John Robert Candelaria was born on November 6, 1953 in New York City. The tall six foot seven left hander, became affectionately known as the "The Candy Man".
He went to the Catholic Private La Salle Academy high school in lower Manhattan & starred there in basketball. He led his team to a 1971 high school basketball championship & then played center in a basketball league in Puerto Rico, where he was a top player. When the scouts came looking at him while playing baseball, they were impressed with his fastball registering in the high nineties with a lot of movement on it.
He was almost offered a contract by the Los Angeles Dodgers but at his final try out he wore a t-shirt with a marijuana leaf on it reading “try some you’ll like it”. The Dodger executives were appalled & passed up on him. He then was drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates in the second round of the 1972 draft.
Candelaria went 10-2 in his first year at A ball Charleston in 1973 & then followed up with a 11-8 record at Salem the next year. At AAA Charleston in 1975 he was 7-1 with a 1.77 ERA getting him up to the Pirates staff in June.
He lost his first MLB outing but then won four straight decisions with three complete games, including a four hit shutout against the San Diego Padres. He finished the year at 8-6 with a 2.76 ERA on a terrific first place Pirates pitching staff that included Jerry Ruess (18 wins) Jim Rooker & Bruce Kison (13 wins) Ken Brett ( 9 wins) & Doc Ellis (8 wins).
Post Season: Candelaria pitched Game #3 of the NLCS against the Cincinnati Reds at Three Rivers Stadium, with the Pirates down 2-0 in the Series. He held the Big Red Machine to just one run over seven innings, setting a rookie record striking out 14 batters. But in the 8th inning he allowed a two run HR to Pete Rose. The Reds went on to win the game 5-3 & sweep the series.
In his sophomore season during the nation’s bicentennial year he found himself at .500 (4-4) early on in the season. But in the summer he went on an eight game personal win streak. On August 9th at Three Rivers Stadium in Pittsburgh, he became the first Pirate pitcher to toss a no hitter at home, blanking the Los Angeles Dodgers & Doug Rau 2-0. In the game he walked one & struck out seven. On the season he was a 16 game winner, tops on his staff going 16-7 with a 3.15 ERA.
In 1977 he had his overall best season, leading the NL in ERA (2.34) winning percentage (.800) & walks per nine inning (1.9). He won twenty games going 20-7 (3rd most wins in the NL) with 133 strikeouts, pitching 230 innings. He did allow the most HRs in the league (29). That year he made his only All Star appearance but did not pitch in the 7-5 National League victory.
In 1978 his record fell off to 12-11.
In 1979 he was 14-9, leading the Pirates staff who had six pitchers with double figures in wins. The Candy Man struck out 101 batters in 207 innings, with a 3.22 ERA, posting the league’s second best walk per nine inning ratio (1.8). That year he helped lead the “We Are Family” Pirates to a World Series Championship.
Post Season: In the NLCS he opened up Game #1 against The Cincinnati Reds & Tom Seaver leaving the game in a 2-2 tie. The Pirates would win it in the 11th inning on three run HR by Willie Stargell, off Reds reliever Tom Hume. In the World Series against the Baltimore Orioles, Candelaria took a loss to Scott McGregor in Game #3. He returned in Game #6 and beat the Orioles Hall of Fame ace Jim Palmer, pitching six shutout innings.
Candelaria would pitch in Pittsburgh for ten years winning in double figures eight times, coming in the top ten in winning percentage six times, wins & ERA three time each.
In 1982 he posted a 2.94 ERA, (the third best of his career). In 1984 he was a 15 game winner (6th in the NL) going 15-8 (third most wins in his career) with a .654 winning % (second in the NL) & a 3.23 ERA.
In 1985 after suffering from back problems he was traded to the California Angels with outfielder George Hendrick and pitcher Al Holland in exchange for a player to be named later, Mike Brown and Pat Clements. That year the Pirates had finished last & dumped all their high prices players. He went 9-7 in his first year in Orange County California.
In 1986 Candelaria pitched so well he won the Comeback Player of the Year Award, going 10-2 with a 2.55 ERA helping the Angels win the Western Divisional title.
Post Season: He won Game #3 of the ALCS, beating the Boston Red Sox Oil Can Boyd in Anaheim. He returned in the final Game #7 but took the loss although he allowed no earned runs, while exiting down 7-0 to the Red Sox. The big blow came on Jim Rice's three run HR.
The Candy Man was 8-6 with the Angels in 1987 when he was traded to the New York Mets on September 15thm 1987 for Shane Young & Jeff Richardson.
Candelaria debuted on September 18th, getting shelled for five runs on eight hits by his old Pirates team mates in Pittsburgh. He exited in the 2nd inning. His nexttwo starts went well, beating the Montreal Expos at Shea, on September 23rd & then the Phillies at Veterans Stadium on September 28th. In that game he shut out the Phils for five innings in a 1-0 Mets win.
His Mets career was brief, lasting just three games in his home town. After the season ended, he was granted free agency three days after his 35th birthday.
He would go on to pitch for five more clubs becoming mostly a relief pitcher. He played for the AL New York team (1988) Montreal (1989) Toronto & Minnesota (1990) Los Angeles Dodgers (1991 & 1992) before finishing up his long 19 season career back in Pittsburgh in 1993.
He finished up with a 177-122 record, striking out 1633 batters with 592 walks in 2525 innings pitched. He posted a 3.33 ERA with 29 saves, 13 shut outs & 54 complete games. His biggest weakness was allowing HRs (245 in his career).
Trivia: The Candy Man pitched for both New York & Los Angeles clubs, as well as both Canadian teams.