Catching Up With former Oriole Tom Phoebus
Each Tuesday in the Toy Department, veteran Sun sportswriter Mike Klingaman tracks down a former local sports figure and lets you know what's going on in his/her life in a segment called "Catching Up With . . ." Let Klingaman know who you'd like him to find and click here to check out previous editions of "Catching Up With ..."
He was short and squat, with a single eyebrow that rolled across his forehead like thunderclouds approaching. Don’t mess with me, his visage said. His right arm backed that up.
Forty-one years ago, Tom Phoebus spun a no-hitter for the Orioles, a 6-0 victory over Boston on a cool, wet afternoon at Memorial Stadium. When Phoebus fanned Joe Foy for the final out, the crowd of 14,000 was fit to bust.
The hero was one of their own.
Born and raised in Baltimore, Phoebus was the Oriole next door. His effort on April 27, 1968 evoked a sense of local pride for the hard-throwing pitcher from Mount St. Joseph who’d grown up playing stickball on the streets of Hampden.
"What a great thrill it was to throw a no-hitter in my hometown," said Phoebus, now 67 and a resident of Palm City, Fla. "My dream was to play for the Orioles. As kids (in the 1950s) we would go to games, sit in the bleachers for 50 cents and ride the right fielder of the opposing team."
Phoebus signed with the club out of high school and spent six years in the minors before getting his chance late in 1966. He pitched back-to-back shutouts, tying a big-league record and helping the Orioles win the American League flag.
The following year, Phoebus went 14-9, fired three straight shutouts and won the AL Rookie Pitcher of the Year award.
Then came 1968 and his big moment. He throttled the defending AL champion Red Sox – Hall of Famer Carl Yastrzemski, Reggie Smith et al – in a game that was delayed 83 minutes by rain.
Phoebus struck out nine, walked three and allowed one hard-hit ball, Rico Petrocelli’s sinking line drive over third base in the eighth inning.
"Brooks (Robinson) dove to his right and caught it, shoelace-high," Phoebus recalled. "It all happened so quick. He (Petrocelli) hit it to the right guy. Brooks saved a lot of games for a lot of pitchers."
The no-hitter earned Phoebus a $1,000 bonus, but he convinced the Orioles to incorporate the dough into his $18,000 salary instead "so that I’d get the money every year."
He stayed with the Orioles through 1970, defeating Cincinnati in relief in Game 2 of the World Series. The championship ring, he keeps in his jewelry box. Phoebus was then sent to San Diego for pitcher Pat Dobson, who would win 20 games for the 1971 AL champs.
Crestfallen, Phoebus toiled on for several years until, at 33, he quit baseball. He sold liquor for awhile, then worked in a Tropicana factory in Florida before entering college at age 39 to become a teacher. He spent nearly two decades as a physical education instructor in a Port St, Lucie grade school before retiring six years ago.
Divorced and the father of two, he regularly plays golf and works out, often walking 25 miles a week.
"I’ve dropped 40 pounds," said Phoebus, who stands 5 feet 8 and weighs 196. "My problem is that, having grown up in an Italian neighborhood, I like all the wrong foods."
Otherwise, life is good for the man who won 50 games for Baltimore, where he pitched to an earned run average of 3.06.
The years have taken the oomph from his fastball.
"Sorry, but I can’t crank it up to 94 (MPH) anymore," Phoebus said.
And the eyebrows?
"They’re turning gray and falling out."
E-mail Mike Klingaman at firstname.lastname@example.org if you'd like to suggest a former local sports figure for "Catching Up With."