For baseball players who get only a handful of games or less at the major league level, it must be terribly frustrating to wonder about the what ifs. Reaching the pinnacle of professional baseball for a few fleeting moments before it goes away forever is the ultimate in mixed emotions. Bill Whitby got to experience such feelings first-hand, as he made it to the big leagues during his 10 year professional career. Those 4 games are ones he will never forget.
Whitby was a right-handed pitcher who came out of Virginia as a high school phenom. He was signed by the Minnesota Twins before he turned 18 in 1961 and promptly assigned to the low levels of the minors. He started out slowly, but gradually became a consistent, but unspectacular starter. By 1964 he had made it all the way to Charlotte in the Southern League, where he had 11 wins and a 3.38 ERA. Having proven his ability, the Twins, in just their fourth year from having been the Washington Senators, called Whitby up to fill a temporarily opening on their roster.
Whitby debuted on June 17, 1964, pitching the final 1.1 innings of a 5-0 loss to the Cleveland Indians. He contributed to the miserable tone of the game for Minnesota, allowing a home run to winning pitcher Pedro Ramos. His next appearance turned out to be his best. On June 21st he pitched 1.2 perfect innings in a 4-2 loss to the Detroit Tigers. His performance included retiring Norm Cash (double play), Al Kaline, Bill Freehan, and Don Demeter in order.
The brief major league experience for Whitby quickly came to an end. On June 24th and 25th he made consecutive relief appearances against the Cleveland Indians, struggling in both outings, giving up home runs to Al Smith and Larry Brown. Having given up 3 home runs in his 4 games, he was demoted back to Charlotte and never made it back to the majors again.
The failure of Whitby to get back to the majors was not for a lack of effort. He continued pitching in the Minnesota system until 1969. He posted double digits in wins each season from 1965-67, but was seen as more of a 4-A guy and was bypassed for promotions in favor of other pitching prospects. He pitched briefly in the St. Louis and Washington systems before finally calling it a career following the 1970 season.
In his 4 major league games Whitby allowed 8 hits, a walk, and 6 runs in 6.1 innings, for an 8.53 ERA. During his 10 seasons in the minors he appeared in 252 games, with 203 being starts. He had a 74-89 record and a 3.92 ERA. More information about his career statistics is available at http://www.baseball-reference.com/players/w/whitbbi01.shtml.
Whitby was good enough to earn a taste of the major leagues, but didn’t have the results to impress his way into a lengthier stay. His story is a common one, but frustrating nonetheless. He worked for 10 years to get to the major leagues and got 4 games out of the effort. However, that is better than what the majority of players who have been in position can say.
Bill Whitby Questionnaire:
Who was your favorite coach or manager?: Johnny Sain, pitching coach.
What was the strangest play you ever saw during his career?: Saw a pitcher pick up a win without making a pitch.
How much competition was there for roster spots during spring training?: A lot because there would be only one or two spots open.
If you could do anything differently about your career, what would that be?: I don’t know if I would do anything different.
You can follow me on Facebook by going to http://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Baseball-Historian/138174109591660 or follow me on Twitter @historianandrew