Pitcher Dick Voss1 had a horrible year in 1964. In fact, he struggled throughout his three-season minor-league career, as shown by his lifetime 7-27 record and 6.40 ERA. But one night that summer, pitching for a dreadful team, the lanky right-hander2 threw a dominating one-hitter — proving that even when times are tough, there’s always a chance to win.
Born in 1944, Voss starred in high school in Portland, Oregon, appearing in all-star games that pitted the best players from metro Portland against the rest of the state.3 Signing with the New York Yankees at age 18, the 6-foot-5 hurler4 went 0-4 with the Harlan (Kentucky) Smokies of the short-season Class D Appalachian League in 1962, a team jointly affiliated with the Yankees and White Sox. The Pittsburgh Pirates’ Columbus farm club selected him in the November 1962 minor-league draft.5 The following year, he went 6-7 with a 5.60 ERA for Pittsburgh’s Class A team at Kinston, North Carolina — which, in retrospect, turned out to be his best professional season.
Voss started on Opening Day 1964 for the Reno (Nevada) Silver Sox in the California League, another Pittsburgh Class A club.6 Sportswriters described him as having “good control, a fair fast ball.”7 But after a rough start — an 0-6 record and 9.00 ERA in nine games — Voss went home to Oregon and debated going to college.8 He opted to return to baseball and the Pirates routed him to yet another Class A outpost, the Batavia (New York) Pirates of the New York-Penn League. And there his fortunes, along with those of a few dozen other ballplayers, truly went south.
Pittsburgh fielded four Class A ballclubs and one rookie-level team in 1964.9 The results in Batavia suggested that the Pirates didn’t have enough talent to go around. The Batavia team finished 33-97, 47½ games behind the first-place Auburn (New York) Mets, and one of those wins came via forfeit.10 Batavia had a respected manager in former big-league infielder and coach Gene Baker, but his players simply didn’t perform. Baker’s bunch were league-worst in errors, hits surrendered, ERA, and balks. His batters had the fewest hits, lowest batting average, and most strikeouts. Only one player managed to crawl out of the train wreck and press on to the big leagues: a 19-year-old pitcher from Los Angeles named Dock Ellis.11
Voss had a “perfect” record in Batavia — five starts, five losses — when Baker started him against the Wellsville (New York) Red Sox on July 30. Manager Larry Thomas’s Red Sox were in third place at 46-40, 8½ games behind Auburn, while Batavia was sixth and last at 23-66, 33 games out.12 Over the full season, Red Sox pitchers led the circuit in walks and wild pitches and compiled the second-worst ERA. But the team’s hitters were tops in doubles and home runs and second in RBIs.
Five Wellsville players made the big leagues. Only one, left fielder Bill Schlesinger, was in the lineup facing Voss.13 Schlesinger had a monster season that year, hitting .341 with 37 home runs and 117 RBIs. Starting pitcher Mike Szemplenski had lit up the Class A Western Carolinas League the year before, striking out a league-record 313 batters in 225 innings.14 But he struggled in 1964, going 8-12 with a 5.45 ERA between two Class A teams.
Batavia jumped mercilessly on Szemplenski in the first. The first three hitters reached to load the bases. After an out, first baseman Les Stewart15 and shortstop Dan Predovic hit singles to drive in three runs, with Predovic advancing to third on an outfield error. Third baseman Bob Haren grounded back to the mound; Szemplenski caught Predovic in a rundown between third and home, but Wellsville catcher Ed McGuinness threw wildly to third and the runner scored.16
When all was done, Batavia had sent 11 men to the plate in the first inning and scored six runs, with second baseman Ben Herrera getting two hits. After Stewart drove in another run in the second inning to make it 7-0, manager Thomas yanked Szemplenski. His final pitching line was one inning, six hits, seven runs (six earned), two walks, and two strikeouts.17
After those early fireworks, the pitchers took control. Voss, who had surrendered 59 hits in 35 innings at Reno, allowed no hits or runs through the first seven innings. Walks and errors kept him from perfection, but he was in control. One game story described him as “sparkling,” adding, “It will be a long time before Voss improves on the game he threw last night.”18
Batavia’s bats cooled too, as Wellsville reliever Rick Froton held the Pirates off the board. Batavia finally solved Froton for three runs in the seventh on two walks and singles by right fielder Dick Ginste, center fielder Conrad Brown, and Haren. The lowly Pirates moved ahead, 10-0.19
Voss’s wildness finally cost him in the eighth. Walks to pinch-hitter Don Fazio and center fielder Al Pinto, with an infield error in between on Tony Alello’s grounder, loaded the bases. Right fielder Bob Nash then lined an RBI single to right — a clean and unambiguous hit, according to game accounts. Voss recovered to get out of the inning, stalling the Red Sox at one hit and one run.20
Batavia, apparently drunk with power, added an 11th run in the eighth when Predovic and Haren doubled off Wellsville’s third reliever, Ron Kelley. Voss closed down Wellsville in the ninth to seal a “masterful” complete game one-hitter that broke him into the win column after 11 straight losses.21 He walked eight and struck out eight. The game took 2 hours and 35 minutes, and 480 fans watched.22
Voss’s dominance disappeared as rapidly as it had arrived; he lost his next five decisions. In 22 games at Reno and Batavia, he finished 1964 with a 1-16 record and a 7.89 ERA, giving up 147 hits in 105 innings. He also threw 10 wild pitches and surrendered 14 home runs.
Voss left pro baseball and returned to hometown Portland, earning a bachelor’s degree in education and a master’s in counseling from Portland State University. He taught eighth-grade social studies in suburban Gresham, Oregon, for 32 years, retiring in 2002. He was married for 46 years and raised a family. He died in 2015. The comments on his online obituary reflected his baseball skills (“I remember his fastball looked like an aspirin coming at you sidewise”) as well as the deep impact of his teaching career. (“You were an inspiration to every student you ever had, and an inspiration to every teacher who truly knew you.”)23
As for others who took part in the game, Baker did not manage after 1964, but served as Pittsburgh’s chief scout in the Midwest for more than 20 years.24 The Pirates cut back to three Class A teams in 1965, eliminating their club in Reno. Szemplenski pitched one more year at the Class A level. Ellis’s big-league career spanned 12 years, 138 wins, a no-hitter in 1970, and a World Series championship with the 1971 Pirates. Schlesinger, the Wellsville left fielder, beat Ellis to the big leagues but appeared in only one game, against the Angels on May 4, 1965. He grounded back to the mound as a pinch-hitter.
In addition to the specific sources cited in the Notes, I consulted Baseball-Reference.com and Retrosheet.org for general player, team, and season data.
Neither Baseball-Reference nor Retrosheet provides box scores of minor-league games, but the July 31, 1964, edition of the Wellsville (New York) Daily Reporter published a box score, which is used to illustrate this story.
1 Baseball-Reference lists him as Rich Voss, the name used in news stories about his high-school career. Comments on his online obituary indicate that his post-baseball friends and colleagues also knew him as Rich. However, news stories from 1964 call him Dick Voss, and this story opts for consistency with the name he used at the time.
2 One account of the July 30, 1964, game calls Voss a “portsider,” but other news stories about him consistently describe him as a righty, as does Baseball-Reference.
3 “Metro, State Clash Today in Twin Bill,” Eugene (Oregon) Guard, June 17, 1962: 5B.
4 Baseball-Reference says 6-foot-5; news stories from 1964 alternate between 6-foot-5 and 6-foot-6.
5 Clifford Kachline, “Rivals Tab Eight Fledgling Orioles in Minor League Draft,” The Sporting News, December 8, 1962: 18. In this story, he is “Richie Voss.”
6 “California League Season Opens Tonight; Silver Sox Face Santa Barbara Dodgers,” Reno (Nevada) Evening Gazette, April 21, 1964: 16.
7 “New First Sacker Joins Silver Sox; Shortstop Sidelined by Injured Leg,” Nevada State Journal (Reno, Nevada), April 21, 1964: 11.
8 “Silver Sox Open Series in San Jose,” Reno Evening Gazette, June 2, 1964: 12.
9 According to Baseball-Reference, the Class A teams were in Batavia, Kinston, Reno, and Gastonia, North Carolina, while the rookie-level team was in Salem, Virginia.
10 On August 16, Jamestown Tigers manager Jack Phillips pulled his team off the field after the umpire ejected Phillips and two of his players. The umpire awarded Batavia a forfeit win. Associated Press, “Jamestown 9 Forfeits,” Ithaca (New York) Journal, August 17, 1964: 13.
11 Ellis led the team in wins, going 6-7 with a 3.20 ERA and striking out 130 batters in 121 innings. No other pitcher won more than three games. According to his SABR biography, the 1964 season was also when Ellis began to use alcohol and drugs.
12 They finished the year in third, as well, with a 70-60 record. New York-Penn League standings as printed in the Wellsville (New York) Daily Reporter, July 30, 1964: 5.
13 Wellsville players who reached the majors but did not play on July 30 included Carmen Fanzone, Jerry Moses, Billy Rohr and Ken Wright. Also on the Wellsville team was first baseman-pitcher Richard Hough; he never made the majors, but his brother Charlie did.
14 According to the Baseball-Reference Bullpen page on Szemplenski, he was inducted into the South Atlantic League Hall of Fame in 2000 in recognition of his 1963 performance. Site accessed October 14, 2020. His Baseball-Reference page lists him as Theodore M. Szemplenski but accounts of his baseball career call him Mike.
15 In Baseball-Reference, he is Orville Stewart; game accounts call him Les.
16 “Pirates’ Voss One-Hits Sox in 11-1 Victory,” Wellsville Daily Reporter, July 31, 1964: 5.
17 “Pirates’ Voss One-Hits Sox in 11-1 Victory.” Also, “Voss Hurls One-Hitter as Bucs Club Red Sox Under 14-Hit Barrage,” Batavia (New York) Daily News, July 31, 1964: 8.
18 “Pirates’ Voss One-Hits Sox in 11-1 Victory.”
19 “Voss Hurls One-Hitter as Bucs Club Red Sox Under 14-Hit Barrage.”
20 “Pirates’ Voss One-Hits Sox in 11-1 Victory.”
21 “Voss Hurls One-Hitter as Bucs Club Red Sox Under 14-Hit Barrage.”
22 Sadly, news stories do not quote Voss about what accounted for his remarkable turnaround.
24 Charles F. Faber, “Gene Baker,” SABR Biography Project. Accessed October 14, 2020.
Batavia Pirates 11
Wellsville Red Sox 1
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