Catching Up With: Bob Turley
Each week in the Toy Department, veteran Sun sports writer Mike Klingaman will track down a former local sports figure and let you know what's going on in his/her life in a segment called "Catching Up With..." Let him know who you'd like him to find.
Fifty-five years later, Bob Turley remembers the first big-league baseball game ever played at Memorial Stadium. Why not? He won it.
Sun photo by Leroy Merriken. From left, Vern Stephens, Bob Turley and Clint Courtney. Stephens and Courtney both hit home runs in the Orioles' 3-1 victory over the White Sox on Opening Day on April 15, 1954.
Turley, a hefty, hard-throwing young right-hander, pitched the Orioles to a 3-1 victory over the Chicago White Sox, juicing the crowd of 46,354 that turned out on a gray, drizzly day to welcome Baltimore back to the majors.
The Orioles would lose 100 games that year but on April 15, 1954 they were baseball’s darlings.
"I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous going out there," said Turley, now 78. "But I pitched the whole game. Had to. Back then, if you didn’t go nine, they sent you back to the minors."
Four times that day, Turley fanned batters for the third out with runners on base. Twice he struck out Sox cleanup hitter Minnie Minoso who, the Baltimore News Post reported, "swung so viciously he spun around and landed on the seat of his pants."
Turley’s second start was another dilly: a two-hitter against Cleveland in the first major league night game played in Baltimore. He lost his no-hitter – and the game – in the ninth inning on Hall of Famer Larry Doby’s home run.
Afterward, Turley seemed unruffled.
"That pitch got away from me – 350 feet away," he told reporters.
Armed with a fastball clocked at 98 mph, "Bullet Bob" won 14 of 29 games for the seventh-place Orioles and led the American League in both strikeouts and walks. At season’s end, he was dealt to the New York Yankees as part of a 17-player trade, the biggest in baseball history.
The move made a star of Turley, who would win a Cy Young Award and lead the Yanks to three world championships. He joined an insurance firm, made millions and now lives on Marco Island, Fla. where his home overlooks the Gulf of Mexico.
"I do what I feel like doing," said Turley, who made $9,000 as an Oriole. "Got a 34-foot boat that sleeps six. We catch marlin, grouper and snook, a great eating fish."
He got a new hip awhile back and had a heart valve replacement last year.
"I’ve slowed down a bit," he said. ‘I’m not ‘Bullet Bob.’ I’m throwing BBs now."
Though he spent just one of his 12 big-league years in Baltimore, Turley has fond memories of the town that helped launch his career.
"The fans were friendly in every sense of the word," he said. "When my first son was born that season, people gave us a crib and free diapers. They treated us royally."
Later, Turley opened a bowling center in Bel Air and an insurance firm on York Road, where he partnered with Orioles catcher Gus Triandos.
"Truth is, after the trade I lived in Lutherville for another 12 years. I would have crawled to New York to play there, but I wasn’t a big-city kind of person."
At a card-signing show last month, he was approached by Cleveland Hall of Famer Bob Feller, who recalled Turley’s stellar effort against the Indians on that cool April night in Baltimore long ago.
"He (Feller) said, ‘That was the best game I ever saw you pitch,’ " Turley said.
He won a Cadillac in 1954 as the Most Valuable Oriole and was told he would anchor the staff the next year.
"I started working in the off-season at Hecht’s, in sporting goods, signing autographs and greeting people for $200 a week," he said. "One night I was at home feeding the baby his bottle and watching ‘The Tonight Show," when, boom, my picture flashed overtop that of (host) Steve Allen."
BOB TURLEY TRADED TO NEW YORK, the bulletin read.
Stunned, he sat there, child in tow.
Orioles fans reacted swiftly.
"The next morning, when I went out to the car, someone had written ‘Damn Yankee’ on it in the dust," Turley said.
"Nobody from the Orioles ever told me I was traded. To this day, I’m still waiting for that call.