R.I.P. to Jerry Casale, who pitched for three times in the late 1950s/early 1960s. He died on February 8, 2019 at the age of 85. Casale played for the Boston Red Sox (1958-60), Los Angeles Angels (1961) and Detroit Tigers (1961-62).
Gennaro Casale was born in Brooklyn, N.Y. on September 27, 1933. He had a long road to the majors, as he signed with the Red Sox out of high school in 1952 and spent 5 years in the minors and one year in military service before he was brought up to the majors. He won 14 games in 1952, his first pro season in San Jose, a Class-C team in the California League. He struggled the following season while playing for three different teams but righted the ship in 1954. He went 14-8 with a 3.24 ERA in Albany and then followed that up with a 17-11 record for Louisville in 1955. He struck out 186 batters in 213 innings and had a 2.96 ERA, becoming the Red Sox top pitching prospect.
“I think he’s a better pitcher than some of the fellows we saw pitch in the World Series last fall,” exclaimed Charlie Wagner, assistant farm director of the Red Sox in January 1956.
Still, the Sox sent him to the San Francisco Seals in 1956 rather than bring him up to the majors at that point. He responded by winning 19 games, and he also showed some power at the plate. He hit 3 home runs with the Seals, including one blast that was estimated at 551 feet. His baseball career was put on hold due to military obligations, and he missed all of 1957 and almost all of 1958.
Casale was discharged from the Army on September 3, 1958 and went straight from Fort Dix to Baltimore, where he met up with the Red Sox. He made his debut about two weeks later, on Sept. 14, throwing a scoreless inning against Detroit. He appeared in one other game that season and ended with 3 scoreless innings pitched and three strikeouts.
When Spring Training rolled around in 1959, Casale was penciled in as the fourth starter by manager Mike Higgins. During the offseason, Casale had gone to play winter ball in Venezuela to get back into baseball shape, and he also came back with a better curveball than he’d ever had. The Sox were suitably impressed. Casale won his first MLB start on April 15, 1959, with a 7-3 win over the Senators. He also belted a long 3-run home run to put an exclamation point on his big day. He would go on to appear in 31 games for the Red Sox, 26 of which were starts, and end the year with a 13-8 record, 4.31 ERA, 93 strikeouts and 3 home runs hit. His 3 shutouts were good for 4th in the AL, and his .619 winning percentage was 10th.
Casale struggled with arm problems the next season, developing bursitis from an old Army injury, he told the New York Times. He ended up with a 2-9 record and 6.17 ERA in 1960, and the Red Sox left him unprotected in the 1961 expansion draft. He was picked up by the Angels as their fifth pick (their first-ever pick, Eli Grba, passed away earlier this year). He was ineffective for them, but he did add one more note to Red Sox history by surrendering Carl Yastrzemski’s first major-league home run.
The Angels traded Casale in mid-season to Detroit, which kept him in the minor leagues for most of the rest of the year. Casale’s last season in the big leagues was 1962, when he made 18 appearances for the Tigers, including 1 start. He went 1-2 with a 4.68 ERA and struck out 16 batters in 36-2/3 innings. After making 18 appearances with the Buffalo Bisons in the International League in 1963, Casale retired from baseball.
For his career, Casale went 17-24 over parts of 5 seasons. He had a 5.08 WHIP and appeared in a total of 96 games. He threw 10 complete games and 3 shutouts, striking out 207 batters while walking 204. He also homered 4 times to go with his .216 batting average.
Baseball Reference reports that Casale spent more than 30 years in the restaurant business in New York City. His restaurant, Pino’s, was located on 34th Street. He would hand out reproductions of his 1959 Topps baseball card to customers as his business card.