[On Monday, White Sox pitching great Joe Horlen passed away unexpectedly, at age 84. As we did a month ago when Pete Ward passed away, we will pay tribute to Horlen in the form of an extensive interview, ca. 2005. Rest in peace, Joe.]
At first glance it would be easy to think “average,” “mediocre,” “journeyman” with 113-113 as Joe Horlen’s lifetime White Sox record, and 116-117 major league record. But was Joe “average?” “Mediocre?” A “Journeyman?” If you said “yes” to any of those questions you’d be wrong, very wrong.
“Average” pitchers don’t have seven straight seasons in double-figure wins. “Mediocre” pitchers don’t have five straight seasons with an ERA of less than three ... three of those five years with an ERA of under 2.50 ... one of those years with a sensational ERA of 1.88.
“Journeyman” pitchers don’t lead the American League is win percentage, shutouts and ERA like Joe did in 1967.
Further, those types of pitchers don’t walk just 554 hitters in more than 2,000 innings of work, with 65 of those of the intentional variety. Oh, did I mention the no-hitter Horlen threw? How about the pair of two-hitters?? Or the seven three-hitters???
Horlen’s problem, like his teammates Tommy John and Gary Peters, was that in his later years with the Sox, particularly 1968-70, the team was so awful that it threw won/loss records out of whack. The other problem was that throughout most of Joe’s years, the Sox didn’t hit very well. Put Horlen on a team like Detroit or Minnesota, and his numbers would have been dramatically different.
Joe Horlen was not your “average” pitcher.
Sports were a part of Joe’s life almost from the beginning, growing up in San Antonio. I spoke with Joe relaxing on a rainy Texas morning. Since retiring from baseball with a World Series ring in 1972 with the Oakland A’s, Horlen spent many seasons working as a pitching coach, mainly for the San Francisco Giants organization. Now Horlen scouts in the San Antonio area for that club, travels a great deal and plays golf almost daily. He is considered one of the best major league players to ever hit the links.
Life is good for this supposedly “mediocre” righthander.
Horlen had a lot to say about his days on the South Side ... from his unusual first game in the pros, to losing a no-hitter and the game within a 10-minute span in 1963, losing out to the Yankees in 1964, the amazing 1967 season ... a year when he should have won the Cy Young and the White Sox should have copped the pennant, only to fall short on both counts. Over 10 years’ worth of memories, all on a rainy Texas morning.
Mark Liptak: Joe, how did you and baseball get intertwined? I’m assuming you played it as a kid, but I also know you played football, didn’t you?
Joe Horlen: Growing up, I played basketball, football and golf. We didn’t have a high school baseball team, but we did have American Legion baseball. My dad was a player in a Sunday beer league. He’d allow my brother and I two sodas a Sunday, while he’d drink a case of beer. I thought about that a lot! [laughing]
That’s where it all started. My brother and I just started throwing the ball around. When I was young, I remember my dad building a pitching mound in the backyard and hanging a tire on a rope by the shed that we had. My mother gave us an old rug and we put it over the tire, and just threw to it all day long. My brother and I played something every day.
My first organized baseball was the YMCA League that we had. I was about 10 or 11 years old. My dad coached it, and he was my coach from that time until I was about 21 years old. When I was 14, I joined the Pony League club that we had. I was on the first team to ever win the National Pony League Championship, which was back in 1952.”
You were at Oklahoma State University when you signed a contract with the Sox. Can you tell me a little about how the Sox scouted you and why you signed with them? Hall of Fame pitcher Ted Lyons was a big part of it, wasn’t he?
I was there for two years, and I know Ted came around to look at all of us. But he didn’t sign me. OSU was in Omaha for the College World Series, and a Sox scout named Jack Sheehan was there. I pitched in a couple of those games, and in the championship game I warmed up three times but never got in. Jack talked with me, and all he asked was that before I signed with anyone that I’d promise that he’d be the last person I talked with. I said OK. Five teams contacted me while we were there. The Reds seemed to really want me.
After we won the tournament, the team had a little party and I didn’t get to see Jack until about 2:30 or 3 in the morning. I knocked on his door, and the first thing he said to me was, “I thought maybe you’d forget your promise.” I said no, and we talked and ate some hamburgers. Jack made me an offer where I’d get a signing bonus, and then for the next five years I’d get a little more money every season. So I signed with the White Sox.”
(Oklahoma State surprised the college baseball world by winning the 1959 championship. OSU beat Arizona, 5-3, in the championship game. They finished the season with a record of 27-5. The Cowboys were 17-3 in the Big Eight Conference and went 5-1 at the College World Series.)
Your pro career started in Lincoln, Neb. later in 1959. You went 1-9 and walked 47 hitters in 91 innings. Obviously, pro ball was a big change from college, wasn’t it?
It certainly was. There were some extenuating circumstances, though, that caused the 1-9 record. In my first game I pitched six innings, then left when I got hit in the arm by a line drive. Four days later I threw a complete game and won, 2-1. Four days after that I pitched another complete game, but lost, 2-1. I had a day off, then came in to pitch three innings. One day later I pitched again and threw 14 innings. I added it up and when it was over, in 13 days I threw 41 innings! My arm wasn’t sore or anything, but it was just dead for the rest of the year!
By 1961, however, you turned it around, going 12-9 with a 2.51 ERA for San Diego when the Sox purchased your contract on Aug. 28, 1961. What was the secret — how did things change for you in such a quick period of time?
After that start in 1959, I was sent to the Florida Instructional League. It had just started, and you were watched better. I was able to get the rest I needed between starts, and I don’t think the pitchers were allowed to throw more than four or five innings.”
Then I went to Charleston, S.C. and had some trouble with my arm. The Sox flew me back to Chicago for tests. It was discovered that I was pinching some nerves in my arm. The doctor gave me some exercises, which I did religiously, and never had any trouble again. From there I went back to the Florida Instructional League in the winter of 1960, where I got more experience.
The Sox then invited me to spring training and I pitched like nine or 10 innings. I did well, even won a game, and started to think maybe I had a chance. Turned out I was the first guy cut and went to San Diego [laughing].
While I was there, my manager, Bob Kuzava, really helped me. (Kuzava pitched for the White Sox in 1949-50 and was in the big leagues from 1946-57.) Until Bob worked with me, I never had a plan for pitching to hitters. He got me to throw strikes and keep the ball low in the strike zone.
The other thing that really helped me was when Herb Score was sent to San Diego to rehab from an injury. (Score pitched for the White Sox from 1960-62. He was in the major leagues starting in 1955.) I was never a real big guy, and I saw how hard Score worked out. I followed him and got a lot stronger. I also did a lot of running.
You made your debut in Minnesota on Sept. 4, 1961 in the second game of a twin bill, and it was a great one, as you got the win in relief against the Twins. (The Sox won, 9-5. Cal McLish got the start). What do you remember about that first game?
I had just turned 24 and was pitching in the major leagues. Nellie Fox came up to me before I faced my first hitter and told me that he liked to hit the ball up the middle, so be ready. Sure enough, he hit a shot right back to me that I was able to glove, and that’s how it started. (The hitter was Zoilo Versalles, future AL MVP. Horlen worked four innings, allowing two hits and no runs.)
I discovered something else that I’m sure didn’t make things any easier for you in that debut. You are one of only a handful of major league players to have made a debut wearing a uniform that had no number on it — not even 0 — and it didn’t have your name on it, either. Just a blank jersey! What was that all about? I have read the Sox simply didn’t have any jerseys made up for you. (The only other major league player that I’ve been able to find that had this happen to him was Cincinnati’s Eric Davis on May 19, 1984.)
I was actually supposed to start the next day’s game. Because of that, the Sox felt they were going to have some time getting a jersey for me. I was sitting in the bullpen wearing my warmup jacket, because I was a little embarrassed and the guys were giving it to me. Then during the middle of the game the phone rings and [manager] Al Lopez said to get me up and ready. The Sox had used a lot of pitchers in the series right before going to Minnesota, and they were shorthanded. (It was a five-game series in Washington that had two doubleheaders in a span of three days. The Sox would win four of the five games played.)
So I go in, and right as I’m ready to throw my first pitch in the majors, Twins manager Sam Mele called time and went out to talk with the home plate umpire. (Mele played for the White Sox in 1952-53.) Mele is talking and then he points to me and shrugs his shoulders like ‘Who the heck is that guy?’ Everyone got a good laugh out of it, including myself, and it might have helped me since it relieved the tension.
You moved into the rotation on a semi-regular basis in 1962. Al Lopez was the Sox manager and Ray Berres was his pitching coach. How did those two men affect your career, and what was it like to play for “The Señor?”
Ray actually worked with me and talked with me more than Al. Ray was an absolute stickler for mechanics. I didn’t know how to set up a hitter. Ray worked me with on this. He showed me how to use my pitches, to keep them low in the strike zone, and in a sense let hitters get themselves out. He’d watch you when you were throwing on the sidelines and he’d keep reminding you about little things ... things that made a big difference, like your arm swing, staying on top of the ball and the position of your body. At that time, I had a sinker and a cut fastball. I had a curve, but didn’t control it very well. Years later, I found a better way to throw it and control it from Tommy John. TJ got it from Whitey Ford one day, and it worked well for me.
The 1963 season was the breakthrough year for you: 21 starts, 11 wins and an ERA of 3.27. Was it simply that you needed the time to get your feet on the ground in the big leagues, to get to know the hitters and to trust your stuff? Maybe confidence is a good word for it.
You’re correct. I know I had more confidence, and I was more aware of the hitters. It wasn’t just me. Bob Locker, for example, would keep a notebook of hitters and would check back with it during a game. By the way, I faced Bob in the last conference game I ever pitched for Oklahoma State. Bob pitched for Iowa State, and he beat me, 1-0, in a game that was probably over in less than an hour-and-a-half.
A game on July 29, 1963 also was the beginning of what I thought was an undeserving tag applied to you ... that of a “hard luck” pitcher. That game in Washington saw you head to the ninth inning with a no-hitter, but you were only leading 1-0 at the time. Talk me through the emotions that a pitcher has when he’s in that situation. You had to know about the no-hitter, yet adding to the pressure was the fact that you didn’t have a comfortable lead. You couldn’t relax. (The only White Sox run off of Steve Ridzik scored in the sixth inning, when Pete Ward hit into a double play.)
I was certainly aware of the no-hitter. Earlier in my career I had come close before, I think I gave up a hit in the eighth inning. Honestly, I was just trying to win the game; I was just trying to keep throwing strikes. I remember when I went out to pitch the seventh inning, the home plate umpire Ed Hurley was standing with the other umpires by third base. Now, pitchers hated it when Hurley was behind the plate. He had the smallest strike zone in the league, and that night I walked three or four guys, which were a lot for me. (Horlen walked five in 8 2⁄3 innings of work.) Hurley called out to me as I went to the mound, “Joe, I know you’ve got a no-hitter going, just get it close and I’ll help you out.” He gave me one pitch! [laughing].
Talking about Hurley reminded me of the time Johnny Buzhardt got into trouble with him in spring training. Johnny was pitching, and we all told him about Hurley and that whatever you do, don’t show any anger or emotion towards him or he’d make you pay. So John starts the game by throwing a strike but Hurley calls it a ball. Johnny didn’t say anything, but kind of looked for a second. He throws another pitch, it’s in the same place and again Hurley calls it a ball. Johnny threw up his arms and just glared at him. We’re on the bench thinking uh-oh! Johnny threw 20 straight balls! [laughing] And then it started to rain, and the game got rained out, or else Johnny would have been out there all day and never would have thrown a strike!
In that ninth inning you got Jim King to ground out, so you were two outs away. The next hitter was Chuck Hinton, who singled up the middle. The ball wasn’t hit well, but it was in the right place. The no-hitter’s gone, but you still have a chance for the win. Emotionally, was it hard to stay in the game? I mean you came so close.
I just missed getting Hinton’s grounder. It was a little to the left side of the field. That’s the way it is. I had to keep concentrating, because I didn’t have a 4-0 lead. I had to try to win the game.
Bobo Osborne was next, and he grounded out to second. OK, you’re one out away from the win. Up steps Don Locke, a power hitter, but a guy you struck out the six previous times you pitched to him. You had been pitching around him that night, walking him twice. Apparently you hung a curve, and Locke hit it out to win the game for the Senators, 2-1. Looking back, was that the biggest disappointment you ever experienced as a pitcher, to have lost a no-hitter and then the game, all within a few minutes?
To be honest, I was more concerned with losing the game. I remember walking off the mound, and there were a bunch of photographers by the dugout. They were there in case I got the no-hitter. I just walked right past them; I was oblivious to everything else.
If there was any doubt that you were a bona fide major league pitcher, it was erased in 1964 when you led the league with a 1.88 ERA and went 13-9 for a Sox team that fought to the last weekend for the pennant. The Sox won 98 games, and finished one game behind the Yankees. Joe, can a pitcher get on a roll for an entire season? Because it looked like you were. You only allowed 54 runs (44 earned) in almost 211 innings of work.
You can. That year, I had a lot of movement on my fastball, it was sinking, but everyone was concerned about my curve. So I’d throw my fastball just off the plate and let the hitters swing and get themselves out. I didn’t walk a lot of hitters, but if I had to in certain spots I’d pitch around guys. I wasn’t about to get beat by a guy if there was someone else coming up that I thought I could get out.
The Sox, to their credit, finished the season winning nine straight games. Was there any doubt was there that you guys were going to catch New York and play the Cardinals in the World Series?
We thought we were going to win. All of us were just trying to win as many games as we could. Come to think of it, I don’t remember anybody coming around to ask us how many tickets we’d need for the Series. That may have been deliberate on the part of Al Lopez, to keep things low-key.
When New York finally clinched on the next-to-last day of the season, what was the mood in the clubhouse? The Sox came so very close, it had to be agonizing. Jim Landis told me that he knows some of the guys off that team still haven’t gotten over that feeling.
I stayed calm afterwards. I guess I accepted my fate. I was fortunate with my career, that at least I’d have a chance to get to a World Series, but even if I didn’t I would have felt the same way. I always tried to keep calm, whatever happened to me.
The 1965 and 1966 seasons had to be frustrating for you personally, and for most of the Sox pitchers. You look at your numbers: 13-13 in 1965 with an ERA of 2.88, and then in 1966 you had a losing mark, 10-13, despite an ERA of 2.43. Your teammate, Gary Peters, led the league with an amazing ERA of 1.98, yet only went 12-10. Did you ever think to yourself, ‘If I was playing on the Tigers or Twins, I’d easily win 20 games a year?’
It never really bothered me. I was just happy to be playing in the major leagues. I couldn’t worry about what-if. I was just concentrating on being as prepared as I could be, and getting hitters out.
The 1967 season was the closest the Sox had come to a World Series since 1959 (back in 1967 there were no playoffs, if you won the American League you went to the World Series). But considering the way the team played in 1966 (83-79-1), not much was expected of you guys, right?
No, not much was expected. That was Eddie Stanky’s second year as manager.
Maybe this is a good time to ask about what it was like playing for Eddie. He certainly was a lot different from Al Lopez.
I learned more about baseball from Eddie than any other manager I ever played for. He was tough; some guys just didn’t get along with him. I just tried to stay away from him as much as I could! [laughing]
Eddie would walk up and down the dugout during a game, and he’d often stop by a guy and ask him, “What’s the count?” If you didn’t know it, you’d be fined $25. What I’d do is sit on the very top step of the dugout. If Eddie was going to walk in front of me, he’d have to go on the field to do it. [laughing]
But Eddie also had a good side. He often sent me a Christmas card, and shortly before he died he sent me a series of pictures from my no-hitter. I was pitching to Norm Cash, and Eddie enclosed a note saying that he just found these and thought that I’d like to have them.
He did have one other thing going for him: The offer to you pitchers that for a complete game with 21 ground ball outs, he’d buy you a new suit of clothes.
It didn’t have to be outs; just as long as you pitched a complete game and got 21 ground balls, he’d buy you a $300 suit. For that time, that was a lot of money. I guess he got me five suits, Gary [Peters] got two and Tommy [John] got one.
Eddie also had a deal with the hitters, especially the guys who could run like Don Buford, Tommy McCraw and Tommie Agee. What Eddie would do is that if there was a guy on second base with less than two outs, if they could get to third base, like on a ground ball to the other side, he’d buy the runner a new pair of shoes. Man, some of those guys had some stylish shoes!
By May 20, 1967, the Sox already had a 10-game winning streak and a record of 20-9. The pitching throughout that season was outstanding, wasn’t it?
It was, and we were a close group. We had a good rapport with each other. We’d go out after games or sit around and talk baseball.
Four members of that club, yourself, Gary Peters, Tommie Agee and Ken Berry, were selected to the All-Star team that July. What do you remember about it?
What I remember is a funny story between me and Carl Yastrzemski. I’m in the clubhouse before the game, relaxing and reading the paper by my locker. I had the paper in front of me, and it basically blocked my vision. I glanced down and I saw these feet wearing a pair of shower shoes that had “Yaz” written on them, right in front of me. I just had on a pair of shorts and my shower shoes at the time. So I put down the paper, and there’s Carl looking at me. Now, I was never a big guy to start with. I was 6´0´´, maybe 175 pounds, and by July I’ve already lost weight. Carl looks me over and says, “You mean that friggin’ skinny, shallow body has been getting me out all season?” I laughed and said, “Yeah, and it’s gonna keep getting you out!” [laughing]
At the end of August, the beginning of September, the Sox went into Boston for what was at that time the biggest series of the season. As a backdrop to it, the Red Sox players and fans were angry at Stanky over his comments about Yastrzemski. (On June 5, Stanky was quoted as saying, “he may be an All-Star from the neck down, but in my book he’s a moody ballplayer. And I don’t like moody ballplayers.”) Red Sox coach Eddie Popowski said Boston would “knock the tar” out of the White Sox. Boston fans threw garbage at you guys during the games, but the White Sox won three of four ... you handled Jim Lonborg, 4-1, in the Saturday “Game of the Week” on national TV. I imagine that was a tough series for you guys because of Stanky’s comments?
I remember that game, beating Lonborg. That’s the way Eddie was. Our deal was that it didn’t matter what he said, we had to go out and win games.
When September 10 came around, the White Sox were still in the race but had suffered a crushing defeat the day before (in another national “Game of the Week,” on September 9, Detroit scored seven runs in the ninth inning off of Bob Locker, Wilbur Wood, Don McMahon and Roger Nelson, wiping out a 3-0 Sox lead. The runs came with one out). A lot of folks, including some of the media in Chicago, were saying the Sox were dead. You started the opener of the Sunday doubleheader. First off, under the circumstances of a pennant race and the pressure resulting from the loss the day before, how were you able to focus and keep your concentration? It takes a remarkable person to be able to do that.
I never recalled having any pressure on me when I pitched games. It didn’t matter what the circumstances were, or what was at stake. When the game started, I was in a different world. I’d be on the bench thinking “OK, I’ve got to face someone like Harmon Killebrew this inning. How do I want to pitch to him?” Then I’d go out and completely forget who I was pitching to. Next thing I’d realize, I’d be back in the dugout having faced Killebrew. I just blocked everything out and pitched. I got in what guys call a zone.
Early in my career, I was always thinking about how to pitch guys, I was always concerned about things like, “I’ve got to pitch this guy on the corner” or “I’ve got to keep the ball down,” and it was affecting me. I’d start choking the ball, and it just wasn’t moving for me. One day I was throwing on the side, and Hoyt Wilhelm came up to me and said, “Why don’t you throw like this in a game?” I asked what he meant, and he said, “just throw in a game like you’re doing now, relaxed and easy. Stop worrying about hitting the corners. Just keep the ball down and let it do the work for you.” So I said, “Well, I’ll try it.” I went out and won six in a row.
The Sox got you five runs in the first inning, so at least some pressure was removed, but as the game went on you kept retiring Tiger hitters. Bill Freehan reached in the third inning on a ball that hit him. Eddie Mathews reached in the fifth when Ken Boyer fumbled a ground ball. But that was it. Like in 1963, Joe, when do you realize that you had a no-hitter?
I knew what was going on around the fifth inning. I didn’t change anything. I knew that we had lost that game the day before. In fact Kenny Boyer and I went out after it. We met Bruce Roberts, the WBBM-TV sports guy, for dinner and drinks. He was a good friend, and we played golf a lot. We were in a bar, and Norm Cash and Eddie Mathews were there. They bought us a drink. To me, it was just another day.
At least you didn’t have to worry about losing the game, unless you fell completely apart. So the first man up in the ninth is Jerry Lumpe, and he hits a smash that Wayne Causey had to lunge for at second base. His throw to “Cotton” Nash just got him (Nash was put in as a defensive replacement to start the ninth inning. He was 6´6´´, a former All-America basketball player at the University of Kentucky, and one of the few men to play professionally in two sports; with the White Sox and Twins in major league baseball, the Lakers and Warriors of the NBA, and the Kentucky Colonels of the ABA). Do you remember that play?
I threw a fastball that caught more of the plate then I wanted it to, and he hit it good. Wayne made a great play, a diving stop. I’m glad that Lumpe didn’t run very well!
Bill Heath bounced out to Don Buford for out No. 2. The last guy up was Dick McAuliffe. According to [catcher] J.C. Martin when he came out to the mound to ask you how you wanted to pitch him, you said something along the lines of, “You called the first 8 2⁄3rd innings ... you finish it up.” What do you remember about that final at-bat?
I was concerned, because Dick was a scrappy hitter and he could run. I threw him a pitch away, and he swung at it and hit it to Ronny Hansen, our shortstop. Next thing I know, I threw my glove in the air, and we were celebrating. You know, I don’t know where that glove went to … I didn’t get it back!
Is it true that you were chewing a wad of Kleenex to relax? Apparently tobacco made you throw up, and you didn’t like gum.
That’s true. Nellie Fox tried to get me to chew tobacco. I used to tell people I tried [tobacco] 20 times, and threw up 21 times! I didn’t like gum. I started chewing Kleenex when I went to a movie one day. It was an action movie; I couldn’t tell you the name of it now. I had some popcorn, and was using the napkins to wipe my hands. I just thought I’d try it, so I put it in my mouth. Started doing it since then. The word got out that I used it that way, and before long the Kleenex Company used to deliver a big box full of their packages to me before the start of the year.
According to reports, you said your curve was off for the no-hitter, and that you relied on your sinker. It is a fact that only two outs were recorded that day in the outfield? (Horlen got 16 ground ball outs in the game.) How does it feel to actually throw a no-hitter?
I was just happy to win the game, we needed it.
Again according to J.C. Martin, a few days later you two were in the locker room when you asked J.C. if the Sox gave him anything for catching the no-hitter. When Martin said they didn’t, you wrote him a check, and according to him said something like, “I wish it was more.” True story?
Yes. The day after the no-hitter, the Sox called me in and tore up my existing deal, and gave me a new one. Baseball didn’t like it if a team gave a player a bonus, so they ripped up the contract and gave me a new one for the 1967 season. For pitching that game, they gave me $1,000.
Not a bad day’s work.
You threw to a decent number of catchers when you were with the Sox. Guys like J.C. and Sherm Lollar, Jerry McNertney, Camilo Carreon, Johnny Romano and Ed Herrmann. Did you have a favorite?
Don’t forget Duane Josephson. I’d say J.C. and Ed were the best. I liked J.C., because he did a good job of setting up the target. He called a good game, and he was able to throw guys out who were trying to steal on me.
Notoriety came your way after the no-hitter. You wound up on the back of a Wheaties box. Something for the trophy case?
I do have one of those boxes in my trophy case. I’ve also got the ball from the no-hitter. Some of the jerseys that I wore, signed bats. I think I have something from just about every team I played for, going back to the Pony League championship. I’ve got the plaque from my induction into the Oklahoma State Hall of Fame, I’ve got a lot of baseballs from the teams I played on, as well. I’ve got the ball from my 1,000th big league strikeout. I also have a replica of the 1972 World Series trophy that Charlie Finley had made for each player.
Getting back to the stretch run of the 1967 season. The Sox also shut out the Tigers in the nightcap that day behind Cisco Carlos, Bob Locker and Hoyt Wilhelm, so the team was back in the race. Later that same week, the Sox beat Cleveland, 1-0, in 17 innings, then 4-0 in 10 innings on a grand slam by Don Buford. The Sox swept the Twins the weekend of September 15, including a game where you guys scored four runs in the ninth inning. It seemed that momentum was clearly with the team. How confident at that point was the club that you were going to win the pennant?
Really confident. All the guys were ready to go. We were playing very well.
The Sox then went on their final road trip, eight games total. They won two of three in Anaheim, and two of three in Cleveland. On September 24, after winning 3-1, the Sox stood at 89-68, one game out, with five games left — two at Kansas City, then three at home to Washington. Mike Andrews told me that when the Red Sox looked at who the Sox had left to play, they felt it was all over, that the pennant would fly in Chicago. But when you guys got to the stadium that Tuesday night in K.C. it was raining. The game was cancelled, and that changed everything, didn’t it?
It did. We just came out flat. We didn’t hit the ball. (The Sox suffered a disastrous doubleheader loss, by the scores of 5-2 and 4-0. In the two games, the Sox made three errors and only collected a total of seven hits. Gary Peters took the loss in the opener despite striking out 10 in 5 2⁄3 innings, allowing only one earned run. Horlen allowed three runs in six innings of work in the nightcap. He also got tagged with the loss.)
The common perception is that you and Gary didn’t pitch well, but the numbers say otherwise. What seems to have cost the Sox was defense and hitting. Also, you guys had in fact THREE days off from the time the game ended that Sunday in Cleveland until Wednesday night, when you started in Kansas City. That type of layoff in a pennant race is unheard off. Was that a factor?
It could have been. We had just started taking batting practice Tuesday night when a big storm hit the Kansas City area and washed everything out.
The White Sox returned home still with a chance, although they were going to need help. The final series with Washington opened on Friday night, so you guys had still another day off. In what perfectly defines the luck of this franchise, the team was eliminated when Tommy John lost, 1-0. The loss was caused by a pop-up that couldn’t be caught in the first inning due to a camera barrier set up by NBC in case the Sox hosted the World Series. (Senators right fielder Fred Valentine, hit the pop up that Sox first baseman Tommy McCraw couldn’t reach due to the camera wall; Valentine then singled in the only run of the game.) What was the mood in the locker room afterwards, knowing you came so close, and many of you guys had already experienced the disappointment of the 1964 chase?
We were beat. We knew it. It was simply a question of playing the final two games. It was our lowest point mentally in the season. To be that close...
I pitched the final game of the year, trying to get my 20th win. In fact, I singled in two runs, and we were leading, 2-1, heading into the seventh, and Tommy [John] came in. I remember Washington tied the game when someone hit a ground ball down the line, Tommy [McCraw] picked it up, tagged the guy, then dropped the ball! (With two outs in the seventh, future Sox outfielder Ed Stroud bounced the ball down the line to McCraw. Bob Locker was the Sox pitcher. When McCraw dropped it, Ken McMullen scored the tying run. McMullen led off the seventh inning with a double off of Horlen. Washington would wind up winning, 4-3.) So I never did get the win.
I guess the last disappointment to you personally came when you lost the Cy Young to Boston’s Jim Lonborg, even through your numbers were statically better in most categories. What was your reaction when you got the news?
I didn’t even know the results until I heard about them. I wasn’t even thinking about winning. I did find out, though, that one of the reasons I didn’t win the award is because one of the team’s own writers didn’t vote for me. Every city that had a team had two writers who were allowed to vote. But this person didn’t vote for me, and I think I remember why.
A few years before, I think, I was pitching in Los Angeles, and I was really struggling. The Sox got me some runs early, and it was something like 5-3 or 6-4 in the last of the fifth inning. Al Lopez then came out and replaced me before I could finish the inning and maybe get the win. I’m back in the clubhouse, and this writer comes up to me and asks, “So how pissed off are you that Lopez took you out early?” I told him that, “I’m not pissed off, but disappointed, because I wish I could have finished the inning and maybe got the win.” So I’m changing clothes when a minute or so later Lopez comes out of his office, he starts pushing me into my locker and calling me every name in the book. I said, “Al, what’s wrong?”
He starts shouting, “I’m the guy who’s running this team and I’ll decide who plays, you blankety-blank! ... “So-and-so [writer] said that you were pissed off that I took you out.” I said, “Al, I am not pissed off, I told that guy I was disappointed that I couldn’t finish the inning and maybe get the win.” That calmed Al down a bit, although he was still saying, “Well, I’m the guy who makes those decisions.”
I guess that Al then went back to the writer, and got all over him. That’s probably why [the writer] didn’t vote for me. All I know is that writer got a lot of guys in trouble that way. (In 1967, Horlen won 19 games, led the league with six shutouts, and led the league with a 2.06 ERA. He started 35 games and threw 258 innings. Lonborg led the league with 22 wins and 246 strikeouts, and started 39 games. He threw 273 innings, with an ERA of 3.18. Joe told me the name of the writer who didn’t vote for him, with the promise that I would not reveal it in this interview; older Sox fans would certainly recognize the individual in question.)
In some ways, Joe, you did some of your best pitching in 1968 and 1969. Even though the Sox were a bad team, you still posted double-figure wins, and your ERA in 1968 was 2.37. Given that you had never experienced a season where the team lost more games than it won, how difficult were those 1968-70 seasons?
I had only one goal, and that was that I never wanted to embarrass myself out there on the mound. I had pride. That’s the way I was my whole career. I couldn’t control how good or bad the team was, I could only control myself.
Speaking of 1968 reminds me of another story. We were in Boston, and I had a one-run lead in the eighth inning. Eddie Stanky had already been thrown out of the game earlier. Stanky always used to tell us pitchers that when we played the Red Sox not to let Yastrzemski beat us. So they have a guy on base, Yaz is up, and our pitching coach Marv Grissom comes out to talk to me. He said, “Eddie wanted to remind you not to let Yaz beat us.” I said, “OK.” I threw him a fastball up-and-in, and he hit it out. We lost the game, 3-2. After the game, Stanky dropped names on me like you wouldn’t believe! He said I was older than God, among other things. He said if I was 19 years old I would have thrown it by him, but that was the trouble, I wasn’t 19 years old anymore! [laughing] (Carl hit a two-run home run off of Horlen in the seventh inning at Fenway Park on June 7, 1968.)
The 1971 season was your last with the Sox. Didn’t you have a knee injury of some type that really bothered you that season? And I believe your injury opened the door to making Wilbur Wood a starting pitcher.
That’s true. It was the last exhibition game of 1971; we were in Scottsdale, Ariz. playing the Cubs. From there, we were going to go to Oakland to open the season. I pitched four innings that day, then came up to bat against Kenny Holtzman. I knocked one off the wall and was sliding into second base. I was going to do a pop-up slide, and when I threw my left leg back as I hit the dirt, I heard a loud pop in my knee. The leg was locked into a 90-degree angle. I just couldn’t bend it back. There was a hospital across the street where it was X-rayed and examined. The doctor said it looked like I tore some cartilage.
So, the Cubs were going back to Chicago to open their season, and the Sox set it up so that I could fly back on their plane. That way, our doctor could look at my leg the next morning. After the game I met them at the airport — I’m on crutches, mind you — and we had a three-hour wait while they were fixing some problem with the plane. Jack Brickhouse and Vince Lloyd come up to me, and we start talking, and as we’re doing this, they start buying me beers. The plane is finally ready, and we get on it. I can’t sit down because of my leg, so I talk to Joe Pepitone and Ron Santo all the way back to Chicago. Meanwhile, I’m still having a few beers, and the crutches weren’t working very well! [laughing]
We get back to Chicago, and a guy picked me up and took me to Mercy Hospital. It’s about 12:30 or 1:00 in the morning by now. I hadn’t eaten anything since breakfast. I’ve got ice bags on my knee, I can’t sleep, the sheets are wet from the ice, and I’m miserable. About 7:00 a.m., our doctor shows up, we do some tests, and the knee does have some torn cartilage. So he says that he’ll schedule the surgery the next day. I ask him if I can get something to eat, and he says, “You haven’t eaten yet?” I said that I hadn’t eaten since Sunday morning, and it was now Monday morning. He said, “Let me check something.” He comes back and said that since I hadn’t eaten anything, he was going to do the surgery right now. So we did.” (Joe would come back in time to pitch in 34 games, start 18, win eight and save two.)
You went to spring training in 1972 with the team, but right before the strike delayed the opener, you were released. Do you remember what happened?
We were playing the last spring training game; it was against Pittsburgh and before it started, a meeting was held in the clubhouse. It was all the guys on the 40-man roster, plus 15 or so Triple-A guys. [White Sox vice president] Stu Holcomb was speaking to all of the players. It was five days before the union meeting in Dallas where all the player reps were going to vote on whether to strike or not. I was the Sox player rep. He was saying how there was nothing to strike over, how all the other GMs couldn’t understand why we would want to do this.
He said, “I guarantee you all of you guys will play long enough to get your pension.” At that time, you had to play five years in the major leagues to qualify for something. I raised my hand, and asked if I could take a poll right there. Holcomb said fine. I said, “Everyone who has five years in the major leagues, raise your hand.” There were only a handful of guys. He kept talking about the fact that many of us would be good enough to play a full 10 years in the majors. I asked if I could take another poll. “How many guys have played 10 years in the majors?” I was the only guy in that clubhouse who played that long. My point was most guys don’t get even five years of big-league service time, let alone 10.
The Sox put me on waivers the very next day! It turned out that season, according to Marvin Miller, 16 of the 24-player reps were either traded or released.
So how did you wind up in Oakland for your final season?
I went to the Dallas meeting as the Sox player rep; there wasn’t enough time to elect someone else. I had my bags with me, and after the meeting I was just going to go back home and call it a career. I was in the hotel lobby when Reggie Jackson came up to me.
He was the A’s player rep. Reggie asked me what was wrong, why did the Sox waive me? I told him what I knew, and he said, “You know, we’ve been trying to trade for you all spring. The Sox said they didn’t want to let you go.” He gave me Charlie Finley’s private telephone number and said to call him, that Charlie would want to talk with me.
So I called Mr. Finley, and we spoke. He asked me about being waived, and how my legs were. I told him that they were fine. He said, “I’ve been keeping up with the strike. It’s not going to last more than 10 days. After five days, we’re going to send you a plane ticket to come to Oakland. We want you to work out for us, and if you’re OK, we’ll sign you.”
So I did, and pitched five innings against the University of California baseball team. The A’s then signed me for the season.
At least you had a chance to get to the playoffs and win a World Series, but was it strange coming back to play in Chicago as a member of the opposition?
It was a little different, after all those years, but I just wanted to pitch well against them ... and I did!” (Joe appeared in five games against the Sox in 1972. He threw a total of 12 2⁄3 innings, allowing two runs.)
My job with the A’s was to spot-start or pitch long relief. I remember we went to Arlington to play a game; it was like a 100 degrees outside, with a 100% humidity. Blue Moon Odom left the game early, and I came in. I may have finished it up, and we won. (The game was on May 29, 1972. Horlen pitched 5 2⁄3 innings in relief, and got the win in a 4-1 decision.) That was my job, and it was satisfying at the end of the season to have the players and coaches say that I gave them exactly what they needed.
When I think of Joe Horlen, I think of a guy who wasn’t the biggest and who didn’t throw the hardest, but who could throw just about any pitch he needed, where he needed it, when he needed it. Does that sum you up pretty accurately?
Well, my fastball wasn’t that slow. Today when you hear of guys throwing a certain speed, you have to remember that the radar guns that the scouts use measure the ball as it’s leaving the pitcher’s hand. That’s not the speed the ball arrives at the plate ... that’s why those guns are always off. One time, the Sox set up a radar box at home plate and asked the pitchers to throw at it. When my pitches went through, they were clocked at 91-92 miles an hour at home plate.
In 2002, the Sox asked you and J.C. Martin to come back to Chicago and throw out the first pitch to him for the home opener. It was a very nice gesture by the Sox. Tell me about that experience.
It was great. I was called by one of the Sox representatives, and he said that since it was the 25th anniversary season of the no-hitter they wanted me to throw out the first ball. Then the guy asked me who my catcher was for that game. He didn’t know, so I told him it was J.C., and they got him to come to Chicago to catch me.
You been known to hang out with a rather famous basketball coach, don’t you?
Yes, I do spend some time with Bobby Knight. He’s a great guy, and a big baseball fan. A mutual friend introduced us when we all went hunting a few years ago. When I met him, he knew more about me with the Sox then even I remembered! Bobby is kind enough to invite me up to Lubbock every so often to take in a game, and he usually signs basketballs and such for me that I donate to charity auctions and functions.
Ten years is a long time to be with one team in one city. As time has passed, Joe, what do you recall about a decade spent pitching on the South Side?
It was a great time for me, a very special time. Chicago was a great place to play, and the Sox were a great organization. I made a number of friends, people that to this day I visit when I come back to Chicago. One of the people I lived with was a doctor who lived in Hillside. I’d stay with his family when my family wasn’t with me. To this day, I keep in touch with his children. We often talk about the cabin that he had up in Green Lake, Wisc. Anytime you wanted to, you could go up there and spend a few days, you didn’t even have to ask him. He was known by a number of Chicago athletes, and he made them the same offer. I remember seeing Bobby Hull up there. One time I visited, and Mr. and Mrs. Tony Esposito were there as well.
I just couldn’t have asked for a better time playing baseball.