Saturday, March 17, 2018

Meet the Brewers #41: Dick Ellsworth

On August 7, 1970, the Brewers purchased Dick Ellsworth's contract from the Cleveland Indians. Ellsworth hurried to Kansas City from Cleveland -- where his final two appearances were both walk-off losses over the previous weekend against the Chicago White Sox. Ellsworth arrived in Kansas City in time to give up three earned runs in mop-up time in the second game of a doubleheader. Luckily for Ellsworth's future employment, however, those would be the final runs he allowed all season as he finished the year with the Brewers on a run of 15-1/3 scoreless innings.

1971 Dell Today's Team Stamp, issued in the Brewers team set.
Richard Clark Ellsworth was born in Lusk, Wyoming, in 1940. Thankfully, Ellsworth has a SABR Biography, so I am drawing liberally from that biography. Ellsworth's family moved to Fresno, California, when he was three years old. Ellsworth grew up there and became the ace for a Fresno High School team that featured (including Ellsworth) three noteworthy future major-league players -- including Jim Maloney and Pat Corrales. Other noteworthy Fresno HS alumni include Frank Chance, Dutch Leonard, Tom Seaver, and former Brewer Sean Halton.

Ellsworth was quite heavily pursued for his signature on a contract out of high school. As his SABR biography quotes him, "Before I graduated I received at least one Christmas greeting from a scout on every major league club." Based on getting a cool $60,000 bonus (nearly $521,000 in today's money), he signed up with the Chicago Cubs. The Cubs decided to start him in their annual crosstown charity event against the White Sox, and Ellsworth promptly pitched a complete-game shutout three days out of high school. So, the Cubs kept him on the roster and let him start against the Reds -- who rocked the kid for 4 earned runs in 2-1/3 innings.

The Cubs were pretty hard up for pitching at that point of their existence, so Ellsworth became a rotation fixture just two years later, in 1960. At the age of 22 in 1962, Ellsworth joined a club of dubious membership -- finishing the season with a 9-20 record (and a 5.09 ERA) for a team that was the first in Cubs history to lose 100 games. 

The next year in 1963, however, the team around him was far better, and Ellsworth got both better run support and super lucky on giving up hits (going from over 10 hits per nine innings to 6.9 hits per nine). He finished 22-10 in 290-2/3 innings pitched and, according to WAR, he edged MVP Sandy Koufax out for being the best pitcher in the NL (Willie Mays beat both of them). The team being better mattered because Ellsworth relied on a sinker as his out pitch, and he learned a slider. Offseason rule changes to expand the strike zone also helped.

1971 Topps
That 1963 season led to Ellsworth being an All-Star in 1964 at the age of 24. He did not get to pitch in a game which the NL won by putting up four runs in the bottom of the ninth inning against Boston's closer Dick Radatz. That 1964 Cubs team came into the season with great expectations that were deflated quickly by the off-season death of Ken Hubbs in a plane crash in Utah (as Ellsworth himself said here). Yet, by far, that 1963 season was the pinnacle of Ellsworth's career.  1965 and 1966 saw the Cubs return to the depths of 1962, and Ellsworth's win-loss records reflected that -- 14-15 in 1965 and another 20-loss season in 1966 (finishing with an 8-22 record).

Since in 1960s baseball being a 20-game loser meant you were morally a bad person -- even if, as Willie McCovey said, the players recognized that Ellsworth's win-loss records was "misleading" -- the Cubs traded Ellsworth to the Phillies in December of 1966 in exchange for Ray Culp and cash. He struggled in Philadelphia, and so he found himself traded again after the 1967 season to the Boston Red Sox. Coming off the "Impossible Dream" season, the Red Sox were trying to improve their pitching, and Ellsworth did exactly that. 

Unfortunately, Boston ace (and future Brewer) Jim Lonborg got injured in a ski accident shortly after Ellsworth was acquired, so Ellsworth ended up as the Red Sox Opening Day starter in 1968. Still, a 16-7 record with a 3.03 ERA (well-deserved, with a 3.04 FIP) despite missing several starts in August thanks to contracting the mumps in August was a good return for the Bosox. But, when it came to 1969, Ellsworth chipped his ankle during spring training. The injury -- along with Boston's self-scouting hinting that he'd lost some speed off his fastball -- led Boston to trade him to Cleveland.

1994 Miller Commemorative Set
Looking at Ellsworth's stats may give a little support for the Red Sox view on his fastball. His strikeouts declined from 4.9 K/9 in 1968 down to 3.2 K/9 in 1969. Then, in 1970 with the Indians, Ellsworth was down to just 2.7 K/9 and up to 2.9 BB/9 prior to his sale to Milwaukee. Ellsworth's great results down the stretch in 1970 did not carry over into 1971, however, and Ellsworth made just 11 appearances for the Brewers in 1971 before he was released at the end of June. He never played in professional baseball again.

But, he was not done with baseball. He was very successful in real estate with Grubb & Ellis/Pearson Realty in Fresno and he is still a Senior Vice President with that company's successor company, Newmark Knight Frank. In fact, he was so successful that he purchased an ownership stake in the Triple-A Fresno Grizzlies. He also had the privilege of getting to see his son Steve Ellsworth make 8 appearances in 1988 for the Boston Red Sox. Steve did not have as long or as successful a baseball career as his dad did, though.

I have three of the four baseball cards that the Trading Card Database has Ellsworth listed as a Brewer. The one I am missing -- and which is missing from here -- is Ellsworth's 1971 O-Pee-Chee card #309. 

1 comment:

  1. Former Bosox player. Traded with Hawk Harrelson to Indians for Sonny Siebert