Glancing Back, and Remembering Claude Osteen
For nearly a decade, Claude Osteen was the best left-handed starting pitcher on the Los Angeles Dodgers’ staff, once a guy named Sandy Koufax had retired. He was a workhorse who averaged 261 innings pitched per season from 1963 to 1973. During that period, he pitched 121 complete games in 400 starts, with 36 shutouts and a combined earned run average of 3.13.
Claude Osteen was signed out of high school by the Cincinnati Reds in 1957. He made three token appearances with the Reds in 1958, and then progressed spectacularly through the Reds’ farm system, winning 19 games in 1956 and eight in 1959 before being called up to Cincinnati. He did more sitting than pitching in 1960, and was returned to the minors in 1961, where he won 16 games before being traded to the Washington Senators.
In Washington, Osteen finally got the chance to pitch regularly. In fact, in 1962, his first season with the Senators, his 150.1 innings pitched were more than he pitched in five previous seasons with the Reds. Osteen was 8-13 with a 3.65 ERA in 1962 for the American League’s worst team.
He quickly established himself as the ace of the Senators’ staff, going 9-14 with a 3.35 ERA in 1963 and 15-13 with a 3.33 ERA in 1964. He pitched 257.0 innings that season with 13 complete games in 36 starts, all for a team that finished the season at 62-100.
Over the winter, Osteen was involved in a blockbuster deal that sent him and infielder John Kennedy to the Los Angeles Dodgers for Frank Howard, Ken McMullen, Phil Ortega, Dick Nen and Pete Richert. In his first season with the Dodgers, Osteen went 15-15 with a 2.79 ERA. He was 1-1 in his two World Series starts with a 0.64 ERA.
Osteen flourished as the Dodgers’ number three starter behind Koufax and Don Drysdale. He followed up in 1966 with a 17-14 season on a 2.85 ERA. His only World Series appearance in 1966 – and the last of his career – was a three-hit, 1-0 loss to Wally Bunker and the Baltimore Orioles.
When Koufax retired after the 1966 season, Osteen stepped up as the Dodgers’ ace left-hander. He won 17 games in 1967 and then went 12-18 (tied with Ray Sadecki for the league high in losses) on a 3.08 ERA. He bounced back to win 20 games in 1969, pitching 16 complete games and 321.0 innings with a 2.66 ERA. He also threw seven shutouts.
Osteen pitched four more seasons with the Dodgers, winning 66 games. His best season was 1972, when he went 20-11 with a 2.64 ERA and 14 complete games. After a 16-11 campaign in 1973, he was traded to the Houston Astros for outfielder Jim Wynn. He was 9-9 for Houston before being traded near the end of the 1974 season to the St. Louis Cardinals. He signed with the Chicago White Sox at the beginning of the 1975 season, and went 7-16 for Chicago and then retired.
In 18 major league seasons, Osteen compiled a 196-195 record with a 3.30 ERA. He was an All-Star three times.