Juan Pizarro Dies; Was Pathbreaking Latino Baseball Player of Early 1960s
Juan Pizarro proved a Latino could be the ace pitcher on a Major League team.
William S. Bike, historian and author of the book The Forgotten 1970 Chicago Cubs: Go and Glow, said Pizarro "not only was the best Puerto Rican pitcher to make it to the major leagues in that era, but he was the ace of the Chicago White Sox staff in the early 1960s, and then worked his way into the Chicago Cubs' starting rotation a decade later."
On that early 1960s White Sox team known for its stellar pitching, Pizarro was the ace, the star, although he was the youngest pitcher in the rotation.
After some injuries and mediocre years in the late 1960s, "By 1970, Pizarro was pitching in the minor leagues, when on July 9 the Chicago Cubs, desperate for a left-handed reliever after inexplicably releasing Hank Aguirre less than two weeks before, called him up and rejuvenated his career," Bike said. The Pizarro acquisition was one of several surprising Cub management moves detailed in The Forgotten 1970 Chicago Cubs that showed that for that year at least, "traditionally conservative Cub management was willing to acquire players with bad-dude reputations if they could help the team," Bike added.
The next year, to everyone's surprise, the veteran pitcher not only made the team but worked himself into the starting rotation. Pizarro beat New York Mets great Tom Seaver head-to-head twice that year, one of them a September shutout Pizarro won 1-0 when he hit a home run off of Seaver.
A frequent participant in winter baseball, Pizarro also is the Puerto Rican Winter League's all-time leader in strikeouts and shutouts and is a member of the Caribbean and Puerto Rican sports halls of fame. After his retirement as a player, the Cubs showed so much respect for his pitching acumen that they made him a minor league coach. He later coached in Santurce, Puerto Rico and worked for the city's park system.
For more on Juan Pizarro and the 1970 Chicago Cubs, see The Forgotten 1970 Chicago Cubs: Go and Glow, to be published by The History Press on May 17, 2021. https://www.arcadiapublishing.com/
William S. Bike