Oh, What a Relief: Jack Baldschun
As baseball entered the 1960s, the National League’s worst team (pre-expansion) was indisputably the Philadelphia Phillies. The National League champs in 1950, the Phillies had fallen to the bottom of the standings by 1958 and stayed there through 1961, spared in 1962 only by the arrival of the New York Mets and the Houston Colt .45s, as well as the decline of the Chicago Cubs.
The 1961 Phillies set a record with a won-lost log of 47-107, a record for futility eclipsed mercifully the next season by the 40-120 inaugural campaign posted by the Mets. The only pitcher on the 1961 Phillies staff with a winning record was a 24-year-old rookie reliever named Jack Baldschun with a 5-3 record. He was also second on that team in ERA (3.88) and saves (3) while making the most appearances of any Phillies pitcher (65, tops in the National League).
From 1962 to 1964, Jack Baldschun was the ace of the Philadelphia bullpen, winning 29 games and saving 50 with a combined 2.79 ERA.
Over the next three seasons, Baldschun would emerge as one of the league’s best closers, an emergence that coincided with Philadelphia’s steady rise in the standings.
Baldschun was originally signed in 1956 by the Washington Senators, and toiled in the Senators’ farm system for five years until he mastered the screwball that proved to be his ticket to the majors. He was drafted by the Phillies in the 1960 Rule 5 draft. His success as a rookie in 1961 proved to be no fluke, as Baldschun appeared in 67 games for the Phillies in 1962, all in relief, finishing 49 games for the club. He won 12 games in relief and saved 13 more with a 2.96 earned run average.
Baldschun was even better in 1963. He went 11-7 in 65 relief appearances with a 2.30 ERA. He finished 44 games for the Phillies and saved 16, tied for third-best in the league with Roy Face.
Baldschun’s 21 saves in 1964 were again third-best in the league, but his ERA rose to a still-respectable 3.12 while his won-lost record slipped to 6-9. The 1964 season will be remembered in Philadelphia as the one that got away, as the Phillies lost 10 straight games down the stretch and saw a 6.5 game lead on September 20 evaporate completely. Phillies manager Gene Mauch lost confidence in Baldschun as his closer (even though he finished 51 games in 71 appearances that season) and Baldschun saw no action as the pennant slipped away from Philadelphia.
Baldschun was never the same pitcher after that. His record in 1965 slipped to 5-8 with a 3.82 ERA and only six saves in 65 appearances. After the 1965 season, Baldschun was traded to the Baltimore Orioles for Jackie Brandt and Darold Knowles. Three days later, the Orioles packaged Baldschun with pitchers Milt Pappas and Dick Simpson in the deal with the Cincinnati Reds that brought Frank Robinson to Baltimore. Baldschun went 1-5 for the Reds with no saves and a 5.49 ERA. In 1967, he appeared in only nine games for the Reds before being sent down to AAA ball to re-discover his former effectiveness, but mostly he struggled at that level. The Reds released Baldschun after the 1969 season, the last remnant of the infamous (for Cincinnati fans) Frank Robinson trade.
Balschun signed with the San Diego Padres and appeared in 65 games for San Diego in 1970. His record was 7-2, but he registered only one save with a 4.79 ERA. The Padres released him at the beginning of the 1970 season.
Baldschun’s nine-year career produced a 48-41 record with a 3.69 ERA. He appeared in 457 games and finished 267 with 60 saves – all but one of those saves with the Phillies. Even though he pitched only 5 seasons with Philadelphia, Baldschun’s 333 appearances still rank him eighth all-time in games pitched among Phillies hurlers.