September 19 – Happy Birthday Bob Turley
This hard-throwing right-hander nicknamed Bullet-Bob, made his big league debut with the St Louis Browns in 1951, but he was supposed to have made that debut as a Yankee. Back in 1948, when Turley was graduating from high school in East St Louis, Illinois, a Yankee scout was sent to sign the young pitcher but made a mistake and instead signed Turley’s two-year-older uncle named Ralph Turley. The Browns took advantage of New York’s carelessness and snatched up the fire-balling nephew.
By 1954, the Browns had relocated to Baltimore and become the Orioles and Turley had evolved into a key member of that team’s starting rotation. He went 14-15 for a terrible O’s squad that finished that season with just 50 victories. Turley also led the AL that same year with 185 strikeouts. His problem was control. He had basically one pitch back then, a blazing fastball that he could only throw for strikes about fifty percent of the time. As a result, he also led the AL with 181 walks during the ’54 season, which helps explain why Baltimore was willing to include him in the record 17-player transaction they made with the Yankees in November of 1954.
Turley had a decent first year in pinstripes, putting together a 17-13 record for Casey Stengel’s 1955 AL Pennant winners, but the wildness continued. He again led the AL in bases on balls with 171 and then got hammered in his only start against Brooklyn in that year’s World Series. It was the Yankees’ legendary pitching coach, Jim Turner, who got Turley to begin working on a no-wind-up delivery with the hope that less motion would result in more control and the results proved Turner right. His command of the strike zone improved and his bases on balls per nine innings went from a high of 7.0 in 1956 to just 4.3 the following year.
In 1958, Turley put everything together and went 21-7 for the Yankees with a 2.97 ERA and 6 shutouts. He won the Cy Young Award and finished second to Boston’s Jackie Jensen in that year’s AL MVP Award voting. He then went on to win the 1958 World Series MVP Award even though he was hammered and lost his first start against the Braves in Game 2 of that Fall Classic. He came back in Game 5 to pitch a five-hit shutout and then relieved Ryne Duren in the bottom of the tenth inning in Game 6 to get the last out and his first World Series save. The gambling Stengel called on Turley yet again to relieve his old Baltimore pitching mate, Don Larsen in the third inning of Game 7. Bullet Bob pitched the final six innings to earn his second win of the Series and clinch the World Championship for New York.
Turley’s performance that year brought him nationwide fame and the prestigious Hickcock Belt, awarded annually to our nation’s top athlete. Still just 27-years-old, he seemed destined to take his place among the great Yankee pitchers of all time. But that did not happen. In 1959, Turley’s fastball became much more hittable and his record dropped to just 8-11. He had pitched 245 innings during his Cy Young season but would never again exceed 175 for the rest of his career. He remained with the Yankees through 1962 and then was sold to the Angels. He retired after the 1963 season with a lifetime record of 101-85 (82-52 as a Yankee.)
Turley was one of baseball’s all-time best sign stealers. He is credited with helping Mickey Mantle hit several of his home runs by whistle-signalling what pitch was coming for the legendary Yankee slugger. After Turley retired, he began selling stocks and securities and became a millionaire. Oh and by the way, Bob’s Uncle Ralph ended up playing two seasons in the Yankee organization but never made it past D league ball. Bob Turley shares his September 19th birthday with this Yankee first baseman named Nick, this other Yankee first baseman named Nick and this former Yankee pitcher.