Oh, What a Relief: Don Elston
Once he was moved full-time into the bullpen, Don Elston emerged as one of the National League’s most effective relief pitchers at the end of the 1950s. While overshadowed statistically by the Pittsburgh Pirates’ Roy Face, Elston brought a day-in, day-out consistency to protecting leads for the Chicago Cubs, a team that had precious few leads to protect.
Elston was signed by the Cubs in 1947 and toiled in their farm system for nearly a decade. He won 18 games in 1952 and 17 games in both 1954 and 1955, but didn’t find a permanent spot on the Cubs’ pitching staff until 1957, and he earned his place via the Brooklyn Dodgers, who had acquired Elston in a trade for Don Hoak, Russ Meyer and Walt Moryn. He appeared in one game for the Dodgers and then was traded back to Chicago, where he was 6-7 with a 3.56 ERA in 29 appearances, 25 as a reliever.
In 1958, Elston was used exclusively as a reliever, appearing in 69 games (tops in the National League) and finishing 39. He was 9-8 with 10 saves and a 2.88 ERA for a Cubs team that finished the season at 72-82. His nine victories tied him with Moe Drabowsky for second on the team after Glen Hobbie (who had 10 victories).
Elston followed up in 1959 by leading the league in both appearances (65) and games finished (49). He completed the 1959 season at 10-8 with a 3.32 ERA and 13 saves. In 1960, Elston was third in the National League in appearances (behind Face and Lindy McDaniel) with 60, finishing 33 games and saving 11. His record in 1960 was 8-9 with a 3.40 ERA.
From 1960 through 1964, Elston was 24-30 with a 3.90 ERA. He appeared in an average of 55 games per season. His best season in the 1960s was 1963, when he was 4-1 with a 2.83 ERA in 51 appearances.
Elston retired after the 1964 season with a career record of 49-54 and a 3.69 ERA. He appeared in 450 games and saved 63. Elston was a member of the 1959 National League All-Star team.