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1973 - The Year of the Pitcher

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1973 – The Year of the Pitcher

 

The AAABA tournament is nationally renowned for producing major league talent. Every year it is almost certain that a handful of the players passing through Johnstown will one day wear a major league uniform. Since 1945, well over 400 players have ascended to the major leagues and hundreds of others have signed professional contracts. While every tournament produces quality talent, few years compare to1973. The 1973 annual produced no fewer than thirteen major league players. Hitters in the 1973 tourney clearly had their work cut out for them. Eleven of those thirteen future major leaguers were pitchers, many of whom would go on to have successful careers in the big leagues.

 

Baltimore, the eventual 1973 champion, featured a stellar staff of arms including Paul Hartzell, Joe Kerrigan, and Chuck Porter. Hartzell posted terrific numbers throwing 18 innings, picking up two wins and finishing with a 0.50 era. Hartzell mowed down hitters striking out eighteen batters and walking only three. Following his 1973 MVP appearance in Johnstown, Hartzell was drafted by the California Angels in the tenth round of the 1975 draft. Amazingly, Paul made his major league debut the following season on April 10, 1976 and eventually finished his career in 1984 with the Milwaukee Brewers.

 

As good as Hartzell was in 1973, teammates Joe Kerrigan and Chuck Porter also posted impressive numbers including a combined no-hitter. Kerrigan and Porter teamed up to defeat Newark, Ohio 20-0 in one of the rare no-run, no-hit games ever pitched in tournament play. Kerrigan finished with a 2-1 record and 0.00 era. Chuck Porter pitched four innings in the tournament striking out four and walking none with a 0.00 era as well. Both Kerrigan and Porter were subsequently drafted in 1974 and 1976. Kerrigan spent four years in the major leagues with the Montreal Expos and the Baltimore Orioles. Porter spent five seasons with the Milwaukee Brewers.  

 

Baltimore’s ace staff didn’t end with Hartzell, Kerrigan, and Porter. Teammate Jim DiVenti also made an impressive showing posting a 2-0 record with a .095 era. He appeared in three games and was the championship game starter against Birmingham. DiVenti hurled eight masterful innings and lead the Johnny’s to their sixth national title. DiVenti was a first round draft pick of the Cincinnati Reds in 1974 but would never make it to the major leagues.   

 

Baltimore’s opponent in the title game also had some major league pitching talent of their own. Birmingham teammates Joe Beckwith and Terry Leach both spent many years in the major leagues during the 1980’s. Beckwith, a second round pick of the Dodgers in 1977, spent eight years in the big leagues. Sidearm slinger Terry Leach spent thirteen years in the big leagues with the Mets, Twins and White Sox compiling a 38-27 record. Although Leach was a standout pitcher, it was his bat that he is probably most well known for in the 1973 AAABA. With Milford and Birmingham facing elimination on day three of the tournament, the two teams would square off in a noon contest at the Point Stadium. In a twelve inning thriller, relief pitcher Leach popped the game-winning home run over the legendary left field screen. That game winning homer came off legendary pitcher Mark “The Bird” Fidrych. The extra inning loss to Birmingham was the only game Fidrych would appear in during the 1973 tournament. His Milford team went 1-2, winning their opener against Washington but then losing to New York and Birmingham. Fidrych pitched the complete 12 inning game striking out three and walking three.

 

Following his AAABA appearance, Fidrych was drafted by the Detroit Tigers in the tenth round of the 1974 draft. The curly-haired right-hander was the talk of baseball when he debuted in 1976. He won the American League Rookie of the Year going 19-9 with a 2.34 ERA and 24 complete games. He was also honored in his rookie season by being named the starting pitcher in the All Star Game. He spent all five of his major league seasons with the Detroit Tigers, compiling a 29-19 record and a 3.10 ERA. Significant knee and shoulder injuries would limit his career to only 58 games and he was forced to retire in1983. Fidrych acquired the nickname “the Bird” because of his resemblance to the Big Bird character on Sesame Street. During games, he would bend down and groom the mound with his hands, talk to the baseball and slap five with teammates in the middle of the diamond.

 

The always powerful Detroit Adray franchise also featured a trio of future major league pitchers Bob Owchinko, Andy Replogle and Dan O’Brien. In 1973 Owchinko threw nine innings going 1-0 with a 0.00 era and striking out fifteen batters. Replogle logged 17 innings finishing with a 1-1 record and 1.59 era. In one of the top pitching duels in AAABA history, Replogle and Detroit faced off against powerhouse Baltimore in the 1973 semifinal. Tournament MVP Paul Hartzell threw a complete game for the Baltimore Johnnys giving up only four hits and retiring 19 consecutive batters at one point. Although Replogle pitched brilliantly, the Johnnys pushed one run across the plate in the sixth inning with two outs. The game ended 1-0 sending Detroit home and Baltimore to the title game. 

 

Replogle was selected in the 1975 draft and played two seasons with the Milwaukee Brewers. Owchinko was the 5th overall pick in the 1976 draft and spent ten seasons in the big leagues from 1976 to 1986. Dan O’Brien was also selected in the 1976 draft and spent the 1978 and 79 seasons with the St. Louis Cardinals. O’Brien made a strong showing in the 1973 tourney as well throwing 14 innings with 15 strikeouts and a 2-0 record. 

 

Two other prominent pitchers in the 1973 tournament were Duane Theiss of Zanesville and Dave Geisel of Buffalo. Theiss was a tournament standout going 2-0 with a 1.00 era and he also contributed at the plate batting .500 (4 for 8) with an RBI. Theiss’ performance may be most impressive of all considering that he did not have the talent surrounding him of a Detroit or Baltimore. In 1975 he was selected in the 12th round of the draft and would spend two seasons with the Atlanta Braves (1977-78). Buffalo’s Dave Geisel also had a fine performance in the tournament going 1-0 with a 1.17 era. Geisel entered the 1973 tournament having already been selected in the 5th round of the draft by the Chicago Cubs. He would sign his professional contract two days after the tournament ended on August 24, 1973. Geisel spent eight seasons as a relief pitcher in the major leagues with the Cubs, Blue Jays, and Mariners. Interestingly enough, Geisel was born in Windber, PA in 1955 just a few miles away from Johnstown.  

 

While the AAABA will undoubtedly continue to produce major league talent there is no question that 1973 will go down as one of the most talented crops of pitchers to ever compete in the tournament.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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