Thursday, April 5, 2012

All-Time Bluefield Team - Dean Chance

Up next on the All-Time Bluefield to the Bigs Team is 1964 Cy Young Award winner Dean Chance. With a career bWAR of 31.9 and ERA+ of 119, he's the ace of our staff. Two hurlers that are very close to those numbers are Chris Carpenter (32.5, 116) and Jose Rijo (31.0, 121).

Like Fernando Valenzuela and Luis Tiant, Chance turned his back to the plate in his windup to deceive hitters.

After going 52-1 with 17 no-hitters in high school, the Wooster, OH native signed with the Orioles in 1959. Only 18 years old, Wilmer Dean Chance was sent to Bluefield to begin his career. Over 14 starts and two relief outings, he went 10-3 with a 2.94 ERA. He allowed only 89 hits in 107 innings of work.

Prior to the 1961 season, the American League decided to expand from eight teams to ten, adding the Los Angeles Angels and the Washington Senators 2.0. The nation's capital was getting another team immediately after the original club moved to Minnesota to become the Twins. As pointed out in this interesting read in the B-R Bullpen, the expansion was done at the last minute to beat the National League to the punch. Chance was unprotected in the expansion draft, which turned out to be a total mess. League President Joe Cronin forgot to enforce the draft rule that said neither L.A. nor Washington could take more than four players from one team, so after the fact he made the two clubs make extra picks and swap selections until everything was kosher.

Chance was originally chosen by the Senators, but in the flurry of ex post facto deals, wound up an Angel. Gene Autry's club would reap the benefits.

After a cup of coffee at the end of the Halos' inaugural campaign, Chance enjoyed a terrific rookie year in 1962. Splitting time between the rotation and the bullpen, he posted a 2.96 ERA that ranked fourth in the AL and he even racked up eight saves, enough to rank ninth in the league. He picked up a vote in the Rookie of the Year balloting and his battery mate Buck Rodgers had four, but they both finished way behind Yankees SS Tom Tresh.

In his amazing 1964 season he went 20-9 with a 1.65 ERA that was nearly half the league average. He led the AL in wins, ERA, innings (278.1) and shutouts (11). He came up 10 strikeouts shy of winning the pitching Triple Crown. He started the second half of the season with three straight shutouts. In five starts against the eventual pennant-winning Yankees, he went 4-0 and allowed ONE run and 23 baserunners in 50 innings!*

*The one start he didn't win against New York was on June 6 on Saturday night at Dodger Stadium. He matched zeroes with Jim Bouton the whole night as the contest carried into extras. Bouton only lasted 13 scoreless innings while Chance went 14 shutout frames, holding the Yanks to three hits and two walks while striking out 12. The visitors broke the deadlock as soon as Chance departed with an Elston Howard two-run double off reliever Willie Smith. Bill Stafford closed the door in the bottom of the 14th as New York won 2-0.

Chance earned Cy Young honors in a landslide, and it was even more impressive because from the inception of the award in 1956 to 1966, there was only one given out for all of MLB. Sandy Koufax had his incredible four-year run from 1963-66, and Chance was the guy to snap the lefty's Cy Young streak.

Chance put up a 108 ERA+ over the next two seasons, but he walked more than 100 batters in both. He clashed with teammates and management and was traded to Minnesota after the 1966 season.

He had a major bounce-back season in his Twins debut, leading the AL in starts, innings and complete games in 1967. On August 6, he went 15 up, 15 down in a rain-shortened perfect game against Jim Lonborg and the Red Sox. While that wasn't an official no-hitter, he left no doubt less than three weeks later. In a twinbill finale in Cleveland, he started his August 25 outing with two walks, one of which scored after an error and wild pitch. He settled down and mowed through the Indians, retiring the last ten batters to finish a no-hitter. Despite going 20-14 with a 2.73 ERA, his season ended on a sour note as Lonborg and the Red Sox beat him on the season's last day to win the pennant.

He reached a career high with 292 innings pitched the following year before injuries took their toll in 1969. He was then traded to the Indians with Graig Nettles in a six-player deal that netted the Twins another fellow with a funky windup, Tiant. The 1970 season was mostly spent with the Indians before he was sold to the Mets towards the end of the year. The nomadic end to his career finished in Detroit, where he pitched to a 3.51 ERA in 1971 before calling it quits.

After his playing days were over, he got into boxing and served as manager for Earnie Shavers, one of the hardest-punching heavyweights of all time. He would later establish the International Boxing Association in the 1990s, whose title has been held by a who's who of recent boxing greats, including Oscar De La Hoya, Roy Jones Jr., Arturo Gatti, Shane Mosley, Diego Corrales and Jose Luis Castillo.

Chance retired with a record of 128-115. His batting record left much more to be desired. He recorded only 44 hits in 662 at bats with an amazing slash line of .066/.113/.069. While Chance had 44 hits in 11 seasons, Joe Dimaggio had 44 hits in the last 24 games of his 56-game hitting streak in 1941. In one stretch during his .406 season, Ted Williams tallied 43 hits in 23 games.

From 1962-69, he led the American League in WAR and Pitching Runs, and finished second in wins and innings to Jim Kaat. He lacked the longevity of some of his peers, but Dean Chance was certainly one of the finest pitchers of his time. And his career got its start at Bowen Field.

All-Time Bluefield Roster
SP 1 Dean Chance
Setup TBA
Setup TBA
Closer TBA

C Gregg Zaun

SS Cal Ripken

LF Don Baylor

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