Skip to main content
Original Issue

A little luck would be a relief

If anyone knows about being a relief man in tight situations, he is Washington bullpen ace Darold Knowles, whose experiences go back to January of 1968 and the Pueblo crisis. Among the first people called up was Airman First Class Knowles, an Air National Guard typist. Shipped suddenly to Japan, Knowles did his best to type the United States out of that jam, but, "I didn't like the call-up one bit," he says. "I even told President Nixon. It was before last year's All-Star Game in Washington. He said, 'You're the left-handed pitcher who just got off active duty with the Air Force.' When I told him I didn't like it, he just smiled."

Knowles enjoyed such access to the President because by then his luck had changed. Rejoining the Senators in late May, he went on to make the 1969 All-Star team and post a 9-2 record with a 2.25 ERA and 13 saves. "I wasn't throwing well," he says, "but somehow I was getting them out."

This year Knowles' luck has turned again, although he is throwing very well. He has the league's second-best ERA (2.02) and is credited with 25 saves for a team that has won just 65 games—yet he has a won-lost record of only 2-13.

The kind of thing that has been happening to Knowles is this: against Detroit last week he was brought in for Joe Coleman, and when the Senators scored to go ahead 3-2 Knowles was on the verge of winning his third game. But in the ninth the tying run scored on an error, and the Tigers reached Knowles for four runs—all unearned—to give him his 13th loss.

"Darold's record proves statistics lie a bit," says Ted Williams, who earlier called Knowles' won-lost mark "the phoniest record in baseball." Williams added that at 28 "he's the youngest of the top American League relievers. Only Wilbur Wood [Chicago], Mudcat Grant [Oakland], and Eddie Fisher [California] work more. He gets all the tough ones, but he's sound as hell."

"He may have a poor record," says Chuck Hinton of the Indians, whose home run is one of three off Knowles in 106‚Öî innings this year. "But it's like Hawk Harrelson's for us last year. He hit .221 but drove in 92 runs."

And every now and then fortune favors Knowles, as in last week's 5-4 win over Cleveland when his save was saved by Centerfielder Ed Stroud's catch of a 380-foot drive by Ray Fosse for the last out with the tying run almost home. "I threw him my Atom Ball," said Knowles. An Atom Ball, explained Catcher Jim French, "looks like it's been bombed when they hit it, but it's right at 'em."

When a player is called up for crisis duty as often as Knowles has been this year—29 one-run games—he has to be philosophical: "Those close ones pay my salary," he says. And they beat hazardous military typing all the way down the line, even with unearned runs.