After several trials as a starter with the Atlanta Braves in the 1970s and out of the big leagues in 1980, southpaw Jamie Easterly emerged as a dependable reliever for the Milwaukee Brewers in 1981, helping them to their first-ever postseason berth. He suffered a strained knee in 1982 and was not on the pennant-winning Brewers postseason roster. Plagued by injuries for much of his 13-year big-league career, Easterly was forced into retirement by a torn rotator cuff.
James Morris Easterly was born on February 17, 1953, in Houston, but grew up 115 miles north in Crockett, a small town of about 6,000 people. His parents were Morris Elan Easterly, a rural mail carrier, and Arie Bernice (Corbitt) Easterly. An athletic youngster, Jamie played Little League and Pony League baseball, and lettered in all three varsity years at Crockett High School in five sports — a guard in basketball, an all-district quarterback in football, golf, track, and baseball. Standing just 5-feet-9, the left-handed pitcher dazzled on the mound in his senior year in 1971, posting an 11-3 record, fanning 231 in 111 innings with a 0.40 ERA.1 Easterly also pitched American Legion ball for nearby Nacogdoches. Austin sportswriter Tom Rice reported that Easterly was the “No. 1 baseballer in Texas on pro draft lists.”2 According to Rice, it appeared that Easterly might accept a scholarship offer to Texas A&M University, owing to his father’s friendship with baseball coach Tom Chandler. Based on scout Al LaMacchia’s recommendation, the Atlanta Braves selected Easterly in the second round, with the 34th overall pick in the 1971 amateur draft.
Assigned to Greenwood (South Carolina) in the Class-A Western Carolinas League, Easterly made a big splash, posting an 0.62 ERA in 29 innings and striking out more than a batter an inning. Team manager Clint Courtney raved that Easterly was “the best prospect” he had seen in the organization.3 The 18-year-old’s future looked bright. Bill Lucas, the Braves’ assistant farm director, cooed in the offseason, “I know it’s a big jump from Class A to the majors, but this kid … has the stuff to make it.”4
Easterly impressed Braves brass at spring training in 1972 as a nonroster invitee, but fractured a rib in early March and was sidelined for six weeks.5 That began a series of physical setbacks that limited to Easterly to just 95 innings over the next two seasons. Back with Greenwood in 1972, he came down with arm trouble and pain between his elbow and shoulder.6 After another spring camp with the Braves, Easterly spent the entire ’73 campaign with Savannah in the Double-A Southern League, making 13 starts among his 15 appearances and posting a 5-3 slate.
Easterly arrived at Braves spring training in 1974 apparently in the best shape of his life. He had pitched for six weeks for Mazatlan in the Mexican League and participated in instructional camp in February. “Jamie just might have the best arm in the Braves organization,” gushed VP Eddie Robinson.7 On March 11 he combined with three other hurlers to no-hit the New York Yankees in West Palm Beach.8 “He throws strikes,” said Braves pitching coach Herm Starrette of Easterly, who made the 25-man roster.9 Easterly made his big-league debut, hurling a 1-2-3 ninth against the Cincinnati Reds at Riverfront Stadium on April 6. He was hit hard in his next two outings, victimized for five earned runs in 1⅔ innings, and was subsequently optioned to Triple-A Richmond in the International League. He raised his stock once again, posting a 2.54 ERA in 138 innings and a 9-6 record, earning a September call-up. He was scheduled to make a late-season start, but his campaign ended when he required knee surgery due to a lingering injury.10 While in Mexico the previous year, Easterly had suffered a “freak injury” when he was accidentally hit on the knee by a fungo bat, eventually causing bone chips to develop and necessitating the operation.11
After right-handers started every game for the Braves in 1974, the club desperately hoped that the 22-year-old Easterly could take a big step forward in ’75. That looked to be the case when he led the team with three wins in the Grapefruit League and secured a spot on the staff. Relegated to mop-up duty when the season started, Easterly rusted on the bench, making four appearances in the first six weeks of the season, and was shipped to Richmond. Recalled in mid-June, he was collared with the loss in his first start, yielding four runs in 2⅔ innings against the Big Red Machine on June 23. Four days later he picked up his maiden victory, hurling seven frames in front of friends and family in the Astrodome. It was otherwise a long season for Easterly (2-9, 4.98 ERA in 68⅔ innings) and the Braves (67-94), who completed their worst season since 1942 when they were the Boston Braves.
Easterly spent the 1976 season under the tutelage of pitching instructor Johnny Sain with Richmond, where he occasionally flashed the potential the Braves thought he could consistently show. His pitching arsenal consisted of a fastball, sinking fastball, curve, slider, and changeup. He struggled with control, walking 88 in 137 innings, but still produced a stellar 2.96 ERA while splitting his time as a starter and reliever. He earned another September call-up and made four starts, winning one. His sole loss was in his last appearance, when the San Francisco Giants’ John Montefusco tossed a no-hitter.
Easterly prepared for the 1977 season by pitching for the first of three times for Navegantes des Magallanes in the Venezuela Winter League in 1976-1977.12 Arriving early at the Braves camp out of options, he was relegated to mop-up duty when the season started and had an ERA of 10.50 in his first 18 innings (over 10 appearances). Suddenly pressed into a starting assignment, Easterly “literally arose from the depths of the bullpen to give the staff a shot in the arm,” wrote Braves beat reporter Frank Hyland after the southpaw tossed the “best game” of his career, eight shutout innings against the St. Louis Cardinals on May 13, but getting a no-decision.13 That outing earned Easterly another shot, and he responded by picking up wins in his next two starts. On June 5 he injured himself swinging a bat against the Giants. Diagnosed as an “inflamed ulnar nerve,” the injury landed him on the disabled list, and ultimately ended his season after several poor relief appearances in July.14 On July 21 he underwent surgery on his left elbow to remove bone chips and was lost for the season.15
Addressing what seemed like the Braves’ annual need of southpaw starters, first-year skipper Bobby Cox tabbed Easterly early in spring training as one in his quintet in 1978, if the 25-year-old’s arm was healthy — and that was a big if. Due to scheduling quirks and rainouts, however, Easterly was pushed to the pen, and then bypassed in favor of another left-hander, Mickey Mahler. Later in the season, left-handed rookie Larry McWilliams emerged to win nine games. The Braves once again finished in the cellar of the NL West, while Easterly’s future with the Braves looked cloudy. Over the previous two seasons, he made just 11 starts among his 59 appearances, and posted a dismal 5.86 ERA in 136⅔ innings while battling injuries. In one of those starts (the first game of a doubleheader against the San Francisco Giants on June 30, 1978), he made history by surrendering Willie McCovey’s 500th home run, the 12th major leaguer to reach that milestone.
Despite a productive stint with Magallanes in Venezuela in the offseason (7-3, 2.71 ERA in 73 innings) Easterly did not make the Braves’ Opening Day roster in 1979 and was assigned to Richmond.16 He was recalled in late May when McWilliams came down with a bum arm, but struggled in his four relief outings. Returned to Richmond, Easterly was later loaned to the Denver Bears, the Montreal Expos’ affiliate in the Triple-A International League. Under skipper Jack McKeon, the club attempted to give the 26-year-old Easterly one last chance to make it as a starter. He started 13 of his 20 games, one of which was a seven-inning perfect game in the first contest of a doubleheader against Iowa on July 14.17 “It’s one of my top thrills in baseball,” said Easterly, looking back on his accomplishment years later.18
Easterly’s career was at a crossroads when he was sold in a waiver deal to the Expos on October 22, 1979. Following his final stint with Magallanes in Venezuela in the offseason,19 Easterly was given just an “outside chance” to make the Expos staff in 1980.20 The Expos already had two graybeard southpaw relievers, productive 40-year-old closer Woodie Fryman and 37-year-old Fred Norman, acquired in the offseason. Easterly was optioned to Denver, where he spent the entire season.
In his 10th big-league season but just 27 years old, Easterly was converted into a full-time reliever and prospered. He made the second-most appearances (56) in the American Association and finished tied for second in saves (15) and third in strikeouts (105) with a respectable 3.63 ERA in 134 innings.
Easterly fell into an ideal situation when the Milwaukee Brewers acquired him in a waiver transaction on September 22, 1980. The club was coming off three consecutive winning seasons in the highly competitive AL East, but one of skipper Buck Rodgers’ top priorities was looking for a southpaw reliever to complement offseason acquisition Rollie Fingers. Easterly debuted in the season opener on April 11 against the Indians, retiring all seven batters he faced, followed by a 3⅓-inning save the next day. Easterly “looked like a rejuvenated Sparkly Lyle,” quipped Rodgers.21 Pitching more often and more consistently than at any other time during his big-league career, Easterly strung together two impressive streaks: he tossed 16⅓ consecutive innings in May, allowing just one unearned run; and then topped it with 17⅔ straight scoreless innings in August-September.22 “He doesn’t have a trick pitch,” said batterymate Ted Simmons. “He just comes in and throws strikes.23 The season was marked by the players strike, which wiped out about one-third of the games, resulting in a split-season format for the playoffs. During the September push that which catapulted the Brewers into contention for the second-half divisional crown, Easterly pitched in some of the highest-leverage games in his career. On September 25 he hurled 2⅓ scoreless, one-hit innings against the Tigers in Detroit, emerging as the victor, 8-6, when Robin Yount hit a dramatic three-run home run in the ninth to pull the club to within a half-game of the lead. In the Brewers’ clinching victory, on October 3 at County Stadium against the Tigers, Easterly hurled an inning of scoreless relief. “It was a special moment for Jamie Easterly, the little lefthander whose effective relief pitching has been overshadowed by Fingers,” praised the AP.24 While Fingers was named both the AL Cy Young Award and MVP winner, Easterly logged 62 innings over 44 appearances (3.19 ERA) and did not yield a home run. In the Brewers’ ALDS loss to the Yankees in five games, Easterly made the only two postseason appearances in his career, yielding a run and two hits in 1⅓ innings.
Easterly arrived in the Brewers camp in 1982 with a new feeling — job security. The club got off to a poor start, resulting in Harvey Kuenn replacing Rodgers. Harvey’s Wallbangers were born, and the home-run-bashing club captured its first-ever AL East crown. However, it was a frustrating season for Easterly, who strained his right knee in July, and missed more than eight weeks of the season. Upon his return on September 11, he struggled in his first two outings and never gained Kuenn’s confidence. With a 4.70 ERA in 30⅔ innings, Easterly was not on the Brewers’ postseason roster.
Back in his customary position of competing for a job in spring training in 1983, Easterly landed the last spot of a 10-man staff, but didn’t last long with the club. On June 6 GM Harry Dalton shook up the struggling team, sending Gorman Thomas, who had tied Reggie Jackson for the AL lead in home runs the previous season, to the Indians in exchange for Rick Manning and Rick Waits. Easterly and prospect Ernie Camacho were toss-ins. Indians pitching coach Don McMahon admitted the club wasn’t “counting on” Easterly, who emerged as the staff’s biggest surprise.25 Appearing in more games than any other member of the staff after his arrival (41), Easterly went on a tear beginning July 18, posting a 1.74 ERA over his next 27 outings (and 31 innings).
Easterly closed out his career with the Indians, who had a losing record in four of the five seasons he was on the club and finished no better than fifth in the competitive AL East. Easterly’s stint was characterized by all sorts of injuries. He missed most of spring training in 1984 after injuring his back at home in Texas prior to camp. Tensions rose between Easterly and the Tribe’s front office when he refused to report for a rehab assignment in the minors.26 Relegated to mop-up duty when he returned in mid-June, Easterly (3.38 ERA in 69⅓ innings) proved to be dependable. While the Indians lost an AL-most 102 games and had the majors’ highest team ERA (4.91) in 1985, Easterly “was perhaps the Tribe’s most consistent pitcher.”27 He posted a stellar 2.25 ERA as a reliever in 43 appearances, but was hit hard when pressed into a starter’s role, evidenced by a 7.01 ERA. After logging a career-high 98⅔ innings in ’85, Easterly was limited to 29 appearances and 49⅓ innings over the next two seasons, plagued by arm and shoulder problems. He eventually had arthroscopic surgery on his rotator cuff in 1987, which effectively ended his career. He attempted an abbreviated comeback in 1988, signing a minor-league deal with the Twins, but persistent shoulder pain forced him to announce his retirement before the end of camp.
In parts of 13 big-league seasons, Easterly appeared in 321 games with a 4.62 ERA in 611⅓ innings, and posted a 23-33 slate.
Easterly retired to his hometown, and offseason home, in Crockett. In November 1982 he had married Stacy Wood. In 1989-1990, Easterly played with the Orlando Juice, one of the eight teams in the inaugural season of the Senior Professional Baseball Association.
As of 2019, Easterly still resided in Crockett.
In addition to the sources cited in the Notes, the author also accessed Retrosheet.org, Baseball-Reference.com, SABR.org, The Sporting News archive via Paper of Record, and Ancestry.com.
Thanks for Richard Cuicchi, Kellen Nielson, Rick Schabowski, and Joe Wancho for providing information about Jamie Easterly from various team media guides.
1 United Press International, “Braves Sign Young Pitcher,” Bonham (Texas) Daily Favorite, June 28, 1971: 10.
2 Tom Rice, “Sports Tom-Tom,” Austin American, May 28, 1971: 34.
3 “S.L. All Stars Face Easterly,” Atlanta Constitution, July 8, 1971: 6-D.
4 Wayne Minshew, “Braves Have Hope on Farm,” Atlanta Constitution, November 4, 1971: 3-D.
5 Wayne Minshew, “Upshaw Gets $7,000 Raise,” Atlanta Constitution, March 8, 1972: 1D.
6 Jim Joyce, “Doubleheaders Picking Up,” Index-Journal (Greenwood, South Carolina), May 24, 1972: 9.
7 Charles Roberts, “Non-Roster Lefty May Boost Braves,” Atlanta Constitution, March 1, 1974: 6E.
9 Wayne Minshew, “Several New Faces Likely,” Atlanta Constitution, March 21, 1974: 1H.
10 Wayne Minshew, “Braves to Name King 1975 Manager,” Atlanta Constitution, September 30, 1974: 3-D.
11 Wayne Minshew, “Easterly Aims to Be a Starter,” Atlanta Constitution, February 28, 1975: 4-D.
12 Easterly posted a 4-5 slate and 4.71 ERA in 72⅔ innings in 1976-1977; see pelotabinaria.com.ve/beisbol/mostrar.php?ID=eastjam001.
13 Frank Hyland, “Braves Lose; Bristol Wins,” Atlanta Constitution, May 14, 1977: 1C.
14 Wayne Minshew, “Braves Draft Pitchers, But Present Ones Ailing,” Atlanta Constitution, June 8, 1977: 6-D.
15 Wayne Minshew, “Astros Put Woeful Braves in Orbit, 15-3,” Atlanta Constitution, August 16, 1977: 3-D.
16 Easterly’s statistics courtesy of pelotabinaria.com.ve/beisbol/mostrar.php?ID=eastjam001.
17 Gene Raffensperg, “Easterly’s Perfect Pitches Stun Cubs,” Des Moines Register, July 15, 1979: 27.
18 Jim Ingraham, “Easterly Has Fond Memories of Perfect Game,” News-Journal (Mansfield, Ohio), June 14, 1985: 20.
19 Easterly went 1-1 with 5.89 ERA in 36 ⅔ innings for Magallanes. pelotabinaria.com.ve/beisbol/mostrar.php?ID=eastjam001.
20 “Jackson Absent from Camp Again,” Palm Beach (Florida) Post, March 2, 1980: E2.
21 Bill Brophy, “Easterly Offers a Bit of Early Relief,” Wisconsin State Journal (Madison), April 14, 1981: 13.
22 The first streak covered 10 appearances between May 1 and May 24; the second, 12 appearances from August 18 to September 12.
23 Tom Flaherty, “ ‘Too Small’ Edwards Tattles Odds, Wins Brewer Job,” The Sporting News, May 2, 1981: 21.
24 Associated Press, “Thomas settles for champagne,” Journal-Times (Racine), October 4, 1981: 5E.
25 AP, “Indians Pitching Coach Pleased with Progress,” The Tribune (Coshocton, Ohio), September 7, 1983: 7.
26 “Streaking Tribe Wins 4 in a Row, The Sporting News, June 25, 1984: 21.
27 1986 Cleveland Indians Media Guide.