Obituary: Barry Latman (1936-2019)

It has been reported on Facebook that Barry Latman, an All-Star pitcher in the 1950s and ’60s, has died at the age of 82. A post from an autograph seeker in the group Baseball Player Passings shows a note from a member of Latman’s family that reads: “VERY SORRY. Barry was ill for a long time and passed away April 28.” I haven’t found an official obituary, so if someone sees it, please let me know and I will update this post. Latman pitched for the Chicago White Sox (1957-59), Cleveland Indians (1960-63), Los Angeles/California Angels (1964-65) and Houston Astros (1966-67).

Arnold Barry Latman was born on May 21, 1936 in Los Angeles. He attended Fairfax High School in L.A. and garnered some headlines in 1954 by throwing a 7-inning perfect game against Hamilton, striking out 15 of the 21 batters he faced. It was a pitching-heavy high school league, apparently. Fairfax only managed 2 hits themselves in the 2-0 win. On the same day, a high school kid named Don Drysdale pitched a 2-hitter for Van Nuys.

Latman attended the University of Southern California on a baseball scholarship, but he chose to sign with the White Sox for the 1955 season. I couldn’t find the exact signing price, but it was widely reported that the bidding for his services was expected to go as high as $75,000. This was in the days before the Amateur Draft. Latman reported to the Waterloo White Hawks of the Three-Eye League and was an instant sensation. He went 18-5 with a 4.12 ERA, finishing second in the Rookie of the Year voting. He lost that award to his own catcher, John Romano, who also passed away earlier this year. In fact, the White Hawks had the four best rookies in the entire league, with Deacon Jones and Norm Cash finishing 3rd and 4th, respectively.

White Hawks 4 star rookies from 1955: From left to right: Norm Cash, John Romano, manager Willard Marshall, Deacon Jones and Barry Latman. Source: The Courier (Waterloo, Iowa), August 30, 1955.

Latman continued to go to college in the offseason, when he wasn’t pitching in Winter Ball. He studied banking and finance at Los Angeles State.

Latman continued to impress in the minors, winning 14 games for Memphis in 1956 and 13 for Indianapolis in 1957. He nearly duplicated his perfect game feat for Memphis in a game against Mobile. He gave up a triple to the first batter he faced when the outfielder lost the fly ball in the sun. He then gave up a sacrifice fly to the next hitter and retired 26 in a row after that. The White Sox brought him to the majors in September 1957. He was pretty effective coming out of the bullpen but was shelled in his two starting assignments, leaving him with a 1-2 record and an 8.03 ERA. The Sox gave him another try in August 1958, and this time Latman was brilliant. He was 3-0 with a 0.76 ERA in 13 games and 47-2/3 innings, including his first MLB shutout. That left him in great shape to be a key part of the White Sox rotation, just in time for the 1959 “Go-Go Sox.”

Latman said that he received good advice from Sox veteran pitchers Early Wynn and Dick Donovan, who told him to challenge the hitters. “Make them hit your pitch, and not the pitch they want to see. To go out there with the idea ‘try and hit this,'” he told the Associated Press. “I do think the psychology of pitching is one of the most important parts of the game.”

For the next six seasons, Latman would be an effective swingman, appearing in 31 to 45 games a year and starting no fewer than 18. He never pitched more than 200 innings in a season, but he picked up a fair share of wins and also recorded a few saves as well. He was 8-5 with the ’59 Sox, appearing in 37 games and starting 21. He threw 5 complete games and 2 shutouts, striking out 97 batters in 156 innings. He had a string of 21 consecutive scoreless innings as well. At 23 years old, Latman was the baby of the staff, and surely his work helped to give 38-year-old Wynn and 32-year old Billy Pierce enough rest between starts. The White Sox won the AL pennant but lost the World Series to the Dodgers, 4 games to 2. Latman didn’t make an appearance, but he did suffer a loss. While attending a Chicago Black Hawks hockey game, someone broke into his car and stole a coat that had eight World Series tickets.

Latman was traded to the Indians on April 18, 1960 for pitcher Herb Score. It was a controversial trade by Indians GM Frank Lane at the time, as Score wasn’t that far removed from being a 20-game winner. Score, who was still on the comeback trail from being struck in the eye by a line drive and subsequent arm injuries, had one more good season for the Sox. Latman gave the Indians four solid seasons and was an All-Star in 1961. He got off to a 9-0 start and won a career-high 13 games that year with 18 starts in 45 games. He fanned 108 hitters, tossed 4 complete games and picked up 5 saves. He had a career high 133 strikeouts in 1963, his final year with Cleveland.

Cleveland traded Latman to the Angels on December 2, 1963 for outfielder Leon Wagner. He had a 6-10 record for the Angels and a 3.85 ERA, with 40 appearances and 18 starts. He was used exclusively as a reliever in 1965, going 1-1 with a 2.84 ERA in 18 starts. In spite of the good performance, he was optioned to AAA in July and traded to Houston that December. He was primarily a reliever for the Astros, though he did make 9 starts in 31 appearances in 1966, including a 4-hit shutout of the San Francisco Giants. Latman had a 2-7 record and 2.71 ERA, but Astros manager Grady Hatton said there were a few hard-luck losses in his record, as well as some great performances that didn’t get wins. Latman was no longer the fastball thrower that the White Sox wanted him to be at the start of his career. Now in his early 30s, he was learning to be a pitcher.

“Tell the folks in Waterloo I’m still throwing my fast ball. I throw it as hard as I can. It never seems to get there,” he told The Courier columnist Russ Smith in 1967.

Source: Press and Sun Bulletin, April 24, 1966.

Latman went 3-6 with a 4.52 ERA in 39 games in 1967. The Astros put him on waivers in August, and he made two brief appearances for the team’s AAA affiliate in Oklahoma City. Those were his final pro ball games.

In his 11 seasons in the majors, Latman had a 59-68 record and a 3.91 ERA. He pitched in 344 games, with 134 of them as starts. He had 28 complete games, 10 shutouts and 16 saves. In 1219 innings, he struck out 829 and walked 489 for a 1.328 WHIP. Though his batting average of .145 wasn’t great, he did hit 2 career home runs.

In the book We Played the Game, Latman recalled facing Ted Williams early in his career. “I threw three straight strikes, and Nestor Chylak called three straight balls. I started hollering and screaming at him. He said, ‘Mr. Williams will tell you when you throw a strike.'”

I can’t read all of the obituary that his family had prepared, which you can see on the above-linked Facebook post. The first line, however, reads, “Barry was a big man with the biggest heart, beloved by his family, for whom he was the “grumpy” patriarch. He was a no nonsense person who had a dazzling smile and a great affection for children, especially his [grand children and] great grand children.”

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