Candelaria started the 1975 season with the “AAA” Charleston Charlies in the International League, posting a 1.77 ERA with a 7-1 record through his first nine starts. The Pirates called him up in June. He started his first major league game on June 8th, in the top half of a double header against the San Francisco Giants, taking the loss while allowing three earned runs on six hits and a walk in six innings. He also struck out six Giants. He would do better later. On June 20th, he earned his first major league win, defeating the New York Mets with a four-hitter, 5-1. On June 26th, he won for the second time by striking out 13 Cubs in a 5-2, complete game five-hitter over Chicago. July 11th would see him earn his first career shutout, striking out eight and allowing four hits in a 5-0 victory against the San Diego Padres. In total, the Candy Man went 8-6 as a rookie, with a 2.76 ERA and four complete games amongst his 18 rotation starts. He also posted an excellent 1.086 WHIP and allowed only 7.1 hits per nine innings pitched. The Pirates finished first in the NL East at 92-69, 6.5 games ahead of the Philadelphia Phillies. Candaleria took the mound for game three of the NLCS against the Cincinnati Reds with the Pirates already down two games to none. In 7.2 innings, he allowed three runs on three hits, striking out 14 Reds and leaving the game down 3-2. The Pirates scored in the bottom of the ninth to send it to extras (and allowing Candy to avoid a loss), but gave up two runs in the top half of the 10th for a series sweep.
"This young man (John Candelaria) I predict is going to be heard from for many years. I don't know if I've ever seen a pitcher with more talent at his age (21). He has remarkable poise not only for a youngster, but for anyone." - Pittsburgh Pirates Manager Danny Murtaugh in Young Lefty Pitching Talent Flourishes in the Majors (Baseball Digest : May 1976)
1976 would see Candelaria continue to impress Pittsburgh faithful, compiling a 16-7 (NL sixth in wins, second with a .696 win percentage) record and a 3.15 ERA. He completed 11 of 31 starts, including a career best four shutouts (NL fifth). He also collected a save in his only relief appearance of the season. He struck out 138 batters and allowed 173 hits in 220 innings, or 7.077 H/9 (NL third). His 1.059 WHIP ranked him second in the NL. On April 25th, he pitched a complete game two-hitter, striking out eight Giants in a 3-0 win over San Francisco. August 9th would see him limit the Los Angeles Dodgers to a single baserunner (on a walk), striking out seven in the first ever no-hitter pitched by a Pirate at home. The Pirates would miss the playoffs by nine games to the Phillies, finishing with a 92-70 record.
In 1977, Candelaria may have posted the best season of what would become a long and productive major league career. He posted a 20-5 record (NL third in wins), leading the NL with a 2.34 ERA and with an .800 winning percentage. He was selected to the all-star team, finished fifth in the Cy Young Award voting, and 18th in the NL MVP race. He completed six of his 33 starts, walking only 50 batters in 230.2 innings (an NL leading 1.951 walks issued per nine innings). He finished with a 7.4 pWAR (NL fourth), an 8.0 total WAR (NL fifth), a 1.071 WHIP (NL second), 7.686 H/9 (NL fifth), and an NL third best 2.66 batters struck out per walk. On June 1st, he pitched a rain shortened, seven-inning two hit shutout, defeating the Phillies, 3-0. His best game of the season may have been August 20th, when he pitched a complete game four hitter and struck out six in a 3-1 win over the Giants. The Pirates finished at 96-66, five games behind the NL East champion Phillies.
1978 would see Candelaria post a still pretty good 3.24 ERA. He completed three of 29 starts, striking out 94 batters and walking only 49. He earned his only shutout of the season on opening day, limiting the Chicago Cubs to seven hits and striking out four in a 1-0 home victory. He went on to lose six of his next seven decisions before winning five in a row and ultimately finishing just over .500, at 12-11. For the third season in a row, the Pirates finished second to the Phillies, at 88-73 just 1.5 games out of the money.
In 1979, Candelaria went 14-9, completing eight of 30 starts and posting a 3.22 ERA. He allowed 1.169 walks and hits per inning (NL sixth), 1.783 BB/9 (NL second), and 2.463 K/BB (NL fifth). Although he finished the season without a shutout to his credit, he still had several enviable outings. He pitched a five-hitter against the Mets on June 25th (8-1), another five hitter against the Atlanta Braves on July 14th (5-1), and a four-hitter on August 28th in a 4-1 win against the Los Angeles Dodgers. He struck out 10 Giants in his next start on September 2nd, a gritty complete game, 5-3 victory. The Pirates closest competition in the NL East was the Montreal Expos, as the Phillies finished a distant fourth and the Bucs won the division by two games, at 98-64. In the NLCS against the Cincinnati Reds, Candelaria allowed five hits and struck out four over seven strong innings in a 5-2 series opening game on the road. The Pirates swept in three games, and faced old friend Earl Weaver and his Baltimore Orioles in the World Series. With the series tied at one game apiece, the Candy Man started game three at home, allowing six runs (five earned) on eight hits and two walks in only three innings, taking the loss as the Pirates ultimately dropped the game, 8-4. After another game each for the two teams, Candelaria took the hill in game six, down three games to two and needing a victory to stay alive. He did better, striking out two and allowing six hits (and zero walks) in the first six innings of a 4-0 Pirates win. Candelaria pitched the game through a rib cage injury, as noted in the Waycross Journal Herald:
“It hurt then and it hurts now.”
Pittsburgh won game seven, 4-1 to take home the Pirates latest (but hopefully not last) World Championship.
In 1980, Candelaria posted his first ever losing record, as well as his only Pirates ERA over four (until 1993) by going 11-14, 4.01. He completed seven of 34 starts (NL ninth). He pitched 233.1 innings (NL eighth) and walked 1.929 batters per nine innings (NL fourth). On April 21st, he earned his first victory of the season by pitching a complete game, 7-1 decision over the Expos, allowing six hits and a walk while striking out seven. The Bucs regressed to 83-79, finishing third in the NL East.
The strike shortened 1981 season would see Candelaria start a grand total of six games, going 2-2 with a 3.54 ERA. He suffered a damaged nerve to his throwing arm on May 10th, a game in which he was removed after pitching six innings of shutout ball in an 8-2 win over the St. Louis Cardinals. The mostly Candelaria-less Pirates went 25-23 in the first half, then 21-33 after the strike to finish the season in fourth place.
In 1982, Candelaria turned it on again and managed to improve his record to 12-7 (NL sixth best .632 winning percentage) with a 2.94 ERA (also NL sixth). He started 30 games and walked 37 batters while striking out 133. He finished amongst the NL’s top 10 pitchers with a 1.162 WHIP (NL 10th), 1.906 walks issued per nine innings (NL fifth), 6.853 K/9 (NL fourth), and 3.595 K/BB (NL third). On July 25th, he earned his seventh win of the season by limiting the Braves to four hits while striking out three in an 8-0 win over Atlanta. Pittsburgh posted an 84-78 record, finishing fourth in the NL East.
1983 would see the Candy Man go 15-8 (NL sixth in wins, second with a .652 winning percentage) with a 3.23 ERA through 32 starts (and one relief appearance). He finished ninth in the NL with a 4.5 pWAR rating and sixth with 157 strikeouts. He again ranked with the NL’s best with a 1.194 WHIP (NL seventh), 2.049 BB/9 (NL fifth), 7.148 K/9 (NL sixth), and 3.489 K/BB (NL second). In the Pirates season opener, Candy struck out 10 and dealt the Cardinals just four hits in a 7-1 win. It was one of only two complete games for him on the season. The second came on July 2nd, in a 3-1 six-hit win over St. Louis. The Pirates posted another 84-78 record, finishing second in the NL East just six games behind the Phillies.
In 1984, Candelaria went 12-11 with an NL fifth best 2.72 ERA, his lowest total since the all-star showing of 1977. He finished the season with a 1.149 WHIP (NL fifth), 1.651 BB/9 (NL second), 6.459 K/9 (NL ninth), and an NL leading 3.912 K/BB. On July 3rd, he went the distance and finished with a 6-0 four-hitter over the Dodgers. July 19th would see him toss a three-hitter and beat the Padres by a final score of 5-1. The Pirates finished last in the NL East at 75-87.
Candelaria started out 1985 out of Pittsburgh’s rotation. He appeared 37 times in relief, going 2-4 with a 3.64 ERA. On August 2nd, the Pirates traded him along with outfielder George Hendrick (252 games for the Halos, .248, 24 home runs, 97 RBI) and pitcher Al Holland (15 games, 0-1, 1.48) to the California Angels for right fielder Mike Brown (144 games, .270, nine home runs, 59 RBI), pitcher Pat Clements (0-6, 3.12 over 92 games), and a PTBNL (Bob Kipper (seven seasons, 24-33, 4.22 over 244 games)).
Candelaria spent parts of three seasons with the Angels (25-11, 3.77). He later played for the New York Mets (2-0, 5.84), the New York Yankees (16-10, 3.80), the Montreal Expos (0-2, 3.31), the Minnesota Twins (7-3, 3.39), the Toronto Blue Jays (0-3, 5.48), and the Los Angeles Dodgers (3-6, 3.36). He finished up his career with the 1993 Pirates, compiling an 0-3 record and an 8.24 ERA over 24 appearances.
All-Time Statline: 12 seasons, 124-87, 3.17 ERA, 345 games, 271 starts, 45 CG, nine shutouts, 16 saves, 1873.0 innings pitched, 1763 hits allowed, 436 walks, 1159 strikeouts, 1.174 WHIP, 32.1 WAR (30.2 as a pitcher, 1.9 at the plate).
Check back on the next Pirates off-day (Monday) for a guy whose name rhymes with "Maz."