Obituary: Al Autry (1952-2022)

RIP to former pitcher Al Autry, who picked up a win in his one and only start in the major leagues. He died on Feb. 25, just a few days before his 70th birthday. Several years ago, Autry had been diagnosed with Progressive Supranuclear Palsy, a neurodegenerative disease. Autry played for the Atlanta Braves in 1976.

Albert Autry was born in Modesto, Calif., on February 29, 1952. For the most part, the Autry that generated headlines in California in the 1960s and ’70s was Gene, the famed Singing Cowboy who also happened to own the California Angels. However, Al created some headlines of his own when he threw a no-hitter for Grace Davis High School on April 26, 1969. Facing Lodi High, Autry struck out 5, walked 4 and drove in a pair of runs with two singles and a sacrifice fly. The final score was 3-1. The high school senior made the second team All-Central Cal Conference that year. As a 6-foot-4-1/2 senior (he would eventually reach a full height of 6-foot-6), he was also a dominating center on the school basketball team. Baseball became his sport of choice when he was drafted by the Kansas City Royals in the Fourth Round of the 1969 June Amateur Draft.

Source: The Billings Gazette, September 2, 1970.

The Royals assigned their new pitcher to the Winnipeg Goldeyes of the Class-A Northern League. At 17 years old (he had skipped a grade and was younger than most rookies), Autry was one of the youngest players on the team, and he pitched like it. In fact, it took a couple of years of losses and high ERAs before he began to grow into his profession. He had a 9.00 ERA in 10 starts for the Goldeyes in 1969 and a combined 3-5 record and 6.00 ERA for Waterloo (Iowa) and Billings in 1970. One of those wins in Billings was a beauty of a 2-hitter, as Autry fanned 9. There were enough flashes of brilliance like that game for the Royals to ease him along.

See Al Autry at Baseball Almanac

Autry really demonstrated his potential in 1971 with Waterloo and the San Jose Bees of the Class-A California League. He won 9 games and lost 12, but his ERA was an improved 3.68. While he was hurt by a lack of control — he would average more than 5 walks per 9 innings throughout his minor-league career — he also showed impressive strikeout stuff, fanning 177 batters in 154 innings. He finally moved up to Double-A in 1972 and won 11 games, while losing 13. He struck out 173 batters in 184 innings, and he also popped 3 home runs as a hitter.

Autry was promoted to Triple-A Omaha in 1973, and the 21-year-old struggled with his control again. He had a 9-11 record but allowed 104 walks and had an ERA of 6.12. He did have some good games, though. He held the Oklahoma City 89ers to 1 run on 6 hits on May 14, as third base prospect George Brett drove in 3 runs with a bases-loaded double, erasing a 1-0 deficit and spurring the Royals to an 8-1 win.

Autry was a regular participant at the Royals’ spring training camp. He ended up with the distinction of being the winning and losing pitcher of the same game, as he pitched both halves of the ninth inning in an intra-squad game in 1974. While he didn’t make the Royals’ squad, he had a little better time at Omaha and won a career-high 12 games while pitching in Double-A and Triple-A. He spent all of 1975 with Omaha and turned in a 9-7 record and 3.94 ERA.

Near the end of the season, The Royals sent Autry and pitcher Norm Angelini to Atlanta as the players to be named later in a trade between the two teams. Autry was assigned to Triple-A Richmond and went 9-6 in 1976, working as a swingman. He did complete 8 of his 18 starts, including 2 shutouts. He was brought to the majors for the very first time in September, thanks in part to a brutal schedule during what had been a brutal year for the Braves.

Source: Pinterest

Atlanta was on the way to losing 92 games and a sixth-place finish. The team started the month of September by dropping 6 games in a row, including 2 to the Giants as the team started a West Coast swing. The Braves split two games in San Diego and then traveled to Los Angeles, where September rains canceled games on September 10 and 11. That late in the season, the only solution was to schedule consecutive doubleheaders against the Dodgers on September 12 and 13 and then travel home to face Houston for a doubleheader on September 14, one of which was a make-up for an earlier rainout. With six games in three days, the Braves had to lean on their recently recalled rookies, including Autry and fellow pitcher Rick Camp, catcher Dale Murphy and outfielder Brian Asselstine.

The Braves and Dodgers split both doubleheaders, and the exhausted Atlantans headed across the country to play two more games on the 14th. Houston won the first game by a score of 4-3, and the Braves sent Autry to the mound for his major-league debut in the nightcap. He wasn’t the only rookie in the starting lineup that day. Murphy was playing in his third major-league game, and Asselstine was getting his first start, having debuted in the first game.

Autry had barely gotten warmed up before he was down 1-0 in the first inning, thanks to a Cesar Cedeno home run with two outs. He then struck out Bob Watson to get out of the inning. The Braves tied the game in the bottom of the first, with a Ken Henderson RBI single off Astros starter Bo McLaughlin. Willie Montanez game Autry some breathing room in the bottom of the third with a 3-run homer, making the score 4-1. Autry gave a run back with a Jose Cruz solo homer in the fourth, and he allowed another run in the fifth when Enos Cabell walked, stole second and scored on a Cedeno single. Then Murphy got his pitcher out of the inning by gunning down Cedeno when he tried to steal second. It was the first caught stealing of Murphy’s catching career.

Braves manager Dave Bristol took Autry out of the game at that point, with a 4-3 lead. Relievers Max Leon and Adrian Devine made the lead stick by throwing two scoreless innings each, giving Autry the win in his debut. Bristol was happy with the performance, too. “I’m gonna play ’em,” he said of his rookies. “Autry was impressive tonight. He got his breaking stuff over when he had to. And you know I like that Murphy.”

Actually, Autry never pitched in the majors again. In his SABR biography, Autry surmised that Bristol overheard him razzing fellow rookie Camp after he threw a ball away in a pickoff attempt. The two pitchers were good friends, so it was all in jest, but Bristol may not have understood that. He barely used Autry in spring training in 1977 either, and the pitcher was returned to Richmond before his contract was sold to the St. Louis Cardinals in mid-season. Autry won 10 games between the two organizations in 1977, but he struggled as a reliever in 1978 with the Triple-A Springfield Redbirds. He retired after the season at the age of 26.

Autry’s major-league totals in his 1 game are a perfect 1-0 record and a 5.40 ERA, with 3 walks and 3 strikeouts. He was 0-for-2 at the plate. In 10 years in the minors, he had a 75-83 record and 4.23 ERA, with 1,091 strikeouts, 48 complete games and 8 shutouts.

Autry moved back to Modesto and began working in the advertising department of the Modesto Bee. He turned that job into a lengthy career with the McClatchy Co. newspaper publisher, working for the Modesto Bee, Raleigh News & Observer and Sacramento Bee. He was the senior vice president of advertising with the latter papers. Autry also served on the boards for hospice facilities, the Salvation Army and others.

Autry is survived by his wife of more than 50 years, Paula, three children (daughter Monica and sons Paul and Bear) and many grandchildren and step-grandchildren.

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