No. 43: Cecil Upshaw

cecil upshaw.jpgRighthanded Pitcher
Seasons with Braves: 1966-69; 1971-73
Stats with Braves: 30-26, 78 Svs, 3.01 ERA

Cecil Upshaw presents evidence that the Braves’ closer role has always been cursed, and that I am wrong in blaming Gene Garber for hexing the bullpen. I don’t even know that the “closer” term was being used at the time.

Upshaw was sort of like Joey Devine, if Devine hadn’t been rushed so much — a big, hard-throwing sidearmer who was signed out of college (Centernary) in 1964 and in the big leagues pretty rapidly, if not as rapidly as Devine. Upshaw made his debut in 1966, throwing three innings. In 1967, Upshaw replaced Phil Niekro as the relief ace when Knucksie went into the rotation.

For two years, Upshaw was one of the better relievers in the game, putting up ERAs of 2.46 and 2.91 (with the rise of offense from 1968 to 1969, the latter is actually a little more impressive) and saving 13 and 27. (The save rule was made official in 1969, and managers apparently already were piling more saves on their best guys.) Relief aces threw a lot of innings back then; Upshaw threw 116 2/3 innings in 58 games in ’68 and 105 1/3 in 62 in ’69. He pitched in all three games in the LCS, giving up two runs in the middle game when it was too late to matter.

Given the workload, it may not be surprising that Upshaw got hurt. It’s the nature of his injury, however, that proves that the closer role was already cursed. Upshaw, who stood about 6-6, decided to show off for his teammates by demonstrating how to dunk a basketball. On an awning. He caught a ring on the awning and severely injured his finger, causing him to miss the entire 1970 season.

He was never the same pitcher. He came back in 1971, which is pretty impressive, and worked 82 innings in 49 games, saving 17, but his ERA ballooned to 3.51. In 1972, he was just about average and saved 13. He got off to a bad start in 1973, and the Braves, in keeping with their “Sell Low” philosophy of the time, unloaded him to the Astros for washed-up and punchless outfielder Norm Miller. Upshaw had two solid years in middle relief for the Indians and Yankees but was released by the White Sox in spring of 1976 and never pitched again. He died in 1995.

Cecil Upshaw Statistics – Baseball-Reference.com

13 thoughts on “No. 43: Cecil Upshaw”

  1. It’s a gamble. Our offense has been madly inconsistent, is poor at making pitchers work, etc., but it has put runs on the board. We could do better, we could do worse.

  2. My thinking is this: a hitting coach gets too much credit when an offense does well, and too much blame when it doesn’t. This are major leauge hitters. Terry Pendleton does not make Chipper Jones, or any veteran, better or worse. They know how to hit already.

    Also the Indians want Marcus Giles:

    http://www.cleveland.com/sports/plaindealer/index.ssf?/base/sports/116090135484741.xml&coll=2&thispage=2

    I really believe a Giles for Paul Byrd thread would benefit both sides.

  3. I’m a little indifferent about Pendleton leaving. The offense was good this year, which would indicate some good things. However, I really believe we can be more patient. And I don’t just mean you-know-who.

    I guess I always find it strange when a guy like Pendleton (a very aggressive/low OBP player) becomes a hitting coach. He may be a better manager. If he goes, I wish him well. I’ll always have warm feelings for him as a player–the 1991 Braves team remains my fave of all time.

  4. From the article Dan posted:

    “The market for second basemen isn’t good enough for us to overlook anyone,” said Shapiro when asked about Giles.

    Is that an insult?

  5. off topic….

    for anyone that is in the fantasy basketball league…is thursday good for everyone….anytime, just give me some suggestions, i’m sure we can work this out..hahah.

    BTW, we still need at least 1 more person to make it equal…plenty of spaces still open though.

    League ID: 74680
    Password: 102529

    It’s at yahoo

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