November 27, 2014

And My Mother Asked, “Who is Ted Abernathy?”

January 11, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

Now, some of you might be saying, who the heck is Ted Abernathy and why should I care? Well, before I explain, let me say he formed an important chunk and gave me an identity to my childhood. When Ted died, so did a part of me…

It might seem odd, but I guess my relationship with Ted dates back to when I was an eight-year old back during the mid-nineteen sixties. Now you must understand, I have never met this man. In fact we never shared a word.  What we did have in common was a pitching style, kind of a kindred spirit.

Growing up in Bridgewater, New Jersey, there was not a lot of kids my age that lived on Foothill Road. So for that reason, there was a dire lack of people to play catch with.  Unfortunately my Dad also worked a night job, so he was not around.  My grandfather volunteered but proved to be an unworldly partner.  I was able to throw hard and my ball had a lot of movement.  I can still see the ball missing his glove and hitting him in the chin.

That marked the last time he volunteered.

My parents attempted to find a solution for my plight. They went out and bought me one of those “pitch-back” things that had become popular. I guess it was okay, but I had my share of problems with it. For instance, if ball did not “just right” or you tossed it too soft, the ball would not pitch back. Now, on the other hand, if you threw it too hard, it would whiz right past you.

It did not take long to realize that this “Pitch back” thing was not the answer. The solution was always around; you could say a comfortable relationship.  It was big as a house, never complained, always caught my throws and even threw the ball back.  I played catch with the side of our house  So during the summer, I would play catch with my favorite partner.  During summer, I bet I threw anywhere from 100-200 balls tennis balls   I was also lucky to have an endless supply of this type of ball. One of our neighbors had a tennis court in their front yard.  Early each morning, I would scour the woods in search of wayward balls.  I actually developed a real appreciation for “bad” tennis players.

As one might guess, throwing a ball against the house was not without problems.  As my arm became stronger, I threw harder, and split one of the wood slats on our house.. While my Dad might have felt guilty that he was unable to share in my games of catch, he was not overjoyed with the result of the alternative.  He fixed the slat and then proceeded to give me two options, either to stop throwing against the house or throw in a way that only hit the cement foundation.

Now, some of you might be saying, who the heck is Ted Abernathy and why should I care? Well, before I explain, let me say he formed an important chunk and gave me an identity to my childhood. When Ted died, so did a part of me…

It might seem odd, but I guess my relationship with Ted dates back to when I was an eight-year old back during the mid-nineteen sixties. Now you must understand, I have never met this man. In fact we never shared a word.  What we did have in common was a pitching style, kind of a kindred spirit.

Growing up in Bridgewater, New Jersey, there was not a lot of kids my age that lived on Foothill Road. So for that reason, there was a dire lack of people to play catch with.  Unfortunately my Dad also worked a night job, so he was not around.  My grandfather volunteered but proved to be an unworldly partner.  I was able to throw hard and my ball had a lot of movement.  I can still see the ball missing his glove and hitting him in the chin.

Well, I certainly was not going to stop throwing.  The only other option was to change my way of throwing.  I dropped my arm and developed into a side-arm pitcher.

As I grew older, my arm angle became lower until I threw with a “submarine” motion. This delivery struck fear in the hearts and minds of nine year olds around my township. I became a pitcher that kids did not want to face. It was an odd way of pitching at the time and they were terrified at being hit.  I confess, I was never sure where the ball was going. When it left my hand.

Enough about me, my point was to talk about Ted Abernathy. Right?

It all started with my mom driving me home after one of my games. I can still hear her say, “Who is Ted Abernathy?”

My mom, the sweet thing she was, who always came to all my games, did not know much about baseball, especially the name of a major league pitcher. So, you can imagine my shock when she asked this question?

It seems that a man in the stands commented when I was pitching,  “That boy throws like Ted Abernathy.”

Theodore Wade Abernathy was from Stanley, North Carolina. He began playing professional baseball after graduating from high school in the Washington Senator’s organization. At first, Ted began his career by throwing with a three quarter pitching motion which he developed after an injury in high school, when he enter the majors another injury caused to become a “side-arm” pitcher, yet another injury forced him to develop an un-hittable “submarine” delivery.

The difference between the submarine/ side arm delivery is the arm angle and how it breaks. The submarine pitcher drops his shoulder towards the ground and whips his arm like a softball pitcher.  The ball appears to be rising and running in on the hands of same-handed batter and tails away from the those batting from the opposite side.

While pitchers of this style were rare during Ted’s day, several have dotted the pitching landscape. Most notably or   infamously was Carl Mays, whose unorthodox delivery is thought by some to have caused the fatal beaning of Ray Chapman. Others have been thrown from down below were Elden Auker, Dan Quisenberry, Kent Tekulve and Byung- Hyun Kim.

Back in January of 1993, I attended Pittsburgh Pirates Dream week.   I was seating in the lounge at the Bradenton Holiday Inn. Kent Tekulve sat next to me. “Teke” was a notable submarine pitcher in addition to one of the stars of the Pittsburgh Pirate’s “We Are Family” World Series Championship team. Since we threw with same motion, I told him how in high school they wanted me to throw overhand.  I asked him if anyone ever tried to change his style? He nodded that they did. When I inquired what did he do? Teke chuckled and replied that he ignored them.

Getting back to Ted Abernathy. He appeared in 681 games during a fourteen-year playing career (1955-72).  This included 148 saves. In 1965 he recorded an unheard of 31 for the Cubs and then two years later he saved 28 games for the Reds. He would be selected as The Sporting News “Reliever of the Year” twice (1965 &67).

The “save” was not recognized an official statistic until 1969. So, like so many from his era, he did not benefit financially.

Ted Abernathy died on December 16, 2004.  In reality, today’s closers ought to get down on their knees and thank Ted Abernathy for their fame and fortune.

Of course, I know a little kid that thanks him for an identity.

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