RIP to pitcher Jim Bronstad, who spent parts of three seasons in the major leagues in the 1950s and ’60s. He died in his sleep on April 9, at the age of 85. Bronstad played for the New York Yankees (1959) and Washington Senators (1963-64).
James Warren Bronstad was born in Fort Worth on June 22, 1936. As far back as junior high, he was known as a great shot with a basketball. He carried that talent over to Paschal High School, and he was just as good with a baseball in his hands. He threw a 1-hitter to win Paschal the 4A-3 baseball championship in 1952. By the time he was a senior, Bronstad was considered one of the top 10 basketball players in the state of Texas, and he was also recruited by the state colleges for his baseball prowess. Bronstad attended the University of Texas, but he never threw a pitch for the baseball team. “I went to the university one semester,, then signed a contract in the spring of ’55,” he said. “I was dissatisfied at school and didn’t study. My grades were good enough, but I always wanted to play professional baseball.”
It was the New York Yankees and scout Atley Donald that signed Bronstad. He debuted in pro ball in 1955 and won 10 games with the Monroe Sports of the Class-C Cotton States League, which was the leading total for any Texan in the minors. He struggled to a 14-loss campaign with Class-B Winston-Salem the following year, but that proved to be just a blip on the radar. He pitched for the Binghamton Triplets of the Class-A Eastern League in 1957 and won 15 games, including 10 in a row at one stretch. He improved the grip on his curveball after struggling with it in Winston-Salem, and that change seemingly made all the difference. He was never a strikeout pitcher, but his curveball induced a lot of ground balls.
The Yankees moved Bronstad up to Triple-A Richmond in 1958, but they were in no hurry to bring him to the majors. He was just 21 years old at the start of the season. Also, the Yankees had the best pitching staff in baseball, so there would have been few opportunities for him at the big-league level. Even advancing all the way up to the Richmond Virginians was quite an accomplishment, but manager Eddie Lopat liked when he saw of Bronstad at the Yankees training camp and took a chance on him. Lopat, a fine judge of pitching talent, was right. Bronstad finished the year 13-12 with a 3.67 ERA, with 13 complete games. He topped 200 innings for the first time as a pro, with 211.
Bronstad started 1959 with Richmond again — had he been in any other organization besides the Yankees, he might have started it in the majors. The Yankees, needing a little pitching help, brought him to the majors at the end of May. He was unscored upon in his first three relief outings and picked up the save on a June 10 game against Kansas City, when starter Art Ditmar tired after 8 innings. Yankees manager Casey Stengel was impressed enough to give him a couple of starts. Bronstad lost his first major-league start on June 12 against Detroit. He pitched pretty well — he gave up 3 runs on 6 hits in 7 innings — but the Yankees could only manage a single run and lost 3-1. He only had one bad game in his first stint in the majors. Bronstad gave up 6 runs in 2/3 of an inning against Boston on July 13, including a grand slam home run by Gene Stephens. That one outing wrecked his ERA, and he was soon sent back to the minors with an 0-3 record and a 5.22 ERA in 29-1/3 innings of work. He walked 13 and fanned 14.
After that, Bronstad couldn’t get another chance with the Yankees and remained in Richmond for the next three seasons. He was shuttled in and out of the starting rotation and had three straight losing seasons, failing to reach double digits in wins in any of them. But it wasn’t all his fault. He had a fine 2.55 ERA as a full-time stater in 1960 but had just a 9-13 record to show for it, for example. After failing to make the Yankees in the spring of 1963, he was placed on waivers and claimed by the Washington Senators. The Sens put Bronstad on the Opening Day roster.
Bronstad threw 3 scoreless innings against Boston in his Washington debut on April 13 and then suffered a loss against New York on the 21st in a 4-inning relief outing. He finally earned his first, and only, major-league win on May 2 against the Detroit. Tigers. Starter Claude Osteen was taken out of the game in the fifth inning after allowing a double to Al Kaline. Bronstad entered the game and got out of the inning, and he went the rest of the way. The Senators won 9-4, and aside from Bill Bruton scoring a couple of runs with a single and a sacrifice fly, Bronstead held the Tigers in check, allowing 6 hits and picking up 4 strikeouts in 4-2/3 innings.
Through May 24, Bronstad’s ERA was 3.13. A series of rough outings sent it above 5, and he was sent to Toronto of the Triple-A International League in June, with the Senators getting pitcher Steve Ridzik in return. In 25 relief appearances, Bronstad had a 1-3 record with a save and a 5.65 ERA. He struck out 22 batters and walked an equal amount in 57-1/3 innings. With Toronto, he was a very effective reliever, with a 2.25 ERA over 21 appearances, including 5 starts. He returned to Toronto to start the 1964 season and became one of the team’s top starting pitchers. he had an 11-7 record with a 2.74 ERA, and he tossed a couple of shutouts as well. He beat the Atlanta Crackers 7-0 on August 10, with 17 of the 21 outs in the rain-shortened game coming via the ground ball. He also beat the Richmond Virginians on June 15 by hitting two solo home runs and allowing just 7 hits in a 5-1 victory. The Senators brought Bronstad back to the majors at the very end of the season. In his first three outings, he threw 7-2/3 scoreless innings. The fourth appearance, against Boston on October 4, was the killer. He retired just 1 hitter and allowed 4 runs, three of which came on a bases-loaded double by Lee Thomas. That disastrous outing left him with a 5.14 ERA with Washington.
In the offseason, Bronstead worked as a construction superintendent in Fort Worth. When spring training rolled around in 1965, he surprised Washington by announcing that he decided to work in construction full time, retiring from baseball at the age of 29. Bronstead appeared in a total of 45 games over his 3 seasons in the majors, including 3 starts. He finished his career with a 1-7 record, 3 saves and a 5.48 ERA. He struck out 45 and walked 37, and he had a 1.569 WHIP.
Bronstad settled into his career in construction and didn’t miss the game much when spring training came around again. He later admitted in an interview that even at the height of his minor-league career, winning 15 games for Binghamton in 1957, he started having doubts about his future in the game. “Unless a guy is a real good pitcher there’s always a feeling he might not stick in the majors. If I had it to do over again I’d try to finish college. More so now than before,” he said in 1966. “Scouts tell you, ‘You’re going to finish school while you’re playing.’ That’s okay if you’re going to stay in the majors. But for a guy like myself it hurts.”
Bronstad did take plenty of memories from baseball with him. Some great, like the thrill of playing alongside Yankees greats of the 1950s. Some not so great, like playing in tiny towns like Eldorado, Ark., while in the Cotton States League. “It was one of the parks that didn’t have showers. We would put on our uniforms at the hotel, then come back and shower after the game. Some places there would be one shower for 20 guys. Or the lockers wouldn’t open.”
Bronstad married his high school sweetheart, Joann, and they celebrated their 66th wedding anniversary in 2021. They had two sons, Kenny and Ronnie. He is also survived by a granddaughter, Erika.
For more information: Greenwood Funeral Homes