In Memory of John Buzhardt

Ex-Cubs, White Sox pitcher Johnny Buzhardt dies
by Bob Vanderberg
Chicago Tribune
June 18, 2008

(c) Houston Astros

Johnny Buzhardt, a right-handed pitcher who made his major-league debut with the Cubs but whose best years were with the White Sox, died Sunday at his home in Prosperity, S.C. He was 71.

Buzhardt, perhaps best known for his uncanny success against the Yankees, suffered a stroke several years ago and had been in declining health, according to the McSwain-Evans Funeral Home in Prosperity.

"John had been confined to a wheelchair for quite some time," former Sox teammate Gary Peters said Tuesday from Sarasota, Fla. "This is sad news. John was a nice guy, a good ol' country boy. Easy to get to know, easy to get along with."

Buzhardt spent 10 full seasons in the big leagues, breaking in as a September call-up with the 1958 Cubs, for whom he was 3-0 with a 1.85 earned-run average. Two of the victories were successive five-hitters against the Dodgers. After a 4-5 year with the Cubs, mostly in relief, he went to the Phillies in a trade for center fielder Richie Ashburn.

With the Phillies, Buzhardt became a full-time starter—and big-time loser as the 1960 and 1961 Phils were among the worst teams in baseball history (the '61 team lost 23 straight). In fact, Buzhardt was 5-16 in '60 and had a decent ERA of 3.86. After Buzhardt went 6-18 the next year, the White Sox obtained him and third baseman Charlie Smith from the Phillies in exchange for first baseman Roy Sievers.

Soon he began winning games instead of losing them, particularly the ones with the Yankees. He beat the World Series champions 3-1 on April 24, 1962, in New York and blanked them 1-0 nine days later in Chicago. By the time the Sox had sold him to Baltimore in 1967, Buzhardt's record against the Yankees stood at 7-0.

"They were the type of ballclub that wanted to hit the long ball," he recalled in an interview years later. "And I had a fastball that would sink. Occasionally, I could get the curveball over the plate, and they were probably just a little bit anxious. That's the only thing I can think of because I wasn't overpowering.

"But it wasn't easy. Yeah, I beat 'em seven times, but our team beat 'em seven times while I was pitching."

On a club whose rotation included such standouts as Peters, Juan Pizarro and Joe Horlen, Buzhardt was never a big winner: He was 8-12 in 1962, 9-4 in an injury-shortened 1963, 10-8 in '64 and 13-8 in '65 before falling to 6-11 the next season.

Buzhardt's final season was with Houston in 1968, when he was primarily used as a reliever. He retired with a 71-96 won-lost record and a career ERA of 3.66.

He leaves a wife, two sons and a daughter.

Tribune news services contributed to this report.

Buzhardt's memory will never fade
by Bob Spear
The State (SC)
June 17, 2008

FOUR YEARS SEEM like yesterday. The memories are that clear, the stories that good.

John Buzhardt and I met at the Mid-Carolina Country Club grill room to talk about his professional baseball career, and seldom has an interview been so entertaining.

That journey into yesteryear comes to mind today with the news of John Buzhardt’s death Sunday at his home in Prosperity.

He pitched 11 years in the major leagues, worked for Carolina Eastman for another 21 and spent the September of his seasons enjoying life and spreading good cheer. A stroke suffered in 2002 kept him off the golf course, but nothing could interfere with his sense of humor.

Buzhardt’s 71-96 record in the major leagues does not attract much attention, but his career ERA of 3.66 tells far more. Many pitchers today would pay a king’s ransom for an ERA like his.

He had the misfortune of pitching part of his career with some of baseball’s worst teams. One season with the Phillies, the club showed so little promise that the manager resigned after one game.

No matter the career statistics, Buzhardt was about more than baseball. He laughed a lot, often making himself the butt of stories, and an aura of good feeling followed in his wake.

“We have lost one of the good ones,” daughter Donna Buzhardt said.

Success in the big leagues. Buzhardt laughed about attending Prosperity at a time when the school did not have enough players to scrimmage in football.

“We would have to split up and just run plays to one side,” he said that summer day in 2004.

But baseball was his game, and he signed a pro contract with the Cubs in 1954 — for $250.

“I got another $250 if I lasted 60 days,” he said jokingly.

He lasted longer than that; his journey through baseball included stops in 38 states, and he pitched winter ball in Cuba, a pursuit that gave him a front-row seat during the Castro revolution.

Buzhardt made the majors in 1958 and earned his first victory by throwing one pitch. It resulted in a double play, and the Cubs scored the winning run in their at-bat.

Bobby Thomson, whose home run won the 1951 pennant for the Giants, hit a homer to give Buzhardt a victory in his first major-league start, and Buzhardt pitched against the Dodgers and Sandy Koufax in his second start. He triumphed again, but getting a hit off Koufax made his day.

“My first hit,” he said. “A line drive that gets longer and harder every year.”

The victory by Buzhardt that historians remember most came in 1960 with the Phillies. He stopped the team’s 23-game losing streak by beating Milwaukee 7-4.

“Not a bad team, just a young team,” Buzhardt said.

Jane, his wife of more than 50 years, interjected and said, “You remember Philadelphia had the Whiz Kids (that won the 1950 National League pennant). They called that team the ‘Gee Whiz Kids.’ ”

Leaving a footprint. Buzhardt pitched a one-hitter for the Cubs, outdueled Whitey Ford 1-0 and “owned” the Yankees, compiling a 7-0 record against a team that dominated baseball in the 1950s and early 1960s.

“(The Yankees) had a lot of free swingers, and they would swing at pitches out of the strike zone,” he said.

He is much too modest. If it were that easy, wouldn’t every pitcher be doing the same?

Of course, he lost some, too, and once surrendered a monstrous home run to the Twins’ Harmon Killebrew.

“We were going home after the game, and I didn’t say a word,” Jane Buzhardt said. “Finally, we were almost there and I said, ‘I don’t think I have ever seen a baseball hit that far.’ ”

John Buzhardt took up the story. “I told her, ‘Shut up, woman!’ “ he said and laughed. “Besides, she didn’t see the longest one (Killebrew) hit off me. (Killebrew) was (a guest) at the All-Star game the other night, and she asked if I remembered him. I told her, ‘I would recognize him even without a bat in his hands.’ ”

Even after a motorized scooter and wheelchair replaced a golf cart for transportation, John Buzhardt remained a beacon for good humor. His kind never should be forgotten.