Thursday, January 31, 2013

Ol' Ninety-Six

Custom 2005 Upper Deck Classics Bill Voiselle #96B

On this date in 2005, former Boston Braves pitcher Bill Voiselle passed away- two days after his 86th birthday.

Raised in the community of Ninety-Six, South Carolina, Voiselle sought permission from MLB Commissioner A.B. "Happy" Chandler to wear the number 96 on his uniform to honor the town he grew up in. The uniform number would be the highest in MLB history until Mitch Williams and Turk Wendell wore number 99 during the late 80s/90s.

As a rookie for the NY Giants in 1944, Voiselle went 21-16 with a .302 ERA, while leading the NL with 116 strikeouts and 312.2 innings. Besides being named to the NL All-Star team that season, Voiselle also finished 5th in the MVP voting and was named the NL Pitcher of the Year by The Sporting News.

Bill's three-year career with the Boston Braves ran from 1947-1949. During the Braves pennant-winning 1948 season, the righty started off pitching very well, with his record sitting at 10-6 in early July. Unfortunately for Boston, Voiselle could not maintain his early season success, and managed to lose seven of his next ten starts before manager Billy Southworth pulled him from the starting rotation. Bill may have lost his job as a starter, but he was far from being an important contributor to the Braves success.

As the Braves faced Cleveland in the World Series that year, Southworth found himself calling upon Voiselle in a crucial moment of Game 3. With the Series tied 1 game to 1, and the Braves trailing the Indians 2-0, starter Vern Bickford loaded the bases in the bottom of the fourth. With one out, Bill came in and got the next two Cleveland batters out-keeping Boston in the game. He then went on to pitch three more scoreless innings, while allowing only one Indian to reach base

Three days later, as Boston faced elimination in Game 6, Voiselle took the bump, for the biggest start of his career. For five innings, the Indians could manage only one run off of the Braves starter. The sixth inning, however, proved to be a difficult one for Bill, as Joe Gordon led off the Indians sixth with a home run. Cleveland followed that with a walk, a single, and a ground out to produce the Indians' third run. Voiselle would go on to shut Cleveland down in the seventh before being relieved by Braves ace Warren Spahn- who had pitched the previous game. Spahn would allow one more Cleveland run, and the Braves would come up short, losing the game (4-3) and the Series.

After his playing career, Voiselle returned to Ninety-Six and played (along with his two brothers) on the town's mill club in the semi-pro Central Carolina Textile League. In 2001, the South Carolina House of Representatives honored the former star for bringing "honor and glory to the state of South Carolina" through his athletic and many charitable contributions.

Though baseball fans may have forgotten the contributions of Bill Voiselle (all one must do is sing the refrain of Spahn and Sain, and then pray for rain), it's nice to know that the people in his home state remembered him. More importantly, Bill Voiselle never forget them.

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