October 18, 1942: Vern Holtgrave
Vern Holtgrave turns 77 today and is now roughly 54 years removed from his one appearance in the big leagues. Lavern George "Woody" Holtgrave began his professional career in 1961 with the Decatur Commodores where the righty went 7-13 with a 3.81 ERA. By 1963, he was in the Detroit Tigers farm system pitching for the Knoxville Smokies in Double-A.
In two full seasons there, he went 11-13 with a combined 3.36 ERA. Split between Single-A and Double-A in 1965, he was very impressive, going 6-6 with a stunning 2.04 ERA. It was clear he was ready for his shot. In late September with the season winding down, the Tigers gave it to him. In the second game of a doubleheader against the visiting Cleveland Indians, roughly 11,000 fans packed into Tiger Stadium. Already down 5-0, Detroit turned to Holtgrave as the second man out of the pen and he began the fourth inning on the bump.
Though he walked two batters in his first inning of work, he got out of the jam by striking Leon Wagner out looking. In the fifth inning, he looked even better, getting the Indians in order. As the order turned back over, though, he ran into some trouble. A lead-off single, wild pitch, and another single contributed to him allowing his first earned run as a big-league hurler. Two more singles later and he had allowed another run. He avoided more damage when he got Rocky Colavito to ground out to third to end the inning, but it was clear Holtgrave's evening was finished.
The rest of the game moved at a quick pace and the Indians nabbed the second game of the doubleheader, 7-1 to force a split on the day. As was the case with many fringe major leaguers who finally got their shot in those days, he was quickly dispatched back to the minor leagues. Discouraged, he struggled to a 6.69 ERA in just 35 innings at Triple-A Syracuse. It certainly appeared the damage was done to his confidence by not getting a second chance with the big club.
As he celebrates his 77th birthday today, he's surely disappointed he didn't get more chances to prove himself at the major-league level, but he can also rest assured that he got to do what few ever do, which is put on a big-league uniform and pitch in front of thousands of roaring fans.