Tom Sturdivant was born on April 18, 1930 in Gordon, Kansas. He was signed out of Oklahoma City’s Capitol Hill High School by the New York Yankees on May 24, 1948.
Tom was placed with the Quincy (Illinois) Gems in the Class-B Three-I League, where he played third base and hit .338. The Yankees moved him to Norfolk, where they had a need. The Norfolk Tars were also a Class-B team (in the Piedmont League).
In 1949, he returned to Quincy and played in 109 games, batting .255. He played again at Quincy in 1950, and there he also pitched in at least a couple of games.
In 1951, he was one of a couple of dozen Yankees prospects brought — as an infielder — to Arizona for early schooling. As it happens, he was called to military service and saw no professional baseball in 1951. He spent 1951 and much of 1952 in the US Army. While there, he decided that if he was going to fashion a baseball career, for himself, he would have to turn to pitching.
He was discharged from the Army in time to get into 17 games for the Texas League’s Beaumont Roughnecks in 1952. Beaumont was Double-A baseball, and so were the Birmingham Barons (Southern Association), where he pitched a full season in 1953. He was advanced to Triple A in 1954, pitching for the Kansas City Blues.
In 1955, he did indeed make the Yankees out of spring training. In 1956, he both started and relieved, with considerable success. He had batted .313 in 1956, leading all major-league pitchers in hitting.
In 1957, he had an even better regular season, leading the league in winning percentage (16-6, .727). He was a holdout in spring training 1958, but seemed to have finally signed on the last day of February. During the offseason, he worked for an oil company in Oklahoma City. He was a holdout again in the spring of 1959, but came around at the last minute. In May, he was traded to the Kansas City Athletics.
On December 1959, the Boston Red Sox traded catcher Pete Daley to the Athletics for Tom. When the Red Sox gathered at Scottsdale for spring training, it was said that he looked to be the best-conditioned player in camp. He pitched very well during the exhibition season, so well that he was named the starting pitcher for Opening Day in Washington. By season’s end, he had started three games, and relieved in 37, eating up innings. His record was 3-3 with a 4.97 ERA.
After the season, the Senators franchise became the Minnesota Twins. A new Senators franchise was founded and in the December 1960, expansion draft and Tom was taken by Washington, the 16th overall pick. In June he was dealt to the Pittsburgh Pirates organization with his contract sold to their affiliate, the Columbus Jets. In 1962, he had a solid year with the Pirates and the knuckleball did become his “money pitch.”
The Detroit Tigers had themselves gotten off to a very slow start as a team in 1963 and hoping to improve their pitching staff, they acquired Tomfrom the Pirates in May. After reporting to the Tigers, he had his contract sold (via waivers) to the Kansas City Athletics in July. He began the 1964 season with the Athletics, but was released in May. One week later, he signed as a free agent with the New York Mets. His last game was on June 21st. Two days later, the Mets put him on waivers for the purpose of giving him his unconditional release.
Even before the season began, Tom had decided he would like to try his hand at politics, to run as a Republican candidate for the Oklahoma State Senate. In July, perhaps reflecting an attempt to build up local support, he signed on with the Oklahoma 89ers, the Triple-A affiliate of the Houston Colt .45s. There were three prominent sports figures all running for political office in Oklahoma — Sturdivant, Allie Reynolds, and football coach Bud Wilkinson, but come the election in November, not one of them was elected.
After retiring as a player, he went into the freight and truck leasing business, but kept up some associations with the game. He worked for RR Trucking, and later became an executive with Rollins Trucking Company in Oklahoma City. He was also active civically, on the boards of both Metro Technology Centers and the Integris Hospice of Oklahoma City.
In 2000, while traveling in Texas, Tom suffered serious misfortune. He had a really bad car accident, and wasn’t the same afterward. He rolled a pickup five times and after being hospitalized in Texas for a few weeks, he was brought back to Oklahoma and underwent a couple of surgeries.
On Valentine’s Day 2009, his wife woke and found him on the floor. He had suffered some form of seizure and was rushed to the hospital where, having never woken up.
Tom Sturdivant died two weeks later at Oklahoma City’s Integris Southwest Medical Center on February 28, 2009. He was 78 years old.