Claude Osteen - A Bridge Too Far?


Claude Osteen tenure with the Dodgers actually seems relatively short in retrospect but linked two great generations of teams.  Traded for the popular Hondo [Frank Howard for you youngsters -Ed.] and arriving in 1965, he pitched for nine seasons.  From Tennessee, he was nicknamed Gomer for his resemblance to one Mr. Pyle and arrived shortly after the Clampetts themselves to partake of the Golden Age of California.  Always a double-digit winner, he averaged slightly more than 16 per season.  A workhorse well into his thirties, he gave us at least 35-40 starts and averaged 266 inning a year.  (did he ever miss a start!?)  One-third of his games were complete and a third of those were shutouts.  

He and Don Sutton pitched together for eight years as Dodgers.  During that period, Gomer won 132 and Don 120; Gomer had 33 shutouts and Don 31.  Over the course of their Dodger years both had cumulative ERAs of 3.09 (and ERA+ of 106 and 110, respectively).

Claude could also swing the stick and had a career BA of .188.  In 1972, in 100 PA he had an OPS+ of 102 with 11 RBI.

He saved his best for the pressure of the World Series.  As a 25 year old in 1965, after successive Twin killings of Big D and Sandy, he came on to shut them out in the third game as the Dodgers went on to win the Series.   He could have used another one in 1966, again as he came on to pitch after Sandy and Don had lost the first two, but lost the game 1-0 giving up but 3 hits in 7 innings .  In 21 WS innings in 1965-66 he posted an ERA of 0.86 (Don Sutton has an ERA of 5.26 in WS play).

Gomer would never make it to another WS.  Well respected in the league as a top notch pitcher, even at the age of 33, he was essentially traded straight up for the fearsome Toy Cannon, who led the Dodgers back to the WS in 1974.   He didn’t himself make it across the bridge, but his sacrifice (well, our sacrifice of him) made it possible for the Dodgers to surge into the glorious 1970s.

Does he deserve to be in the elite group?   He had a consistent career over a span that included some very down years for the Dodgers.  Even when he was the third wheel in 65-66 he came up big when it counted.  In the seven years after Sandy left, he was essentially the Ace of the staff for most of those years (OK, 4 of them at least).  Even in a rotation with Sutton, Andy and TJ in 1973, he was named AS for the third time and won 16.  His ERA+ as a Dodger rivals that of others, including HOFer Sutton and Fernando.  He is not of that group perhaps, but probably not as far behind them as many might think.


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