RIP to Bob Tufts, a relief pitcher for three seasons in the early 1980s. He died from complications related to multiple myeloma treatment on Oct.4. He had been documenting his battle with cancer on his Twitter account, @TuftsB. While in a hospital for stem cell treatment, Tufts developed pneumonia and multiple infections that spread to his organs. His family announced that Tufts had passed away on Friday morning, with his wife and daughter by his side. He was 63 years old. Tufts pitched for the San Francisco Giants (1981) and Kansas City Royals (1982-83).
Bob Tufts was born in Medford, Mass., on November 2, 1965. He attended Lynnfield High School in Lynnfield, Mass — when he wasn’t going to Red Sox games. As a senior, he pitched one game in the steady rain and hurried through it, trying to get the game completed. It was finally called after six innings. “I was hurrying so much that I didn’t even know I had pitched a no-hitter until the game was over,” he said.
Tufts went on to attend Princeton University. He graduated with a degree in economics and became one of 32 Princeton alumni to make the major leagues. The first, Leonidas Lee, played in 1877, and the most recent one, Mike Ford, played in 50 games for the Yankees this season. But before Tufts debuted in the majors, the last Princeton alum was Dave Sisler, who played from 1956-1962. After Tufts, no Tigers made the majors until Chris Young debuted with Texas in 2004.
As a lefty starter, Tufts was an ace for the Princeton team. He threw three straight complete games as a sophomore in 1975 and almost no-hit Yale in 1976, settling for a 6-0 one-hitter. He was drafted by the Giants in the 12th Round of the 1977 Amateur Draft. He was the second member of his family to enter into professional ball, as older brother Bill was a lefty pitcher/first baseman in the Cubs organization from 1974-1975 before he hurt his arm.
Tufts later said he didn’t think much about being drafted until right before the draft. When the Giants contacted him to see if he would sign, he decided it would be a good opportunity to travel and test himself against something more than Ivy League competition.
“It had never been an all-consuming desire,” he told The San Francisco Examiner in 1981. “My brother pitched in the Cubs organization and hurt his arm, and seeing his experiences with that, I figured it wasn’t worth it.”
Tufts made his pro debut with the Great Falls Giants, a Rookie League team in the Pioneer League. He struggled through three starts, with a 2-1 record but a 7.20 ERA. He was promoted to Cedar Rapids and immediately showed his potential. He went 3-1 with a 1.72 ERA in his first five starts and ended up at 4-4 with a 3.27 ERA in 9 starts. He tossed two complete games and one shutout, striking out 28 in 55 innings.
Tufts moved up to AA Waterbury in 1978 and won 13 games, completing 15 of his 19 starts. He was promoted up to the AAA Phoenix Giants when one of their pitchers was traded out of the organization. His first AAA start was on July 27, and Tufts scattered 8 hits and 5 runs over 6-plus innings. It wasn’t a lights-out performance, but he still picked up an 8-6 win over San Jose. Tufts won two more of his starts in Phoenix to finish the year with a 16-7 record, throwing 191 innings in 29 games..
Tufts was once again a AA workhorse in 1979, this time with the Shreveport Captains. He went 14-10 with 12 complete games in 26 starts. His 14 wins would lead the Texas League, and his 2.45 ERA was second-best. Tufts started off the season by losing 5 of his first 6 decisions before heating up. He won his fifth game in a row on July 5, and the light-hitting pitcher even scored the winning run after socking a double in the 8th inning.
“The fact that I got a double proves there’s luck involved,” he said after the game. “Woody [first base coach Mark Woodbrey] was saying, ‘go three,’ but I was happy enough to stop after 180 feet.”
Tufts was moved to the bullpen in 1980 when he returned to Phoenix. The idea was to give manager Rocky Bridges a lefty-righty combo with him and Fred Breining. Tufts though, struggled in the role and had his worst professional season, with a 4-7 record and 6.52 ERA. He rebounded with his best season in 1981, working almost exclusively in the Phoenix bullpen. After picking up 9 wins and 8 saves and posting an excellent 1.70 ERA, Tufts was called to the majors in August.
Tufts, catcher Bob Brenly and outfielder Jeffrey Leonard both joined the Giants in the second half of the 1981 split season, which was shortened due to the players’ strike. He pitched an inning of relief in his first MLB appearance in Houston on August 10, 1981. Tufts gave up a hit and an unearned run, striking out Jose Cruz to end an Astros rally.
Tufts pitched in 11 games for the Giants, with a 3.52 ERA and 12 strikeouts in 15-1/3 innings. He allowed 6 earned runs, but 5 of them came in two particularly rough outings. He did quite well overall and demonstrated that he knew how to combine his athletic abilities and his Princeton background. Remember, this is a sport where players are often told not to think too much.
“It depends on how you use it,” he said of his education. “If you use it as something to fall back on, it’s a negative factor, because you won’t give as much on the field. But if you realize you need your head as well as your body on the field, it can help you compose yourself.”
Tufts looked to be in competition to win a spot on the Giants pitching staff in 1982. Instead, he was traded to Kansas City late in Spring Training. He and Vida Blue were sent to the Royals in exchange for Atlee Hammaker, Renie Martin, Craig Chamberlain and Brad Wellman. Tufts was sent to AAA Omaha, where he was sensational. He had a 10-6 record, a 1.60 ERA and saved 12 games. That performance earned him a September call-up.
Tufts appeared in 10 games for the Royals, picking up 2 wins and 2 saves to go with a 4.50 ERA. Both saves were of the 3-inning variety, as manager Dick Howser apparently decided to give closer Dan Quisenberry some much-needed rest at the end of the year.
During his short time with the Royals, Tufts managed to get on the bad side of Reggie Jackson — which was probably not that hard to do, admittedly. In a late-season game, Jackson slid hard into second base and got caught up with second baseman Frank White. White was banged up in the play and had to miss several games. Jackson grabbed White’s hat as he trotted off the field and threw it into the stands. He later explained that it was a big misunderstanding, and that the everyone else’s fault but his.
“I picked up his cap by mistake,” he said. “I wasn’t thinking clearly. I was mad. While I was on the ground, their first baseman, what’s his name, Pryor, came over and said it was a cheap shot. Then the kid that was pitching, Bob Tufts I think his name is, pointed a finger at me and said something. I don’t like any rookie who hasn’t accomplished anything yet, talking like that to me. That ticked me off… I picked up the wrong cap, and when I got near the dugout I saw the mistake and tossed the cap into the stands.”
Tufts made the Royals 1983 roster out of Spring Training, but he struggled. He gave up an earned run in each of his 6 appearances and was demoted to Omaha in early May. After about a month with Omaha, he was traded to Cincinnati for pitcher Charlie Liebrandt. He pitched for the Reds’ AAA team in Indianapolis before retiring at the end of the season.
In his three seasons in the big leagues, Tufts appeared in 27 games, with a 2-0 record, 4.71 ERA and 2 saves. He struck out 28 batters in 42 innings and had a 1.762 WHIP.
While Tufts was pitching, his wife, Suzanne, was working in Manhattan as a lawyer. They had met at Princeton and married in 1982. Suzanne once joked that her mother was probably the only woman to have a life membership in Hadassah and a subscription to The Sporting News, so she could keep up with her son-in-law’s career. She was a big fan — up to a point. “My mother wanted to know how Bob could dare to upset Reggie,” Suzanne said.
Tufts thought that he would stay active in sports after his playing days were over. He had worked in college radio at Princeton as a commentator, and he spent several offseasons working in the University of Virginia public relations staff to prepare for a career in sports management. Instead, he enrolled in Columbia University and graduated with an MBA in Finance in 1986.
For more than 20 years, Tufts worked on Wall Street in futures and foreign exchange and in domestic equities sales and trading. He then entered the academic field and taught business courses at several New York schools. Since 2011, he had been employed at Yeshiva University in New York City, as a Clinical Assistant Professor at the Sy Syms School of Business. Among the courses he taught, according to the school’s website, were Sports Marketing Management, Business Strategy, Management in a Global Environment and Hospitality Tourism. He was named the Lillian F. and William L. Silber “Professor of the Year” for the 2017-2018 school year.
Tufts was first diagnosed with multiple myeloma in 2009. There are many ways that people can cope with cancer diagnosis and treatment. Everyone has to go about it in their own way, but as a public figure, nobody could have blamed Tufts if he had kept his battle private. But no, he kept his Twitter followers aware of every high and low. Those of us who followed him on Twitter were taken along for the entire ride, positive and negative. He’d share medical news and voice his criticisms about the health care industry. Sure, he talked some about baseball, but his own personal journey was what we really cared about.
Along with his own personal updates, Tufts co-founded “My Life Is Worth It,” a not-for-profit organization that advocates for patient and doctor access and choice in medical treatments and innovation. He was a guest speaker everywhere from the Baseball Hall of Fame and the Yogi Berra Museum to the American Society of Clinical Oncology and the Museum of Jewish Heritage (Tufts had converted to Judaism). Tufts was a health care columnist for the Huffington Post and guest wrote many articles, including this piece last year for The Hill that covered the potential dangers to patients in Congress’ CREATES (Creating and Restoring Equal Access to Equivalent Samples Act).
Since I’ve started this blog, I’ve written about the deaths of Hall of Famers and people who played for one game. I’ve written about ballplayers I’d never heard of and a couple of the 1984 Cubs, who I thought were gods when I was a kid. I was saddened by their loss, but Bob Tufts’ passing hits home on a different, more personal level. He took a devastating diagnosis and made it into an opportunity to educate, advocate and give hope to people who were going through their own battles. It was a selfless and admirable act, and I will miss seeing his daily updates.