RIP to pitcher Chuck Dobson, who won 10 or more games for five straight seasons in the 1960s and ’70s before arm injuries ended his career. He died on November 30 at his home in Kansas City. He was 77 years old. Dobson played for the Kansas City/Oakland Athletics (1966-71, 1973) and California Angels (1974-75).
Dobson was mourned by the University of Kansas, where he played for a season. “Kansas Athletics lost one of its all-time greatest players with the passing of Chuck Dobson,” baseball head coach Ritch Price said. “Chuck was not only a great player, but he was an even better person. My thoughts and prayers are with his family.”
Charles Thomas Dobson was born in Kansas City, Mo., on January 10, 1944. He got his start in baseball pitching in the Ban Johnson League in town. By the time he got to De La Salle High School in Kansas City, he already stood 6-foot-3 and became a prominent part of the school’s sports programs. He was a tight end on the football team, a center on the basketball team and a pitcher who was very stingy in giving up base hits to the opposition. A game like the one on May 10, 1962, in which he fanned 15 batters and allowed just 3 hits in a 4-2 win over Rockhurst, was pretty typical for him. During his summers, he pitched for local semipro teams like Helzberg’s in 1961 and Guy’s in 1962 and ’63. He also played in the South Dakota Basin League for part of 1963.
Dobson went to the University of Kansas after high school. He only spent one year there, but he was a pretty impressive year. He had a 6-2 record for the Jayhawks in 1964, leading the team in wins, innings pitched (66-2/3) and strikeouts (90). He was selected to the All-Big Eight First Team. That summer, Dobson was selected to join Team USA in the 1964 Olympics, held in Tokyo. Baseball was not an Olympic sport then, but he was part of a team that demonstrated the game as part of a Far East tour. Dobson had other orders too. The prior October, Philadelphia A’s scout Whitey Herzog successfully signed Dobson out from under the New York Yankees, who were also interested in the right-hander. Dobson then acted as an unofficial scout for the A’s during the Olympic tour. When the team returned to the United States, A’s owner Charley Finley announced (officially) the signing of Dobson and three teammates — pitchers Rich Joyce and George Bosworth, and catcher Ken Raymond Suarez. All but Bosworth would eventually reach the majors.
Dobson threw 3 hitless innings for the A’s in a Florida Instructional League game in 1964, but his professional career began in earnest the following year. He split the season between Class-A Lewiston and Double-A Birmingham, turning in a cumulative 10-13 record and 3.22 ERA. He struggled somewhat at Birmingham, losing all 6 of his starts with a 4.63 ERA. He threw a 4-3 no-hitter for Lewiston against Salem, which was the first no-hitter in the Northwest League since 1962.
Dobson’s work in the early days of spring training in 1963 impressed A’s manager Al Dark enough that he decided to put Dobson into the starting rotation. He made his major-league debut in a start against Minnesota on April 19. Despite 6 walks and 5 hits, Dobson allowed just 2 earned runs in 5-2/3 innings. Lew Krausse relieved him with the bases loaded and preserved the 3-2 win, giving Dobson his first career victory.
“I wanted to go all the way,” Dobson said later. “When you get relief like that, you’re OK. Krausse did a real job. I felt good, strong all the way. But I lost my concentration in the sixth.”
Dobson struggled after a couple of early wins, and the fact that the Athletics team had a weak offense didn’t help matters. He won his final two starts of the year, including an 8-1/3-inning gem against the White Sox on June 22. Those wins left him with a 4-6 record in 14 starts, with a 4.09 ERA. A sore shoulder kept him on the disabled list for the rest of the season, but he returned in 1967 at full strength. Dobson started 29 games for the A’s and had a 10-10 record, striking out 110 batters and walking 75 in nearly 200 innings. The A’s finished in 10th place, and he was the only starter with a .500 record. With some experience under his belt now, Dobson chalked up his rough rookie season, as well as his season-ending injury, to “first-year ignorance.”
“I didn’t know how to take care of my arm. My shoulder is sound now, but I still don’t think I can throw as hard as I did last year. But I’ve changed, too. I have more pitches. I’m not afraid to throw the curve. I can get it over.”
The A’s moved to Oakland in 1968 and started improving, finishing 2 games above .500. Dobson won 12 games and lost 14 with a career-high 168 strikeouts and an even 3.00 ERA — a little below average in the “Year of the Pitcher.” However, a couple of those losses came when Dobson was asked to pitch more than 9 innings, including a 12-inning loss to the California Angels when he struck out 13 and allowed just 5 hits. Sadly, one of them was a 3-run homer by catcher Buck Rodgers in the top of the 12th, making the final score 3-0.
Dobson finished with an over-.500 record in 1969 for the first time in his career, with 15 wins and 13 losses. He was the victim of some bad luck, as he once had back-to-back starts that resulted in a no-hitter for Baltimore’s Jim Palmer and a 1-hitter for Cleveland’s Sam McDowell. He did get some help from his roommate, Reggie Jackson. After those two starts when the A’s managed one hit, Jackson homered and hit a 2-run single to give Dobson some breathing room on the way to a 9-0 win over Baltimore. To that point in the season — August 24 to be exact — Jackson had homered in 11 of Dobson’s starts, and the pitcher had won 8 of them.
Jackson and Dobson were one of the first black and white roommates in baseball. Aside from breaking down one of the remaining vestiges of segregation in baseball, there was a practical aspect to the pairing. Dobson previously had roomed with Jim Gosger, who couldn’t wake up the exhausted pitcher when he overslept after a start. Jackson could get as loud as he needed to get Dobson out of bed.
Dobson had a career year in 1970. He won a career-high 16 games and threw a career-high 267 innings, and he led the American League with 40 starts. His 5 shutouts were best in baseball. Three of those shutouts took place during an 8-game winning streak that lasted from July 16 to August 14. He was five outs away from another shutout on the August 14 game, but manager John McNamara brought in Mudcat Grant to get the save and preserve the 4-0 victory over Baltimore. Dobson was upset to leave the game but was happy with the result. “I’ve always been a streak pitcher, but not like this,” he said. “Usually I’d win three in a row. I’m amazed to win eight in a row.”
Even with the 8 wins in a row, Dobson finished 1970 with a 16-15 record. In fact, to that point in his career, he had never finished a season more than 2 games away from a .500 record. That streak was broken in 1971, when he lost just 5 games and finished with a 15-5 record for a .750 winning percentage. His first win came on May 12, when he faced Cleveland ace McDowell. At the time, it was widely rumored that Dobson was part of a package that A’s owner Charlie Finley was offering to land McDowell in a trade. “If I had a brain in my head, I throw the first pitch, fall down, writhe on the ground and leave the game holding my elbow,” Dobson remarked. “That way they can’t trade me.” Instead, he did even better — he outduelled McDowell in an 8-1 win. Dobson allowed 7 hits, while McDowell gave up 2 home runs to the light-hitting Bert Campaneris.
Dobson won his 15th and final game of the season with a shutout against California on September 1. He dropped his last two decisions, and his final starts were marked by shorter outings and reduced effectiveness, raising his ERA to 3.81. Oakland finished first in the AL West but were swept in the AL Championship Series. Dobson didn’t appear in any of the three games due to a sore elbow. The A’s rebounded to win 93 games in 1972 and defeat Cincinnati in the World Series. Dobson watched it all from the sidelines. He underwent elbow surgery after the 1971 season and didn’t participate in the championship season at all. Instead, he threw 19 innings in 9 games for Birmingham of the Double-A Southern League, trying to regain his form. He then spent almost all of 1973 with the Tucson Toros of the Pacific Coast League. He had a 9-13 record and a 5.23 ERA in a very hitter-friendly park. The Athletics brought Dobson back to the majors to make one start on September 25 against Minnesota. His velocity was reportedly good, but the Twins hit him hard. He worked out of a bases-loaded jam in the first inning but then gave up a homer to Mike Adams and a 2-run double to Tony Oliva in the second inning. He retired one batter in the third and was pulled after a couple Twins reached base. He was charged with 4 runs (2 earned) in 2-1/3 innings and took the loss. It was his final appearance with the Athletics.
Oakland released Dobson prior to the ’74 season, and he contemplated retirement. Instead, he was recruited by Aleijo Peralta, owner of the Mexico City Tigers of the Mexican League. “He called me three times and finally I told myself I’d be a fool not to go down there at his price,” Dobson related. He was excellent, winning 10 of his 13 starts with a sub-2.00 ERA. He was so good that the California Angels signed him to Salt Lake City of the Pacific Coast League. He pitched well enough to earn a promotion to the majors after the PCL season had ended.
Dobson debuted with the Angels on September 9 against Texas. He went the distance in a 4-1 victory, scattering 7 hits and 5 walks while striking out 2. He struggled through his next three starts — all losses — but game back to throw a complete game against his old team, the A’s. He struck out 9 as part of a 3-2 win. That excellent performance left him with a 2-3 record and 5.70 ERA with the Angels.
Dobson said that his three years of surgery, rehab and minor league appearances left him with a new maturity and a new appreciation for his career. “This has been more rewarding than coming up the first time,” he said. “Maybe things were too easy then. Getting there is tough enough, but coming back is the toughest thing of all. One day you’re riding high, the next you’re lost.”
Donson started 1975 with the Angels. He was given a couple of starts but spent most of his time there as a mop-up reliever. At the end of May, with an 0-2 record and 6.75 ERA, he was sent back to the Salt Lake City Gulls. He stayed with the team through the 1976 season, spending the latter year as a player-coach. He had one last career highlight with Salt Lake City, throwing a 7-inning no-hitter against Honolulu on July 17, 1975. Dobson retired after the 1976 campaign, when he was 32 years old.
In 9 seasons in the major leagues, Dobson had a 74-69 record and a 3.78 ERA. He threw 49 complete games and 11 shutouts in his 202 career appearances, and he struck out 758 batters while walking 476. He had a career ERA+ of 87 and a WHIP of 1.311.
Dobson remained in the Angels organization as a minor-league coach and an instructional league manager for a couple more years. He later hosted a sports radio show in St. Louis and appeared in some commercials before going into private business, running a janitorial service.
Dobson later moved to Kansas City and began helping others with the thing that cost him so much: alcohol. Dobson got sober in the 1980s, but he later said that the loss of his playing career, his marriage and his janitorial business were all due to his drinking. He became a counselor at Welcome House, a live-in rehabilitation center that helped people turn their lives around. As someone who had been in a dark place, Dobson could relate to the people with whom he worked.
The last article I could find about Chuck Dobson was written by Sam Mellinger in the Kansas City Star in 2016. By then, Dobson had been sober for more than three decades and had survived a stroke, a cancer diagnosis and 15 different operations. But he had a girlfriend he saw every day and lived in the Hyde Park house where he grew up. He had overcome the bad memories of a rough childhood and planted a large flower garden. He was content –regretful of his past choices, but satisfied at where his life ended up. He had his war stories, like the time he beat the Royals in 1970 after spending the entire night drinking. But there was also the time his girlfriend was driving to a bar to get them drunk. Instead of turning left, Dobson suddenly told her to turn right… to where a rehab center was. It was where he sobered up, turned his back on his old lifestyle and started helping others. Even 30 years later, Dobson still marveled at the spur-of-the-moment choice that changed his life.
“I could not have made that decision,” he told Mellinger. “Where did that come from? ‘Take a right turn?'”
For more information: KU Athletics