Blast From the Past – Pete Vuckovich

Pete Vuckovich could very well be the most famous Jay to ever wear the uniform in the early years of the franchise.  Some may prefer Doug Ault, Ernie Whitt, Alfredo Griffin, Dave Stieb, or Jim Clancy, but I take Vuckovich – even though I wasn’t even alive when we was on the team.

Why?

One part for how well he succeeded on teams other than the Jays.  But ten parts for his performance in one of the greatest movies of all time.

Let’s begin with his Toronto tenure.  Vuckovich was drafted in 1974 by the White Sox, and made his debut with Chicago in ’75.  After a fairly successful 1976 season, the Jays nabbed him with their 10th selection in the expansion draft.

Vuckovich made an immediate impact with the Jays.  In Toronto’s first ever game on April 7, 1977, with the Jays clinging to a 7-5 lead heading into the eighth, manager Roy Hartsfield called on Vuckovich to finish the game.  He struck out three batters in the last two innings to record the first save in Toronto Blue Jays history.

After several appearances in relief, Pete made his first start for the Jays on May 23 – a complete game, 3-0 loss to Oakland.  He spend most of the next month and a half in the rotation, and put his name in the Blue Jays record books again with the first complete game shutout in team history.

All-in-all, 1977 was a great year for Vuckovich.  In a season in which the expansion Blue Jays came dead last with 107 losses, Pete pitched well in a mixed role of starter and reliever, finishing with a 7-7 record, 8 saves, 1 shutout, a 3.47 ERA, and 123 strikeouts in 148 IP.

And then in December he was thrown away in what turned out to be one of the worst trades in Blue Jays history.

The young, hard-throwing, and promising Vuckovich was sent to St. Louis for Victor Cruz and Tom Underwood.  Cruz pitched well in relief for the Jays in ’78 (7-3, 1.71 ERA, 9 saves) but that was his only year with the club.  Underwood lasted two seasons, combining to go 15-30 with a 3.88 ERA and a 1.40 WHIP. 

How did Vuckovich fare you ask?  Well, between 1978 and 1983 with St. Louis and Milwaukee, he went 71-43, 3.31 ERA, 7 shutouts, 33 complete games, 625 K, and a 1.31 WHIP.  He also lead the AL in wins in 1981, won the AL Cy Young Award in ’82, and took the Brewers to the seventh game of the 1982 World Series.  Not too shabby.

Injury problems got in the way after that, costing him the entire ’84 season and finishing his careeer in ’86.  But then in 1989 something magical happened….

Pete Vuckovich was reborn as a mean, snarly, tobacco chewing slugger of a first baseman with the New York Yankees. 

Pete Vuckovich became Clu Haywood.

For those who somehow have not seen Major League, first of all shame on you.  Haywood was known as the “Indian Killer”, as throughout the entire movie he crushes Cleveland pitching, especially Ricky “Wild Thing” Vaughn.  Vuckovich actually does a credible job in the movie with a few speaking lines, and comes across as a pretty fearful looking hitter (something he was not in real life, with a career .159 average).  Unfortunately nobody else thought he did well as he has never acted in a movie again.

Vuckovich lost at the end of Major League, and he is currently involved in another horrendously losing effort, acting as a Special Assistant to the General Manager of the Pittsburgh Pirates.

But he will always have his place in the Blue Jays record books.  Good work Pete!

Pete Vuckovich: Career Major League Statistics

11 seasons (1975 – 1983, 1984 – 1985)

4 teams (CHW, TOR, STL, MIL)

93-69 record, 1,455.1 IP, 3.66 ERA, 1.37 WHIP, 882 K:545 BB

*Blast From the Past is a feature dedicated to bringing back the memory of classic Jays from days past – the lesser known the better.  If you have any suggestions please contact 500 Level Fan.

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