Baseball History: Hey Charlie Dressen, Leave Joe Black Alone

Harold FriendChief Writer IAugust 18, 2010

In his rookie season of 1952, Joe Black won 15 games for the Brooklyn Dodgers. He lost only four times, pitched to an ERA of 2.15, an ERA+ of 171, and helped the Dodgers win the pennant.

Black was voted the National League's Rookie of the Year, and finished third in the MVP balloting.

Black was Brooklyn's top relief pitcher. He appeared in 54 games in relief, but manager Charlie Dressen realized that he was short of starters for the upcoming World Series against New York's other team, the New York Yankees.

On Sept. 21, Black made his first start of the season, beating the Boston Braves 8-2. Joe limited the Braves to a pair of runs and three hits in his complete-game victory.

Yes, a complete game after more than 50 relief appearances.

In the World Series against the Yankees, Black started the first, fourth, and seventh games. Since there were no travel days, he started both the fourth game and the seventh game on two days' rest.

Imagine any pitcher, much less a relief pitcher, being allowed to do that today.

Black bested Allie Reynolds in the Series opener, but lost the fourth game to Reynolds 2-0.  In the crucial seventh game, the Yankees reached Joe for three runs over five and a third innings.

Brooklyn nearly got him off the hook in the seventh inning when Jackie Robinson's wind blown pop fly with the bases loaded almost fell to the ground, but Billy Martin made his famous catch to end the inning.

Manager Charlie Dressen was not satisfied with success. After the great 1952 season, Dressen tried to change Joe Black to make him even better.

Dressen tried to make him into a pitcher. It didn't work. Black explained why.

"I've tried to become a pitcher. I'm not a pitcher. I'm a thrower. This fancy stuff isn't meant for me. I should just rear up and throw the ball past the batters, just bust it past them. That's what I did when I was at my best and that's when my control was sharpest."

Rookie Joe Black had only two pitches. One was his great fastball, and the other was dinky curve ball that was thrown slightly slower than the fastball.

Dressen wanted to make Black a starter after he saw what Joe did in the World Series. He tried to teach Black the changeup, but Joe had a problem with his hand. Joe didn't have normal muscular control of his fingers, and he couldn't raise either index finger.

He tried to master the changeup, which requires the pitcher to lift two fingers, but there were problems. Joe continued to try, but the effort affected his fastball. He lost his pinpoint control.

Joe Black didn't suffer the sophomore jinx. He didn't develop a sore arm from starting three World Series games. His attempt to add a pitch didn't need cost him his career.

In 1953, Black remained a relief pitcher. He was 6-3, but his ERA swelled to 5.33, and his ERA+ was a horrible 81.

Brooklyn sent Joe to the Cincinnati Reds in 1955, who sent him to the Philadelphia Phillies in 1957, and finally he joined the Washington Senators later that season.

The Senators released him after the 1957 season.

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References:

Joe Black at Baseball Reference

By ARTHUR DALEY. (1954, February 12). Sports of The Times :Secret Weapon. New York Times (1923-Current file),30. Retrieved August 18, 2010, from ProQuest Historical Newspapers The New York Times (1851 - 2006). (Document ID: 83746550).

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