Former Mont Pleasant High School pitching great Ed Barnowski once faced legendary home run slugger Hank Aaron in a spring training game.
“It was my all-time greatest moment,” Barnowski said. “I was pitching for the Baltimore Orioles, and Aaron was playing for the Atlanta Braves. But I can’t remember how it turned out. I was so nervous I couldn’t see home plate.”
That’s understandable, because Barnowski’s fastball was so quick that opposing batters rarely got a good look at his bread-and-butter pitch, either.
Barnowski, one of the greatest pitchers ever to come out of Schenectady, will be inducted into the Schenectady City School District Athletic Hall of Fame during the 16th annual Hall of Fame and Reunion Dinner Monday at Proctors.
The hard-throwing hurler once led the minor leagues in strikeouts, when he fanned 322 batters in just 222 innings for Class A Stockton of the California State League in 1964. Barnowski could be so dominating that he racked up three no-hitters in the minors, two for Stockton, although the second didn’t count because he got a no-decision, and another for Class AA Elmira in an Eastern League game in 1965.
His short major league career included two seasons for the Orioles, 1965 and 1966, the year Baltimore won the World Series. He pitched a total of six games with a 3.12 earned run average, striking out eight in 7 1⁄3 innings.
“I think it’s every kid’s dream who plays baseball to someday play in the major leagues,” said the 70-year-old Barnowski, who lives in Chanhassen, Minn., a suburb of Minneapolis.
“And, of course, it was always my dream, too. My favorite team was always the Brooklyn Dodgers, and I remember staying up late at night under the covers listening to the games on my transistor radio. They broke my heart when they went to L.A. I was never a New York Yankees fan. I was always a Yankees hater.”
Yet, despite the fact that Barnowski hated the Yankees, he would watch them at Yankee Stadium every chance he got.
“I had relatives in New York City, and in my early teens, my mom and dad would drive us down to New York to visit my relatives. They would always drop me off at Yankee Stadium, and I would always catch a double-header,” he said.
Barnowski was the star pitcher for Mont Pleasant from 1959 through 1961. He led the Red Raiders to an undefeated season in 1960 and was the All-County player of the year in both 1960 and 1961.
“I think being undefeated at the high school level was pretty incredible, especially at that time,” said Barnowski. “We had some very good teams in that league, like Albany and Amsterdam, back then. We had a heckuva team.”
Barnowski didn’t want to leave anyone out, but the first players to come to mind off that team were his catcher, Dick Odorizzi, as well as Paul Angerami, Tom Frisoni and Joe DeCarlo.
Others on that powerhouse unit included Joe Loudis, Bruno Toffolo, Dick Paparella, Al Steele, Gerald Carnivale, Mike Riggi, Bob Tucceri, Larry Locci, Bill Banach, Cy Kolod, Mike Baun and Don Wade.
“He threw pretty good,” said Loudis, who is also a member of the SCSD Hall of Fame. “He was a junior on that undefeated team when a lot of us were seniors. His ball had a lot of movement on it, and he threw it pretty hard.”
Barnowski credits the Schenectady youth baseball system for his terrific career.
“You’ve got to realize that a lot of these guys were part of a concerted effort in the Schenectady area that was one of the best in organized baseball at the time,” he noted. “We’re talking about a Schenectady team that had gone to the Little League World Series in Williamsport. Anyone older than 50 knows that Schenectady was a big deal in Little League. We had great opportunities to play back then, and I went through some great times, from Little League, to Babe Ruth, to high school, to the Twilight League, to college and to the pros.
“The opportunities were there, and I’ve got to thank Schenectady for that.”
After starring for Mont Pleasant in both baseball and football, Barnowski honed his craft in the Twilight League for Kral A.C..
“They were mentors to me. They made you want to succeed,” he said. “In my mind, the guys in the Twilight League were elite players. I grew so much in my two years with that team.”
Barnowski pitched for Syracuse University before signing a pro contract after his sophomore season with the Baltimore Orioles.
Barnowski was a stud in the minor leagues, posting a 3.12 ERA in seven seasons and averaging 9.7 strikeouts per nine innings. His best year was in 1966, when he posted a 17-8 record for the Class AAA Rochester Red Wings. He was a minor league all-star in 1964, 1965 and 1966. He was also the Class A Player of the Year in 1961.
Barnowski’s short major league career was memorable.
“Ironically, when I first joined Baltimore in 1965, they were down in New York,” he said. “But I didn’t pitch against the Yankees.
“My debut ended up being against the Detroit Tigers. I remember mopping up for Dave McNally, and we were leading by eight runs. Hank Bauer brought me in against Willie Horton and Norm Cash. I went six up and six down with a few groundballs and a few strikeouts.”
Barnowski was feeling pretty good about himself until his next outing.
“We went to Kansas City after that, and Charlie Finley was the owner,” he said. “Bauer brought me in after Johnny Miller had walked a bunch of guys and was really having trouble. I was supposed to go three or four innings that night, but I ended up walking three guys in a row. I went from the penthouse to the outhouse pretty quickly.”
Barnowski’s major league career ended prematurely when he blew out his shoulder at age 27.
“At that time, pitchers with shoulder problems just didn’t come back. It would have taken me too long to recover, if I ever did,” he said. “I had gotten my masters degree and was teaching in Guilderland, making $11,000 a year. I was only making $7,000 playing for the Orioles. That was the era before free agency, and you just didn’t make that much money.”
Barnowski retired from pitching and became first an assistant general manager and then the general manager of the Rochester Red Wings in the 1970s.
“I enjoyed being a GM in the minor leagues, because that’s where I became a salesman,” he said. “It really broke the ice, in terms of me being a good salesman. I was involved with selling the fence signs, the radio time and the programs. I was there for about five years, and I found out that there is no graduation period from AAA to the majors when you’re a general manager. They don’t recruit people from the minors.”
Barnowski eventually got into the Yellow Page telephone book business as a salesman, and he remained there for 24 years. He retired 10 years ago.
“It took me a little while to get over the shoulder injury, but I still have great memories of my pro career,” he said. “It was fun all the way.”
Barnowski was inducted into the inaugural class in the Capital District Baseball Hall of Fame in 2011.