Pittsburgh Pirates All-Time Top 100: 21. Vern Law

Vern Law, also known as “Deacon” or “Preacher,” (he was an LDS deacon at the age of 12 and ordained a priest at the age of 17) was a 6’2 pitcher from Meridian, ID. Born on March 12th, 1930, the 6’2” right-hander signed his first professional contract with the Pirates in 1948. He joined the Santa Rosa Pirates in the “D” level Far West League later that year, going 8-5 with a 4.66 ERA in 21 contests. He then spent 1949 with the Davenport Pirates in the “B” level Illinois-Indiana-Iowa League, going 5-11 with a 2.94 ERA.

1950 would open with Law on the New Orleans Pelicans of the “AA” level Southern Association, going 6-4 with a 2.67 ERA in his first 12 games. He made his debut with Pittsburgh on June 11th, starting, completing, and losing the first game of a doubleheader to the Philadelphia Phillies, 7-6. His best game of the season was on September 2nd, when he pitched a five-hit shutout, striking out four and defeating the St. Louis Cardinals, 6-0. Overall, he went 7-9 with a 4.92 ERA, finishing five of his 17 rotation starts, along with 10 relief appearances. The Bucs finished last in the National League, at 57-96.

In 1951, Law posted a 6-9 record with a 4.50 ERA and a 1.404 WHIP, starting 14 games and making 14 relief appearances. On July 3rd, he won his second decision of the season when he limited the Chicago Cubs to five hits and two walks in a 2-0 win. His best showing of the season may have been on August 27th in the back half of a twin bill, when he pitched 3.2 innings of spotless baseball, striking out three and earning the save in a 5-2 win over the Brooklyn Dodgers. Pittsburgh improved to 64-90, finishing ahead of only the Cubs.

Due to military service, Law didn’t resurface in the major leagues until 1954, rejoining the Pirates to go 9-13 with a 5.51 ERA. He completed seven games out of his 18 starts, with 21 games in relief. He didn’t orchestrate any shutouts on the season, but he logged his first career three-hitter, striking out six on June 18th in a 2-1 win over the Milwaukee Braves. Pittsburgh finished at 53-101, 11 games behind next-to-last Chicago.

In 1955, Law improved to 10-10 with a 3.81 ERA on a still-bad Pittsburgh team. He finished 23rd in the NL MVP vote, starting 24, completing eight, and making 19 appearances in relief. His 3.7 pWAR rating was good for seventh in the NL. He pitched the game of his life on July 19th, striking out 12 and taking no-decision, allowing two runs (one earned) on nine hits in 18 innings pitched against the Braves. The Pirates eventually won the contest, 4-3 in 19. His next start was also pretty good, as he struck out eight and allowed only four hits in a 3-2 complete game win over Chicago. In the second half of a doubleheader on August 28the, he tossed a complete game shutout, allowing four hits to the Braves in a 2-0 win. The Pirates finished the season back in the basement, at 60-94.

In 1956, Law went 8-16 with a 4.32 ERA. He pitched six complete games out of 32 starts (NL 10th). He also tied for the league lead with a perfect fielding percentage, making no errors in 43 chances. His best game of the year may have been August 16th, when he allowed only one earned run on six hits in a 4-1 win over the Phillies for his sixth victory of the season. The Pirates continued to be forgettable, only slightly better than the season prior with a 66-88 record, seventh in the NL.

1957 would see Law improve his record to 10-8 with a 2.87 ERA (NL fifth) and a then-career best 1.181 WHIP (NL sixth). He appeared in 31 games, starting 25 and finishing nine, including three shutouts (NL fifth). On his third appearance of the season (his first start) on May 4th, he pitched a complete game two-hitter, striking out three Braves in a 1-0 triumph over Milwaukee. On July 23rd, he earned a 6-3 win by allowing nine hits and three earned runs over 14.1 innings against the Cincinnati Reds. The Pirates still finished tied for last in the NL, at 62-92.

In 1958, Law went 14-12 (NL seventh in wins) with a 3.96 ERA. He started 29 contests, completing nine and also appearing in relief six times. He also ranked third in the league with 1.735 walks issued per nine innings. He again tied for the league lead with a perfect fielding percentage (in 47 chances), ranking fifth in the NL with 16 putouts. On July 26th, he allowed one earned run on seven hits in a complete game, hard luck 1-0 loss to the San Francisco Giants. He got it right during his next start a week later on August 2nd, limiting the Cardinals to three hits and one walk in a 1-0 triumph at home. Pittsburgh finally showed some signs of life, going 84-70 and finishing in second place in the NL, eight games behind the Braves.

In 1959, Law pitched well enough to finish 19th in the NL MVP race. He went 18-9 (NL fifth in wins, third with a .667 win percentage) with a 2.98 ERA (NL fifth), 8.290 H/9 (NL 10th), and a 1.120 WHIP (NL fourth), completing 20 (NL second) of his 33 starts (with one save). He ranked eighth in the NL with a 6.3 WAR and second in the league with a pWAR of 6.2 in 266 innings (NL sixth). He struck out seven Phillies on August 29th, winning a complete game five-hitter by a score of 9-0. The Pirates went 78-76, fourth in the NL and nine games behind the pennant winning Los Angeles Dodgers.

1960 would arguably be Law’s best season (see 1965). He won the Cy Young Award, made his only career all-star team and finished sixth in the NL MVP voting. He made 35 rotation starts (NL fifth), completing a league leading 18 and posting a career best 20-9 record (NL third in wins and with a .690 win percentage) with a 3.08 ERA (NL seventh) and a 1.126 WHIP (NL second) in 271.2 innings (NL fourth). On August 2nd, he pitched a complete game five-hitter, striking out four Dodgers in a 3-0 win against Los Angeles. Pittsburgh won the pennant with a 95-59 record, seven games in front of second place Milwaukee. In the World Series, a seven-game series win over the New York Yankees, Law started three games, going 2-0 with a 3.44 ERA by allowing 22 hits in 18.1 innings.

In 1961, Law missed most of the season with an injury, posting a 3-4 record with a 4.70 ERA in only 10 starts. He was clearly not the same pitcher of just one season prior, with a career second highest 1.517 and 10.9 H/9. The Pirates mirrored Law’s (lack of) success, mired deep in the National League with a 75-79 record.

1962 would see Law rebound with a 10-7 record and a .394 ERA. He completed seven of 20 starts with two shutouts. He pitched a four-hitter in a 4-0 win over the Houston Colt .45’s on August 23rd, striking out five for his 10th victory of the season. Despite finishing 25 games over .500, the Pirates 93-68 record was only good enough for fourth in the now-10 team National League.

1963 would again see Law limited by injuries to a subpar season. He appeared in 18 games, with one complete game out of 12 starts. He posted a career worst 4.93 ERA along with a 4-5 record for the Bucs. His complete game was pretty good, a 3-0 six-hit win over Houston on July 13th. The Pirates went 74-88, finishing ahead of only the second-year New York Mets and Houston.

1964 would be a bounceback season for Law. Although he finished below .500, with a 12-13 record, he ranked second in the NL with five shutouts. He started 29 contests, completing seven of them and finishing with a 3.61 ERA. He went the distance on June 18th in a 10-0 win over the Mets, striking out five and allowing only three hits. He went one better on September 11th, allowing two hits and again striking out five batters in a 3-0 road win over Houston. The Bucs posted an 80-82 record, in sixth place in the NL.

In 1965, Law posted career bests with a 2.15 ERA (NL third), 7.537 H/9 (NL seventh), and a sparkling 0.998 WHIP (NL third), finishing 17th in the NL MVP vote. He went 17-9 (NL 10th in wins, eighth with a .654 win percentage) with 13 complete games out of his 28 starts and a 4.8 pWAR (NL eighth). June 5th would see him strike out four and allow only two hits in a 9-0 win over the Mets. On June 13th, he went the distance, striking out five Giants and allowing only three hits in a 2-1 victory over San Francisco. June 22nd would see him strike out six Giants and win a 6-0 decision while allowing only four hits. His best game of the season may have been a loss, as on July 28th when he allowed 11 hits over 12 innings, striking out eight and losing a 1-0 game to Philadelphia. Pittsburgh finished in third place, seven games out of the money at 90-72.

In 1966, Law went 12-8 with a 4.05 ERA. He completed eight of his 28 starts with four shutouts. His first start of the season may have been his most complete – as he faced 30 batters, allowing four hits and whiffing four in a 6-0 win against the Atlanta Braves on April 13th. June 2nd would see him strike out five Mets and allow three hits in a complete game, 5-0 victory. Pittsburgh’s 92-70 record was again third in the NL, just three games behind the Dodgers for the pennant.

1967 would be Law’s last season in the majors. He managed a 2-6 record with a 4.18 ERA, starting 10 games and appearing in relief 15 times. He didn’ t have much left in the tank, but his final complete game on August 5th showed he still had in on occasion, he defeated the Dodgers, 2-1, striking out five and allowing five hits. Pittsburgh finished at 81-81, sixth in the National League.

All-Time Statline: 16 seasons, 162-147, 3.77 ERA, 483 games, 364 starts, 119 CG, 28 shutouts, 13 saves, 2672.0 innings pitched, 2833 hits allowed, 597 walks, 1092 strikeouts, 1.284 WHIP, 29.0 WAR (26.1 as a pitcher, 2.9 at the plate).

Next up: a van awesome center fielder.

This is a FanPost and does not necessarily reflect the views of the managing editor (Charlie) or SB Nation. FanPosts are written by Bucs Dugout readers.

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