Pillette, first Oriole to win, lets baseball loosen grip on him


When Duane Pillette gets out of bed in the morning, he usually goes straight to the sink and runs hot water on his right hand, trying to shake off the stiffness and pain of arthritis. So begins another day in another decade after professional baseball.

The arthritic hand is the one Pillette used to pitch the first game the Orioles ever won, April 14, 1954, a 3-2 complete game against Detroit at Briggs Stadium. It is the hand that got in the way of a line shot during batting practice in the minors in 1948, a blow that broke four fingers.

At 71, Pillette is retired from the mobile home sales business and lives in San Jose, Calif., with his wife, Patricia. He walks four, five miles a day and plays golf every week despite his bad knees. Another reminder of the baseball career.

"I can't hardly squat to see what the putt is," says Pillette, 3/8 3/8 TC sinkerball pitcher who played two seasons for the Orioles, winning 10 games, losing 17.

Life after baseball often has been hard. But then, life in baseball was not easy.

There was the injury in 1948 while Pillette played for the New York Yankees organization. Then in 1955, while pitching for the Orioles, a bone spur in his right elbow severed the triceps, and the muscle had to be reattached surgically.

That season, Pillette lost three games, won none and finished with a 6.53 ERA. The following year, with the Philadelphia Phillies, Pillette had a 0-0 record and a 6.56 ERA.

Pillette spent the next four seasons in the Triple-A Pacific Coast League. He had hoped to become a pitching coach, but never did. He didn't know the right people, he figures.

Pillette left professional baseball in 1960, reluctantly, at the age of 38.

"It was awful hard leaving the game," he says. "The kids were in high school. I didn't think it was fair to drag them around the country."

He tried the concrete business, then bought into a bar in San Jose. That lasted nine months, "just long enough to know I didn't want to do it." He switched to mobile home sales and stayed with it, retiring last June after two money-losing years.

Even now, decades after leaving the game, he has a hard time watching baseball on television. He can't seem to shrug off the urge to play and settle into the role of spectator.

"I'm like an old warhorse. . . . I haven't gone to a ballgame in person in 25 years. If I go, I start second-guessing the pitcher and I hate myself for it. I'd hate somebody for doing it to me."

He has become a fan not of the San Francisco Giants but the 49ers, finding that football carries a far lighter load of emotional freight. The years, it seems, have not been cushion enough from the disappointments of professional ball.

Copyright © 2021, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad