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For Fans Who Should Know Better

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Mudville: November 29, 2022 3:45 pm PDT
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Larry Jaster cannot say for certain that his record-setting performance in 1966 will never be eclipsed or even matched. Considering how starting pitchers are used and babied in baseball’s current climate, it’s a good bet, though, that the former St. Louis Cardinals southpaw has little about which to worry.

Jaster, 78, was one of the Cards more promising pitchers in the middle part of the 1960s and appeared set to join a stable of talented young starters that included Steve Carlton and Nelson Briles. What Jaster did in 1966 – leading the National League with five shutouts, all of which came against the Dodgers – certainly had folks in St. Louis salivating.

His epic performance against Los Angeles tied a Major League mark that had only happened twice before, the previous time coming in 1916 when Philadelphia’s Hall-of Fame right-hander Grover Cleveland Alexander blanked Cincinnati five times. Alexander tied a Major League record with 16 shutouts that season. Washington’s Tom Hughes who shut out Cleveland five times in 1905, is the only other pitcher to shut out one team that many times in a season. Jaster went 11-5 in 1966, recording his five shutouts in only 21 starts.

“It’s kind of a crazy record,” Jaster said. “I can’t see it being broken. Pitchers don’t go nine innings anymore and to it five times against one club makes it more remote. Pitchers throw 100 pitches today and they are out of there. Maybe they go to 120 if they got something going like a no-hitter or a shutout.”

Jaster went 9-7 the following year as St. Louis earned its second World Series crown in four seasons but by the middle of 1968 Jaster had begun to struggle and, as a result, was left unprotected in the expansion draft. He was selected by Montreal and pitched one season in Canada before getting traded to the Braves, for whom he would appear in 14 games in 1970 and five more in 1972.

While the Michigan native’s career proved to be far shorter than he would have liked or imagined, he left his mark on the game in a unique way, equaling a record set by one of the sports legendary pitchers.

BASEBALL OR FOOTBALL

There were no guarantees that Jaster would be playing baseball as his senior year in high school drew to a close. He was an accomplished football star at Midland High School, having earned All-State laurels in his final season. He was a quarterback and defensive back and had scholarship offers from Michigan State, Indiana and Nebraska.

While he admits he liked football “quite a bit” he had some issues with his right knee that pushed him in the direction of baseball.

“People in high school said I was crazy to be playing football,” he said. “But I liked playing it so I played. It also might have gotten me a little more money when I signed [with St. Louis] to keep me from going to school. So, I decided maybe I should just stick with baseball.”

Jaster had gone 19-3 in his three years playing high school baseball and had also drawn interest from the White Sox, Tigers and Orioles. He signed with St. Louis, though, for what he said was a package close to $60,000 that included a scholarship to Central Michigan.

“St. Louis had doubled what the other clubs offered,” Jaster said. “The research was there with St. Louis. They only had one lefty in the big leagues that was starting at the time so I thought I had a pretty good opportunity. They pushed me and I got every break.”

He was pitching for Winnipeg of the Class-C Northern League within a week of graduating high school in 1962. Jaster made 13 starts for the Goldeyes, going 4-4 with a 4.32 ERA with 86 strikeouts in 75 innings. He showed considerable promise, particularly in a July 29 complete-game victory over Grand Forks in which he fanned 13.

“I went to Winnipeg, at least, in the summer,” Jaster said. “The next year they started me in Tulsa [of the Double-A Texas League] and I struggled, so they sent me back to Winnipeg in late April/early May. Then I started pitching well again and they sent me back to Tulsa.”

Jaster went 2-2 with a 2.25 ERA in five starts for Winnipeg and ultimately finished 3-3 with a 4.03 ERA in 30 games [seven starts] in the Texas League. He split the 1964 season between Jacksonville of the Triple-A International League, with whom he began the season, and Tulsa, where he was sent in August, combining to go 6-10 with a 3.78 ERA in 24 games [19 starts].

“It hurt me when they lowered the mounds. I used leverage. I tried to use my legs and leverage off those high mounds [like Dodger Stadium].”

Much to his dismay, however, Jaster began 1965 back in Tulsa. It took some time for some of the sting of returning to Double-A to subside but once it did, Jaster began to produce. He worked with former National League MVP [1950] and former Whiz Kid Jim Konstanty on his breaking stuff and went on to win 11 games, post a 3.09 ERA and lead the Texas League with 219 strikeouts in 210 innings. His strong finish would be enough to earn him a September call-up to St. Louis.

Jaster made his Major League debut on Sept. 17, throwing a scoreless inning against the Dodgers. He followed that with complete-game victories against Houston, San Francisco and Houston again to finish the month at 3-0 with a 1.61 ERA.

“I had my best [minor-league season] in 1965 and they called me up,” he said. “That [the three victories] was amazing when you look back on it. If you were going well, they just let you pitch. I pitched against the Astros and they had a good young club and I beat the Giants in a pennant race. I remember as I look back at it it’s September and teams play a lot of callups. The Astros were out of it and they were playing younger guys but I had pitched against most of them in Double-A that year and they were good.

“The Giants were a different story. Willie Mays [who won the NL MVP that year] walks up to the plate and I am in awe. I almost have to pinch myself; I’m actually here pitching against Mays. They were a good veteran team with a good lineup. They were tough. But I had it going that year. I pitch well at Tulsa and just kept it going. I thought I should have been in the rotation in ’66.”

OH, THOSE DODGERS

Such was not the case, however. The Cardinals had a bunch of veteran arms such as Curt Simmons and Tracy Stallard so after five weeks and five starts with the parent club, Jaster was sent back to Tulsa during the second week of May. He was 2-2 with a 4.34 ERA prior to his demotion but one of those victories was a 2-0 shutout at Dodger Stadium on April 25 in which he topped Claude Osteen. He scattered seven hits and struck out seven. Though he didn’t know it, that effort would be the beginning of a remarkable and unique run.

“I was a young guy and I had options so I was the one who got sent out,” Jaster said. “They told me I would be the first one recalled. It was disappointing because I had pitched well early. I went down and didn’t pitch very well right away because I had my head between my legs. I didn’t get down to business. I finally got called up when they dealt some older players.”

Jaster stayed in Tulsa for six weeks, where he went 2-4 with a 4.98 ERA in 10 games [seven starts] before returning to St. Louis in late June. Four of his first five appearances upon returning were out of the bullpen but the third game back [on July 3] was another start at Dodger Stadium, which resulted in a 2-0 victory. This time, in topping Don Drysdale, he scattered three hits and fanned five in running his scoreless-inning streak against the Dodgers to 19.

“The mound at Dodger Stadium was a great mound,” Jaster said. “I remember that. It hurt me when they lowered the mounds. I used leverage. I tried to use my legs and leverage off those high mounds [like Dodger Stadium]. I was a fly ball pitcher so when they lowered the mound [after 1968] it hurt me. I had a so-so curve and changeup that I could throw for strikes but my fastball was my best pitch and the high mound definitely helped me. And that stadium was great to pitch in. The ball didn’t fly so it was hard to hit the ball out at that time.”

Jaster rejoined the rotation in mid-July and on July 29, he faced the Dodgers again, this time in St. Louis. He scattered five hits in a 4-0 victory while striking out eight in besting Drysdale yet again. The Cardinals were back in Dodger Stadium on Aug. 18 and Jaster turned the trick for a fourth time, hurling a five-hitter and striking out seven in a 4-0 victory in which he defeated Osteen for a second time.

St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Larry Jaster throws the last pitch of the game against the Los Angeles Dodgers on Sept. 29, 1966. The Cardinals won 2-0. That was Jaster’s fifth-straight shutout over the Dodgers during the season. He tied a Major League record set in 1916 by Grover Cleveland Alexander. (St. Louis Post-Dispatch File Photo)

He started six games in September, in the midst of a pennant race, and went 3-0. His final outing was at home against the Dodgers [Sept. 28] and once again he was masterful, allowing only four hits while striking out four to finish the season at 11-5 with a 3.26 ERA. Jaster defeated Don Sutton in the finale.

“He’s been throwing just one pitch, a fastball and while most guys try to keep the fastball low, he’s keeping it high and we’re not hitting him,” Willie Davis told The Sporting News in the Oct. 15, 1966, edition. “I don’t know, I just don’t know.”

Hall-of-Famer Sandy Koufax, who would retire after the Dodgers lost the World Series to Baltimore that fall, was also in awe of Jaster. The two didn’t face each other so Koufax, who went 27-9 and won his third Cy Young that season, had the opportunity to view Jaster from a more relaxed point of view. He told The Sporting News, “Jaster makes it look so easy. Was he impressive? He’s better than impressive. What’s the next adjective.”

Jaster’s final line against the Dodgers that season was 45 innings pitched, 24 hits allowed, all of which were singles, 31 strikeouts and eight walks. The Dodgers hit .157 collectively against him. A runner reached third base only seven times in the five games and on the few occasions Jaster was in trouble, he worked his way out of it.

“I can’t remember too many people giving me too much trouble,” Jaster said. “They didn’t have a lot of power and in that park it was hard to hit home runs. I was a strike thrower and I kept their hits fairly well spaced out. And I didn’t walk many.

“The more I think on it, it was a different record but I also think how did that really happen? You have to pitch well and you have to have a little bit of luck on your side, a play being made at the right time or a hit to help me win, that kind of stuff. And the Dodgers had a great staff and if you gave up more than a couple of runs you might get beat.”

Jaster said that he received a letter from Grover Cleveland’s widow after the fifth game against L.A.

“I sent that letter to Cooperstown along with the baseballs from the five shutouts,” Jaster said. “I’ve never been there [Cooperstown], though my kids have.”

St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Larry Jaster. He shutout the Los Angeles Dodgers five times in 1966. He tied a Major League record set in 1916 by Grover Cleveland Alexander. (St. Louis Post-Dispatch File Photo)

TWO WORLD SERIES SEASONS AND THEN ITS GONE

Jaster opened the 1967 season as permanent part of the St. Louis staff but until he was given the ball for his first start on April 14, which was at home against the Dodgers, he wasn’t taking anything for granted.

“After ’66 I’m thinking I’m going to be in the rotation,” Jaster said. “Probably not No. 1 [that was Bob Gibson] but two through five was wide open. You had Carlton and Briles and I was fourth or fifth.”

That first start against Los Angeles proved to be more of the same as Jaster blanked the Dodgers through 6 1/3 innings before Jim LeFebvre brought in a run with a sacrifice fly to end his streak at 52 1/3 innings. It was the start of what Jaster would call the best year he had in the big leagues. He went 9-7 with a career-best 3.01 ERA in 34 games [23 starts].

Jaster, however, didn’t fit into the Cards’ post-season plans. He only pitched a third of an inning in the World Series victory over Boston that fall.

“They decided to go with three starters so I was kind of left out of that for the pen,” he said. “They make those decisions. I pitched in one game [Game 6] and didn’t pitch all that long. I gave a grounder to short that Dal Maxvill lost in the shirts and a bloop hit. I didn’t get pounded.”

1968 followed and though it was the year of the pitcher it wasn’t the year of Jaster. Oh, he started off well and through July 14 he was 7-4 with a 1.79 ERA. That included a two-hit shutout of the Mets at Shea Stadium on May 31. Jaster lost his perfect game on a Greg Goossen single with two outs in the eighth inning yet he was still good enough to best Tom Seaver.

Jaster’s issues arose after the All-Star break. He went 2-8 with a 6.36 ERA in 58 innings over his last 12 appearances, which included losing all five of his August starts.

“I was 7-4 at the All-Star break with an ERA under two and in the second half I hurt my shoulder,” Jaster said. “I don’t know what happened. Maybe I slept on it in the air conditioning without my shirt on; that’s all I could come up with. They gave me a cortisone shot, told me to rest it and then go back out there. I never found out what was wrong. I pitched the rest of the year, took a trip to Japan [with the team] and pitched in Japan quite a bit. I didn’t feel any effects of it.

“I was mainly a fastball pitcher and it might have taken an inch off my fastball plus the movement. That was the expansion year so my second half threw up some red flags. They had some prospects coming, one of whom was Jerry Reuss. I had a bad second half and they could only protect so many [in the upcoming expansion draft]. They left me unprotected and I went to Montreal. I didn’t see it coming but it didn’t surprise me, either.”

MONTREAL, ATLANTA AND HEADING HOME

The Expos selected Jaster with the 47th pick in the 1968 Expansion Draft and he joined a staff that featured other established veterans such as Roy Face, Mudcat Grant and Dick Radatz. Neither the Expos nor Jaster did very well that season. Montreal finished with 52 wins while Jaster went 1-6 with a 5.49 ERA in 24 games [11 starts]. His lone victory was a complete-game gem at Pittsburgh on April 27 during which he scattered six hits and fanned four.

Jaster also had the distinction of starting Montreal’s home-opener [against St. Louis] and, as a result, threw the first Major League pitch in Canada.

“[Manager Gene] Mauch told me I had the right to pitch Opening Day but he wanted me to pitch that first day in Montreal,” Jaster said. “The year started out good but then I got a crazy little thing like a plantar wart on my left first finger. It was the release point finger. It kept splitting on me all year. It would heal, I would pitch it would split. It would heal up, I would pitch, it would split. I didn’t pitch as many innings because of that.

“My shoulder was fine; that year was more related to my fingers. They burned it and tried to get rid of it and it finally disappeared but by that time, the season was just about over. I pitched well in Winter Ball in Venezuela and they picked me to pitch in the Caribbean World Series. We ended up winning the Caribbean World Series in 1969. I didn’t get back to the States until February [1970] when Spring Training was starting.”

Montreal sent Jaster to the Braves on Dec. 2, 1969, for Don Johnson and Jim Britton. Jaster, however, struggled coming out of the pen, going 1-1 with a 6.85 ERA and two blown saves in 14 outings before he was sent to Richmond of the Triple-A International League at the end of June. He returned to his role as a starter for Richmond and was 5-8 with a 4.08 ERA in 18 games [15 starts]. He wouldn’t return to the Major Leagues, however, until 1972 and even then, that was only for five appearances.

“I just didn’t pitch well for Atlanta,” he said. “They put me in the pen and I hadn’t pitched there before. I didn’t have the same fastball or movement but it wasn’t related to my arm injury. I played high school football and I was lifting weights and because of that, I think I was much stronger my first few years of pro ball. They called it frozen shoulder at the time but I think I lost strength.

“In those days, they didn’t think much about weights. I just think I lost strength over the first five or six years that I played. When the strength wasn’t there anymore some of the stuff and movement was off my fastball.”

Jaster pitched all of 1971 with Richmond, mostly as a reliever and was doing well out of the pen in ’72 [7-2, 2.92 ERA with nine saves], well enough that the Braves brought him up at the end of the regular season. He went 1-1 in five games, including picking up a win against the Dodgers. He also started the season finale against Los Angeles and lost. He returned to Richmond for the 1973 and ’74 seasons before retiring at the age of 30.

“It was quite a shock when I got sent down [in 1970] but I wasn’t pitching well,” Jaster said. “My first two and a half years I was 32-15 at the point I hurt my shoulder. But I didn’t win many games after that and finished 35-33.”

Jaster returned to school after leaving baseball and earned a degree in physical education from Georgia State University. He then earned a master’s from the University of New Mexico before heading off to Colorado Springs, where he coached high school ball for four years. Jaster returned to UNM as a coach in 1981 and stayed there for four years until the Braves called and offered job as a minor league pitching coach. He stayed with the Braves for 10 years, coaching the likes of Tom Glavine, Turk Wendell and Mark Wohlers as they made their way through Atlanta’s system. He went on to coach with Baltimore for 16 years before retiring.

While he would work with an impact hundreds of young pitchers, he’s best remembered for what he did in 1966.

Covered a Mets-Astros doubleheader in 1987 and never looked back. Spent eight years at MLB.com, more than half of that as the Mets beat writer. Had one beat writer from another newspaper threaten to kill him in an elevator at the winter meetings. The other half was as MiLB.com’s staff historian. Worked three years in Philly at Comcast covering the Phillies’ minor leagues and doing weekly TV spots. Author of the popular blog The Bobblist, which covers everything A to Z in the world of bobbleheads. Really.

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