Saturday, November 27, 2010

Dave Giusti

Today is Dave Giusti's birthday; he's 71 years young. Sometimes people forget what an effective closer he was for the Pirates in the early seventies, but he ranks fourth on the all-time Pirate list for games saved. Here's his story:

David John Giusti, Jr., was born in Seneca Falls, New York. When he was fifteen years old, his team lost in the New York State Babe Ruth Championship by a score of 1-0. The opposing pitcher was Carl Yastrzemski, the Red Sox future Hall of Famer and 1967 Triple Crown winner. Giusti to this day gripes that a ball he hit off Yaz that day was a home run although it was ruled a ground rule double.

Giusti attended Syracuse University, where he was part of the rotation that led the Orange to a spot in the 1961 College World Series (he also played hoops for the Orangemen).

A degree wasn’t all Dave acquired at Syracuse; he also learned how to throw the palm ball, which he picked up from Syracuse pitching coach Ted Kleinhaus. And, btw, he did get his sheepskin; he taught high school science during the off seasons early in his career.

The righty was signed as a free agent by the expansion Houston Colt .45s in 1961, and received $35,000, becoming Houston’s first bonus baby. The Cards also were after him, but he thought he'd have a better chance of cracking the roster more quickly as part of a new squad. Giusti was right.

He was 22 years old when he broke into the big leagues on April 13, 1962, with the Colt .45s (they became the Houston Astros in 1965). From 1965-68, he was a workhorse, starting 100 games and working 682-2/3 innings during that span.

Before the 1969 season, Giusti was part of a flurry of transactions. He was part of a four man trade with the Cards, one of his original suitors, in what basically was a Giusti for catcher Johnny Edwards swap.

But St. Louis didn't protect him in the expansion draft three days later, and he was taken by by the San Diego Padres. They got him back in early December, but it cost the Redbirds Ed Spiezio, Danny Breeden, Ron Davis and minor leaguer Phil Knuckles. After all that, he pitched one year for them before he got handed a plane ticket again.

During the off season, Giusti was sent to the Pittsburgh Pirates (partly because of a recommendation to GM Joe Brown from Roberto Clemente, who had a tough time hitting him) with Dave Ricketts for jack-of-all-trades Carl Taylor and farmhand Frank Vanzin. Manager Danny Murtaugh considered him a swing man (especially when he got beat up as a starter in spring training), and had him slated to start and relieve ala Jeff Karstens.

But the Whistling Irishman quickly converted him into a reliever after incumbent Chuck Hartenstein had problems getting outs, and Giusti became one of the top closers in the NL. Giusti threw a low nineties heater, but his killer pitch was his palmball, akin to a forkball or split-finger fastball.

His first season as a back end guy from the bullpen was an unqualified success; he had a 3.08 ERA and 26 saves for the division winners (they lost to the Reds in the playoffs). Giusti finished fourth in the Cy Young voting and sixth in the MVP tally, but wasn't picked for the All-Star game; Gil Hodges by-passed him.

He led the NL with 30 saves in 1971 as the Bucs won the NL playoff series and the World Series. Giusti became the first pitcher to pitcher to pitch in every game of the National League Championship Series. He appeared in four games for 5-1/3 innings, giving up no runs on one hit, two walks, and three strikeouts.

Giusti appeared in three games of the World Series, and he was credited with a save in Game Four. Giusti was awarded The Sporting News Fireman of the Year Award in 1971 and got a smattering of MVP votes. Again he missed All-Star honors; manager Sparky Anderson chose Clay Carroll, his team’s closer, over him.

He had 22 saves and a 1.93 ERA in 1972 as the Pirates won another division title only to lose to the Big Red Machine again, largely because of Giusti's one dark moment as a Buc. He failed to hold onto a one run lead in the ninth of the final playoff game that eventually was lost on Bob Moose's wild pitch. Moose took the abuse, but Giusti, who gave up three straight hits, took the loss.

The only year that Giusti was selected for the NL All-Star Team was in 1973 when he had 20 saves and a 2.37 ERA, a season that the Bucs finished 2-1/2 games behind the Mets.

In 1974, he became the first relief pitcher in MLB to earn a $100,000 a year. But his season was nothing to write home about - he had just 12 saves and a 3.32 ERA, though he worked over 105 innings, his Pirate high. The Pirates won the division again, but lost the championship series to the Dodgers.

Giusti had elbow surgery after the year. 1975 was his last season as the Bucs' undisputed closer, as he put up 17 saves with a 2.95 ERA. It was disappointing to the Pirates, too - they won another division crown, but were swept by their nemesis, the Cincy Reds.

Giusti's last year with the Pittsburgh Pirates was 1976. Bob Moose had become the closer, and Teke was lurking in the bullpen, a couple of seasons from claiming the job for himself. He finished with just six saves, third on the team, and a 4.35 ERA. Pittsburgh finished second with 92 wins, but nine games shy of the Phillies.

That year, an Esquire magazine article by sportswriter Harry Stein named Giusti as the relief pitcher on his all-Italian team. Nothing like being recognized as the bullpen capo di tutti capi of Lo Stivale, hey?

Giusti was dealt to the Oakland A’s with Doc Medich, Doug Bair, Dave Langford, Tony Armas and Mitchell Page for Phil Garner, Tommy Helms and Chris Batton on March 15, 1977.

He was 47-28 with a 2.94 ERA and 133 saves in his seven years as a Pirate. ElRoy Face (188), Kent Tekulve (158), and Mike Williams (140) are the only Bucs with more career saves than Giusti.

Giusti put together a slate of 3-3 with 2.98 ERA and six saves in 40 games for the A’s, but they sold him to the Chicago Cubs in August. He appeared in 20 games for Chi-town, with an 0-2 record, 6.04 ERA and one save - the 145th of his career. At the end of the season, the Cubs gave Giusti his unconditional release, and he retired.

He left the show with 15 big league seasons under his belt and a record of 100-93 and an ERA of 3.60 to go along with his 145 saves.

After his baseball career, Giusti went to work as a salesman for Jack Piatt at Millcraft Industries, steel fabricators who are now rebuilding downtown. He made sales calls around the area from 1978 to 1981. He moved on to American Express as a corporate sales manager before retiring in 1994.

Giusti and his college sweetheart wife Ginny live in Upper St. Clair, near his bud and former Pirate roommate Steve Blass. The couple have two daughters, Laura and Cynthia, along with four granddaughters. He also serves as the vice president of the Pirates Alumni Association. Giusti's hobbies are cooking, golf, traveling, and the grandpap gig.

The Pirate world champs in GW's lifetime all had great closers - ElRoy Face, Dave Giusti, and Kent Tekulve. So when the discussion of all time closers pops up, don't forget Giusti. He was as good as they came in his era.

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