Clem Labine dead at 80
VERO BEACH, Fla. -- Clem Labine, a relief pitcher who threw two of baseball's most significant shutouts in his role as a part-time starter and pitched for two Dodgers World Series championship teams in the 1950s, died Friday. He was 80.
Labine had been in a coma at Indian River Medical Center in Vero Beach for more than a week following brain surgery to explore a mass in his head, the team announced, and hospital spokeswoman Kim Leach-Wright confirmed his death.
Labine was hospitalized Feb. 13 because of pneumonia, shortly after completing a stint as an instructor at an adult "fantasy camp" at the Dodgers' training camp.
"He was not recognized the way he should have been. He was a great pitcher, but he was surrounded by too many stars," said Tommy Lasorda, the former Dodgers manager who was Labine's teammate. "He played the game the way it was supposed to be played. He gave it everything he had, he got along with everyone and everyone loved him."
Labine spent 13 seasons in the major leagues, mostly as a bullpen specialist with the Dodgers, first in Brooklyn and then in Los Angeles. He also pitched with Detroit and Pittsburgh, and briefly for the New York Mets.
"I always thought Clem would've had a great career as a starting pitcher," former teammate Carl Erskine said. "But he told me, `I didn't want to start. I liked the pressure of coming into the game with everything on the line."
In 1951, his first full major league season, Labine was thrust in the middle of the three-game National League pennant playoff between the Dodgers and New York Giants. After the Giants won the opener, Brooklyn had no regular starter available for Game 2. Labine got the assignment by default and threw a six-hit shutout to keep the Dodgers alive in the best-of-three series. Bobby Thomson's ninth-inning home run won the pennant for the Giants the next day.
The playoff shutout came in just Labine's sixth major league start and 15th game. He would throw another one, allowing just seven hits in Game 6 of the 1956 World Series and beating the New York Yankees 1-0 in 10 innings to force a seventh game, which the Yankees won. That shutout came a day after Don Larsen's perfect game, the only no-hitter in World Series history.
"He had the heart of a lion and the intelligence of a wily fox, and he was a nice guy, too," Dodgers broadcaster Vin Scully said. "He will be truly missed by all who knew him."
Labine played football, hockey and baseball growing up in Woonsocket, R.I., and volunteered for the paratroopers during World War II. He was signed by the Dodgers in 1946 almost by accident when a scheduled tryout with the Boston Braves fell through.
Labine came to Brooklyn in 1950, appearing in just one game. He was the handyman of the Dodgers staff in 1951, posting a 5-1 record with a 2.20 earned run average and was comfortable as both a reliever and occasional starter. He won eight games the next season and by 1953, he had become Brooklyn's main man out of the bullpen, with 10 of his 11 victories that year coming in relief.
That season had a disappointing ending when he appeared in three World Series games against the Yankees and was tagged with two losses, including the decisive sixth game when he gave up the winning hit to Billy Martin in the ninth inning.
Two years later, in 1955, Labine enjoyed his best season, leading the league with 60 appearances and going 13-5, with 10 victories and 11 saves out of the bullpen. The Dodgers captured their first World Series that year with Labine winning Game 4 with 4 1-3 innings of relief and coming back the next day to pitch three more innings and save Game 5. That season, Labine went 3-for-31 at bat and all three hits were home runs.
Labine led the league in saves each of the next two seasons with 19 in 1956 and 17 in 1957, making the All-Star team both years. Relying on a wicked curve ball and sinker, he had uncanny success against Stan Musial, retiring the Hall of Famer 49 straight times.
Labine accompanied the Dodgers on the move from Brooklyn to Los Angeles in 1958 and was with the team when it won the World Series in 1959. He was dealt to Detroit and then on to Pittsburgh in 1960 and went 3-0 with a 1.48 ERA for the world champion Pirates.
After one more season with the Pirates, Labine was drafted by the expansion Mets in 1962. He appeared in just three games before retiring and returning to Rhode Island as a partner in a company that manufactured golf clothes and other sports wear.
Labine was a central character in "The Boys of Summer," Roger Kahn's book of reminiscences with the old Dodgers, which told of how the pitcher's son, Jay, lost a leg when he stepped on a land mine during the Vietnam War.
He is survived by his wife, Barbara; son Clem Labine Jr. of Woonsocket, R.I.; daughters Barbara Grubbs of Reno Nev.; Gail Ponanski of Smithfield, R.I.; Kim Archambault of Smithfield; and Susan Gershkoff of Lincoln, R.I.; five grandchildren and one great grandchild.
AP Sports Writer Hal Bock in New York and Associated Press Writer Brian Skoloff in West Palm Beach contributed to this report.
Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press
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