Obituary: Chuck Hartenstein (1942-2021)

RIP to pitcher Chuck Hartenstein, a college star who went on to have a 6-year career in the majors. He died on October 2 at the age of 79. Hartenstein played for the Chicago Cubs (1965-68), Pittsburgh Pirates (1969-70), St. Louis Cardinals (1970), Boston Red Sox (1970) and Toronto Blue Jays (1977).

Charles Oscar Hartenstein was born on May 26, 1942 in Seguin, Texas. He established his credentials as a pretty tough pitcher early on in his career. He was the star pitcher of the 1960 AAA state baseball tournament, throwing a 3-1 win over Kilgore and firing a no-hitter against Snyder in the championship game. He was one out away from a perfect game in that final game, too. During the tournament, Hartenstein struck out 21 batters in 14 innings and didn’t allow a run over his last 12 innings of work.

Hartenstein attended the University of Texas, and played in the baseball team from 1962 through 1964 under head coach Bibb Falk. During his time there, the Longhorns won the SWC championship in 1962 and 1963 and finished in third place in the College World Series each year. Falk initially had Hartenstein working as a reliever, but he ended up as a valuable starter. In the 1962 series, he pitched a beauty of a game against Santa Clara but lost 4-3, thanks to three unearned runs. After the game, Baltimore scout Joe Russo sought him out at the team’s hotel to say, “That was one of the most courageous pitching performances I’ve ever seen.” Overall, Hartenstein had an 18-6 record at Texas, with a 2.86 ERA in 226 innings pitched.

Hartenstein signed with the Chicago Cubs on June 1, 1964. Despite his success in college, there weren’t any other teams interested in him, as it was felt that he was too small (5’11”, 155 pounds) to make it in professional ball. “All I can do is give it my best and see what happens,” Hartenstein said after signing. “All you can ask for is the chance to make good, and the Cubs gave that to me.” His teammates, once they took a look at his thin frame, gave him the nickname of “Twiggy.”

The Cubs sent Hartenstein to the St. Cloud Rox of the Northern League. He won 8 games, including a complete game victory over Aberdeen in his first start and a shutout over the same team after missing a couple of weeks with a sore arm. He was even better in 1965, with a 12-7 record and 2.18 ERA for Dallas-Fort Worth. All of a sudden, the pitcher that almost every team in Major League Baseball thought was too small to succeed found himself in the major leagues.

The Cubs promoted Hartenstein to the majors in September of 1965. The 23-year-old spent most of his time on the bench, except for one game on September 11, when he was used… as a pinch-runner. The San Francisco Giants were leading the Cubs 6-4 when Chicago got to reliever Masanori Murakami. Pinch-hitter John Boccabella singled to put runners on first and second. Cubs manager Lou Klein sent in Hartenstein in as a pinch-runner for Boccabella, representing the tying run. Murakami hit Joey Amalfitano to load the bases before getting Glenn Beckert to hit a pop-up for the last out of the inning.

It would be more than a year before Hartenstein would get a chance to actually pitch in a major-league game. He pitched fairly well for Tacoma of the Pacific Coast League, though his record was 3-10 as a swingman. The Cubs brought him back to Chicago in September, and he made his pitching debut on September 13 against Atlanta. He allowed a run in 3 innings, with an RBI double from Eddie Mathews being the only damage against him. In 5 games, Hartenstein had a 1.93 ERA in 9-1/3 innings pitched.

In his two remaining seasons with Chicago, Hartenstein was never able to stick on the big-league roster, for a full season. In 1967, he led the team with 11 saves while securing a 9-5 record and 3.08 ERA — even though he didn’t appear in the majors until June. Five of the 25 earned runs he allowed that season came in one 6-inning appearance against the Mets on June 11. Ironically, he got his first major-league win in that 18-10 victory because starter Curt Simmons gave up 4 runs in 1+ innings. Though he got a late start, Hartenstein was the second most-used reliever for the Cubs behind Bill Hands.

Hartenstein struggled in 1968, with a 2-4 record and 4.79 ERA. A large part of that was due to Joe Torre. Hartenstein beaned the Braves slugger in April, sidelining him for a month with severe facial fractures. When Torre came back, he hammered Hartenstein with 3 hits in 3 at-bats, including a game-winning RBI double against the Cubs on June 16. That was one of the last games Hartenstein pitched for the Cubs before the team sent him back to Tacoma for most of the rest of the season.

The Pittsburgh Pirates acquired the reliever, along with infielder Ron Campbell, for outfielder Manny Jimenez in January of 1969. Originally optioned to Pittsburgh’s minor leagues, Hartenstein pitched himself onto the major-league roster with a strong spring. He picked up a win against the Cubs on April 22, allowing 2 runs in a 7-inning relief outing to get a bit of revenge. “I’ve been counting on that one for a long time,” he said after the game.

Pittsburgh manager Larry Shepard called Hartenstein “a Christmas present in April” after the pitcher got off to a good start. He picked up 10 saves for the Pirates to lead the team and had a 5-4 record and 3.95 ERA. He started the 1970 season as a short man in Pittsburgh, picking up a win, a loss and a save in short order. Pittsburgh, during this time, tried to mess with his sidearm delivery, giving him more of an over-the-top motion. The more “conventional” delivery decreased his velocity and effectiveness instead. Then he started to pitch less frequently, went on the disabled list with a sore arm and never came off it. He eventually asked a reporter to check in with general manager Joe Brown about when he might be activated. The request was published in a local paper, and Pittsburgh quickly sold his contract to the St. Louis Cardinals in response. He tossed 3 scoreless innings against Pittsburgh in his Cards debut but was otherwise hit hard. He was released in July with an ERA approaching 9. Boston signed Hartenstein, and he had an ERA of 8.05 in 17 appearances. He finished 1970 with a 6.74 in 40 games with three teams, and it looked that it might have been the end of his career.

Source: Tampa Bay Times, March 31, 1977.

For the next six seasons, Hartenstein became a mainstay reliever in the Pacific Coast League, pitching two seasons each with Tucson (a White Sox affiliate), Phoenix (San Francisco) and Hawaii (San Diego). Along the way, he became something of a late-inning specialist, with double-digit save totals in 1971-73. His best season was 1972, when he saved 16 games and won 7 more while pitching in 74 games, with a 3.00 ERA. Over those six seasons, his ERA fluctuated between 2.96 and 3.63. He also finally filled out his frame to outgrow his “Twiggy” nickname — “Those Budweisers did it,” he joked. He was remarkably consistent, but as he came into his 30s, it looked like his major-league days were behind him.

“I still think I can help somebody in the big leagues,” he said in 1974. “My main objective is to be consistent. Maybe somebody will notice.”

Hartenstein as a pitching coach for the Hawaii Islanders. Source: Honolulu Star Bulletin, August 31, 1983.

In the end, it was major-league expansion that helped Hartenstein return to the majors. The Toronto Blue Jays signed the 35-year-old pitcher in November of 1977, shortly after the team completed its expansion draft. The new Blue Jays manager, Roy Hartsfield, had managed in Hawaii and won two PCL championships with Hartenstein in the pen. The manager emphasized that the pitcher had won his roster spot on his own, not what he accomplished in Hawaii.

“I don’t know what kept me going — stubbornness and determination, I guess,” Hartenstein said. “And I needed just two more months up here to qualify for a pension. I’m the stubbornest SOB you’ll ever see.”

Hartenstein pitched in 13 games for the Blue Jays, losing 2 decisions and sporting a hefty 6.59 ERA. He spent more than a month on the DL and made his last pitching appearance on July 26. He allowed 3 runs — 1 earned — in 2 innings of work in a 14-0 blowout loss against Texas. After spending a month on the bench, Toronto announced that he would become the team’s minor-league pitching instructor, ending his playing career.

In 6 seasons in the majors, for five different teams, Hartenstein had a 17-19 record and 4.52 ERA in 187 games, all in relief. He picked up 24 saves and struck out 135 batters in 297 innings, while walking 89 (21 of which were intentional walks). He also had a 64-54 record in the minors across 12 seasons, with 60 saves.

After his retirement as a player, coaching kept Hartenstein pretty busy. Cleveland hired him to be their pitching coach for 1979, replacing Harvey Haddix. He became the team’s minor-league pitching instructor after a year before heading back to Honolulu to be the Islanders’ pitching coach. All along the way, he kept his offseason job as a real-estate agent back in Texas.

Wherever Hartenstein went, his sense of humor went with him. One night after a rough Islanders game, he and Hawaii manager Doug Rader went over the team’s performance. “It was our worst game of the year and one of the worst I’ve been associated with,” Rader grumbled. “We gave them eight runs and didn’t take two. We stunk.”

“I’ve got that [we stunk] written down here somewhere,” Hartenstein quipped, looking over his pitching charts.

Brewers pitching coach Hartenstein added a stop sign to his team’s bullpen when umpires started enforcing balks for pitchers who didn’t come to a full stop before their wind-up. Source: Wisconsin State Journal, April 17, 1988.

Hartenstein remained in Hawaii as a pitching coach from 1980 through 1985, under managers Rader, Tom Trebelhorn and Tommy Sandt. Among the pitchers he helped develop were Eric Show, Dave Dravecky, Jose DeLeon, Mark Thurmond and Mike Bielecki. He then spent a season in the White Sox organization before spending three years as the pitching coach for the Milwaukee Brewers, under manager Trebelhorn. He then served as an advance scout for the California Angels.

Hartenstein volunteered as a pitching instructor for the Texas Longhorns 1993 College World Series team. He was inducted into the Texas Athletics Hall of Honor in 2004. Hartenstein was married to his wife, Joyce, for nearly 60 years — they started dating around the time he threw his championship game no-hitter at Seguin High. He is also survived by two sons and their families.

For more information: Seguin Gazette

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