- October 28, 1935
- 6' 6"
- 212 lbs
- Major League Debut:
- 4-16-1962 with PIT
At 6’6”, Bob Veale was a beheamoth of a man and with 116 wins in the black and gold, he was one whale of a pitcher for the Pittsburgh Pirates.
To say Veale was intimidating was an understatement. In addition to his powerful build, Veale was the most dominating strike out pitcher in team history. He possessed an overwhelming fastball as well as a power slider and hard curve, but was not blessed with outstanding control and his nearsightedness made it essential he wear glasses on the mound. Often his specs would steam up and one humid night in St. Louis Veale decided to try pitching without his glasses. Hall of Famer Lou Brock, fearing execution via errant fastball, refused to stand in against him until Veale put his glasses back on.
Veale, who’s father had once played for the Homestead Grays, was born in Birmingham, Alabama in 1935 and signed with the Pirates for an $80,000 bonus after graduating college in 1958. he immediately began striking out batters. At each stop in the minors, Veale struck out more than a hitter per inning, but he could also be wild, walking 55 batters in 63 innings at Las Vegas in 1958, a league leading 126 in 147 innings as Wilson, where he also pitched a no-hitter, in 1959 and 119 in 172 innings at Columbus in 1960. Improving his control in 1961 and leading the International League in strikeouts with 208 in 201 innings, Veale lowered his ERA to 2.55 and earned a look by the Pirates in 1962. He went 2-2 in his first major league season, whiffing 42 in 46 innings and also pitched again in AAA, having to trouble punching out minor leaguers for the Jets with 179 K’s in 105 innings for the Jets.
Veale opened 1963 in the Pirate bullpen, going 1-0 with five saves and a 1.07 ERA in 27 games before Danny Murtaugh moved him into the rotation in August. He completed three of seven starts, going 4-2 and actually lowering his already phenomenal ERA by allowing just 1.03 runs per nine innings. Among his feats was a 1-0 two hitter against the Cubs on September 16, a game in which he fanned 9 batters. Veale was also the only pitcher to beat St. Louis during a late season hot streak when the Cards won 19 of 20, shutting the Birds out 5-0.
Big things were expected of Veale in 1964. He responded by winning 18 games, posting a 2.73 ERA and leading the league with 250 strikeouts in 280 innings pitched. Bob also led the National League in walks that year with a career high 124. His strikeout total established a new team record as he became the first Pirate hurler to fan 200 in a season.
Although Veale increased his strikout total to 276, a figure which remains the highest in Bucco history, he did not capture the K crown as Sandy Koufax was healthy that year and established an all-time record with 382. Veale also set a new single game record for strikeouts by a Pirate pitcher when he blew away 16 Phillie batters on June 1, breaking the club mark he had set the season before. The game was a 12 inning affair and its pace slowed by three rain delays, but Veale remained overpowering throughout the contest. He was again the Pirates’ top winner with 17 victories and made the All-Star team for the first time, but did not appear in the contest.
Veale again was picked for the All-Star team in 1966, but once again did not get into the game. 1966 was the first of two consecutive 16 win seasons for Veale. He also topped 200 strikeouts for a third strait year in’66 and while Veale’s strikeouts decreased to 179 in 1967, Bob posted the best winning percentage (.667) of his career based on his 16-8 record. Back and elbow problems began to decrease his availability and his control, which had shown gradual improvement. He led the NL in walks in ’67 with 119, the second time in his career he had led in bases on balls. Veale continued to experience pain in 1968, although for the fifth strait season he started over 30 games and pitched over 200 innings. Getting unusually poor hitting support, even for someone hurling during the infamous “Year of the Pitcher,” Veale’s record was just 13-14 despite posting the National League’s third best ERA at 2.06. In eight of his losses, the Bucs were shutout and in several other contests the Pirate hitters were simply overmatched. While Veale walked less than 100 batters for the first time in his career as a fulltime starter, his 94 was again the most in the league.
Veale’s record was again 13-14 in 1969 as his teammates were again often frustrated when Veale’s huge frame appeared on the mound. Opposing batters were frustrated as well, as Bob returned to the 200 strikeout club for the first time in three years.
Veale’s effectiveness started to show signs of slipping in 1970. Although he now had a division winning team to back him, the southpaws record dropped to 10-15 and his ERA rose to 3.92, the highest he had posted in the majors to date. Danny Murtaugh passed over the onetime ace in favor of starting Dock Ellis, Bob Moose and Luke Walker in the NLCS against the Reds. In 1971, needing a lefthander out of the bullpen, Murtaugh removed Veale from the rotation altogether. Figuring Bob’s power could best be harnessed in short roles, Veale was used as a set up man against mostly lefthanded hitters. Veale’s 1971 season remains one of the strangest statistical seasons ever by a Pirate pitcher. His record was a perfect 6-0, but his ERA off 6.99 made him an almost forgotten man in the postseason. He made just one mop up appearance, pitching 2/3 of an inning in an 11-3 Game 2 loss in the World Series.
Veale lost his lefthanded reliever’s job to Ramon Hernandez in 1972. The Pirates released him in May and Veale could not find another major league team to pitch for. Not quite ready for Old Timer’s competition, Veale signed with the club’s AAA Columbus affiliate and pitched well. The Boston Red Sox, looking for late season bullpen help purchased him on September 2 and Veale responded with six incredible relief performances. He pitched eight innings for the Sox, allowing only two hits, striking out 10. Veale was credited with two wins and two saves to help Boston battle to the final day of the season.
The lefthander came back to save 11 games in 1973 and made the last 18 appearances of his big league career for the Red Sox in 1974. He later worked as a pitching coach and well into his late 40’s demonstrated a still powerful left arm in Old Timer’s games. Once, when appearing in such a contest in Pittsburgh, he turned from the pitching mound and heaved a ball to the fence at Three Rivers Stadium.
Veale remains second to Bob Friend on the Pirate’s all-time strikeout list with 1,652 and his strikeout to innings pitched ratio of 7.96 is the best in club history. In an era of big swings, it may be surprising to learn Veale remains the only Pirate to fan over 200 batters in a season. His 116 wins is tied with Jesse Tannehill for 10th in club’s history and trails only Wilbur Cooper and John Candelaria among lefthanders and Veale’s 3.06 ERA is 11th in club history for Pirate pitchers who threw over 1,000 innings. When eliminating deadball pitchers and hurlers such as Cooper and Babe Adams who pitched a considerable portion of their careers during the deadball era, Veale’s ERA ranks behind only one starting pitcher, Doug Drabek, in Pirate history.
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