One of baseball’s eternal debates is naming the hardest-throwing pitcher of all time. A dark horse in the field is Harry “The Flame Thrower” Fanok. Harry appeared in just 16 big-league games for St. Louis in 1963-64 — but his fastball branded the memories of those who saw him.
Just ask Joe Morgan. The former Red Sox manager was Fanok’s roommate with the Atlanta Crackers in 1962 and ’63. Back then he was a veteran in the Cardinals chain as the prospect was poised to break through. In his flavorful Boston accent, “Walpole Joe” says, “He threw the ball as hahd as anybody I ever saw. There’s no one today throwing the ball as hahd, even [Joel] Zumaya with the Tigers. You heard me — no one.”
Signed as a third baseman in late 1958, Fanok led his league in strikeouts three straight years (1960-62) as he rose through C, AA, and AAA ball. And while he wasn’t as scary-wild as Steve Dalkowski, he piled up the walks too. In the minors, the righty averaged 8.8 Ks and 4.8 BBs per 9 innings during his first four years after he was converted. (A switch-hitter, he still always loved swinging the bat.)
In his two brief stints with the Cards, Fanok struck out 35 and walked 24 in 33 1/3 innings. He picked up wins in his very first two outings, and it seemed as if great things lay ahead. Canny observers such as Branch Rickey, Preston Gómez, and Eddie Sawyer certainly said so that year. But St. Louis manager Johnny Keane meddled with the hurler’s motion. Keane had compared Harry to Sandy Koufax and tried to remold him with a similar over-the-top style.
Unsettled, Fanok was sent back to Atlanta, where he learned a curveball from veteran master Sam Jones. He was dominating the International League and dazzled the Yankees on August 19 as the IL All-Stars shut out the World Series champs in Buffalo. Of the six men he faced, he struck out Yogi Berra, Héctor López, and Joe Pepitone. What’s more, he was really becoming a pitcher, not a thrower.
Then came August 26. On a steamy Southern night, with a no-hitter and 9 Ks through five innings, arm problems struck suddenly after a rain delay. Harry didn’t appear again that season, and he was never the same.
As the 1964 season started, Fanok — still highly touted — made the big club again. Though he appeared in just four games in April and early May, the Cardinals still awarded him a one-eighth World Series share (without a ring). But nursing the sore shoulder caused a mental block and a critical hitch in his delivery. His control gave out entirely, with over 7 walks per 9 innings during the rest of ’64 as he went from Triple-A to Single-A to “find himself.” That ratio ballooned to more than 10 the next season. Harry gave up pro ball after sitting out the year in 1966 and a comeback attempt with the Cincinnati Reds chain in ’67.
Harry Fanok lives today in Chardon, Ohio, a pleasant town in the northeast corner of the state. He retired from his longtime job as a tool and die maker in 2005. He enjoys hobbies he has pursued for decades, duck hunting and photography, along with Cleveland Cavaliers basketball. He remains fit and vigorous — by any standards, not just those of a man in his late sixties. In addition to tending his yard and gardens, Fanok collects and splits all his own firewood.
But this is Harry’s own story to tell, and he does it with verve. When he first expressed interest in helping with his bio, he seized on the idea of describing his youth and playing ball with his neighborhood friends. Whippany, New Jersey (where Fanok was born on May 11, 1940) has been a Ukrainian cultural center since 1908. In 1922, Maxim Fanok — Harry’s grandfather — helped obtain land for the community’s Ukrainian Catholic church. Harry vividly evokes a bygone rural patch of the Garden State. The village where he grew up, Malapardis, has been consumed by development and now lives on in just a few place names.
After just a few e-mails, this became an autobiography. The course was plain to see: step back and just weave the installments together as Harry delivered them. Like the logs he uses to heat his home, his words still have the bark on. And they retain the rock ’n’ roll pep of the young Elvis fan who played guitar and drums and sang.
Harry has a terrific memory and eye for detail, and his path crossed with a lot of well-known baseball names. Sure, there’s a sense of loss and disappointment over what might have been — but there’s no bitter tone either. As he often says, life is good.
So let’s step back to Morris County, New Jersey. The memories begin right around the end of World War II.
Fanok Road was and still is a dirt road with about three other houses on it. It’s a dead end street. When I was real young, we had an outhouse in back. We had chickens, ducks, and always a dog or cat.
Malapardis was mostly Ukes, and Whippany was Polish. My mom [Nelly Panis Fanok] is Polish. We did not speak any language other than English. I think Mom and Dad could understand the different tongues, but we never heard them speak it.
I believe Max was the town constable way back when. He died when I was about five or so. I hardly remember him. He owned a lot of property in the area. My dad [Harry M. Fanok, Sr.] had three brothers: Walt, George, and Mike. Also a sister, Mary. I’m not sure about Mike, but all the brothers are deceased. Walt was awarded the town gas station. He was a pheasant hunter. He had the bird dogs and all. He was a teacher as well. Aunt Mary would always have the school pix of all us kids in the windows of this cobblestone gas station. We all would frequent the place to buy popsicles and soda. Walt would usually be there playing his accordion. He played very well. Mike was a high school janitor in nearby Morristown High. I hardly ever seen Mike other than Christmas or Thanksgiving dinners at my grandmother’s house alongside of the gas station.
George was awarded the tavern along the other side of the gas station. George was famous in the area for being one of the best pitchers around. They say this guy could really throw. Years later, I would go across Route 10 to George’s tavern after baseball happenings to pick up a quart of ginger ale. Then I’d walk back N. Jefferson Road to Fanok Road, and get ready to listen to the BROOKLYN DODGERS. That was always my team.
Dad first started working during the Depression. He unloaded boxcars for minimal compensation. He told us of having to work seven days a week, 12 hours per day for 12 dollars. He said there were always people there waiting to take his job, though. How lucky we got it nowadays, eh?
So I’m guessing that is why I got the worse treatment at times. Let’s face it! He’d been through a lot of stress that most of us, fortunately, could not imagine. So, if I got out of line, it was woodshed time. And I guess I deserved most of it. I was not your typical child for some reason.
After that, he worked in a factory in Paterson, I think. Curtiss-Wright. I don’t remember for how long, but, I remember me and my mom driving him to work down there. After that, I guess, he started in floor covering. First, he worked for someone, then he figured he could start doing the work for himself. And he did for the rest of his life. He was a perfectionist. Also, I would label him a big-time overachiever. He was famous for making two pieces of linoleum come together where the seams were virtually invisible. And his work was flawless and lasted for years and years. He never had to advertise. It was word of mouth.
Trouble was, he could never find anyone who could work for him. He was so picky. Even sweeping was scrutinized by DA MASTER. I worked for him on and off for years when he needed me. Many times I had to call my brother Bob to come pick me up from wherever we were because me and Dad were not seeing eye to eye. I guess that being in that awful Depression sort of molded the guy for life. He finally had a job, and he was gonna do it to the best of his ability and nobody was gonna beat him out of it. It really used to piss him off when, on occasion, I would ask, “Is this good enough, Dad?” You just did not say that around Dad.
My brother seemed to be able to work for him much better than I did. Bob had the knack of telling him to lighten up a tad. Bob had a much better personality than I did too.
I guess it all started [playing ball] when I was about five or six. My dad, who worked in the nearby paper mill at the time, would bring me home tennis balls, which he would find in the mill. We had no TV, so I didn’t have a clue as to what I should do with one besides bounce it, and toss it, and whatever.
Some years passed, and along came my brother Bobby. And about the time he was four, Dad was showing us how to play ball. He’d underhand the tennis balls, and we would hit them with a broomstick at the start. Later, he got us a bat. We were both right-handed.
Anyway, all three of us continued doing the tennis ball thing for some years. I guess the next point in time came when I would walk down the street to my schoolmate Joey Mihalko’s house, and also the next house down, the Hughey house. The Hugheys were a black family. There were four of them that I would play with — Lanny, Lukey, Ducky, and Hornet, who was and STILL is our leader.
Bob was my only sibling. He was the best. We fought at times like all bros do, but just brotherly skirmishes. Being five years younger than me, he used to get a kick out of telling Dad what I done wrong during the day. The kid was too young to know what the woodshed was all about. And later when he was in Whippany Grammar School with me, he would sometimes see me standing out in the hall. After a while, he knew why I was there — because I was acting up in class and the teacher would send me there. But, as usual, it was my own doing that got me to the woodshed time after time.
But all in all during the early years, we got along good. We hunted, fished, and trapped muskrat together. That’s what Dad taught us and we liked doing those kind of things. We always talked of the old days whenever we spoke. We had an excellent environment in which to enjoy our hobbies too. We had everything in walking distance. We had springs — crystal clear springs coming out of the ground. Ice cold too. In the summers, we’d walk to get some of God’s precious gift. They’re gone now. Route 10 is now a maze of jug-handles which were put in place to handle the ever increasing traffic. The ball field which we all played on is under one of those jug-handles. No one would ever suspect there were so many good times right under their tires. That was our field of dreams!
And right across Jefferson Road was the town municipal building. It once was a school — Malapardis School. That is where I started. We had four classes in one room. And in back of the school was a brushy field, which we burnt in the spring so we could play ball there. We were too young to play on the big field, so this is where we would choose up sides and have at it. We would start with a new ball, which we would all chip in for. Well, after some time, the ball would become waterlogged and ripped. We used to use friction tape to redo the ball. This went on for some time until the ball got to look like a golf ball.
Then we’d go across the street to watch the big guys play and when a foul ball was hit near the left field foul line, we’d all go and try to find it. You’re supposed to give the ball back if ya find it, but on occasion, we’d find it and kick it further into the weeds and retrieve it after everyone had left. Hence, we had a new pill.
I guess I went to the ’Pardis school for a couple of years, then we were transferred to Whippany Grammar, a mile down the road. I remember we played softball a lot in the early years — even in winter, when there was snow on the ground. We had an excellent principal in Mr. Victor Woodruff. Three or four of us would venture up to his office to ask for a ball, as I guess they were put away for the season. The man would oblige us. So, every lunch hour, we’d go out in the snow and play for a half hour. These were good times for all of us. We all loved the game, and played it as often as we could. Thank God!
Well, aside from the Hughey Bros. and myself firing rocks at objects and ourselves, I guess you could say that was sort of a spring training that was to be — for me. Also, me and Joey M would go down to the big field in the hot summer with tennis balls. One batter, one pitcher. What we would do was shorten the distance from mound to plate. We would fire the balls from 40 or so feet. This would hone our skills to react. If ya got drilled, no problem. I wonder if the experts ever thought of this tactic? We did! Another Malapardis first, ladies & gents!!
Anyway, I was too old to qualify for Little League when it finally surfaced in Malapardis-Whippany. So I would try to play for the Malapardis Boys Club, which had some older guys. I wasn’t able to do much playing here, as I was still a little bit too young, and not good enough yet. Soon after, we had Babe Ruth baseball in our town. I remember playing for a team called the Whippany Paperboard. I played third base and pitched. We had an excellent team coached by Mr. Jack O’Donnell. By the time I graduated from this baseball league, it was apparent that I had a gift. On an ordinary pickoff play at second base, I, as a pitcher, would turn and throw, and knock the glove off of the second baseman’s hand. That’s the way it was.
Then I was in high school. It certainly was not my decision, but my dad enrolled me into one of the state’s finest institutions of its time — MORRISTOWN PREP. Everyone that graduated went to Princeton, Yale, Harvard, etc. Dad never once asked me about going to this school. So, here I am, amongst these scholars and such, trying to fit in . . .when, all along, all I ever wanted to do was to be a ballplayer. I recall, in seventh grade, Jim Russin [who made it to Triple-A in 1966-67] asked me what I was going to say, as we all had to go to this one-on-one meeting with school officials as to what we wanted to do with our lives after graduation. It was a no-brainer for me! I was gonna be a big league player — end of story!!
Like I said, I was not good enough to play for my hometown Malapardis Boys Club at the beginning. So, I found out I could play for a team in Morris Plains, about five miles away. I hitchhiked to those games most of the times. This went on for some time. Then, later, thanks to Syl Hughey, I was able to play with the Boys Club. And, all along, I would back up the pitcher during batting practice for the big club — the Whippany Firemen. These guys were mostly in their thirties. I can remember the time Mr. John Kasiski, who ran the club, asked me if I thought I could play for them. That was a good day for me. I started playing third base and outfield. Life was starting to get better. I wouldn’t play all the time, but I did get in there.
I remember one Sunday morning where I was in the woods with my shotgun. I was by myself when I heard people’s voices calling me. It turned out to be Andy Durma and Bobby Kasiski. They had an emergency. They had a game scheduled at SING SING prison, and a couple of the regular players could not go for whatever reason. So, I was the ninth guy! They told me we had to hurry, and that my mom is making some sandwiches for the trip. So, wearing the same clothes they found me in, we got to the bus, and headed for the big grey-bar hotel.
I’ll never forget this one! When we arrived at the prison, we had to go through security. They checked everybody. I was 14 or 15, I guess. I had my blue jeans on. The guard asked me if I had any guns or explosives, jokingly. I said no. He said, “What’s that in your pocket?” I looked down and told him it was some Life Savers. He said to empty my pockets. It was then that I brought out the 12-gauge shotgun shell. All the guys had a good laugh over that one, except me. I had to explain how that happened and how the guys had to find me in the woods target practicing, and that we had to hurry.
Now it’s game time. They had a lot of fans (inmates) and they were all yelling and carrying on. I don’t remember getting any hits but I did have three shots hit at me down at third base. I didn’t catch one ball with my glove, but took them all off of my chest and I threw all of them out. The inmates really were liking the way I could get the ball to first base. I think after that game, I was playing more regular. I was getting more confidence too.
The team had some good players. Just to mention a few, were Mike Yavorski, who looked nothing like an athlete but was one of the best hitters around. Andy Durma could pull the ball and hit it a mile. Bobby and Jackie Kasiski were good athletes. Jackie could run like a rabbit. Dickie Japko was Mr. Clutch. When we needed a spark, he was da man. And also, his mom made the best apple crumb pie in the world.
The Malapardis Boys Club also had some real good players. The Connolly Bros. were tall kids who could hit and throw. Luke Hughey was a fine lefty pitcher. The best player there was Mr. Sylvester Hughey. He done it all. He was the leader. He kept everyone in line. He’s retired and living in North Carolina with his wife, Annie. Syl is a deacon in his church there. I was lucky to be able to play with these guys.
After leaving Morristown Prep, I went to Hanover Park High School. My first year was my junior year. I was ineligible to play ball on account of grades. That was not a good time for me. It wasn’t because I was a dummy, but because I had no interest in school. So, during that year, I would play for the local teams. In my senior year, somehow I got my grades up and was permitted to play. I think we had a schedule of about 15 games or so. We did pretty good and were selected to go to the Greater Newark tournament. But, I believe we were seeded somewhere near last of all the schools. I remember sitting in the coaches’ room with a heat lamp on my elbow, as it was a little tender from the last game I pitched. The phone rang, and Coach Fred Leeney told me it was a tourney official asking us if we still wanted to show up tomorrow as one of the lower seeded teams got beat by 15 runs or so. Coach said, “We’ll be there!”
Well, we were there and we beat the first team, Newark West Side. That was a tough game as I recall. They had this lefthander who I thought was great. Phil Fidalgo. This guy could throw and was a good hitter. I think he struck out 18 and I got 14. But we got the win, 1-0. We beat the next team also, then came Trenton. Al Downing played for them. I gave them a two- or three-run cushion which lasted till the final inning. We had no hits until then. As you can see in the album, I had two strikes on me with two outs. I think we had two guys on base. The Lord blessed me for sure, as I put one in the left-centerfield seats to tie the game. I actually stopped at second base thinking it was a ground rule double. The ump waved me around. So, as you can see in that picture, I was jumping on home plate for the tie. I think it was then that Downing came in and pitched. We finally scored and that was the game of all our lives right there.
We won three in a row. Now we are in the final game against St. Peter’s, for the championship of New Jersey. This is a sore spot in my career. We lost. I think the ump screwed us when a ball was hit to shortstop for an inning ending double play. When Jimmy Russin fielded the ball, he glided across second base and threw to first base. Well, the ump said he never touched second base. To make things worse, the throw was off the mark to first base also. Now some runs have scored. We were not able to come back. I guess we were lucky to reach the finals.
We had a lot of heart on that Hornet team though. Jim Russin, Archie Moore [1964-65 Yankees], and myself would go on to the pros. But, all the guys on our team were pros that summer. Guys like Dick Pillion, Pat Santillo, Al Curran, Joey Westbrook to name a few. And we had the best leader in Coach Fred Leeney, who I am told lives in Pennsylvania now. Leeney was one of the few teachers that saw anything in me. And, I understand why. He taught the only subject that I was interested in — baseball. I had two of the best high school coaches in him and Pat Mackin of Morristown Prep. I wish I could have done better for those guys.
Well. So much for high school. I didn’t graduate. But, I did go on to get my equivalent. So now, we wait for the scouts. During that one season at Hanover Park, several scouts talked to me after games. They would ask me what I wanted to do after high school and would present me with their business cards, which I still have to this day. Well, the only scouts that came to us was Detroit and St. Louis. Also, the Yankees gave me a tryout down at the Stadium. I guess I flunked that one. They said, “Don’t call us, we’ll call you!”
When the time came to sign up with somebody, we took the first one that came to this rural home of ours. That was the Tigers. A guy named Rabbit Jacobson signed me to a Class D contract with a 500 buck bonus. Well, another player in our area was signed by Rabbit for much more money. That was Johnny Sullivan, the catcher for the Mets in later years, and also bullpen catcher for the Toronto Blue Jays. Johnny and I were friends, and still are today. He was an athlete. Good in football, basketball, and baseball.
I, on the other hand, only played a little football, and no basketball. Back then, it was taboo to play football if one ever had an inkling to succeed in baseball. But, the determining factor for me to not play football was when I would be getting the word from my buddy Johnny DeLukey that the ducks were flying and the guys were having much success in the nearby marsh. That’s all I had to hear, and I quit football, which I had no interest in, in the first place. Baseball and duck hunting was my bag. Not necessarily in that order at times neither.
As it turned out, my dad thought the Tigers was the team. We signed with them, and was set to go to their Class D team. But, a little while later, my dad found out that Johnny Sullivan, who played for nearby Bernardsville High, got a much better bonus than I got and that pissed him off. So, somehow, he voided the contract. It was then [December 14, 1958] that we signed with Bennie Borgmann and the Cards. We didn’t know what we were doing, as this was a first and only time to get a thing like this done. Sullivan was a catcher, and I guess the Tigers needed catching so that’s why he got a decent signing bonus.
Bennie [an early pro basketball star from the 1920s and ’30s who is in that sport’s Hall of Fame] was not or could not have been a post-up dude. I don’t think the guy was 5-9. He was stocky and had this sort of take-charge attitude about him.
Anyway, somehow my dad got us out of the Tigers contract and we got a much better deal with Bennie and the Cardinals. A contract for 25 hundred bucks. I signed as a pitcher-third baseman. So, that’s about the sports that I played, and Bennie, finally giving me a shot while starting out with a few bucks. Didn’t really mean that much to me. All I wanted to do was to get started with my dream. Dad was satisfied, and I was ready. It was too late to play that season by the time of the signing, so I played for the local teams whenever I could.
The following spring , we headed for Daytona Beach, as the Rochester Red Wings held their spring training there. Luke Easter was there, along with Karl Spooner. Ya know I remember SPOON! I even tried to emulate his unique delivery while in grade school I think. I sure recall the scars on his left arm. They ripped him good. I don’t recall the other guys.
In batting practice, I swung for the fences and was hitting with power. I was getting some hits during the game and started to open some eyes. I was happier being a position player anyway. They started me off with pitching in mind, but, while pitching batting practice, I think I scared the hell out of the guys because I was going full bore. I was bringin’ it!! I almost hit the coach too when he was taking his cuts. He went on to be a coach for the Houston Colts in ’63 — Cot Deal. I got to say hello to him.
Anyway, he figured he better get me off of the mound before something bad would happen to his batters. So, for the rest of my two or three weeks at Daytona, I played the infield. I hit pretty good also. But, when the first cut came, I was on a bus to Albany, Georgia. That was the Cards minor league camp. I liked the town and the guys I played with. I don’t remember a lot about that experience, just that there were a lot of us and we all had big numbers on the back of our uniforms. I remember meeting Von McDaniel there. I heard of him, as he beat the Dodgers when he was a rookie. His brother Lindy was at the big camp in St. Pete. Von had an arm injury and that’s why he was there. So, I picked his brain when I could.
But I was there to play third base. I remember hitting one homer, and I would say I hit fair. At this time, I was running every day with the pitchers and also the position players. I wanted to be in the best shape I could and was very proud to be in my position. I was playing for the Hobbs, New Mexico team which was Class D. It was getting around to be the end of spring training, and I remember all of us hoping we wouldn’t get cut. As it turned out, the last day, they promoted me to the Billings, Montana club which was class C. I guess, being a third baseman, they wanted me to be looked after by [manager] Whitey Kurowski, the old Cardinal third baseman. Life is good once again. Now, we’re ready for the train ride to da Rocky Mountains!
We’re on to Billings, Montana. Pioneer League. I’m still 18 and opening up at third base. I was a switch hitter as you recall. I remember the first trip we were about to make and was real excited about it. I think it was to Great Falls, then Missoula, Idaho Falls, and the last one was Boise. Long trip, but I had my Zane Grey novels, and camera, and enjoyed the beautiful scenery of the Rocky Mountains. I guess my claim to fame during this time was my ability to bust chairs by throwing wildly over the first baseman’s head. Sometimes I thought that was the reason some folks came to the games.
If you look in the ’59 section of my scrapbooks, you’ll find a picture of an umpire. That umpire is retiring this year — Bruce Froemming. Boy, did Whitey Kurowski give this kid hell back in the day!
My fielding needed work that season, along with my hitting. I played third all year up until the last month. [He also pitched in spots.] They sent me down to Class D in [Dothan,] Alabama. I played three games there, when I was told I was being sent back up to Winnipeg, as their third baseman got injured. So it was from Montana, to Alabama, to Winnipeg in less than a week’s time. Maybe there was money to be had by busting seats with wild throws! (Yeh right!) Well, by the time the Northern League season was done, the numbers probably didn’t show it [0 HR, 14 RBI, .211], but I thought I was starting to hit the ball well.
Anyway, they asked me to show up at the Cards Instructional League in St. Pete, Florida. All their top prospects were there, so I’m thinking that I must have been doing something right. During the games, I played third. I still was not making good enough contact, and was starting to slump up pretty good. I recall Harry (The Hat) Walker taking me aside one day after a game, and showing me his technique of hitting. His way is very similar to the way the batters hit the ball today. And I think I was on the verge of picking it up, when Chief Bender, who was our farm director, came over to me one day and said the Cards feel it’s time for me to get back on Da Mound. The blood started to rush to my head, as I thought I just failed one part of my dream. Or maybe it was just the bills they received for all the seats I busted in the towns where I played third base.
The Instructional League was just about done, and now I have to start pitching. Also, my folks came down to see me play. I remember the one game that I got in. We played the Indians team in Tampa. I got in, and struck two guys out, I believe. Then, they took me out. I found out later that they didn’t want the other scouts to see the arm that I had because somehow, they could acquire me if I wasn’t protected on a Triple-A roster. So, that was it for my first year. From third baseman to pitcher. And I saw a lot of the country in a short amount of time, and met a lot of people.
Okay, so now I’m a pitcher and I’m heading for Homestead, Florida. We were the first players to use that facility, as it was brand new. Much better than the facility they had in Georgia. The fields were situated around vast tomato fields. I recall one game when a large dark cloud suddenly appeared. I think Whitey Kurowski was hollering for us to get down. There must have been a trillion bees. I guess they just weren’t ready to accept us on their habitat yet.
When I first arrived, I was assigned to the Rochester club (Triple A). I guess I played with those guys, which included Luke Easter, when I was demoted to the Winnipeg team, I started to open some eyes with my arm. I was pitching on a regular rotation, and was enjoying the transformation from a position player, although I still loved to swing a bat. I can recall having a couple of wins real quick like. I was gaining confidence.
One day, after our game was over, we were in the large clubhouse, when the Rochester team’s opponent showed up for their game. It was the Minneapolis Millers. Those guys were big as hell. I recall Cliff Politte [Sr.] and I went over to watch Rochester play the Millers. I recall watching the infield drills before the game. I’ll never forget watching the outfielders go through their drills. They were Duke Carmel in left, Mike Shannon in center, and Mel Nelson in right field. I was really impressed with those boys. Here I was in Class C, and this was our big Triple A club. I forget who was pitching in the actual game, but I was thinking that I could play here some day.
Anyway, these guys were recently cut from the big club in St. Pete. So, Rochester was loaded with talent now. By now, spring training was winding down, and we were ready to roll. It was a good spring training, and aside from the bees and the billowing smoke trails from nearby Homestead Air Force Base, there wasn’t much going on besides playing every day. Well, I think I opened the first game of the season on the road at Eau Claire, Wisconsin. This was the Milwaukee Braves team of the Northern League. I didn’t do too good. I was gone after five innings. Not good!
Now I had time to think where I went wrong. And anyone that knew me, knew that I was not a happy camper unless I was winning. My second game was in Duluth. That was the Tigers team. I recall Ray Oyler and Gates Brown. Anyway, I pitched the second game of a doubleheader. I went seven innings and fanned 14. Life was good again! When we got to Winnipeg, I started the opener. I don’t recall the results of the game, but the pre-game action, I do. They had Chuck Connors (The Rifleman) having batting practice. I did the throwing to him. That was sort of neat.
The season was rolling on, and I was getting a lot of decisions. I think it was Grand Forks when my folks drove all the way up from Jersey to see me play. This was the Pirates team. This was the year that the movie called Psycho came out. And, in these small towns, there was not a hell of a lot to do during the afternoons other than playing pool, or go to the movies. Well, this one day, we all went to see Psycho. My brother Bob went with us also, as he came up with my folks too. Anyway, I remember there wasn’t hardly anyone in the building but us ballplayers — probably a dozen of us. So, when the show started, we were all spread out about three or four seats apart. But, when the show started to get a little hairy, we started to sit closer to one another. At that time, Psycho was a scary flick.
After the game that evening, I was told that I was being sent up to Tulsa. So, my folks seen me for one game and then had to say good-bye. So, I get to Tulsa, pitch one inning for Vern Benson’s team, and was told I was being sent back to the PEG. Something to do with paperwork, is what they told me. It wasn’t finished in time. Unreal! I’m back in the Peg, and my folks are gone. Well, it was business as usual now. I was pitching pretty well, and the team was winning. We make the playoffs and win the Northern League championship. Not bad! I ended up 14 and 11 that year [with a 4.19 ERA].
I also recall a game where Gil Carter almost took my head off with a liner. I think that was the hardest hit anybody had off me. Also, the batting championship came down to the last day. Joe Torre of Eau Claire beat out Max Alvis of Minot, by one or two points. Also, for winning the championship that year, we received pewter mugs all engraved. I still have mine!
So I flew back home. I stayed there for about a week, got in my car, and was headed back to the PEG. Only this time, I had my shotgun. Three days later, I was staying at one of my teammate’s house. Bill Carpenter, who was a crafty pitcher. Also, I had met a girl there in Winnipeg during the season, and that was another reason I went back.
Well, one evening after a date with my girlfriend, I returned home to the Carpenters. My area was in their basement. There was a note on my bed saying that our bus driver during the regular season, said that the geese were flying and the place was marked on a map. It had to be midnight at least. Anyway, I got all my hunting gear and the map and started out for the geese. It turned out to be about a hundred miles outside of Winnipeg. I finally found the place where Charlie the bus driver had parked his bus. It was an old wooden building. But, no Charlie. So it was getting late and the first light was coming fast. So, I got back in my car, and traveled the dirt roads while checking the skies as I drove. No geese, but I did find some of the best duck hunting I ever had. So I came back with ducks. That I still remember. They probably have a McDonald’s there by now.
It’s 1961. I was invited to the big league spring training in St. Pete. It was pretty impressive to be playing with major league guys. I met them all and actually pitched pretty well. Almost made the team too. Solly Hemus liked me. A lot of experienced guys were cut ahead of me. I think I lasted till the last week. So I got into my car and headed for Homestead again to join the Tulsa Oilers club of the Texas League [where Whitey Kurowski had gone to manage]. Got to meet the teammates for a week or so, and headed out on the road again towards the Will Rogers highway, and T-town. Jeoff Long and I were roommates there. Long [who also made the Cardinals in 1963-64] was a converted pitcher. He could hit the ball a mile and was the most naturally strong guy you could find. At my home in Jersey a year or so before, we were tossing a football. I seen him throw one flatfooted about 60 yards.
One thing I’ll never forget in ’61. We were playing San Antonio. Tom Schwaner, a bonus boy with red hair, was on third base with one out. Somebody hit a shot to the right field fence. The outfielder was the Cubs bonus boy, Danny Murphy. He catches the ball right against the fence. Now, Schwaner is tagging up from third to score. Murphy fires a non-stop strike to the catcher and nails Tom at da plate! Tom wasn’t slow afoot either. I never saw anything like that again. Murphy went on to be a pitcher years later. But, at the time, he was a good hitter. I gave up five homers that year, and Murphy hit two of them — in one game!
I don’t recall many other events that year besides playing in Mexico for two weeks. All the teams in the States had to go down and play in Mexico for a two-week stint. That was the worst time for me in baseball. We brang our own food and water and still got sick. Mexico ain’t fer me! Anyway, I had a good year. I ended up 16 and 7 with eight shutouts [and a 2.24 ERA]. Also made the All-Star team. I also missed about a month or two as I was instructed by the Cardinal brass to report to the Army reserves immediately. That was a bummer. But, they said the reserves were about to close up soon, so it would be a good idea if I entered the Army now. So, back in my car and off to Ft. Dix, New Jersey.
Then it’s spring training with the big club in St. Pete — 1962. I can’t recall anything remarkable other than I was farmed out to Atlanta. Fine with me. The Atlanta boys of ’62 were the Charleston boys of ’61. I was da new kid on da block. I roomed with Dick Hughes, another pitcher. We both played guitar, so we got along fine. We rented this large house with many rooms. Sometime later, Fred “Wingy” Whitfield got sent down to Atlanta and had no place to stay. His wife was with him also. So Dick and I offered to house them up. Freddy had this old beat-up car. I don’t even remember what kind it was, but, it was filled with their life support stuff. They were happy to hole up with us. The very next day, Wingy’s wife was in there on her hands and knees, scrubbing the floors and whatever else needed attention, as Hughes and I were not into cleaning all that much. Now, we had three guitar players. One from Louisiana, one from Alabama, and me, from JOISEY! We had a good time. Then I believe Fred got traded to Cleveland. He was one guy you had to be happy for. He really deserved it.
I think my first game was in Jacksonville against the Tribe’s top club. They had guys like Sam McDowell, Larry Brown, Vic Davalillo, Mike de la Hoz, Tommy John among others. I have to think I struck out 15 guys and lost the game on a close one. Hoot Evers was in the stands watching over McDowell, as he was the heir-apparent to Bob Feller or somebody. Hoot was quoted in the papers the next day that he could tell every pitch that I threw. All I had was the number one and a half-assed palm ball, so that should have been pretty easy. I gripped the fastball both ways — with the seams, and the four-seamer. The palm ball was taught to me when I was a freshman in Morristown Prep.
Anyway, I guess the season went on just about the way the ’60 season did. I ended up 12 and 10 [with a 4.40 ERA]. I led the league in strikeouts again too.
Also, we got into the playoffs. I recall the Toronto club coming to Atlanta, and beating us badly in the first two games. They needed one more and they would win the first round. After the second beating, there was not the usual five or six sports guys in our clubhouse. They gave up on us. The only guys that showed up were Lee Walburn and Charlie Roberts. These guys were a part of us through thick and thin. They were Atlanta’s best! Furman Bisher was nowhere to be found. They thought we’d just go up to Toronto, and get another ass-kickin and that will be that. BUT, to make a long story short, WE kicked their asses. Sparky Anderson was their second baseman. They had a good team of vets. The fifth game was one which I’ll never forget. Ray Sadecki outdueled Jim Constable in 11 innings, 2-1. It was the best pitched game I ever saw. Ray was outstanding.
Now [after beating Jacksonville, again thanks to Sadecki] we’re off to Louisville to play in Da Little World Series. Not bad for a bunch of guys who were counted out. I think that ’62 Atlanta club had to be the best team I ever played on! Jim Baumer, Angel Scull, Joe Morgan (we called him “Mumsy” — he didn’t say a hell of a lot, but he was one tough dude!), John Glenn, and, Joe Schultz the manager. Joe Schultz was famous for his beer and cold cuts. Cold cuts is all he talked about when the time was appropriate. He used to call me Hair Cuts. I had a crew cut back then in Atlanta, so I guess that was why. One story I sort of remember was when we were in Atlanta and going for the playoffs, Joe was fired for some reason. And, I’m not sure, but I think he ended up being hired by the Cards as their third base coach.
Anyway, we’re doing our thing in Louisville. I think we were rained out a game, and had to play a doubleheader. Ray Sadecki pitched the first game, and I, the second. We won both games, AND the Little World Series! Not bad! After the game, I drove to Erlanger, Kentucky with my friend, Jeoff Long. We stayed at his house for a day or so, and then we were off to Stuttgart, Arkansas — the duck capital of the world! We stayed there for two weeks, I believe, and hunted ducks every day. LIFE IS GOOD!
Lee Walburn from Atlanta still remembers me as the mink farmer. I did that for a while in the off-season. But as far as the infamous ranch goes, that was merely a joke. My Uncle Walt used to call me the big mink rancher from the East. I started out with three mink. My intentions were to breed them and find a way to maybe have a mink operation. But, as the animals started reproducing, I was running out of land to raise them on. I guess I had about 20 or so at the end. I remember processing one out to send it to the fur market. After that one mink was sent, I think I called my buddy John DeLukey, and we hauled all the rest of the animals to a nearby woods and let them go. I guess I liked them too much. Giving most of the mink names didn’t help either.
I still have my glove that I used way back then. And, the word “MINK” is still written on it. It gave me added incentive to do good. My mink thing was just one of many roads that I had to take. I guess, if I didn’t pursue these whims, I’d regret it in the future.
Hard to recall spring training happenings so long ago, but I think I did real well against the Braves in one game down there to make the club [in 1963]. I recall Vern Benson coming over to me and telling me that the Cards would be counting on me as a reliever, and they thought I could do the job. Well, I had three years of minor league pitching under my belt, with hardly any relief appearances. But I guess if a new guy was to break into a rotation, that is how it was done back then. Fine with me.
So I broke camp with the big club, and, first stop was Da Polo Grounds. Da Amazing Muts, with Casey [Stengel]. My folks came to see me along with Johnny DeLukey, my duck hunting friend from Whippany. Also, his dad Tony was there taking pictures of all the players for the press, as that is what Tony Russomanno did on occasion. Well, I think we swept da Muts, and we were on our way. Doing good. I still didn’t get into a game yet.
Now, after being on the road, we headed for St. Louis. The Pirates were in town. I think it was the first game [April 16]. I was down in the bullpen. It was about the eighth inning or so. I asked Howard Pollet if I could throw a little, as I haven’t gotten into any games as yet. So I started warming up, and somehow the game took a turn for the worse, and the phone rang, and Pollet told me to start firing, because Keane was bringing me in. Keane calls for ME!
I’ll never forget walking in from the pen that night. I thought to myself that this was IT! I finally made it. My dream was happening here and now. I had to wipe tears from my eyes before I got to the mound. They say there’s no crying in baseball. Maybe a little. Anyway, I recall facing Bob Skinner with two outs. I got him to a full count, I believe. Then, the catcher called for a change-up. I threw the palm ball, and Skinner took it for strike three. I recall going into the dugout and sitting next to Julian Javier, our second baseman. He was laughing his ass off. I guess he didn’t think I could throw a change on 3 and 2.
Elroy Face is pitching against us in the ninth. My buddy Duke Carmel comes up and sends one deep into the stands. [Curt Flood then doubled and scored on an error.] Cards win! I win my first game I ever played in. Life is good.
Later that evening in the hotel restaurant, Dick Groat introduced me to Skinner. He said he wanted to buy me a drink. He said anyone who could throw that hard and come back with a 3 and 2 changeup, gets his approval.
After my debut against the Pirates, I would be facing another Pennsylvania team — the Phillies. As I recall, we had a good lead by the 4th inning or so. [Bob] Gibson, however, was having a bad hair day, and could not do anything right on this day. He had been floundering from the get-go. I believe he loaded the bases in the 5th. He had one out. All he needed was one more out to get the win [there were two out in the 4th]. But [after Bobby Shantz walked Tony González], Johnny Keane came out with the hook and summoned me from the pen.
By the way, this game was being televised back to Jersey, so I guess my hometown in Malapardis got to watch. Also, my high school coach, Fred Leeney, was at the game, and was in the clubhouse after the game.
Anyway, I come in with the sacks full and Roy Sievers is awaiting. I think I jammed him. But, I know, he hit into an inning-ending comebacker. Things are looking good. I pitched the rest of the game. No problem again. The Lord shined on me again.
Also, we loaded the bases in one of those innings, and I came up to bat. One of my heroes was on the mound pitching to me. Ryne Duren, the old Yankee fireballer. He threw two pitches to me. Both were balls. I’m thinking it was Gene Mauch who was the manager then. He comes out and replaces Duren with Dallas Green. Now, I’m up at bat with the count 2 and 0. These guys didn’t know anything about me or if I could swing the bat or not.
There is no doubt in my mind that Green was gonna give me a fastball right down Broadway. He did, and I singled to plate two runs. Later, leading off the eighth, I smoked another one from Green high off of the right-center field fence. That wall at old Connie Mack Stadium had to be 50 feet high. I came to within a foot or so from a homer. Anyway, I got a double out of it. Curt Flood is now at bat. The bunt sign is on and Curt squares around to bunt a perfect fastball right down the middle. At the last second he retracts the bat, and decides to take the pitch. By now, seeing the good pitch to bunt, I’m leaning and ready to motor to third base. I tried to get back to second but, they picked me off. Embarrassed, I trotted back to the dugout. Also, I went on to get my second win. Life is good. The first two games find me 2 and 0. I’m thinking I could win 40 games or so.
The next game that I got into was against the Giants. I faced another one of my heroes in Willie Mays. I remember the count going full. I threw a heater as hard as I could and struck out the Say Hey Kid swinging. The next time I faced Willie later in the game was to be a different story though. I threw him another fastball, and he roped one to shortstop Dick Groat, who leaped high to corral the meteor. I recall Dick turning to the outfield to take off his glove, probably to count his fingers. Willie hit the hell out of the ball, but he was 0 for 2 against me.
The next guy was really a Giant. Willie McCovey. There was a big dude! I was surprised how well he got around on me. Usually, the big and tall guys have trouble with the heat when it’s up and in. I know I struck him out at least once. The next guy I recall pitching to was Orlando Cepeda. He pissed me off. I threw him a palm ball, and he flared it down the right field line for a double. It actually brought up dust from hitting the foul line. He got a double. I recall barking at him to hit the ball right. Anyway, I pitched some innings there and still did pretty good. I know we did not win this game. This was probably going to be the last game where I pitched with pretty good confidence.
After my first three games in the bigs, I was feeling pretty good. But things were to take a change for the worse. I believe we were in Milwaukee to face the Braves. I think I started in a fresh inning as opposed to coming in with runners on base. As I recall, I was getting outs. I know I was doing well anyway. But lo and behold, here comes banty rooster Johnny Keane out of the dugout. He’s sort of pissed off and he tells me to start throwing overhand again instead of dropping down to three-quarters. During my whole career, I pitched mostly three-quarters. Now, he wants me to start blowing batters away starting from this particular early inning. I think it was the third or fourth. So now, instead of finding myself in this game, I have to start throwing differently. So I did! But with an attitude now! I lasted another inning, I think. I walked just about everybody.
THIS was the beginning of the end! I could never regain what I had earned in the first three games again. All I was doing now was trying to survive. And to do that, I had to throw the ball by the batters because I had no breaking pitch. I became your classic OVERTHROW guy. No rhythm, no flow. That really was about it for anything positive for the ’63 season with the Cards. I recall a few instances in games like the one I pitched in Forbes Field against the Pirates [May 12]. [Roberto] Clemente was up. It was a day game. I threw pretty good in this one as the count ran full and I fired fastball after fastball to Roberto. He kept swinging late. He must have roped three or four shots into the stands along the first base line. I was wondering how many folks were to be airlifted to a hospital somewhere after he was done. Even if they all wore gloves and were ready to field those shots, it would have been dangerous. Anyway, he singled after that confrontation.
One game in particular comes to mind. We were playing the Dodgers at home in St. Louis [May 9]. I’m out of control and walking guys left and right. Now, this is a TRUE story, and I’m gonna tell it as it happened — word for word. This is what happened in that game against the Dodgers when I could not throw a strike. It all started when Kenny Boyer called time. He marches to the mound to talk to me, and hopefully, settle me down. By this time, Julian Javier, Dick Groat, and Bill White are also there. First, Kenny tells me to bend my back. Javier says I’m not following through. Groat says I’m not picking up my target, or something. Meanwhile, Bill White is listening to all of this and, I’m sure, getting pissed off by now as he barks out — “Don’t confuse the m****rf****r! Just throw the goddamn ball!” Well, coming from Bill, who normally speaks the King’s English, that loosened me up a bit. Junior Gilliam ended the game with a long fly out to right field [and ironically, Harry was credited with his only major-league save].
So I went on like this till they sent me down to Atlanta. And, what did they have me do down there? START! All I can say, is that maybe relieving should be left for the relievers, which, obviously, I was not! But back then, if ya want to pitch in the bigs, ya gotta start at da bottom! Let’s face it, I only had the fastball and an occasional palm ball. No breaking pitches to speak of. So, after losing my first three games in Atlanta, I decided it was time to get one of DOZE breaking pitches. For, without one, I was headed back to Jersey to do linoleum with Dad. And dat was not a good thing for me.
Enter SAD SAM JONES — my career savior!
I’m back in Atlanta. Syracuse (Tigers) is in town. Old friend Gates Brown bumps into me at the batting cage before the game. “How’s da meal money up there, Fanok?” I liked Gater. He didn’t know it at the time, but he would see many good meal money days in Detroit in the future. It actually was 10 bucks a day in The Show back then. Anyway, Syracuse beat me in this particular game. I think by the time I knew what was happening, I was something like 2 and 5. Not good. All I know, is somehow the Atlanta club had obtained Sam Jones. I recall one game where Jerry Buchek was batting against him in Atlanta [vs. Toronto]. The count was full, I believe, and Sam threw one of his famous benders and Buchek tried to duck down. But, the hook followed him all the way for a called strike three! There were many giggles happening in our dugout. Over-match city!
One night during a game, I had been talking with Sam. I was telling him I needed a hook like he had or I could forget getting back to Da Show. Well, the next inning, Sam and I strolled out to the bullpen and began. He told me what was needed to make the ball break — rotation! Also, how to get rotation. We would have these sessions every two days. I would still have my regular starts, but every other day we would be getting better and better. I recall wondering why this didn’t happen years ago. I always had the idea that if someone was showing me how to throw a curveball and I hurt my arm, it would cost them their job.
This time, I had THE teacher that made things clear for me. It’s funny — when Sam was teaching me the curveball, he told me about [longtime Indians star and pitching coach] Mel Harder, and how he showed Sam his curve. They say Harder had one of the best hooks in the business. I live about five miles from where Mel lived when he was still alive. I talked on the phone with Mel two times. I told him about Sam and how he taught me the curve. He remembered Sam.
I’d say it must have been a month or so that I had the confidence to use the hook in a real game. Johnny Keane wasn’t around, so the club let me pitch the way I wanted to. I started using the no-windup also. I also had learned, at that time, to throw DOWNHILL. At least that’s what I called it. From the pinnacle of my delivery, I would dump the fastball right at the batter’s knees. It was sort of a zone. Invisible, but it was there. It was embedded in my mind once I found it.
My bases on balls were way down, and I was still striking people out. And I was using the hook that Sam had taught me. I got so confident in it that I would throw it on a full count. I also changed speeds with it. Life was not only good again, it was amazing how easy pitching was becoming. No more did I have to go Powder River [fastball] every pitch, every inning. I have to say that those days in Atlanta were the best for me. I considered myself a pitcher for the first time. I ended up 11 and 6 that season [3.19 ERA], after a 2 and 5 beginning, I believe. I made the All-Star Game in Buffalo against the Yankees, whom we beat. I did well in that game, also.
Now I come home to Atlanta. I’m wishing now that I would get called up, as I have tools now. Well, it was the second game after the All-Star Game that I was to pitch against Buffalo. I recall being frustrated while warming up. I couldn’t get the curveball to break. If I had known what was to happen within a few innings, I would have walked off the mound and went home.
The trouble with the curveball breaking was the first time this had happened since Sam had taught me it. I don’t recall going over to Sam for advice or not [St. Louis had called Jones up in early August]. All I remember is that the dumping of the fastball down in the zone that night had gotten me many Ks: 8 in a row. The fans were with me that night too. Standing O’s! Then the rains came. I think we had about a half hour delay. It was typical Atlanta weather that night also. HOT! So I didn’t bother to go down to the pen to re-warm up. Like I said, it was not a long delay at all. So I went out to the mound to warm up. I figured it would take 10 pitches or so.
The very first toss I took fell out of my hand. It landed about 20 feet away from me. I recall an electric shock from my shoulder area down to my right thumb. When I went over to retrieve the ball that had fallen out of my hand, I couldn’t pick it up. My hand was NUMB! No feeling! So I looked into our dugout where Harry (The Hat) Walker was watching closely. I motioned to him to come on out. I told him the story, and headed for the training room and extinction.
In a day or so, the feeling came back to my hand. Two other incidents I recall after the injury. One was being sent to St. Louis for the Cards’ doctors to check me out. They gave me all kinds of tests with whatever technology they had at that time. They never took me to a hospital though. They just used the machines that they had in the clubhouse. I guess that was the extent of it in ’63. They sort of did not know what was wrong with me or what injury did occur. They just told me to lay off throwing for a while and gradually get back to it.
Then I’m back with Atlanta, and we travel to Indianapolis. I think we were battling those guys for the pennant at the time. We leave our clubhouse to get to the field for batting practice. I’m walking with the other guys to our dugout when a voice calls my name. It was Herb Score. He had heard that I got injured and had to leave the game. He asked me what happened and if it still hurts. Although I had never spoken to Herb, I sure’n’hell knew who Herb Score was. And that I never forgot. Herb had it all at one time. But after Gil [McDougald] hit him in the eye with the batted ball, everything was to change for Herb. He was never the same. Sort of like what happened to me. If only the curveball had been working that night in Atlanta, I might have stayed the course of pitching with my new effective way. Instead, I listened to the crowd and was on some kind of roll using all fastballs. Anyway, I went out in style, I think! There were not too many batters even swinging at the ball that night. I would say it was pitching downhill at its finest. At least for me, it was!
Now we have to test the arm. To see where we stand. The life after the injury will be difficult for me. I’m sure my subconscious mind has deleted all that it could. You’ll have to fill in a lot from the scrapbooks, my man.
I don’t recall pitching too much after the injury. I know they sent me back down to the Instructional League after the season ended. I threw in games down there, but I know I didn’t have it. John Keane came down there to watch me on the sidelines, I recall. I could still throw hard, but with pain and much less control. They asked me how the arm was, and I would say it’s okay. There would be no pain in the beginning of a warmup, then something strange would take place. I developed a HITCH! Either my brain would not let me throw free and easy, or the injury was actually the physical culprit. At any rate, I had to get from mild throwing to some serious heat. That was the problem. That was a bridge that I was unable to cross. When I did, occasionally, the ball flew hard, but with pain. Now I had to get used to throwing with pain. It got worse the longer I threw.
I don’t recall how I did in games that year either. But I do recall the day game in Tampa. It was early in the game. I wasn’t pitching in this game. The loudspeaker told of the ordeal in Dallas, where Connally and Kennedy were both shot. I recall all of us looking at each other in disbelief. Five or 10 minutes gone by with no additional news. I recall there being one out in the inning when I picked up a bunch of baseballs and flung them all out in the field of play. I actually was pissed that they didn’t call the game. Anyway, minutes later, or so, they did call the game. I don’t think we played another game for a week or so, if at all. I remember watching nothing but the funeral procession and the Oswald fiasco. The weather down in St. Pete was cold and damp at the time. Probably just like Americans’ spirits were. ’Sixty-three was not only a bad year for me.
Looking back, I didn’t lose nothing when compared to what Kennedy lost, and what we, as Americans, had said goodbye to. It’s the old adage, where you think you have it bad. All you have to do is turn in any direction, and point at someone. They, too, have a story to tell. Most of the time it’s worse than one’s own!
It’s 1964. I recall spending many hours in the training room during spring training down in St. Pete. The pain was still there, but I figured I could get through it. I can’t recall any games that I pitched in the ’64 spring training. That is weird because I made the team that year. So I must have impressed someone. Or maybe the Cards figured they owed me for having a good year in ’63, then getting injured. Who knows? I’m thinking that I must have had something left in the tank.
I do recall a few games in which I pitched, though. One game in particular comes to mind. We were playing the Astros at home in St. Louis. I don’t remember the circumstances in how I came into the game, but, the longer I pitched, the numbness in my arm would bring out the hitch that I developed. Now I was becoming very conscious of this hitch. And, instead of just throwing the ball naturally without thinking, I had to think my delivery out each time I threw the ball. Bad news!
These were bad times for me. Now, even during batting practice, I would be tossing the ball in the outfield with someone, and they would mention to me that I was hitching. I was really becoming aware of it more and more. When I would get into a game, I’d have to grit and bear it. As I have said previously, I could throw the ball mildly in the beginning, but to get to full bore, that was the problem. Another way to explain it would be where a pitcher warms up in three stages: soft tossing till he gets to midrange, throwing to where he reaches full throttle. I could not do the midrange throwing. That really brang out this hitch that I developed.
An example of this was evident in a day game against the Pirates, I think. A ball was squibbled back to me. All I had to do is throw the ball to first base. I had plenty of time. I’ve done it a thousand times before. But with my arm and the way it was, I threw the bitch into the stands. Can you imagine that?? This was the way it was in ’64. I always thought to myself as to why I even made the club that year. I could not use what I had learned the year before when I really learned how to pitch. As far as I was concerned, I would continue to fight through this, hoping the arm would return.
I’m sure the Cards were disappointed. When I got the word that I was being sent down, I recall asking the clubhouse guy as to where my long sleeved sweatshirts were. Butch told me that Bing Devine told him to remove them as they were club’s property. I confronted Devine about the situation, and he promptly jumped all over my ass. So, that was that. I moved on to Jacksonville, I think [and from there to Raleigh]. But, wherever I played, the bad arm was always there.
I tried everything I could. I don’t recall where I played in ’65. Tulsa maybe! [And Jacksonville.] Anyway, the story would be the same. Actually, that spring, Jim Konstanty [then a Cardinals minor-league pitching coach] stayed on me and one day he got me so mad in the bullpen that I said to hell with it and I reached back and let one hum. I got most of my fastball back, but I couldn’t throw strikes. I quit trying to throw the curveball at all.
The next year, I took off. I worked several jobs back in Whippany. But after throwing with my friends Andy Durma and Steve Bolcar, I was feeling good. I went back to Instructional League that winter, but after the Cardinals released me in the spring of ’67, I recall giving Chief Bender a call, and asked him if I could give it one more try. Chief [who had left St. Louis for Cincinnati] told me to come on down, and do what I could. That too did not prove to be the answer. I played through June going from team to team [spring training with Triple-A Buffalo, a game in Double-A Knoxville, and two in Single-A Tampa]. By this time, I was getting a bad feeling. I kept up my hopes through it all, but one day during batting practice I pulled a rib cage muscle, and that was the final curtain on my career.
In those years hanging around and trying everything I could think of, I acquired a dislike for the game. That’s probably why I never did any coaching later on in life. And, no, there was never an operation on the arm because they didn’t know what was wrong. I’ll bet they’d know today if something like that happened. They have MRI now, and who knows whatever else.
Was I overworked? In my first year of pitching, we did keep pitch counts in Winnipeg. The thing is, they still wanted you to go nine. And so did I! So you can imagine how many pitches I had thrown, having many games with 10, 13 strikeouts. I know I would top 150 pitches on a routine basis. So they did keep charts, but they sure did not take anyone out of the game unless you had trouble.
This reminds me of one of my pet peeves. You hear every now and again where a pitcher can’t continue because of a blister on his pitching hand. Well, it was a rare occurrence that I did not have two blood blisters after warming up for the 20 minutes before going into a game when I was starting. One on my middle finger, and one on my index finger. That’ll give you an idea of what kind of friction was being created from letting the smoke fly. Anyway, all I done was to get a needle from the trainer and alcohol. That’s it! Drain the fluid and put the alcohol on it and go out and pitch. No big deal!
Maybe in my next life, I’ll get it right like [Roger] Clemens or Gibson. But for some young kids that might want to know what it takes to play at the major league level, here are a few things. Number one, learn how to learn and like it. Things are different today, though. Most all the players are coming out of college. I guess they still could be majoring in basket weaving, but that’s not what we want. You have to enjoy learning something. And, in the process, you learn to think properly. Playing ball is fine, if that’s your bag, but you have to have an alternative if, and when, something goes bad. I had nothing else. Baseball was all I lived for. I thought my arm would last forever. Bad thinking.
Also, run, run, and run some more. When ya can’t run, walk. Forget the motorbikes and ATVs. They look cool on TV and all that, but I’m thinking most of those people who resort to that kind of activity when they are young are just asking for a heart transplant or some other kind of medical problem. The heart needs the activity, especially during youth. Starting later in life is sometimes dangerous. Condition your body to be in condition. Stay away from fast foods as much as possible.
These things probably go against the grain for most kids today. But, most kids ain’t gonna be able to make the grade either. The game is rough enough as it is. And when your mind tells you to do a particular act, and you cannot make it happen, it could be that your preparation just wasn’t there during your younger years. I think these few things were very important. I failed the school thing.
But I guess it’s like the old saying goes — the Lord giveth, and the Lord taketh away. Baseball was my life growing up. It was all our lives — the kids from Malapardis and Whippany, NJ! I’ll never forget those days. Nor will I forget all my teammates and the guys I got to know playing against them. So, in closing, I would have to say that I was blessed. And, although it was a short amount of time, I played major league ball!!!!
I wish I could give you a storybook report of my life after the game, but I can’t. Been divorced twice with one daughter. When I got out of baseball, I had to try to find something else to make a living at.
To make a long story short, nothing went well back in Jersey. So we packed up and moved in with my first wife’s folks, and I started working as a tool and die apprentice — $1.85 per hour and 50 hours per week. We made jigs and fixtures for various companies. I worked on all machines and learned how to operate them fairly well. I done this kind of work until I retired in ’05. We always worked overtime. That was the only way you could get by in this trade. I always was non-union and always worked for the smaller job shops. Many three- and four-man shops. The largest was the last one that I worked at — Master Tool in Fairport, Ohio. I think we had about 50 men and women at one time. In between my first shop and Master Tool, I probably worked in 30 shops — maybe more. When the hours would be cut from a decent 50 or 60, I would wait a couple of weeks to see if things picked up. If not, I was gone to another shop.
I pursued the music thing on a whim for a while. Just like the mink thing. After the second divorce, one band that played in this one particular joint I went to asked me if I could sing or play a guitar. One thing led to another, and before long, I was performing with them at all the other bars and clubs where they worked. I even did a gig at Ohio’s oldest county fair. I don’t remember what year it was, but I know I was around 46 years old. It was fun. But, most of all, I had to do it. So I guess I got all the stuff out of my system. It’s just like being on the mound. All by yourself, really. You’re singing, and they are watching, and you’re hoping not to forget the words to the songs. I think I still have a couple of posters I had made up.
Dad died of a stroke on 9/11/01. Mom’s in a nursing home near our old home in Whippany. My brother’s surviving family is all I’m close to. His wife Marian, their children Lisa, Doreen, Renee, and Bob Jr. Marian is a real Christian, really something else. She has been through it all. She raises money and helps families who’ve lost loved ones to this awful disease that took my bro and thousands more: multiple myeloma.
Bob passed away on his sixtieth birthday in ’05. I’ll never forget the time he called me and told me. Terrible! Here is a guy who had one job and one wife for his entire life here on Earth. Both strict vegetarians. My brother done everything right as far as I’m concerned. He had a good family, went to his church, and retired from a good job. He earned everything he received. But, he’s gone and I miss the hell out of him. So does everyone he knew. He used to look forward to coming up here in Ohio to go duck hunting with me. I go it alone now. But I still talk to him. I ask him to move a branch to let me know that he’s still around. Maybe some day.
This year I planted a bunch of berry bushes, and some apple trees when the rains let up some. Had some rough days. Planting, also cleaning up and restacking my firewood from last year. It’s always a mess, but has to be done. I heat my home entirely with wood. There is no better heat. I buy 25-foot logs, chainsaw them to length, and split them BY HAND! I use a one-piece solid steel monster maul. It weighs about 15 pounds. Takes about a week or two to get in shape while swinging it, but it’s the only way to fly if ya want to split wood. My dad done it, so I’m doin’ it.
I thank God every year when the wood chopping is done. It usually lasts about a month. I couldn’t swing the maul with my right arm. Thank God I was a switch hitter, eh? I guess I could buy a wood splitter, but I still love the exercise. When I’m done with a session of wood chopping, it reminds me of those good days when I pitched nine innings. Anyone who has ever done that knows that spent wonderful feeling you have when you’re done.
Updated on May 28, 2014
Grateful acknowledgment to Harry Fanok for his enthusiastic collaboration, including the loan of his personal scrapbooks. Thanks also to Joe M. Morgan.
Along with the scrapbooks, the Retrosheet website (www.retrosheet.org) enabled fact-checking. Some minor revisions to Harry’s account resulted.
Statistics courtesy of Pat Doyle, developer of the Professional Baseball Players Database.
Feature articles on Harry:
Tom Capezzuto, “Harry Fanok’s Cup of Coffee. . .It Was High Octane,” Barnstorming: New Jersey’s Baseball Magazine, Winter 1993-4, pages 14-17.
Neal Russo, “Fanok, the Whippany Fireman, Almost Got Burned by Tigers,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, April 25, 1963.
Neal Russo, “Redbirds Just Wild About Harry — Hard-Firing Beaut of Bullpen,” The Sporting News, May 4, 1963, p. 10.
Neal Russo, “Bandmaster Fanok Tunes Up Redbird Mudcat Memories,” The Sporting News, November 30, 1963, p. 10.