Obituary: Art Ditmar (1929-2021)

RIP to Art Ditmar, who pitched for the Athletics franchise in its two former locations and was one of the few players left who ever wore a Philadelphia Athletics jersey. He died on June 11 in Myrtle Beach, S.C., with his wife of 50 years, Dianne, by his side. He was 92 years old and was also survived by three children. Ditmar played for the Philadelphia Athletics (1954), Kansas City Athletics (1955-56, 1961-62) and New York Yankees (1957-1961). With his passing, there are four surviving members of the Philadelphia A’s, as of this writing.

Arthur John Ditmar was born on April 3, 1929 in Winthrop, Mass. Growing up, you would be hard pressed to call him the best athlete in his family, because his older brother George was the star pitcher and a good hitter on Pittsfield High School’s baseball team. Art joined the team as a freshman, and within a couple of years his own baseball prowess began to show. As a sophomore, he pitched the winning game of the Northern Berkshire Baseball League championship in 1945. He threw a no-hitter in American Legion ball that same year. George would become a coach and teacher, but Art’s baseball life was just starting.

Source: The Ottawa Citizen, June 16, 1953

While George went on to college and a one-year stint in the Navy, Art continued to play well both in baseball and basketball. He also played summer ball in Pennsylvania, and that is where Philadelphia A’s scout Dutch Brennan found him. The A’s moved pretty quickly and signed the young right-hander to a contract in late December, 1947.

For three seasons, Ditmar pitched in the low levels of the A’s minor-league system, starting in Moline in 1948 before moving to Savannah for two seasons. Along the way, he was praised by former manager and then-A’s scout Jimmy Dykes, who in 1949 picked him as someone who could reach the A’s spring training camp the following year. He didn’t join the A’s then, but he did win 13 games for the Savannah Indians in 1950. During the offseason, he played in amateur basketball leagues in Massachusetts.

Ditmar was slated to move up to the AAA International League, but the U.S. military required his services first. He spent 1951 at Fort Jackson, S.C., and 1952 at Camp Atterbury, Ind., pitching for the camp baseball teams. By the time he got out of the Army, he was 6’2″ and about 185 pounds. Now 24 years old, he joined the Ottawa A’s of the International League in 1953, but he struggled to regain his form. He won just 2 of his 15 decisions and had some control issues. He was sent back to Savannah in July and was unbeaten in 10 appearances, with 7 wins and an ERA of 2.43.

Despite little success at the high minor-league level, the A’s brought Ditmar to their training camp in 1954 and put him on the pitching staff. Frankly, the ’54 A’s were an awful last-place team, losing 103 games, so there was little risk in giving an untested rookie like Ditmar a shot. His first MLB game came on April 19 against Washington. He entered the game in relief of Morrie Martin in the sixth inning with a 3-2 lead, and he made it through the first inning of work unscathed. He then allowed a single to Wayne Terwilliger in the seventh inning, who later scored on a Roy Sievers double. Eddie Yost of the Senators led off the bottom of the ninth inning with a walkoff home run off Ditmar, saddling him with the 4-3 loss in his debut.

Ditmar didn’t fare well as a reliever or a starter that season. His best performance came when he worked 7 innings against Boston on May 26 and departed with a 2-2 tie and a no-decision. He was demoted back to Ottawa in June and reappeared with the A’s that September, getting a couple more starts before the end of the season. His first major-league win wasn’t pretty, but he beat the Yankees 8-6 on September 26. He walked 8 and allowed 5 runs (4 earned) over 5-1/3 innings, but the A’s rocked Yankee pitching and gave Ditmar the 8-6 win. He fanned Mickey Mantle to end a Yankees scoring chance in the fourth inning.

Source: The Berkshire Evening Herald, August 6, 1955.

Ditmar’s first season in the majors netted him a 1-4 record and a 6.41 ERA in 14 games, but he progressed nicely as the A’s packed up and moved to Kansas City, starting in 1955. Unfortunately, the change of scenery didn’t make the team good, but they improved to a 63-91-1 record. Ditmar was 12-12, leading the team in both wins and losses, as well as innings pitched with 175-1/3. His 5.03 ERA and 4.4 walks per 9 innings were much better than his rookie season, at least. He threw his first career shutout — a 2-hitter — on May 20. He also did some damage with his bat, singling in 2 runs to help knock off Washington 4-2 on June 9.

Ditmar became the workhorse of the 1956 Kansas City A’s, starting 34 games and relieving in 10 others. He worked 254-1/3 innings and threw 14 complete games. Unfortunately, the ’56 A’s lost 102 games, and Ditmar was tagged with 22 of them to lead all of baseball in losses. He was also the only A’s pitcher with double-digit wins, picking up 12 victories. Seven of those wins were complete games, and 2 were shutouts. He threw a 1-hitter against the White Sox, allowing only a single by catcher Earl Battey in a 15-1 slaughter. Ditmar’s numbers aren’t great — he also led the AL with 125 earned runs allowed — but he was the undisputed ace of the A’s, and as such he had to take his lumps and get tough losses. In 10 of his 22 defeats, the A’s were either shut out or scored one run.

The New York Yankees came looking for some talent in February of 1957, as they frequently did with the A’s during this period. The two teams settled on a massive trade that involved players to be named later swapping teams into June. When it was all said and done, New York got Ditmar, Wayne Belardi, Jack McMahan, Bobby Shantz, Curt Roberts and Clete Boyer; Kansas City got Rip Coleman, Milt Gaff, Billy Hunter, Mickey McDermott, Tom Morgan, Irv Noren and Jack Urban. The key to the deal, according to Yankees general manager Al Weiss, was Ditmar.

“Ditmar is the ace of the deal as far as we are concerned,” Weiss said. “Ditmar has always gone well against Cleveland and other top clubs.”

Yankees manager Casey Stengel was a little more reserved, choosing to emphasize the acquisition of Shantz instead. “Ditmar was a good and bad pitcher last year,” he said. “He has a chance to be a real good one. He has a strong arm, but you never know about those fellows who join a pennant contender from a second-division club. I’ve had too many experiences with them.”

Stengel needn’t have worried. For the next four seasons, Ditmar became one of the most valuable swingmen in all of baseball. In his first year with the team in 1957, he appeared in 46 games, including 11 starts, and had an 8-3 record with 6 saves and a 3.25 ERA. His control improved by leaps and bounds, and he walked just 35 hitters in 127-1/3 innings. His third win of the season was a 4-3 victory over the White Sox on June 13. Ditmar started the game and worked 8 innings, but he was lucky to make it out of the first. He threw an inside pitch to Larry Doby, who dropped to the ground to avoid it and came up swinging. Far from the usual baseball pushing contest, this was a flat-out fistfight between Doby and Ditmar, with side brawls taking place between the Yankees and White Sox all over the field. It took nearly a half-hour to restore order, and four players were ejected. Ditmar escaped ejection, but he was fined $100 for his role.

The Yankees and Milwaukee Braves met in the World Series that postseason, with the Braves coming out on top. Ditmar appeared in two of the games and threw 6 scoreless innings in relief. The 1958 World Series was a rematch, with the Yankees winning this time around. During the regular season, Ditmar had a 9-8 record with 4 saves and a 3.42 ERA in 38 appearances, including 13 starts. In the Series, he appeared in one game — Game Six. The Braves chased starter Whitey Ford out of the game in the second inning, and Ditmar entered with the bases loaded and 1 out. He got Johnny Logan to pop to shallow left field, and Elston Howard fired a strike to home plate to nail Andy Pafko, who was trying to score. After that unconventional double play, Ditmar threw 3 more scoreless innings before giving way to Ryne Duren. The game was tied at 2 going into the tenth inning when the Yankees scored twice and held on to win 4-3.

“I was only 10 feet behind home plate, backing up,” Ditmar later said of the World Series double play. “I should have been further back, but I wanted to see the play, like everyone else in the park. They had him out by 15 feet.”

Umpire Larry Napp tries to get between Larry Doby and Ditmar in an infamous on-field brawl. Source: The Fresno Bee, June 15, 1957.

After two excellent back-to-back seasons, Ditmar had earned the confidence of his manager and began to start more and more often. “He did the dirty work for me and I appreciate it,” said Stengel. “I sent him in there when my first man didn’t have it right away. He didn’t have time to warm up, but he usually did a good job for me.”

Unlike many other pitchers who withered in New York, Ditmar liked the pressure. “You pitch a bad game with Kansas City and you know you’ll be pitched again. You do that here and they have somebody to pitch instead of you,” he said.

Ditmar started 25 games in 1959 and relieved in 13 more. He ended the year with a 13-9 record and 2.90 ERA. He worked 202 innings, and he gave up 156 hits and 52 walks for a 1.030 WHIP — the best in baseball. He improved to 15 wins in 1960, again working mostly as a starter. The Yankees returned to the World Series, and Ditmar started Games One and Five against the Pirates. This time, he struggled badly in the postseason. He was knocked out of Game One in the first inning after allowing a walk, two singles, a double and two stolen bases in 1/3 of an inning. Roberto Clemente singled in the third run of the inning, and Stengel replaced Ditmar with Jim Coates after five batters. Ditmar threw a 1-2-3 first inning in Game Five. Then he gave up a couple hits in the second inning, and an error by third baseman Gil McDougald extended the inning, allowing Bill Mazeroski to hit a 2-run double. Ditmar gave up 3 runs in 1-1/3 innings, but just 1 run was earned. The Pirates won the Series with Mazeroski’s dramatic Game Seven homer, and Ditmar was 0-2 with a 21.60 ERA, having given up 4 earned runs in 1-2/3 innings.

Ditmar started 1961 with the Yankees but struggled to a 2-3 record and 4.64 ERA in 12 games, including 8 starts. There were some reports that his fastball had lost some of its speed. He was traded back to Kansas City just ahead of the June 15 trading deadline. The A’s gave up pitcher Bud Daily and got back Ditmar and infielder Deron Johnson. Ditmar’s return to Kansas City didn’t go so well, as he lost 5 games in 20 appearances to close out the 1961 season. He started 5 games and relieved in 1 other for the A’s in ’66, but he gave up 16 earned runs in 21-2/3 innings and lost twice. Ditmar’s arm was sore and his control was suffering, and he was released by Kansas City in May. He pitched briefly in the Yankees’ minor leagues and tried out for Casey Stengel’s Mets, but he didn’t return tot he majors. In between, he returned home to Springfield, Mass., to complete his courses at American International College, where he got a B.S. in Business Administration. By the end of the year, he was out of professional baseball entirely and pitching for the Bay Jeep Orioles of the Holyoke Knights of Columbus baseball tournament.

Ditmar was an assistant basketball coach in Massachusetts as well as a baseball coach. Source: The Berkshire Eagle, April 6, 2003.

In nine seasons, Ditmar had a 72-77 record, with 14 saves and a 3.98 ERA. He appeared in 287 games and made 156 starts, with 41 complete games and 5 shutouts. He picked up 552 strikeouts and was worth 5.4 Wins Above Replacement, per Baseball Reference. He was also a .178 hitter and homered twice — both home runs broke tie ballgames and led to 2 of his 72 wins.

Ditmar tried to come back with the Yankees in 1963, with an arm that was no longer sore, but he couldn’t make the roster. He then returned to Massachusetts, where he coached basketball and baseball at American International College, his alma mater. He moved to Ohio in 1972 to serve as director of recreation for the city of Brook Park. He stayed in Ohio for 15 years before retiring to Myrtle Beach.

In 1985, Budweiser ran a commercial that showcased Mazeroski’s 1960 World Series home run, using the original play-by-play by radio broadcaster Chuck Thompson. The problem was that Thompson mistakenly identified the pitcher as Ditmar and not Ralph Terry, who actually surrendered the legendary homer. Ditmar sued Budweiser and the advertising company for libel, stating that the ad had hurt his ability to earn money at Old-Timers’ games and golf appearances and caused humiliation. The suit was thrown out of court in 1988. U.S. District Court Judge Alice M. Batchelder of Cleveland ruled that it was not “libelous to charge a man with doing that which he may lawfully do and which is not a violation of the moral code,” even though the ad “may have subjected [Ditmar] to public ridicule or contempt.”

Ditmar was inducted into the National Sandlot Hall of Fame by the National Baseball Congress in 1964, having pitched for Camp Atterbury in the National Sandlot Baseball Tournament back in ’52. He was also named to the UNICO (An Italian-American service organization in Massachusetts) Baseball Hall of Fame in 1999. The Berkshire Eagle listed him as #13 on the Top 50 Berkshire County athletes of the 20th Century.

For more information: Goldfinch Funeral Home
The Berkshire Eagle

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