Glancing Back, and Remembering Camilo Pascual
If, as most observers at the time believed, the best curveball in the 1960s belonged to Sandy Koufax, the second best – and a close second at that – was delivered by a right-handed, Cuban-born pitcher named Camilo Pascual.
He had a curveball that dropped as if it were falling off the edge of an invisible table. And he used it to win more games than he should have for teams that supported him less than they could have.
Pascual was signed by the Washington Senators as an amateur free agent in 1952. His rookie year in the big leagues was 1954, when he went 4-7 as a reliever for the Senators. Only four of his 48 appearances that year were starts. (Those were the days when most young pitchers had to earn their way into the starting rotation … via the bullpen.)
From 1955 to 1958, Pascual started in the Senators regular rotation. Pitching for one of the worst teams in the American League, Pascual’s combined record for those four seasons was 24-59. But as his strikeout-to-walk ratio gradually improved, his extraordinary stuff took over and his record improved to 17-10 in 1959 with a 2.64 ERA. He led the majors in both complete games and shutouts that season, and followed with a 12-8 record in 1960, the team’s last year in Washington.
For the next four years, pitching for the same franchise in a new location, Pascual was clearly the ace of the Minnesota Twins’ staff. He won 15 games in 1961, leading the American League in strikeouts with 221 and leading the major leagues with eight shutouts. He would repeat as the American League strikeout leader again in each of the next two years, winning 20 games in 1962 and 21 in 1963. His 18 complete games in both of those seasons were tops in the league. In both 1962 and 1963, Pascual was the only American League pitcher to reach the 200-mark in strikeouts.
Pascual went 15-12 for the Twins in 1965, with career highs in both starts (36) and innings pitched (267). At 31, Pascual was already on the down slope of his career, winning only 44 games over the next five years. He retired in 1971 with an 18-year record of 174-170 and a 3.63 ERA. For the four years when Pascual was one of the American League’s best right-handers, his combined record was 71-48 with 842 strikeouts and a 3.18 ERA.