Former Pittsburgh pitcher Bruce Dal Canton, 67, of Carnegie, died from cancer Tuesday, in St. Clair Hospital. He pitched in the major leagues for 11 years, beginning as a pitcher with the Pirates in 1967.
He spent many years as a teacher, and like a pitching professor, he was quiet, dignified, and forgot more about the art of throwing a baseball than most of us will ever hope to know.
Dal Canton was born in 1942 and grew up in the Mon River town of California in Washington County, where attended his home high school and college, starring in baseball. He was the ace of the 1962 Cal team that won the NAIA District 30 regionals.
But being from a small school, he didn't attract much attention from the MLB. He became a teacher of general science and biology and coached at Burgettstown HS after hanging up his Vulcan uniform for the last time. But he wouldn't be off the hill for long.
Desperately seeking pitching (sound familiar?), the 1965 Pirates brought in several semi-pro guys who had been around the block for a look-see. One that made it was Dal Canton, then 24, and the ace of his beer-league nine. Another pitcher the Bucs turned up via the same route was ol' lefty Woody Fryman.
In his first pro season in 1966, Dal Canton had a 3.66 ERA in 67 innings between AA Asheville and AAA Columbus. After posting a 3.10 ERA in 93 innings in AA Macon the next season, the Pirates called him up in September. Dal Canton ended the month with a 1.88 ERA.
He began 1968 in the minors, dominating AA York (yah, they really ran thru the AA teams back in the day!) with a 1.01 ERA before being promoted to Columbus. He got clocked there, running up an 8.25 ERA. Still, Dal Canton got the call and spent another September in Pittsburgh.
In 1969, Dal Canton was in the majors for good, posting an 8-2 record and 3.34 ERA in 86 innings from the pen for a Pirates team that was on its way to becoming a powerhouse in the 1970s.
He went 9-4 in 1970 for the NL East champs, but his ERA jumped to 4.54 as control problems plagued him. Still, he pitched well over a year without a loss, recording a 7-0 mark from June 29, 1969 to July 20, 1970.
Control wasn't an entirely unexpected issue for Dal Canton. His bread-and-butter pitch was a knuckle ball (although he did throw a variety of other pitches, too). In fact, before the Braves faced the Pirates Tim Wakefield in the 1992 NLCS, they brought in the 50-year-old Dal Canton to throw BP.
That December, the Pirates dealt the wild Dal Canton, catcher Jerry May, and infielder Freddy Patek to Kansas City for pitcher Bob Johnson, shortstop Jackie Hernandez, and catcher Jim Campanis. And no, that was way before Dave Littlefield, even if it does sound like one of his moves.
Patek became a Royal mainstay, and Dal Canton spent four productive seasons in Kansas City as a swingman for the Royals.
He was a starter for KC in 1971, and had a bounce-back season. Dal Canton rang up eight wins and a 3.44 ERA in 141 innings, despite enduring shoulder problems late in the year.
In 1972 he flopped between the rotation and the bullpen, but still cobbled together a solid 3.40 ERA in 132 innings. On Aug. 14, Dal Canton set a then-Kansas City record by retiring 23 consecutive Yankees batters. And to show you what salaries were then, he still considered baseball his summer job and spent his off-seasons teaching high school.
Dal Canton's baseball days looked to be about done in 1973 when he had a 4.81 ERA and a strikeout-to-walk ratio of 38-46. That's bad even by 2008 Pirate standards. But like 1971, he roared back in 1974 with his finest season, going 8-10 with a 3.13 ERA in 175 innings with nine complete games and his only two shutouts.
But 1975 got off on a terrible foot, and by May he had compiled an astronomical 15.88 ERA.
The Royals shipped Dal Canton to Atlanta in a mystery deal of sorts. He was packaged with two players to be named later, in exchange for a Brave to be named later and cash. (In September, the Royals sent pitchers Norm Angelini and Al Autry to Atlanta in exchange for pitcher Ray Sadecki to complete the deal.)
Dal Canton finished his career pitching with the Braves and the White Sox before retiring in 1977 at the age of 35. Not a bad job for a high school coach, putting together an 11-year MLB career. Dal Canton got into 316 games, and finished with a 51-49 mark, 19 saves, and an ERA of 3.67. He allowed less than a hit an inning, giving up 894 knocks in 931-1/3 innings.
For the last twenty-five years, Dal Canton has been a pitching coach in the Atlanta organization, even working in the NL from 1987-1990. (In June 1990, when Bobby Cox took over as manager of the Braves, Leo Mazzone replaced him as their pitching coach. Can't really second guess that decision.)
Since 1999, DC, as he was called by the Brave family, had been the pitching guru for the Carolina A League Myrtle Beach Pelicans. He was the only one they ever had until his health made him take leave in May. And he was a darn good one, too. 30 kids that he tutored made it to the show.
“There’s a reason why the light seems to come on for so many of our guys at Myrtle Beach, and it doesn’t have much to do with the ballpark,” Brave scouting director Roy Clark told Baseball America while braggin' on Dal Canton.
And he was, despite a modest record as a big leaguer, quite a home town hero. Dal Canton was honored with numerous sports and community awards during his career, including selection to the Western Pennsylvania Sports Hall of Fame. He was also one of the charter inductees to California University's Hall of Fame.
Dal Canton was always a Pittsburgh boy at heart. If you ever stopped at Coastal Field to catch a Pelican game and had a Pirate cap or shirt on, he'd be sure to come by and strike up a conversation with you, yinzer to yinzer.
A true gentleman, a thinking man's pitcher, and one of the long time foundation blocks of the Brave's rock-solid minor league factory. Bruce Dal Canton was all of that and more, and one of the good guys of the sport. His presence will be missed.