Obituary: Paul Doyle (1939-2020)

RIP to Paul Doyle, a lefty reliever who helped the Braves into the postseason before an arm injury curtailed his career. He died on May 6 in California at the age of 80. Doyle played for the Atlanta Braves (1969), California Angels (1970, 1972) and San Diego Padres (1970).

Paul Doyle was born in Philadelphia on October 2, 1939, but he grew up in Huron, Ohio. His son Craig told the Sandusky Register that Doyle always liked coming back to Ohio to visit friends and family, and he still followed the Ohio sports teams. “It was always his hometown. He loved Huntington Beach (Calif.) where we all grew up, but he was like a Mayberry kid who grew up in a Norman Rockwell town on Lake Erie,” Craig said.

While pitching at Huron High School, Doyle was a member of the 1958 All-Ohio baseball team. He tried out for the Cleveland Indians twice, but the team thought he was too small to make it in the majors, the Register reported in 1959. At the time, he was 5’10” and 155 pounds. Instead, Doyle pitched for the Soldiers’ Home in the Northern Ohio Baseball League after graduation, and he threw two no-hitters and averaged 18 strikeouts per 9 innings. In one game, he fanned 23 batters, including 15 in a row. He ended up with a 14-2 record, and whichever teams beat him must have felt awfully proud of themselves — or awfully lucky.

Huron High’s baseball coach, Dick Klein, was a former schoolmate of Jim Campbell, who was a vice president for the Detroit Tigers. Klein sent word to Campbell, who sent word to scout Pat Mullin, who watched Doyle pitch. He signed the southpaw to a contract in March of 1959. After spending time in Tigertown, Detroit’s spring training facility in Lakeland, Fla., Doyle started his professional career with the Erie Sailors in the New York-Penn League. He really struggled, and his control was the chief problem. He walked 19 batters and gave up 16 hits in 11 innings and ended up with a 13.09 ERA. The Tigers cut him after 5 games. “My record was 1-0. I was dumbfounded that they could release a winner,” he cracked years later. Doyle fared better back with Soldiers’ Home, when he returned in August to lead the team to a second straight NOBL championship. He did as much damage with his bat — he homered in his last start while fanning 13.

Doyle next signed with the Yankees and spent the spring of 1960 with the Binghamton Triplets before moving across the country to play for the Modesto Reds in the California League. He was 10-9 with a high 4.84 ERA, but he started to get his control problems worked out. He worked as a swingman in 33 games (13 starts) and had 123 strikeouts and 92 walks in 134 innings. He showed enough improvement that he was drafted by the Springfield Giants of the Eastern League for 1961.

Source: Doyle with the El Paso Sun Kings. Source: El Paso Times, April 19, 1964.

After an impressive 12-4 campaign and a 3.09 ERA with Springfield, Doyle moved to the Texas League, where he would pitch for six of the next seven seasons. Along the way, he spent part of 1962 with the U.S. Coast Guard and moved from the Giants organization to the Astros in 1966. His ERA lowered and his control improved. Part of that improvement stemmed from an arm injury. He said that he couldn’t throw his fastball as much after hurting his arm, and the addition of a curveball made the difference. In his first year with the Astros — 1966 — he teamed with Don Wilson to form a formidable 1-2 punch for the Amarillo Sonics. Doyle fanned 175 batters in 154 innings, and Wilson had 197 K’s in 187 innings. Doyle had the worse luck, though. He went 5-15 with a 3.62 ERA, and his general manager Ward Goodrich felt he would do better as a short reliever.

Doyle started 1968 in the bullpen of the Dallas-Fort Worth Spurs. He made his first start on June 29 and promptly no-hit El Paso 4-0. “I felt a little shaky at first, starting at all, but my curve was good and the fastball came around in the latter part of the game,” he said. “I only threw two pitches — fastball and curve, and was changing up off the curve.”

In 13 starts and 27 relief outings, Doyle had a 7-12 record and 2.34 ERA in ’68. He had a sidearm delivery that was particularly effective against left-handed hitters. He also gained a reputation as a pick-off artist as well. It was said that he preferred to walk a tough hitter and pick him off first base instead. Texas League managers Roger Craig and Chuck Tanner said he had the best move of any lefty pitcher that could remember, including Whitey Ford and Warren Spahn.

Doyle was traded to the Atlanta Braves in December of 1968 for outfielder Sandy Valdespino. He started the 1969 season in Richmond, but he was called up to the majors at the end of May. The 29-year-old made his MLB debut on May 28 against the St. Louis Cardinals. He allowed 1 hit over two innings, and the one batter who reached base — Mike Shannon — was promptly picked off. Apparently the Cardinals hadn’t read Doyle’s scouting report.

Though he joined the Braves in mid-season, Doyle ended up second on the team in relief appearances behind closer Cecil Upshaw. He won 2 games without a loss and picked up 4 saves as well, all while pitching with a minuscule 2.08 ERA. In 39 innings, he struck out 25 and walked 16. He also earned a little cred with his teammates on June 1, when the Cubs and Braves got into a brushback battle. It started when the Braves’ Claude Raymond hit Ernie Banks with a pitch. Dick Selma responded the next inning with a fastball at Hank Aaron‘s legs. Finally, Doyle fired a fastball under Selma’s chin before home plate ump Ed Vargo intervened. When asked after the game if the pitch to Selma was intentional, Doyle merely smiled.

Source: Atlanta Constitution, November 27, 1969.

In the bullpen, he became known as “Weird,” “Double Weird,” “Rickles” or “One-Third.” The first three were probably referring to his sense of humor. The latter nickname came from all the times he retired one lefty batter before giving way to a right-handed reliever.

The Braves went on to face the New York Mets in the first-ever NL Championship Series. Doyle pitched 1 inning in the second game of the series, which the Miracle Mets swept in 3 games. He was brought into the game with a runner on third base after starter Ron Reed couldn’t get out of the second inning. He fanned Jerry Grote to end the inning and struck out Ed Kranepool and Jerry Koosman in the third inning. However, he also walked 2 batters, gave up 2 hits and allowed 2 unearned runs in an 11-6 loss.

After the season, the Braves sent Doyle to the Angels for an undisclosed amount of cash. It was part of a previous deal that sent Hoyt Wilhelm from the Angels to the Braves the previous October. He wasn’t happy with the move, but it did let him stay close to home for the first time in his professional career.

The magic that Doyle had with the Braves didn’t carry over to the Angels. In 40 games, he was roughed up with a 5.14 ERA, though his record was 3-1. On August 27, the Angels were scheduled to be in Cleveland to start a series the next day, and the residents of Huron were going to host a “Paul Doyle Day” banquet. Doyle’s wife, Sue, and their two young children had come in from Long Beach for the event. That same day, the Angels sold Doyle to the San Diego Padres. The banquet was canceled.

Doyle had a 6.43 ERA for the Padres in 9 games. After the season, San Diego sold him back to the Angels, who sent him to AAA Salt Lake City for the entirety of 1971. He picked up 10 saves in 42 games, but his arm was bothering him. He hadn’t felt right in 1970 either, during his struggles with the Angels and Padres. According to his obituary, he had a torn rotator cuff and spent most of 1972 on the disabled list. He pitched in 2 games for the Angels, once in April and once in May. The game on April 22 went great, as he fanned 4 Texas Rangers in 2 innings of work. In the game against the Yankees on May 2, he retired one hitter and walked 2 before getting pulled. That was his last outing in the majors. He was released in July and retired shortly after.

In parts of three seasons, Doyle had a 5-3 record with 11 saves in 67 games. He had a 3.79 ERA and a 1.450 WHIP, and he struck out 65 in 90-1/3 innings. After baseball, he moved to Huntington Beach, and he and his brother John operated a successful importing and exporting business in Long Beach. While in semi-retirement, he also helped out at “Old Vintage Cottage,” a boutique store in Seal Beach that his wife ran.

Doyle’s tenacity during his baseball career was pretty remarkable. He toiled away in the minor leagues for more than a decade before he finally broke into the big leagues — in the thick of a pennant race, no less.

“All those years in the minors weren’t a barrel of laughs,” he said in a 1970 interview. “You’ve heard guys talk about the long bus rides, the lousy hamburgers and the cheap hotels. Well, believe me, it’s true. I was discouraged plenty of times but I always kept telling myself my chance would come. I don’t think I would have been happy for the rest of my life if I hadn’t stuck it out.”

For more information: Sandusky Register (obituary)
Sandusky Register (story)

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