two had met in Winter Haven while Steve was in spring training with the Red Sox. The 1973 season was split between Bristol (Eastern League, 7-10 with a 3.20 ERA) and Pawtucket (International League, 1-0 in three games, 5.79 ERA).

Barr played the 1974 season with Bristol again, putting up a very good 16-8 record with a 2.45 ERA, leading the Eastern League in wins, being named the league’s Pitcher of the Year, and earning himself a shot in the big leagues. The tall and large (6-feet-4, 200 pounds) left-hander was summoned for his first start in the next-to-last game of the season, game number 161, on October 1, Boston hosting the Cleveland Indians.

Barr hadn’t pitched for 36 days, so it wasn’t surprising that he was a little rusty – not to mention possibly a little nervous.  “He lost his composure,” Johnson said after the game. Barr got through the first inning OK but walked Johnny Ellis to lead off the second inning.  Ellis took second on a wild pitch that went into the seats. After inducing a grounder to third, Barr allowed singles to Rusty Torres, Dave Duncan, and Luis Alvarado. Duncan’s was an infield hit, and had Barr covered the bag, he might well have been out, though no error was assessed. He walked Buddy Bell to load the bases and walked Duane Kuiper, forcing in a run. “What impressed me most,” Johnson said, “is the fact that when we thought he was gone, he straightened himself out and came back.” Frank Robinson was up with the bases loaded, but he didn’t get much bat on the ball and Alvarado was forced out at the plate.  Charlie Spikes then bounced back to Barr, who threw him out easily.  Three runs on three hits and three walks, but he was out of the inning.

Barr settled down and threw a complete nine-inning game, giving up just three more hits and one more run, but Cleveland’s Steve Kline fared worse. Boston scored seven times and Barr earned his first major-league win, 7-4.  In all, he struck out three and walked six.  “He has the good fastball, the curve, a superb straight change,” Johnson noted. “The question has been his composure and his ability to get the ball over the plate. I know this, he’ll be given every opportunity next spring.”  Peter Gammons’ game account in the Boston Globe was headlined, “Sox rookie hums a few Barrs of 1975.”1 In 1974 Steve and Katherine had their one child, Christopher Tobin “Tobey” Barr. Tobey played baseball through junior high, but the sports he lettered in were soccer, tennis, and golf. There was another baseball player in the family, however – Ryan Madson, who pitched for the Philadelphia Phillies from 2003 to 2011. Madson is Barr’s nephew (Steve’s sister is Madson’s mother).2

Barr was back in 1975, but not at first.  He opened the year in the minors, and was called up from Pawtucket on July 1 after Red Sox right-hander Dick Pole was hit hard in the face the day before by a line drive off the bat of Tony Muser. Pole’s cheekbone was fractured and no one knew how long it might be before he could return to the rotation. On his first day back, Barr threw the ninth inning in a loss to Baltimore. Flirting with danger, he gave up a single and walked three batters; he was very lucky to escape without giving up a run, thanks to a runner caught stealing, a popup to right, and Bobby Grich’s grounder to short.

On July 5 in Cleveland, Barr had his next shot, but was bombed. Hegot through the first inning OK, but with one out in the bottom of the second, he surrendered a single to Charlie Spikes. He tried to hold the runner at first but his wild pickoff throw allowed Spikes to advance all the way to third. A sacrifice fly almost resulted in a double play at the plate, but Spikes was ruled safe. A single, an error by third baseman Denny Doyle, and a walk set up a grand slam to center field by Buddy Bell, and Jim Burton was brought in to relieve Barr.  One and two-thirds innings resulted in six runs, only one of which was earned. 

There was one more start in Steve Barr’s Red Sox future. On July 10 Texas was in the Hub. Barr’s start lasted 4⅓ innings, in which he was touched up for three runs (one earned) on seven hits and two walks. He struck out two batters. After a double, a single, and a double in the fifth inning, Reggie Cleveland was called in to take Barr’s place and protect the Red Sox’ 7-3 lead. Cleveland just barely held on, giving up one run in the eighth and three more runs in the ninth, which tied the game, 7-7.  With two outs in the bottom of the ninth and nobody on, Doyle singled and advanced to second on a passed ball. Cecil Cooper, who’d come in to take over for Carl Yastrzemski at first base in the seventh, singled home Doyle with the winning run. Despite a 2.57 ERA for the season, Barr was sent south for more seasoning – south to Pawtucket, where he finished out the year.  

After the 1975 season, the Red Sox sent Barr and Juan Beniquez (and a player to be named later, who was named 25 days later and proved to be Craig Skok) to the Texas Rangers for Ferguson Jenkins. With the Rangers in 1976, Barr had a chance to stretch out a little more, getting into 20 games. His first of 10 starts came on April 13, a complete game 3-1 win over the Oakland Athletics at Arlington Stadium.  Barr was used intermittently throughout the season, ending up with a 2-6 record. There were a couple of tough-luck losses like the 3-2 defeat on May 16 at the hands of the same Athletics, but Barr’s 5.59 ERA betrayed a failure to perform as hoped for. Barr threw 67⅔ innings and surrendered ten homers and 44 walks in that time. After the season he was selected by the Seattle Mariners in the expansion draft (54th pick overall), but 1976 proved to be his last season in major-league ball.

At the end of spring training with the Mariners in 1977, Barr was assigned to Omaha (American Association) and went 4-8 with a 6.17 ERA in 17 games before the Indians’ Triple-A affiliate Toledo, “obtained pitcher Steve Barr on loan from Seattle organization.”3 Researcher Wayne McElreavy pointed out that the story might be more unusual yet, in that Omaha was a Royals farm club. At the time, the nascent Mariners organization shared a number of minor-league clubs. Barr’s record with Toledo was 3-1 in eight games, with an even 4.00 ERA.

The Los Angeles Times of October 29, 1977, noted that Seattle had traded Barr to Cleveland for a player to be named later. Barr was invited to spring training in 1978 by the Indians, but spent the year with Portland, Cleveland’s team in the Triple-A Pacific Coast League, going 11-7 in 28 games, with a 5.77 ERA.

After baseball Barr pursued electrical contracting and ran his own business in Florida for 18 years, Barr Electric. In the early 1990s, he pitched in a senior league organized at Baseball and Boardwalk near Orlando, and was throwing in the upper 80s, the best pitcher in the league. After he was struck in the thigh by a hard line drive, he worried that he might get more seriously injured and be unable to work, so he gave up baseball. Tobey Barr added, “My dad has had both hips replaced; he was up and down ladders quite often in the contracting field, but I suspect being a pitcher contributed as well – he had a very high leg kick. My dad is still in the electrical field. He enjoys fishing and riding his motorcycle.”4


Notes

1 Boston Globe, October 2, 1974.

2 E-mail to author from Tobey Barr, March 29, 2008.

3 The Sporting News, August 13, 1977, 34.

4 E-mail to author from Tobey Barr, March 27, 2008.

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