Obituary: Jim Archer (1932-2019)

RIP to lefty pitcher Jim Archer, who pitched for two seasons before shoulder problems ended his career. He died on September 9 at the age of 87. Archer played for the Kansas City Athletics (1961-62).

Jim Archer was born in Max Meadows, Va., on May 25, 1932. According to his obituary at the Bristol Herald Courier, the high school he attended, Max Meadows High, no longer exists. He played basketball and baseball there and once threw a no-hitter and homered twice in the same game. Archer was signed early on by the Yankees and spent unsuccessful two seasons in the low minors. He won his first pro start on July 22, 1950, leading his Class-D Pulaski Counts to a 10-5 win over the Welch Miners in the Appalachian League. For the two seasons that Archer was in Class-D Ball, he had a 4-5 record with an ERA north of 7. He was cut from the Yankees in early 1952 and pitched in a semipro league in Kentucky. He regained his pitching form there, and the Yankees tried to re-sign him. Knowing that he would soon have a stint in the Army, he turned them down and signed with Baltimore once he got out of the Army.

Archer spent six seasons in the minors with the Orioles, starting in 1955. He resolved whatever problems plagued him in the Yankees system, because he went 9-10 with a fine 2.88 ERA for the ’55 York White Roses. The team also featured an 18-year-old Brooks Robinson as its third baseman.

Archer was used primarily as a starter in his time with the Orioles’ system. He won at least 11 games in a season from 1956-1960, with a high of 14 games in 1956 with Columbus and 1958 with San Antonio. His walk rate per 9 innings, which was an alarming 7.7 when he first started pitching as a teenager, had dropped to less than 2. His curveball was considered his best pitch. About the only thing that stopped him was a temporary fear of flying in 1959. A team flight that departed Tampa had to turn around and land back in Tampa when the plane lost an engine mid-flight. Archer called a relative to pick him up at the airport and took a train to meet the team in Columbus, Ga. He was back flying again in a month or so.

Archer made it as high as AAA, spending 1959 and 1960 with the Miami Marlins (then in the International League), but he did not seem to factor into the Orioles’ big-league plans. His career changed as he ate breakfast in a restaurant while playing winter ball in Puerto Rico in January 1961.

He told this story to the Herald Courier in 2008: “The secretary of the [Puerto Rican] ballclub said you’ve been traded. I said, ‘The hell I have. Why don’t I know about it?’ Right away, I got a call from Charlie Finley and he said you belong to me now.”

Archer was part of a deal between the Orioles and Finley’s Athletics that sent four Orioles to Kansas City in exchange for Whitey Herzog and Russ Snyder. Though Archer was 28 when the ’61 season started and hadn’t yet thrown a pitch in the major leagues, he took full advantage of the opportunity with his new team.

Playing for an A’s team that lost 100 games, Archer turned in a 9-15 performance with an excellent 3.20 ERA in 39 games, 27 of which were starts. Not only did the southpaw lead the team in ERA, but he also topped Athletics pitchers with 9 complete games, 2 shutouts (tied with fellow rookie Norm Bass) and 5 saves. Only Bass, with 11 wins, had more victories than he did. His 3.20 ERA was 9th-best in the American League, and his adjusted ERA+ of 130 was 4th in the league. If he had pitched for a winning ballclub, Archer would have been an All-Star.

“I was really worried early in the season when they weren’t using me at all. I didn’t know what they had in mind,” Archer told The Kansas City Times about his season. “If I had been established I wouldn’t have worried but being new on the club I didn’t know what to expect.”

Archer and Bass may have contributed to A’s manager Joe Gordon’s dismissal after 58 games. Gordon kept Archer in relief at the start of the season and reluctantly put him in the starting rotation when owner Finley insisted. Similarly, Gordon wanted Bass sent to the minors early on, and Finley told him to give the rookie pitcher another look. The two ended up being the only two decent pitchers Kansas City had. When your showman owner can handle a pitching staff better than the manager, it’s a good sign that the manager isn’t going to be around for very long.

Archer’s top off-field highlight also came in 1961. He and his brother decided to go sightseeing before a night game against the Yankees on June 19. They went to the Truman Library in Independence, Mo., and ran into former President Harry Truman. And Truman knew who he was.

“He said, ‘I don’t go to the ballgames anymore, but I know about you and appreciate your work.’ We talked to him for about 35-40 minutes,” Archer recalled. “It was absolutely great. My brother couldn’t believe it.”

To top off the day, Archer beat the Yankees 4-3, thanks to a 9th-inning home run by Wes Covington.

Jim Archer briefly quit flying while with the Miami Marlins after a team plane experienced engine problems. He eventually got back into the air after traveling by train for a spell. Source: The Miami Times, June 8, 1959.

As much as things went right for Archer in 1961, they went horribly wrong in 1962. He injured his shoulder in Spring Training and ineffective once the season started. He gave up 17 hits in 12 innings over 6 games and had a 10.95 ERA at the time he was demoted to Portland on May 25. He was brought back to the majors about a month later, but he struggled until September. Archer threw 5-1/3 innings of 1-hit ball over 4 appearances that month, lowering his ERA to 9.43 on the year.

Archer spent all of 1963 in the minors, pitching for Portland and Honolulu of the Pacific Coast League. He developed a knuckleball and was briefly considered to be recalled by the A’s, but he never returned to the big leagues. He retired from professional baseball after the 1963 season.

In his 2 seasons with the A’s, Archer had a 9-16 record and 3.94 ERA, appearing in 57 games, 28 of which were starts. He struck out 122 batters in 233 innings and walked 70.

After he retired from baseball, Archer ran several car dealerships in Tarpon Springs, Fla., and he later served as the city commissioner.

Archer’s pitching career is a great story about perseverance, and even if it didn’t end with a storybook finish, Archer didn’t seem embittered by the experience.

“I really enjoyed my time there,” he said in the 2008 interview. “I would have played for nothing if they would have fed me and gave me a place to sleep.”

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4 thoughts on “Obituary: Jim Archer (1932-2019)

  1. Norm Siebern tied the June 19th game with an inside-the-park homer in the bottom of the ninth, setting up Wes Covington’s game-winner. And, Roger Maris hit the 25th of his 61 in that game, too. What a day that must have been. A long conversation with President Truman, and a complete-game victory over the eventual World Series winners that evening. Also glad to know that Mr. Archer was a big success after his MLB career ended.


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