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Thursday, April 26, 2012

Paul Hartzell: Tales of a Pitcher

At 6’5 and 200 pounds, right-handed Paul Hartzell personified a classically built pitcher. He was chosen by the California Angels in the 10th round of the 1975 MLB draft after having attended Lehigh University. The Angels were helmed at the time by future Hall of Fame manager Dick Williams and pitchers Frank Tanana and Nolan Ryan, but still lacked the talent depth to be serious contenders. Hartzell was a player counted on to help fill that void; to the point that he was in the majors less than a year after being drafted.

After signing in 1975 Hartzell was assigned to Quad Cities in the Midwest League. He was dominant during his first professional season, posting a 1.37 ERA and 5 saves in 24 games (1 start), allowing just 28 hits in 46 innings. He was considered so polished and major league ready that he broke camp with the Angels in 1976 and began his major league career.

Hartzell was impressive as a rookie, providing the pitching staff with much needed versatility. He appeared in 37 games, including 15 starts, and went 7-4 with a 2.77 ERA. He had 2 shutouts and 2 saves, despite lacking a strikeout pitch; punching out just 51 batters in 166 innings.

Despite his impressive rookie campaign, Hartzell was kept as California’s swing man over the next couple of years, starting and relieving as needed. Just before spring training began in 1979, he was part of a multi-player trade that sent him to the Minnesota Twins in exchange for Rod Carew. The Twins installed Hartzell as a fulltime starter, but he was unable to establish himself and was released at the end of the season.

Over the next few seasons Hartzell bounced around between the Twins, Orioles and Brewers, before finally retiring following the 1984 season. During his 6 year major league career he had a 27-39 record and 3.90 ERA. More information on his career statistics is available at http://www.baseball-reference.com/players/h/hartzpa01.shtml.

Since leaving baseball Hartzell became a successful business man but still looks back on his playing career fondly. I was able to get a hold of him to find out a little more about his time in baseball, so check out what he had to say!

Paul Hartzell Interview:

Who were your favorite team and player when you were growing up, and why?: Bob Gibson was my favorite player. He was a great pitcher and I was intent on watching him from about 1965 to the end of his career. He also played basketball, which inspired me to play in college too. But, I knew that he was really a baseball player at heart, and so was I.

I never really had a favorite team. I lived about five hours from three major league cities - Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and New York. My father worked on Saturdays and there was no way he was going to drive ten hours, plus three more for the game on the only day he got to rest. So, as hard as this may be to believe, the third major league game I ever saw, I was in uniform for opening day my rookie year, 1976.

What was your draft experience like, and how did you first know the Angels were interested in drafting you?: Walter Youse was the manager of the amateur team I played for in Baltimore in 1973 after my sophomore year at Lehigh. Walter became a scouting supervisor for the Angels in 1975 and I was his second draft pick with the Angels. Willie Mays Aikens was the first. Willie had his problems in later life, but Walter picked two guys who got to the big leagues pretty quickly in his first two drafts for the Angels.

Do you wish the Angels had given you a little more time in the minors before bringing you up to the major leagues?: No, I was ready to pitch in the majors. I was 22 years old and I had pitched more than 300 innings in summer baseball against the best college players in the country in 1973 and 1974, and then dominated in A-ball and Instructional League. I knew how to pitch. But, what was hard on my body was switching from relieving to starting and back and forth. I think that contributed to my injuries starting in 1979, which effectively ended my career.

You played for two Hall of Fame managers in Dick Williams and Earl Weaver. Which one was the most intense?: Don't forget Gene Mauch with the Twins! Three very intense men. I don't think I could pick one being more intense than the other, nor could I pick which one ran the best game strategy. What I do know is that Dick Williams gave a 22 year old kid from Lehigh University the chance to pitch in the major leagues, and the chance for my father to see me pitch twice before he passed away in 1976. I thanked Dick for that every time I saw him for the rest of his life and will always remember Dick fondly for that reason. I grew up in a pretty hardscrabble place in Pennsylvania, so "intense" coaching didn't bother me - I'd had them since Little League.

What was your favorite moment from your playing career?: Winning two games in one day is right up there, in 1977, and during that weekend I pitched in four games in less than 48 hours, all against the Texas Rangers. I'm pretty proud of that. Beating Baltimore twice in 1979 (the only pitcher to do that in 1979) is memorable too. Finally, I pitched a 10 inning complete game in 1979 against the White Sox, while pitching for the Twins. Not many guys go 10 these days!

Who was the toughest hitter you ever faced?: George Brett and it's not even close! Best of the best. Chris Chambliss was a great player, and if I had to pick one man to build a team around, it's Eddie Murray. I was on the way down and out when I played for the Orioles, but Eddie was always very nice to me and I have a great deal of respect for him as a man and a player. For the last month of the 1980 season, he carried the team on his shoulders like no person I have ever seen.

What pitches were in your repertoire?: Sinking (two-seam) fastball and a slider in the big leagues. Jim Sundberg, who caught my last game in professional baseball while with Milwaukee, said I was the only guy he ever saw who had a lot of success with one pitch. He's pretty close to correct. My slider was much better until a pitching coach with the Angels decided I needed to learn to throw a bigger curve. My curve was poor and I lost the release point on the slider and never really found it again. Such is life!

If you could do anything differently about your playing career, what would that be?: Not much! I enjoyed it and I look back on it with fond memories. I've had great success in business and baseball helped prepare me for the wins and losses of life. I remember teammates as great people who made me laugh and I remember the games as great tests of human nature and endurance. Nothing but good thoughts!

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