“FENWAY'S BEST PLAYERS”


 
1961-1962
DON SCHWALL

To America’s baseball public, Don Schwall is remembered as the 1961 American League Rookie of the Year, a 6-foot-6 inch, 200-pound Boston Red Sox right-hander who brought rare pitching skill to the age’s Olde Towne Team. The former University of Oklahoma basketball center, who once outscored Wilt Chamberlain, witnessed some of baseball’s greatest 1960s stars, trends, and sites.

He was born in Pennsylvania on March 2, 1936, in Wilkes-Barre, a coal-mining area 112 miles north of Philadelphia and 128 miles west of New York City.

Schwall’s father, Herman, a coal miner, was one of ten brothers. In World War II, almost all of his family moved to Michigan to build B-24 bombers. Don played baseball, basketball, and football at Ypsilanti High School. His hoops earned a University of Oklahoma scholarship, where the All-Big Eight 1956-57 star led the Sooners over Chamberlain’s Kansas Jayhawks, thrice outscoring and out-rebounding the "Stilt" and averaging 15.1 points a game. Still, Don loved baseball, and as a Sooner varsity pitcher Schwall threw little, but quickly when he did.

One day in 1955 the freshman Schwall left basketball practice for the Oklahoma baseball field. In the stands sat Red Sox scout Wog Rice. Picking up a baseball, Don threw strike after strike. Rice later introduced himself. In summer 1957, Schwall pitched in the Basin League, an amateur league in South Dakota. Mentally, Don was retrieving the pastime of his childhood.

Pining to keep him, Sooner basketball coach Doyle Parrack tried, among other things, to hide Schwall from baseball scouts on a late 1957 basketball trip out West. It didn’t work. Rice signed Schwall for a $65,000 bonus which included his first five years of minor-league salary. At 22, the young man in a hurry joined the Red Sox system in 1958.

That year the rookie went 7-5 for Class D Midwest League Waterloo, Iowa. In 1959, promoted to the Class D Sophomore League club in Alpine, Texas, Schwall finished 23-6, with 199 strikeouts. Joining the 1960 American Association Triple-A Minneapolis Millers, Don was 16-9 with a 3.59 earned run average. Teammate Carl Yastrzemski hit .339 to win the batting title.  Yaz signed for a $100,000 bonus. In 1960, Boston played an exhibition against Minneapolis.

In 1961, Schwall felt pressure, promoted on May 16th from Seattle of the Pacific Coast League, Boston’s other Triple-A affiliate. Schwall was then 3-1 in the PCL. Schwall debuted May 21st, winning the second game of a doubleheader against the White Sox. He next beat Baltimore twice, including a shutout, then Kansas City and Minnesota in June. On July 13th, Schwall’s record was 8-2. Fifteen days later he was 11-2, and made the American League All Star team.

On July 31st Schwall threw the maximum three innings allowed in a Mid-Summer Classic, before 31,851 at Fenway – one of the few players to start a season in the minors and that same year, make a big-league All-Star team. Jim Bunning and closer Camilo Pascual pitched innings one-three and seven-nine, respectively, holding the N.L. hitless. Schwall yielded five hits and the only run in the middle three, at the time calling his strikeout of Stan Musial. The game was postponed by rain at the end of the ninth inning in a tie.

Schwall, only 25, took the United Press International A.L. Rookie of the Year Award, and won the Baseball Writers Association A.L. Rookie of the Year Award, getting seven of the latter’s 20 votes to Kansas City shortstop Dick Howser’s six. Schwall finished 15-7, completed 10 of 25 starts, had two shutouts, yielded 167 hits in 178 2/3 innings, walked 110, fanned just 91, and had a 3.22 earned run average. He allowed only eight home runs, including five at Fenway, where his ERA was 2.72.

Don’s rookie season ended on an historic, if not pleasant, note. On September 23, 1961, in his first at-bat of the day against Schwall, Mickey Mantle hit his 54th and final home run of the year.

In 1962, Schwall lost on Opening Day, 4-0, to Cleveland. An ancient maxim, the "sophomore slump", seemed to affect the lanky righty. He had developed the bad habit of throwing the ball before his left foot hit the ground and thus wasn’t following through as he normally should. The Sox fell to eighth, attendance to 733,080, and Schwall to 9-15. He had more walks (121) than strikeouts (89), completed only five of 32 starts, and his 4.94 ERA was almost two runs higher than 1961’s. On one hand, he pitched better after the All-Star break.  On the other, the Sox seemed to be going around in circles, and had not shown they grasped how Schwall’s youth and potential made his trade value high.

On November 20, 1962, Schwall and catcher Jim Pagliaroni were dealt to Pittsburgh. In return, the Sox got pitcher Jack Lamabe and slugging first baseman Dick Stuart, who treated fielding, to quote Ring Lardner, like a side dish he declined to order.

After baseball, Schwall began his investment career as a stockbroker. Retiring in 2008, he started a company, Completion Capital Partners, with son Don Jr.