Two young men, so fresh out of college that they still half-expected their dads to send them pocket money, made their professional baseball debuts last week as starting pitchers. Not in Peoria or Visalia, mind you, but in Chicago and Washington in the middle of the 1971 major league pennant race against people like Joe Torre and Carl Yastrzemski. As might be expected they did not break in with no-hitters.
The pitchers are the Cubs' Burt Hooton from the University of Texas (SI, May 31), who, in age-old phenom tradition, has a curve that breaks like it's "falling off a table," and the Senators' Pete Broberg from Dartmouth, whose fastball is described by a teammate as "severe uncontrolled heat."
Broberg, whose father was an All-America basketball player at Dartmouth in 1941, was signed for an estimated $150,000, the fattest bonus ever paid by a Washington baseball club. And the first indications were that he had sold himself cheaply. He joined the team on a Western swing, and Bullpen Coach George Susce, who might be coaxed under close questioning to admit that Babe Ruth wasn't a bad hitter, took a look at him and threw out caution.
"I warmed up Herb Score and Mike Garcia when they came up and I'll put this guy right in with them," said Susce. Not only is he fast, but "he doesn't throw just a curve; it's a whip."
June 27, 1971
"Haven't seen anybody in the league faster," said Manager Ted Williams. "Wild, though. Hope he doesn't kill somebody.... Throws harder than any kid I've ever seen walk into a major league ball park. And I mean ever seen. Gotta hit that strike zone, though."
Broberg, who still has a year to go at Dartmouth, does not consider himself a scatterarm. He said he had weak infields backing him in college, so he was a strikeout pitcher, and "that way you have more 3-2 counts, more walks."
Hooton did not get quite the same grand buildup, but Chicago did give him uniform number 44. No Cub—please don't break into tears—since Phil Cavaretta has worn that number. Hooton was put on the active roster Monday and pitched batting practice the same day. His "knuckle curve"" was so impressive that Cub teammate Ron Santo told him, "They're going to frisk you. They're going to think you're throwing a spitter."
"Hey, he's fast, too," said Manager Leo Durocher. "Sneaky fast."
Leo chortled when Ernie Banks took his turn in the batting cage and kept shaking off Hooton's signal for a curve. Then, mainly because Ferguson Jenkins and Milt Pappas were both out with viral infections, the rookie with a 35-3 college record was named to start against the visiting Cardinals on Thursday, quite a different matter from facing Baylor or Texas Christian. Hooton, however, remained calm all week.
"I'm just going to sit here and try to learn," Hooton said. "I've only got two pitches and I can't get by up here with those. Oh, maybe two or three innings I could."
Which was just about perfect forecasting. The Cubs prepared him by cautioning him to concentrate merely on throwing strikes and not to get cute or try to challenge the batters. Durocher figured Hooton would be nervous and wild enough even if he didn't try to hit the corners. He began nicely by striking out Lou Brock and making Matty Alou ground out to first. Then he started missing the corners and dropping the curve off the table and into the dirt. Hooton survived the inning, though, and the Cubs got him a lead in their half, but Hooton blew it.
Joe Torre homered off him and Card Pitcher Steve Carlton hit two singles, the second one driving in two runs. It was a grounder that scooted straight toward Second Baseman Glenn Beckert, then hit some hidden springboard in the Wrigley infield and bounded right over his head. Hooton was yanked with the score tied 3-3 after one out in the fourth inning. He had two strikeouts but he had given up three runs and three hits and five walks.
Broberg's turn came Sunday against the Boston Red Sox in D.C.'s RFK Stadium. Pitching in 98° of uncontrolled heat, he struck out seven, walked four, committed a balk and gave up just three ground-ball singles. The Red Sox were not digging in against him, especially after one of his blur balls hit the bill of George Scott's cap and sent it spinning 15 feet toward the stands. (The rookie did not pick up Scott's cap, but he did apologize.) He had made 96 pitches and was apparently tiring when Williams replaced him after one out in the seventh.
"He looked great," said Williams.
Obviously neither Hooton nor Broberg should feel discouraged. Back in 1955 the Brooklyn Dodgers signed a big, strong basketball/baseball player out of the University of Cincinnati. For some time he was fortunate if his pitches so much as hit the backstop, but then Sandy Koufax settled down. Turned out all right, too.