#CardCorner: 1975 Topps Darold Knowles
Aside from Fingers, only one other reliever pitched on all three of those championship teams. And though Darold Knowles saw action in only one of those three World Series, he carved his name into the record books – never to be erased.
Born two days after the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, Knowles was raised in Brunswick, Mo., located about 100 miles northeast of Kansas City. A three-sport letterman in baseball, basketball – he averaged 20 points a game his final two seasons – and track at Brunswick High School, Knowles established himself as a big league prospect with the Moberly Stamper Stars of the Central Missouri Ban Johnson League. In his first season at the age of 17, Knowles struck out 281 batters in 172.2 innings, including 32 in a 13-inning game that drew notice from big league scouts.
Knowles signed with the Baltimore Orioles in Feb. 9, 1961, after attending the University of Missouri for one semester. He was assigned to Class C Aberdeen of the Northern League that summer, going 11-5 with a 3.29 ERA in 22 starts. He returned to Class C ball for most of the 1962 season, going 12-7 with a 2.29 ERA for Stockton of the California League.
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In 1963, Knowles pitched for Double-A Elmira – a team that featured future big leaguers like Curt Blefary, Davey Johnson, Tom Phoebus and Pat Gillick, who like Knowles was a lefty pitcher trying to stand out in a deep Orioles farm system. Knowles won a team-high 16 games with a 2.73 ERA.
In his first start for Elmira on April 22, Knowles and Elmira defeated Binghamton 1-0 despite 18 strikeouts from his mound opponent, Fred Norman – who would go on to pitch 16 years in the big leagues.
“(Triple-A Rochester manager) Darrell Johnson gave me (advice) in camp this spring, and I think it’s really helping my pitching,” Knowles told the Star-Gazette in Elmira following his impressive debut. “I’m only effective when I can keep the ball down and away from the hitters.”
With a feel for the game beyond his years, Knowles used his fastball-slider-changeup mix as a starter/reliever for Triple-A Rochester in 1964, going 6-7 with a 3.04 ERA in 136 innings despite batting a thigh injury that sidelined him three separate times. He pitched in Venezuela following the 1964 season and led the league in wins (13), strikeouts (170) and ERA (2.36).
“If I can get a good, honest shot, I think I can make it,” Knowles told the Evening Sun in Baltimore prior to the 1965 season.
Knowles made the Orioles’ Opening Day roster in 1965, but after allowing five earned runs in 1.2 innings of work over two games he was sent back to Triple-A. He was once again used as a starter/reliever in Rochester, going 11-5 with a 2.53 ERA.
On Aug. 18, Knowles was recalled to Baltimore – and he appeared in three games down the stretch in September.
Then on Dec. 6, 1965, the Orioles sent Knowles and outfielder Jackie Brandt to the Phillies in exchange for veteran reliever Jack Baldschun. Three days later, the Orioles reshaped their franchise destiny by sending Baldschun, Milt Pappas and Dick Simpson to the Reds in exchange for Frank Robinson.
“We improved ourselves through this trade,” Quinn told the Inquirer. Lock, however, was out of baseball by the end of the 1969 season.
Knowles was just getting started.
“It was 1966 and (Mauch) used me a lot,” Knowles told the Montreal Gazette later in his career. “I had a good year and worked in 69 games for him. Then they traded me after the season.
I heard that Mauch told people he thought he had wore me out that season and didn’t want to take a chance.”
His service ended on May 23, 1969, and Knowles quickly returned to the Senators. Three days after his discharge, Knowles was pitching for Washington. He did not allow an earned run in his first 12 appearances and worked in 53 games that year, going 9-2 with 13 saves and a 2.24 ERA – earning a berth in the All-Star Game and retiring the only two batters he faced in the Mid-Summer Classic.
By many metrics, Knowles was even better in 1970 – saving 27 games with a 2.04 ERA and 71 strikeout in what proved to be a career-high 119.1 innings. But Knowles was a hard-luck 2-14 over his 71 appearances for a Senators team that finished last in the AL East.
Knowles started the 1971 season 2-2 with two saves in 12 games – then was dealt to Oakland on May 8 along with Mike Epstein in exchange for Frank Fernandez, Paul Lindblad, Don Mincher and cash. Suddenly, Knowles found himself with one of the best young teams in baseball.
It cost Knowles a chance to pitch in the World Series, where the A’s defeated the Reds in seven games in one of the most competitive Fall Classics ever contested.
The A’s won their third straight AL West title in 1973 as Knowles went 6-8 with a 3.09 ERA and nine saves in 52 games, including starting five games – his first starts since 1967. He did not appear in Oakland’s five-game victory over the Orioles in the ALCS, an unusual occurrence as Williams worked his bullpen regularly.
But in the World Series, Knowles set a record (since tied) by appearing in all seven games against the Mets. He did not allow an earned run over 6.1 innings, picking up the save in Game 1 in relief of Fingers and recording the final out in Game 7 with the A’s leading 5-2. Though not a save situation, Knowles etched his name into history as a pitcher who recorded the final out of a World Series.
“Williams never let one bad outing bother him,” Knowles told the Sacramento Bee in 1974. “He’d come right back with me in relief the next day. “You knew where you stood with Dick, and that hasn’t turned out to be true with Alvin Dark.”
Knowles was used as the Cubs’ primary closer in 1975 but struggled to a 6-9 record and 5.81 ERA with 15 saves in 58 games. As future Hall of Famer Bruce Sutter took over the closer role in 1976, Knowles transitioned back to his most effective role as a set-up man – going 5-7 with nine saves and a 2.89 ERA in another 58 games.
At 35 years old entering Spring Training of 1977, Knowles was traded to the Rangers in exchange for Gene Clines.
“At my age, I know that they (management) are looking for kids who can do the job,” Knowles told the Montreal Gazette in Spring Training of 1978. “I’ve never questioned my ability, though. I am not an overpowering pitcher, but I know how to get my job done.
“Someone once told me that the hitters will let me know when I’m through, and I guess that’s true. It’s not time yet.”
Knowles was correct. With Williams as his manager again, Knowles went 3-3 with a 2.38 ERA and six saves in 60 games. He became a free agent following the season and signed a two-year deal with the Cardinals.
“I grew up in Missouri,” Knowles told the Associated Press. “I’ve always wanted to be a St. Louis Cardinal.”
But Knowles struggled to recapture his Montreal form in St. Louis, going 2-5 with a 4.07 ERA in 48 games in 1979. He made history again, however, when on Aug. 2 he appeared in his 751st game – surpassing the previous record for a left-hander held by Warren Spahn.
After two games in 1980, the Cardinals released him on May 9.
Knowles immediately went to work as a coach in the Cardinals’ minor league system, spending nearly a decade in various roles before becoming the Phillies’ pitching coach in 1989 and 1990. He returned to the minor leagues with the Phillies starting in 1991 and spent a decade there before taking jobs with Pittsburgh and Toronto.
“He knows me as a pitcher better than anybody,” future All-Star Terry Mulholland told the Philadelphia Inquirer about Knowles. “If I’m ever struggling, I’d call him.”
Knowles finished his big league career with a record of 66-74 with a 3.12 ERA and 143 saves in 765 games.
“In those days, you broke your way in as a reliever,” Knowles said of his ascension to the big leagues. “The bullpen had guys trying to break into the rotation or other guys on their way out. It was about that time that teams started concentrating on the bullpen.
“I just fit into that scheme and I’ve never minded since.”
Craig Muder is the director of communications for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum