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On the roster of the Kansas City Athletics, an organization conceived in despair and dedicated to the proposition that it is illegal to beat the Yankees, there exists an individual valued on the baseball market at $500,000. These are implausible surroundings in which to nurture a half-million-dollar ballplayer, but this is a rare specimen—a left-handed bridge player with a bald head who eats pork chops before pitching and drives television announcers wild. His name is Leavitt Leo Daley, according to the birth certificate, but even his mother wouldn't recognize him by that name and so everyone calls him Bud. Despite a strangely twisted right arm and a fast ball that would hardly make a Little Leaguer blink, Bud Daley has become just about the best pitcher in the American League.
As such, he is Manager Al Lopez' most likely choice to start the first of 1960's two All-Star Games next week. In 1959 Daley won 16 games with a Kansas City ball club that could only be flattered when someone called it bumbling, and this year he has an excellent opportunity to win 20 with its twin brother. In the first two months of the season, while other American League pitchers were warming up—or asleep—Daley won 10 games. Nine of these were in a row and one was over the Yankees. No other Kansas City pitcher has been able to make that claim all year.
Daley also has demonstrated, if only briefly, an ability to get that galloping swarm of National League sluggers out. Throwing nothing but knuckle balls, he came in to retire the last two batters in the 1959 All-Star Game at Pittsburgh just when it began to appear that Aaron, Mays, Banks, Boyer, Cepeda and Co. might stay up at the plate in Forbes Field all night. Finally, Daley will be pitching in his own ball park, and if nothing else assures a sellout this will. In Kansas City they know about Bud Daley. They know almost nothing about him anyplace else.
Now 27, Daley has been bouncing around baseball for 10 years, first in the Cleveland organization, which signed him out of Wilson High, in Long Beach, Calif., for $6,000, then with the Orioles, finally with K.C. Along the way he lost his good but undistinguished fast ball because of torn tendons in the elbow, but managed to survive—and steadily improve—by listening attentively to the words of such men as Sal Maglie, Paul Richards, Johnny Sain and Ed Lopat, then going out and practicing what they preached. Once, when Daley was pitching for Buffalo, a game with Richmond was rained out. Daley walked across to the opposing team's dugout, and while the rain dripped off the roof and everyone else went home talked pitching with Lopat, who was then managing Richmond, until the lights went out. Today American League hitters wish the lights had gone out earlier, that Bud Daley had his ordinary old fast ball back and that he'd forget everything else.
Among the collection of pitches that he throws regularly, and with superb control, are several varieties of curve ball, including a big, slow, roundhouse job (his particular pet), a knuckler, a slip pitch, a slider and a kind of fast ball that isn't very fast but can be very upsetting, since Daley throws it only when it is least expected. Elston Howard of the Yankees, who has played against Daley both in the minors and the majors for years and usually has more luck hitting him than anyone else, normally sees nothing but curves and knucklers. Last week, with the bases loaded in a game at Yankee Stadium, Daley struck out Howard with nothing but fast balls. Opposing batters refer indelicately to his pet pitches as garbage, but Bud knows that as long as they howl, they must be hurting. "When they're hitting you," he says, "they don't say a word."
Daley is a pleasant, friendly fellow with a quiet smile that comes easily to his face and a pair of steady green eyes which look out upon the world—and in upon Bud Daley—with tolerance and amused detachment. When he threw a home run pitch to Dick Brown of the White Sox one day in Comiskey Park, causing Bill Veeck's scoreboard to explode in all its furious glory, he neither threw his glove to the ground in rage nor wept. He watched the fireworks and grinned. "I lit that baby up," he bragged for days afterward. "It was fun. Someday when I have another big lead, I think I'll try it again."
He blames the pork-chop superstition on his wife. "One day Dorothy fixed pork chops and that night I won. Pitched real well. So now I get pork chops every time I'm supposed to pitch. Once I got to the ball park and found out it wasn't my turn after all, so I had pork chops the next day, too. That night we got rained out. I had pork chops three days in a row. Man, was I sick of pork chops."
Ever since Abner Doubleday got his first stiff shoulder, it has been the custom for pitchers to indulge in seven or eight or 10 warmup throws before each inning. Last summer Daley decided the practice was foolish, particularly on a warm day when he is loose and pitching well. Now he walks to the mound, throws a fast ball, a curve, a knuckler and quits. This often leaves television and radio men prattling idiotically about the frothy goodness of beer and shaving cream while two batters fly out. Kansas City fans have learned that when Daley is pitching, the seventh-inning stretch is more of a bounce. Sometimes Bill Tuttle doesn't even have time to get all the way out to center field. "He complains," says Daley, "but I tell him I'll make 'em hit the first couple of pitches on the ground."
More has been written about Bud's injured right arm than about his good left one, but it is not withered, as is usually reported, and Daley insists that he has been living with it all his life without being handicapped a bit. "I was an instrument baby," he says, "and during the delivery something slipped and pinched a nerve in my shoulder. At first they said I'd never be able to use the arm, but my mother massaged it and as soon as I could move it she had me lift light dumbbells. It came around all right. Heck, it's only an inch shorter than my left."
Although the right shoulder is carried forward slightly and the elbow is twisted so that it points awkwardly out, the arm itself is a perfectly good-looking one, well developed and strong. Actually, Daley is more puzzled by what happened to his hair. "I used to have lots of it," he says. "Then two days before graduation from high school, a bunch of us went down to the barbershop and got our hair cut off short, almost shaved. Mine never came back in."