Obituary: Bill Oster (1933-2020)

RIP to Bill Oster, a left-handed pitcher who played briefly with the 1954 Philadelphia Athletics. He died on June 6 at the age of 87. According to Baseball Reference’s Bullpen, there are now seven surviving members of the Philadelphia Athletics. Eddie Robinson is the oldest, having been born on December 15, 1920. With the passing of Oster, the youngest Athletic is Hal Raether, who was born on October 10, 1932.

Bill Oster was born in New York City on January 2, 1933. He attended New York University and joined the baseball team as a freshman. He threw a near no-hitter on April 7, 1952 against Columbia. He showed some control problems early on in the game, walking four batters in the first inning and giving up a run. Then the left-handed hurler settled down and held Columbia hitless until the ninth inning, when he allowed a Texas League single to the first batter faced. Control issues seemed to be an ongoing problem with Oster, as he threw a couple of wild pitches in his next start against Manhattan, leading to a 6-4 loss.

Oster in a Tigers cap, taken during his tryout with the team. Source: Detroit Free Press, March 3, 1954/

By 1954, Oster was becoming a topic of interest among major-league teams. Even the Tigers, having spent nearly $120,000 on bonus babies Al Kaline, Bob Miller and Reno Bertoia, were taking a look at the lefty from New York University and Hofstra College. “Oster has been in camp for ten days and has impressed the veterans,” reported the Associated Press. Harvey Kuenn spent about 10 minutes trying to hit against him and threw his bat aside, saying Oster has “everything and I’ve had enough.”

Oster was looking for a $35,000 contract. The Tigers eventually bailed out of discussions, but other teams were still in the hunt. Oster noted that the Yankees had been interested in him during his time at NYU. “We did some negotiating,” he said. “But we had a couple of incidents and that settled it. They were a little too cold-blooded for me.”

The negotiations lasted well into the summer before Oster finally signed with the Philadelphia Athletics on August 20, 1954. He made his major-league debut on August 23 against the Senators. He worked the ninth inning of a 8-5 loss and struck out the first batter he faced, Chuck Stobbs. Oster then walked Eddie Yost, who advanced to second on a wild pitch and third on a Pete Runnels single. Mickey Vernon then hit a bloop double that scored Yost. Oster avoided further damage when Jim Busby hit a grounder to second base that the A’s turned into a double play, tagging out both Runnels and Vernon.

Oster had a couple scoreless relief outings against the White Sox before getting tagged hard by the Red Sox in consecutive appearances. In his second outing against Boston on September 5, he retired Ted Williams on a strikeout and a flyball to center before Williams belted a 2-run homer off him in his third inning of work.

A’s manager Eddie Joost gave Oster a start on September 24 against the Yankees. He walked 5 in 3 innings of work and gave up 4 runs, but only 1 was earned. He also picked up his one and only major-league hit, a single off Allie Reynolds. The Yankees went on to win 10-2, and Oster got the loss. It was his last major-league appearance.

In 8 games, Oster worked 15-2/3 innings and gave up 11 earned runs for a 6.32 ERA. He had an 0-1 record and walked 12 while striking out 5.

Source: The Kansas City Star, February 2, 1955.

Oster stayed in the farm system of the Athletics (who moved to Kansas City after the ’54 season) for another three years. He was still a highly regarded youngster in the organization going into 1955, and the team had hoped that he could return to the majors within a couple of years, once he got more experience.

“Oster’s fastball was what caught the eye of the scouts and it proved effective even against major-league hitters,” reported The Kansas City Star. There are very few statistics available on Baseball Reference from his time in the minors, but from the game recaps, it sounds like he never could find his control. He went 3-11 in 29 games across three seasons in the minor leagues. In 1957, he made 6 appearances for Columbia Gems of the Sally League and then 3 for the Abilene Blue Sox of the Big State League. Around June 4, he jumped the Sox to sign with a semi-pro team in Minnesota. He had been dealing with arm troubles, and he told the Abilene general manager that he planned to finish out the season and then quit baseball. He was 24 years old at the time of his retirement.

According to his obituary, Oster went on to own an electrical contracting business, County Electrical, located in Huntington, N.Y. He and his wife, Barbara, had four children.

Though his career was brief, he had a memory that lasted a lifetime — the first time he faced Ted Williams. Even though The Kid got his revenge in a later at-bat, Oster sat him down on strikes.

“I struck him out on four pitches. That’s the God’s honest truth,” he would say.

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