Winding Up for the World Series – 2 October 23, 2013

With the 2013 World Series underway, I called retired pitcher Vernon (Deacon) Law, winner of a World Series ring for the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1960, to get his thoughts on this year’s match up. Mr. Law was kind enough earlier to talk baseball for my e-book, Contender: Triumph, Tragedy and Canadian Baseball Player Harry Fisher.

 

This year, as the St. Louis Cardinals and the Boston Red Sox meet for baseball’s post-season classic, Vernon Law’s heart beats to the Boston tune. Not that he’s calling a winner.

“In a short series, anything can happen,” says Mr. Law, now 83, from his home in Provo, Utah. “In 1960, we beat the Yankees in seven games. Everyone predicted that wouldn’t happen, but it did.”

vernon-law-2010-6-A religious man, nicknamed Deacon, Mr. Law was a right-hander who pitched his first Major League Baseball season in 1950 when he was just 20 years old. After a three-year break for military service, he came back to Pittsburgh to pitch for the Pirates until 1967.

In 1960, with a record of 20 wins to only nine losses, Mr. Law posted a 3.08 earned run average, leading the National League in complete games to become an All Star. In the post season, he won two World Series games against the New York Yankees and took home the NL Cy Young Award.

In all, a stellar career—and one with a famous quote trailing behind it: “A winner never quits and a quitter never wins.”

Credit Mr. Law with being the first to say it.

“Of course, I played in the National League and I played for the Pirates,” he says.  “So I was rooting for the Pirates this year, and it was great to see them start winning. Two or three years ago, we went back to Pittsburgh for a reunion and talked to the kids. At that time, we told them, ‘You’re the way we were at first. You haven’t learned to win yet. But as soon as you start to do all the little things you need to win, you’ll win a championship, too.’

“So finally this year, they put all the little things together and started to win, and I’m looking forward to seeing what they’ll do next year.”

Meanwhile, Mr. Law is rooting for the Red Sox.

“I’ve never been a real Cardinals fan. I know and have known players in Boston, and I’ve always rooted for the Red Sox because of their ongoing battle with the Yankees.

“I like their style. (Second baseman Dustin) Pedroia gives it every effort. He’s not a big person but he’s all fight. The pitching staff have changed somewhat lately, but I still have a soft spot for them. In other ways, they’re pretty much a solid ball club. They play good defence, and I’ve noticed the Cardinals are sometimes inconsistent in the field.

“Playing in Boston, the Red Sox have an edge. They can play balls off the wall, they know there’s a short porch in left field. They’ve got fielding, base-running. I think if Boston gets off to a good start, they’ve got a good chance.”

Not that Mr. Law is discounting the Cards.

“The Cardinals offer a big challenge because they’ve got pitching and they’ve got guys who can hit,” he says. “The Cardinals’ pitcher (Michael) Wacha could make a real difference. He doesn’t pitch like a 22-year-old. When Tom Seaver broke in, it was the same thing. He was a rookie, but he pitched like he’d been there three or four years.”

Yet there are also intangibles. Playing in the post-season is different, says Mr. Law.

“No one wants to come in second. It’s like what they say about kissing your sister. No one wants that. The atmosphere is wonderful, and it can buoy you up, but you have to control your emotions, knowing the whole world is watching.

“Game 7 of the World Series, I didn’t sleep much the night before, thinking about how I would pitch the hitters. But even with the last game, you’ve got to treat it like every other game. You can’t let your emotions take over. That’s what happened to Bob Friend.”

Bob (Warrior) Friend was Mr. Law’s teammate and contemporary on the Pirates. In the 1960 World Series, Mr. Friend pitched three games, winning none and taking two losses with an astronomical 13.50 ERA.

“Bob pitched great all year, but he was so hyper during the championship, so emotionally high, he just didn’t pitch well. If you’d asked what town he was in, he couldn’t have told you.

“The atmosphere at the World Series hits you right in the face. I think Boston’s got some players who’ve been there enough times they should be able to handle it, but that’s one of the unpredictable factors in the series.”

Mr. Law got his World Series ring 53 years ago, but says he can still remember every pitch he threw.

“I remember every batter, what they did, how I pitched them. We had scouts, and we relied on scouts since we didn’t have interleague games where we could see the opposing hitters ourselves.

“But the scouts weren’t infallible. They said you could pitch Moose Skowran outside,” he says of the Yankees’ first baseman William Skowran. “I did, and he hit a home run over the right-field fence. The next time, I got ahead of him 3-2, so I pitched him a foot outside and he swung, striking out. I thought, So that’s what they meant by outside.

“They said Tony Kubek at short stop, pitch him away. I did that too, and he got a couple of base hits. So I said, To heck with that, and I pitched him inside, and that was that.”

The thrill of winning lingers, says Mr. Law.

“It’s a fun experience, something you remember all your life. It can change your life to be world champions. Not financially, of course, the way it does now. We got $6,800 to win. When you won the Cy Young, you got a $15,000 raise. Now you get $15 million.

“Of course, if I was paid a million dollars, I’d feel I’d have to make every pitch perfect. In one sense, it puts on pressure. But knowing that their future is secure financially can also take the edge off a lot of players’ performances. Before, you didn’t know if you’d have a contract from one year to the next. There were no multi-year contracts. You had to perform every year.”

Tonight, the onus is on Adam Wainwright to perform for St. Louis. Jon Lester will take the mound for Boston.

Mr. Law’s advice?

“Every pitcher has his own style. I’d only suggest the obvious, that they get ahead of the hitters, throwing a first-pitch strike. I developed good control. I could pitch for control. Any information on a hitter I was given, I said thank you.

“During those years, it was a fun time to play. You were playing the game the way it was supposed to be played. But I hope they go out there and have fun. In the end, it’s still a game.”

 

More from Vernon Law in Contender: Triumph, Tragedy and Canadian Baseball Player Harry Fisher, available at Star Dispatches.