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Gus Triandos

Gus Triandos was famously slow ballplayer. There’s a difference between been a regular old slow ballplayer and a famously slow one. The first might go somewhat unnoticed, especially if he tries hard enough. Raul Ibanez is very slow, he will be the first one to tell you that. But he always runs it out and so people don’t notice it much.

But the famously slow ballplayer — he has nowhere to hide. And that was Gus Triandos.

Triandos could hit with power. Man, could he hit with power. At 17, he hit .323 with 18 homers in just 92 games for Class C Twin Falls. The Yankees were generally unimpressed and put him right back in Class C the next year. He hit .435 with 10 homers in 28 games. You would think that might catch their attention. It really didn’t. After a brief move up, they put him BACK in Class C, where he hit .363 with 11 homers in in 74 games. It was as if the Yankees couldn’t believe someone that heavy-footed could hit baseballs that hard. Bill James has written that if Triandos had been established as a big league catcher at a young age, he might have hit 400 or 500 homers.

The Yankees never did believe — they traded Triandos to Baltimore in a 17-player dump that netted the Yankees Don Larsen and Bob Turley. The Orioles got Gus Triandos and, well, they got Gus Triandos. He immediately became one of the better hitting catchers in baseball. He was a regular in Baltimore for seven or so years, and he posted a 111 OPS+ in that time. He hit as many as 30 home runs (only Rudy York among American League catchers had ever hit more) and he also had seasons of 25 and 21 homers. He played in three straight All-Star games, starting two of them.

In Baltimore, he was beloved. He was a self-effacing man, good natured, who understood his place in the world. Outside of Baltimore, yeah, he was known as a famously slow ballplayer. This was especially apparent in 1959, when (as memorialized in the classic NSFW “Which man would you have sex with so you could sleep with the Olsen twins” scene in “The Wire”) the Orioles decided to make knuckleballer Hoyt Wilhelm a starting pitcher. He started 27 games that year, 11 more the next, and that was it for him as a starter … he started four more games the rest of his career.

So that was fortune of Gus Triandos: To be the starting catcher the year and a half when Hoyt Wilhelm was a starting pitcher. And, it’s quite possible that Wilhelm threw the nastiest knuckleballs in baseball history during that time. He led the American League in 1959 with a 2.19 ERA. He threw 13 complete games. Wilhelm’s second start that year was April 21, 1959 in Fenway Park. Wilhelm and the Orioles won 5-2. Triandos hit two homers.* He also had three passed balls.

*Triandos killed the ball at Fenway Park. He was a classic pull-hitter, who smashed the ball to left field. In his career, he hit 17 homers in 73 games at Fenway.

Five days later, on April 26, Wilhelm threw a complete game at Yankee Stadium. Triandos had four passed balls.

On August 30 of that year, Wilhelm started against the Red Sox. Triandos had four passed balls in the first two innings. He had 28 passed balls total in 1959 (backup catcher Joe Ginsberg had 21 more). Up to that point, passed balls had not been a particular problem for Triandos. He was a big and solid catcher. But after Wilhelm, passed balls haunted him. He led the American League in passed balls three times — one of those years in Detroit after he had left Wilhelm behind.

And really, few things in baseball are more humiliating than a passed ball. It should be the most basic of all things. The snapshot of Triandos was not of the massive home runs he hit, that big wide stance of his, the wicked cut he would take at the ball. Instead it was the image of this big, slow and proud man watching a ball flip of his glove and then lumbering after it as fast as he could. Triandos took it all in stride. He once said that heaven is a place where no one throws knuckleballs.

On this day — the day after Gus Triandos died at the age of 82 — it is worth remembering a different moment, the moment Gus Triandos hit an inside-the-park home run. It happened toward the end of the season in 1957 at old Memorial Stadium in Baltimore. That Orioles team was perfectly mediocre — 76-76, scored nine more runs than they allowed — and actually had TWO Hall of Fame third baseman (George Kell exiting the stage and Brooks Robinson entering).

It was the fifth inning, a scoreless game, and Triandos smashed a vicious line drive to right field — that was classic Triandos. When he hit the ball hard, he hit the ball HARD. He actually was on the old “Home Run Derby” show once — facing Dick Stuart — and I remember it because he ripped three or four line drives that hit the top of the fence and bounced back in. This line drive also whacked off the left field wall, but he hit it so hard that it caromed off shot right past the left fielder, who was completely overwhelmed by the bounce. The left fielder then began chasing after the ball. The left fielder that day was Ted Williams.

While Williams tried to run down the ball, which had rolled a 100 feet away, Triandos chugged around the bases. The ball was hit so hard and rolled so far away from Williams, that Triandos saw the third base coach waving him in.

And that’s a good way to remember Gus Triandos, an Orioles star when there were no Orioles stars. That very same day, the Orioles pitcher was Hal Smith, who, yes, was a knuckleball pitcher. In the ninth inning, Hal Smith threw a knuckleball to Ted Williams and, yes, it got by Gus Triandos. A passed ball. But on that great day it didn’t matter at all. While Ted Williams ran after the ball, Triandos rounded third, headed for home. He scored standing up.

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25 Responses to Gus Triandos

  1. Owen Ranger says:

    Who was slower, Triandos or Lombardi?

    • MCD says:

      By going by the overly simplistic stat of Stolen bases, Triandos was successful in his single career stolen base attempt. Lombardi had 8 SB, but we don’t have caught stealing data for his time period.

      Below are other stats that are available. I have compared the two against Joe’s example of “regular slow” (Ibanez) versus one of Triandos’ slow contemporaries (Smokey Burgess). I chose Burgess as he was both a catcher and his career completely encompassed Triandos. I think the data shows that both Triandos and Lombardi were exceptionally slow, but I think I might five Triandos the “honor” of being slowest.

      Percentage of hits going for triples (ball park can impact this stat)
      .6% Triandos
      1.5% Lombardi
      2.4% Ibanez
      2.5% Burgess

      Percentage of time going 1st to 3rd on single (note: we only have this stat for Lombardi’s last three years, when presumably he was at his slowest)

      17% Triandos
      13% Lombardi
      26% Ibanez
      21% Burgess

      Run Scoring % (Obviously partially affected by how good of hitting a team one is own, also only have this stat for Lombardi’s last three years)
      18% Triandos
      20% Lombardi
      31% Ibanez
      21% Burgess

  2. digitalhaas says:

    Passed balls are only marked when a runner advances, right? Seems to me that the catcher’s importance diminishes greatly when the bases are empty. So why not throw him out as a fifth infielder while there’s no one on base and less than two strikes or three balls?

  3. Eric says:

    From Official Baseball rules: “The CATCHER’S BOX is that area within which the catcher shall stand until the pitcher delivers the ball.” Both members of the battery have specified positions on the field, everybody else can play where they wish.

    • Dinky says:

      Actually, everyone else can play where they wish in fair territory. I recall Keith Hernandez getting dinged once for standing in foul territory while holding on a runner.

  4. ravenjt42 says:

    Triandos was indeed beloved here in Baltimore. He even had the street named after him where he lived in Timonium.

  5. Jim Haas says:

    First major league game I ever saw, August 1957, O’s v. KC. Triandos came in as a pinch hitter. My uncle Vinnie, who lived within walking distance of old Memorial Stadium, liked Triando. That was my introduction to true fandom. Thanks for the memory…

  6. Nick O says:

    400 HRs? Triandos played 140 games at age 24 which is pretty young for a catcher (Piazza broke in at 24, Wieters at 23). He hit 167 HRs. Give him the job at 22 in Coors Field in the 90s and I don’t see how he hits 400. That Bill James has some crazy ideas…

    But I only knew the name Gus Triandos from ‘The Wire,’ and kind of imagined him being a scrub, so thank you for the story!

  7. csb669 says:

    Another great story as always Joe, thanks for sharing!

  8. Jim Loomis says:

    I remember hearing that, on one occasion, Ernie Lombardi hit a ground ball to the 3rd baseman and the defense went around the infield — 3rd to short to 2nd to 1st — and still got Lombardi by a step or two.
    Have you heard that story? And can you verify it?

  9. This post raises a question that has always puzzled me. In 1959, when the Orioles used him as a starting pitcher, Hoyt Wilhelm was great. He led the league in ERA. So why did they stop doing it, and why didn’t any of Wilhelm’s other teams do it either? Does anybody here know?

    • TWolf says:

      I, too, always wondered why the Orioles did not continue to use Wilhelm as a starting pitcher. I believe that it was because Wilhelm was well into his 30’s at the time and the Orioles had a boatload of young starting pitchers either on the team or in the minors. In 1960 the Orioles moved from sixth place to second place and challenged the Yankees until September. They did it because of pitchers (under age 23) who were referred to in the media as the “Kitty Korps”. The names of these pitchers were Milt Pappas, Chuck Estrada, Steve Barber, Jerry Walker, and Jack Fisher.

  10. rcharbon says:

    To whom it may concern – the NBC Joe RSS feed doesn’t appear in the list of feeds, but it exists:

  11. Rob Smith says:

    For whatever reason, this reminded me of an inside the park homerun by Don Mincher that I saw at the old Metropolitan stadium in Minnesota. The fence was like 430 ft. to center. I’m a little fuzz on the details, but he hit it a mile and the outfielders did not handle the ball cleanly and it rolled quite a distance before they picked it up…. and Mincher, a large slow runner, was able to get a stand up inside the park HR. I remember it because I couldn’t fathom that someone like Mincher could hit a triple, much less a standup inside the park homerun. Joe talks about the pitchers era of the 60s…. and it occurs to me that there were a lot of really big parks at the time. Yankee Stadium was like 450 ft to left center. Forbes Field was huge. The Met. Angel Stadium was 393 to the alleys (later moved in), and Dodger Stadium was similar. I believe Kansas City was a big stadium… Detroit was big to center and leftfield. Comiskey was big. Joe, I’m thinking it would be interesting to discuss the park effects from that era.

    • Dinky says:

      Dodger Stadium was fairly deep, but symmetrical. The inside the park homers by slow runners came at asymmetrical parks, where a bad bounce could put the ball really deep. What made Dodger Stadium such a great pitcher’s park before twice being revamped was its enormous foul territory. An awful lot of foul pops that were in the stands elsewhere became easy outs in LA. I recall one time Mike Piazza, not noted for his speed (career 17 SB, 20 CS) scored from second on a wild pitch because he ran hard and the ball had no rebound when it hit the screen. But most of the inside the park home runs I recall at Dodger Stadium (and there weren’t many) were hit by guys with speed like Willie Davis.

  12. Dinky says:

    Joe, you wrote: “It was the fifth inning, a scoreless game, and Triandos smashed a vicious line drive to right field ” but later mention the left field wall and Williams chasing it. I suspect this sentence should have been a vicious drive to left field.

  13. Dave says:

    The kids and I were sitting in the centerfield seats at the Metrodome on a Sunday afternoon when Lew Ford lost track of a routine fly ball in the roof. Prince Fielder galloped around the bases for an inside-the-park homer as seismographs all over the Upper Midwest went off.

  14. Gary says:

    Once on facebook I mentioned to a friend that Ed Herrmann may have been the slowest player in baseball, unaware that he was actually a facebook friend of Herrmann’s. Herrmann took exception to my comment, claiming he wasn’t as slow as people thought. As proof, he said that once in spring training he was in a race with four other players and he came in third, ahead of Smokey Burgess and Wilbur Wood. I thought his story made my point quite well.

  15. Gill Chriss says:

    Very good and detailes information shared on live baseball.It is really nice.

  16. Tom says:

    C’mon Joe, proofread. Either “100 feet away” or “a hundred feet away,” not “a 100 feet away.”

  17. Hal Smith hit the 8th-inning 3-run homer that could have won the 1960 World Series for Pittsburgh. Hal “Skinny” Brown pitched for the Orioles.

  18. Curt says:

    Best inside the park home run I even saw in person was Bo Jackson lining one off the top of the right field wall at Royals Stadium. Man, he was fast. I think he could have gone around the bases twice.

  19. Curt says:

    I “ever” saw in person. Typos!

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  21. Rubel says:

    I enjoy what you guys are usually up too. Such clever work and
    reporting! Keep up the great works guys.

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