Vern Law remembers facing all-time greats

By Steve Stout -

Vern Law was one of the best right-handed starting pitchers in the National League in the 1950s and ’60s.

He won 162 games for Pittsburgh in a career that spanned from 1950-67, and he claimed the NL Cy Young Award in 1960 after winning 20 games for the World Champion Pirates.

From 1959-63, he pitched in the same starting rotation as Champaign County native Harvey Haddix.

Haddix told me he used to jokingly offer Law a beer after every game knowing that Law wouldn’t accept it since he was a Mormon.

I recently asked Law, 87, how he approached pitching to some of the greatest hitters of all time.

“Willie Mays had no holes in his swing. He could handle the whole strike zone. Above all, you didn’t walk him or he would steal bases and you better not knock him down. You could breathe after the next swing … no air in the park. I changed speeds and tried to mess up his timing.

“With Hank Aaron, you had to keep the ball down and the best pitch was low and away … but you had to set him up on that pitch. I did pitch him inside, but made no mistakes over the plate and up unless you wanted to see the ball fly over the fence. I did side arm and kept it away from him.

“The best way to pitch to Stan Musial was throw three balls and then a change-up. That was the only pitch you could get him to take over the plate. He hit to all fields and was very tough to pitch to. The best way for me was to try and mess up his timing with change-ups and pitch him backwards with a count of two balls and no strikes … which normally he would be looking for a fastball. That’s where I’d throw a hard slider or a pitch that would maybe fool him. Same with a 3-2 count.

“I threw Ernie Banks a lot of pitches both in tight and then drop one low and away but never belt high. He was a good fastball hitter and I’d try to get him thinking after pitching him inside. Most hitters would figure your next pitch was going to be low and away, but I’d stay inside on his hands and hope to break his bat.

“To me, Mays was the toughest to pitch to. Musial was next because he’d hit to all fields. Aaron you could pitch low and away on all your pitches. Get him looking there and then bust a good pitch inside. I did this once and he was looking away and stepped that direction and a ball about four inches off the plate bounced off his helmet. I got him out three times on pitches low and away and he was going out to get the next one but he earned his way on the last time. He commented to the reporters that it was as much my fault as it was his as he was looking fastball away. Ernie Banks was a good guy. He loved the game and I didn’t feel too bad if he nailed one off of me. He always wanted to play two.”


Trivia Time – Ted Turner owned the Atlanta Braves from 1976-2007.

This week’s question – Who was named the greatest left-handed starting pitcher and the greatest right-handed starting pitcher in Pittsburgh Pirates’ history in a 1987 fan poll?

By Steve Stout

Reach Steve Stout at 652-1331 (ext. 1776) or on Twitter @udcstout

Reach Steve Stout at 652-1331 (ext. 1776) or on Twitter @udcstout