RIP to Dan Pfister, who had two separate careers in sports — one as a pitcher in the major leagues, and one as a Hall of Fame softball player. He died on November 9 at the age of 83. Pfister played for the Kansas City Athletics from 1961-64.
Daniel Albin Pfister was born in Plainfield, N.J., on December 20, 1936. The family moved from New Jersey to Florida, and he went to high school in South Broward High in Hollywood, Fla. He started as a third baseman but moved to the mound in his senior year of 1954. The team itself wasn’t very good, but Pfister had a 10-5 record and was chosen as the best pitcher in the county. He was a pretty solid hitter, with a .340 batting average.
Typically, when a ballplayer graduates from high school, he either signs with a major-league ballclub or goes to college. In this instance, MLB scouts didn’t come calling, so Pfister had to make a more circuitous route to the major leagues. A 1960 article notes that he played semi-pro ball in the Miami area and chalked up a 34-3 record in two seasons of pitching. There are also several reports during that time of a dominant softball pitcher and pretty good hitter named Dan Pfister.While there was nothing that directly tied the softball player to the future baseball player, the odds seem pretty good that it was one and the same person.
Pfister made his way into professional baseball in 1957. The Buffalo Bisons of the International League trained in Pompano Beach in the spring of 1957. Pfister talked manager Phil Cavaretta into giving him a tryout, and the manager was impressed with his curve ball. Pfister signed with the team and pitched in a couple of exhibition games before being farmed out to the Crowley Millers of the Class-C Evangeline League. He won 13 games there, and as a reward, he was promoted to the Class-A Columbia (S.C.) Gems to finish the season.
Pfister played all over the low minors for the Athletics in 1958, drawing pitching assignments in Albany (N.Y.), Rochester/Winona (Minn.) and Pocatello (Idaho). He went a combined 5-12 there. He spent all of 1959 and part of 1960 serving in the U.S. Army. While he was off-duty, he was a pitching and hitting star for the Fort McPherson Colonels. He was discharged in June of 1960 and reported to the Shreveport Sports of the Southern Association, where he turned in a 13-5 record in 20 appearances. The Athletics promoted Pfister to the majors that September, but all he did was throw batting practice for two weeks.
The Athletics brought Pfister to their training camp in 1961 to see if he could make the team. Ultimately, he was sent back to Shreveport, where he had a 10-16 record and 5.39 ERA. After showing pretty good control for most of his career to date, he walked 113 batters in 197 innings and fanned 148 more. The A’s called him up to the big-league club in September, and he finally got to do more than throw batting practice.
Pfister made his debut on September 9, 1961, against the Twins. He came into the top of the sixth inning in relief of Bob Shaw. He walked the first batter he ever faced – Bob Allison — and then got Bill Tuttle to pop to shortstop. That was the only batter Pfister retired, as he loaded the bases on a double to Jose Valdivielso and another walk to Joe Altobelli before manager Hank Bauer took him out. He next pitched on Sept. 13 against the Tigers. The Tigers sluggers welcomed him to the majors pretty harshly. Rocky Colavito hit a 3-run blast off him, and Norm Cash immediately followed with a solo homer. That performance left him with a 15.43 ERA in 2-1/3 innings.
Pfister began 1962 in the Kansas City bullpen, but he was given an emergency start on April 24 against Detroit when Art Ditmar came up with a sore arm. Pfister, who didn’t know he would be starting until he walked into the clubhouse, was brilliant, throwing an 8-inning 3-hitter. The only run he allowed came in the eighth inning, when he allowed a double to Jake Wood. He retired the next two batters, and then Bauer came to the mound and gave him the choice of which hitter he would face next — his nemeses, Cash and Colavito. Colavito was in a deep slump, so Pfister walked Cash intentionally only to have Colavito hit a one-hopper that deflected off third baseman Ed Charles into left field. He was saddled with the 1-0 loss because Tiger starter Don Mossi was even better, tossing a shutout. “That was the best game I ever pitched,” Pfister said afterwards.
The Athletics lost 90 games in 1962, and Pfister dropped his first 6 decisions. He fanned a career-high 11 batters on May 4 but also walked 4 and allowed a couple of home runs to catcher John Romano in a 6-5 loss. He finally picked up his first major-league win on June 26 by defeating the Washington Senators 2-1. On the year, he had a 4-14 record and a 4.54 ERA. He appeared in a total of 41 games, 25 of which were starts. He completed 2 of his starts and picked up a save as well. He gave up 106 walks in 196-1/3 innings and gave up 27 home runs — mostly on his slider, he said later. It was the pitch he could control the best, so hitters started to look for it.
Pfister worked hard over the offseason, shedding some extra weight and working on his control. He set a goal for 15 wins after a rough rookie campaign. “I’m not quite as nervous as I was a year ago,” he explains. “I think that’s a natural tendency with a first-year pitcher in the majors. I attribute my 14 defeats to some bad breaks and typical rookie mistakes. I’ll know better now.”
For the 3 games that he appeared in 1963, Pfister did show some real improvement. After a wild first relief appearance, he tossed 2 shutout innings in his next outing and then made his first start of the year on April 27 against the Senators. It was a great one, too. He allowed 5 hits and 1 run — a solo homer by Jimmy Piersall. Most importantly, Pfister walked just 1 batter and struck out 6 before having to leave the game with 2 outs in the seventh inning because of a back spasm. Unfortunately, before he could get back to the mound, he underwent surgery for an ailing right elbow. The injury was supposed to keep him out of action until the All-Star break, but Pfister ended up missing the rest of the season. He had a 1-0 record and a 1.93 ERA in 9-1/3 innings before his injury.
Pfister pitched a little in the Florida winter league and looked good, and the A’s hoped he could return to form in 1964. He started the season with the A’s but was sent to the minors in early May after three poor appearances. He ended up bouncing between Kansas City and AAA Dallas for most of the season. Pfister made 19 appearances with the Athletics, including 3 starts, and he went 1-5 with a 6.53 ERA. His last appearance in the majors came on July 31, 1964, against Baltimore, where he was roughed up for 2 walks and 2 runs in an inning of work.
In 4 seasons, Pfister appeared in 65 games and made 29 starts. He had a 6-19 record and 1 save, with a 4.87 ERA. He struck out 156 batters in 249-1/3 innings.
Pfister remained in professional ball through the end of the 1965 season. He kept in shape in the offseason by playing in a softball league in Florida. He returned to the A’s spring training camp in ’65 but didn’t make the team. His arm had a variety of ailments from shoulder to elbow, and there was no place for him in the minor leagues. Literally. The team tried to send him to the AAA Vancouver training camp, but they had no room for another pitcher. He was left pitching semipro batting practice until he was finally assigned to Birmingham of the Southern Association. He fared poorly in a dozen games there to wrap up his career.
With his career over at the age of 28, Pfister returned to Hollywood, Fla., where he worked as a fireman until his retirement in 1994. He was the baseball coach at Biscayne College for five years. Pfister also stayed active in softball. The fire department’s slow-pitch softball team won the National Championships in Bowie, Md., four times. As a fast-pitch softball player, he defeated Eddie Feiner, aka The King and His Court, twice. He was inducted into the National Senior Softball Hall of Fame in 1997.
Pfister shared an anecdote about Ted Williams a couple of years ago in the South Florida Sun-Sentinal. Williams, who lived in Florida, noticed Pfister’s van, which had the name of a baseball school that the former pitcher was running at the time. Despite the fact that they didn’t know each other, Williams got into a discussion with Pfister about batting techniques. Because Pfister didn’t have a bat in his van, Williams had a nearby tree-trimmer cut a branch from a tree so he could use it as a makeshift bat and demonstrate some techniques.
“It didn’t matter that he was the greatest and I was nobody — we were two old ballplayers that made it. Him and I had that camaraderie, and he didn’t want anybody else to get near us,” said Pfister, who kept the tree branch as a one-of-a-kind baseball souvenir.
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