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Classic Look-back: Candy Man wins in return to Cleveland in 1999

Candy Man Wins in Second Debut with Cleveland

July 3, 1999 

Cleveland Indians 9, Kansas City Royals 8 At Jacobs Field

Tom Candiotti:  5.2 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 5 SO. 

Tom Candiotti, who’d previously pitched for the Cleveland Indians from 1986 to 1991, made a triumphant return to the ballclub, winning his first game for the franchise in eight years. 

Signed by Cleveland on June 29 after spending the first three months of this season with Oakland—he was let go when the A’s called up Tim Hudson from Triple-A—Candiotti was making his first appearance of his second stint with the Indians in the first game of today’s doubleheader against Kansas City.  

In his previous stint with Cleveland, he went 72-65 with a 3.53 ERA for five-and-a-half seasons before being traded to Toronto on June 27, 1991. He also pitched for the Dodgers and A’s before rejoining the Indians this season.  

Brought back this season to shore up the Cleveland bullpen, Candiotti entered today’s contest in the third inning with the Royals already ahead 8-3. The score was actually 8-0 at one point—Kansas City battered starter Charles Nagy for eight runs in two innings—but the Indians struck for three runs in the bottom of the second before giving the ball to Candiotti. 

And the knuckleballer turned back the clock like it was 1991 again, pitching 5.2 shutout innings with no walks and five strikeouts. He threw curveballs and fastballs in his first two innings, and then threw more knucklers as the game progressed. “He was really tough,” said Royals rookie Carlos Febles of Candiotti. “He threw a soft one and a hard one and they were really moving.”

Whatever Candiotti threw worked. He retired the first nine Royals he faced, allowing his first base runner when Febles led off the sixth with a bunt single. A passed ball and sacrifice bunt moved Febles to third, but Candiotti struck out Carlos Beltran and Joe Randa swinging to keep the deficit at 8-3. 

Perhaps sparked by that clutch pitching, Cleveland rallied for five runs off Jay Witasick and Alvin Morman to tie the game in the bottom half of the inning. Candiotti returned in the seventh and got three quick outs, and then watched Tribe slugger David Justice homer off Marc Pisciotta in the bottom of the seventh for a 9-8 lead. In the eighth, Candiotti retired the first two Royals before Febles—that man again—doubled, only the second base runner the knuckleballer allowed, and “Candy Man,” as he is called, walked off the mound to a standing ovation by the Jacobs Field crowd of more than 43,000. Fortunately, reliever Ricardo Rincon retired the next batter, keeping the lead intact. Stopper Mike Jackson closed out the ninth, preserving the victory and giving Candiotti his first win with the franchise in eight years.

This win was Candiotti’s 151st and final victory in the majors. Although he never won another major-league game, this appearance was a fitting way for Candiotti to end his career. “After every inning, I’d get a standing ovation from the crowd every time I got back to the dugout. They gave me four loud ovations when I was out there. I mean, it was really spectacular for me. It goes to show that the people in Cleveland really respected me,” he reflects now. “It was like, I was in one last go-around, and all the fans were acknowledging me for all those years in the 1980s when I had to suffer [on those bad Indians teams when the club played at Cleveland Stadium]. It really brought a tear to my eye, seeing how the fans were appreciative of all the years I’d given them.”

Speaking of debuts, exactly eight years earlier, on this date, July 3, 1991, Candiotti recorded his first victory with the Blue Jays. Traded to Toronto on June 27, the knuckleballer pitched a quality start the following day with six innings of three-run ball against the Mariners but the Blue Jays lost 3-1 to Bill Krueger. But on this date, July 3, he pitched seven shutout innings of six-hit, three-walk, seven-strikeout baseball to beat the Minnesota Twins 4-0. With Candiotti on the staff, the Blue Jays went on to capture the AL East crown. 

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Classic look-back: Candiotti’s gem vs. Giants in June 1997

Here’s a look back at a classic Candiotti game against the Giants from June 21, 1997.

Los Angeles Dodgers 11, San Francisco Giants 0 At 3Com Park

Tom Candiotti:  7 IP, 4 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 6 SO.

So that’s why the Dodgers kept Tom Candiotti around. As insurance, just in case one of the starters went down.

Sent to the bullpen to begin the season, Candiotti finally made his first start of the year, filling in for injured starter Ramon Martinez, who’d complained the night before about a sore right shoulder. 

The knuckleballer pitched seven shutout innings, lifting the Dodgers to an 11-0 victory over their arch rivals, the San Francisco Giants.

Candiotti had been sent to the bullpen because of the emergence of right-hander Chan Ho Park, who joined a Los Angeles rotation which already included Martinez, Hideo Nomo, Ismael Valdez, and Pedro Astacio—a pitching staff that was second in the majors only to the Atlanta Braves’ staff headed by Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, and John Smoltz. 

Although Candiotti, with 126 wins and a 3.53 ERA in his 13 big-league seasons entering 1997, was rumored to be traded all spring, Dodger general manager Fred Claire hung on to the knuckleballer, and it proved to be the right decision. 

Through June 10, pitching exclusively out of the bullpen, Candiotti had three wins and a 2.03 ERA in 22 games, with five walks and 18 strikeouts, holding opposing hitters to a .212 average. 

Then, on this Saturday afternoon, he held the Giants to just four hits in seven innings as the Dodgers bounced back from a 5-2 loss in the series opener on Thursday and a blown 7-0 lead on Friday night—a game which saw L.A. use six pitchers. 

Candiotti even delivered at the plate, driving in the Dodgers’ sixth run on a squeeze bunt. The other Dodger heroes offensively were Raul Mondesi, who smacked an RBI triple and two-run single, and Tripp Cromer, who had three hits and three RBIs.

Candiotti and the Dodgers expected this would be his only start, as Ramon Martinez was expected to return after skipping just this start. As it turned out, though, Martinez’s injury was revealed to be a torn rotator cuff, and the Dodger ace would be sidelined for two months.   

Although the Dodgers did not win the division in 1997, losing out to the Giants by two games, Candiotti did do the job for L.A., going 6-2 with a 3.62 ERA in 11 starts during Martinez’s absence. It should have been at least seven wins; he nearly beat the Giants again on July 12, handing the bullpen a 2-1 lead, only to see San Francisco batter two relievers for seven runs in the ninth. 

Candiotti pitched well enough as a starter that when Martinez did return in August, the Dodgers dealt fourth starter Astacio (4-8 with a 5.19 ERA over a three-month stretch) to Colorado for second baseman Eric Young while keeping the knuckleballer in the rotation for the rest of the season.

A free agent after the 1997 season—he signed with the Oakland Athletics to stay on the West Coast—Candiotti would finish his six-year Dodger career with a 52-64 record despite a 3.57 ERA, thanks to poor run support. (It should be noted that Ramon Martinez, who received much better run support from the Dodgers, was 72-48 with a 3.67 ERA during that same stretch. In 1995, for instance, Martinez was 17-7 with a 3.66 ERA and a league-leading 81 walks and 138 strikeouts over 206.1 innings. Candiotti was 7-14 with a 3.50 ERA in 190.1 innings with 58 walks and 141 strikeouts.)

But, as Charlie Hough often told other knuckleballers, “When the other guys get hurt or don’t pitch well, be there when they need someone.” And that’s exactly what Candiotti did for the Dodgers in 1997.

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Vintage clip of Candiotti in action with Blue Jays

Here’s a cool video of Tom Candiotti with Toronto in 1991:

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Short Video Clip of Candiotti facing the Giants in 1997

Here’s a short clip of Tom Candiotti pitching in 1997, on the Saturday Fox Game of the Week. In that game, Candiotti blanked the Giants through the first seven innings of the Dodgers’ 11-0 victory.

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“A Life of Knuckleballs”: Just Missed the Cut, Part I

When I first wrote the manuscript for Tom Candiotti: A Life of Knuckleballs, I had over 600,000 words, which, of course, made it unpublishable.

So, my publisher, McFarland & Co., requested me to cut the manuscript down, and because of that, many stories did not make the cut.

Over the next little while, I will be posting some of the original content that didn’t make it to the book. I call this, “Missed the Cut.”

***

This one is from Tom Candiotti’s first month in the majors, with the stories about Pete Vuckovich and the Milwaukee veterans not making it into the book:

The Brewers were still in contention even with the struggles of veteran Don Sutton—who despite pitching nine shutout innings against California on August 24th, was 0-5 with a 6.49 ERA in his last seven starts.

Even though the veteran wasn’t getting it done, the rookies certainly were, up to that point. Including Candiotti, the Brewers had four rookie pitchers who each played a big role in the team’s success. The quartet had 19 wins and 10 saves, led by reliever Tom Tellmann (nine wins, eight saves), Chuck Porter (six wins), Bob Gibson (two wins, two saves), and of course, Candiotti (two complete-game wins in two starts).

As it turned out, Milwaukee wouldn’t win another game in which Tellmann, Porter, and Gibson appeared until the final three days of the season. Tellmann would pitch well down the stretch (2.31 ERA) but the Brewers would go 0-9 in his final nine appearances of the season. They would be 0-4 in Gibson’s appearances—he was 0-2—until he defeated Detroit 6-2 in a meaningless start on the final weekend. As for Porter, he would be 0-4 with a 7.16 ERA—the Brewers would lose all six of his starts—before beating the Tigers 7-4 on the final day of the season.

As for Vuckovich, he wouldn’t make a difference when he made his long-awaited season debut on August 31st. The reigning Cy Young winner would last only 14.2 innings in three starts, going 0-2 with a 4.91 ERA. Meanwhile, in a complete reversal of Sutton’s September 1982 performance, the veteran right-hander would be 1-3 with a 3.80 ERA in his final six starts of 1983.

As Washington Post writer Thomas Boswell noted in late August, “The core of the Brewers’ suspect rotation—Sutton, Mike Caldwell and Bob McClure—has a combined 25-26 record and an ERA over 4.40. When you have to give 27 starts in the pennant race to Chuck Porter, Tom Candiotti, Bob Gibson, Jerry Augustine and Rick Waits, you’re in line for baseball sympathy” (Thomas Boswell, “Mighty Brewers Have Gone From Muscle to Hustle Team,” Washington Post, August 22, 1983).

Though Vuckovich would go winless in 1983, Candiotti, to this day, marvels at the clubhouse presence he exhibited that season. “Vuckovich, like the veteran players, made sure the rookies were paying attention to what was going on,” says Candy. “I’d be on the bench. He’d walk by in the ninth inning and say, ‘What did this batter do in his second at-bat?’ So I’d have to recall the pitch count and things like that. He kept me in the game, kept me watching all the time. That’s how baseball was back then. The veterans kept the young players in the game. All those guys made sure the rookies were paying attention and knew what was going on. And boy, I tell ya, if Pete was asking you a question, you’d better get it right!”

Candiotti also credits Vuckovich with teaching him a lot about pitching, especially pitching around hitters. “He taught me an awful lot, being able to pick the outs you wanna get. I was never taught to walk guys intentionally, like intentionally ‘unintentionally.’ But he sat down with me and went through things with me that I never knew.” For instance, many times a pitcher would walk a hitter apparently unintentionally, when actually it was almost intentional. If, say, there was a runner on second base and a tough hitter up, the pitcher wouldn’t actually give him an intentional pass, but would pitch carefully to him. If the pitcher got the batter out to chase pitches out of the strike zone, that was great. If he walked the hitter, that was fine too—his main goal was to basically not give the batter anything to hit. Candiotti, who never liked to walk hitters, learned to appreciate such a pitching strategy. He was grateful for having Vuckovich as a mentor in teaching him how to pitch in the majors.

“He wore me out, though,” Candiotti laughs. “I had to buy him this and that. This was kind of like my ‘welcome’ to the big leagues. Of course, that Brewers team was a veteran club. [Catcher] Bill Schroeder and I were two of the few rookies that year, until the September call-ups came up to Milwaukee. For a while there, Pete really wore us out. I know he wore me out. He wouldn’t let me in the trainer’s room initially. I was tested as a rookie. But once I passed the test, he was awesome. He was a great teammate to be around.” And how did Candiotti pass the test?

“Well, what happened was I was making my first major-league start. I went into the trainer’s room and Vuckovich was there. He goes, ‘What are you doing here, rookie?’

“I go, ‘I’m just gonna get some heat.’

“Pete says, ‘Get the hell outta here, rookie.’”

Candiotti didn’t let Vuckovich’s abuse bother him. He left the room, pitched Milwaukee into first place, and kept his distance from the veteran pitcher. Soon enough, Vuckovich approached the rookie to welcome him. “A few days later,” Candiotti says, “he comes up to me and goes, ‘You’re doing pretty well. You can come into the trainer’s room now.’ So after that, he was great. But if I’d fought him on it, he would’ve made my life miserable that rookie season.”

He still laughs at how Vuckovich walked 102 batters with 105 strikeouts during the 1982 season and still won the AL Cy Young Award*. While Vuckovich was second in the league in wins—finishing 18-6 with a 3.34 ERA—he was also second in bases on balls. “Now, I think back and I wonder—and I’d joke about it with him—‘How did you win the Cy Young with those numbers?’” Candiotti says with a grin. “He had over a hundred walks! I’d joke about it with Pete, like, ‘That’s one of the strangest things how you won that award!’”

Another veteran who helped Candiotti along that first season was catcher Ted Simmons, who’d assign him homework. “Ted once got me to do a report about the ball-strike counts on which most baserunners ran,” he says. “You know, which counts runners go the most. Or he’d quiz me on pitch selections during a game. It was great. And of course, he called a knuckleball for the first big-league pitch I ever threw. He knew how to help me out as a young player. It was a huge thing for me.”

*One could make the argument that Toronto’s Dave Stieb was robbed of the Cy Young in 1982. Vuckovich, who made 30 starts, pitched 223.2 innings with nine complete games, including one shutout. Stieb, meanwhile, started 38 games, completed 19 of them, tossed five shutouts, and threw 288.1 innings. He led the AL in innings, complete games, and shutouts, and was tied for third in games started. He was 17-14 with a 3.25 ERA, walking 75 and fanning 141.

 

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