A 6-foot-3, 220-pound right-hander with a prominent chaw of tobacco in his right cheek, Al Severinsen pitched parts of three major league seasons. In 1969 he relieved in a dozen games for the Orioles and earned one of Baltimore’s franchise-record 109 victories. Severinsen finished his career with the San Diego Padres, making a total of 76 appearances in 1971 and 1972.
Albert Henry “Al” Severinsen was born on November 9, 1944, in Brooklyn, New York. His great-grandfather had emigrated from Norway in the late 19th century. Al was the first of his parents’ — Albert and Mildred (Finley) Severinsen — three children, followed by Dianna and Gary. Al’s dad, a corporal in the U.S. Army during World War II, worked for the Sperry Corporation, producers of advanced aircraft navigation equipment.
Al played Little League baseball in Shrub Oak, just north of New York City in Westchester County. By his teens, the family had settled in the town of Baldwin on Long Island, where he played in Babe Ruth and Connie Mack leagues. At Baldwin High School, in addition to playing baseball and basketball, Severinsen was an all-county goaltender for the Bruins’ soccer squad.1
Following his 1962 graduation, Severinsen enrolled at Wagner College in Staten Island, intending to become a gym teacher. He also played baseball and basketball there for the Seahawks but, at the beginning of his sophomore year, scout Ralph DiLullo offered him a professional contract with the Chicago Cubs. “Please let me play baseball,” Severinsen told his parents. “I’ll go back to school.”2 He signed as a free agent on September 6, 1963.
Severinsen debuted with the St. Cloud (Minnesota) Rox in the Single-A Northern League in 1964. He made 26 starts to tie for tops in the circuit, and his 3.44 ERA was better than the league average. On the other hand, Severinsen allowed more hits than innings pitched, walked more batters than he struck out, and wound up with a 6-11 record. Five of his victories came against the Bismarck-Mandan (SD) Pards, the only team that finished behind St. Cloud.3
In 1965, he made 13 starts for the Quincy (Illinois) Cubs in the Single-A Midwest League, but the bulk of his 30 appearances were out of the bullpen. He would remain a relief pitcher for the rest of his career. The change seemed to suit him, as he improved his strikeout-to-walk ratio to 91:40 and pitched to a 2.43 ERA. Off the field, he married Jane (Soller), a graduate of St. James Episcopal Nursing School. Their first child, Doug, arrived in 1966, followed by daughters Tracy and Elizabeth.
The wedding of one of his teammates made national news in 1966. Severinsen spent the entire season in the Single-A California League with the Lodi Crushers, where the Cubs sent 19-year-old southpaw Lee Meyers in late June. The previous month, Meyers had married 35-year-old Hollywood actress Mamie Van Doren, who had broken off her engagement to Phillies pitcher Bo Belinsky.
On July 8, Severinsen beaned Bobby Darwin in the earflap of the batting helmet right after the Stockton Ports’ outfielder asked the umpire to check multiple baseballs for evidence of spitballs. Benches cleared, but other players kept pitcher and hitter apart. As Darwin waited for an ambulance after the final out of Lodi’s victory, he made it clear that he wasn’t yet ready to shake hands and move on. “Severinsen offered his hand but Darwin offered a fist in the face and a new struggle began,” reported The Sporting News.4 Severinsen led the team’s with 43 appearances but went only 3-5 with a 4.13 ERA as the Crushers finished 22 games under .500. A few days after Thanksgiving, the World Series champion Baltimore Orioles snared Severinsen in the minor league draft for $4,000.5
The Orioles sent him back to the California League to begin 1967 with the Stockton Ports. On May 13, when one of the umpires didn’t show up because of National Guard duty, Severinsen served as a substitute official until he was relieved by a groundskeeper in the middle innings. he then surrendered the decisive runs after entering the game as a relief pitcher in the seventh, prompting the headline “Stockton Hurler Umpires and Loses in Same Game.”6 After Severinsen worked to a 4.79 ERA in 26 outings, the Orioles sent him to the Single-A Florida State League in July. In 19 innings for the Miami Marlins, his ERA was 4.26, but he walked 16 and struck out only eight. His numbers improved dramatically that fall in the Florida Instructional League, where Severinsen went 5-1 with a 1.18 ERA in 38 innings.
Severinsen’s progress accelerated in 1968. After beginning the year with the Elmira (NY) Pioneers in the Double-A Eastern League, he advanced to the Rochester Red Wings of the Triple-A International League in late July. Between two levels, he went 6-2 with a 1.55 ERA in 45 appearances, allowing only three homers in 93 innings, to earn a promotion to Baltimore’s 40-man roster. “Al Severinsen was the most effective man on the staff,” Orioles GM Harry Dalton reported after the pitcher returned to the FIL that fall.7 “He’s got a good fastball, slider and changeup, is a real hard worker with an excellent pitching temperament,” noted Baltimore pitching coach George Bamberger, who opined that Severinsen “has a chance in short relief.”8
The Orioles sent Severinsen to Puerto Rico to pitch for Frank Robinson’s Cangrejeros de Santurce, who finished with the circuit’s best regular-season record. Severinsen certainly contributed. When he popped up José Morales to save the imported players’ one-run win in the All-Star Game on New Year’s Day, he hadn’t allowed a single earned run.9
In 1969, Severinsen nearly made the Orioles out of spring training. As it happened, he went back to Rochester and went 3-2 with six saves and a 1.22 in 21 appearances before he was summoned to Baltimore on June 29 when Jim Palmer went on the disabled list with a bad back.10 Severinsen debuted at Yankee Stadium on July 1, relieving Dave McNally with two on and nobody out in the fifth inning and Baltimore leading, 6-4. He allowed the tying runs to score and surrendered a home run to Bill Robinson an inning later. In Severinsen’s 2 1/3 inning stint, he whiffed Lindy McDaniel and Horace Clarke, picked Joe Pepitone off first base, and received no decision in the Orioles’ 10-9 loss.
Severinsen spent six weeks in the majors, relieving 11 times before returning to Rochester when Palmer was reactivated on August 9. His only decision was a loss against the Red Sox on July 11, when he surrendered a tie-breaking homer to Carl Yastrzemski in the seventh inning of the first game of a doubleheader at Memorial Stadium. On August 2 in Minnesota, he nearly earned his first big league save. After he walked Harmon Killebrew with two outs in the bottom of the ninth, however, Orioles manager Earl Weaver called on southpaw Pete Richert to retire Tony Oliva for the final out of a one-run victory. In 36 appearances for Rochester, Severinsen posted a 2.03 ERA and led the Red Wings with nine saves. The Orioles called him back up for the final month, but he pitched only once and finished with a 2.29 ERA in his dozen major league outings. On September 10, he earned his first big league win by hurling 2 1/3 innings of scoreless relief against the Red Sox. It was also the 98th of Baltimore’s franchise-record 109 regular-season wins that season.
Though Severinsen was not on the club’s playoff roster, he named “playing with the 1969 Orioles” as his greatest career thrill.11 The other players voted him a 40-percent share of the playoff money, which translated to an additional $5,961.68.12
Severinsen went back to Santurce for winter ball but returned home from Puerto Rico early with an injured arm.13 Though he didn’t see any major league action in 1970, he enjoyed a successful season at Rochester, notching an International League-leading 22 saves. “Al was the top fireman in more ways than one,” wrote Craig Stolze in Rochester’s Democrat and Chronicle. Stolze recalled that Severinsen — “Moose” to his teammates — set fires in the bullpen to keep warm early in the year and drive away mosquitos in the summer. Some joked that Severinsen was using smoke signals to tell Red Wings’ manager Cal Ripken Sr. when he wanted to pitch.14
Baltimore didn’t have room for Severinsen, however, so they agreed to sell him to the San Diego Padres on a conditional basis that offseason.15 When the deal was announced on December 1, it had expanded to a six-player transaction sending shortstop Enzo Hernández to the National League club along with Severinsen and fellow righthanders Tom Phoebus and Fred Beene for pitchers Pat Dobson and Tom Dukes. “I feel this is my big opportunity to pitch in the majors,” Severinsen said. “With the Padres, a young team that’s building, I’m going to get a good chance. The Orioles are a good organization and treated me well, but it got a little discouraging trying to crack their pitching staff with the three 20-game winners and good bullpen.”16 (In 1971, Dobson was one of Baltimore’s four 20-game winners.) “[Severinsen] had the reputation of a fella with a rubber arm who can pitch every day. All the reports we get on him are favorable,” said Padres’ GM Eddie Leishman. When San Diego manager Preston Gómez called his new sinker/slider pitcher, he ordered him to lose weight. “I’ve always pitched heavy, at around 230 pounds, but the manager says he wants me to pitch this year at about 215,” explained Severinsen. “He’s the boss.”17
In 1971, Severinsen pitched in 30 of San Diego’s first 56 games. Despite the club’s major-league worst 18-38 record, he ranked third in the National League with seven saves and boasted an outstanding 2.12 ERA. “It was important to know when to challenge hitters as a relief pitcher,” he explained. “You wanted to get beat on your best stuff. I tried to stay ahead in the count, making the hitter hit my pitch.”18 On May 5, Severinsen escaped from a bases-loaded jam by inducing Braves’ slugger Hank Aaron to bounce into an inning-ending double play. “Al’s a real workhorse,” remarked Padres pitching coach Roger Craig. “Give him the ball every day and he’s happy.”19 After Severinsen pitched in both ends of a June 18 doubleheader in San Francisco, he was leading all major league relievers in appearances, but he missed the next two weeks with an inflamed tendon in his shoulder.20 He never regained his early-season effectiveness and finished the year with a 2-5 record, a 3.47 ERA in 59 games, and eight saves.
Prior to spring training 1972, Severinsen told the Padres that he didn’t want to play on the west coast. Instead of reporting to camp, he stayed in New York, hinting that he might retire if he couldn’t pitch for a team closer to home.21 By the time he ended his holdout and made his exhibition season debut, it was the last week of March.22 When the season began, Severinsen was off the mainland altogether, exiled to the Hawaii Islanders in the Triple-A Pacific Coast League. After he went 2-0 with a 1.35 ERA in a dozen appearances, the Padres brought him back to the majors in the last week of June. He did a solid job, allowing only 13 hits in 21 1/3 innings and posting a 2.53 ERA in 17 games. After the season, he was traded to the New York Mets’ Triple-A Tidewater affiliate.
The Mets invited Severinsen to spring training as a non-roster player in 1973, but he told them that he intended to retire and work for the Aluna Construction Corporation in Medford, Long Island, his off-season employer for nearly a decade.23 Eventually, Severinsen agreed to come to camp, but he followed through on his retirement plan after failing to make the major league team.
Severinsen was a plant supervisor in Nassau County until he retired and moved to Mystic, Connecticut, in 2003. There, he managed a warehouse at Foxwoods Resort Casino for 11 years. In the four decades after he left professional baseball, Severinsen coached players from youth ages through college and participated in clinics.24 Though he’d abandoned his secondary dream of a teaching career to pursue his first in pro ball, helping young players was his way to achieve it.25 On January 27, 2015, Al Severinsen died unexpectedly in Mystic. He was 70. His remains were cremated.
This biography was reviewed by Gregory H. Wolf and Norman Macht and checked for accuracy by SABR’s fact-checking team.
1 Al Severinsen, Publicity Questionnaire for William J. Weiss, December 19, 1972.
2 Margo Sullivan, “Former MLB Players Visit Jamestown,” Jamestown (New York) Press, August 22, 2013, https://www.jamestownpress.com/articles/former-mlb-players-visit-jamestown/ (last accessed February 6, 2021).
3 “Class A Highlights,” The Sporting News, August 22, 1964: 43.
4 “Spitball Charge Sparks Cal League Donnybrook,” The Sporting News, July 23, 1966: 47.
5 1969 Baltimore Orioles Media Guide: 45.
6 “Stockton Hurler Umpires and Loses in Same Game,” The Sporting News, June 3, 1967: 41.
7 Bob Maisel, “The Morning After,” Baltimore Sun, November 22, 1968: C1.
8 Lou Hatter, “Bamberger is ‘Encouraged’ by Progress of Jim Palmer,” Baltimore Sun, November 14, 1968: C1.
9 Miguel Frau, “Dave May’s Bat Powers Imports’ Win,” The Sporting News, January 18, 1969: 47.
10 Jim Elliot, “Al Severinsen Joins Oriole Staff,” Baltimore Sun, June 30, 1969: C6.
11 Al Severinsen, Publicity Questionnaire for William J. Weiss, December 19, 1972.
12 “Pennant Playoffs Sweetened World Series Pot,” The Sporting News, November 29, 1969: 34.
13 1970 Baltimore Orioles Media Guide: 61.
14 Craig Stolze, “Still Fire in ‘Moose’,” Democrat and Chronicle (Rochester, New York), March 11, 1973: 78.
15 Phil Jackman, “Pat Dobson Acquired to Fill No. 4 Spot on Orioles Staff,” The Sporting News, December 19, 1970: 38.
16 Paul Cour, “Slim Severinsen Fattens Padre Mound Prospects,” The Sporting News, February 20, 1971: 36.
17 Cour, “Slim Severinsen Fattens Padre Mound Prospects.”
18 Al Severinsen, Letter to Malcolm Allen, 2007.
19 Paul Cour, “Enzo is Answer to Padres’ Prayers,” The Sporting News, June 26, 1971: 24.
20 Paul Cour, “Monk Earns His Habit Dousing Padre Blazes,” The Sporting News, July 12, 1971: 34.
21 Phil Collier, “Ivie Quits Without Padre Benediction,” The Sporting News, March 18, 1972: 38.
22 Bill Verigan, “Mixed Up Vida Decides Not to Sign,” Daily News (New York, New York), March 26, 1972: 60.
23 Jack Lang, “Rebuilding Met Mound Staff is Yogi’s Challenge,” The Sporting News, February 24, 1973: 37.
24 “Al Severinsen,” https://www.legacy.com/obituaries/theday/obituary.aspx?n=al-severinsen&pid=174019977&fhid=6914 (last accessed February 7, 2021).
25 Sullivan, “Former MLB Players Visit Jamestown.”