Happy 80th birthday to hard-throwing Bob Veale. The left-hander intimidated plenty of batters during his 13-year career, most of it spent with the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Veale stood 6-feet-inches. He hurled fastballs at about 95 mph. His control? Well, he led the National League in walks four times and issued at least 90 free passes in seven different seasons. Oh, and he wore glasses on the mound because he was near-sighted.
Born Oct. 28, 1935, Veale grew up one of 14 children in Birmingham, Ala. His father had pitched for the Homestead Greys of the Negro National League. A teen-aged Bob spent his summers working the concession stand at Rickwood Field in Birmingham, home to the Barons of the Southern League and the Black Barons of the Negro League.
He graduated from nearby Holy Family High School and played baseball and basketball on scholarship at Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas. Veale signed with Pittsburgh at the age of 22 following a tryout in 1958.
The Pirates didn’t call up Veale to the big leagues until 1962. He was 26 years old. Even then, he only got into 11 games and pitched just 45.2 innings. Control problems had kept the prospect a minor leaguer. In 1960, he walked 118 batters in 172 innings for Columbus, Ohio, of the International League.
Veale split the 1963 season with Pittsburgh and Columbus. He posted a miniscule ERA of 1.04 in 77.2 innings as a Pirate, both as a starter and reliever.
Manager Danny Murtaugh put Veale into the Pittsburgh starting rotation for good in 1964. That season, the 28-year-old posted an 18-12 won-loss record with a 2.74 ERA (128 ERA+). He also led the league in strikeouts (250) and walks (124).
Veale enjoyed another big year in 1965. He went 17-12 with a 2.84 ERA (123 ERA+). He topped the league in walks again (119), but he struck out 276 batters. That figure only made him runner-up, though. Another lefty, Sandy Koufax, fanned 382 batters for the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Over the next several seasons, Veale continued his fine pitching. He struck out more than 200 hitters again in 1966 (229) and 1969 (213). He made the N.L. All-Star team in 1965 and ’66 and finished with a 2.05 ERA over 245.1 innings in 1968, the fabled Year of the Pitcher.
Veale gained a reputation for being a gentle giant. Despite his control problems, “he didn’t want to hurt anybody,” teammate Gene Clines said. Even so, Veale was tough on the mound. He once pitched through two rain delays and struck out 16 Philadelphia Phillies. Another time, he tossed a 10-inning one-hitter and struck out 12. In the 10th, six stiches on his injured foot broke open.
Veale’s run of success began to fade in 1970. He still struck out 178 batters in 202 innings, but he posted just a 3.92 ERA (99 ERA+) to go with a 10-15 won-loss mark. The following year, Veale went 6-0 but with a sky-high 6.99 ERA (50 ERA+). Even so, Pittsburgh won the World Series that year, beating the Baltimore Orioles. (Veale gave up one run in .2 innings of work.)
The Pirates dealt Veale to the Boston Red Sox during the 1972 campaign. A reliever at that point, he enjoyed a few decent years in New England. He retired after the 1974 season. His final won-loss mark stood at 120-95. Veale finished with a 3.07 ERA and struck out 1,703 in 1,926 innings.
Veale did some coaching for several seasons. He also consulted on the baseball scenes in Cobb, the 1994 Ty Cobb biopic starring Tommy Lee Jones. Finally, many credit Veale, not Yogi Berra, for the great line, “Good pitching can stop good hitting every time … and vice versa.” Supposedly, a writer asked Veale about that. “Are you the guy who first said, ‘Good pitching can …’”, the writer asked. Veale interrupted him. “Yes, I am.”