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3/1/2009 2:05 PM






from The Baseball Biography Project - Curt Blefary

Curt Blefary
by John Henshell




... The birds sent him to the Florida Instructional League in the fall of 1963. Oriole scout Dee Phillips counseled him to control his temper if he wanted to reach the majors. Blefary thought he was ready to jump to the majors in 1964, but the Orioles sent him to AAA Rochester. "Nothing depresses me; I will be back," he asserted. Curt played first, second, and third base as well as the outfield for Rochester. He had an outstanding season, hitting 31-80-.287, while leading the International League with 102 walks. Curt and Eileen married in the winter.

Boog Powell played field for the Orioles in 1964. Bill Wise politely said in the "1965 Official Baseball Almanac" that the behemoth "seemed less lost in the field than he had the year before." Sam Bowens (22-71-.263) had been a pleasant surprise for the Orioles in right field. Veteran Norm Siebern didn't display much punch at first base. If Powell moved there, the Orioles could make room for Blefary in field.

In spite of complaining to the media that manager Hank Bauer didn't play him enough in spring training, Blefary made the 1965 Orioles as a 6' 2", 195-pound rookie. He explained, "Sometimes my mouth would get into gear before my brain was engaged. I did not get to the big leagues being shy. I got the attitude from my father. He said, 'Do not even try to make it son, unless you really believe you are the best. Otherwise you are going to be heartbroken.' "

In each year of his career, Blefary had a chip on his shoulder about something. In each case, he was arguably right, but that did not endear him to anyone but reporters with an agenda that was counterproductive to his own. Blefary's issue as a rookie was platooning. Casey Stengel had platooned Bauer, and the ex-Marine manager was a believer in the merits of the system. Powell and Siebern split first base equally. Blefary and Powell split field; Blefary and Bowens split right field. Russ Snyder (1-29-.270), another -handed hitter, got 345 at-bats as a utility outfielder. The results of the position sharing made a case for Curt, primarily because Bowens hit the sophomore jinx, hitting a dismal 7-20-.163 in 203 at-bats. Bowens was the only right-handed hitter of the bunch.

As Powell had an off year, Blefary led the Orioles with 22 home runs and 88 walks. He finished third in the league in on-base percentage (.381) and ninth in slugging percentage (.470). Setting a trend, he batted .367 with six circuit clouts against the Yankees. Bauer loved Blefary's hustle and competitiveness. The results of his season earned him the Rookie of the Year award. The balloting was close: Marcelino Lopez (14-13, 2.93 ERA) of the Angels was preferred by eight of the 20 writers. Willie Horton was the pre-season favorite to win the Rookie of the Year award. The June 4 issue of Time contained an article about the '65 rookie crop with the subhead "Best in History?" By the time the last pitch was thrown, the '65 group didn't distinguish itself as better than typical.

Blefary wanted to control his temper and improve his statistical performance in 1966. "The so-called sophomore jinx is just a lot of horseradish," he swore, "It's all mental. I don't expect to have any jinx." With the addition of Frank Robinson, the promising Orioles ran away with the American League pennant. Blefary did avoid the jinx and compiled on-base and slugging percentages that were within a few points of his rookie marks, and again ranked in the top ten in the league. Robinson was confounded by Blefary's plate discipline. "He was amazing," Robby recalled, "He would wait at the plate for his pitch, and refused to swing at anything else. [It] drove me crazy. He would wait for his pitch and hit it." In his only World Series, Blefary went 1 for 13 with a pair of walks.

He hit five more home runs against the Yankees in 1966. Blefary told Sports Illustrated, "Those seats in right field... were made for me." Eventually he earned a level of respect unwarranted by his performance against other teams: New York pitchers walked him a total of seven times in consecutive games.

Articles about Blefary continued to document his temper tantrums on and off the field, and he seemed an oddly compliant source for those stories. His unusual eating habits were also fodder for celebrity-hungry journalists. He loved the celebrity lifestyle and enjoyed the nightclubs. The unique young man had the capacity to drink at night and get up and have clam chowder and hamburgers for breakfast. At the same time, his cocker spaniel Long Ball would be treated to scrambled eggs and Coke.

Blefary's fielding reputation was legendary in his own time. He was an inexperienced and graceless outfielder when he reached the major leagues. As a result, Frank Robinson nicknamed him "Clank" after the sound of the ball rebounding from his glove (Blefary was also nicknamed "Cuckoo"). When the team bus passed a pile of scrap iron, Robinson told Blefary, "Go get yourself another glove." Although the legend was exaggerated, his range was poor for a guy with average speed. His error totals were always close to the league average. He had a strong, but not necessarily accurate, throwing arm. Strat-O-Matic, an accurate baseball simulation game, never rated him better than a "4" at any position (their lowest possible defensive rating). His throwing ratings as an outfielder and as a catcher never varied significantly from average. On opening day of the 1967 season, he made a great catch to rob Rich Rollins of a home run.

While Blefary was a better outfielder than Boog Powell, Baltimore entered '67 with three -handed sluggers, none of whom could help the team in the outfield. Mike Epstein, The Sporting News 1966 Minor League Player of the Year, was a poor defensive first baseman. The Orioles sent him to the Florida Instructional League to learn field. The experiment continued in spring training, much to the consternation of the proud Blefary. Blefary still got his at-bats. Hank Bauer tried him as a catcher after Powell accidentally stepped on backup catcher Charlie Lau's toe, in case Lau wasn't ready to open the season. Blefary also experimented with switch-hitting. He had been a switch-hitter in high school. Curt asserted that he had more power right-handed. Presumably, Bauer wasn't impressed.

Trade rumors, especially in the gossipy Sporting News, were rampant. Years later, Jim Palmer told Larry Stone that the Cubs were willing to trade Billy Williams for Blefary and Epstein. Palmer claimed that owner Jerry Hoffberger told general manager Harry Dalton, "You can make that trade, but you'd better be right" (TSN 2/2/98). He would have been: Williams outlasted both much younger players and had the seasons that created the mold to cast his Hall-of-Fame bust in 1970 and 1972. The Sporting News also claimed that Dalton turned down offers from the White Sox for Bruce Howard or Joel Horlen for Blefary. Epstein was traded to the Senators in early 1967, but Blefary trade rumors continued throughout that season. The Angels were one of the alleged suitors. Blefary hit three home runs in one game against them; one was a grand slam.

Curt's batting average declined to .242, but he played a little more and drove in a career-high 81 runs. He ranked in the top 10 in the AL in HR (22) and RBI. The Orioles skidded to sixth place with a losing record, primarily due to key injuries to the pitching staff.

Spring training was eventful for Blefary again. In mid-March, Bauer suddenly moved him to catcher. Andy Etchebarren was considered a good-field, no-hit catcher. Bauer said the move was no more than an experiment. The fact that Etchebarren batted right-handed must have entered into his thinking. Blefary noted, "I came to the Yankees as a catcher, but when they sent me to Greensboro the catcher there was off on a hitting tear. So they used me as a first baseman. The next spring I was spiked at home plate and I couldn't squat. So back I went to first again."

The experiment was successful enough to entice Bauer to use Blefary as a C-OF-1B in much the same way the Yankees used their catchers in the late '50s and early '60s. He caught in 40 games, one of them the no-hitter pitched by Tom Phoebus April 27. After averaging 22-71-.252 from 1965-67, Blefary slipped to 15-39-.199556 in "the year of the pitcher." He said his hitting suffered from playing too many positions. His batting average had declined in each season, but so had the league's. Blefary still exceeded the league average on-base percentage in 1968 (.301-.294). However, in the previous three seasons he had exceeded the league average on-base and slugging percentages by huge margins. ...










3/1/2009 2:14 PM



Friday, Jun. 04, 1965

The Year of the Rookie

It is by no means certain that the Detroit Tigers' Willie Wattison Morton, 22, will be the American League's newcomer of the year. He could, for instance, eat himself out of a job—the way he almost did last year when he showed up for spring training with 211 Ibs. distributed haphazardly around his 5 ft. 10½ in. frame. Willie obediently went on a diet, slimmed down to 189 Ibs., and seemed to have a first-string outfield job all wrapped up. Then one day, a teammate slapped him on the backside while he was trying to cut a shoelace with a knife. When the doctors finished sewing his hand together, Horton was shipped back to the minors—to Syracuse, where he hit 28 homers and drove in 99 runs.

This spring, Willie was having trouble breathing, so the Tigers ordered surgery to remove polyps from his nasal passage. Willie's nose has been bleeding off and on ever since. But last week he was batting .379—the second highest average in the American League—and 18 of his 36 hits have gone for extra bases. Tiger teammates now chant, "Ten, nine, eight, seven, six, five, four, three, two, one, blast off!" every time he comes to bat, and Horton has responded by clouting nine home runs—seven of them tape-measure blasts that traveled at least 400 ft.

Best in History? All around the major leagues, 1965 is an exceptional year for new faces. "If every other club has what we do," says Manager Bill Rigney of the Los Angeles Angels, "this has got to be the greatest bumper crop of rookies in history." Rigney has five rookies on his roster, and three of them have starting berths. Centerfielder Jose Cardenal, 21, is hitting .286, has stolen ten bases. Pitcher Marcelino Lopez, 21, is the ace of the Angels' mound staff with six victories, only three defeats, and Third Baseman Paul Schaal, 22, has cracked eight homers. At Kansas City, Manager Haywood Sullivan, a rookie himself, is frankly ecstatic over his prize find: Catcher Rene Lachemann. A one time bat boy for the Los Angeles Dodgers, Righthander Lachemann, 20, has so far played almost exclusively against handed pitchers, but he owns the highest batting average on the Athletics (.400), has hit two homers, driven in five runs.



The floundering New York Yankees would just as soon forget the season's opening month—except for handed Fireballer Gil Blanco, 19, a strapping (6 ft. 5 in., 215 Ibs.) bonus baby from Phoenix, Ariz., who has pitched seven innings in relief, has yet to give up his first major-league run. The Yanks hope that Blanco will help make up for the loss of Curt Blefary, 21, whose college education the Yankees are paying for —even though he plays for the Baltimore Orioles. Signed by New York in 1962, Outfielder Blefary was picked up by the Orioles on waivers for the bargain-basement price of $8,000. So far this year, Blefary has hit eight homers (three against the Yanks), has driven in 22 runs.

Take a Hike. Two of the season's most colorful rookies belong to the National League: San Francisco's Japanese Pitcher, Masanori Murakami, 21, and New York Met Outfielder Ron Swoboda, 20, who is of Polish ancestry but has a Chinese stepgrandfather. Object of a contract hassle between the Giants and Japan's pro Nankai Hawks, Murakami is a handed reliever with precise control, a nifty curve, and all the guts in the world. Once, when Giant Manager Herman Franks walked out to the mound to give him instructions, Murakami growled: "Take a hike." His record: nine strikeouts, only two walks in nine innings.

Swoboda is the stuff Met legends are made of. His fielding is downright atrocious: he has already flubbed at least half a dozen fly balls this spring. At the plate, though, Swoboda has a certain appeal—like a .298 batting average, eleven homers, 28 R.B.I.s. Manager Casey Stengel alternately calls him "So-vota," "Sebolta," and "Saveta." But he knows a hitter when he sees one. "This feller," says Case, "if they give him some stock for each year and what he does, he will own a ball club about 15 years from now."











3/1/2009 2:45 PM
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3/1/2009 7:49 PM
AAAHHHH the 65 toppps set one of the prettiest and one of my favorite :) thanks for the memories
3/1/2009 8:58 PM


Thanks, I'm glad you also enjoy these colorful links to baseball's past.



3/2/2009 9:24 AM
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3/2/2009 2:41 PM
thank you for some very entertaining reading. evidence to the contrary notwithstanding, i remember him as a decent defensive player. not a gold glover or anything like that, but decent. but it was a long time ago, i was a Yankee fan back then, and he was a Yankee killer, maybe that clouds my judgement. i gave up on the Yankers during the Billy Martin hire/fire days...it just got boring, and while the Mets weren't setting the world on fire, at least you could read about their players in the paper, not their owner.
3/2/2009 6:54 PM
good to have you here oooooooodoghie... well done. enjoy your posts immensely.
3/3/2009 12:58 AM

Thank you redwingscup. I appreciate your posts myself.




3/3/2009 2:15 PM








Camden Chat - A Baltimore Orioles Blog and Fan Community

Random Oriole: Curt Blefary

by SC on Dec 12, 2006 5:28 AM EST

Haven't done one of these in over a year, but I was inspired by finally getting around to reading Ball Four, where Blefary winds up playing a key role after Bouton is traded to Houston. That book is so wonderful. If you haven't read it yet, don't waste any more of your baseball fan life having not done so. I dragged my heels for years waiting to get it before finally just checking it out at the library on my roommate's account. Suck it, library! Blefary was a good, underappreciated player. If he'd come around nowadays, he'd be one of those cult hero guys that don't do the things that get you into the All-Star game, but they do the things that get you to root for them, as long as you look hard enough.
Blefary (born July 5, 1943, in Brooklyn) was signed by the Yankees in 1962, then selected off waivers by the O's in April of 1963.

Blefary made his major league debut in 1965, a 21-year old outfielder with poor defensive skills and no sparkling ability to put up a good batting average, but a willingness and skill for getting on base and a little bit of pop. Blefary hit .260/.381/.470 with 22 homers and 70 RBI, winning the Rookie of the Year award.

He continued producing the next year, with no sophomore slump. Blefary helped the '66 Orioles to a World Series championship by hitting .255/.371/.468 with 23 homers and 64 RBI. With Blefary, Frank Robinson, Boog Powell, Brooks Robinson and Paul Blair leading the way, the O's had the American League's best offense that season.

Blefary had another solid year in '67, but it was one of those years that doesn't look impressive on the surface, especially now: .242/.337/.413 with 22 homers and 81 RBI. That was, in fact, quite well above average for the league at the time. Blefary's 1967 season was comparable to what Miguel Tejada hit this year, relative to his league. (Blefary's park-adjusted OPS+ that season was 122, Tejada's 126.)

In 1968, Blefary hit the skids, batting a paltry .200/.301/.322 with 15 homers. No adjustments for eras, parks or anything else can make that a good season. In '66, he had tried his hand at first base, and did the same in 1967. In '68, Blefary added catching to his arsenal, playing 40 games behind the plate. He was the backstop for Tom Phoebus' no-hitter.

Blefary complained that his lack of a consistent defensive position contributed greatly to his poor season at the plate, which may well have been true, but the truth is simply that Blefary was a butcher in the outfield and a born DH. Unfortunately, there was no DH at the time. He wasn't a good first baseman or catcher, either. He had to move around to stay in the lineup. Because of his poor defense, Frank Robinson took to calling him "Clank."

The Orioles sent Blefary to Houston with minor leaguer John Mason, getting Mike Cuellar, Enzo Hernandez and Elijah Johnson in return. Given Cuellar's contributions as an Oriole, it was one of the best deals in franchise history.

Furthermore, Blefary never got back to the form of his first three seasons. He hit OK for the Astros, but that was pretty much it. He wound up traded to the Yankees for Joe Pepitone, and finished his career bouncing from New York to Oakland to San Diego. The Padres released him, and Blefary signed with the Braves, but never made the team. His major league career was over at age 28.

Like many players, Blefary was a bit of a character. Bouton's profile of Blefary in Ball Four is great, and here are a few excerpts from the classic book for your enjoyment:


BALL FOUR EXCERPTS - Jim Bouton writes



I'm getting a big kick out of Blefary. He's called "Buff," short for Buffalo, because he works so hard. If I had to be in a foxhole I'd like him in there with me. He's the kind who picks up hand grenades and throws them back. He's a perfect Marine, yet he doesn't seem to have the Marine mentality. One winter he spent his time, not selling mutual funds, but working with retarded children.

Blefary was giving me the business tonight. The first time he played in the big leagues he hit against me. It was after my arm trouble had started, and I must say I wasn't throwing very well. Anyway, it was great for Blefary. "Bulldog," he said, "you made my big-league debut a success. There I was in Yankee Stadium, on national television, with all my friends and relatives looking on, and I hit that blooper pitch of yours into the upper deck with two dudes on base. Thank you, Bulldog."
Curt Blefary is a big, rough, physical man. He likes to slap people on the back too hard, jab you in the ribs, squeeze your arm black and blue. He also likes to charge Robert, our twenty-five-year-old clubhouse assistant, throw him to the floor and choke him until he starts to turn blue. Robert laughs about it and pretends he loves every minute of it. But when he sees Blefary, he runs the other way.


On the hospital elevator, Blefary said to Larry Dierker, "C'mon, Rock Pile, get on."

"Curtis, what are you calling him 'Rock Pile' for?" I said. "He's one of the more intelligent guys on this club."

And Blefary said, "When I was in to see that eye doctor today he told me that with my eyes I should be hitting .450."

It's easier to ignore a question, sometimes, than try to answer it.

Curt Blefary is one of the players who thinks baseball games last too long. I mean, when a pitcher is having control trouble he's yelling over from first base, "C'mon, now, get the ball over. Get it over." The man sounds positively irritated. I do believe he has the potential to be a coach.



END OF BALL FOUR EXCERPTS



SC concludes -
Blefary did try to become a coach, but it didn't work out. He was a sheriff, a truck driver, a bartender. He owned his own nightclub. He kept on trying to coach, but in the end the best he could do was volunteer at Northeast High School in Fort Lauderdale. If nothing else, that has to speak to the amount of love Blefary had for the game.

Maybe above all else (as a baseball player at least), Curt Blefary loved his time in Baltimore. Blefary died on January 28, 2001, in Pompano Beach, Florida. He was just 57 years of age. Curt Blefary's last wish was to be buried at Memorial Stadium. Though the stadium was all but gone when he passed, his wife, Lana, was able to scatter his ashes at the remains of the stadium, on May 24, 2001. "He loved Baltimore, and he loved his fans," she said. "He was a lifelong student of the game."



3 COMMENTS BELOW


Remembering... I think unlike most of you guys, I remember Blefary. He had a few great years and was of course part of that magic '66 team. He was one of the great young players that started the turn of the Orioles into a great franchise for a long time, though, alas, no more.
When I started reading, I was thinking how he had a great reputation as a flake, but I think I was confusing him with Jackie Brandt, who I think was with the team in the early 60's.

"Killing a Yankee fan -- is that illegal in this state?" -- Homicide Life on the Street
by BirdFanLA on Dec 12, 2006 9:43 PM EST


Mr. Defense! Blefary had probably his best defensive play in game three of the '66 Series. First inning two outs, Willie Davis up. Blefary shaded him to center. Davis sliced one down the field line. Blefary bolted, caught the ball right at the line, and ran into the wooden grandstand.
The dugout had to be hooting and hollering afterwards.

If you can't change your situation, then change your attitude
by drj on Dec 12, 2006 10:47 PM EST


Bats Blefary Just a marvelous piece. Thanks!

I thought it happier to be dead / to die for a World Series victory, than live for mediocerity.
by chalkdust on Dec 14, 2006 9:11 AM EST







3/4/2009 1:11 AM










Astro Team Mate Jim Bouton





3/4/2009 1:30 AM





Curt Blefary, Boog Powell, Brooks Robinson, Frank Robinson on cover.



10/18/2009 5:58 PM
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10/19/2009 7:39 AM
Back in those days, nobody talked about things like "pitch count," but i am pretty certain that Ralph Houk overused guys like Bouton and Ralph Terry to the point that they were no longer useful. As a child, I tried to pitch like Bouton, that incredible high leg kick was exciting to watch. Marichal's was similar, but Bouton's was much more violent. !961, and the home run derby, are what got me interested in baseball. Richardson's catch of McCovey's line drive to end the '62 WS me ecstatic...i wish i had a better word to describe how i felt at that moment, but sometimes language simply falls short. I had a job selling the 8pm editions of the NY newspapers on the corner of Cortelyou Rd. and Flatbush Ave. at the time. I was 8 or 9 years old. Most of the customers were old men, gamblers who wanted to read, but not buy, the nickel newspaper, and they would hang around all night. We'd talk sports, and part of my ecstacy for Richardson's catch revolve around the fact that I won $11 on the WS. I was working for 3$/night, $15 for Saturday night. $11 was a huge sum of money to have in a completely disposable fashion. My parents would take the money i earned, and give me an allowance from it. I bought my father a carton of cigarettes, pall mall reds, and a 6 pack of Beck's beer. I bought my mother a set of drinking glasses, a box of 24 of the most hideous things you could possibly imagine, and still had 3 dollars over. Then i received thanks for the gifts, a beating for gambling, and had to walk the dog. What i wouldn't give right now to be back on that street corner of Brooklyn, selling papers, and talking baseball with "Shakey" (he had Parkinson's disease), Skull, Corky, Hawk Eye (lost an eye in WWII) etal.
10/19/2009 9:13 AM
that's a great memory pfattkatt! thanks for sharing.
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