Baseball Way Back: White Sox pitcher Peters a double threat with arm and bat

  • Former White Sox pitcher Gary Peters throws out a ceremonial first pitch before a 2014 game between the White Sox and Astros. Peters died on Thursday at 85.

    Former White Sox pitcher Gary Peters throws out a ceremonial first pitch before a 2014 game between the White Sox and Astros. Peters died on Thursday at 85.

Updated 1/28/2023 4:22 PM

When the news arrived of the passing of former White Sox pitcher Gary Peters, I immediately thought back to the times when I watched Sox games on WFLD, Channel-32 with Jack Drees at the microphone or listened on WMAQ to Bob Elson and Red Rush.

By that time, under manager Don Gutteridge, the Sox were in a massive decline and were two years removed from a 16-year period when they were in constant contention.


Still, the Sox had a rotation -- with Peters, Joel Horlen and Tommy John -- that would be the envy of just about any major league team.

Peters was in a class by himself -- his bat was almost as valuable as his arm.

A Sports Illustrated article from April 1965 said Peters "hits like an outfielder. In fact, the pitcher's spot in the Chicago batting order produced 57 runs batted in last year; only (Pete) Ward, (Ron) Hansen and (Floyd) Robinson had more."

In 14 years in the big leagues, Peters had 179 hits, including 31 doubles, seven triples, 19 homers and 102 runs driven in.

He was such a good hitter that on May 26, 1968, Sox manager Eddie Stanky batted Peters sixth in the lineup against New York. That year, Peters became the last Sox pitcher to hit a grand slam, off Al Downing in a 5-1 victory over the Yankees on May 5.

Peters was also a prolific pinch hitter, stepping to the plate in that role 75 times, with 13 runs driven in, six walks and 16 hits, including two doubles, one triple and four home runs, among them a walk-off homer against Kansas City on July 19, 1964.

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Teammate Ward even nicknamed him "Babe" in honor of his offensive exploits.

But as impressive as his feats with the bat were, they paled in comparison with the left-handed hurler's feats on the mound.

Peters was key to the Sox pennant pushes of 1964 and 1967 -- the Sox fell short of the AL crown by only one game in '64 and were tied for first on Sept. 6 in '67.

But the closest he came to a White Sox pennant was in his two regular season appearances as a September call-up with the 1959 AL champs.

The White Sox became intrigued with the Pennsylvania native in 1955. He was already impressing with his two-way talents for the Pardoe team in the semipro Pymatuning League, where he played alongside his father, Tom Peters. On Aug. 2, 1955, Peters pitched a one-hit shutout and belted a three-run homer in Pardoe's 7-0 win over New Hamburg.

But the road to the majors was anything but easy for Peters, who began his minor league career alongside future Sox battery mate J.C. Martin in Holdrege of the Nebraska State League.


He had brief call-ups in 1959, 1960, 1961 and 1962, but couldn't stick with the big club.

He told reporters, "I had a pretty good fastball until they tried to teach me the curve and slider. I got so wrapped in those pitches that I forgot how to throw my best pitch."

With a degree in mathematics from Grove City (Pennsylvania) College, a teaching career seemed more likely than major league stardom.

He said, "I was fed up and considered quitting. In '63 the Sox had used up their three options on me. If I ended up back in the minors again, I was determined to play out the season, then start teaching. After all, I'd been planning for just such a thing."

The breakthrough on May 6, 1963, when starter Juan Pizarro, scheduled to pitch against Kansas City, came down with the flu.

Peters answered the call, giving up one run in eight innings and hitting a round-tripper to earn his first major league victory in a 5-1 triumph.

From that point on, Peters was on a roll, reeling off 11 straight victories between July 11 and Aug. 29.

He wound up with a 19-8 record and a league leading 2.33 ERA, capturing American League Rookie of the Year honors.

That year, he completed 13 games, struck out 189 batters in 243 innings, while allowing only 68 walks. He also threw four shutouts, including a near perfect game against the Orioles on July 15. The only blemish in the 4-0 one-hit victory was a single by Baltimore starter Robin Roberts.

He told reporters, "Sure you get discouraged, but I have never been able to throw hard until this season. I guess my motion is better."

There was no sophomore jinx in 1964 -- Peters went 20-8, leading the league in victories and making the first of two all-star appearances.

Peters would never again reach the 20-win plateau, but would consistently post low ERA figures, including a league-leading 1.98 in more than 204 innings in 1966.

In 1967, Peters, who went 16-11 that year, with a 2.28 ERA, pitched in a memorable All-Star Game at Anaheim Stadium. The National League won 2-1 in 15 innings. Peters pitched three perfect innings, dueling with the Chicago Cubs' Ferguson Jenkins, who gave up the only AL run on a Brooks Robinson homer.

The game film, narrated by Jack Brickhouse, provides rare footage of Peters in action, showing his seemingly effortless motion as he dominates the NL's best hitters, striking out Willie Mays, Roberto Clemente, Orlando Cepeda and Dick Allen. All but Allen struck out looking.

The White Sox traded Peters to Boston following the 1969 season. He had two more productive seasons in Beantown, going 16-11 in 1970 and 14-11 in 1971, although by that time his ERA was above 4.00, before the Red Sox released him in October 1972.

It's too bad he didn't stick around a little longer on the South Side. It is tempting to imagine Peters pitching on the same team as Dick Allen during that magical 1972 season. And with the introduction of the DH in 1973, Peters might also have filled that role.

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