Unfortunate news emerged tonight out of Lutherville, Maryland. The Baltimore Sun reported that former Yankees and Orioles pitcher Bob Turley passed away this morning at age 82. The righthander pitched 12 years in the majors, and spent the most time with the Yankees.
Turley was one of the last surviving members of the St. Louis Browns, who moved to Baltimore and became the Orioles in 1954. Born in Troy, Illinois on September 19, 1930, he was signed by the Brownies in '48 and a year later, he made a splash in the minors with a 23-5 record and a 2.31 ERA in Class C Aberdeen. Two years later, he set a Texas League record by striking out 22 in a 16-inning game with the San Antonio Missions. Later that season, he made his major league debut in a start on September 29th, then missed a season and a half serving in the Korean War before returning for 10 more games with the Browns in '53, their final season in St. Louis.
In Baltimore the next season, Turley made history by starting the first major league game in Baltimore since the 19th century. He pitched a complete game victory at the now-demolished Memorial Stadium, allowing just one run and seven hits to the White Sox and striking out nine. Those Orioles lost 100 games, but Turley's fastball gained some notice around the league, as he made the All-Star team and led the league with 185 strikeouts (though he demonstrated a wild side as well by leading the league in walks, too). Nonetheless, the Yankees were looking for some new faces in the rotation following the decline of early-50s pitching stalwarts Allie Reynolds, Eddie Lopat, and Vic Raschi. In November, "Bullet Bob" was one of several players acquired by the Yanks in a monster 17-player swing, the largest in baseball history.
Turley started 175 games with the Yankees from 1955-62, pitching to an 82-52 record with a 3.64 ERA (102 ERA+). His control issues never really resolved, but he remained one of the league's top strikeout artists, as he fanned 909 batters, 15th in baseball over that eight-year period. He was one of the team's best starters on their '55 American League champions, notching a 3.06 ERA and 123 ERA+ in 246.2 innings, and striking out a career-high 210, second highest in the AL. That year, he did not pitch well in the Yankees' only World Series loss to the Brooklyn Dodgers; Turley was blown out in his Game 3 start. The next season, he recovered from a poor season to pitch to a very impressive 0.82 ERA in 11 innings against Brooklyn in the World Series. However, the one run he gave up proved costly, as Jackie Robinson lined a walk-off single in the bottom of the 10th inning of Game 6. The Yankees missed a chance to close out the Series despite a shutout performance by Turley through nine innings. Fortunately, they won the next day anyway and Turley had his first World Series ring.
The Yankees won their third straight pennant with Turley in '57, and the righthander had a 2.71 ERA in 176.1 innings. On the brink of elimination at the hand of the Milwaukee Braves, Turley pitched a complete game four-hitter in Game 6. Even though the Yankees lost the next game and the Braves were champions, Turley's Game 6 foreshadowed what was to come in '58. Turley led the league in wins (21) and complete games (19), pitching to a 2.97 ERA in 245.1 innings. MLB issued only one Cy Young Award at the time, but Turley won it and finished behind only Red Sox slugger/enemy of flight Jackie Jensen for the AL MVP. The Yankees won yet another pennant that year and faced the Braves in a World Series rematch.
The Yankees' ace sure didn't look like the game's best pitcher in Game 2. He gave up a leadoff homer to center fielder Bill Bruton, and after just five batters, manager Casey Stengel yanked him. Turley's line in that game was 0.1 innings, three hits, and four runs. Four days later, Turley took the mound again in a must-win game--the Yankees were down in the Fall Classic, three games to one.
Only once before in the 55-year history of the World Series had a team come back from such a steep deficit, but Turley came up huge with a five-hit shutout in Game 5, striking out 10 batters. Not even the great Hank Aaron could solve him, as he went hitless with a pair of strikeouts. Two days later, the Yankees again attempted to stave off elimination on the road at Milwaukee's County Stadium in Game 6. Tied at three in extra innings, infielder Gil McDougald slugged a solo homer to give the Yankees the lead, and Moose Skowron drove home another run with a single. The Yanks ended up needing the insurance run since reliever Ryne Duren gave up an RBI single to Aaron and another hit to Joe Adcock, putting the tying run on third and the winning run at first with one out to go. The Yankees called on Turley on very short rest to face Frank Torre, and he ended the game on a lineout to second base.
Don Larsen started Game 7, but he looked shaky early on, so after 2.1 innings, Stengel decided not to take any chances. He once again gave the ball to Turley, despite only two days of rest (discounting his one-batter appearance in Game 6). Turley was up to the task, pitching the rest of the way and allowing Milwaukee just one run on two hits in 6.2 innings of work. The Yankees won 6-2 and completed arguably the greatest World Series comeback in their history. The biggest hero was Turley, who came back from a terrible start to pitch to a 2.76 ERA in 16.1 innings. It was the finest moment of his playing career.
Turley was still young at age 28 in '59, but he never again came that close to his '54-'58 levels. His last good season came in '60, a 110 ERA+ season in 34 games (24 starts). He won World Series Game 2 against the Pirates in a 16-3 blowout, but a poor start in Game 7 (only one inning and three runs) ended up dooming the Yankees to a terribly disappointing Fall Classic loss. Although he was ineffective and did not pitch in either of the next two World Series, he was with the Yankees while they won consecutive titles, giving him four for his career. He split his final season with the Angels and Red Sox, calling it quits after a 3-11 season at age 32. He spent the next year as a Red Sox coach, then had a career at Primerica in Alpharetta, Georgia in mutual funds and insurance. World Series hero one day, insurance agent the next. Such was life for players before free agency.
"Bullet Bob" was a frequent guest at Old Timers' Day ceremonies for the rest of his life, attending the festivities as recently as last year. Liver cancer overcame him during the past several months though, and his son announced Turley's passing this morning.
Turley might not be a household name among even the most dedicated of Yankees fans, but his impact on team history should certainly not be forgotten. Rest in peace, World Series hero.