Bobby Darwin

This article was written by Ryan O’Connor - Paul Motyka

Bobby Darwin (TRADING CARD DATABASE)

Babe Ruth, John Montgomery Ward, George Sisler, Smoky Joe Wood, Lefty O’Doul, Bobby Darwin. Bobby Darwin? At first glance he seems to be out of place among this list of major-league luminaries. However, closer examination reveals that he indeed does belong. Why? Because he is one of a handful of major-league pitchers who successfully transitioned to become major-league position players.1

His multifaceted career in major-league baseball would span over 40 years. He began as a pitcher, reaching the majors at the young age of 19. He transitioned to the outfield where, despite questions about his defense, he played enough and was strong enough to hit 83 home runs between 1971 and 1977. His playing days over, he joined the staff of the Los Angeles Dodgers as a scout, signing at least nine future big-league players. The scope and breadth of Darwin’s career gives him a distinctive place in major-league baseball history.

Arthur Bobby Lee Darwin was born in the Watts district of Los Angeles on February 16, 1943. Little information about his immediate family has surfaced. The only available item from the California Birth Records was that his mother’s maiden name was Henderson.2

As was common in this area, the Darwin family did not have a lot of money. Bobby turned to playing baseball around the time he was 10, although his family could not easily afford a glove and cleats. Darwin became infatuated with the game as a batboy for his neighborhood team, which boasted Earl Battey, a future major-league catcher and Darwin’s inspiration.3

The pitching prowess that Darwin displayed at Jordan High School in Watts and for a local American Legion team, M.C. Marr’s, caught the attention of the Los Angeles Angels scouts Willie Harris and Chief Scout Ross (Rosey) Gilhousen.4 This led the nearby Angels, a 1961 expansion team, to draft him and give him a contract that included a $40,000 bonus after he graduated in January 1962.5 Much of the bonus was used to pay off his parents’ debts. Darwin was 6 feet 2 inches and weighed in the range of 190-200 pounds throughout his career.

As a 19-year-old right-hander pitching for the San Jose Bees of the Class-C California League, Darwin put up varied numbers in 26 appearances, primarily starts. Most concerning was the number of batters he walked, 149 in 153 innings, which fueled a WHIP of 1.778. However, he also struck out a remarkable 202 batters. Thus, on balance, Darwin’s pitching line for his rookie professional season in 1962 showed an 11-6 record and an ERA of 4.12. His early-season highlight was a one-hitter in July; the no-hit bid was broken up with two men out in the ninth.

Yet this feat was not even close to his next thrill – being called up to start the last game of the season for an Angels team that finished 86-76. Unfortunately, in his time to shine, Darwin was dull. With 17-year-old Ed Kirkpatrick (who was also making his first major-league start) as his batterymate, he let in six runs, four earned, on eight hits and four walks in 3⅓ innings.6 “I was wild” Darwin remembered, “but I punched out six batters.”7 Darwin was not able to prove himself that day, and it would be a long time before he was given another chance.

Darwin became a Baltimore Oriole on May 15, 1963, after they selected him for the first-year waiver price of $8,000.8 He had started the season at AAA Hawaii, an Angels farm team, for which he played in only three games. The Orioles assigned him to Class-A Stockton, where he played in 10 games, five as a pitcher. The limited number of starts stemmed from the sore am that developed while pitching for Hawaii – a problem that lingered throughout his career.9

Darwin played for Stockton the next year as well, with poor results. He had 22 starts and posted a record of 2-11 and an ERA of 4.68. He continued to strike out well over a batter per inning, but control remained an issue.

Nonetheless, in 1965, Darwin was then promoted to the Elmira Pioneers of the Eastern League, managed by Earl Weaver. His record improved to 9-10 with an attendant drop in ERA to 3.89 and WHIP of 1.441.

The next season, 1966, was unlike any other before it for Darwin. He started the year at Elmira again, managed by Darrell Johnson, with whom he would be reunited later in his career when he played for the Boston Red Sox. He continued to pitch – but, because he was still plagued by a sore arm, the Orioles decided to develop him as an outfielder. Darwin later credited Johnson for being the first to recommend the switch.10 At the plate in his prior minor-league seasons, he had gone 12-for-60, 9-for-24, 8-for-36, and 10-for-46. The combined 39-for-166 was .235, well above the norm for pitchers. He’d also shown extra-base pop, including five homers.

Darwin produced in his new role, splitting the season between Stockton (53 games) and Elmira (eight games). His combined statistics for the year were 37 hits in 129 at-bats (.287). He also had seven homers and 27 RBIs. An example of his prowess in both facets of the game came on June 4, 1966, against the Pawtucket Indians while he was with Elmira. Coming in to pitch in the fourth inning, he one-hit the Indians the rest of the game and mashed a grand slam in the top of the seventh to lead the Pioneers to a 10-5 victory.

In 1967, once more playing for Elmira, Darwin regressed under a new manager, Billy DeMars. Again he served mostly as a pitcher.

Darwin’s best minor-league season was 1968. Still with Elmira, under a new manager in Cal Ripken Sr., he dominated on the mound. Darwin’s pitching line that year was 10 wins and 6 losses with 112 strikeouts and 65 walks in 163 innings and an ERA of 2.21 and a WHIP of 1.123. But that was still not his best break that year.

Darwin worked that offseason as a tow truck driver to supplement his low salary from baseball. It proved to be a turning point for him when newly appointed Dodgers Vice President Al Campanis was involved in a collision on his way to the airport.

“It wasn’t a serious accident, but I had to call AAA and that’s when I met Bobby,” Campanis remembered. “He was a member of the tow truck crew that responded and when he identified himself, I surprised him by rattling off his statistics. Although I’d never met him personally, I knew all about Bobby Darwin. He had been a high school star here in Los Angeles and I knew the Angels had signed him and that he’d always had control problems in the minors.”11 Campanis followed up and subsequently received reports that Darwin’s arm trouble had been cured.12 He had been left exposed to the Rule 5 draft by the Orioles, leading Campanis to select him on December 2, 1968 for $25,000.13

Darwin ended up making the major-league squad, but he was a lesser piece of the pitching puzzle. He appeared in three games, throwing 3⅔ innings before spending the remainder of the season in Spokane playing for the AAA Indians. “I always had a sore arm,” Darwin said.14

However, the manager of Spokane, Tom Lasorda – eventual successor to Walter Alston on the Los Angeles managerial throne – saw something that year in Darwin. Previous managers had failed to capitalize fully on his power hitting prowess.15 Lasorda broached the subject with Darwin.

“He starts saying to me, ’Hey, what about giving up this pitching thing and trying to hit?’” Darwin remembered. “I said ‘I don’t want to do that,’ but he approached me again. He said, “I’m serious. You’ve got a good swing, you’re strong, you’re athletic. I think you should try it.’ And I thought, ‘Maybe I should.’”16

Lasorda started using Darwin as a hitter down the stretch, and positive results followed. Darwin played the 1970 season for the Bakersfield Dodgers in Class-A ball. The gamble paid off: he put up a slash line of .297/.365/.561 in 86 games that year.17 His pitching career was now history.

Darwin made his way south during the winter of 1970-71 to play in the Mexican Pacific League for the Hermosillo Naranjeros (Orange Growers).18 He became one of the most feared sluggers in the league, batting .317 with 16 homers and 55 RBIs in 84 games. He also said that winter ball really honed his skills at the plate. “Pitchers there throw everything – curves, knucklers, spitters – and you have to learn to hit. If you didn’t hit, they shipped you out.”19

His conversion to the outfield really paid dividends for Darwin in 1971. Back at Spokane, he hit .293 with 17 homers and 55 RBIs in 91 games. This merited a call-up to the Dodgers later in the season. In 11 games, he had five hits in 22 plate appearances with one home run.20

The 1971 season caught the eye of others and October 22, 1971 turned out to be an especially eventful day in Darwin’s life. He was traded from the Dodgers to the Minnesota Twins for outfielder/catcher Paul Powell.21

Darwin followed by again playing for Hermosillo in the winter of 1971-72. He hit 27 home runs, tying the league record, and drove in 56 runs while playing in 71 games. He pounded 10 home runs in a dozen games to finish the season.22

At 29 when the 1972 season began – well past the age where players are considered prospects and nearly a decade after playing his first game with the Angels – his transition from pitcher to position player and the long time that he subsequently spent in the minors and winter ball began to pay off at the major-league level. In his next three seasons with the Twins, he hit 65 home runs and drove in 264 runs. Darwin finished in the top 10 in the AL in both home runs and runs batted in for both 1972 and 1974. Though he hit .261 overall, he collected four hits in seven different games for the Twins.

Darwin’s 1972 season was marked by hot and cold stretches in the field as well as at the plate. He played center field, a new position for him, but his poor fielding resulted in a shift to right field. He talked about it the following spring. “His frustrations were capped July 31 in Minnesota when two apparent singles by Chicago’s Dick Allen became inside-the-park home runs. “I still don’t believe anyone could have caught those balls. They were knucklers. And he hit them so hard, why they got to the outfield so fast I thought I was playing shortstop. They hurt my confidence.” Darwin felt he could do the job in center but preferred left or right.23

For the season, he hit .267 and drove in 80 runs but struck out 145 times in the 145 games he played. Despite his rollercoaster season, he played regularly because of injuries to Tony Oliva. Another veteran slugger, Harmon Killebrew (then Minnesota’s first baseman), also missed some time, so the club needed Darwin’s prodigious power.24 On this subject, Dick Williams, manager of the 1972 Oakland As, stated “You can’t make a mistake on him, he’s just too strong.”25

During the winter of 1972-73 Darwin played for Navegantes del Magallanes (Magellan Navigators) of the Venezuelan League, hitting a league-record 19 home runs in just 50 games played while batting .340. He played other winters in Venezuela with less success. He played for Magallanes again in 1973-74, hitting only seven home runs. He was with Águilas del Zulia during the winters of 1976-77 and 1977-78, totaling 14 home runs for the two seasons.

In 1973 and 1974, Darwin’s numbers were quite similar to those of 1972. In 1973 he batted .252, hit 18 home runs, and drove in 90 while striking out 137 times in 145 games. One particularly notable game that summer was on June 29, when he hit the second grand slam of his major-league career, resulting in a 4-0 victory over Nolan Ryan.

His corresponding numbers for 1974 were .264, 25, 94, and 127, respectively, in 152 games. Darwin had the dubious distinction of leading the American League in strikeouts for three consecutive years from 1972 to 1974 – although his totals look mild by today’s standards. But when he connected, Darwin could really send the ball a long way. He and Harmon Killebrew were the only two players to hit a ball into the second deck at Metropolitan Stadium. Darwin’s hit on May 26, 1974, was estimated to be 515 feet (as compared to Killebrew’s 522 feet).26

1975 was Darwin’s last season with the Twins. His defensive shortcomings made manager Frank Quilici disenchanted; Darwin, in turn, was dissatisfied with his lack of playing time. The club had two fine new rookie outfielders that year in Dan Ford and Lyman Bostock.27 In 48 games for Minnesota that year, Darwin’s stat line was .219 BA, 5 homers, 18 RBIs, and 44 Ks. He was traded on June 14 to the Brewers for John Briggs.

Darwin’s tenure with Milwaukee that year resulted in a .247 BA, 8 homers, 23 RBIs, and 54 Ks in 55 games. His season was limited by a broken hand suffered on August 2, which kept him out of commission until September 27.

Brewers manager Alex Grammas expected Darwin to play right field heading into the 1976 season.28 However, Darwin’s tenure in Milwaukee was short-lived and unproductive (.247 average, 1 homer, 5 RBIs, and 16 Ks in 25 games). Again, he was unhappy with his limited playing time and asked to be traded. On June 3, 1976, he was dealt along with pitcher Tom Murphy to the Boston Red Sox for outfielder Bernie Carbo. Boston’s pitching staff had several injuries; hence, the club had interest in Murphy. Yet Red Sox general manager Dick O’Connell stated that the deal wouldn’t have been made until Darwin was added. 29 The trade reunited Darwin with manager Darrell Johnson, his skipper when he pitched at Elmira in 1966.

Darwin’s highlight with his new team that summer came on June 22 against the Baltimore Orioles. He hit a first-inning grand slam off Rudy May. He later added another RBI in a 15-inning Red Sox victory. Unfortunately, Darwin’s batting statistics fell off with the Red Sox (.179 BA, 3 homers, 13 RBIs, 35 Ks in 43 games).

The difficulty continued in 1977. The Red Sox had a strong contingent of veteran outfielders: Carl Yastrzemski, Fred Lynn, Jim Rice, and Dwight Evans. Rick Miller was a capable reserve, and the club had reobtained Bernie Carbo.30 It didn’t help that Johnson had been fired as manager the previous July, replaced by Don Zimmer.31 The result was that even though Darwin made the team, his playing time dried up almost entirely. After getting into just four games, he was traded to the Cubs on May 28, 1977 for pitcher Ramón Hernández.32

He did not fare much better with the Cubs, going 1-for-7 in eight games. He was subsequently sent down to AAA Wichita in July but later recalled. Darwin appeared in three more games and doubled in his last major-league plate appearance on August 18, 1977. His release followed on August 23.

Darwin was still not finished playing. After splitting the winter season between Venezuela and Mexico (with the Mexicali club), he gave it one more try with Alijadores de Tampico of the Mexican summer league in 1978. He did well – 13-40-.289 in 69 games – but at age 35, he’d reached the end of the line.

Darwin became a scout for the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1983, beginning a new phase in his baseball career which would last over 30 years. He served as the Dodgers representative, along with Tom Lasorda, at the major-league draft held on June 4, 2018.33 Darwin is credited with signing a number of ballplayers who made it to the majors, including Brian Barton, Nick Buss, Kyle Garlick, James McDonald, Trevor Oaks, Trayvon Robinson, and Zak Shinall. His most prominent signing was Chan Ho Park. He also had some involvement in signing Mike Piazza.34

The California Marriage Index, 1960-1965, records a marriage between Arthur B. Darwin, age 19, and Aderia M. Cramer, age 18, on March 1, 1962.35 Questionnaires filled out by Darwin for the William J. Weiss Agency, the official statistician for the West Coast Minor Leagues, corroborate that he was married for a short time.36 Darwin married again, to a woman named Roxanna, in 1965. They had three boys – Anthony (born in 1966); Dwayne (1969); and Brian (1973) – and a daughter, Riki (1971).37

Darwin’s major-league baseball career as both a pitcher and a position player is best summed up by the following quote from him. “When I did it,” he said, “I didn’t think that much of it. I didn’t even know about Babe Ruth doing this until later. But now people say, ‘You did that?’ It’s starting to sink in now after 30 years, what I accomplished. After I hear that only a few people have done this and I’m one of them, I say, ‘Wow, that was something.’”38

Last revised: February 4, 2022

 

Acknowledgments

This biography was reviewed by Bill Nowlin and Rory Costello and fact-checked by Tony Oliver. Thanks also to Rod Nelson of SABR’s Scouts Committee for information on Darwin’s signings.

 

Sources

In addition to the sources cited in the Notes, the authors also relied on Baseball-Reference.com, www.pelotabinaria.com.ve (Venezuelan statistics), and https://www.lmp.mx/enciclopedia75 (Mexican Pacific League encyclopedia online).

Though numerous efforts were made to reach Darwin through such contact information as was provided, the authors were unable to interview him for this biography. We would welcome the opportunity to correct any inaccuracies or supply additional information.

 

Notes

1 https://bleacherreport.com/articles/737985-mlb-power-rankings-the-top-12-pitchers-who-became-position-players, June 17, 2011.

2 California Birth Index, 1905-1995, accessed via ancestry.com.

3 Joel A. Rippel, “Bobby Darwin: Escape from Watts,” in Steven Hoffbeck, Swinging for The Fences: Black Baseball in Minnesota, Minnesota Historical Society Press (2005): 167.

4 U.S. Baseball Questionnaires 1945-2005 for Arthur Bobby Lee Darwin, William J. Weiss Baseball and Statistics and Publicity, February 22, 1962 through May 26, 1969 (hereafter Weiss Questionnaires).

5 William Leggett, “Merely A Matter of Evolution,” Sports Illustrated, May 8, 1972. https://vault.si.com/vault/1972/05/08/merely-a-matter-of-evolution.

6 Braven Dyer, “Angels Fold Wings, Count Up Blessings on ’62 Glory Trail,” The Sporting News, October 13, 1962: 15.

7 Jerry Crowe, “Before Ankiel, Darwin Showed How to Evolve,” Los Angeles Times, August 27, 2007, https://www.latimes.com/archives/la-xpm-2007-aug-27-sp-crowe27-story.html

8 Braven Dyer, “Rig Raids Bull Pen for Seraph Starters,” The Sporting News, June 1, 1963: 23.

9 Class A Standings, The Sporting News, June 15, 1963: 53.

10 Larry Whiteside, “Darwin Is Rare Species with the Red Sox,” The Sporting News, July 24, 1976: 11.

11 Red Foley, “Darwin’s Evolution: Mechanic…Pitcher…Slugger,” New York Daily News, April 28, 1972: 165.

12 Bob Hunter, “Dodger Hurlers Face Tougher Wage Gauge,” The Sporting News, April 12, 1969: 40.

13 Stan Isle, “Hurlers Are Hottest Items in Majors,” The Sporting News, December 14, 1968: 33.

14 Crowe, “Before Ankiel, Darwin Showed How to Evolve.”

15 Crowe, “Before Ankiel, Darwin Showed How to Evolve.”

16 Crowe, “Before Ankiel, Darwin Showed How to Evolve.”

17 Class A Leagues, The Sporting News, June 13, 1970: 44.

18 Tomas Morales, “Darwin Proves Dandy in Shift to Outfield,” The Sporting News, January 9, 1971: 55.

19 Bob Fowler, “Twins Rub Eyes at Darwin’s Feats,” The Sporting News, May 13, 1972: 8.

20 Leggett, “Merely A Matter of Evolution.”

21 “Deals of the Week,” The Sporting News, November 6, 1971: 53.

22 Foley, “Darwin’s Evolution: Mechanic…Pitcher…Slugger.”

23 Bob Fowler, “Twins Hope that ’Missing Link’ Has Found Fence Range at Last,” The Sporting News, March 24, 1973: 50.

24 Fowler, “Twins Hope that ’Missing Link’ Has Found Fence Range at Last.”

25 Associated Press, “A’s Defeated by Twins,” Marshall (Texas) News Messenger, April 24, 1972: 7.

26 Bob Fowler, “Darwin’s Blows Outdistance the Best – Not Often Enough,” The Sporting News, June 15, 1974: 18.

27 Bob Fowler, “Twins Find a Ford in Their Present,” The Sporting News, July 12, 1975: 17.

28 Bob Fowler, “Twins’ Players Hail Arrival of Briggs,” The Sporting News, July 5, 1975: 17.

29 Larry Whiteside, “Relief, in BoSox Book, Spelled M-u-r-p-h-y,” The Sporting News, June 19, 1976: 8.

30 Larry Whiteside, “It’s Just an Intrasquad Game, But Zimmer Will Keep Sharp Eye on Sox,” Boston Globe, March 7, 1977, 18.

31 Larry Whiteside, “For Darwin, It’s Just Another in a Long List of Rounds,” Boston Globe, March 18, 1977: 25.

32 Jerome Holtzman, “Cubs Fans Sniffing Honey After 32-Year Drought,” The Sporting News, June 18, 1977: 20.

33 https://www.gettyimages.com/detail/news-photo/los-angeles-dodgers-team-reps-hof-tommy-lasorda-and-bobby-news-photo/968030882 , June 4, 2018.

34 Gib Bodet as told to P.J. Dragseth, Major League Scout: Twelve Thousand Baseball Games and Six Million Miles, Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Co. (2013): 66.

35 California Marriage Index, 1960-1965, Arthur B. Darwin.

36 Weiss Questionnaires.

37 U.S. Public Records Index, accessed via My Heritage (www.myheritagelibraryedition.com/research).

38 Crowe, “Before Ankiel, Darwin Showed How to Evolve.”

Full Name

Arthur Bobby Lee Darwin

Born

February 16, 1943 at Los Angeles, CA (USA)

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