Billy O’Dell: Oriole All-Star and nearly a Giant Series hero


Billy O'Dell won 105 major-league games and came within a Willie McCovey line drive of winning one more that would have meant the most -- Game 7 of the 1962 World Series. O'Dell. who started the opener for the Giants in that Series, had thrown two scoreless innings in relief of Jack Sanford to preserve a 1-0 deficit. The Giants got runners to second and third in the bottom of the ninth with two outs on Matty Alou's bunt single and Willie Mays' double to right, but Willie McCovey lined right to O'Dell's fellow South Carolinian, Bobby Richardson, at second and the Yankees won in seven. O'Dell died this week at 85. O'Dell never spent a day in the minors, signing with the Orioles after a standout career at Clemson. According to his bio at sabr.org, O'Dell knew what he was doing. The Orioles paid him a bonus of $12,500, which according to the rules of the day, meant they had to keep him on the major league roster. The Orioles of 1954 had just moved from St. Louis, where they were Browns, and not much better than the current NFL Browns of Cleveland. The Orioles lost 100 games when O'Dell joined them, finished seventh and never got out of the second division until O'Dell was an ex-Oriole in 1960. O'Dell fit right in with the Orioles in his first start in 1954, going double, groundout, double, walk and single before he was relieved. O'Dell pitched 16.1 innings in '54, was in the military in '55 and got out in time to pitch just eight innings in '56. But from 1957-59 O'Dell did the best pitching of his career for the Orioles, though it was hard to tell by his won-loss record. With advanced stats, he would have been greater appreciated in his time. Still, he made his only two All-Star Games with the Orioles, and was MVP of the 1958 game, retiring all nine batters he faced to save a 4-3 AL win. That included five Hall of Famers -- Willie Mays in the seventh, Stan Musial, Hank Aaron and Ernie Banks in the eighth, and Bill Mazeroski in the ninth, though one of the five is not like the others. O'Dell was 4-10 with a 2.69 ERA in '57, 14-11 with a 2.97 ERA and AL-bests of a 2.75 FIP, 0.5 home runs allowed per nine innings, and a ratio of 2.69 strikeouts to walks in '58; he was 10-12 with a 2.93 ERA in '59. One of O'Dell's 10 wins was 2-1 over the White Sox on May 19, O'Dell driving in the only two runs with one of the shortest home runs ever -- "a 120-foot inside-the-park home run," according to sabr.org. From O'Dell's bio: "O’Dell’s feat was really a fluke. When he hit a blooper over first base, it bounced off the right-field foul line and over the head of outfielder Al Smith, landing in the deep right-field corner." O'Dell was traded to the Giants after the '59 season and he struggled to establish himself in their rotation. He was 8-13 with a 3.20 ERA in 1960 and started just 14 times in '61. But in 1962 he won 19 games, had a 3.53 ERA and pitched 280.2 innings, allowing a league-high 282 hits. He had two starts with a chance to win 20, losing the first and coming within a missed sac fly of getting win No. 20 in the second. O'Dell pitched seven innings, against the expansion Colt 45s, left with the score tied 1-1 for pinch-hitter Tom Haller with runners on first and third and one out. Haller flied out, Chuck Hiller stayed on third and the Giants took the lead an inning later on a Mays homer. O'Dell started Game 1 of the Series against the Yankees' Whitey Ford (the Giants tied with the Dodgers for the NL pennant, played a best-of-three playoff series and opened the Series without a a day off; Game 5 was postponed a day by rain in New York and Game 6 in San Francisco was postponed three times, twice for rain -- even though it never rains in California --and once because the field was drenched). Game 1 was tied 2-2 into the seventh until Clete Boyer homered. The Yankees scored two more off O'Dell in the eighth and won 6-2. O'Dell didn't start again in the Series -- the Giants had 24-game winner Jack Sanford, 18-game winner and Hall of Famer Juan Marichal, and 16-game winner Billy Pierce -- but he saved the Giants' Game 4 7-3 win with three one-run innings after Chuck Hiller's seventh-inning grand slam, and kept Game 7 1-0 with two scoreless innings after entering in the eighth with the bases loaded, no one out and Roger Maris up (grounder to second for a force at home, and an Elston Howard grounder to third for a DP, Jim Davenport on to first). O'Dell won 14 more games with a 3.16 ERA in 1963, but that was his last as a full-time starter. He had arm issues in '64, put up a 5.40 ERA, was traded to the Braves, and according to sabr.org, threw a few knockdown pitches at his ex-teammates on his way to Milwaukee. O'Dell, according to sabr.org: “There were guys who broke their backs for (manager Alvin) Dark … but there were other guys who did not hustle. They gave him only 60 percent effort. It was pitiful. … It’s really a shame the way they treated Dark. I thought he was a fine manager. … I always respected him. But he didn’t have a chance.” (Dark was fired after '64, when the Giants finished fourth, though he was only out of work for a year). O'Dell was excellent for the '65 Braves out of the bullpen, pitching 111.1 innings, saving 19 games, winning 10 and putting up a 2.18 ERA. (O'Dell on his pitching coach with the Braves, Whitlow Wyatt: "Whitlow asked me once why I pitched everyone inside. I said, "Because I had Brooks Robinson playing third base in Baltimore and Jim Davenport playing third in San Francisco. Where else you gonna pitch?") O'Dell was almost as good in 1966 (5-5, 10 saves, 2.64), though the Braves traded him in the middle of it to the Pirates, for whom he finished his career the next season. When he was released after the '67 season (he had a 5.82 ERA), O'Dell retired and returned to South Carolina. O'Dell was diagnosed, according to sabr.org, early in his career with an allergy to grass, which was overcome with shots. (This recalls the year tennis player Ivan Lendl skipped Wimbledon, in part because he claimed an allergy to grass. That might have been more believable had the press not found him playing golf.) Career numbers: 105-100, 3.29 ERA, 479 games, 63 complete games, 13 shutouts, 50 saves, 1,817 innings, 1,697 hits, 556 walks, 1,133 strikeouts, 137 home runs (four each by Hall of Famer Aaron, Ron Santo and Frank Howard), 109 ERA+, 3.25 FIP, 22.5 WAR.

Billy O’Dell won 105 major-league games and came within a Willie McCovey line drive of winning one more that would have meant the most — Game 7 of the 1962 World Series. O’Dell. who started the opener for the Giants in that Series, had thrown two scoreless innings in relief of Jack Sanford to preserve a 1-0 deficit. The Giants got runners to second and third in the bottom of the ninth with two outs on Matty Alou’s bunt single and Willie Mays’ double to right, but Willie McCovey lined right to O’Dell’s fellow South Carolinian, Bobby Richardson, at second and the Yankees won in seven. O’Dell died this week at 85. O’Dell never spent a day in the minors, signing with the Orioles after a standout career at Clemson. According to his bio at sabr.org, O’Dell knew what he was doing. The Orioles paid him a bonus of $12,500, which according to the rules of the day, meant they had to keep him on the major league roster. The Orioles of 1954 had just moved from St. Louis, where they were the Browns, and not much better than the current NFL Browns of Cleveland. The Orioles lost 100 games when O’Dell joined them, finished seventh and never got out of the second division until O’Dell was an ex-Oriole in 1960. O’Dell fit right in with the Orioles in his first start in 1954, going double, groundout, double, walk and single before he was relieved. O’Dell pitched 16.1 innings in ’54, was in the military in ’55 and got out in time to pitch just eight innings in ’56. But from 1957-59 O’Dell did the best pitching of his career for the Orioles, though it was hard to tell by his won-loss record. With advanced stats, he would have been greater appreciated in his time. Still, he made his only two All-Star Games with the Orioles, and was MVP of the 1958 game, retiring all nine batters he faced to save a 4-3 AL win. The nine batters included five Hall of Famers — Willie Mays in the seventh, Stan Musial, Hank Aaron and Ernie Banks in the eighth, and Bill Mazeroski in the ninth, though one of the five is not like the others. O’Dell was 4-10 with a 2.69 ERA in ’57, 14-11 with a 2.97 ERA and AL-bests of a 2.75 FIP, 0.5 home runs allowed per nine innings, and a ratio of 2.69 strikeouts to walks in ’58; he was 10-12 with a 2.93 ERA in ’59. One of O’Dell’s 10 wins was 2-1 over the White Sox on May 19, O’Dell driving in the only two runs with one of the shortest home runs ever — “a 120-foot inside-the-park home run,” according to sabr.org. From O’Dell’s bio: “O’Dell’s feat was really a fluke. When he hit a blooper over first base, it bounced off the right-field foul line and over the head of outfielder Al Smith, landing in the deep right-field corner.” O’Dell was traded to the Giants after the ’59 season and he struggled to establish himself in their rotation. He was 8-13 with a 3.20 ERA in 1960 and started just 14 times in ’61. But in 1962 he won 19 games, had a 3.53 ERA and pitched 280.2 innings, allowing a league-high 282 hits. He had two starts with a chance to win 20, losing the first and coming within a missed sac fly of getting win No. 20 in the second. O’Dell pitched seven innings, against the expansion Colt 45s, left with the score tied 1-1 for pinch-hitter Tom Haller with runners on first and third and one out. Haller flied out, Chuck Hiller stayed on third and the Giants took the lead an inning later on a Mays homer. O’Dell started Game 1 of the Series against the Yankees’ Whitey Ford (the Giants tied with the Dodgers for the NL pennant, played a best-of-three playoff series and opened the Series without a a day off; Game 5 was postponed a day by rain in New York and Game 6 in San Francisco was postponed three times, twice for rain — even though it never rains in California –and once because the field was drenched). Game 1 was tied 2-2 into the seventh until Clete Boyer homered. The Yankees scored two more off O’Dell in the eighth and won 6-2. O’Dell didn’t start again in the Series — the Giants had 24-game winner Jack Sanford, 18-game winner and Hall of Famer Juan Marichal, and 16-game winner Billy Pierce — but he saved the Giants’ Game 4 7-3 win with three one-run innings after Hiller’s seventh-inning grand slam, and kept Game 7 1-0 with two scoreless innings after entering in the eighth with the bases loaded, no one out and Roger Maris up (grounder to second for a force at home, and an Elston Howard grounder to third for a DP, Jim Davenport on to first). O’Dell won 14 more games with a 3.16 ERA in 1963, but that was his last as a full-time starter. He had arm issues in ’64, put up a 5.40 ERA, was traded to the Braves, and according to sabr.org, threw a few knockdown pitches at his ex-teammates on his way to Milwaukee. O’Dell, according to sabr.org: “There were guys who broke their backs for (manager Alvin) Dark … but there were other guys who did not hustle. They gave him only 60 percent effort. It was pitiful. … It’s really a shame the way they treated Dark. I thought he was a fine manager. … I always respected him. But he didn’t have a chance.” (Dark was fired after ’64, when the Giants finished fourth, though he was only out of work for a year). O’Dell was excellent for the ’65 Braves almost exclusively out of the bullpen, pitching 111.1 innings, saving 19 games, winning 10 and putting up a 2.18 ERA. (O’Dell on his pitching coach with the Braves, Whitlow Wyatt, who won 22 games, threw seven shutouts and won the Dodgers’ only victory in a 4-1 1941 Series loss to the Yankees: “Whitlow asked me once why I pitched everyone inside. I said, ‘Because I had Brooks Robinson playing third base in Baltimore and Jim Davenport playing third in San Francisco. Where else you gonna pitch?'”) O’Dell was almost as good in 1966 (5-5, 10 saves, 2.64), though the Braves traded him in the middle of it to the Pirates, for whom he finished his career the next season. When he was released after the ’67 season (he had a 5.82 ERA), O’Dell retired and returned to South Carolina. O’Dell was diagnosed, according to sabr.org, early in his career with an allergy to grass, which was overcome with shots. (This recalls the year tennis player Ivan Lendl skipped Wimbledon, in part because he claimed an allergy to grass. That might have been more believable had the press not found him playing golf.) Career numbers: 105-100, 3.29 ERA, 479 games, 63 complete games, 13 shutouts, 50 saves, 1,817 innings, 1,697 hits, 556 walks, 1,133 strikeouts, 137 home runs (four each by Hall of Famer Aaron, Ron Santo and Frank Howard), 2 home runs hit, 109 ERA+, 3.25 FIP, 22.5 WAR.

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