The course of Jim Archer’s baseball career – and his life, really – changed forever on a January day in 1961 while he ate lunch at a beach club in Puerto Rico, where he happened to be playing winter ball in preparation for his ninth season in the pros.
“The secretary of the [Puerto Rican] ballclub said you’ve been traded,” Archer recalled in a 2008 interview with the Bristol Herald Courier. “I said ‘The hell I have. Why don’t I know about it?’ Right away, I got a call from [Kansas City owner] Charlie Finley and he said you belong to me now.”
The Baltimore Orioles organization had indeed shipped Archer to the Kansas City Athletics, where he would make his MLB debut as a 28-year-old rookie pitcher that spring and suit up for two eventful seasons with the franchise.
The Wythe County, Virginia, native died on Monday at the age of 87 and his funeral service will be held today at the First United Methodist Church in Tarpon Springs, Florida.
Archer starred at now-defunct Max Meadows High School, where he once pitched a no-hitter and hit two home runs in the same game against rival Rural Retreat.
A two-year stint in the United States Army preempted the early days of his professional career as he bounced around with minor league affiliates of the New York Yankees and Baltimore Orioles.
His teammate with the 1956 York (Pennsylvania) White Roses of the Class B Piedmont League was none other than future Hall of Famer Brooks Robinson.
Archer never was able to crack Baltimore’s big-league rotation, but the left-hander got his chance in Kansas City.
Archer was a good pitcher on a bad team in ‘61, going 9-15 with five saves and a 3.20 ERA in 39 games (25 starts) covering 205 1/3 innings as KC compiled a 61-100 record and finished last in the American League. He finished ninth in the AL in ERA, just behind Jim Bunning and just ahead of Whitey Ford.
Archer faced the eventual World Series champion New York Yankees and their powerful lineup six times over the course of that summer and won twice.
Roger Maris famously hit his 61st home run off Coeburn, Virginia, native Tracy Stallard to break Babe Ruth’s single-season record that had stood for 34 years. No. 25 that season for Maris came off Archer on June 19 in what was the most memorable of days for the pitcher.
His brother was in town visiting and wanting to get his mind off that evening’s game at Municipal Stadium and hoping to kill some time, Archer and his sibling drove to the Truman Library in nearby Independence for some sight-seeing.
Who did they happen to run into?
Harry Truman, himself.
“He walked in and said, ‘Jim, how are you doing?’ ” Archer recalled in that 2008 interview. “He said, ‘I don’t go to the ballgames anymore, but I know about you and appreciate your work.’ We talked to him for about 35 to 40 minutes. It was absolutely great. My brother couldn’t believe it.”
It got better as Archer pitched a complete-game seven-hitter with six strikeouts as KC eked out a 4-3 win that night.
Archer had success against New York’s legendary tandem of Maris and Mickey Mantle. Maris was 3-for-18 with three strikeouts in his career against the southpaw from Southwest Virginia, while Mantle was 4-for-17 with four Ks.
“I didn’t have much trouble with Maris and Mantle,” Archer recalled 11 years ago. “Mantle hit right-handed off me and I used to give him fits. I had a good breaking ball and the good Lord blessed me with control.”
Archer was relegated to 18 big-league outings the next season for the A’s due to a shoulder ailment and he retired in 1963 after making five appearances for the Class AAA Hawaii Islanders in the Los Angeles Angels farm system.
He eventually found success in the car dealership business and dabbled in politics in the Tampa area after his playing days were done. While his MLB career consisted of just 57 games, the man from Max Meadows always recalled the experience with fondness.
“I really enjoyed my time there,” Archer said in 2008. “I would have played for nothing if they would have fed me and gave me a place to sleep.”
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