Lou Kretlow displayed outstanding stuff over parts of 10 seasons (1946, 1948-56) with the Detroit Tigers, St. Louis Browns, Chicago White Sox, Baltimore Orioles, and Kansas City Athletics. Yet the right-hander finished with a major league record of just 27-47 and walked an average of six batters per nine innings. Late in Kretlow’s career, his pitching coach, Harry Brecheen, remarked, “If they’d make the plate five inches wider, that fellow, and a lot of others who are considered ‘wild’ today, would become great pitchers.”1
Louis Henry Kretlow was born on June 27, 1921, in Apache, Oklahoma. He grew up about 75 miles northeast in Oklahoma City. His father, Sidney P. Kretlow, was a Wisconsin native who’d met and married Bertha “Birdie” Beall while he was stationed with the U.S. Army at Fort Sill in the Sooner State. In 1924, the couple added a daughter, Edith. The family traced its ancestry to Germany, Scotland, Ireland, and England.2 Sidney was an insurance agent throughout Lou’s childhood before he reenlisted in the Army in 1940 for another 14 years.
Lou played his first baseball in daisy patches. Primarily an outfielder at Putnam City High School, he helped the Pirates win three county tournaments and claim central conference championships in each of his last two years, 1940 and 1941. He was also a forward for the basketball squad. After graduating, he matriculated at the University of Oklahoma but pitched only two games for the Sooners — winning one — before beginning a 39-month stint with the Army Air Corps.3
During this period, Kretlow was based at the Enid (Oklahoma) Army Airfield and blossomed into a professional pitching prospect with the semipro Enid Enidairs. Nicknamed “Big Lena,” he posted a 15-5 record in 1943, including a 1-0 victory over Pittsburgh Pirates southpaw Ken Heintzelman (then also in military service) at the National Baseball Congress tournament. Kretlow struck out 14 batters and held a Fort Riley, Kansas, lineup featuring 1941 NL batting champion Pete Reiser, George Archie and Joe Gantenbein to three hits.4
On November 13, Kretlow married June Hardy. Their union lasted the rest of his life and produced three daughters: Diana, Jonee, and Karen.
Kretlow’s 14-5 mark for the Enidairs in 1944 included the first no-hitter in NBC history. That fall, he appeared at the all-St. Louis World Series between the Cardinals and Browns as a guest of the Brooklyn Dodgers.5
After the Enidairs’ consecutive runner-up finishes, Kretlow’s 19-6 record helped the team — with Danny Doyle and Cot Deal on the roster — win the 1945 NBC championship in Wichita, Kansas.6 Kretlow’s three-year ledger of 48-16 and trio of NBC All American selections earned him induction into the Sandlot Hall of Fame.7 Shortly after Colonel Kretlow was discharged from the army in December, NBC President Ray Dumont rated him the top prospect among the thousands of military personnel that had competed in his organization, saying, “There was not a single one — and that included many ex-major league stars — who had the pitching class of Kretlow. In my opinion, he is sure to become one of baseball’s greats.”8
St. Louis Browns Vice President Bill DeWitt said he offered Kretlow $25,000 to sign with his third-place team.9 Browns scout Jack Fournier was instructed to bid high to land the 24-year-old, but Kretlow failed to show up for their scheduled meeting.10 Instead, Kretlow signed with the AL champion Detroit Tigers for a reported $30,000.11
Kretlow began in the Triple-A International League with Detroit’s Buffalo Bisons affiliate in 1946. He struck out 34 batters in 36 innings, but walked 33 and went 0-3 with a 7.25 ERA in 11 games (four starts). Sent to the Class-A Eastern League in June, he logged a 3.56 ERA in 18 appearances for the Williamsport (Pennsylvania) Grays and finished 10-7 to pace the club in victories.12
The Tigers brought him to the majors and Kretlow debuted on September 26 with a start against the Browns in front of 4,661 at Briggs Stadium. He struck out the first batter he faced, Mark Christman, and carried a shutout into the eighth in beating St. Louis, 6-3, with a complete-game seven-hitter. At bat, Kretlow went 2-for-4, singling off Denny Galehouse in the seventh and delivering an RBI double and scoring against reliever Stan Ferens in the eighth.
In 1947, Kretlow pitched exclusively for Buffalo but worked just 77 innings. Bothered by a swollen elbow, he started only 12 of his 18 outings and went 2-7 with a 7.01 ERA.13 The Tigers sent him home early, and he refereed basketball games and continued his studies at Central State College (known as the University of Central Oklahoma since 1991).
Kretlow returned to Class-A Williamsport in 1948 and proved he was healthy by pitching 268 innings. Manager Gene Desautels — a 40-year-old former big leaguer — caught his starts early on and helped him develop.14 On May 24 in Binghamton, Kretlow fired a 12-strikeout no-hitter.15 Two ex-major league hurlers — Albany’s Orie Arntzen and Johnny Lanning — rated his fastball the best in the circuit.16 Kretlow finished 21-12 (3.32) with an Eastern League record 219 strikeouts.17 EL managers voted him the most outstanding pitcher.18
The Tigers brought Kretlow back to the majors in September, and he was 2-1 with a 4.63 ERA in five outings (two starts). “Kretlow has a good curve, a change of pace and good control,” observed Detroit manager Steve O’Neill.19 “He has the poise and the stuff to win in the majors.”20
Kretlow spent the entire 1949 season with the Tigers under O’Neill’s replacement as skipper, Red Rolfe. In 25 appearances (10 starts) he walked 69 batters in 76 innings and compiled a 6.16 ERA. All three of his victories (two of which were in relief) came against the Browns, losers of 101 games. On December 14, the Tigers sent Kretlow and $100,000 to the Browns for second baseman Jerry Priddy.
On April 23, 1950, Kretlow faced two batters in his St. Louis debut — hitting Larry Doby and walking Al Rosen. More than a month passed before his next appearance. “They just wouldn’t use me. They were afraid I’d walk too many,” he said. “But that didn’t solve anything, because the only way I can sharpen my control is to pitch a lot.”21
On May 24, Kretlow returned to the mound with a start against the Red Sox but lasted only a third of an inning after walking four batters. “My coach, Earle Brucker, has been working with him almost every day for the first five weeks of the season,” said Browns manager Zack Taylor. “One of these days, he’s going to locate that plate –and then you’ll find out that he’s a pretty good pitcher.”22
St. Louis sent Kretlow to an eye doctor, only to discover that his above-average 20-15 vision wasn’t causing his control problems.23 Kretlow was 0-2 with an 11.93 ERA in nine appearances before he was claimed on waivers by the Chicago White Sox on July 5. For the remainder of the season, 10 of Kretlow’s 11 outings came out of the bullpen and he walked 27 batters in just 21 1/3 innings. “He had listened to other pitchers, to shortstops, to waiters and writers,” recalled Chicago manager Paul Richards. “I asked him to discard all his old notions and listen to me, and to [pitching coach] Ray Berres.”24
In spring training 1951, Kretlow battled Howie Judson — a righty with a 7-22 career record to that point — for the fifth spot in the White Sox’s starting rotation. “It’s just about now or never for those fellows,” Richards remarked. “Hard-throwing fellows like Kretlow and Judson often get the idea that the ball has to be doing something, hopping or moving, or it’s no good. They’re all wrong. What they have to do is develop a pitch that is true.”25 Berres and scout Hollis Thurston reinforced the manager’s message. “In Kretlow’s case, it’s largely a matter of building up his confidence,” Richards said. “I believe he’s just been afraid to throw. The fear that he wouldn’t get the ball over has affected his confidence. We’re just urging him to fire over the plate and get that first pitch across with something on it.”26
Kretlow started slowly but when he hurled his first big league shutout on June 20 — his second four-hit, complete-game victory over the Senators in a week — he was 2-1 with a 3.34 ERA and the surprising White Sox boasted the best record in baseball. On July 20, Kretlow came within one pitch of shutting out Washington again, 1-0, but the call on a close pitch went against him.27 The Senators rallied to force extra innings and prevailed, 2-1, in the 10th — sending Chicago into a season-worst five-game tailspin and fourth place to stay. Kretlow wound up 6-9 (4.20) in 26 appearances (18 starts) with more strikeouts than bases on balls for the first time in the majors. That fall, he joined a barnstorming team of American Leaguers.28
For several years, shoulder bursitis had bothered Kretlow after he made four or five consecutive starts.29 In 1952, he was limited to one April appearance, two in May, and three in June. By the end of July, however, the 31-year-old finally appeared to be putting it all together. After he walked three batters in the first two innings against the Red Sox on July 24 and went to a full count on Dom DiMaggio with the bases loaded, Richards visited the mound. “I told him that he wasn’t going to be worth a damn as a pitcher until he got tough with himself and everybody else, decided he was a pitcher and threw the ball past them,” Richards described.30 Kretlow responded by steeling himself and twirling a two-hit shutout. After a scoreless relief appearance three nights later, he blanked the Yankees with another two-hitter on July 30. “I owe it to Richards. He worked with me, and he told me what to do and how to throw,” Kretlow said.31 In a 1991 interview, he reflected, “Paul Richards was the greatest manager I ever played for, the smartest baseball man. He could take a mediocre guy and make a good ballplayer out of them. He had a knack, that guy did.”32
Kretlow’s record was 3-2 (2.43) after he went the distance against the Tigers on August 10. Following his next start, though, recurrence of the bursitis knocked him out of action for nearly four weeks. He finished the season 4-4 (2.96) with only 52 hits allowed in 79 innings, and a career-high 10-strikeout performance against Boston on September 15.
Both the Red Sox and Yankees expressed interest in Kretlow to White Sox GM Frank Lane, but Richards opined, “We can’t possibly afford to let him go now. I believe he’s on the verge of becoming one of the top righthanders in the league.”33 Heading into 1953, Chicago added two-time defending batting champion Ferris Fain, who offered this assessment of Kretlow: “He’s practically unhittable when he gets the ball over the plate.”34
In 1953, Kretlow surrendered only 12 hits in his first 20 2/3 innings, but he walked 30 batters and failed to survive five frames in any of his three starts. On June 13, the White Sox traded him back to the Browns with rookie catcher Darrell Johnson and $75,000 cash for a pair of 36-year-olds: former MVP third baseman Bob Elliott and pitcher Virgil Trucks, who finished the season with 20 victories.
When Kretlow arrived, St. Louis was stuck in a 14-game losing skid — and 20 of 21 — on its way to a last-place finish. On July 8, Kretlow beat the Indians in his first start for his new team. He reduced his walk rate to 52 in 81 innings but wound up just 1-5 with a 5.11 ERA in 22 appearances (11 starts). “He’s not too wild, but just wild enough to walk too many men to win under the present regulations,” remarked Browns pitching coach Harry Brecheen.35 Kretlow’s best outing came on August 13 when he hurled 10 scoreless innings against the Tigers at Busch Stadium but received a no-decision.
That winter, Kretlow joined the Poza Rica Oilers in Mexico’s Veracruz Winter League. He earned a mention in The Sporting News for outdueling León’s Alex Carrasquel, 2-1 and 1-0, in successive weeks. In the latter contest, Kretlow doubled and scored the winning run in the ninth inning.36
In 1954, the Browns relocated and became the Baltimore Orioles. The club lost 100 games for the second straight year, but Kretlow’s 166 2/3 innings and 32 games (20 starts) were personal bests. He finished 6-11 (4.37) — including consecutive complete-game victories in September over the Tigers, Senators, and Red Sox. With 82 walks, his rate of 4.4 per nine innings was his best in a full professional season.
That fall, Kretlow joined a barnstorming club led by Ned Garver that was to battle an all-Black All-Star team led by Cool Papa Bell throughout the Midwest, Texas, Louisiana, and Mexico. When bad weather and poor advance publicity prompted Garver to quit, Kretlow took over as manager.37 After five games and two rainouts, however, the final dozen scheduled contests were canceled. Kretlow was in the red for $500.38
The Orioles hired a new manager for 1955: Paul Richards. Kretlow started against the Senators on Opening Day at Griffith Stadium and obtained an autographed baseball from President Dwight D. Eisenhower. After working into the sixth inning, Kretlow was charged with a 12-5 defeat. He hurled 3 1/3 innings of relief against the Red Sox in Baltimore’s home opener the following day. By June 7, he’d appeared in 15 games (five starts), but his record was just 0-4 (8.22). The Orioles sold him to the Seattle Rainiers of the open classification Pacific Coast League.
“On the way out there, my car broke down in Cut Bank, Montana, and I was there a week. What I needed was rest.” Kretlow recalled.39 He won his first 12 decisions for Seattle, including a string of 28 1/3 consecutive scoreless innings and shutouts in each of his first four home starts at Sick’s Stadium. “I was just beginning to get over the effects of a stiff shoulder and starting to hit my stride,” he said. “I’m pitching about the same as I always did, except that out here I’ve been using the fastball as my money pitch, whereas in the big leagues I relied more on the slider.”40
On August 21, Kretlow suffered his first loss for the Rainiers, against Portland.41 He finished 14-3 (2.46) and won the PCL clincher.42 On September 10, the Kansas City Athletics purchased his contract — along with that of catcher Joe Ginsberg — for $100,000. To offset the arm stiffness that he typically experienced during off seasons, Kretlow pitched winter ball for Almendares in the Cuban League, where A’s scout Joe Bowman saw him shut out Marianao with a five-hitter.43 “[Kretlow] thinks he can win 15 games for the A’s next year. I would say, after watching him, that he can win between 12 and 15,” Bowman said. “His fastball isn’t overpowering but he sneaks it in and makes it look faster than it really is.”44
Before reporting to spring training in 1956, Kretlow attended the Old-Timers’ Diamond Dinner in Tulsa on January 31 and received the Jack Thomas Memorial Award for the best performance by an Oklahoman in the minors in ’55.45 Then, at the Miami Spring Country Club on February 19, he earned the J.G. Taylor Spink Trophy by dethroning reigning champion Alvin Dark in the final round of the National Baseball Players’ Golf Tournament.46 Kretlow had finished second to Fred Hutchinson in 1954.47 After Kretlow won a driving contest during a 1952 tournament in Clearwater, The Sporting News’s Jimmy Burns noted that the pitcher’s 355-yard stroke was “a feat which few PGA pros have accomplished.”48
Kretlow began the 1956 season as the Athletics’ third starter. He hurled seven innings against the Tigers in the home opener in Kansas City. Although he was erratic, he posted complete-game victories at Fenway Park and Tiger Stadium in May and worked into the ninth at Yankee Stadium to win his first start of June. On June 15, Kretlow permitted only a sixth-inning double by Orioles pitcher Ray Moore that A’s left fielder Gus Zernial nearly caught with a diving attempt. With two outs in the eighth, however, a pulled shoulder muscle forced Kretlow to leave a scoreless contest after he’d walked the bases loaded.49 When he returned to action a month later, he lasted only five batters. After missing another two weeks, he won just once in the season’s final two months. Overall, Kretlow finished 4-9 (5.31) in what proved to be his final 25 major league appearances (20 starts).
In 1957, Kretlow went to spring training with the Athletics again but he was named the team’s most disappointing player in a poll of correspondents from The Sporting News.50 Prior to Opening Day, he was sold back to Seattle in the PCL, which had become a Cincinnati Reds affiliate.51 “[Kretlow] could throw almost as hard as anyone I ever knew but he had that small plate target and worried about it,” remarked Kansas City manager Lou Boudreau.52 In his second tour of duty with the Rainiers, Kretlow went 1-3 in five appearances before he was sold to the IL’s Buffalo Bisons, by then an Athletics farm club.53 In the last dozen outings of his professional career, his record was 1-4 (3.88).
Prior to Kretlow’s final season, The Sporting News reported that he was selling stocks and bonds and dabbling in the oil business at home — even buying in on one gusher.54 After baseball, he also opened a bowling alley and recorded what was then the longest recorded hole-in-one in history — 427 yards on the 16th hole at Lake Hefner Golf Club in Oklahoma City on March 26, 1961.55
Lou Kretlow was 86 when he died on September 12, 2007, in Enid. He is buried in that city’s Memorial Park Cemetery. His obituary directed memorials to the endowment fund bearing his name, which sponsored golf and baseball programs for girls and boys.59
This biography was reviewed by Rory Costello and David Bilmes and checked for accuracy by members of SABR’s fact-checking team.
1 Ray Gillespie, “Widen Plate Five Inches to Speed Up Play, Cat Pleads,” The Sporting News, August 19, 1953: 4.
2 Lou Kretlow, American Baseball Bureau Questionnaire, May 1, 1946.
3 “How Much Dough for Kretlow?” The Sporting News, January 3, 1946: 6.
4 “How Much Dough for Kretlow?”
5 “How Much Dough for Kretlow?”
6 “Edinairs to Defend Title; Sgt. Booth Named Pilot,” The Sporting News, April 11, 1946: 20.
7 “11 Past and Present Major Leaguers Selected for Sandlot Hall of Fame,” The Sporting News, July 10, 1946: 26.
8 “Kretlow Named as Best Prospect from Service,” The Sporting News, January 3, 1946: 6.
9 “How Much Dough for Kretlow?”
10 Ray Gillespie, “Hurlers Come and Go on Brownies,” The Sporting News, July 12, 1950: 22.
11 “Tigers Win Bonus Duel,” The Sporting News, December 20, 1945: 6.
12 Ray Keyes, “Kretlow Authors Eastern Loop Gem Against Triplets,” The Sporting News, June 2, 1948: 31.
13 Cy Kritzer, “Richards Draws $50 Fine,” The Sporting News, July 23, 1947: 24.
14 “Desautels Polishes Kretlow,” The Sporting News, May 19, 1948: 29.
15 Ray Keyes, “Kretlow Authors Eastern Loop Gem Against Triplets,” The Sporting News, June 2, 1948: 31.
16 Charles Young, “Hurlers Again Hold Sway in Eastern,” The Sporting News, June 16, 1948: 31.
17 “Albany Sets Gate Record,” The Sporting News, September 22, 1948: 31.
18 “Barons Lose 18 Straight,” The Sporting News, September 15, 1948: 30.
19 Hal Lebovitz, “Ousted O’Neill Tells What Tigers Need to Win,” The Sporting News, November 17, 1948: 3.
20 Watson Spoelstra, “Rookie Batterymates Win Stripes as Tigers,” The Sporting News, September 29, 1948: 7.
21 Edgar Munzel, “Prof. Richards Gives Early Test to His Starting Pupils,” The Sporting News, April 25, 1951: 23.
22 Ray Gillespie, “Zack Tests His? — Mark Moundster,” The Sporting News, May 31, 1950: 10.
23 “Kretlow Visits an Oculist — Now He Wants to Be Hitter,” The Sporting News, June 7, 1950: 25.
24 Rita Fitzpatrick, “Mrs. Paul Fooled by Bunts but Knows Flower Bulbs,” The Sporting News, June 20, 1951: 6.
25 Edgar Munzel, “He’s ‘Sleeper’ at 155 Pounds and 5-Feet-10,” The Sporting News, March 14, 1951: 22.
26 Edgar Munzel, “Hurlers Top List of Richards’ Five Chisox Surprises,” The Sporting News, April 4, 1951: 22.
28 Bob Bowie, “Fido Murphy’s Teams Draw Over 20,000 to Exhibition,” The Sporting News, October 24, 1951: 15.
29 Edgar Munzel, “Chisox to Rebuild Pitching on Youth,” The Sporting News, September 3, 1952: 14.
30 “When Manager Got Tough, Lou Kretlow Turned into Pitcher” Henryetta (Oklahoma) Daily Free-Lance, August 10, 1952: 6.
31 “When Manager Got Tough, Lou Kretlow Turned into Pitcher.”
32 Kelley-Kretlow interview.
33 Edgar Munzel, “Chisox’ Hill Staff Best in 10 Years –Richards’ Rating,” The Sporting News, February 11,1953: 14.
34 “Fain Predicts End of Yankee Reign,” The Sporting News, March 11, 1953: 18.
35 Gillespie, “Widen Plate Five Inches to Speed Up Play, Cat Pleads.”
36 Jorge Alarcon, “Friend Pulls His Club from Field, Forfeits Contest,” The Sporting News, January 13, 1954: 20.
37 “Garver Quits Jaunt; Kretlow Runs Team,” The Sporting News, October 27, 1954: 22.
38 “Rain, Poor Crowds Kayo Kretlow Tour,” The Sporting News, November 3, 1954: 22.
39 Kelley-Kretlow interview.
40 Lenny Anderson, “Late-Starter Kretlow Hits Stride with String of Wins,” The Sporting News, August 17, 1955: 37.
41 “After 12 Wins in Row,” The Sporting News, August 31, 1955: 25.
42 Lenny Anderson, “Deals Pay Off, Seattle Coast Loop Champ,” The Sporting News, September 21, 1955: 27.
43 Ruben Rodriguez, “Cuban Capers,” The Sporting News, December 7, 1955: 23.
44 Ernest Mehl, “Kretlow to Win 15 in ’56, A’s Scout Predicts,” The Sporting News, December 28, 1955: 4.
45 John L. Ferguson, “TV Also Has Too Many Bosses –Lip,” The Sporting News, February 8, 1956: 10.
46 Jimmy Burns, “Dark Dethroned by Kretlow as Links King of Diamond,” The Sporting News, February 29, 1956: 21.
47 Jimmy Burns, “Hutch Cops Players’ Golf Title at Miami on His Clutch Touch,” The Sporting News, February 24, 1954: 22.
48 Jimmy Burns, “Russell Tops Record Field in Golf Tourney,” The Sporting News, February 27, 1952: 17.
49 Ernest Mehl, “New ‘Boudreau Shift’ Involves Power’s Shift,” The Sporting News, June 27, 1956: 16.
50 Oscar Kahan, “Comebackers, Kids Share Spotlight,” The Sporting News, April 7, 1957: 15.
51 Ray Gillespie, “Lane Still Backs Waiver Plan on Rookie Players,” The Sporting News, April 17, 1957: 42.
52 “Quotes,” The Sporting News, February 4, 1959: 14.
53 “Seattle,” The Sporting News, June 5, 1957: 36.
54 “Major Flashes,” The Sporting News, January 2, 1957: 26.
55 “Lou Kretlow Socks 427-yard Hole-in-one at Hefner Golf Course,” Elk City (Oklahoma) Daily News, March 27, 1961: 2.
56 Orioles 20th Anniversary Yearbook: 59.
57 “Kretlow Teaches Golf to Kids of All Ages,” Ada (Oklahoma) Evening News, August 11, 1968: 13.
58 Jay Hoberecht, “Tim Mendenhall: NWOK Coach of the Month,” VYPE Oklahoma, May 20, 2019, https://northwestoklahoma.okvype.com/2019/05/20/tim-mendenhall-nwok-coach-of-the-month-presented-by-ricks-pharmacy/ (last accessed September 7, 2021)./
59 “Louis Henry ‘Lou’ Kretlow,” https://obits.oklahoman.com/us/obituaries/oklahoman/name/louis-kretlow-obituary?pid=94505263 (last accessed September 5, 2021).