- Candy Man
- November 6, 1953
- 6' 7"
- 205 lbs
- Major League Debut:
- 6-08-1975 with PIT
When asking Pirate fans during the late 70’s and early 80’s which pitcher could win the clutch game when the franchise needed it, they would simply answer, “The Candy Man Can”! The Candy man of course is the Bucs tall 6’7’ southpaw, John Candelaria, who was not only the clubs top pitcher for most of 11 seasons between 1975 and 1985, but he was the one guy Pittsburgh had during the time that could be consistently counted on to win the tough game when they needed it.
The New York native broke into the majors in 1975 not long after being a non-roster invitee to spring training by the club. John won his first major league game against the Mets on June 20th and went on to have a solid rookie campaign with an 8-6 record and sparkling 2.76 ERA. The first sign that the fans of Pittsburgh had a pitcher they could depend on in the clutch occurred in game 3 of the NLCS. With the club down 2 games to none and facing elimination, Pirate manager Danny Murtaugh called on the tall southpaw to keep the club alive. Candelaria responded with a magnificent then NLCS record 14 strikeouts in 7 2/3 innings of work. Despite the fact the Bucs eventually lost the game and the series, Candy made his mark and showed the club about the great success he would soon have.
In 1976, Candelaria became the ace of the staff with a 16-7 mark, that included wins in 8 consecutive decisions. He also put his name in the history books on August 9th. It was that night when the Pirates and John were facing the Los Angeles Dodgers on National TV. After getting out of a bases loaded situation in the third inning, the Candy Man settled down and tossed a 2-0 no-hitter. It became the first no-hitter pitched by a Pirate in the Steel City since Nick Maddox turned the trick in 1907.
Continuing to show improvement, Candelaria had his marquis season in 1977 when he was selected to his one and only all-star game. Candy Man went 20-5 to become the first Pirate since Vern Law in 1960 to win 20 games and the first lefty to win 20 for the franchise since the great Wilbur Cooper in 1924. To go along with his great season, John led the senior circuit in winning percentage with an .800 mark and topped the NL in ERA at 2.34, which made him the first National League pitcher to win both 20 games and the NL ERA title since Sandy Koufax in 1965. Despite his spectacular season, he finished only 5th in the CY Young voting in the National League.
After a decent season in 1978, Candelaria led the club in wins in the magical 1979 campaign with a 14-9 mark. John showed his mettle again with the club down 3 games to 2 against the Orioles in the World Series. He was named the starter of the all-important sixth game. A loss and the Bucs would end their miracle season without a championship and a win; they would live to play another day. Candy came up tough with seven shutout innings that helped propel the Pirates to the 1979 World Championship.
With five solid seasons behind him, John would suffer adversity over the next two campaigns, first with a losing season in 1980 and then with his first major injury in 1981. That season Candy tore his left Bicep Muscle, which sidelined him for most of the season. The injury would be one of several Candelaria suffered over the course of his 19 year career. Almost every time he went down, the New York native cameback to be an effective hurler once again.
That character showed itself in 1982 and 83 when the Candy Man battled back from a major injury to first post a 12-7 mark in ’82 with a 2.94 ERA, 6th best in the league. The next season he had one of his best with a 15-8 mark. John finished 6th in the NL in both wins and strikeouts with 157.
Candelaria continued his winning ways in 1984 with a 12 win season and a NL 5th best 2.72 ERA. That season, Candelaria would get a rare thrill at the plate when he hit his first and only major league homer ever on July 19th. Unfortunately, after the season ended, the Candy Man had to have another operation, this time to remove a bone spur from his left elbow.
The 31-year old southpaw also suffered from a chronic bad back by 1985 and the toll of injuries prompted manager Chuck tanner to put the Candy man into the bullpen. Candelaria was not happy with the move, but performed decently with 9 saves and a 3.64 ERA.
On August 2nd, 1985, John career in the black and gold unfortunately came to an end when he was dealt to the Angels with Al Holland and George Hendrick for Pat Clemens, Bob Kipper and Mike Brown.
He had his left elbow operated on again in ’86 for a bone spur and finally was activated in July 8th. Candelaria responded with the grit and determination he had become to be known for with a 10-2 record, back in the starting rotation. He also had a phenomenal ALCS against the Red Sox when he gave up 1 run in 10 2/3 innings. For his efforts he was named the AL comeback player of the year.
Candy finally got the opportunity to go home when he first went to the Mets in 1987 where he was 2-0 in three starts, and then was dealt to the Yankees. With the Bronx Bombers he proved to be one of their best hurlers in 1988 with a 13-7 record and 3.38 ERA.
Injuries unfortunately once again reared their ugly heads again, this time in the form of knee surgery. John had a tear repaired in his knee in 1988 and then needed arthroscopy surgery on his right knee the following year.
By this point and time, the Candy man’s best days were behind him and went from the Expos to the Twins, Blue Jays and Dodgers before signing as a free agent with the Bucs in December of 1992. Although he didn’t pitch effectively going 0-3 with an 8.24 ERA, it allowed Candelaria to rightfully finish his career where it began.
After he retired, the Candy Man decided to stay in Pittsburgh where he owns an advertising and event promotion agency called Here’s the Pitch, where certainly he gives his clients the same clutch performance he gave baseball fans for the better part of 19 years.