RIP to Andy Hassler, a left-handed pitcher who played for six different teams across 14 seasons in the majors. He died on December 25, 2019, at his home in Wickenburg, Arizona, at the age of 68. Hassler played for the California Angels (1971, 1973-76, 1980-83), Kansas City Royals (1976-78), Boston Red Sox (1978-79), New York Mets (1979), Pittsburgh Pirates (1980) and St. Louis Cardinals (1984-85).
Andrew Earl Hassler was born on October 18, 1951, in Texas City, Texas. He went to school in Arizona and was named to the first team of the Tucson all-City league in 1969, while a student at Palo Verde High School. His pitching record may have been 5-5, but he also had a 0.89 ERA. He struck out 93 batters in 63-1/3 innings. Hassler signed a letter of intent to attend the University of Arizona, but he was drafted by the Angels in the 25th Round of the 1969 June Amateur Draft and launched his pro ball career instead.
If you ever needed an example of how a win-loss record doesn’t tell the story of a pitcher, Andy Hassler could be your exhibit A. He was rushed to the majors by the Angels when he was 19 years old, with less than three years of experience under his belt. He stood 6’5”, threw hard and won games in the minors, so he was promoted in spite of two glaring problems. One, Hassler was still developing as a pitcher and probably wasn’t ready to face big-leaguers yet. Two, the 1971 Angels were awful and stood to gain nothing by throwing a good-looking prospect to the wolves. To his credit, Hassler held his own in 6 games, 4 of which were starts. He still ended the year with an 0-3 record in the majors.
After spending all of 1972 starting in AAA, the Angels brought Hassler back to the majors a couple of times in ‘73. They were a slightly better team, and Hassler was mostly effective, but he still ended the year with an 0-4 record on the season. That last loss came on Sept. 18 against the A’s. Hassler threw a complete game and allowed 2 earned runs, but 2 Angels errors led to 3 unearned runs, and he lost 5-4.
Hassler finally got into the win column in 1974. He won 7 games that season while losing 11, but his 2.61 ERA was third-best in the AL. He was stuck being a good pitcher on a 90+ loss team. While it hurt his winning percentage, his opponents understood that talent doesn’t always translate to a .500 record.
“He’s one of the four best left-handers in the league,” said Carl Yastrzemski after Hassler beat the Red Sox.
Hassler started a futility streak in 1975 that almost became historic. The season started so well, too. By the end of April, he had thrown 3 complete games, including a 5-hit shutout. He was 3-1 with a 3.38 ERA, with 24 strikeouts in 34-2/3 innings. Then the wheels came off, and he didn’t get a single win for the rest of the season. He finished the year with a 3-12 record, 5.94 ERA and had been banished to the bullpen.
“There were games in there where I pitched downright badly. I pitched poorly, period,” Hassler explained to Peter Gammons, then of the Boston Globe, in 1978. “But when I did pitch well, something would happen… I don’t like to make excuses, but it was a last-place team. There were a lot of plays that weren’t made.”
Hassler got off to an 0-6 start with the Angels in 1976. To make matters worse, manager Dick Williams brought him into a game in relief and supposedly said to one of his coaches, “Let’s see how Hassler [bleeps] it up this time.” Hassler heard about it.
“It really got into my mind,” he told Gammons. “Then when I finally got sent to Kansas City, all I read and heard when I got there was ‘Why’d we get this loser?’”
Hassler lost one more game for the Royals, which was his 18th straight loss. He then rattled off 4 straight wins and ended the season with a 5-12 record and a 3.61 ERA. He appeared in 2 games in the ALCS against the Yankees, losing Game Three by a 5-3 score.
Hassler started off well for Kansas City in 1977 and threw a 1-hitter against Cleveland on July 7. He won a career-high 9 games for the Royals that year, but his luck with them ran out in 1978. He hurt his hand in spring training while cleaning a fish and missed the start of the season. He was ineffective when he returned and was claimed by the Red Sox. Within hours of joining Boston, he was pressed into service. Hassler threw 3-1/3 innings in relief to help his new team beat the Twins 5-4. He arrived after the game started, and manager Don Zimmer didn’t even notice his new pitcher until Hassler sat down next to him in the dugout.
Hassler’s stay in Boston was short — 21 games over parts of two seasons — but he reinvented himself into a solid lefty reliever. That transition helped extend his career by several years, starting with the New York Mets. The Mets had claimed Hassler after he got off to a rough start in Boston in 1979. He started 8 games for New York (the final starts of his MLB career), relieved in 21 others and ended the year with a 4-5 record, 3.70 ERA and 4 saves.
Hassler became a free agent in the offseason. Free agency in 1979 wasn’t what it is now. It was a weird draft process that saw Hassler end up with the Pittsburgh Pirates with a 6-year, $750,000 contract. He was pretty good with the Bucs — 3.86 ERA over 11-2/3 innings, but he was infrequently used. Pittsburgh sent him back to his original team, the Angels, in June so that they could bring pitcher Rick Rhoden back to the majors. Hassler became an important bullpen arm for California for the next four seasons.
Hassler picked up a win in relief on July 22 over Detroit. Not only was it his first win of the season, but it was his first win in an Angels uniform since April 29, 1975, snapping a 17-game losing streak with the team. “Equipment manager Mickey Shishito broke out a bottle of wine to celebrate, but we only needed four glasses,” Hassler quipped after the game. “The only people left here who were around then are Frank Tanana, Coach Jimmie Reese and Mickey.”
Hassler saved 10 games for the Angels in 1980 and earned a total of 24 saves from 1980 to 1983. He was superb in 1980, with a 5-1 record and 2.49 ERA with the Angels. Though he was never a strikeout pitcher, his 75 K’s in 83 innings represented 8.1 strikeouts per 9 innings, far and away a career high.
After 3 excellent seasons in the Angels pen, Hassler struggled through 1983 with a 5.45 ERA. Part of that may have been fatigue from the previous season. Hassler got into 54 games in 1982, but he warmed up a staggering 249 times, according to the Los Angeles Times. He was justifiably concerned about misuse by manager Gene Mauch. Mauch’s treatment of Angels reliever Don Aase cause Aase to miss the entire 1983 season. Hassler had better communication with Mauch’s replacement John McNamara, but the damage had been done.
Hassler was released by the Angels in the spring of 1983, and he signed a minor-league deal with the Cardinals organization. He spent most of 1983 and ’84 in the minor leagues, though he did log a total of 13 appearances out of the Cardinals bullpen. He announced his retirement from baseball on August 4, 1985, while pitching for AAA Louisville.
In 14 seasons, Hassler had a 44-71 record with a 3.83 ERA. He pitched in 387 games, with 112 starts and 275 relief outings. He completed 26 games, threw 5 shutouts and saved 29 games. He ended his career with 630 strikeouts.
Hassler sold real estate and remodeled houses after retiring. He also was active with his two sons, Derek and Drew during their Little League teams and became an assistant coach at Arcadia High School when younger son Derek was a pitcher and first baseman.