Former Pirate speaks at Kiwanis meeting
When Pirate ace reliever Elroy Face visited McKeesport, he was back in familiar territory.
Spending time with the Kiwanis Club of McKeesport/White Oak on Tuesday, he talked about his career and his ties to the city.
After retiring from baseball, he worked for Tom Sullivan making awnings and Manns Conroy building homes. He played softball for a couple years on Stephen Barry Field in Renziehausen Park in the early 1970s for the Kynor Construction team. He retired from his second career in 1990 after 11 years at Mayview State Hospital.
Face spent time talking with fans in the parking lot before going into Common Ground for lunch, and after his talk he signed autographs.
One fan, Al Hatala of Bethel Park, was glad he got to meet the legendary relief pitcher. “I saw him play when he was a Pirate. I remember watching him as a reliever and I never realized how great he was going to be. It is thrilling to see him. It's not very often you get to rub elbows with someone as famous as him.”
In 1959, he set a record that still stands with 18 relief wins in a season. He holds another record with 96 relief wins, 92 of which came when he was a Pirate. In 1960, he was the first reliever in Major League history to record three saves in a single World Series to help his team defeat the New York Yankees.
Kiwanian Paul DiFabio introduced Face, saying, “He's one of the greatest friends I've had in my life.”
Born in Stephentown, N.Y., he did not start pitching until he was 16. When Face returned from the service in 1948, he was pitching for a team in his hometown when he was spotted by a vacationing scout from Philadelphia.
“He saw me and asked if I could get some guys together at the field,” Face recalled. “I did and I played some shortstop and I pitched. He thanked me then left.”
He was pitching the following Monday on Labor Day when his life changed. “In the seventh inning, he called me to his car and I signed a contract. That's how I got started.”
Face pointed out he “never had any pitching coach come up to me and teach me how to pitch. I just did it on my own.”
After playing Pony League ball in Bradford for a couple years starting in 1949, he was drafted by Branch Rickey to play for the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1951. “I had 25 complete games out of 33 pitched,” he said of that 23-9 season.
When Rickey came to Pittsburgh, he again drafted Face. He played for the Bucs from 1953-68. He played one season for Detroit before retiring after joining the Montreal Expos for their inaugural season.
Reflecting on his career, he said, “I threw the fastball and curveball. That was all I had. In 1954, Mr. Rickey said he wanted me to learn to throw off-speed so he sent me to New Orleans for half a season to work on the fork ball.” He demonstrated to the group how he held the ball for that pitch, explaining there was no backspin.
Comparing salaries from his time in the pros to today, Face said, “The minimum a player made was $5,000 compared to $480,000 today. In my best year I made $42,500 and the entire payroll for a team was $800,000.”
Steve Formento of Mt. Lebanon said he played minor league ball at the same time as Face. “We were counterparts, but he was in the Midwest and I was in the South. I saw a lot of games he pitched for the Pirates. He is a very nice man, very affable. I got to speak to him outside and he was very nice.”
Wearing his Kynor jersey, Bill Bendel said it was great to see his former softball teammate. “We played together for two years on Stephen Barry Field on Friday nights. He was always a gentleman. People came to watch Elroy play and he would always sign autographs.”
Carol Waterloo Frazier is an editor for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-664-9161, ext. 1916, or firstname.lastname@example.org.