Saturday, May 30, 2020
Paul Hartzell Tells Secrets Behind Pitching Apples, Record Home Runs
Paul Hartzell shared a moment fielded a bunch of questions from Craig Randle, an avid baseball fan who lives in Elkhorn.
Saturday, October 5, 2019


Paul Hartzell buried his transistor radio under his pillow so he could listen to Major League Baseball games when his mother thought he was asleep.

But he only saw two Major League Baseball games as a youth. He played in the third Major League Baseball game he ever saw, suited up as a California Angel on opening day of the 1976 season against the Oakland Athletics.

“I grew up in Bloomsburg, Pa., which was five hours form New York, five hours from Philadelphia and five hours from Pittsburg,” said Hartzell, who has made his home in Sun Valley for the past 16 years. “My dad worked six days a week so we weren’t going to drive 10 hours on Sunday to see a baseball game,” he said.

Paul Hartzell brought several mementoes, including these baseballs signed by King Carl Hubbell, Nolan Ryan and others.

Hartzell didn’t plan on playing baseball—he went to Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pa., to play basketball, having scored 1,300 roundball points during high school. But he wound up in baseball and today has an extensive command of baseball trivia and stories to share.

He did just that at The Senior Connection on Friday. He asked trivia questions, awarding bubblegum baseball cards for the correct answers. And he followed that up with a contest that will award those who guess play-off and World Series contestants with gift certificates to KB’s.

Some of the trivia questions he asked:

  • How did the World Series get its name? The New York World Telegram newspaper sponsored baseball’s championships when they started.
  • Who won the most World Series Championships? That would be Larry Yogi Berra, who won 10.

    Dr. Tom Crais, who called Paul Hartzell a “major league person,” poses with Hartzell and avid Minnesota Twins fan Teresa Beahen Lipman.

    Yogi Berra, who had a World Series ring to match each finger, played in the Killebrew-Thompson Golf Tournament in Sun Valley for many years, noted Hartzell, who sits on the board of the golf tournament. And one year Berra decided he wanted to attend Mass at our Lady of the Snows Catholic Church before teeing off.

    He came out of the Sun Valley Lodge and found a young man to drive him to the church. When the young man didn’t return, he walked across Sun Valley Road and stuck his thumb out. A fellow drove past the diminutive 5-foot-7 man with his thumb sticking out, then said, “Holy Cow, it’s Yogi Berra!”

    The driver backed up, gave Berra a ride and the New York Yankees manager made it to the golf tourney on time.

  • Does the best record during a season assure the team wins the World Series? Since 1969 only 12 teams with the best record have gone on to win the World Series. The New York Yankees did that three times; the Red Sox and Reds, twice.

Playing baseball is “a grueling grind” with 205 games in 220 days, Hartzell said. This year for the first time four teams won at least 100 games: Houston (107 wins to 55 losses), New York Yankees (103-590, Los Angeles Dodgers (106-56) and Minnesota (100-61).

“I played on the first team ever to win a hundred games and not get in the play-offs,” he added, noting how Baltimore was edged out by the Yankees.

Hartzell first came to Sun Valley in 1976 to play with the Killebrew-Thompson golf tournament organized in memory of Danny Thompson, a man whom he played against and whose daughter he dated. Thompson died young of leukemia and the tourney has gone on to raise millions of dollars for cancer research.

“My wife and I returned here in 1996 and decided Sun Valley was better than ever—they kept sprawl down,” said Hartzell, who had a software business that took him to London and Singapore following baseball.

Hartzell, who will be 66 in November, ended up eighth among Angels pitchers with an earned run average of 3.27. He became one of the few big league pitchers to get two wins in a day by beating the Texas Rangers in both ends of a doubleheader in 1977. And he ranks second to Bert Blyleven for least walks per nine inning games for the Angels.

Hartzell attributed his penchant for throwing strikes to throwing apples at a tree as a youth.

“If I missed the tree, the apple went across the road to my uncle’s and I had to go pick it up so I learned not to miss the tree,” he said.

Hartzell said he figured out that it’s awfully hard to hit a home run off a line drive. So, he kept balls down and didn’t walk people.

Batters hit a record 6,776 home runs this season—671 more than any previous season. And the previous record set in 2017 was more than 500 more than the previous record, Hartzell noted.

The reason, Hartzell said, is tighter stitching around the ball and a harder ball due to the stretched leather. The ball is also slicker than ever before.

Today, practically every pitch thrown is a new ball because they’re so slick they won’t hold the mud that comes from the Delaware River near the childhood home of Hartzell’s wife.

“The leather is so slick. That’s good for home run hitters,” he added.

Hartzell noted that some of his colleagues like Rod Carew and George Brett were taught to hit down on a ball, and others learned to hit level. Today batters are being taught to hit up –a 22 percent upswing, which produces more home runs but also more strike outs.

“As a result, you see more guys pitching up,” Hartzell said, adding that Babe Ruth appears to have had an upper cut.

Babe Ruth had a penchant for eating, as well as a penchant for hitting home runs, he added

One time Ruth sought refuge in the dugout during a doubleheader, screaming that his stomach was killing him. As doctors mulled whether he had a ruptured appendix, which was easily fatal in the 1930s, a boy entered with five hot dogs.

“How many hot dogs have you brought Mr. Ruth today?” doctors asked.

“Well, this makes 20,” the boy replied.

As a player, Hartzell had the opportunity to meet with many of the old-time greats, including the Detroit Tigers’ Johnny Neun, who was the first to execute an unassisted triple play. Neun caught a line drive as men ventured off first and second. He stepped on first base for the second out. Then, as the shortstop screamed for the ball, he shouted, “Like hell. I’m running into the Hall of Fame,” as he beat the other runner out at second base.

One of the all-time greats, he noted, was Nolan Ryan, who made his professional debut when the Supremes “You Can’t Hurry Love was topping the pop charts in 1966. He played 27 seasons and pitched seven no-hitters, retiring in 1993 when Mariah Carey’s “Dream Lover” was topping the charts.

Some 470 men called themselves his teammates along the way, and all thought he was the best team mate they’d ever had, Hartzell said: “He had a professional approach to his job and a compassionate approach to friends and family.’

Hartzell has worked with young baseball players at Wood River High School and he’s offered suggestions to young Cuban baseball players on the same field where Ernest Hemingway played with Cuban ball players.

“I tell them: Don’t throw a pitch like you’re opening a door knob—30 percent of Major League Baseball pitchers today have had to have elbow reconstruction surgery as a result.”


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