- P, OF, RF
- Deacon, Preacher
- March 12, 1930
- 6' 2"
- 195 lbs
- Major League Debut:
- 6-11-1950 with PIT
- Allstar Selections:
- 1960 CY, 1960 TSN, 1965 LG
Nicknamed “The Deacon” because of his position as an elder in the Mormon church, Vern Law not only inspired his teammates through effective pitching, but through his toughness and grit as he battled through serious potential career ending injuries, coming all the way back as one of the premiere starter in the league while capturing the National League Comeback Player of the Year in 1965.
While Idaho Senator Herman Walker recommended him to the Bucs in 1948 it was Pirate part owner and vice-president, entertainer Bing Crosby, which influenced his parents, encouraging the young hurler to sign with the team.
Former Pittsburgh manager Bill Burwell, who managed the team for all of one game in 1947 (winning the contest), helped Law develop stuff while Vern was pitching in Class B Davenport, Iowa. Burwell taught the Deacon to change speeds and throw a change up, helping become a more complete pitcher. Burwell would be there again in 1960 as the Pirate pitching coach, seeing Law through his greatest season.
The Idaho native finally made it to the majors in 1950, pitching between the starting rotation and the bullpen. Pitching coach Bill Posedel and catcher Clyde McCullough were there to focus the young right-hander when he first came up. “ Bill Posedel was there when I first arrived in Pittsburgh and he did help me. Clyde McCullough, my catcher, helped me with my confidence and gave me great encouragement”.
After spending two years in the military in 1952 and 1953, Law came back to help anchor a young starting rotation with Bob Friend, they would be the cornerstones of the staff through the lean 50’s, all the way to the world championship in 1960. Deacon suffered through two losing seasons until he went 10-8 with a 2.87 ERA in 1957.
1959 proved to be Law’s breakout campaign when he went 18-9, during a very disappointing season for the club. It would be only a prelude to the career year he was about to enjoy, both personally and for the team as a whole. Vern would finish third in the NL in wins with a 20-9 mark, and second in winning percentage at .690 while capturing the Cy Young Award, which at the time was given to only one pitcher in baseball, not one in each league. 1960 would be a season that would see Law start three World Series games, winning two, while becoming the second Pirate to emerge victorious from an All-Star game.
Starting the 7th game of the World Series proved to be Law’s most cherished moment and ironically the toughest moment in a Pirate uniform, in fact had the Deacon been allowed to finish the game, there may have been no need for the dramatic ending and perhaps the single moment that Hall of Fame second baseman Bill Mazeroski is most noted for might never had occurred. “The toughest moment was being taken out of the 7th game of the World Series as I had a 4-2 lead going into the 7th inning and was in pretty good control of the game. I had pitched on a bad ankle (during the series) and I guess Murtaugh had enough faith in our bullpen. We managed to win through some great hitting and I guess if Murtaugh hadn’t taken me out of the game, it wouldn’t have had that dramatic finish and just maybe Maz wouldn’t have had the chance to hit in the 9th and wouldn’t have received all the accolades and might not have made the Hall of Fame as that Home Run really jump started his election. Who knows, all I can say is I’m glad the game ended the way it did.”
1960 also turned out to be a turning point in Law’s career as he hurt his ankle when Gene Cimoli tried to pry off his shoe to use it as a champagne glass after the Bucs won the National League pennant. While pitching on the bad ankle, it caused him to injure his rotator cuff as his mechanics were off while favoring the injured ankle. He pitched in only 11 games in 1961 and suffered through the injury the next two seasons before finally agreeing to go on the voluntary retirement list at the end of 1963. Through it all, Law never doubted he could come back, and insisted all along to the team that he could do it before reluctantly agreeing to temporarily retiring. While remembering there were no advanced medical techniques at the time, no miracle Tommy John surgery, it was understandable why the Bucs doubted he could return.
There were a couple teams that wanted to sign Vern to a contract after the ’63 season, but he kept working hard, fully intending to come back to the team in ’64 and prove to everybody he was not finished. Some way, some how, he made it back in 1964, finishing 12-13, before having perhaps his best campaign ever the next season.
After losing his first 5 games due to lack of run support, Law came on to win 17 of his last 21 decisions finishing 17-9 with a miniscule 2.15 ERA 3rd in the senior circuit. The Deacon would hurt his elbow late in 1965 and the suffered a hip injuring during a 12 win 1966 season, before hanging them up after a 2-8 campaign in 1967.
Vern would be named pitching coach in 1968 and 1969, but his greatest contribution to the club, was not only a Cy Young Award, but also showing the club that with grit and effort, you could over come anything. To say he was an inspiration would truly be an understatement, to say he was one of the greatest personalities and players in the team’s history would not be.
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- Vern Law