March 26 – Happy Birthday Bill Zuber

zuberWhatever happened to the bullpen vehicles that Major League clubs once used to transport relief pitchers from the home team’s bullpen to the pitching mound? Back in the seventies, Boston had a golf cart topped with a giant replica of a Red Sox baseball cap making this trip for quite a while. I remember thinking how unneighborly it was to force the opposing team’s relievers to walk from their pen to the mound while providing the homie’s with a comfortable ride to work. I also wondered what if any conversation between driver and pitcher took place? You’d think teams would have been smart enough to have their bullpen coaches drive these vehicles so they could spend those last precious few moments discussing the best pitching strategies for the passenger to use with the hitters he was about to face. In any event, after becoming popular targets for inebriated beer tossing fans in one stadium after another, bullpen vehicles went the way of the passenger pigeon and now no longer exist in big league ballparks.

Today’s Birthday celebrant causes me to ponder an even more important historical question about the use of bullpen vehicles. Bill Zuber made his big league debut as a relief pitcher for the Cleveland Indians in 1936. He got traded to the Senators in 1941 and then to the Yankees in 1943, just as the exodus of Major League players to wartime service was peaking. He pitched for New York until early on in the 1946 season until all of the Yankee war-time pitchers had returned from service. The Yanks then sold Zuber to Boston and Red Sox skipper Joe Cronin immediately made effective use of him as both a reliever and spot starter. He pitched a three-hit shutout in his first start for Boston and finished his first year on the team with a 5-1 record and a career-low 2.56 ERA, helping the team capture the AL Pennant

Zuber had avoided military service during the War because he was a member of a religious group known as The Amana Church Society. Members of this group were against all wars and were granted conscientious objector status by the US Government. This Society also believed that it was a sin to make use of modern machinery, including motorized vehicles of any kind. So what would have happened if back in 1946, Cronin summoned this big peace-loving right hander from the bullpen to pitch in a game and the Red Sox were making use of a bullpen vehicle? Would Zuber have put himself in the passenger seat or would he instead have refused the ride and proceeded to walk to the Fenway pitching mound, perhaps even pointing to the sky along the way, like many God-loving ballplayers do today whenever they get a base hit?

In any event, Zuber pitched must less effectively during his second season in Boston and after spending one more year on a Red Sox farm team, he hung up his glove for good. Zuber eventually got into the restaurant business after his baseball career ended. He found a way to meld both his ball-playing past and his religiosity into his new career by adorning the back page of his restaurant’s menu with his former skipper, Joe McCarthy’s “Ten Commandments of Baseball.”

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