Remembering Bob Shaw

When I hear the name of former big league pitcher Bob Shaw, I think of two unrelated events: the movie Jaws and the 1959 World Series.

Bob Shaw (Icon/SMI)

The first part of that equation requires some explanation. Shaw’s name reminds me of actor Robert Shaw, who turned in the performance of a lifetime with his iconic portrayal of the rambling shark-hunter “Quint” in the 1975 film classic. Sadly, Shaw died only three years later, rendering him virtually forgotten to those casual watchers of movies and television.

Bob Shaw, a right-handed pitcher in the 1950s and ’60s, died last Thursday from liver cancer at the age of 77. Like Robert Shaw, he is not well remembered by fans of younger generations. He remains best known for his performance in the ‘59 World Series, when he outdueled an overpowering Sandy Koufax to win Game Five. Shaw earned a 1-0 victory for the upstart White Sox, though he did receive late-inning relief help from Billy Pierce and Dick Donovan.

Shaw’s performance culminated the best season of his big league career; during the regular season, he won 18 of 24 decisions, posted an ERA of 2.69, and logged 230 innings. Generally regarded as the Sox’ No. 3 starter behind Pierce and Early Wynn, Shaw was actually Chicago’s most effective starter that summer.

Shaw might not have gained much favor among the Sabermetric crowd that season, considering that he struck out a mere 89 American League batters. But that was Shaw; never overpowering, he featured a sinker-slider combination that put pitched balls on the ground. That was certainly not a bad idea, in light of a White Sox infield that featured Hall of Fame defenders up the middle in Nellie Fox and Luis Aparicio. First baseman Earl Torgeson provided another formidable fielding link, giving the Sox three exceptional defenders on their starting infield.

The sinker and slider formed just part of the Shaw repertoire. He gained a reputation as a master of the spitter, a pitch that he eventually taught Gaylord Perry when their careers converged in San Francisco in 1964. Unlike Perry, Shaw did not become synonymous with the spitter, but the pitch helped him considerably during his 11-year career.

I used to think of Shaw as a one-year wonder, but that was mistaken thinking; his career stretched well beyond the limits of 1959. He posted several solid-to-good seasons with the Giants and Milwaukee Braves in the early 1960s, as his strikeout totals rose significantly. He also showed versatility during that stretch, switching effectively between starting and relieving. In 1963 and ‘64, he totaled 24 saves, before moving smoothly to the rotation in 1965, when he put together his best statistical campaign: a 2.64 ERA and a career-high 148 strikeouts.

Not only did Shaw win 108 games during his career, but he also left a legacy for flaky behavior. A good example could be found during stalled contract negotiations with Bill Veeck and the White Sox in 1960. Dissatisfied with Veeck’s offer, Shaw climbed aboard a catwalk outside of Comiskey Park and began shouting at fans, “We’re not going to win! Why are you people here?”

Sounds like my kind of guy.

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Bruce Markusen is the manager of Digital and Outreach Learning at the National Baseball Hall of Fame. He has authored seven baseball books, including biographies of Roberto Clemente, Orlando Cepeda and Ted Williams, and A Baseball Dynasty: Charlie Finley’s Swingin’ A’s, which was awarded SABR's Seymour Medal.

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