Earl Averill, Jr., RIP: The streaking man

Earl Averill, Jr., who shared his father's intelligence but did what no Hall of Famer has done yet.

Earl Averill, Jr., who shared his father’s intelligence but did what no Hall of Famer has done yet.

No, silly, the son of the Hall of Fame outfielder did not shoot across the field with nothing on but the stadium public address system. But Earl Averill, Jr.—an outfielder-catcher who died 13 May at 83 in Tacoma, Washington—accomplished something in 1962 that neither his father nor any Hall of Famer managed to do.

No one on Averill’s Angels suspected something special beginning when he pinch hit for relief pitcher Art Fowler late against the Yankees, at Chavez Ravine (as the Angels insisted on calling Dodger Stadium, where they played from 1962-64), on 3 June 1962, with Buck Rodgers on third and Joe Koppe on first. Averill whacked a two-run double off Yankee starter Rollie Sheldon to cut the Yankee lead to 6-3 (Steve Bilko hit a sacrifice fly earlier in the inning), but the Yankees held on to win by that score.

Four days later, the Angels met the White Sox, again at home, and with the White Sox jumping the Angels for an early 7-1 lead manager Bill Rigney sent Averill  to left field to spell Leon (Daddy Wags) Wagner in the fourth. (Rigney also sent a no-name named Gordie Windhorn* out to center field to spell All-Star Albie Pearson.) In the bottom of the inning, Averill drew a leadoff walk from White Sox starter Juan Pizarro and scored on a subsequent base hit. He singled with one on off Eddie Fisher in the fifth and hit an RBI single off Fisher in the seventh, to no avail: Fisher hung in and the Angels lost, 8-4.

The following night (8 June 1962), the Angels opened a set against the Kansas City Athletics and flattened the A’s, 7-1. With nobody out in the second and Rodgers aboard on a leadoff hit, Averill forced Rodgers at second and was stranded himself. He walked in the fourth off A’s reliever Ed Rakow to load the pads but was stranded at second after advancing on an RBI single. He opened the sixth with a single off Dan Pfister but was stranded again. Another A’s reliever, Danny McDevitt, walked him with two out (Lee Thomas had hit a three-run bomb to put the Angels up 7-1) but he was lifted for pinch-runner Windhorn.)

The day after that, the Angels flattened the A’s again, this time 8-1. With the game scoreless in the second and Rodgers aboard with a leadoff hit, Averill walked against John Wyatt but both would be stranded. Two innings later, Averill followed Rodgers’ leadoff double with an RBI double of his own to make it 2-0 (Wagner homered against Wyatt in the third). He walked off Bill Kunkel to load the bases in the fifth; he took an intentional walk (coming out again for Windhorn to pinch run) in the seventh.

The day after that, the Angels and the A’s played a doubleheader. Game one ended with the Angels laying a 14-6 clobbering on the A’s. With the Angels down 2-1 in the second, Averill squared up A’s starter Jerry Walker and hit one into the left field bleachers to tie it at two. (Billy Moran hit a three-run shot later in the inning to give the Angels a lead they never surrendered.) He opened the third with a single off Bill Fischer, scoring when Angels starter Ken McBride hit a bases-loaded single, the first of three straight Angel RBI singles. He reached on Pfister’s fielding error in the fourth, then walked against Pfister to load the bases in the sixth but was stranded. When Pfister walked him again in the eighth, he came out for (a pattern in the making?) a pinch runner. (Windhorn, again.)

In the nightcap, alas, Averill’s streak was stopped. With Angels legend Bo Belinsky starting but in an early hole thanks to a two-run infield error, Averill batted for the first time in the second, leading off against Norm Bass, and struck out. When he batted again in the third off Bass, he whacked an RBI single, sending home Rodgers (two-run double preceding Averill) to put the Angels up 4-2. Belinsky would surrender a tying homer to Haywood Sullivan, get the lead back with Felix Torres singling home Rodgers after Averill walked against Rakow in the fifth, then lose the lead when Ed (The Glider) Charles (future Miracle Met) led off the sixth with a homer. Averill would end the sixth with a ground out, but the Angels held on to win.

The eighth-inning walk Averill drew in game one tied the longstanding major league record set by—wait for it!—Piggy Ward, in 1893, a season in which Ward divided time between the antique Baltimore Orioles and the Cincinnati Reds. Had Averill not struck out against Bass in the second inning of game two, he’d have broken Ward’s record by two.

Earl Averill (second from right) clowns a bit with (from left) teammates Ken Hunt, Lee Thomas, Leon (Daddy Wags) Wagner, and Steve Bilko.

Earl Averill (second from right) clowns a bit with (from left) teammates Ken Hunt, Lee Thomas (a future major league general manager), Leon (Daddy Wags) Wagner, and Steve Bilko.

Just about the only other reason for any fame Ward might have is that he remains the youngest non-pitcher ever to play in the National League, making his debut in 1883 (with the Philadelphia Quakers) when he was 16. (Joe Nuxhall, the late and beloved Reds broadcaster, debuted as a pitcher at 15 in 1944, of course.)

Averill continued what he’d begun, a seven-year, five-team major league career of little enough note otherwise (it began with his father’s club, the Indians), if you didn’t count that in the Angels’ first season of American League play he had his best season—hitting 21 home runs and batting .266.

He ended his career in the minor leagues, playing for the Seattle Rainers and Seattle Angels, before spending the rest of his life as a computer programmer and business consultant who also ran an upholstery business with his wife out of their home.

Said to be a relentless storyteller who loved to talk about teammates and opponents more than the games themselves (he mis-remembered Hall of Famer Brooks Robinson making one of the errors that contributed to his on-base streak; the Angels didn’t play the Orioles during the streak), Averill also became an avid Mariners fan.

One of his sons said he was “really optimistic” about the Mariners’ chances this season. At this writing the Mariners sit two games below .500 and in fourth in the American League West.

Averill the Younger tied the on-base streak with every manner of hit except a triple plus eight walks. Meaning he took a stroll 47 percent of the time during his record-tying streak. And you thought Eddie Yost was the Walking Man!

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* What, then, of Gordie Windhorn, who seemed bucking for a job as Averill’s designated pinch runner during the streak? Windhorn became an Angel in the first place when the Athletics traded him a month before the Averill streak began, for an infield obscurity named Marlan Coughtry.

A little over a month after Averill’s streak ended, the A’s bought him back. He finished his major league life that season—then played six years for Japan’s Hankyu Braves, calling it a career in 1969.

Windhorn was a New York Giants product who bounced the minors several years, including a pass through the Red Sox system, before ending up a Yankee in spring 1959. (He was part of a deal that made a Yankee out of pitcher Eli Grba, a future original Angel himself.) He actually won the Yankees’ James P. Dawson Award as spring camp’s outstanding rookie. And went nowhere but back to the minors when the Yankees broke camp.

The Dawson Award was one of two personal career highlights—the other was two home runs and five total extra base hits out of ten, in a 1961 cup of coffee with the Dodgers, before they traded him to Kansas City—that left Windhorn with one answer, when asked by a blogger what he’d have done differently if he could have started his baseball life again: “Start with teams other than the Yankees or the Dodgers.”

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