Jan 10, 2016

Former Italian / American Pitcher Known For His Most Unique Appearance: Don Mossi (1954-1965)

Donald Louis Mossi was born January 11, 1929 in St. Helena California, located in the Bay area.

The Italian American pitcher became famous for being a bit strange looking. He was known as one of the funniest looking players in baseball history. One his nicknames was “the Sphinx of Ears” due to the physical nature of his very large ears. through it all, the six foot one left hander was very good natured with a great sense of humor.

In the minor leagues Mossi never had a losing record as he rolled along becoming a top prospect. Mossi signed with the Cleveland Indians in 1949 and made his debut there five seasons later. He spent five years in Cleveland having a great 1954 rookie year for the AL Champion Indians. Mossi went 6-1 with seven saves (4th in the AL) posting a terrific 1.94 ERA. 

Post Season: He made three appearances in the 1954 World Series, where the Indians were swept in a big upset by the New York Giants. Mossi pitched four scoreless innings, finishing off two of those games.

Back in those days the Indians were talented with a star studded pitching staff, having the likes of Hall of Famers: Bob Feller & Early Wynn. Also top stars of the day: Mike Garcia & Bob Lemon. So Mossi was moved to the bullpen full time after the World Series, becoming one of the league’s best relievers . 

If this was today, Mossi would have been a star closer. Mossi credits Bob Feller & Bob Lemon with helping himself as the other young pitchers on the Staff.

In 1955 he saved nine games (6th in the AL) going 4-3 with a 2.43 ERA. The next year his 11 saves were second best in the league, going 6-5 with a 3.95 ERA. In 1957 Mossi was put back in the starting rotation and made the All Star team. He was 11-10 with 97 strikeouts in 159 innings pitched appearing in 36 games with 22 starts. At the end of 1958 he got traded to the Detroit Tigers with Ray Narleski for Al Cicotte and Billy Martin.

He had his best season in Detroit in 1959 winning 17 games (17-9) fourth most wins in the AL. He posted a 3.36 ERA, striking out 125 batters (8TH in the AL) pitching in 228 innings (9th in the AL). Over the '59 & '60 seasons Mossi beat the A.L. New York ball club seven straight times, more successful than fellow Tiger team mate Frank Lary, who was known as the AL New York Killer.

In 1961 he went 15-7 (6TH most wins in the league) with the AL’s third best ERA at 2.96 ERA, striking out a career high 137 batters, pitching a career high 240 innings with 12 complete games.

That year he had the league’s best strikeout per walk ratio & the best walk per nine inning ratio at 1.7 %. He had come in second in that category the season before & is 170th lifetime with a 2.2%. The Tigers won 101 games that season under future Mets G.M. Bob Scheffing, but finished second to New York.

He fell off to 11-13 the next year and was back spending more time in the bullpen before the Tigers bought back his contract at the end of the year. He posted two more seasons of seven saves first in Chicago with the second place White Sox in 1964. He then saved seven games with the Kansas City A’s before finishing his career due to arm troubles in 1965.

Lifetime Mossi was 101-80 with 50 saves and a 3.43 ERA in 401 games over a twelve year career. He was a quality pitcher and one of the better relievers of his day in a time when relievers did not play a big role.

He had one of the best strikeout to walk ratios of his day, and had excellent control walking 385 batters in 1548 innings pitched. Mossi also posted nine seasons of perfect fielding percentages finishing at .990 % which was one of the best all time when he retired.

Trivia: In Jim Bouton's book Ball Four, Mossi was listed on the "All-Ugly Nine" team. In reference to his large ears, Bouton said "Mossi looked like a cab going down the street with its doors open."

From 1974 to 1986 a party was held each year in Cincinnati by two Reds employees in honor of Mossi & his odd appearance. The parties were fun & attended by hundreds of people. As usual the good natured Mossi took it all in stride & would even donate personal memorabilia for the events.

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