Obituary: Ray Peters (1946-2019)

R.I.P. to Ray Peters, an original Seattle Pilot whose only MLB experience came with the 1970 Milwaukee Brewers. Keith Olbermann announced earlier on Twitter that Peters died on May 4 after an illness. He was 72 years old.

Ray Peters was born on August 27, 1946 in Buffalo, N.Y. and was a heavily recruited pitcher in high school and college. He went to Nickols High School in Buffalo, where he averaged 14 strikeouts per game and had a 20-2 record, including consecutive no-hitters. He then attended Harvard University (on an academic, not an athletic, scholarship) and was drafted multiple times in MLB’s Amateur Draft. He was drafted by the Tigers in 1965, the Athletics in 1967, and both the A’s and the Mets in 1968 (there were two drafts per year at the time). Finally, the expansion Seattle Pilots drafted him in the first round of the 1969 January Amateur Draft, and he signed as the overall 22nd pick. He had gone 7-1 with a 1.87 ERA in what would be his last season at Harvard.

“The Mets had so many young pitchers that it would take me forever to make the team,” Peters told the Democrat and Chronicle (Rochester, N.Y.) in 1970. “I thought my chances of becoming a major league pitcher would be much better if I signed with an expansion club.”

Seattle, he said, was “the best organization I could have become affiliated with.”

Peters wouldn’t be with Seattle for very long, as the organization only lasted one season in 1969 before being bought by Bud Selig and moved to Milwaukee. But while Peters was a Pilot, he was an impressive prospect. His first pro team was the 1969 Newark Co-Pilots, and he pitched in just 4 games there. He threw 10 scoreless innings in relief and then tossed a shutout, and the reports from Co-Pilots manager Earl Torgeson so the Pilots farm director Art Parrack were so enthusiastic that Peters was quickly advanced to the A-Ball Clinton PIlots of the Midwest League. He went 6-3 there with a 3.44 ERA, with 58 strikeouts in 68 innings. He was just as good for the Pilots’ Arizona Instructional League team, going 4-1 there.

Now pitching with the Brewers, Peters started 1970 in Portland of the Pacific Coast League. He was promoted to the majors on June 1 and made his MLB debut on June 4, starting against the Cleveland Indians. He was roughed up, allowing 2 runs in the first inning and giving up 3 straight hits to open the 3rd before being removed. He was charged with 4 earned runs on 6 hits and 3 walks. He admitted his control was off in the first inning, but all three hits in the 3rd were bloopers, and two of them were broken-bat hits.

“It’s a lousy way to get your confidence, by losing. But I’m not worried. I’ll be all right the next time out,” he said after the game.

Peters’ next start came on June 9 against the Tigers, and he failed to retire a batter. He gave up a single to Dick McAuliffe and walked Elliott Maddox and Al Kaline before getting the hook from manager Dave Bristol. All three runners would score when Willie Horton belted a grand slam off of reliever Skip Lockwood.

Those two games left Peters with an 0-2 record and a 31.50 ERA. He allowed 7 hits in his 2 innings of work and walked 5 while striking out 1. His struggles persisted in AAA, where he had a 7-10 record and 5.78 ERA for Portland before some good outings with AA Jacksonville.

Peters made just one appearance in the Milwaukee organization in 1971, allowing a run in 1 inning for AAA Evansville. He was traded to Philadelphia on April 22 and spent the remainder of the season with the Eugene Emeralds of the Pacific Coast League. After a 2-9 record there, he quit baseball at the end of the season. In his 3 seasons in the minors, Peters had an 18-22 record and 5.42 ERA, with 269 strikeouts in 342 innings.

Peters went into real estate lending after his retirement from baseball. He worked in Arizona, Rhode Island and Texas before retiring at the age of 61 to spend more time with his family. Ray Peters’ sons have built a website about their dad’s baseball journey. Check it out at https://bigtrainray.com/.

This article from the Denton Record-Chronicle, written earlier this year, notes that Peters is one of a handful of former MLB players who accumulated fewer than 43 days of major-league service and are ineligible to receive any kind of a pension payment. Thanks to the numerous deals negotiated between MLB and the MLBPA (Major League Baseball Players Union), most ballplayers receive at least a little money as retirees, but some groups of players were left out. It happened to Peters, and it happened to former White Sox catcher Mike Colbern, who died earlier this year after battling a long series of injuries and illnesses. As these players are approaching their so-called golden years, they are facing poor health and bankruptcies without any assistance from MLB or MLBPA. With as much money as baseball and the union rakes in each year, it’s a tragedy that any former major-leaguer should face an uncertain financial future.

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