The 1982 American League Championship Series between the California Angels and Milwaukee Brewers was knotted at two games apiece. The Angels won the first two games at Anaheim Stadium, and the Brewers rallied back to win Games Three and Four at County Stadium in Milwaukee. As the unexpected late-innings replacement for injured closer Rollie Fingers, the rookie right-hander Ladd had saved Game Three with two groundouts and two strikeouts to preserve Milwaukee’s 5-3 margin, providing the Brewers an opportunity to fight another day.1 Two nights later, in the ninth inning with two outs and pinch-runner Rob Wilfong representing the tying run on second base, Ladd faced Carew with the AL pennant hanging in the balance. In the on-deck circle stood another future Hall of Famer, Mr. October, Reggie Jackson, who had struggled all series but was famous for his postseason home runs.
On a 1-and-2 count with 54,968 fans in hushed anticipation, Ladd fired a fastball across the plate. Carew hit a one-hop grounder directly at shortstop Robin Yount, who threw a perfect strike to first baseman Cecil Cooper and the ensuing pennant-winning celebration began. After the game Ladd commented, “When I saw the umpire raise his arm, that’s when I lost my mind.”2
Peter Linwood Ladd was born on July 17, 1956, in Portland, Maine. His parents, William E. and Ruth Ladd, were high-school sweethearts who were married in 1941. Ladd spent his early childhood years in Portland, listening to the Boston Red Sox on his transistor radio. “I was like any kid who listened to the Red Sox a little bit past my bedtime,” he commented in a post-career interview.3 His family moved to Atlanta when his parents were transferred there during his high-school years.4 Ladd graduated from Henderson High School in Atlanta, where former Yankees catcher Jake Gibbs recruited him to join the NCAA Division I ballclub at the University of Mississippi in Oxford.
Ladd pitched three seasons (1975-1977) at the University of Mississippi.5 Ole Miss finished the 1977 season with a 39-19 record, establishing the school record for most wins in a season.6 The 1977 Rebels were Southeastern Conference Champions, and advanced to the NCAA Southern Regional tournament in Miami, Florida. During the season, Ladd finished with a 4-3 record as the number-3 starter in the rotation. Ladd took the loss during the Rebels’ 5-2 defeat to Miami (Florida), the game that ended the Rebels’ tournament participation.7 A starting pitcher while playing at Ole Miss, he compiled a 10-7 record during his collegiate career and attained a 1.74 ERA as a sophomore.8
In June 1977 the 6-foot-3 Ladd was drafted in the 25th round of the free-agent draft by the Red Sox. The 20-year-old Ladd made his professional debut with the Winter Haven Red Sox of the Class A Florida State League. He finished the season with a 4-1 record, 5 saves, 27 strikeouts in 27 innings, and a 1.67 ERA as he transitioned from a starting pitcher to a reliever. Ladd returned to Winter Haven the next year for a full season, and led the league with 18 saves.
In 1979 Ladd was promoted to the Double-A Bristol (Connecticut) Red Sox, who won the 1978 Eastern League title despite finishing third during the regular season.9 Ladd joined future major leaguers Wade Boggs, Bruce Hurst, and Mike Smithson on the talent-laden roster. People took notice of his hulking frame and 15EEE shoe size; as one sportswriter commented, “His appearance is intimidating. He’s burly and he peers down at the batter through glasses that look to be too small for him. His mustache and whiskers are reddish brown. He brings his head with a snapping arm and the big body behind it.”10 Ladd’s large shoes also provided fodder for the “Big Foot” nickname that followed him throughout his career. The intimidating reliever had compiled a 3-1 record with 9 saves and a microscopic 0.62 ERA over 29 innings when he was traded to the Houston Astros with a player to be named and cash for Bob Watson on June 13.11 After the trade announcement, Bristol’s manager, Tony Torchia, complimented Ladd on his future prospects: “Houston knew what it was doing when it grabbed Peter Ladd. He’s an outstanding prospect, definitely a big leaguer. He’s got an overpowering fastball.”12 Ladd reported to the Columbus (Georgia) of the Double-A Southern League. Though he continued pitching in relief, he won two games and saved four others in his first six appearances,13, Ladd also started four games — the first games he started since pitching at Ole Miss — which included the only shutout he recorded in professional baseball.
In August, when Columbus teammate and fellow Mainer Bert Roberge was injured while pitching for the parent club, the 23-year-old Ladd received his call to big leagues. The Astros were leading the NL West Division, ahead of the Cincinnati Reds, and Ladd immediately jumped into a pennant race. On August 17 the Astros were trailing the Philadelphia Phillies 5-2 going into the ninth inning when manager Bill Virdon summoned Ladd from the bullpen.14 The first batter Ladd faced, Bake McBride, lined out to center field. Then Pete Rose grounded out, Mike Schmidt walked, and Greg Luzinski flied out as Ladd didn’t allow a run against the heart of Philadelphia’s order. He threw two scoreless innings four days later against the New York Mets. The reliever won his first major-league game on August 26 when he pitched the seventh and eighth innings of an Astros late-inning victory against the Phillies. Ladd finished his first big-league season with a 1-1 record and 2.92 ERA in 10 appearances totaling 12⅓ innings. Houston faltered down the stretch, while Cincinnati surged ahead and won the NL West title by 1½ games.
Ladd returned to the minor leagues the following April, splitting time between Columbus and the Triple-A Tucson Toros (Pacific Coast League). Over the next two seasons, Ladd pitched well but couldn’t crack the Astros’ star-studded staff. The Astros compiled the best NL team ERA during the 1980 and 1981 seasons, with a starting rotation anchored by Joe Niekro, Nolan Ryan, and Vern Ruhle, complemented by a powerful 1-2 bullpen punch in Dave Smith and Joe Sambito. In 1980 the unheralded Ladd went 6-5 with 5 saves and a 3.44 ERA at Columbus before his July promotion to Tucson.15 With his fastball and intimidating presence, he tied a Tucson team record by striking out five consecutive batters against the Ogden Athletics.16 Both Ladd and Roberge returned to the Toros for the 1981 season.17 By now, Ladd was fiercely intimidating and nurtured the image; he entered a 1981 exhibition game in the ninth inning with the go-ahead run on third base and missed the strike zone on all six warm-up pitches, then commented after the game, “A big part of my game is intimidation. I get the catcher going all over the place. Then when I get ’em in a situation, I’ll do my real warm-ups. I’m not out there for no purpose.”18
His intimidating image was useful for other reasons. During the offseasons, Ladd worked as a probation and parole officer at the Cumberland County Jail in Portland, Maine. Working as a parole officer provided a unique perspective to playing baseball, providing extra motivation to earn a spot on a major-league roster.
On October 23, 1981, Ladd was traded from Houston to Milwaukee for pitcher Rickey Keeton.19 The Brewers assigned Ladd to their Triple-A affiliate, the PCL’s Vancouver Canadians. The 25-year-old Ladd was now with his third organization though the Brewers didn’t have nearly as much pitching depth as the Astros. As the 1982 season approached, Baseball Digest placed Milwaukee in the middle of the AL East Division with an outlook of “better pitching could move up” based on “great power, good bullpen, fair defense, balanced starting staff, and some speed.”20 Although Ladd was a welcome addition to the Canadians’ bullpen, he wasn’t mentioned in either Baseball Digest’s rookie report, which listed pitchers Frank DiPino, Charles Porter, Willie Mueller, and Rich Olsen,21 or in a later local interview that focused on Vancouver’s starting rotation.22
As the 1982 All-Star break approached, the 48-35 Milwaukee Brewers stood atop the AL East, slightly ahead of Boston. After Milwaukee’s staff ace, Pete Vuckovich, and reliever Jamie Easterly were placed on the disabled list, Ladd received his second call-up to the majors.23 He had compiled a 10-2 record with 8 saves and a 2.91 ERA for Vancouver. On July 17 Ladd celebrated his 26th birthday by debuting in the AL and pitching 1⅔ scoreless innings and getting the win against the Chicago White Sox in front of more 52,000 spectators in Milwaukee. Harvey Kuenn, Milwaukee’s manager, said of Ladd’s performance, “He did an outstanding job. He came in and did everything they told us he could do.” Ladd said, “Being my birthday and one of the largest crowds here, you could feel the tension. That was nice. I don’t get nervous. I was very excited. More excited than when I was first called up with Houston.”24 Ladd credited Eli Grba, Vancouver’s pitching coach, and adviser Pat Dobson with improving the consistency of his slider, which helped him return to the majors.25
Ladd earned his first career save on August 20 when he entered in the ninth inning of a 6-4 contest against the Seattle Mariners, with no outs and runners on first and third. Ladd struck out Dave Revering looking, then Rick Sweet delivered a sacrifice fly to bring Seattle within a run. Manny Castillo flied out to end the game as Ladd preserved the victory.26 His first blown save occurred when he allowed three runs against the Oakland Athletics on August 28 after not pitching for over a week.27
Ladd’s importance to Milwaukee’s playoff dreams would quickly change. During the first game of a September 2 doubleheader, when Rollie Fingers exited the ninth inning of a 2-1 matchup against the Cleveland Indians with an 0-and-2 count on Andre Thornton, Ladd entered the game without warming up and struck out Thornton on a sinking fastball, then struck out Von Hayes, ending the game.28 That game turned out to be Fingers’ last appearance of the 1982 season; he had suffered a muscle tear in his right arm. Ladd inherited closer duties for the September stretch run and playoffs. Fingers complimented Ladd’s response: “That was outstanding. If he can handle that kind of pressure, he can handle anything.”29
Though Ladd struggled in his new role during the month, Milwaukee successfully fended off the Baltimore Orioles, who compiled a 22-10 record starting September 1, coming from five games behind to pulling even with the Brewers on October 2 for Game 162, which Milwaukee won, 10-2, to clinch the AL East title.30
The ALCS pitted two teams each seeking their first pennant. The California Angels, who started play in 1961, had reached the playoffs only once before — in 1979, when they lost in four games to the Orioles. The Brewers, who started play in 1969, also played in one postseason — in 1981, when they lost the AL Division Series to the Yankees in five games. California won Game One, 8-3, in which Ladd pitched a scoreless eighth inning, striking out all three Angels hitters he faced. California won Game Two, 4-2, and the Brewers now had their backs to the wall. The Brewers rebounded in Game Three. They built a 5-0 lead behind Don Sutton’s seven shutout innings. However, Sutton experienced trouble in the eighth inning as a home run and consecutive doubles by the Angels made it 5-3. Ladd relieved Sutton and induced a groundout to end the threat. In the ninth inning, Ladd needed 11 pitches to retire California on a groundout and two swinging strikeouts to the end the game. When asked by reporters if he ever faced a more challenging situation, Ladd drew upon his law-enforcement experience and responded, “Yeah, I got punched by a triple murderer this year.”31 Milwaukee evened the series by winning Game Four, though Ladd didn’t appear. Ladd was unstoppable in the deciding game: He replaced Milwaukee starter Bob McClure in the ninth with no outs and the tying run on first base. After Bob Boone sacrificed Wilfong to second base, Brian Downing and Carew grounded out to end the series. Ladd delivered on expectations; he saved two games, pitched to 10 batters and retired all 10, striking out five. He was the runner-up to Darrell Porter in the voting for the Championship Series MVP.
Ladd pitched in only one game of the seven-game World Series against the St. Louis Cardinals. He entered Game Two in St. Louis in the bottom of the eighth inning with the score tied, runners on first and second, and Lonnie Smith at the plate. He walked Smith on a questionable 3-and-2 call to load the bases and then walked Steve Braun on four pitches to force in the winning run.32 After Game Two, Kuenn relied on McClure as his closer throughout the Series while awaiting Fingers’ potential return that never materialized.33 St. Louis won the Series in seven games.
As Milwaukee prepared to defend its AL pennant in 1983, the Brewers’ toughest question centered on Fingers’ status; versatile Milwaukee pitcher Jim Slaton noted, “I’m not sure how (Fingers’ situation) will influence me because we have Pete Ladd who specializes in short relief.”34 Throughout spring training, Ladd was slated to serve as the number-two short reliever behind Fingers. Even as the regular season approached, Fingers’ status was unclear, which left the relievers’ roles up in the air.35 Milwaukee’s fortunes dimmed when reigning AL Cy Young Award winner Vuckovich developed a torn rotator cuff that kept him from pitching until late August.36 Fingers didn’t return in time for the regular season, and Kuenn named Ladd as the closer. Confident in his abilities, Ladd commented, “I’m not trying to be Rollie Fingers. I’m just trying to make a name for myself. Time and again I’ve said it, I’m not Rollie Fingers’ replacement.”37 In Ladd’s first two games, he kept his opponents off the scoreboard, and then he absorbed two losses in late April. His ineffectiveness continued into early May and he apparently lost the good technical habits he had developed.38 After going 0-2 with a 7.11 ERA in eight appearances, Ladd was sent down to Vancouver to focus on regaining his skills.39 At Vancouver, he quickly bounced back, was recalled on June 21, and returned to the closer role.40 Ladd didn’t allow a hit or run during his first four return appearances, and on July 18 he earned saves in both ends of a doubleheader against the Texas Rangers. Ladd pitched effectively for the rest of the season, with 23 saves and a 1.88 ERA after he returned from Vancouver. He finished fifth in the AL with 25 saves as Fingers was on the shelf all year. Milwaukee dropped to fifth place in the AL East with an 87-75 record, 11 games behind Baltimore. Recognizing Ladd’s effectiveness, the Brewers selected him as their Most Valuable Pitcher for the 1983 season.
Fingers returned for the 1984 season, and Ladd returned to the number-two spot, where he established career highs with 54 appearances, 91 innings, and 75 strikeouts. His 4-9 record, 3 saves, and 5.24 ERA reflected the Brewers’ difficult season, as they slipped to last place in the AL East. “It was a bad, long dream. I don’t want to think about this season,” Ladd commented after the season.41 He made his sole career start that season, on June 4, when no starting pitchers were available after three starters were injured in successive days; Ladd volunteered to start the game, and manager Rene Lachemann agreed.42 Ladd pitched four innings against the Orioles in Baltimore, and allowed five earned runs while taking the loss.43 Off the field, Ladd was recognized for his sportsmanship, character, and community involvement as the Milwaukee Brewers’ nomination for the Roberto Clemente Award.44
Neither Ladd nor the Brewers fared much better in 1985. After enduring a tough season, Ladd wasn’t guaranteed a roster spot heading into spring training,45 and he had to prove himself to a new coaching staff. Throughout spring training, he worked on his delivery and also took a different approach to camp. With his trademark determination, Ladd commented, “I had to come here and do everything all over again and let them know last year was a fluke and that I could help this ballclub.”46 After posting a 1.50 ERA in spring training, he was one of 10 Milwaukee pitchers when the season started.47
Ladd finished the season without a decision, two saves, and a 4.53 ERA in 45⅔ innings, while Milwaukee ended the year sixth in the AL East with a 71-90 record. He pitched well during the first half of the season, with a 3.41 ERA in 29 innings, though his strikeout rate fell noticeably from the previous year and his batting average against was .322. He struggled throughout July, and was sent down to Vancouver in August. Ladd returned to the Brewers in September, but he endured his worst month that season. In November, per request to Milwaukee general manager Harry Dalton, he was designated for assignment and later released by the Brewers.
On January 18, 1986, Ladd found new life when he signed as a free agent with the Seattle Mariners. They had struggled in the AL West’s second division since their inception in 1977, and were rebuilding their bullpen. At the end of spring training, Ladd was sent to Seattle’s Triple-A farm club in Calgary, but was quickly recalled when reliever Karl Best was placed on the disabled list. Ladd started the season in the closer’s role, earning three relief wins and four saves through late May, but was eventually replaced by Matt Young, who was converted from a starter to reliever. Ladd stayed with Seattle all season, pitching consistently and effectively, and enjoyed his best season since 1983.
He pitched in his last major-league game on October 3, 1986, against Cleveland, when he struck out Cory Snyder, the only batter he faced after relieving starter Mike Morgan in the seventh inning. Just before Ladd entered the game, Morgan allowed a run-scoring double that reduced Seattle’s lead to 5-3. Immediately after Ladd left the game, reliever Ed Nunez gave up a game-tying two-run homer. As he had done so many times throughout his career, the burly reliever quietly and effectively did his job.
Ladd finished second on the Mariners with six saves, second with 52 appearances, and tied for second with a 3.82 ERA. He won a career-high eight games; his 70⅔ innings pitched and 53 strikeouts were the second-highest totals in his career. The following January, Ladd signed a one-year deal with Seattle, but at the end of spring training he was released. Two weeks later, Ladd signed with the Los Angeles Dodgers as a free agent. He spent the entire season with the Albuquerque Dukes, the Dodgers’ Triple-A affiliate. Experiencing arm trouble throughout the season, Ladd had shoulder surgery during the offseason.
Adding to his aura of determination, Ladd wasn’t finished playing baseball when the 1987 season ended. In February 1988, Ladd’s agent contacted every major-league club to land his services. When none responded with an offer, Ladd purchased a full-page advertisement in USA Today with the catch phrase, “Have Fastball Will Travel.”48 The ad didn’t help him land a spot on a big-league roster.
In 205 appearances over six major-league seasons, Ladd compiled a 17-23 record with 39 saves and a 4.14 ERA. He struck out 209 batters in 287 innings, and had a 2.18 strikeout-to-walk ratio. In addition to his major-league time, Ladd pitched for parts of nine seasons in the minor leagues. Throughout his career, he was known for his determination as much as his stature.49 Ladd was inducted into the Maine Baseball Hall of Fame in 2009.50
Besides the sources cited in the Notes, the author consulted Baseball-Almanac.com, Baseball-Reference.com, Retrosheet.org, TheBaseballCube.com, and the following:
James, Bill. The New Bill James Historical Abstract (New York: The Free Press, 2001).
Okrent, Daniel. Nine Innings (New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company, 1985).
Thorn, John, and Pete Palmer, et al. Total Baseball: The Official Encyclopedia of Major League Baseball (New York: Viking Press, 2004).
1 Bill Brophy, “Brewers Find Way Home,” Wisconsin State Journal (Madison), October 9, 1982: 9.
2 Gannett News Service, “Ladd New Brewers’ Savior,” Green Bay Press-Gazette, October 11, 1982: 17.
3 Kalle Oakes, “Ladd’s Career Touched Greatness,” Lewiston (Maine) Sun Journal, July 12, 2009. sunjournal.com/2009/07/12/ladds-career-touched-greatness/. Accessed November 15, 2018.
4 Owen Canfield, “He’s Goin’ Like Balls o’ Fire,” Hartford Courant, May 11, 1979: 84.
5 University of Mississippi Athletics Communications Office, 2019 Ole Miss Baseball Media Guide (Oxford: University of Mississippi, 2011), 10.
6 2019 Ole Miss Baseball Media Guide, 97.
7 Jerry Potter, “Hurricane Blows Out Rebs’ Fire,” Jackson (Mississippi) Clarion-Ledger, May 22, 1977: 53.
8 United Press International, “Rebs’ Ladd Goes Pro,” Delta Democrat-Times (Greenville, Mississippi), July 6, 1977: 27.
9 Associated Press, “Bristol Red Sox Eastern League Champs for 1978,” Hanover (Pennsylvania) Evening Sun, September 5, 1978: 13.
10 Canfield, 84.
11 United Press International, “Red Sox Trade Scott to KC, Acquire Watson from Houston,” Berkshire Eagle (Pittsfield, Massachusetts), June 14, 1979: 31.
12 Peter Gammons, “Watson Could Best Deal,” Boston Globe, June 17, 1979: 74.
13 Ron Coons, “Astros in Different Orbit,” Louisville Courier-Journal, July 8, 1979: 43.
14 Michael O’Connor, “Phils Gain 1,” Pottsville (Pennsylvania) Republican, August 18, 1979: 6.
15 Associated Press, “Toros Win 8th Straight,” Arizona Daily Star (Tucson), July 18, 1980: 58.
16 Dave Adam, “Toros Find Relief, Victory with Ladd,” Arizona Daily Star, August 8, 1980: 61.
17 Dave Adam, “Toros’ Manager Happy After Astros Make Final Cuts,” Arizona Daily Star, April 4, 1981: 10.
18 Dave Adam, “Toros Intimidate Cats, 6-5,” Arizona Daily Star, April 14, 1981: 25.
19 “Pete Ladd Traded to Brewers,” Arizona Daily Star, October 24, 1981: 3.
20 George Vass, “How Major League Pennant Races Shape Up for 1982,” Baseball Digest, April 1982: 29-31.
21 “1982 American League Rookie Scouting Report,” Baseball Digest, March 1982: 29.
22 Dennis Feser, “C’s Not Counting on a Mound of Trouble,” Vancouver (British Columbia) Sun, April 10, 1982: 21.
23 “Ladd Gone, Is DiPino Far Behind?” Vancouver Province, July 16, 1982: 20.
24 Tom Flaherty, “Ladd Stands Tall on His Big Night,” The Sporting News, August 23, 1982: 23.
25 John Hughes, “Milwaukee’s Ladd Slides Back Into Major Leagues,” Wisconsin State Journal, July 18, 1982: 56.
26 Associated Press, “Ladd Puts His Big Foot Down on Mariners,” Racine (Wisconsin) Journal Times, August 21, 1982: 11.
27 Bill Brophy, “Brewers Come Up Short,” Wisconsin State Journal, August 29, 1982: 25.
28 Associated Press, “Ladd Provides Fingers’ Relief,” Racine Journal Times, September 3, 1982: 15.
30 Bill Brophy, “Brewers Win AL East,” Wisconsin State Journal, October 4, 1982: 18.
31 Bill Brophy, “Ladd Handcuff Angels? It’s Not an Idle Threat,” Wisconsin State Journal, October 9, 1982: 13.
32 Mike O’Brien, “Brewers Bemoan a ‘Bad Call’,” Wisconsin Rapids Daily Tribune, October 14, 1982: 5.
33 Bill Brophy, “Fingers’ Availability Still a Question Mark,” Wisconsin State Journal, October 17, 1982: 27.
34 Bill Brophy, “Spotlights Find Kuenn,” Wisconsin State Journal, January 26, 1983: 14.
35 Associated Press, “Complete Brewer Pitching Staff Won’t Be Decided Until April 1,” Marshfield (Wisconsin) News-Herald, March 15, 1983: 12.
36 Associated Press, “Vuckovich Has a Torn Rotator Cuff,” Wisconsin State Journal, March 16, 1983: 21.
37 Bill Brophy, “New Ways to Spell Relief,” Wisconsin State Journal, March 31, 1983: 15.
38 Tom Flaherty, “Stout Ladd Gets on Beam,” The Sporting News, August 22, 1983: 19.
39 Malcolm Moran, “Players; Ladd Finds Consistency After Glory,” New York Times, September 15, 1983: 16.
40 Moran, 15.
41 Associated Press, “Brewers Promise to Forget 1984,” Wisconsin State Journal, October 1, 1984: 13.
42 Tom Flaherty, “Injuries Decimate Pitching Staff,” The Sporting News, June 18, 1984: 14.
43 Associated Press, “Pitcherless Brewers Flop,” Capital Times, June 5, 1984: 13.
44 Associated Press, “Ladd Up for Award,” Wisconsin Rapids Daily Tribune, January 31, 1985: 9.
45 John Hughes, “Searage Leaving Nothing to Be Desired,” Wisconsin State Journal, March 28, 1985: 16.
46 Associated Press, “Ladd Gets Chance to Prove He’s Back,” La Crosse (Wisconsin) Tribune, April 6, 1985: 7.
47 Dennis Punzel, “Brewers Release Enatsu,” Capital Times, April 3, 1985: 21.
48 Tony Kornheiser, “Former Reliever Pete Ladd Making a Final Pitch with an Ad,” Los Angeles Times, March 1, 1988. latimes.com/archives/la-xpm-1988-03-01-sp-61-story.html. Accessed November 17, 2018,
49 Denny Moyer, “If Determination Were the Deciding Factor, Pete Ladd Would Win the Cy Young Award,” Sheboygan Press, February 1, 1985: 19.
50 Michael Hoffer, “Deering Coach, Former Major Leaguer Ladd Named to Maine Baseball Hall of Fame,” The Forecaster (Portland, Maine), April 24, 2009. theforecaster.net/deering-coach-former-major-leaguer-ladd-named-to-maine-baseball-hall-of-fame/. Accessed November 13, 2018. Maine Baseball Hall of Fame. sites.google.com/site/mebhof/home/members-h-n. Accessed November 13, 2018.