Jack Edward Baldschun was born in Greenville in 1936 to Henry and Regina (Kruckeberg) Baldschun and grew up on a farm outside Greenville.
However, it wasn’t his parents who supported his athletic career but instead Maynard Wolf, who Baldschun has described as an “uncle,” who was a former semipro player and managed the local sandlot team.
Baldschun explained that at only 11 years of age Wolf used to take him around and before the games young Jack gave exhibitions of his throwing ability.
He was also interested in other sports, especially golf, and at age 16 finished second in the Sealtest Dairy Company tournament with a 42 for nine holes.
Harness racing also was an interest as his father owned horses and participated in races in Ohio, Michigan and Illinois, and Jack became a groom, traveling with his father in the summer.
But baseball was the sport he enjoyed most, and he lettered in that sport for three years at Greenville High School as well as basketball and track, and when the school dropped baseball in Jack’s junior year he persuaded them to bring it back the next year.
In 1954 he attended Miami University at nearby Oxford and played on the freshman team. After the collegiate season was over he joined the Nashville Volunteers but did not sign a professional contract because he wanted to return to college.
However, that changed after his second minor league season in Wisconsin when he got married as he had a family to support and left Miami after his sophomore year.
In 1958 he began his professional career with Savannah and next went to Albuquerque where he developed a sore arm. The next season at Topeka he altered his motion from sidearm to overhand, and that helped relieve the arm soreness and increased the effectiveness of his curve ball.
But he threw too many curve balls and popped a muscle in his arm, was sidelined and about to be released. But his manager, former Cincinnati Reds left-hander Johnny Vander Meer, convinced him to stay in baseball.
The next season he moved to Nashville and was throwing in the bullpen, “messing around with a screwball,” when the catcher told him “to keep that pitch” and show it with his fastball. Baldschun got to where he could make the pitch jump in different directions in the strike zone, and it was this pitch that made him successful in the major leagues.
The screwball, which usually is hard on a pitcher’s arm, seemed to strengthen Jack’s, and in 1960 in the Sally League for Columbia he compiled a 12-9 record, appearing in 35 games with six saves and a 3.00 ERA.
The Reds, however, did not call him up to their major league roster, and the next year in the draft the Philadelphia Phillies picked him and in 1961 he was in the majors.
He struggled at the start of the season but gained confidence, and after June 29 he had a 5-2 record, 2.78 ERA and three saves. His screwball became one of the toughest pitches in the National League to hit.
One high point of that season occurred against the San Francisco Giants with Baldschun entering the game in the seventh inning with a 7-6 lead. He proceeded to strike out Matty Alou, Willie Mays and Orlando Cepeda to preserve the win.
He set the batter up with his slider or fastball and then got them out with the screwball. Stan Musial remarked, “It’s like swatting at a butterfly. He can humiliate you.”
He threw his different than most screwball pitchers and so it broke like a left handers even though Baldschun was right-handed. He also could throw it in another way which allowed it break in the opposite direction.
This pitch together with his fastball, curve and slider made him one of the most successful relief pitchers in the National League from 1961 to 1966, appearing in a league-high 65 games in 1961 and going over 60 games in a season six times in his career.
His best season was 1963 when he appeared in 65 games with an 11-7 record, 16 saves and career-low 2.30 ERA.
He was ahead of his time in the workout regimen he followed to strengthen and preserve his arm. He performed a set of isometric exercises before each game and increased the strength of his forearm (which is instrumental in throwing the screwball) until it was as big as his bicep.
In 1966 he was traded to Cincinnati where he was used intermittently for four years, having been bothered by arm trouble and being sent to the minors.
But in 1969 he regained his form with the expansion San Diego Padres and appeared in 61 games before retiring after the 1969 season and going to Green Bay, Wisconsin (his wife’s home town) and working as a lumber salesman.
In nine major league seasons he appeared in 457 games, had a 48-41 won-lost record and a .539 winning percentage with a .369 ERA.
And at age 80 he is scheduled to be inducted into the Greenville Senior High Athletic Hall of Fame on Feb. 11.
Ron Griffitts is a contributing columnist for The Daily Advocate.
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