Jim Cosman – Saving the 1967 Season

Jim Cosman (1970)

Jim Cosman was a 6ft 5in flame thrower that was signed by the Cardinals in 1963. In his first professional season he struggled, and almost washed out of the Cardinals system. But George Kissell saw something that he liked in the youngster and convinced him to work on the fastball, which at times could be un-hittable. Cosman took Kissell’s advice and his turnaround in 1964 was nothing short of miraculous. From a disappointing 1-9 record in Brunswick, Cosman led the Rock Hill Cardinals (A) in wins, innings pitched, strikeouts and WHIP. To put this in perspective, one of Cosman’s teammates was a tall left-hander named Steve Carlton, and he bested the Hall of Famer in every category except ERA – but Cosman’s 1.19 vs Lefty’s 1.03 was nearly a wash. In 121 innings, Cosman struck out 143 batters. Un-hittable, indeed.

His career would take an interesting turn in 1965 when he was moved to the bullpen for the Tulsa Oilers (AA). Projecting somewhat of a logjam in starters, it was thought that Cosman’s best chance of making it to the major leagues would be as a reliever. The move worked out well for the young right hander at first. He would have a mixed year, staying in Tulsa as they became the AAA affiliate in 1966. His control was beginning to become a bit of a problem as he worked on secondary pitches, but the heater was still a winner. A 10-2 record, mostly in relief would be good enough to earn Cosman a September callup, but a crowded bullpen of A+ arms didn’t guarantee an appearance.

After 3 weeks of watching his teammates get into games, he finally got a chance to get into a game. Cardinals manager Red Schoendienst decided to give Cosman a start on the last game of the 1966 season – with all of about 30 minutes warning.

October 2, 1966 – Holy Cow

Cosman’s opponent in this game would be the last place Chicago Cubs. Coming into the game, the Cubs had already lost 102 times and were 36 games out of first place. The Cardinals had already won the first two games of the series. Dick Hughes defeated Hall of Famer Fergie Jenkins in the opener, throwing a 3 hit shutout. Bob Gibson earned his 21st win of the season in the middle game, defeating a very young and impressive left-hander named Ken Holtzman. With the possibility of a Cubs sweep, the final game of a very disappointing 1966 season took on new significance.

For the 1966 finale, the Cubs would send former 22 game winner, Dick Ellsworth to the mound. Ellsworth was a tall lefty and took the ball every five days for the Cubs, eating up a lot of innings. While he never regained the form of his brilliant 1963 season, he pitched far better than his 8-21 record would have indicated. This would not be a cake walk for the Cardinals youngster making his major league debut.

Both Cosman and Ellsworth got off to a great start. Both hurlers would retire the side in order in the first inning. Ron Santo would lead off the second inning with a sharp single to center. That was all the damage as Cosman would retire next three batters without a ball leaving the infield.

The bottom of the Cardinals order would get to Ellsworth in the the bottom of the third as Dal Maxvill would single. Lou Brock would also get a hit, but the Cardinals failed to score. For now.

Meanwhile, Cosman was cruising. The only runner other than the Santo second inning single was a 2 out walk in the top of the 4th inning, also to Ron Santo.

The second time through the Cardinals batting order proved to be more challenging for Ellsworth. Ted Savage, replacing Curt Flood, would lead off with a walk. Phil Gagliano would follow that up with a grounder up the middle for a single. Savage would then steal third base and score on a Mike Shannon line drive single to left. It was starting to feel like a big inning, but a power failure would hit the Cardinals, as it did frequently in the ’66 season. Tim McCarver would ground into a force play at second. With the Cubs playing back, Gagliano scores easily on the play. Ed Spiezio, father of future Cardinal Scott Spiezio, would end the inning with a nice around the horn double play, 5-6-3. Nobody started a prettier double play than Ron Santo. The Cardinals had a 2-0 lead, but with a rookie on the mound – would it hold up ?

Cosman did what all pitcher are taught to do, retire the side quickly after getting a lead. He would set down the Cubs batters in order in the top of the fifth, and again in the sixth. And again in the seventh, helped by double play that erased a leadoff walk to Billy Williams. Ron Santo hit into the double play – the only Cubs hitter to get a hit off the young right hander so far.

After getting two quick outs in the eighth, a pitch would get away from Cosman and he would hit the 8th place hitter, Adolfo Phillips. A harmless groundout to first would end the inning. For the fifth time in eight innings, Cosman as retired the side without a ball leaving the infield. Two fly outs and the Ron Santo single were the only balls played by an outfielder.

When Cosman took the mound in the top of the ninth, he was still protecting a slim 2-0 lead. He’d also allowed only one hit. Don Kessinger hits the fourth ball to an outfielder, which is caught by Lou Brock in foul territory. Glenn Beckert rips a line drive to center field for the second Cubs hit on the day. With the game on the line, Cosman faces a serious home run threat in future Hall of Famer, Billy Williams. Cosman gets Williams to hit into a game ending double play to preserve the shutout.

What a start to his major league career. A 2 hit shutout to complete the season ending sweep of the rival Cubs.

Spring Training 1967

With such an impressive debut to end the 1966 season, expectations were high when Cosman arrived for spring training in 1967. He was such a likeable and enthusiastic young ballplayer, the local St. Petersburg newspaper asked him to contribute a diary of his experiences, to run twice a week. Thanks to the Google newspaper archives, here they are.

March 14
March 16
March 23
March 28
April 4

Cosman pitched well enough in spring training to earn a spot on the expanded roster, but would likely be one of the last cut when rosters were reduced to 25 players in mid-May. New General Manager Stan Musial had been shopping Nelson Briles and Hal Woodeshick all spring, and if he found a taker then Cosman may be able to stay with the big club. Fortunately for the Cardinals, no deal was reached and both Briles and Woodeshick stayed with the Cardinals, but that doomed the youngster’s fate. After a few relief appearances where his control was still a bit shaky, Cosman was sent back to Tulsa to work on his mechanics.

June 26 – Saving the Season

On June 21, Ray Washburn was pitch an absolute gem against Don Drysdale and the Los Angeles Dodgers. For the first time in several season, Washburn was healthy and was back to being the quality hurler he’d shown early in his career. He was throwing a 3 hitter until the bottom of the seventh inning. With one out, Dodgers catcher, Johnny Roseboro, lines a ball up the middle for the 4th Dodger hit. Instinctively, Washburn reaches out with his bare hand to try to make the play. The ball ricochet’s off Washburn’s hand all the way to the outfield. The Cardinals hurler was down with a badly broken finger that would require surgery to repair. Washburn was going to be gone for a month, or more.

Jim Cosman was immediately recalled from Tulsa and put into the rotation, replacing the injured Washburn. He would get his first start on June 26 when he faced the San Francisco Giants in front of a huge crown at Busch Stadium. His opponent would be the crafty (among other things) Gaylord Perry. With the season on the line, that was a lot of pressure for the young Cardinals hurler.

To try to help Cosman simplify his mechanics, pitching coach Billy Muffett convinced the right hander to go with a no-windup approach. It had worked with several other Cardinals pitchers, and Muffett believed that this would help Cosman stay more upright and not throw across his body.

The Cardinals would get to Perry early in the game. In the second inning, the bottom of the Cardinals batting order managed to push two runners across the plate, the second one coming on Jim Cosman’s first major league hit. It would turn out to be the game winner.

Cosman would give one of those runs back in the top of the 4th, but that’s all the Giants could manage to score. There weren’t many Giants hits, but Cosman was in trouble all night. 7 walks kept the pressure up, inning after inning. With one out in the 9th inning, Red had seen enough and didn’t want the youngster to take a hard luck loss. He went to his bullpen, and the 20,000 fans in attendance gave Cosman a long and loud standing ovation. What they had just witnessed was a turning point in the 1967 season.

Nelson Briles would retire the last two batters, preserving the win for the young right hander. That would be his second major league victory, and sadly the last in his career.

Wildness would return in his next start, but it was take an ugly turn for the worse. After giving up three walks in three innings against the New York Mets, Cosman would hit the first two batters to lead off the 4th inning. After the second hit batsman, Red immediately came out and took the youngster out of the game. Walks are one thing, but when you threw as hard as Cosman did, hitting batters was very dangerous.

Cosman’s next start would come against the Cincinnati Reds on July 5. He would pitch 8 strong innings with the only blemish being a solo home run off the bat of Vada Pinson. Nelson Briles, who saved the earlier game, would take the loss in extra innings. As well as Cosman pitched, a no-decision was disappointing.

His control woes would continue, both with walks and hit batsman. When Ray Washburn came back from the disabled list, it appeared as if Cosman would be sent back to Tulsa. As all of this was happening, the Cardinals pitching staff would take another blow when Bob Gibson would go down with a broken leg on July 15. Cosman initially stayed with the big club, but as roster moves were considered, Cosman’s time in the majors would come to an end. The Cardinals would move Nelson Briles into the rotation, replacing the injured Bob Gibson. Cosman would move to the bullpen, but would be replaced soon by Jack Lamabe who was just acquired from the Mets. Cosman would sent to the Mets as the conditional player-to-be-named later and would finish the season in their minor league system. The youngster would be returned to the Cardinals in September. The Mets finally selected Al Jackson to complete the Lamabe trade, following the 1967 World Series.

Even though Jim Cosman would never throw another pitch for the Cardinals, the importance of his game on June 26 cannot be understated. The Cardinals front office recognized that, and when the World Series bonuses were passed out, Cosman was given a full share. You can read about that in this great March 1, 1968 article from the St. Petersburg Times.

A Disappointment

Over the off-season, Cosman worked hard on his control. He came into spring training, and had shown some improvement. Unfortunately for the 25 year old, the Cardinals rotation and bullpen were filled and there was even less room for him in 1968 than the year before. He would be one of the last players cut from the ’68 roster and would start falling behind pitching prospects like Mike Torrez, Al Santorini and Jerry Reuss on the depth chart. He would struggle in 1968, splitting time between Tulsa (AAA) and Arkansas (AA).

Cosman would bounce around the minor leagues for a few seasons, making one more Major League appearance with the Cubs in 1970.

After baseball, he became a very successful executive in the Waste Management industry. He moved up the ranks at Browning Ferris Industries (BFI) and then went on to run Republic as their CEO before retiring in 2000.

Author: Bob Netherton

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