One of my prize pieces of memorabilia is something 1964 Cy Young Award winner Dean Chance gave me a couple of years ago: an autographed framed portrait of the Wayne County legend, listing his 33 career shutouts in the major leagues.
Thirty-three! Over 11 years.
That’s nine more than Cleveland’s back-to-back Cy Young winners — C.C. Sabathia and Cliff Lee — have tossed over their collective 28 years on the mound.
Upon closer inspection of this pitch-perfect Picasso on my office wall, some numbers grab you like The Mona Lisa’s smile.
Numbers that had Chance, who grew up just outside Wooster, closer to crying than smiling while he was crafting them.
In 33 of his shutouts, his supporting cast — and that’s using the term generously — scored three or fewer runs 21 times. Thirteen of those shutouts were 1-0 gems.
So next time you throw a pity party for the Tribe’s snakebitten/reigning Cy Young winner Corey Kluber, raise a toast to one of the original hard-luck hurlers.
“Art Fowler (a former teammate and long-time Yankees pitching coach) used to tell the hitters, ‘You ought to feel guilty getting your paycheck!’” Chance said.
Kluber probably has heard the same thing in his clubhouse. As an encore to winning the American League Cy Young Award, the Indians’ ace is only 6-12. But he’s receiving the least run support of any pitcher in the AL (3.218 runs per nine innings) and was bringing up the rear in the majors (2.3) until Tribe bats exploded in a 12-1 win against Kansas City on July 29.
It’s a small miracle Kluber didn’t faint that day in the dugout.
He has received a grand total of 46 runs in his other 22 starts. In 10 of his 12 losses, the Indians have scored two runs or fewer and been shut out three times. In seven of his losses, Kluber gave up less than three runs, so he easily could be 13-5. And that’s low-balling it.
But don’t expect Chance to commiserate.
“At least he’s getting paid!” growled Chance, whose highest salary was $60,000 despite twice winning 20 games and posting a career ERA of 2.62. “Let him get shut out 13 times and we’ll feel sorry for him.”
Chance was referring to 1963, his second full season in the majors, when he went 13-18 for the Los Angeles Angels — thirteen of those losses by shutout. The Halos scored 21 runs in his 18 losses.
“Trust me, check the records; that’s exactly what happened,” said Chance, whose 3.19 ERA that season proved he deserved better. “I thought I was a cinch to win 20 that season. Well, I damn near lost 20!”
One game in particular still sticks in his craw.
“I pitched against the Yankees and had a perfect game in the seventh inning,” Chance said. “I walked Whitey Ford … I couldn’t believe I walked the pitcher. He was the first (expletive) guy on base.
“It ends up we get one run. They had second and third and two outs, I believe it was the eighth inning, and Bobby Richardson’s the batter. I get two strikes and I want to throw him a breaking ball. My catcher wants a fastball. I shake him off, but he wants a fastball, so I throw the fastball. (Richardson) hits a little blooper that hits the foul line and I lose the game 2-1.
“I only gave up a couple hits. My wife was at the game. I go to the car, she’s not there … I just went home, I was so (expletive) mad.”
Chance threw two shutouts that season, allowed only 10 home runs in 248 innings and even saved three games. But his salary for the next season didn’t budge off the $18,000 he was already getting.
So he admittedly pitched “angry” in 1964.
He was in pique form. Despite a slow start, Chance went 20-9 with a franchise-record 1.65 ERA. He led the league in innings pitched with 278, tossed 15 complete games, threw 11 shutouts, struck out 207, allowed only seven home runs and even saved four games.
At 23, he became the youngest Cy Young winner in history.
“I got a blister on my finger, so I pitched in relief at the start,” Chance said. “At the all-star break I was 5-5, including three shutouts.”
Despite that pedestrian record, Chance started for the AL in the all-star game and pitched three shutout innings. That carried over to the second half of the season where he went 15-4 with eight shutouts.
That would be the third of five straight Cy Youngs won by three pitchers who called Dodger Stadium home. The other two were Dodger Hall of-Famers Don Drysdale (1962) and Sandy Koufax (1963, ’65 and ’66).
“Taking nothing away from Drysdale, Koufax and me,” Chance said, “but Dodger Stadium (which the Angels shared) was the greatest pitchers’ park in the world.”
He probably won’t get an argument today from Dodger stars Clayton Kershaw and Zach Grienke, both Cy Young contenders. Kershaw has already won it three times and Grienke once, when he was with Kansas City.
“At night, the ball won’t travel,” Chance said of the valley, known as Chavez Ravine, where the stadium was built. “The air gets heavy. The only park that would be better to pitch in was Yellowstone Park because there’s no fences there.”
After winning the Cy Young, Chance got a bump in pay to $45,000, but the past would come back to haunt him. His 1966 season could have been turned into a country music song. He posted another respectable ERA (3.09), but finished 12-17. Management decided to try and solve its offensive woes by trading Chance to the Minnesota Twins for hitters.
Chance responded to the trade by winning 20 games, leading the AL in games started (39), complete games (18) and innings pitched (283 2/3). He threw a rain-shortened perfect game against the Red Sox at home and also a 2-1 no-hitter against the Indians.
The Tribe scored their only run in the first inning on two walks, an error and a wild pitch. (Hmm. Sound familiar?)
Chance was voted to his second all-star team and won the Sporting News AL Comeback Player of the Year award.
But 1968 would be another flashback to that miserable ’63 season. Chance was only 16-16 despite notching a career low in hits and walks per nine innings and had career highs in innings pitched (292) and strikeouts (234).
Again, he was let down by his offense. The Twins scored two runs or fewer in 17 of his 22 starts, in which he posted a 2.55 ERA. In games in which the club scored at least three runs, he was 13-4.
But when Chance went in at the end of the season to talk raise, skinflint owner Calvin Griffith tried to cut his salary by $9,000.
“It was such a joke,” Chance said. “It was unreal!”
He held out the following season, got hurt and was never the same. He finished his career with short stints in Cleveland, New York (Mets) and Detroit.
Chance will be inducted into the Angels Hall of Fame on Aug. 22. That night, Mike Trout probably will whiff four times and his team will put all zeroes on the board, just to make Chance feel at home.
“I remember Bill Rigney, one of my managers, saying, ‘Boys, I don’t care if we get a hit, but somebody please just hit a line drive,’” Chance said.
Not that he ever helped himself at the plate. Before there was a designated hitter, baseball fans got their comic relief from watching Chance with a bat in his hands. (Picture Bartolo Colon.) He managed only 44 hits in 662 at-bats for a batting average of .066. He struck out 420 times in those 662 at-bats.
“I was a horse(expletive) hitter myself,” Chance said. “I was no threat.”
His odds of getting a hit were similar to the odds of Kluber getting any backing when he’s dueling another team’s ace.
Fat Chance and No Chance.