Dick Ellsworth is the best club lefty in 45 years. By Barney Kremenko (Dec 1963)
Dick Ellsworth stands tall and erect, like the redwoods in his home state of California. He is the freshest and most promising bit of left-handed timber to land in a uniform of the Chicago Cubs in several decades.
There was Johnny Schmitz with 18 victories in 1948, and Larry French before that with a similar number in 1936.
Ellsworth, who won 22 this past season, topped both. In fact, the 23-year-old pride of Wrigley Field was the Cubs' first southpaw 20game winner since Jim Vaughn WOD 21 in 1919 (and 22 in 1918).
Records and goals, however, don't interest this young man. "Sure, I was glad to win 20, but every pitcher wants that," Ellsworth says. "That goes with the business."
At the same time he admits to the fond dream of getting into the World Series.
"I just think that coed be the most exciting experience baseball has to offer," he explains.
Ellsworth was born in Lusk, Wyo., March 22, 1940, but moved to Fresno? Cal. three years later and has continued to live there ever since. It was after his sophomore year in Fresno High School, at the age of 16, that he started getting the notion of a big league career.
"I began receiving Christmas cards from scouts," the newest Cub star reveals. "Before I graduated I received at least one Christmas greeting from a scout on every major league club.
"It got so that I and Jim Maloney would compare cards. Either I would get hold of Jim or he would contact me and would say: 'I just received a card from so-and-so; how about you?"'
The Maloney involved is the current right-handed pitching ace of the Cincinnati Reds, a 23-game winner in 1963.
They both played on the same Fresno High School team, but Maloney was a shortstop, pitching only on those days when Ellsworth couldn't.
This had to be one of the great high school teams of all time. Five players signed professional contracts, totalling a quarter of a million dollars in bonuses. Maloney received $100,000 from the Reds. Ellsworth got $60,000 from the Cubs. Pat Corallas, the catcher on the team, got $40,000 from the Phillies. Then two other pitchers, Lynn Rube and Mike Urrizola, got $30,000 and $20,000 from the St. Louis Cardinals and Phillies, respectively.
Rube has since quit baseball for sports announcing in Mexico and Urrizola, while still pitching in the California State League, suffered an arm injury to impair his future.
Corallas, though, may soon join former teammates Ellsworth and Maloney in the big-time.
"They have no state championships in California," Ellsworth pointed out. "But whatever they do have, we won. We took a bagful of league titles in our territory."
His own combined record for high school and American Legion ball was 110 won against five lost.
Dick never played in the Little League.
"I missed it," he reports. "It was just coming up as I was getting out of that age level. But I did belong to the Babe Ruth League and then played in the American Legion and in the Playground League, which Is a big thing around Fresno."
While growing up, Ellsworth became a red hot rooter for the Fresno minor league team. First it was the Fresno Cardinals, when they were a farm team for that big league organization; then the independent Fresno Sun Sox and finally the Fresh no Giants. "Our newspapers don't give much space to big league teams," Ellsworth discloses. "whey print the scores, but rarely any story. That's why I could never develop any real rooting interest for either a big league team or any big league hero."
He did have one idol, though. It was Larry Jackson, then the pitcher for the Fresno Cardinals, but now Dick's teammate with the Cubs.
"This was 19 5 2, I was 12 years old and Jackson had a 28-4 season for Fresno, besides winning four games in the playoffs," Ellsworth relates. "He also struck out over 300. I've followed him closely ever since."
When it came time for Ellsworth to sign with a major league club there was a jam-up of scouts.
"Mike McCormick, another Californian, had signed with the Giant the year before in a wild bidding contest," Dick says. "There were other players with whom the same thing happened. My father and ~ didn't want anything like that. We could never get into any bargaining match, like telling a scout that another club has offered $10,000 more or something along those lines.
"We didn't want any auction. What we decided to do was to give an appointment to every scout who wanted one. They then could tell us just what they were offering. After all the figures were in, we could pick the club we liked best."
The youthful portsider recalls that the Cubs, Yankees, Phillies and "two or three other clubs" were in there pitching right to the finish. "The Cubs not only offered the most money, their entire setup looked like the best for me. So we picked them," Ellsworth adds.
Gene Handley, a Cub scout, did all of the early contact work. Later, Art Lilly, another scout, helped out. When it got down to the windup phase, Ray Hayworth, the Cubs' trouble shooter such matters, flew in.
Ellsworth signed on Friday the 13th in June, 1958. Three days later, Monday, June 16, he found himself pitching for the Cubs. This was not as originally planned.
"When I signed, it was agreed that I should spend a month with the Cubs, but strictly for schooling under Freddy Fitzsimmons, then the pitching coach," Ellsworth relates.
"But on that next Monday the Cubs were playing their annual charity game against the White Sox and Bob Scheffing, the manager, asked me if I would like to pitch an inning or two. It looked like a good opportunity
"I started the game and kept right on going, pitching the whole way to win, 1-0."
It was an eye-popping one-hitter and called for another look. Shortly after, at 18, Dick started against the Reds in a regular National League game. This time he was bombed out in less than three innings. A week later he was on his way to Fort Worth, a Cubs' farm. "I had a miserable year in the Texas League," he admits. "I was learning that there is a lot more to pitching than just throwing the ball. My control was awful."
In 1960 the si~-four flinger from the Far West returned to the Cubs and has remained with them since. However, his path hasn't exactly been strewn with roses.
Just a year ago Ellsworth was a pregame loser. He had a mere six complete games, a stratospheric earned run average of 5.08 and won only nine times.
All has been drastically changed. What made the difference?
"Most of all, I think it was adding another pitch," Ellsworth stated. "Our pitching coach, Freddy Martin, has worked with me in developing a slider. That gives me more variety to go with my fast ball and sinker.
"Then, too, I talk a great deal with Jackson and Bob Buhl, my teammates, and they've taught me a great deal on how to set up a batter. They have that art down to a science and it has been a tremendous break for me to be around them. I'm learning from them all the time."
Still another factor is Ellsworth's ability to curb his temper. A year ago the Fresno whiz-bang would virtually go into tantrums when things went against him, particularly on umpires' decisions.
This past year he learned to take things in stride and maintain his poise, no matter how the tide is running. Ellsworth lists a one-hitter, two hitter and two three-hitters among his 1963 achievements.
The one-hitter came on June 1 in a game against the Phillies and was a real heartbreaker. Wes Covington spoiled it by beating out a drag bunt with two strikes against him to lead off the fifth inning.
Among his defeats are two 1 games, one to the Dodgers and another to the Cardinals.
Ellsworth considers Willie Mays, Hank Aaron and Wally Post as the most troublesome batters he has had to face since he's joined the Cubs.
Then, with a sigh of relief, he adds: "I got rid of one of them."
The reference was to Post, who was sold by the Reds to the Minnesota Twins in the other league.
The Cub lefty has difficulty with Maury Wills, the Dodgers' swifty. "He's more the pest type," Dick points out. "He doesn't tag me like the others, but he beats out those drag bunts or slow rollers."
Ellsworth remains a bundle of nerves on a day that he pitches and eats sparingly.
"When I'm pitching, I have a lighter breakfast," he reveals. "Cede real, milk. No eggs."
If it's a night game, his "big" meal will consist of nothing more than soup and jello.
"After the game I might have a sandwich or two, but something easily digestible," he says.
The night following the game, he has very little sleep.
"I'm all pent up and it takes me quite a while to relax," Ellsworth explains.