Life, for Robert Lee Turley (see cover), has been one continuous hurrah ever since he pitched the New York Yankees to victory in the seventh game of the World Series last October. He was toasted at winter banquet tables. He was given awards. He appeared on the big television shows. When he signed his 1959 contract, it reflected 1958 appreciation.
No one deserves success more than Bob Turley. He is baseball's Jack Armstrong, tall, wholesomely attractive, forthright and genial. He has worked hard at his profession. He can throw a baseball fast and, generally, where he wants to. He is healthy and only 28. Last year he won 21 games. The Yankees are counting on him to win approximately as many this year and for several years to come.
If the Yankees were to place Turley in a display window with a $500,000 price tag attached to his right arm, there would be a stampede of general managers, checkbooks in hand. Each would think he was getting a bargain, and perhaps he would be, but he would also be taking an expensive gamble. For it is a sad truth that in recent years, and with increasing (and alarming) frequency, big winners have stopped winning with the abruptness of a stalled motor.
Don Newcombe won 27 games for the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1956, after which Cincinnati offered $300,000 and three players for him. The Dodgers declined the offer. The next year Newcombe got a sharp pain in his pitching arm and he won only 11 times. In 1958 he lost his first six games, and the Dodgers finally accepted a Cincinnati offer for him. But by then his value had decreased by $300,000 and one player.
Bobby Shantz was the American League's Most Valuable Player in 1952, when he won 24 games for Connie Mack's Philadelphia Athletics. He was not for sale at any price. In 1953 his shoulder hurt and he won only five games. In 1954 he won one game. In 1955, five. In 1956, two.
Mel Parnell of the Red Sox won 21 in 1953. In 1954 his left forearm was broken by a pitched ball and he won only three games. Later he developed bone chips in his elbow, and by 1957 he was out of baseball.
AND THERE ARE MORE
There are others. Billy Hoeft won 20 in 1956, then, when his arm "lost its zip," nine in 1957. Herb Score, after he had recovered from his dreadful eye injury, came up with a sore arm which even now leaves his future uncertain. Physical problems have hampered top-rated pitchers like Don Larsen, Bob Buhl, Whitey Ford, Johnny Podres, Gene Conley, Curt Simmons—the list grows.
The principal reason why baseball has a sore pitching arm is that pitchers work harder today than ever before. Years ago, the baseball was a muffin, and pitchers paced themselves without fear of the big home run. Only when a runner reached second did the pitcher have to throw his best. And when he threw his best he was throwing at a larger strike zone.
Today the accent in baseball is on the score, big and quick. The ball is built for distance. Bats have the streamlined look, with narrower handles, all the better to whip a ball with. Fences are, if anything, closer. Anybody can hit a home run. No lead is safe, for five-run innings appear in box scores almost every day. So today's pitcher must bear down all the time.
"Get out there and throw as hard as you can as long as you can," the manager tells his starter. "If you get tired, we'll bring in Pete from the bullpen."
This approach to the game is murder on good pitchers, for if they last the full game, as they so often do, their arms undergo a severe strain.
It isn't any easier on old Pete out in the bullpen. The casualty toll among relief pitchers has been perhaps the greatest of all. Two years ago there was no relief specialist as effective as Clem Labine, the darling of the Dodgers. He appeared in 122 games during 1955 and 1956.
"When you're a relief pitcher," Labine once said, "your arm is always tired. You don't feel like pitching, but you make yourself."
But since early 1957 Clem Labine's arm has not only been tired, it's been ineffective. Hershell Freeman, a fine relief man for Cincinnati during the same years Labine was at his peak, is no longer in the major leagues. The 116 games he pitched in two years finished him. Detroit is finding out to its sorrow that Ray Narleski left his best days behind him in Cleveland. "He's lost the zing off his fast ball," said Al Lopez recently. The American League's best relief men last year were Ryne Duren and Dick Hyde. But their early season earned run averages this year are too generous. Duren isn't striking them out this spring, and he has not been saving games. Hyde has done just as poorly.
"The pitching motion is a peculiar muscular activity," says Dr. Sidney Gaynor, team physician for the New York Yankees. "It places an abnormal strain on the arm. Every time a man pitches hard, tendon fibers in his shoulder tear apart. It takes about three days for them to repair. That's why pitchers can only work every fourth day, as a rule. When a pitcher throws too hard, or if he throws awkwardly—for instance, if he slips on the mound—the tear is apt to be bigger, causing a sore arm."
There are, happily, some pitchers who roll on, seemingly forever, free from ailments. Early Wynn might be slowing down this year, but he has been winning in the majors since 1941. Robin Roberts won 20 games six years in a row and is still one of the best. And, of course, there is Warren Spahn, nine times a 20-game winner. But even Spahn has had his sore arms.
"A sore arm is like a headache or a toothache," he said recently. "It can make you feel bad, but if you just forget about it and do what you have to do, it will go away. If you really like to pitch and want to pitch, that's what you'll do."
But because there is only one Warren Spahn and because pitchers are wearing out faster than ever, at a time when more pitchers than ever are being used, the search for new talent never ends. Major league clubs have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on young prospects. Few have made good. Cleveland gambled $125,000 on Billy Joe Davidson, but when he twisted a knee in an intramural basketball game, the investment was lost. Pittsburgh laid out $100,000 for Paul Pettit; a sore arm ruined him. Boston paid $108,000 to Frank Baumann, who proceeded to rip a muscle in his forearm. Davidson and Pettit never won a big league game. Baumann has won seven in four years.
It's not only the high-priced bonus boys. The Dodgers felt they had the pitching find of the decade, and for only $600, when they brought up Karl Spooner late in 1954. In his first game the young left-hander shut out the Giants on three hits and struck out 15. On his next turn, which was the final day of the season, he shut out the Pirates and struck out 12. It was a pleasant winter, but when spring arrived, Spooner developed arm trouble which ended his career.
Despite the big financial losses, and the less expensive but equally depressing disappointments like Spooner, the pitching speculation continues. Just last month Cincinnati signed a young Californian, Jim Maloney, to a $100,000 bonus. Maloney was the fourth pitcher from the same high school to be signed to a large bonus in three years, though the odds against any one of them making good are long. But, the clubs figure, if enough prospects are signed, some will make good. The majors need pitchers that badly.
There are some baseball men who think that eventually pitchers will work only three innings at a time, as in the All-Star Game. In that same vein, others feel sure that the use of the relief man will be explored to such an extent that 20-game winners, like Bob Turley, will become extinct.
In the meantime, the pitching crisis deepens. Pitching is the key to a team's success, the single most important ingredient. Yet arms continue to wear out, suddenly and prematurely. Pittsburgh's Bob Friend, who last year won 22 games, has pitched 865 innings in the last three seasons, more than anyone else in baseball. Friend, like Turley, is only 28. This year, in his first three starts, he has been hit freely and has failed to win a game. It's too early for gloom, but the Pirates are just a bit worried.
As for Bob Turley, hero of the 1958 World Series, backbone of the Yankees' pitching staff, $500,000 value, there are no definite trends so far this year. His first start was brilliant and he won. The second time he lost. The third time he lost again, but he pitched well. The Yankees are counting on his pitching well throughout the season, and the chances are he will. But no one can be sure.