Another batty Brooklyn Dodger
This is December’s happy birthday column. There are several Boys of Summer who were born in the winter month of December. From them I’ve picked Billy Loes (12/13/29). Loes was an unusual and underrated pitcher who probably would have gone totally unnoticed had he not been as daffy as he was. He had a bit of Yogi Berra in him. In his obit, the NY Times said he came, “…with an image as an eccentric that seemed a perfect fit for a franchise long known for its colorful characters…
I remember Loes because he was the first person who wasn’t in a gang that I saw wearing a motorcycle jacket. He had the hog to go with it, sometimes sporting dark, dark sunglasses. I remember him also because we shared the same name so of course I had to follow him. Before we get to his daffiness of mouth, let’s be sure we understand that he was a very, very good pitcher.
Loes was in the rotation of three pennant winning Dodger teams and pitched in three World Series. The times reported that “in his four best years…from 1952 through their World Series championship…Loes won 50 games while losing only half that many. In 1952 he was 13-8 with four shutouts and a 2.69 era.
Loes emerged as one of New York City’s best pitchers during his last two years at William Cullen Bryant High School in Long Island City. After his junior year he led the Astoria Cubs to the Kiwanis League state title in the summer 1947, and was selected as the most valuable player. At 6-feet-1 and just 150 pounds, Loes possessed a wicked curveball that helped him fashion five no-hitters (four as a senior), the last of which was in the semifinal game of the 1948 Public School Athletic League championship with a flock of big-league scouts in attendance.
The overly confident teenager often tooted his own horn, angering friends and foes alike. “I was misunderstood in high school,” he once said. “There’s a difference between cockiness and confidence.” Loes finished his prep career by tossing a one-hitter and knocking in the winning run for the title. For his MVP performance, he won a weeklong tour with the New York Giants.
As a member of the Brooklyn Eagle All-Stars after graduating from school, the 18-year-old Loes dominated competition on a traveling tour against other all-star squads in Washington, D.C., and Canada. At the tour’s conclusion, Loes played semi pro ball in Queens. He became one of the most sought-after pitchers in New York after an excellent outing in a showcase game with scouts from supposedly all 16 big-league clubs except the Yankees and Dodgers.
Loes had a surprisingly productive spring, and then shocked his team in the Dodgers’ home opener on April 18 by hurling five scoreless innings of two-hit ball to pick up the victory over the New York Giants in 12 innings. After yielding just two earned runs in 19 innings of relief, Loes tossed a six-hit shutout against the Pittsburgh Pirates on May 15 at Ebbets Field in his first big-league start. Two starts later, he blanked Philadelphia on five hits at Shibe Park.
Hurling consistently all season long as a starter and reliever, Loes emerged as one of the Dodgers’ most effective arms. While the Bums captured their second consecutive pennant, Loes posted a 13-8 record, including four shutouts, and a 2.69 ERA (fourth lowest in the NL) in 187⅓ innings.
Other stats are yours for the looking. Let’s turn to a daffiness that turned dark and bitter at the end of his career. For instance, there was this. Once becoming so irate at a missed tag call, he stormed the umpire, pushed him, ran with the ball to home plate, and bounced it off the plate as hard as he could. Up, up, and away it went. In the meantime, all the runners on base scored. He was with the Orioles at the time and was fined by the league, the team, and suspended. Credit for the biography goes well-deserved to Gregory H. Wolf and the Society for American Baseball Research.
Loes was credited with saying things like: “…the Yanks will win it (the World Series against the Dodgers) in seven.” Initially he said six but corrected it to seven. And he was right. He blew a ground ball hit to the mound and said, “I lost it in the sun.” He was called by famed sportswriter Jimmy Breslin, “The Dodgers new daffiness boy” harking back to Dizzy Dean. He once told a sportswriter that no Dodger would win more than 16 games that season. He amended it to 17. He also said that he didn’t ever want to be a 20-game winner because he didn’t want to deal with the expectations that it would bring the following season. He was superstitious to a fault. When he returned to the dugout he’d throw his glove down in a certain place. No matter the place, Loes had let everyone know that if the glove were moved he would not return to the mound for the next inning. The Times called him,” Loopy.”
While inducted into the Dodgers Hall of Fame, Loes’ last years in baseball were marked by increasing shoulder issues that eventually so affected his pitching that he washed out of the game. Loes had no post career career. With his “think it, say it” attitude and his oh so New York accent, he was not sportscaster material. With his sour demeanor he was not the man for pushing products. Often lacking goodwill, he was not destined to be a team’s “Goodwill ambassador.” He drove a cab, he worked at a Greek (his family heritage) youth center. He was separated from his wife and died after a long battle with diabetes. He was called “conceited” and “arrogant” and worse by writers and managers. He didn’t endear himself to his fellow players when he commented about another team’s star pitcher by saying, “I forgot more about pitching than he ever knew.”
Loes had a storied but not storybook career. He was mostly excommunicated from the baseball family and died a sick, angry man. That’s another reason why someone should stand up and say, “Happy Birthday Billy Loes!”
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