Dave Baldwin played professional baseball from 1959 to 1974, primarily as a relief pitcher. He pitched with the Washington Senators from 1966-1969, the Milwaukee Brewers in 1970, and 3 games with the Chicago White Sox in 1973. He compiled a 6-11 record with a 3.08 ERA in 176 games, earning 22 saves.
Since retiring from baseball, Baldwin earned a Ph.D in genetics and a Masters in systems engineering. He has also authored a memoir (Snake Jazz) and is also a renowned poet. Despite his varied interests, Baldwin still maintains a passion for baseball and recently shared some of that with me.
Below are the results of a couple of letters and emails I exchanged with Mr. Baldwin this past year, exploring his career, what he has done since baseball, and his thoughts on a number of interesting topics.
How did you first become interested in baseball?: I grew up in the desert near Tucson in the 1940s and 50s. Baseball was the most popular sport in those days. The Cleveland Indians took spring training in Tucson each year, and I went to the ballpark to watch them every chance I had. My parents even let me skip school so I could go to some of the games. In those days the Indians had one of the greatest pitching staffs ever -- Bob Feller, Bob Lemon, Early Wynn, Satchel Paige, Mike Garcia, Hal Newhouser, etc. Plenty of Hall of Famers and 20-game winners. I learned to pitch by mimicking them.
What pitches did you throw?: I started out throwing overhand, but injured my arm throwing a curve in my sophomore year at the University of Arizona. Until that pitch I had the usual repertoire of pitches -- fastball, curve, change up. I couldn't throw a curve anymore, so I tried for years to get by with just a fastball and a change. It didn't work well. Finally, at the age of 27 I converted to pitching sidearm and submarine. This gave me a whole new set of angles for the ball's spin axis. It's this angle that determines the direction of the ball's deflection. With this lower arm angle I threw a sidearm curve and fastball (sinker), a submarine cut fastball (up and in to left-handed hitters), and a screwball from both sidearm and submarine deliveries.
Did you have a favorite catcher?: Jim French and Doug Camilli of the Senators were very smart and knew all the tricks for helping a pitcher. They were the best I ever pitched to.
Do you remember who first told you that you were going to the Major Leagues?: It was my manager at Hawaii,, George Case. He told me this just outside of our hotel in Tacoma.
Who was your favorite coach or manager?: In the majors it would be a toss up between Gil Hodges and Chuck Tanner. In the minors it would be George Case.
What veterans toll you under their wing when you joined the Major Leagues?: I was 28 and older than many of the “veterans” so nobody took me under their wing. When I first started playing pro ball Curt Simmons gave me a lot of valuable advice.
Who was the toughest hitter for you to face? The hitter you knew you could dominate?: The best hitter I ever faced (the one who worried me the most) was Frank Robinson. Surprisingly enough, I did very well against him -- he was 2 for 14 against me. The hitter who beat me up the worst was Ted Uhlaender, who is on no other pitcher's "toughest hitter" list. Another tough hitter for me was Rod Carew, but that's no surprise. I felt comfortable pitching against most right-handed batters, but I wouldn't say that I felt I dominated anyone.
Did you have a favorite stadium or city to play in?: I liked pitching in the old Tigers' Stadium in Detroit. Also, I liked the ballparks in Chicago (Comiskey), Anaheim, and Boston. Sick's Stadium, the temporary home of the temporary Seattle Pilots, was easily the worst major league ballpark I pitched in.
What made you decide to retire from baseball?: Baseball decided I should retire. Actually, I was pitching the best of my career in 1973 at the age of 34, but I was pitching in AAA ball and that doesn't really count for anything. I was given the 37 days I needed for a pension by the White Sox at the end of '73, and that was pretty much the end of my career. I came back and pitched a little in May of '74 to help out a team in the American Association and I pitched a few games for Hawaii in July because they lost a couple of pitchers to injuries. Then I settled down and became a full-time student, working on my doctorate in genetics.
What is your favorite hobby?: I enjoy writing (poetry and prose) and do it every day. Also I hike a great deal (I have mountains and a huge national forest park in back of my house).
Who was your favorite player growing up?: Walter Johnson has always been my role model. An interesting coincidence is that we both pitched for the Senators. We were both side-armers but that’s where the similarities end.
How did you come to have Walter Johnson as an idol?: I read a lot about him. I didn't see film of him pitching until I was out of baseball -- it was only then that I learned that he was a sidearm pitcher. It hadn't been mentioned in any of the literature I had read. Johnson seems to have been an excellent role model for a young ballplayer.
Did you ever collect baseball cards or autographs? How many autograph requests do you receive in a typical month?: I never collected baseball cards or autographs. In fact, Ted Williams gave each member of his 1969 team a copy of his book, "My Turn at Bat," but it didn't occur to me to have him autograph it. I receive an average of about three autograph requests a week. Mostly, Topps cards, but eventually all of those will be autographed.
Do you follow baseball now? If so, what are your thoughts on the modern game?: I don't pay any attention to baseball now, except for my collaborations on studying the science of baseball. I'm disappointed that money has become so important in the modern game, but that's just the way of the world. I'm glad I played baseball when I did.