Claude Osteen turns 80 today, almost 54 years after he saved a Dodger World Championship
Claude Osteen will turn 80 today, and hopefully is living comfortably in Tennessee. The lefty with the nickname of “Gomer” was a mainstay in the Dodger rotation from 1965 until 1973 but for anyone who lived through his era, he will always be remembered as the guy who pitched a brilliant game three in the 1965 World Series after the Twins had defeated Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale.
If any game had ever been a must-win that wasn’t a game seven it was game three in 1965 and Claude Osteen came through with a shutout over the vaunted Twin offense, an offense so powerful it had sliced through Don Drysdale’s repertoire to the tune of seven runs in game one.
“Osteen saved us in the 1965 Series,” said former Dodger first baseman Wes Parker. “I think the Twins had a better team than the 1966 Orioles team that swept us in the World Series the following year. It wasn’t a good sign when Versalles hit the leadoff double. But sometimes if you can get out of a certain inning, it can change everything.”
Claude Osteen had been acquired in one of the biggest trades in Dodger history not just because the behemoth Frank Howard was involved but because seven players were traded. Frank Howard was the young power hitter but with Willie Davis, Tommie Davis, Ron Fairly, and West Parker the Dodgers had their outfield and 1st base set with young hitters. With Johnny Podres hitting the end of his career the Dodgers needed to replace him and they decided on the young lefty from the Washington Senators. Claude Osteen did not come cheap, the Dodgers traded not only Frank Howard, but Ken McMullen, Pete Reichart, Phil Ortega, Dick Nen, and $100,000 which was a lot of dough back in 1964. Per Dollartimes that would be about $800,000 today. Other than Dick Nen these were some of the best young prospects in the Dodger organization and they would all carve out long major league careers.
Later, as many others have already done, I’ll take a look at that trade in detail but today is about Claude Osteen. Osteen came at the right and wrong time as he was able to win a World Championship in his debut season with the Dodgers, and go back to the World Series in 1966, but after that, it was tough sledding for the Dodgers. After two back to back trips to the World Series the 1967 and 1968 Dodgers were two of the worst teams ever associated with the Los Angeles Dodger franchise. The Dodger started being competitive again by 1970 but it was not until 1973 that you could really see the team of the future taking shape. Unfortunately for Osteen, he would not be part of the future Dodger juggernaut as he was traded in the winter of 1973 for Jimmy Wynn who have an MVP type season for the Dodgers in 1974, helping lead them to the 1974 World Series.
Osteen was important enough in Dodger history that Jon Weisman gave him his own chapter in “Brother in Arms” which you had to earn because he didn’t just give a chapter to any Sandy, Don, and Clayton.
Using Baseball Reference Play Index you can see that Osteen and Sutton dominated the Dodger rotation between 1965 – 1973.
Player WAR GS From To Age CG SHO W L IP ERA FIP ERA+ Don Sutton 27.5 278 1966 1973 21-28 89 31 120 104 2014.0 3.02 2.72 110 Claude Osteen 26.2 335 1965 1973 25-33 100 34 147 126 2397.0 3.09 3.15 106 Sandy Koufax 18.3 82 1965 1966 29-30 54 13 53 17 658.2 1.89 2.00 174 Don Drysdale 14.8 163 1965 1969 28-32 53 22 68 60 1165.2 2.88 2.95 108 Bill Singer 12.6 177 1965 1972 21-28 52 18 69 75 1260.1 3.03 2.70 106 Al Downing 6.8 94 1971 1973 30-32 24 11 38 27 658.0 2.95 3.32 113 Tommy John 4.2 60 1972 1973 29-30 8 3 27 12 404.2 3.00 3.02 114 Alan Foster 0.1 53 1967 1970 20-23 9 3 14 24 333.2 4.07 3.99 88