RIP to Carl Duser, a pitcher for the Kansas City Athletics who appeared in 3 games in the major leagues. He died on January 5 at the age of 90 in Guthrie Robert Packer Hospital in Sayre, Pa. Duser played for the A’s in 1956 and 1958 before an auto accident ended his playing career.
Carl Robert Duser was born in Hazleton, Pa., on July 22, 1932. He attended Weatherly High School, where he was the second Duser to make a name for himself on the baseball diamond. Older brother Ron was a great basketball and baseball player for Weatherly, but Carl won plenty of accolades for his own athleticism, both in and out of school. In 1949, he hit .446 for Mauch Chunk of the American Legion Tri-County league, finishing second in the league. He played in an exhibition game in Shibe Park as part of an Eastern League All-Star Team as well. He was also a champion ping-pong player in the Hazleton area.
Duser signed with the Philadelphia Athletics and local scout Frank Fullmer in September of 1950 as a left-handed pitcher, after he had graduated from high school. Before he could make spring training with the A’s in 1951, he was called into active duty by the U.S. military. He served at Camp Atterbury in Indiana and played on a number of their sports teams. The 6’1″ Duser played forward on the Atterbury Cardinals basketball team and was a leading scorer. He really made his mark on the pitcher’s mound, though. An August 8, 1952, preview of a game between Atterbury and a Nashville club stated that Duser had a perfect 6-0 record on the mound that year. The following year, he threw a no-hitter while the Atterbury team was on the road in Wisconsin.
The Army discharged Duser in time for him to restart his pro baseball career in 1954, with the Lancaster Red Roses of the Piedmont League. He made 18 starts and 12 relief appearances and won 7 games with a 3.84 ERA. He threw a 10-0 6-hit shutout against York on July 18, but one of his most impressive performances came in an exhibition game against the Philadelphia A’s parent ballclub at the end of April. The A’s won 8-6, thanks to a 6-run first inning, but Duser pitched the final 3 innings and didn’t allow a single hit. He struck out 3 and walked 1.
Duser’s performance in his rookie season prompted the A’s to invite him to spring training in 1955. He impressed manager Lou Boudreau, who purposely let the youngster take his lumps against the powerful Yankees team so that he could get over the rookie jitters early. Duser didn’t make the team but was sent to the Columbus Jets of the Triple-A International League. He went 8-7 as a starter, with a 4.32 ERA, after missing some time with a sore shoulder. Control was his biggest problem, as he walked 81 batters in 125 innings and struck out only 47. He fixed those issues in 1956 with the Jets, dropping his walk total to 48 in 108 innings. Boudreau brought him up to Kansas City in September to see if Duser was ready for the majors.
Duser made his debut on September 15, 1956, against the Washington Senators. The A’s jumped all over starter Camilo Pascual and reliever Bunky Stewart and scored 10 runs in the first 3 innings, so the rookie was able to pitch with breathing room. It wasn’t a perfect start, as he worked 5-2/3 innings and gave up 3 runs on 10 hits. Washington’s Roy Sievers did the most damage with an RBI double in the first inning and an RBI single in the fifth. Still, Duser fanned 4 batters and worked into the sixth inning before giving way to Bobby Shantz, who closed out the game. The Athletics won 10-5 to give Duser a victory in his first major-league start. The second one didn’t go nearly as well, as he was knocked out of the game in the first inning by the White Sox on September 22. Luis Aparicio and Minnie Minoso led off the game with singles and a double steal. Duser struck out Larry Doby but then gave up back-to-back RBI singles to Walt Dropo and Sherm Lollar. Duser was relieved by Jack Crimian, who gave up an inherited run on a Jim Rivera sacrifice fly before ending the inning. In his 2 starts, Duser gave up 6 runs on 14 hits in 6 innings, walked 2 and struck out 5.
After the season, Duser went back home to Pennsylvania and spoke with all the local sportswriters about his baseball experiences. He talked about the friendliness of Ted Williams and the talent of Mickey Mantle. He said when when he asked his teammates for advice on how to pitch to those gifted hitters, they told him, “Throw like hell and then duck for cover!”
Boudreau said that he would give Duser a chance to make the A’s pitching staff in 1957, and the pitcher did everything he could to make it happen. In 15-2/3 innings in spring training, Duser allowed 9 hits and 2 runs. However, he was ultimately farmed out to Little Rock in order to pitch more regularly than he would with Kansas City. He was sent out on a 24-hour recall basis so that the A’s could promote him quickly if needed. However, the promotion never came. Duser had a disappointing season for Little Rock and Buffalo of the International League, with a combined 8-13 record. He had an ERA of 5.26 with Little Rock, and while he was supposedly called up to the majors in September, according to a Kansas City Times article, he never saw action with the A’s.
Kansas City had a new manager in 1958 with Harry Craft, and he apparently wasn’t too enthused with Duser’s pitching. However, the lefty picked up wins in 3 of his first 5 spring training appearances, so Craft was forced to reevaluate him. “Maybe Carl’s the type that needs a challenge to bring out the best in him,” Craft said. “We’ll provide plenty of challenges. I ‘m going to use him for mop-up assignments against tough clubs and we’ll soon see.”
Duser must have impressed in those mop-up assignments, because the Royals kept him on the roster. However, he only pitched in one game before he was sent to the minor leagues. That last game, which ended up being the last major-league game of his career, was on April 23, 1958, against Detroit. Paul Foytack of the Tigers threw a complete game and allowed just 2 runs. A’s starter Duke Maas gave up 4 runs in 3 innings of work, and the score was 5-1 when Duser came into the game in the top of the seventh inning. Harvey Kuenn greeted him with a double, advanced to third on an Al Kaline grounder and was balked home by the pitcher. Duser struggled through a second inning, loading the bases with just one out, but he retired Kaline and Ray Boone to wriggle out of danger. He was sent to Denver on May 15 and later transferred to Sacramento and Albany over the course of the ’58 season. His career came to an untimely end with a serious knee injury suffered in a car accident. He was able to continue playing baseball at the semipro level back in Pennsylvania after that, and he even turned into a top home run hitter there. But his professional career was over.
Duser appeared in a total of 3 games in the majors, including 2 starts. He had a 1-1 record and a 7.88 ERA in 8 innings pitched. He gave up 7 runs on 19 hits, walked 3 and struck out 5. His minor-league record is not complete on Baseball Reference, but he is credited with a 32-38 record in 5 seasons.
Duser married Bernadine Ann Timko of Bethlehem, Pa., on September 12, 1959. They were married until her death in 2018, and they had three children, Cindy, Colleen and Kyle. Both Carl and Bernadine worked in the sales department of Bethlehem Steel Co., and he remained there for 27 years before his retirement. For years after his baseball career abruptly ended, Duser was active as a baseball and softball player in Pennsylvania, and he was also a basketball official, a semipro umpire and a Little League baseball coach. He was inducted into the Weatherly High School Basketball Hall of Fame in 1990, along with his brother Ron, and the Blue Mountain Baseball League Hall of Fame in 1998. Both brothers are also in the Carbon County Chapter of the Pennsylvania Sports Hall of Fame.
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