Grave Story: Paul Toth (1935-1999)

Here lies Paul Toth, who pitched for parts of three seasons in the 1960s. He was part of one of the most infamous trades in baseball history, and he never returned to the majors after it took place. Toth played for the St. Louis Cardinals (1962) and Chicago Cubs (1962-1964).

Paul Louis Toth (rhymes with “both”) was born in McRoberts, Ky., on June 30, 1935. The tiny town of McRoberts is located on the Kentucky-Virginia border. He and his family later moved to Ohio, and he went to East High School in Youngstown. He played baseball and basketball there, and the St. Louis Cardinals signed him when he graduated in 1955.

The 20-year-old right-hander started off with the Hamilton Cardinals of the Pony League (Pennsylvania-Ontario-New York). He had a 7-7 record and 3.83 ERA, mostly as a reliever, though he did get a few starts toward the end of the season. He threw a complete game against the Corning Red Sox in the Pony League Governor’s Cup championship series, scattering 9 hits in a 6-4 win on September 11. He was pressed into duty because the team’s top three starting pitchers, including future Red Sox outfielder Gary Geiger, were injured or otherwise unavailable. The shorthanded Cardinals nevertheless swept Corning in the 5-game series.

Source: Atlanta Constitution, June 18, 1962.

For the first part of his minor-league career, Toth was used almost exclusively as a reliever. He was pretty good in the role, with 6 wins in 8 decisions and a 2.86 ERA for Winnipeg in 1956. He stayed in the low minors for several seasons, appearing briefly with Double-A Houston in 1958 before moving back down to the Class-A York White Roses of the Eastern League. He pitched well for York, with an even 3.00 ERA in 42 games, striking out 52 batters in 72 innings. In his last game with the team on September 1, 1958, he worked the final 4-2/3 innings in relief of starter Jack Sanford and picked up his 6th win over Reading. York moved on from there to the playoffs, but Toth wasn’t included on the postseason roster. His time for military service had come.

Toth was a 6-foot-1, 170-pound youngster when he was inducted. The Army put 20 pounds onto his frame and gave him a chance to run the baseball team at Fort Sill, Okla., even though he was a private. “Baseball-playing lieutenants, captains and majors took orders from the affable young man,” reported the St. Louis Globe-Democrat. In 1959, while pitching for the 30th Infantry, he hurled three straight shutouts, including a no-hitter against the 21st Infantry. Just days later, he fanned 17 against the 41st Infantry. In a championship tournament, the Globe-Democrat reported that Toth threw a shutout in the first game, picked up a save in the semi-final game and threw all 16 innings of the championship game. He even banged out a triple to win the championship.

Toth rejoined the Cardinals organization in 1961 after his discharge. Now 26 years old, he was assigned to the Double-A Tulsa Oilers of the Texas League. It ended up being the best season of his career. Working as a swingman, he recorded an 18-7 record and 2.37 ERA. He appeared in 43 games and completed 13 of his 19 starts. Toth took a no-hitter into the ninth inning against Ardmore before allowing two singles. He still won the game 4-0, which was one of three shutouts he had in the season. He struck out a career-high 125 batters and led the Texas League in wins. He was named to the All-Star team, along with future big-leaguers Jim Bouton, Tommie Aaron, Phil Linz and Joe Pepitone. Though not blessed with a great fastball, he had a good slider and effective changeup and kept batters guessing.

St. Louis took notice. In the spring of 1962, Cardinals traveling pitching instructor Johnny Grodzicki said, “Of all the pitchers I saw last year, Toth was most ready to help the Cardinals.”

Toth had a great spring, and he was added to the 1962 Opening Day roster as a result. However, there was little opportunity for him to play. He finally got into his first game on April 22, which was the Cardinals’ eighth game of the season. He pitched the sixth inning after the Chicago Cubs had already chased starter Ray Sadecki and reliever John Anderson. Toth didn’t fare much better. Lou Brock welcomed him to the majors with a triple, Ken Hubbs hit an RBI single and stole second, and Ron Santo cracked a 2-run homer. Toth retired Ernie Banks and Billy Williams and struck out Bob Will to escape the inning with 3 earned runs allowed. He did much better against Cincinnati on May 5, with a perfect inning of relief work. But he was soon sent to the minors to make way for new pitcher Bobby Schantz and tried to get back into form with the Atlanta Crackers.

It took a while for Toth to shake off some of the rust he had accumulated while wasting away in the Cardinals bullpen, but he eventually became a reliable swingman for the Crackers. He was given a second chance at the major leagues when Sadecki was demoted at the end of July. He made his first major-league start on August 5 against Houston and went the distance for his first win. He allowed 4 runs on 7 hits and struck out 2. He also went 2-for-4 on the day. It was his only Cardinals start, as he worked out of the bullpen for a few more games and lowered his ERA to 5.40 with St. Louis.

The Chicago Cubs acquired Toth on September 1, sending pitcher Harvey Branch to St. Louis in return. Toth made a few ineffective appearances at first, picking up the loss in his first Cubs start at Cincinnati. Then he rattled off a 3-game winning streak. He beat his old St. Louis teammates (and starting pitcher Branch) 4-3 on September 18. He took a 3-hitter into the ninth inning, having surrendered just 1 run on a solo homer by catcher Carl Sawatski. Then he gave up a single to Julian Javier, a 2-run home run to Stan Musial and a single to Bill White, and Barney Schultz relieved him and retired Ken Boyer on a pop fly to end the game. Toth’s last two wins were against the expansion Mets, giving them their 116th and 119th losses. Toth ended the season with a 4-1 record and 4.62 ERA, with 16 strikeouts and 14 walks in 50-2/3 innings.

Source: Chicago Tribune, August 2, 1963.

Toth spent all of 1963 with the Cubs, working as a swingman. His record was just 5-9, but he had an impressive 3.10 and ERA+ of 114. He continued to dominate the hapless Mets, throwing his first career shutout against them in the second game of a July 4 doubleheader. One of his more impressive performances came when he matched up against the Dodgers’ ace Don Drysdale on June 7. He lost the game 4-1, but he allowed just 2 runs without the Dodgers hitting a ball past the infield.

After pitching more than 130 innings in 1963, Toth was barely used by the Cubs in 1964. He had a couple of scoreless appearances out of the pen in April and May, with more than two weeks of rest in between them. Then he started two games against Cincinnati while the Cubs had a string of doubleheaders and lost them both. The first on May 17 was a 7-1 loss, where he gave up 5 runs in 5-2/3 innings. The big blows were solo home runs by Frank Robinson and Bob Skinner – Robinson later homered off reliever Lindy McDaniel as well. In the second loss, Toth lasted 2+ innings, giving up 5 runs. A Tommy Harper triple and Vada Pinson double chased him in the third inning, as the Reds pounded the Cubs 12-4. He was sent down to Triple-A Salt Lake City in June, with an 0-2 record and 8.44 ERA.

Toth was soon on the move again, back to his original team. He was part of the infamous Lou Brock-for-Ernie Broglio trade of June 15, 1964. He and pitcher Jack Spring were also sent to the Cardinals, and outfielder Doug Clemens and pitcher Shantz went to the Cubs. The Cubs didn’t know at the time that Broglio had a bad arm that would soon end his career, and the deal is now a part of baseball history as one of the worst trades ever. As far as Toth’s part of the trade, he was sent directly to the Cardinals’ Triple-A Jacksonville Suns of the International League. He never had the opportunity to replace Broglio on the big-league roster, as St. Louis called up prospect Mike Cuellar instead. Toth was an effective reliever there, with a 3.25 ERA and 4 wins in 26 appearances, but he did not return to the major leagues again.

A view of Riverside National Cemetery from Paul Toth’s grave.

In parts of three seasons, Toth appeared in 43 games – 21 starts and 22 relief appearances. He had a 9-12 record and 3.80 ERA, with 5 complete games and 2 shutouts. He struck out 82 hitters in 192 innings and gave up 177 hits for a WHIP of 1.203.

The Cardinals sold Toth’s contract to the New York Yankees in January of 1965. He pitched with the Triple-A Toledo Mud Hens for two seasons, working mostly as a starter in 1965 and a reliever in 1966. He had a losing record in each season, but he tossed a couple of shutouts in 1965 and threw a 1-hitter against Syracuse in 1966. Midway through the 1967 season, he was traded to the Chicago White Sox for third baseman Ramón Conde. He ended up with a 4-5 record and a 2.91 ERA in 27 appearances (13 starts) between Syracuse and Indianapolis that year. He played winter ball in Hawaii and, while he didn’t seem likely to make the White Sox in 1968, he was a lock for the Hawaii Islanders’ roster. However, he did not pitch professionally again, retiring at the age of 32. In 10 seasons in the minors, Toth accumulated a 69-70 record.

His small part in an infamous trade guaranteed that Toth’s name would be mentioned repeatedly over the years. But he seemed to live a fairly quiet life. He spent 30 years working as a beer salesman and sales manager for Great Lakes Distributors in the Toledo, Ohio, area. He retired from that job in 1993 and, moving up to Erie, Mich., spent his last few years traveling. He was visiting his brother William in Anaheim on March 20, 1999, when he suffered a fatal heart attack. He was 63 years old and was survived by a daughter and three sons. He is buried at Riverside National Cemetery in Riverside, Calif.

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