Saturday, February 15, 2014

Andy Messersmith (#296)

Here is Andy Messersmith's rookie card. He had a 12-year career as a starting pitcher for the Angels, Dodgers, and others, but may be best remembered as one of the players who finally broke through to free agency.

Messersmith was drafted by the Tigers in 1965, but did not sign. He was the Angels’ #1 pick in the 1966 draft, and played 2 ½ seasons in the minors. Andy pitched for the Angels’ AAA team in Seattle in 1966 and the first half of 1968, and with double-A El Paso in 1967.

He made his major-league debut at age 22 on July 4th, 1968. Andy entered the game with 2 outs in the 2nd inning, with the score 9-4 in favor of Detroit, and the Angels already having burned through FOUR PITCHERS before him. He pitched 5.1 innings in his debut, with the final score showing Tigers 13, Angels 10.

Messersmith didn’t join the starting rotation until September, and started his last 5 games in his rookie season. In 1969, he was a swing man in April, then permanently joined the rotation on May 9th. He finished with a 16-11 record in his first full season, but also led the AL with 16 wild pitches.

After an off-year in 1970, Andy compiled a 20-13 record in 1971, and made his first of four all-star squads (his only one as an Angel). Messersmith played one more season with the Angels, then was traded to the Dodgers (with 3rd baseman Ken McMullen) for outfielder Frank Robinson, pitcher Bill Singer, infielders Bobby Valentine and Billy Grabarkewitz, and pitcher Mike Strahler.

Andy had 3 good seasons in LA, including 20-6 in 1974 (leading the NL in wins) and 19-14 in 1975 (leading the league with 321 innings pitched and 7 shutouts). He also won Gold Glove awards and made the all-star team in ’74 and ’75.

In March 1976, he and pitcher Dave McNally were granted free agency in a landmark case which eliminated baseball’s reserve clause, one year after Catfish Hunter became the first free agent.

Andy signed with the Atlanta Braves, and after wearing #47 with the Angels and Dodgers, he was given #17 with the Braves. In place of his last name, the word “CHANNEL” appeared on his back (because Braves’ owner Ted Turner’s WTBS superstation was carried on channel 17 in Atlanta).

Messersmith had an ok season in 1976 (11-11, and an all-star berth), and an off-year in 1977 (5-4, 4.40 ERA). The Braves sold him to the Yankees in December 1977, but Andy missed all but 22 innings of the 1978 season due to injuries. Following his release, he was signed by the Dodgers but pitched only 11 games (the last on June 1st) before the Dodgers released him in August.

Messersmith’s career ERA of 2.86 is the 5th lowest since 1920, behind Hoyt Wilhelm, Whitey Ford, Sandy Koufax, and Jim Palmer.

After retirement, Andy coached college baseball.


Jeff said...

Didn't know about his stints as coach at Cabrillo College. Thanks for the info.

Douglas said...

I didn't know about the channel thing. That's up there with Charlie Finnely asking Vida Blue to change his first name to True.

Jim from Downingtown said...


I think the commissioner put the kibosh on it after awhile.