Elroy Face, Reliever June 24, 1963

August 17, 2003

As the best relief pitcher in baseball in the late 1950s Elroy
Face rarely allowed hitters to get good wood on the ball. Off the
field, however, he had more use for quality lumber. While growing
up in Stephentown, N.Y., the longtime Pittsburgh Pirates
righthander learned carpentry, the family trade, from his father
and uncles, and woodworking became a lifelong passion. During his
16-year career in the majors he often supplemented his baseball
salary with off-season work as a carpenter--he refinished a game
room in teammate Bill Mazeroski's house a year after Maz famously
won the 1960 World Series with a Game 7 home run--and when Face
left the sport in 1970, hammers and hardwood became his full-time
stock-in-trade.

Beginning in 1979 he was the carpentry foreman at Mayview State
Hospital in Pittsburgh, where he remodeled patient rooms, made
repairs and built a chapel before retiring in '90. "With
carpentry you can sit back years later and see what you
accomplished," says Face, who lives in the Pittsburgh suburb of
North Versilles. "With baseball you read about it, but once it's
over, you can't see it."

That may explain why Face, 75, hasn't gotten his due as one of
the game's most influential players. Known as the Baron of the
Bullpen, Face paved the way for today's millionaire relief
specialists. When he broke into the big leagues, in 1953,
relievers were usually failed starters, sacrificial lambs a
manager waved in when his team was comfortably ahead or
hopelessly behind.

With a deadly forkball and a notoriously quick pickoff move Face,
who made only 27 career starts (all in his first four seasons),
shattered that stereotype and helped establish the role of
closer. In 1958 he led the National League with 20 saves,
beginning a stretch in which he finished in the top three in that
nascent statistical category seven times in nine years. The
following season he went 18-1, setting a major league record for
winning percentage in a season (.947) that still stands. The
diminutive Face--he stood 5'8" and played at about 155
pounds--also set the major league mark for consecutive wins by a
reliever, with 22 straight over two seasons. (He appeared in 98
games during the streak, which lasted from May 1958 to September
'59.) Face was at his best in the 1960 World Series, when he
saved three of the Pirates' four victories over the New York
Yankees.

Despite his effectiveness Face was not elected to the Hall of
Fame, and he's virtually unknown to young fans who can't imagine
a time when dominating closers were a novelty. Since retiring as
a full-time carpenter, he has spent much of his time camping and
fishing with his wife of 24 years, Roberta, and his five children
and nine grandchildren. He gets a kick out of watching current
pitchers flourish in the role he helped invent. "I enjoyed the
challenge," he says. "Plus I got to pitch more [than relievers do
today]. In a tight game, from the seventh inning on, it was
usually me." --Stephen Cannella

COLOR PHOTO: NEIL LEIFER (COVER) CRAFTY Face went 18-1 in 1959 and had 28 saves in '62. COLOR PHOTO: FRED VUICH [See caption above]

After helping establish the role of closer in the major leagues,
Face made a living as a carpenter, his family's trade.

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)