#CardCorner: 1955 Topps Camilo Pascual
And he did it all after beginning his career with a 28-66 record over five seasons with one of the lowliest teams in American League history.
Born Jan. 20, 1934, in Havana, Pascual was a third baseman during his sandlot days before transitioning to the pitching mound.
“I could always throw curves when I fooled around as a kid,” Pascual told the New York Daily News in 1963 when he was hailed as having one of the game’s top curveballs. “They didn’t think I could hit enough to be a third baseman so they made me pitch.”
Pascual starred as an amateur in Cuba and played in the United States at the Class C and D level in 1951 as a 17 year old. Following that season, legendary Washington Senators scout Joe Cambria signed Pascual to a contract for a reported $125 bonus.
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Working with Dolf Luque – a Cuba native who won 194 big league games from 1914-35 – Pascual developed into a top prospect. By 1954, Pascual was with the Senators.
Washington, however, was entering a stretch that would see the team average more than 94 losses a season (in 154-game campaigns) from 1954-59. Pascual was 4-7 with a 4.22 ERA in 48 games in 1954, then went 2-12 with a 6.14 ERA in 43 games the following year – spending both seasons as a swingman.
He moved into the rotation in 1956, where he struck out 162 batters in 188.2 innings but was 6-18 with a 5.87 ERA while allowing a league-high 33 home runs.
“I had my worst year (1956) when I didn’t pitch in Cuba in the winter,” Pascual said.
Until the Cuban Revolution, Pascual pitched most winters in his homeland and starred for the Cienfuegos team. And though he endured bouts of “dead arm” that was likely due to overuse, Pascual would retire second only to Luque on the all-time innings pitched list among Cubans with 2,930.2. Today, Pascual ranks fourth on that list behind Luis Tiant, Luque and Liván Hernández.
In 1957, Pascual lowered his ERA to 4.10 but went 8-17 for a Senators team that went 55-99. He was 8-12 in 1958, but his 3.15 ERA and American League-leading 7.4 strikeouts per nine innings pitched were an indication of things to come.
With his back-arching windup that nearly scraped his right hand against the pitcher’s mound, Pascual was evolving into a future star.
“I consider him the No. 1 pitcher on our staff,” Senators owner Calvin Griffith reportedly told the Yankees when they inquired into the possibility of acquiring Pascual.
Then in 1959, the 25-year-old Pascual put it all together, posting a 17-10 record, 2.64 ERA and 185 strikeouts to go with league-leading totals in complete games (17) and shutouts (six). He was named to his first All-Star Game that summer and finished 19th in the AL Most Valuable Player Award voting.
Following the season, the Associated Press reported that Cincinnati Reds general manager Gabe Paul offered Griffith $500,000 for Pascual’s contract – on the heels of Paul’s offer of the same amount for the Senators’ Harmon Killebrew.
Used more sparingly by Washington, Pascual was 12-10 with a 3.28 ERA in 164.2 innings in 1967. He worked 201 innings the following season, going 13-12 with a 2.69 ERA. But his strikeout totals dropped to 106 and 111, respectively, marking his transition from a power pitcher into one who relied on command.
On July 7, 1969, Pascual was 2-5 with a 6.83 ERA over 13 starts when the Senators sold his contract to the Reds. He would pitch in only five more games that season, drawing his release from the Reds on April 13, 1970 – just one week into the new season. He quickly signed on with the Dodgers, but pitched in just 10 games out of the bullpen before being released in August.
“I’m going to pitch until they throw me away,” Pascual told the Miami News while looking for a big league job in the spring of 1971.
After nine games with the Indians in 1971, Pascual’s big league career was over.
Pascual stayed in the game as a pitching coach, serving on Gene Mauch’s staff with the Twins from 1978-80. He later served as a scout for the Athletics, Mets and Dodgers.
Pascual’s son, born the day he shut out the Yankees in 1961, went on to pitch at the University of Miami and worked one season as a minor leaguer with the Oakland A’s in 1983.
Pascual finished his big league career with a record of 174-170, a 3.63 ERA and 2,167 strikeouts.
“The curve helped me a lot. I was lucky to have good control over it, but if you can’t alternate it with a good fastball, you won’t be able to do much,” Pascual told El Nuevo Herald in 1988 when he was scouting for the Dodgers.
“I’m proud of my successes in baseball, even though I would have really liked to win more games.”
Craig Muder is the director of communications for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum