Obituary: Dwight Siebler (1937-2021)

RIP to Dwight Siebler, who pitched for several years with the Twins after achieving a baseball milestone at the University of Nebraska. He died on June 16 in Omaha at the age of 83. Siebler pitched for the Minnesota Twins from 1963-67.

Dwight Leroy Siebler was born in Columbus, Neb., on August 5, 1937. He was a basketball and baseball player at Omaha North High School, but he pitched all over Nebraska for various summer and legion teams. He then attended the University of Nebraska and put his name in the school’s record books on May 18, 1957. He threw the first no-hitter in the school’s history, against Oklahoma. The final score was 1-0, but Siebler was on the losing end of the game, unfortunately. The only run of the game came on his own error, to make the loss even more painful. In the second inning, an Oklahoma batter walked, advanced to second on an error and scored when Siebler fielded a bunt attempt and threw the ball away. That was the first game of a doubleheader, and unlike Major League Baseball’s rules, a 7-inning no-hitter is still a no-hitter in the college game.

Dwight Siebler as a Nebraska student athlete. If you threw a no-hitter and lost the game, you’d probably make this face, too. Source: Lincoln Star, April 26, 1958.

Siebler finished his junior year of 1958 with a 7-2 record and an ERA of 3.11. He fanned 60 batters in 63 innings. Over the summer, he signed a contract with the Philadelphia Phillies, which came with a $20,000 bonus. Siebler had gotten married the previous year and undoubtedly wanted to begin his professional career in earnest. He made his professional debut in 1959 with the Bakersfield Bears of the Class-C California League and won 11 games. Used as a swingman, he fanned 190 batters in 179 innings and threw a 3-hit shutout in the opening game of a playoff series against Modesto at the end of the season..His record dropped to 7-8 for the Williamsport Grays in 1960, but his ERA was an excellent 2.31. In one of those losses, Siebler struck out 13 Springfield batters but lost 2-0.

Siebler’s performance with Williamsport gave him an opportunity with the Phillies in the spring of 1961. Pitching coach Bob Lemon liked the young right-hander and said he had “a lot of natural ability, a live arm and a lot of poise.” While he didn’t make the team, Siebler was assigned to AAA Buffalo of the International League and became one of the team’s top bullpen arms. He might have made the Phillies in 1962, but he was hampered by a sore arm in the spring and was a last-minute roster cut. He ended up pitching for three different AAA teams that season and spent much of his time on loan to Syracuse of the Washington Senators organization. After showing no ill effects of his arm problems, the Phillies officially purchased his contract in late September of 1962 — too late to make his major-league debut.

As it happened, that debut would come in 1963 and with a different team than the Phillies. Philadelphia had the 25-year-old Siebler start the season with the AAA Arkansas Travelers. After earning a 7-6 record and 3.06 ERA in 10 starts and 20 relief appearances, his contract was acquired by the Minnesota Twins in late August. They brought him directly to the major leagues. His first outing came on August 26 against the Washington Senators, and Siebler was a little wild. In 2/3 of an inning, he walked 2 batters and hit one, causing two inherited runners to score. He later stated that his arm was sound.

Source: Elizabethton Star, March 24, 1961.

“I was just trying to throw too hard instead of trying to get the ball down and over the plate,” Siebler said. “This is a big chance for me. But I’m not worried about my control.”

Twins manager Sam Mele wasn’t worried either. “He has a good record of control. I liked the way he fired the ball.”

Mele liked the rookie so much that he had Siebler make 5 starts to wrap up the season. The pitcher responded with complete game wins over the Senators and White Sox. He ended the year with a 2-1 record and 2.79 ERA with the Twins. Despite the excellent finish to the ’63 season, Siebler didn’t get much of a chance in 1964. He got off to a rocky start, allowing 6 earned runs in 6 innings before being sent to the minors in May. He was brought back as a mop-up reliever in September and didn’t allow a hit in 5 innings and 4 appearances, lowering his ERA to 4.91.

Siebler started 1965 in AAA Denver, where he worked with pitching coach Art Fowler on a new grip for his fastball. He showed enough success that he was brought back to the Twins to help their injury-riddled pitching staff. He struggled in his first couple of outings but settled down from there. He was sent back to the minors after a few weeks but called owner Calvin Griffith to ensure that he would get recalled in September. “If not, I probably would have gone into my dad’s business in Omaha,” he said. Sure enough, Siebler threw 3 hitless innings against Baltimore in his final appearance to end the year with a 4.20 ERA in 7 games. He also was given a partial share of the Twins’ postseason money, to the tune of $2,653.74.

Siebler had just one season where he spent the entire year in the majors. It came in 1966, when he pitched in 23 Twins games, including 2 starts. He had a 2-2 record and picked up the only save of his major-league career. It came on July 4, and he retired the final two batters of a 5-4 win over Cleveland to preserve a Jim Kaat victory.

Unlike some of his abbreviated stays in the majors, Siebler showed the good control he had displayed in the minors; he gave up 14 walks in 49-2/3 innings. He played with less pressure on himself than he had in the past, and it showed. “This year I’m more at home out there,” Siebler said. “Maybe it’s because I decided to do it this year or forget it.”

Siebler and Larry “Bobo” Osborne celebrate an Atlanta Crackers win. Source: The Atlanta Constitution, August 11, 1964.

Even with a good full season behind him, Siebler’s major-league time in 1967 was limited to 2 early-season relief outings. He gave up a run in 3 innings of work. The Twins sent Siebler back to Denver on May 9 to reach the roster limit, and he never returned to the major leagues. He struggled in the minors, really for the first time in his career. After winning just 4 of 14 decisions, Siebler was released after the season. He retired from the game and went back to Nebraska.

In parts of 5 seasons, Siebler had a 4-3 record in 48 games, including 8 starts. He had a 3.45 ERA and a 1.202 WHIP, with 71 strikeouts and 44 walks allowed. Siebler completed 2 of his 8 starts and recorded 1 save. Though with an admittedly small sample size, Siebler’s ERA+ is 106, marking him as an above-average pitcher as a major-leaguer. He also won 54 games in 8 seasons in the minor leagues.

Siebler became an All-Star in his first year out of professional baseball. He pitched for Ralston, which was part of Nebraska’s semipro circuit. The team won the state semipro championship with him as the star pitcher in 1968. Siebler later managed the team. He also stayed active in sports by being a professional bowler, according to his obituary. His SABR bio notes that he successfully ran his family’s heating and air conditioning business. Siebler is survived by his wife Caryn and six children.

For more information: Braman Mortuary

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