One of the rarest things in baseball is a shut-down righty-lefty bullpen. Players, managers—and let's face it, agents—like relief roles defined. Today you have eighth-inning guys and ninth-inning guys. And in between, you have hurlers who can form a human bridge from the starters to the late-inning arms. Having two closers—one to dispose of lefties and another to clamp down on righties—is almost completely unheard-of or simply an unaffordable luxury. The short list includes Eastwick & McEnaney, Gossage & Lyle, Hernandez & Lopez and Dibble & Myers. Of course, fans of the Cleveland Indians can tell you who the originals were: Don Mossi and Ray Narleski, rookie roommates on the fabled 1954 American League champs.

While Narleski, the flamethrower, didn’t survive the 1950s, Mossi was a different story. A control artist, he not only had a grand career as a reliever, he was a top starter for several seasons, too. Don, in fact, was still getting batters out in 1965. As memorable for his peculiar looks as for his pinpoint pitching, Don was the kind of guy every manager wanted on the team.

Donald Louis Mossi was born on January 11, 1929, in St. Helena, California, in Sonoma County. (Click here for today's sports birthdays.) He grew up in Daly City, just south of San Francisco, and attended Jefferson High School. Like many schools in the Bay Area, “Jeff” would produce several outstanding athletes and sports personalities—including major leaguers Ken Reitz and Tony Solaita and NFL coaching legend John Madden.

During the summers, Don played on youth league teams, typically made up of his schoolmates and neighborhood kids. Don threw hard, hid the ball well, and had a lot of poise for a young left-hander. He turned the head of more than one big-league club.

The Cleveland Indians were among the teams scouting Don. They signed him after his 19th birthday and assigned him to the Bakersfield Indians of the California League for the 1949 season. Class-A ball may have seemed miles away from the majors, but Don’s spirits must have been buoyed by the knowledge that three seasons earlier Mike Garcia had toiled for these same Indians. Now the Big Bear was elbowing his way into the Cleveland rotation.

Manager Harry Griswold guided Bakersfield to a first-place finish with an 85–54 record, largely on the strength of the league’s top player, Earl Escalante. The smallish righty won 28 games—10 more than anyone else in the loop—and provided a veteran presence for Don and the team’s other young pitchers. Bakersfield’s season ended with a loss in the first round of the playoffs.

Don went 13-9 for Bakersfield in 1949, fanning 149 hitters in 195 innings. He did not project as a strikeout pitcher, however, making his 115 walks a matter of concern.

Don returned to Bakersfield in 1950, but the Indians had lost much of their mojo over the winter. They finished the year 51–79, in sixth place. Escalante was a league-leader again, but this time with 20 losses. The dismal season cost Griswold his job.

If there was a bright spot on the team, it was Don, who went 11–10 in 29 starts. His control issues were still present, but there was little else to complain about. As a 21-year-old lefty, he was making progress and getting critically important innings under his belt.

Don began the 1951 season with the Wichita Indians of the Western League, another Class-A circuit. Although he still struggled with bouts of wildness, he had refined his approach considerably, as witnessed by his 2.29 ERA in 122 innings. Don also pitched for Wilkes-Barre of the Eastern League, where he was equally effective in six appearances.


Don Mossi
     
 

It was in Wilkes-Barre that Don would first meet two future Cleveland teammates, Dave Hoskins and Dave Pope. During the 1940s, Hoskins was rated among the best baseball players in the country, white or black. He was a member of the hard-hitting Homestead Grays, playing the outfield and occasionally pitching. The Indians signed him for his arm, not his bat. Pope had been a teammate with Hoskins on the Grays for one season. He was a triples machine—easily the most exciting player on the Wilkes-Barre club in 1951.

Don was on the move again after spring training in 1952. He was assigned to Dallas of the Class-AA Texas League. He was one of five starting pitchers on the Eagles, forcing a little rotation jugging, given the standard four-man format of the time. Don was picked to be the swingman, logging a total of 42 appearances. He started 22 games and went 9–9 in 179 innings with a 3.42 ERA. He was still walking a batter every other inning.

The star hurler for the Eagles that summer was Hoskins, who went 22–10 with a 2.12 ERA  in 280 innings. He also saw action as an outfielder and pinch-hitter, finishing with a .328 average—just five points behind the Texas League batting champ. Another noteworthy teammate was outfielder Eddie Knoblauch, uncle of future All-Star Chuck Knoblauch. He led the club with 171 hits.

Now facing stiffer competition, Don was holding his own. The Texas League in 1952 was peppered with quality players, some (like Johnny Temple) on their way up to the big leagues, some (like Bobby Bragan) on their way down, and others (like Earl Weaver) who possessed the brains but lacked the brawn to reach the majors.

The 1953 season was a pivotal one for Don. He found himself back in the Texas League, this time with the Tulsa Oilers. The Indians no longer had an affiliate agreement with Dallas, thus Don was one of many Cleveland players at this level to be sprinkled around the minors. The Oilers were technically a farm team of the Cincinnati Reds, so Don was surrounded by the likes of Jim Bolger, Nino Escalera and Ed Bailey—young players ultimately ticketed for Crosley Field.

Don’s manager in Tulsa was Joe Schultz, who would be immortalized in Ball Four a generation later. Schultz was a smart, well-liked skipper who had literally grown up in the St. Louis Cardinals’ minor league system, where his father managed in the 1920s and 1930s. The younger Schultz had logged several season as a back-up backstop, including an unforgettable year with the St. Louis Browns during their pennant-winning 1944 campaign.

Recognizing Don’s resiliency, Schultz used him liberally in 1953. Don led the team in innings pitched, going 12–12 with an ERA under 3.00. Lost in these statistics was the fact that Don effected a significant change in his pitching style at Tulsa. He began experimenting with a three-finger grip instead of the traditional two. Don found he could spot the ball without losing velocity or movement. This discovery could not have come at a better time, for the rules of organized baseball dictated that the Indians either had to promote Don to the majors in 1954 or waive him, for he had spent his fifth season in the minors.

Thus Don found himself in Arizona the following spring, pitching for a spot on Cleveland’s big-league roster. The Indians were one of the few teams that trained in the southwest at the time. Former owner Bill Veeck had moved the Tribe there in the late 1940s. Veeck made the decision partially because the team wasn't drawing flies in Clearwater, Florida, but also because of the area’s more liberal atmosphere when it came to people of color. The Indians were the American League pioneers when it came to signing African-American and Hispanic players. Like the Brooklyn Dodgers—who moved their operation to Havana—the Tribe wanted to limit the distraction of racist fans when there was important preseason work to be done.

Dave Hoskins, 1954 Topps
     
 

Among the pitchers on the Cleveland roster in 1954 were starters Mike Garcia, Early Wynn and Bob Lemon. Between them, they had totaled 56 victories in 1953. Bob Feller, who at 35 no longer had his blinding speed, still had a killer curve and brought nearly two decades of professional mound experience to the fifth starter’s job. The question for manager Al Lopez: Who would slot into the fourth starter’s role?

The most likely candidates included Hoskins, Bill Wight, Bob Hooper and Dick Tomanek, a rookie for whom great things were predicted over the winter. The smart money was on Art Houtteman, who had been picked up from the Tigers midway through the 1953 campaign for Ray Boone. Houtteman had been a 20-game loser for Detroit in 1952, not for lack of talent but more likely from sheer exhaustion. In the span of a couple of years, he had suffered a concussion, spent time in the Army, and lost a child in a car crash. His sinker and slider had regained their sharpness in Cleveland, and he nailed down a spot in the rotation that spring.

Don was never mentioned among the competitors for a rotation spot. He was pitching for his baseball life, and when he arrived at camp and saw the wealth of arms on the Cleveland roster, he literally started thinking about a second career. During the winters, Don had been working construction to support himself and his wife Eunice, whom he had married in the summer of 1950. He showed a flair for carpentry and decided this would make a fine fallback profession.

Don didn’t have a particularly outstanding spring, but Lopez was a shrewd judge of potential and saw that the lefty had mostly licked his control problems. Don had a good fastball and could clearly throw his curve for strikes. Both pitches were well above average for a rookie. To Lopez, keeping a competent two-pitch pitcher like Don in the bullpen was for more appealing than the prospect of letting him go.

As the regular season began, the Indians faced the prospect of unseating the Yankees, who had won the AL pennant (and World Series) every year since skipper Casey Stengel assumed the helm in 1949. Every spring, it seemed, the baseball brains would forecast the unmasking of Stengel as the bumbling boob he had been in his pre-New York days, and with it his club’s subsequent demise. Yet every season the Bronx Bombers managed to squeeze out a pennant without so much as winning 100 games.

By the 1954 season, Stengel had won over most of the experts. They were predicting a 1–2–3 finish with the Yankees on top, the Boston Red Sox or Chicago White Sox second and the Indians third. One year earlier, Cleveland GM Hank Greenberg had instituted a “Hate the Yankees” campaign to light a fire under his players and the fans. The result was a 92-win season, which left the Tribe seven wins short of New York. The race had all but ended by the All-Star break, as the Yankees reeled off 18 straight victories earlier in the season. Lopez knew what was needed in 1954. His club could not think seriously about breaking New York’s death grip on first place without winning at least 100 games.

To gain those extra victories, Cleveland had to improve in three major areas—the infield, outfield and bullpen. The Indians had the talent on the roster to do so, with the exception of first base, which was manned by light-hitting Bill Glynn. The club had hoped to squeeze one more year out of ancient Luke Easter, but that was a dream. The Tribe solved the problem six weeks into the season, when they swung a deal with the Baltimore Orioles for the streaky but powerful Vic Wertz, a 29-year-old lefty who had once been an All-Star with Detroit.

The Cleveland outfield featured clutch-hitting Larry Doby, but from there the starting situation was unclear. The incumbents were Wally Westlake and Dale Mitchell, both in their 30s. Harry Simpson was expected to crack the lineup, but he failed to impress in Arizona and was shipped to Indianapolis, never to return. This opened the door for Al Smith, a patient hitter who could play multiple positions, and Dave Philley, a switch-hitting journeyman who today would be called a “professional hitter.” Smith did a terrific job batting at the top of the lineup with Bobby Avila, a spike-shy second baseman with a .300 average. Philley hit just well enough to allow Lopez to spot Westlake off the bench.

Mike Garcia, 1953 Bowman
     
 

Avila would enjoy a career year in 1954, batting .341. This was good enough to cop the AL crown over Ted Williams, whose .345 average was discounted because he did not have the requisite number of plate appearances by the rules of the day. Wertz, Avila and reigning MVP Al Rosen gave the Indians a superb inner defense. The fourth piece of this puzzle was shortstop George Strickland, a talented glove man pulled off the scrapheap by Greenberg two seasons earlier.

That left the bullpen. Lopez had backstopped enough ballgames in his life to understand that left-handed hurlers were more effective against left-handed batters, and that right-handed pitchers did better against right-handed hitters. This was hardly revelatory information, but few managers at the time were willing to build and then utilize a bullpen around this concept. The 1953 Indians did not have the arms to make this happen, particularly from the left side. The 1954 Indians did.

Don joined veteran Hal Newhouser as the two southpaws in the Cleveland relief corps. The Indians signed Newhouser and his aching shoulder after the Tigers had released him following the 1953 season. With 200 wins under his belt, “Prince Hal” had decided to retire. His old teammate, Greenberg, talked him out of it.

Newhouser would perform in long relief for the Indians in 1954. Don—with his fastball and curve, newly minted pinpoint control, and ability to hide the ball from batters—would function as the short man and sometimes-starter when Cleveland faced a tough left-handed lineup, or when Feller or Houtteman were unable to go.

The right-handed half of the bullpen was made up of Don’s former minor-league teammates, Hoskins and Hooper, along with Garcia, who warmed up quickly and could be used in emergencies. The man who stepped up and seized the mantle of short-relief was fellow rookie Ray Narleski. The skinny New Jerseyan was a second-generation major leaguer. He had climbed the organizational ladder a step ahead of Don, but here they were, asked to close out the games that the previous year’s bullpen had allowed to slip away.

While Don brought a considerable amount of finesse to the hill, Narelski was all about speed. He threw a white-hot fastball that enemy hitters found irresistible. Narleski would take opponents up the ladder until they were swinging at pitches out of the zone, either striking out or hitting harmless flies. Cleveland’s new bullpen duo roomed together during the 1954 campaign.

Handling the Cleveland staff was catcher Jim Hegan, a light-hitting 34-year-old veteran who had been playing in the Indians’ system since the 1930s. Hegan had been remarkably durable over that time, but Greenberg did not share Lopez’s view that he had another 400-at bat season in him. Over the winter, in fact, the GM had tried to acquire Clint Courtney from the Browns as they prepared to move to Baltimore. Courtney was a feisty player who hit 50 points higher than Hegan and was seven years younger. He also had a particular distaste for the Yankees, which appealed to Greenberg.

Don may not have let it show, but he was downright scared going into his first big-league campaign. Never before had he been surrounded by superstars and awash in impossibly high expectations. He later said that the team’s veterans helped him find his comfort zone, particularly Lemon and Feller. Of course, there wasn’t much time for Don to ponder his new digs. The Tigers and White Sox got off to blistering starts, while Cleveland found itself in the cellar after nine games.

An 11-game winning streak in May enabled the Indians to claw their way to the top of the standings, where they proceeded to engage in a spirited battle with the White Sox and Yankees for much of the summer. On June 12, the Tribe returned to the top of the standings and, with the exception of a brief moment in mid-July between games of a doubleheader, that is where they stayed until the end of the season, where they finished with a record-shattering 111 victories.

The Indians shook off the White Sox in early July, when they beat Chicago in four consecutive one-run games at Municipal Stadium. The Yankees were another matter. While most fans assume that the 1954 season was a runaway for the Indians, the fact is that as late as September 5th, the Yankees were still well within striking range. The Indians left them for good on September 12th, when they took both ends of a Sunday doubleheader in front of a record 86,563 cheering fans. At season’s end, the Tribe ended up eight games in front of the Yankees who, ironically, topped 100 wins for the first time during the Stengel regime.

Al Rosen, 1955 Sports Illustrated
     
 

Don finished the year with a 6–1 record in 40 appearances. Thirty-five of those games came in relief. He finished 16 games as a reliever, seven of which qualified as saves. In his five starts, Don went 2–1 and pitched two complete games. He suffered his only loss of the year as a starter to the Tigers, who beat him in extra innings. In all, Don hurled 93 innings, gave up 56 hits and walked 39 batters. He struck out 55 and turned in an excellent 1.94 ERA, contributing to the team’s league-best 2.78 mark. Narelski was just as good, finishing 19 games with 13 saves and a 2.22 ERA.

The 1954 World Series between the Indians and New York Giants was a watershed moment for baseball, though for reasons largely untold. For the first time, fans were talking about the battle of the bullpens. Other pennant winners had relied on good relief pitching, but never before had two opponents in the Fall Classic boasted such impressive bullpens. Hoyt Wilhelm and Marv Grissom combined for 22 wins and 26 saves for the Giants, more than a match for the 16 wins and 27 saves shared by Mossi, Narleski and Newhouser. As for Don, his role heading into the series seemed clear. He would be used to quell the left-handed bats of Don Mueller, Whitey Lockman and Hank Thompson.

In Game 1, with the score tied 2–2, Don and his teammates watched Willie Mays reel in Wertz’s eighth-inning drive to deep center field. At the time, Don did not realize what a pivotal play this would be—or how famous. With a scoring opportunity lost, the Indians were focused on holding the Giants scoreless. In the tenth inning, Lemon walked Mays, who promptly stole second. Lemon then issued an intentional pass to Thompson to create a force with one out.

Were the year 2004 instead of 1954. Don would have been inserted in the game to face left-handed pinch-hitter Dusty Rhodes. Instead, Lopez left the right-handed Lemon on the mound, hoping he would induce a grounder for a double play. Rhodes homered to win the game.

Don saw action in the final three games of New York’s jaw-dropping four-game sweep. In Game 2, one inning after Rhodes homered against Early Wynn in the seventh, Don took the mound and retired Lockman on a foul pop to first, Alvin Dark on a liner to second, and Thompson on a comebacker. The Indians put the first two runners on in the top of the ninth, but Johnny Antonelli retired the next three batters to preserve a 3–1 victory.

The series switched to Cleveland for Game 3, but the Indians’ luck failed to change. For the third contest in a row, Rhodes got the back-breaking hit, this time with a two-run pinch single off of Houtteman in the third inning. Don took the mound in the ninth to mop up a 6–2 loss. He gave up two hits, but retired the Giants with a double play and a strikeout of Rhodes, who had stayed in the game.

Game 4 was a rout, with the Giants touching Lemon, Newhouser and Narleski for four runs in the fifth inning to open a 7–0 lead. Don pitched the sixth and seventh, retiring six straight hitters as his teammates scored three times to make the game interesting. In the bottom of the seventh, Lopez lifted Don for pinch-hitter Rudy Regalado, whose single to center cut the deficit to 7–4. New York manager Leo Durocher promptly motioned for Wilhelm to enter the game, and he retired Pope on a comebacker to end the inning. Antonelli, the Game 2 starter, followed Wilhelm and finished off the Indians without allowing another run.

Don Mossi, 1955 Bowman
     
 

In four World Series innings, Don allowed a couple of screamers but held the Giants scoreless. Cleveland fans were left to wonder what might have been had Lopez matched Durocher lefty for lefty at the three key moments during the series. Don’s assessment of the Indians’ loss was simple: “We were over-confident.”

The law of gravity seized the Indians in 1955, as they finished with 93 wins—three behind the Yankees. With the exception of Al Smith, none of the hitters could reproduce their 1954 numbers. Nor could the Big Three, though Lemon tied for the AL lead with 18 wins. Lemon, Wynn and Garcia accumulated 46 victories—19 fewer than the year before. Needless to say, Lopez counted more heavily on his bullpen, and once again Don and Narleski answered the call. They made 57 and 60 appearances, respectively, and combined for 13 wins and 28 saves.

Don was sharp all year. In 82 innings, he gave up 81 hits and walked only 18 batters. He struck out 69 and had a 2.45 ERA to go with four wins and nine saves. Herb Score, the rookie starter who won 16 games for the Indians that summer—and called games on TV and radio for decades—said often that he never saw a better lefty-righty duo than Mossi and Narleski in 1955. At season’s end, Don even received a handful of MVP votes from the baseball writers.

An elbow injury nagged Narleski for much of the following season, as the Indians lagged behind the Yankees in the pennant race yet again. Don finished 24 games, winning six and saving 11 in support of Wynn, Lemon and Score, who won 20 games each. Don’s ERA rose to 3.59, but his other numbers stayed more or less the same.

The 1957 season saw the departure of Lopez to the White Sox. Chicago ascended to second place, while Cleveland, under Kerby Farrell, finished a game below .500 in sixth place. The starting staff disintegrated due to age and injury, the most notable event being the line drive off the bat of Gil McDougald that destroyed Score‘s career.

Don’s role changed under his new manager. With Cleveland’s acquisition of Hoyt Wilhelm, Farrell pressed Don into action as a starter 22 times in 1956. He responded with six complete games and a shutout. Don went 11–10 with an uncharacteristically high 4.13 ERA. He also had a pair of saves.

That July, Don was selected to play in his one and only All-Star Game. He was called in to preserve a 6–4 lead in the ninth inning with two on and no one out. Don struck out Eddie Mathews looking, then allowed a ground single to left by Ernie Banks that plated a run. Gus Bell, running from first base, was thrown out trying to reach third base for the second out. Gil Hodges entered the game as a pinch-hitter, and Bob Grim of the Yankees replaced Don. Hodges hit a liner to left, which Minnie Minoso snagged to end the game. Following his All-Star appearance, Don had a rough July, dropping five straight at one point and getting roughed up by the Washington Senators, Yankees and Red Sox.

Don returned to the bullpen in 1958, as the Indians brought in a passel of new starters, including Mudcat Grant, Gary Bell and Cal McLish. The new-look Tribe improved by exactly two wins, finishing a game over .500 in fourth place. Don contributed seven wins and three saves, assuming more finishing duties after Wilhelm was dealt to the Orioles.

Al Lopez,
1954 Dan Dee Potato Chips
     
 

Don had actually enjoyed his time as a starter in 1957, and although he helped make history with his relief work in 1954, he was never entirely comfortable going game to game without know if he’d be working or not. Thus when the Indians packaged him with Narleski in a deal with Detroit for Billy Martin and Al Cicotte prior to the 1959 season, Don looked forward to the change of scenery. With the Tigers he was reunited with a former minor league manager, Bill Norman, and joined a starting staff that included Frank Lary, Jim Bunning and Paul Foytack.

The season got off to a disastrous start, as the Tigers limped to a 2–15 record. Norman was replaced with Jimmy Dykes, and the ship was righted, as the team went 74–63 the rest of the way. To the amazement of Detroit fans, Don turned out to be the star of the staff. He went 17–9, giving up only 210 hits and walking 49 in 228 innings. Don tied for the team lead with three shutouts. He also tied with Milt Pappas for second in the AL with 15 complete games.

The highlight of the year for Don was his five straight wins against New York. He and Lary, the famous “Yankee Killer,” were a major reason why the Bronx Bombers slipped into third place. Don actually preferred facing slugging lineups to teams that scratched out hits. He succeeded by changing speed and location, thus upsetting the timing of enemy hitters. Mickey Mantle, Elston Howard and Bill Skowron were much easier for him to deal with than, say, Nellie Fox and Luis Aparicio. Besides, by that point, Don had lost a little off his fastball and was starting to feel the arm discomfort that would accompany him the rest of his career. Blowing the ball past power hitters wasn’t really an option anymore. In fact, he had started working a changeup into the mix, if only to create the illusion of speed when he fired a fastball over the plate.

Don made some good friends in Detroit. He got along well with Bunning, Al Kaline and Harvey Kuenn. In fact, he sublet his Detroit apartment to Kuenn during the winter, when he returned to the West Coast. Don and Eunice had purchased a lovely home in St. Helena, the town where he was born, and were busy raising a family.

Don began the 1960 campaign by beating the Yankees twice more, running his personal string to seven. Overall, he completed nine of 22 starts and sported a 9–8 record when a sore arm ended his season in late August. The Tigers finished a disappointing 71–83, but they had loads of talent. Detroit had acquired Don’s former teammate, Rocky Colavito, in a trade for Kuenn. Norm Cash came over in a deal with the White Sox. And a young pitcher named Phil Regan had mastered the slider taught to him in the minors by coach Schoolboy Rowe. All three would have big years for Detroit in 1961.

That year the Tigers also added speed to their lineup in the form of young second baseman Jake Wood and veteran outfielder Bill Bruton. With power provided by Colavito, Cash and Kaline, Detroit had a formidable offense. Cash had a season for the ages, leading the league in hits and batting average. He and Colavito combined for 86 home runs, 272 RBIs and 237 walks.

The team’s pitching returned to form, as Lary won 23 games and Bunning added 17 victories. Don bounced back with a 15–7 mark during a relatively pain-free season. He logged 240  innings and led the starters with a 2.96 ERA. The Tigers held first place for most of the first half but relinquished their grip after the All-Star break to the Yankees. New York took the pennant with 109 wins to Detroit’s 101. If Don ever wondered how the Yankees felt the year Cleveland won 111, now he knew.

By this time, Don had appeared on enough bubble gum cards to have caught the attention of millions of young fans, who marveled at his unusual visage. He did not have the classic country boy good looks of a Mickey Mantle or the dark, handsome face of a Sandy Koufax. Don was, well, different. He had a long, slightly crooked nose, his eyes were close together, and his ears stuck out to the edges of the cardboard. Indeed, some of his teammates called him “Ears.” Others nicknamed him “The Sphinx.

Later, when these young fans grew up, they were less diplomatic. One said Don looked like “Mount Rushmore on a rainy day.” Bill James wrote that Don was the “...complete ugly player. He could run ugly, hit ugly, throw ugly, field ugly and ugly for power. He was ugly to all fields.”

Billy Martin, 1959 Kahns
     
 

Well, Don could certainly win ugly. During that remarkable 1961 season, for instance, he proved it in a June game against the Indians. His former teammates launched no fewer than five home runs against him, yet he persevered and won the game. It took 38 years for another Tiger, Jeff Weaver, to match Don’s team record by allowing five dingers against the Red Sox.

Alas, Detroit’s aging rotation could not maintain its high standards in 1962, and the team sank to fourth place with an 85–76 record. Don, now 33-years-old, made 27 starts and won 11 times against 13 defeats, with a 4.20 ERA. That wonderful 1961 season was starting to look like his last hurrah as a starter.

This proved to be the case, as 22-year-old Mickey Lolich usurped Don’s spot in the rotation during the 1963 campaign. Don finished his 10th year in the majors with a 7–7 record and 3.73 ERA. No one was complaining about his control—he walked just 17 batters in 123 innings—but as far as the Tigers were concerned, he was nearing the end of the line.

Don reported to spring training in 1964 to find the Tigers were committed to dismantling their entire starting staff. He was sold to the White Sox in March—a vertical move, given Chicago’s second-place finish the year before. Also, In Chicago, Don would be reunited with Al Lopez. A fringe benefit of this arrangement was the chance to work with Ray Berres, the team’s pitching coach. Berres was known for coaxing quality innings out of tired arms.

Don and Frank Bauman served as the lefties in the Chicago bullpen during an enthralling summer. Hoyt Wilhelm served as the team’s primary closer, but Don got to finish 17 games, picking up seven saves in the process. The White Sox, Orioles and Yankees spent the summer in a death struggle for first place.

Don’s campaign ended before the September stretch run began thanks to his recurring arm trouble. The White Sox finished one game behind New York. In a season of what-ifs for South Side fans, having a healthy Don Mossi available might have been one of the difference makers the team needed.

The White Sox released Don after the 1964 season. He caught on with Charles Finley’s Kansas City A’s the following spring.  Although the team finished dead last with 103 losses, and Don’s arm hurt almost all the time, he cherished his last summer as a big leaguer. In an effort to qualify Satchel Paige for a pension, Finley signed him and planted him in the bullpen until he had enough days under his belt. Paige, who was pushing 60 at the time, regaled the relievers with fables from his Negro League days.

To bolster attendance that summer, Finley announced that Paige would start a home game against the Red Sox. The plan was for him to get through an inning, hopefully without getting killed. Ol’ Satch left the game after three innings, having allowed one hit, no walks and no runs, and striking out Carl Yastrzemski for good measure.

Don felt old and out of place in the youthful Kansas City clubhouse. His kids weren't much younger than his catcher, Rene Lachemann, or fellow pitcher Catfish Hunter. Don threw his final pitch on October 1 against the White Sox, giving up the winning runs in a meaningless game. His last big-league season ended with a respectable five wins, seven saves and a 3.76 ERA in 51 relief appearances.

Don Mossi, 1963 Topps
     
 

That winter Finley sent Don a new contract, but he never signed it, choosing to retire instead. His final career numbers were 101 wins, 80 losses and 50 saves. He completed one-third of his 165 starts and made 295 relief appearance. In 1,548 innings, he allowed 1,493 hits, walked 385, and fanned 932 batters. His career ERA was 3.43. Though never recognized for his defense, he handled 311 chances while committing just three errors. His .990 fielding percentage was the best in history at the time he retired.

Life after baseball mostly meant life without baseball. Don watched the occasional game on television and once appeared at a Giants Old Timers Day at the behest of his old teammate, Al Rosen. Each winter, Don and Ray Narleski exchanged Christmas cards. And he agreed to coach some youth teams in Mendocino County. Otherwise, his contact with baseball was minimal. Don received a fair number of letters and autographs requests from fans at his home in Ukiah, about three hours north of San Francisco. When fans sent him an extra card, he would set it aside for his grandchildren.

Over the years, when team physicians examined Don’s slightly crooked arm, they surmised that he must have suffered an accident as a child. Don could not remember one. If an accident did occur, it was a happy one. For Don could hurl a baseball with the best of them.

Don Mossi, autographed photo
 

 


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