April 21 – Happy Birthday Gary Peters

petersMy wife and I just returned home to upstate New York from a road trip to Pittsburgh, where we spent the Easter weekend with our youngest daughter. We have to drive I-79 to get to the Steel City and about 40 miles north of the Pirates hometown, you pass by a city called Mercer. Back in the 1950’s Mercer High School had a basketball team and one of its best players was a 6’2″ forward by the name of Gary Peters.

As good as he was on the hard court, Peters was even better on the baseball diamond. His Dad was one of the area’s best semi-pro players and he had taught his son well. The younger Peters had evolved into a hard-hitting first baseman, but because his high school did not field a baseball team, his playing time was limited to American Legion and sandlot play. Thankfully, one of his coaches had connections to the White Sox organization and Peters was given a tryout by that club. He did well enough to get signed to a contract that permitted him to attend a local college on a basketball scholarship and play baseball when the college year ended.

Since his first minor league team was pretty well-stocked with first baseman, Peters, a southpaw who had done some pitching in his American Legion days was given a shot on the mound. He had one pitch at the time, a very impressive fastball and in the lower minors he was able to get outs with it consistently. That changed as he advanced up the ladder of Chicago’s farm system forcing him to develop more pitches. His slider came easy and his two-pitch repertoire enabled him to continue to win at both the double and triple A levels but was still not enough to get anything but brief late-season, cup-of-coffee trials with the parent club. It took him six years to master his curve and it was that third pitch that finally earned him a permanent spot on the White Sox’ roster and when he did, he was more than ready.

He went 19-8 during his rookie season, led the League with a 2.33 ERA and in the process, captured the 1963 AL Rookie of the Year Award. He was even better the following season, when he went 20-8 and earned the first of two All Star selections. A nagging groin injury resulted in a sub par season in 1965 but he won his second ERA title in ’66 and made his second All Star team the following season. Then he suffered what was later diagnosed as a rotator cuff injury, ruining his ’68 season. After a 10-15 season in ’69, Chicgao gave up on him and traded him to the Red Sox for next-to-nothing. It turned out to be a steal for Boston GM Dick O’Connell.

Ignoring the “southpaw’s can’t win in Fenway” suspicion, Peters went 16-11 during his first year in Beantown and 14-11 in his second. His was 12-8 during those two seasons pitching at Fenway and 20-14 during his career. He was also one of the best hitting pitchers in all of baseball at the time and during the 1971 season, he averaged .271 for the Red Sox, prompting Boston manager, Eddie Kasko to use Peters as one of his primary pinch-hitters off the bench.

The Boston front office had done an admirable job assembling a talented veteran rotation of double digit winners during the early seventies. In addition to Peters, it included the home-grown Jim Lonborg, along with Ray Culp and Sonny Seibert. But O’Connell decided to go with younger arms in ’72, bringing up both John Curtis and Lynn McGlothen from the minors and pushing Peters out of the mix. He retired the following year. His 15-season career record was 124-103.

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