The former pride of Reading High School would go on to have an 18-year major league career and win 196 games – and 20 games twice. But at 17 he came within a phone call of becoming a Buckeye.
Arlington, TX – In suburban Dallas for a couple of days this week on business, and what they call the Metroplex – Dallas and Fort Worth – is big enough that you never know what you’re going to see, or who you’re going to meet.
A family member, and cousin (Paul Fulks), asked me when I landed on Tuesday, “Hey, would you like to have breakfast with Claude Osteen before you go home?”
Ding, ding, ding, ding…my baseball bells began going off, because if you’re not familiar with classic Los Angeles Dodgers pitching icons from the 60s, Claude Osteen is right there with names like Koufax, Drysdale, and Don Sutton. In his ten-year span as a Dodger starter, Osteen won 147 games, won 20 games twice (1969 and ’72), and now lives in the Arlington, Texas community where he plays golf and reminisces with friends at breakfast about the twists and turns of a career in baseball.
“And you know,” he recalled Wednesday morning, “I was almost an Ohio State Buckeye.”
Well, tell us more…I invited.
Osteen grew up in Cincinnati, attended Reading High School, where he graduated in 1957 after winning the OHSAA state baseball title, and subsequently signed with the Cincinnati Reds, where he made his major league debut later that summer…at age 17.
Osteen remained property of the Reds until 1961 when the Reds, in the heat of a pennant race, traded him to the Washington Senators for a journeyman righthander named Dave Sisler. Osteen was destined for bigger things. Sisler was not, and was never heard of again after the ’61 season. He appeared in a total of 35 games with the Reds, and by 1962 he was out of baseball, altogether.
Osteen would mature as a major league pitcher on the losing Senators until 1964, when after winning 15 games he was traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers in the winter of 1965 for former Ohio State basketball star and baseball slugger, 6’8″, 270 pound Frank Howard. Both would go on to iconic careers with their new teams.
But there’s another Buckeyes twist to Osteen’s ultimate matriculation to the major leagues.
“I pitched in a high school all-star game after the season in 1957, and struck out 15 and hit a home run during the game,” he laughed this week. “And after the all-star game my Reading High School coach drove me to Columbus to meet with Ohio State coach Marty Karow.
“What I really remember about the meeting with Karow was him telling me about all the things that Ohio State couldn’t do for me, financially, and that there was no way they could pay for my education to be a Buckeye. And I’m not going to lie to you…I went in there thinking full scholarship, and went home feeling pretty disappointed.
“So my coach and I drove back to Cincinnati and later that night I contacted the Reds, who had offered me, and told them I would sign. In the meantime, my coach told a prominent Ohio State supporter in Cincinnati about the meeting with Karow and what he had told me. He was not happy.
“The next morning, after I had made my commitment to the Reds, Karow called me back and told me that he had confused me with another recruit, and that he thought Ohio State could do better by me than what he told me in our meeting. But it was too late by then. I had made my choice.”
As he story goes, of course, it all worked out for Osteen, who went on to play 18 seasons in the big leagues – for Cincinnati, Washington, Los Angeles, Houston, St. Louis, and the White Sox – amassing a record of 196 wins and 195 losses over 3,460.2 innings, three-time all-star selection, two World Series, and a lifetime earned run average of 3.30. He ranks 77th on the list of top 100 pitchers in all-time innings pitched.
Had he become a Buckeye before becoming pro, there’s no guarantee, of course…but to consider his subsequent career Osteen would have by far exceeded the professional numbers of former Buckeyes like Dave Burba (15 years, 1777.2 innings) Steve Arlin (6 years, 788.2 innings), Joe Sparma (7 yrs. 864.2 innings), Galen Cisco (7 years, 659 innings), and Ron Nischwitz (4 years, 115.1 innings).
In fact, there are those who make the case that for his ten best years with the Dodgers – 9 fewer wins than hall-of-fame teammate Don Drysdale…and 33 more than another hall-of-famer, Sandy Koufax (165) – Claude Osteen’s 196 career wins belongs in the hall with them.
A wonderful story-teller, Osteen smiles as he recalls what might have been, what was, and disappointment turned Dodger delight!