College baseball: Will the single-game strikeout record ever be broken?
OXFORD, Ohio – The baseball is displayed as an historical artifact, encased in glass, on the second floor of Miami University’s baseball building. It was used on the last pitch of a chilly April Saturday two generations ago, and when the Wright State batter swung and missed, the man who threw it had struck out his 26th batter.
That’s 26, in one game. An NCAA record.
Forty-six years later, the record still belongs to Buddy Schultz.
Schultz pitched for five seasons in the majors, two for the Chicago Cubs and three for St. Louis. He had a perfectly honorable 3.68 career earned run average, won 15 games, struck out 193 big league batters in 240 innings. But that day at Miami is his calling card, a fact of life he understands and embraces. His email address begins with . . . twentysixks.
That’s the record, and he figures he has it for keeps.
“I’ve thought about that. Why wouldn’t it be broken? I think mostly because nowadays of the pitch count. I’m pretty sure I threw about 160 pitches and no one’s going to let a pitcher go for 160 pitches. As I get older, I played five years in the big leagues, and that’s nice, but a lot of guys played five years in the big leagues. It’s becoming what people remember me for, the 26 strikeouts.
“The first question people ask, was it a perfect game? No. Was it a no-hitter? No. People have perfect games. A lot more have no-hitters. But one has 26 strikeouts.”
It was 40 degrees on April 3, 1971. Schultz was in his junior season, having arrived at Miami as a prep lefthanded flamethrower from East Cleveland. He helped his Shaw team win the Ohio high school state championship by pitching two complete games in one day, striking out 27 in 14 innings and giving up five hits. But his coach twice had to come to the mound and massage his cramping arm late in the second game. That summer, the Ohio High School Athletic Association installed inning limits. People called it the Buddy Schultz Rule.
Schultz began the Wright State game by striking out the side in the first inning, all swinging. He did it again in the second, two swinging and one called. Same for the third, fourth and fifth. It was after the fifth inning that someone sitting behind the team bench – there was no dugout then – walked by and said, “Buddy, you know you’ve struck out everybody so far?’’ He hadn’t realized.
Wright State’s first baserunner was a one-out double in the sixth, a ball that landed in front of right fielder Dennis Smith, who seemed to react slowly on the play. The next batter tried to bunt, but popped up to Schultz. That would be the only Wright State out in the scorebook without a K. He gave up a walk and single to load the bases, then got a strikeout to end the inning.
Back on the bench, Schultz asked Smith what had happened on the double.
“Honestly?” Smith answered. “I wasn’t paying attention. You were striking everybody out.”
Schultz blew through the seventh and eighth, but Wright State – behind 6-0 -- loaded the bases with two walks and a single with one out in the ninth. That’s when Miami coach Bud Middaugh walked to the mound.
“I remember him saying, `I don’t care how many strikeouts you’ve got, we have to win this game. If one more guy gets on, I’m taking you out,” Schultz said. “I’m thinking, `I struck out 24, we’re winning 6-0, exactly what’s the problem?’ But sometimes I think he motivated me by ticking me off. Back then, winning was important. It wasn’t about 26 strikeouts. Now we care so much about statistics and records.”
No matter. A called third strike, and then a swinging one ended the game. Someone was smart enough to keep the ball used for the final out. It was presented to Schultz at the postseason team banquet, and sat in his house for years, until he donated it to Miami, to be displayed in the new baseball center built with donations Schultz helped raise.
He finished that season 7-3, with 112 strikeouts in 77 innings, and had 254 Ks in his Miami career. Meaning 10 percent of them came on one day. Time has taught him how that Saturday would echo through his life, especially when he sees what happens when modern college pitchers put up big strikeout totals.
“It has occurred to me that until someone strikes out 27, every time a college pitcher strikes out 20 or more, someone is going to write a story about him and they will check to see who holds the record, and it will be me,” he said. “As long as there is college baseball and someone strikes out a lot of batters, they are going to hear the name Buddy Schultz.
That happened when San Diego State checked the record book after Stephen Strasburg fanned 23. “A friend of mine asked me, what do I think?” Schultz said. “I answered, `I think he’s an inning short.’”
Something else he cherishes those Miami days. Graduation day.
“At East Cleveland Shaw, I was just a C-plus student. To me, that’s what sports taught me; find a way to win the game. I realized winning in college meant graduating. I’m probably more proud of the diploma than I am of the baseball, because baseball was easy compared to college.”
So what led to 26 strikeouts? An all-world fastball? Schultz said he is often asked how fast he was. He said he had no idea in 1971. Can’t remember ever seeing a radar gun. What he does know is that his fastball had a lot of explosive late action, and when he was clocked while striking out Willie McCovey for St. Louis in 1977, it was 98 miles an hour.
“What I tell people now is, it was fast enough to strike out 26.”
Late in his major league career he learned a palmball changeup from Dave Giusti, and one of his fondest memories as a Cardinal was striking out Dusty Baker on three consecutive changes in Dodger Stadium. Baker cursed him all the way back to the dugout, Schultz said.
The years did to Schultz what the years often do to pitchers. He had two rotator cuff surgeries, a right knee replacement, and recently an operation to repair carpal tunnel damage on his left hand. It was in the recovery room after that procedure, Schultz said, that one of the assistants asked, `Are you Buddy Schultz, the baseball player?’ Before I could answer, he followed it up with, `The guy who struck out 26.’”
After baseball, Schultz owned a pet store, then moved into PR work in Phoenix for a firm that handled, among other things, Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus. There was the day a local TV station had asked him for a unique story idea. Schultz suggested the reporter have his camera crew at America West Arena in downtown Phoenix. Eighteen elephants suddenly trudged up the ramp and turned left to line up for a bath. “I was watching the monitor and the station instantly stopped what they were doing and switched to us,” Schultz said. “They knew that everybody else was doing the same crap. A murder here, a car wreck there. Nobody else had 18 elephants in the middle of the street blocking traffic. I told people `if you want to get publicity, get elephants.”’
Now he’s mostly retired, his passion raising money for youth baseball and other causes; he once helped run Harmon Killebrew’s charity golf tournament. He also returns to Miami now and again, helping raise money for the baseball program. The players could be his grandkids now, but when they walk the hall in their building, they can’t miss the big picture of Schultz on the wall.
And one baseball. Testament to the fact that yes, a man did strike out 26 batters in nine innings. Buddy Schultz’s epitaph was assured on an April day when he was 20.