Pitcher Bob Humphreys‘ input was extremely important as I started doing research for my Milwaukee Brewers historical book, so I decided to create a full-length profile for him right here on the blog.
Humphreys was born in Covington, Virginia on August 18, 1935. He loved baseball and basketball, playing both sports in high school and Hampden-Sydney College. He lettered in both sports in college, but decided to pursue baseball as a career.
Humphreys was 5’ 11” tall and 165 – not a big guy by baseball’s standards, but he did well as a pitcher after an eye injury threatened his career. Up until then he had been playing third base and pitcher, but after he recovered he switched to just pitching.
The Detroit Tigers liked what they saw in Humphreys, so they signed him to a contract. He pitched in the minors for a season and then did a six month stint in the Marines as he had a military obligation to fulfill. Humphreys worked his way through the Tigers minors fairly quickly and saw great results when he pitched only as a reliever. He made it to the majors in late 1962 as a roster expansion call-up, and made his debut on September 8.
Humphreys came to spring training in 1963 with the plan to make the Tigers roster and spend the full season with the team. Toward the end of spring training the team earmarked Humphreys for the minors, so he wrote “YOU CAN’T MAKE IT!” inside his glove as a motivator. He was looking for a constant reminder that he needed to pitch well to get back to the big leagues. (You can read more about this on the SABR article about Humphreys)
The Tigers sold Humphreys to the Cardinals soon afterward, and he spent the 1963-64 seasons bouncing between the Cards and their Triple A minor league team.
Humphreys made one appearance in the 1964 World Series, pitching a scoreless ninth inning during the Game Six loss to New York. He has stated that his best achievement on the diamond was playing in the 1964 series with St. Louis.
The Cardinals traded Humphreys to the Chicago Cubs on April 7, 1965. His early short stints with the Tigers and Cardinals didn’t go so well (save for the WS appearance), but his second season with the Cardinals was much better. From then on he gained consistency in keeping his ERA right around 3.00 and allowing less than a hit an inning. The trend continued the rest of his career.
Humphreys only lasted one season with the Cubs. At the end of the year he expressed a dislike of all the home day games the Cubs played and asked the team to trade him. They sent him to the Washington Senators on April 2, 1966, for Ken Hunt.
He stuck with the Senators the longest out of all the teams he played for, spending 1966 to 1970 with the club. The Senators needed a player representative for labor issues, and Humphreys took on that role. He also worked for a Virginia congressman on Capitol Hill during some off seasons during his time with the Senators.
Humphreys suffered an injury just before the 1970 season and was on the disabled list for a while, but returned to pitch effectively to the tune of a 1.35 earned run average over 6.2 innings in five games. Despite these great results, the Senators decided to release Humphreys on June 13, leaving him as the “most surprised man around.”
Fortunately the Brewers were looking to add another veteran reliever after suffering some injuries to their bullpen staff, and Humphries fit the bill. He recalls, “I was released by the Senators and signed with the Brewers a week later. They were playing in Baltimore and I had a tryout and was signed.”
Humphreys pitched right away in Baltimore after joining the Brew Crew in the midst of their road trip. In fact, he appeared in five games straight with just one day off for travel as the Brewers returned home to play the California Angels. Humphries picked up a couple saves in the process while manager Dave Bristol tried to pick an end of game pitcher between Humphries, Dave Baldwin, and Ken Sanders. The closer role eventually went to Sanders, but Humphries had something extra in his pitching repertoire – a knuckleball.
Humphries says, “At this point in my career I was a knuckleball pitcher and Jerry McNertney was the best catcher of the knuckleball. He had caught Hoyt Wilhelm and Wilbur Wood with the Chicago White Sox.”
Bristol was certainly impressed with what he saw and commented, “The man is a competitor. He’s a veteran who’s really been around. Why, he pitched in the World Series for St. Louis. He knows what it’s all about.”
Humphries was 33 years old when he was acquired and fit in well with the other bullpen veterans such as Baldwin and Sanders. He had also been to Milwaukee before, so he knew the city and fans well. He says, “I had played in Milwaukee with the Cardinals in 1963-64. The fans were cordial and I enjoyed playing there, even though I was never one to do a lot of talking with fans.”
Management of that first Brewers team did everything possible to get people to come to County Stadium, including hoisting 69 year old Milt Mason onto the scoreboard with a trailer. Mason was christened “Bernie Brewer” and stayed on his perch for roughly six weeks until the goal of a sellout game was reached – the tipping point to bring Bernie back to earth. When asked about this crazy promotion, Humphreys says “I had no clue he was in a trailer atop the scoreboard!”
Like so many other players, Humphreys mainly focused on the game and not the off the field antics. Being a second year expansion team, the roster was cobbled together from the 1968 expansion draft and a number of trades that general manager Marvin Milkes orchestrated since that draft. Some players had crossed paths before and others didn’t know anyone. As for Humphreys, he says, “One of the coaches, Jackie Moore, was my best friend. We came through the Tigers organization together.”
In 23 games with the Brewers (all but one in relief) in 1970 covering 45 innings, Humphreys had a 3.15 earned run average and 32 strikeouts. He picked up three saves and posted a 2-4 record. He was a breath of fresh air in a disappointing 65-97 season for the team.
The offseason of 1970-71 brought a lot of player transactions as far as the Brewers were concerned, yet Humphreys remained with the team. He reported to spring training with hopes of being back on the roster that season, but the end of spring training brought three releases – Humphreys along with fellow pitcher Bob Meyer and outfielder Russ Snyder. He decided to retire soon after with a career record of 27-21 and a 3.36 ERA.
Humphreys stayed involved with baseball for many years as a player development director and minor league coordinator for the Milwaukee and St. Louis organizations.
My thanks to Bob Humphreys for taking the time to answer my questions about his time with the Milwaukee Brewers!
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