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Elroy Leon Face (born February 20, 1928 in Stephentown, New York) is a former relief pitcher in Major League Baseball who played for the Pittsburgh Pirates (1953, 1955-68), Detroit Tigers (1968) and Montreal Expos (1969). The outstanding reliever in the National League during the 1960s, upon his retirement he ranked third in major league history in pitching appearances, behind Hoyt Wilhelm and Cy Young, and second in saves behind Wilhelm. Nicknamed "The Baron", he batted and threw right-handed.
In a 16-season career, Face posted a 104-95 record with a 3.48 ERA, 193 saves and 877 strikeouts in 1375 innings.
Originally signed by the Philadelphia Phillies as an amateur free agent in 1949, Face was twice drafted by Branch Rickey, first for the Brooklyn Dodgers before the 1951 season, then, in 1952 for Pittsburgh. He made his debut a year later.
Face pitched most of his career for the Pittsburgh Pirates. His most productive season came in 1959, when he posted a remarkable 18-1 record, with 17 victories in a row, earning the highest single-season winning percentage in major league history (.947). In 1960, he became the first pitcher in history to earn 20 saves more than once.
Selected an All-Star from 1959-61, he saved at least 16 games in seven seasons at a time when starting pitchers were more apt to remain in a game they were leading, with a career-high 28 in 1962. In that season, he posted a 1.88 ERA, and eight times had an ERA under 3.00. In the 1960 World Series, he shocked the Mantle-Maris duo and the New York Yankees, saving three of the four victories for the Pirates champion team.
Besides being considered one of the premier relievers of the 1950s and 1960s, Face was a well-rounded, philosophical man who explored the mountains of Nepal and Tibet seeking enlightenment during one off-season, and returned a changed man. Face decided to employ a new pitch, the forkball, after learning it from a monk while in the Himalayas. Upon his return to the U.S., he used his newly found inner peace and clarity (not to mention his ingenious new pitch) to confound opposite hitters: "It would come in hard and break anyway it wanted to, sometimes in, sometimes out, mostly down", Face said.
Face also decided to use his great renown to help humanitarian causes, and to put himself at the forefront of many social issues in the 1960s. He retired at the end of the 1969 season.
3-time All-Star (1959-61)
National League TSN Reliever of the Year Award (1962)
Led NL in victories and winning percentage (1959)
3 times led NL in saves (1958, 1961-62)
4 times led NL in games finished (1958, 1960-62)
Twice led NL in games pitched (1956, 1960)
Holds MLB record for highest winning percentage in a season (.947, 1959)
Holds MLB record for most relief wins in a season (18, 1959)
Holds MLB record for consecutive wins (17, 1959)
Holds MLB record for consecutive relief appearances (657)
Holds NL record for games finished (574)
His 96 career relief wins ranks him 5th on the all-time list
Tied with Walter Johnson for the most games pitched for one team (802)
12/6/2001 2:30 pm ET
Where have you gone, ElRoy Face?
By Ed Eagle
Few men in the long history of baseball can truly be considered pioneers. ElRoy Face, though, was one such player.
"The Baron of the Bullpen," as he was dubbed by longtime Pittsburgh Pirates announcer Bob Prince, blazed the trail for modern day closers, saving 193 games before the statistic was even recognized by Major League Baseball.
During a career that spanned 17 seasons (1953-69), 16 with the Pirates, Face compiled a 104-95 record with a 3.48 ERA over 848 appearances. He was also named to three All-Star teams and led the National League in saves three times.
The road to the big leagues was never easy for Face. Listed at 5-foot-8, 155 pounds, he didn't meet your average scout's ideal profile for a dominating pitcher.
"When I originally signed I was 21 years old," said Face. "[At that time] the scout said I had two strikes against me: My age and my size."
Even after making it to the big leagues with the Bucs at 25, it would take Face another two seasons before finding his true calling in the bullpen.
"I was supposed to start my second game in 1957, the day that Bobby Bragan was fired [as Pirates manager] and Danny Murtaugh replaced him," said Face. "Murtaugh scratched me and I never started again."
"I came into a game in the seventh inning and went until the 14th one night in Chicago. Now the closer comes in for the ninth inning and that's it."
Instead, Face used his devastating forkball to become the premier relief pitcher of the late '50s and early '60s. He saved 20 games in 1958, only to follow that up with one of the most amazing seasons ever compiled by a reliever, going an incredible 18-1 (for a NL record winning percentage of .947) in 1959. That spectacular record, though, didn't come without criticism from the press and the fans.
"I got accused of letting [the opposition] tie it up," said Face. "If I was able to do that then I would be a much better pitcher than they thought I was.
"It just seemed that when I went in, if we had a one-run lead, the other team would tie it up and then we'd come back and get a run in the ninth to win. If it took two runs, they would get two runs and if it took three runs, they would get three.
"It was just one of those years where everything went right for me."
The 1960 season would be even better for Face and the Pirates. Thanks in part to his three saves in the Fall Classic, the Bucs upset the heavily favored New York Yankees in seven games, capped by the famous home run by Bill Mazeroski.
Face picked up 22 consecutive wins in relief by winning his last five decisions in 1958 and first 17 in 1959.
"Everybody said we shouldn't be on the same field as the Yankees because of the team they had," said Face. "I think in 1960 we had a family of guys that gelled together. Everybody had a good year at the same time and we just never gave up. It was a scrappy ballclub and we fought to win."
Face went on to save a then National League-high 28 games in 1962 and 188 overall with the Pirates, a total that has yet to be matched. In the more than 30 years since he retired, Face has seen the role of the closer evolve dramatically, though maybe not all for the better.
"In a tight game from the seventh inning on it was usually me," said Face. "I came into a game in the seventh inning and went until the 14th one night in Chicago. Now the closer comes in for the ninth inning and that's it."
The 73-year-old Face still makes his home in the Pittsburgh area and is enjoying his retirement.
"I'm just playing golf in the summertime," he said.
But Face will once again get his competitive juices for baseball flowing in the Pirates' annual fantasy camp in January.
"This will be my fourth one this year," he said. "It's a lot of fun and the guys really enjoy it."
Always a modest man, Face downplays the importance he had on the modern game. But make no mistake about it, the next time you see Trevor Hoffman of the San Diego Padres marching to the mound, "Hell's Bells" blaring in the background, you'll be watching a direct baseball descendant of a guy scouts thought was too little and too old to be a big leaguer.
Ed Eagle is the site reporter for pittsburghpirates.com and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
The following articles were sent by Dawn Sherman.
ElRoy Face, right, was such a phenom he was invited to appear on the Ed Sullivan Show to demonstrate his fabulous forkball.