As time passes, Ginsberg catches up on knucklers


May 12, 1994|By Arthur Hirsch | Arthur Hirsch,Sun Staff Writer

Sure, it's funny now.

Thirty-four years later, former Orioles catcher Joe Ginsberg can crack jokes about the Hoyt Wilhelm knuckleball and the day four of them got away from him in nine innings. That was enough to give Ginsberg a tie for a modern American League record and membership in the fraternity of men who have fought the fluttering pitch and walked away shaken.

"You just had to grit your teeth. . . . You just have to battle it," says Ginsberg, who is 67 and retired in Lake Suzy, Fla. "The hitters felt so sorry for us. They couldn't hit it, and we couldn't catch it."

Some days were worse than others. May 10, 1960, was a bad one, the day Ginsberg committed three passed balls in one inning. The fourth one that game tied a record.

"Wilhelm put about four, five of us in the record book," says Ginsberg, who shared Orioles catching duties with Gus Triandos between 1957 and 1959 and part of the 1960 season. As Ginsberg recalls, Wilhelm threw the knuckler nine of every 10 pitches. He'd throw it on 3-1; he'd throw it on 3-0.

"He said, 'I have to throw it, and you have to catch it,' " Ginsberg says. "The thing that was really funny was Mantle swinging at that thing."

On May 27, 1960, the Orioles introduced an oversized catcher's mitt designed to contain the Wilhelm knuckleball. It worked but later was outlawed by the rules committee.

From Baltimore, Ginsberg moved on to the Chicago White Sox, then Boston Red Sox and finished his career in 1962 with the newborn New York Mets. Ginsberg caught Al Jackson in the Mets' home debut at the Polo Grounds.

After being released by the Mets that June, he "went on home to Detroit and packed it in."

He and his father ran a bar in Detroit for eight years, then they sold it and Ginsberg went to work as a sales representative for the Jack Daniels distillery. He worked for Jack Daniels until he retired in 1986 and moved to the west coast of Florida.

He says he still follows baseball and has played at Tigers and Orioles fantasy camps during the past seven years. His chief sport, however, is golf, which he often plays with a group of former pitchers that includes Lew Burdette, Early Wynn, Hal White and Virgil Trucks.

His handicap is down around 8, says Ginsberg, due largely to patience and practice. Not even golf could be so maddening as Wilhelm's knuckleball.

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