"Bullet Bob" Turley, a fireballing rightander who drew comparisons to Bob Feller when he first came up to the big leagues and won the AL Cy Young Award and World Series MVP with the Yankees in 1958, died Saturday of liver cancer in hospice care at Lenbrook, a retirement community in Atlanta.. He was 82.
Turley, who came up to the big leagues with the St. Louis Browns in 1951 and was 14-15 with a league-leading 185 strikeouts for them when they became the Orioles in 1954, was the key player in a mammoth 17-player deal between the Yankees and Baltimore that winter. The Yankees were desperate for a front-line starting line pitcher after their “Big Three” from their 1949-53 world championship teams — Allie Reynolds, Vic Raschi and Eddie Lopat — had all moved on, and Turley more than filled the bill. He was 17-13 in 1955, his first year with the Bombers. Then in 1958 he won the Cy Young, leading the AL in wins with a 21-7 mark and 2.97 ERA.
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In 2009, Bob Turley participates in Old Timers Day at Yankee Stadium.
Turley went on to win two games against the Milwaukee Braves in the ’58 World Series, including Game 7 when he hurled 6.2 innings in relief of Don Larsen, his “stablemate” who had come over from the Orioles in that same trade in ’54. The day before, manager Casey Stengel had brought Turley in to retire the Braves’ Frank Torre for the final out in the Yankees’ 4-3 victory. The Yankees, who came back from a 3-1 deficit to win that Series, were leading Game 7, 2-1, when the Braves put runners at first and second with one out in the third, and Stengel summoned Turley again to replace Larsen. Turley wound up pitching out of a bases-loaded jam and went on to hold the Braves to just a solo homer by catcher Del Crandall in the sixth inning that tied the game before the Yankees got four runs in the eighth inning off their nemesis, Lew Burdette, to win the game, 6-2, and the Series. Besides the Cy Young, Turley was also named the Hickok Belt professional athlete of the year after the ’58 season.
Bob Turley chats in the clubhouse after pitching the Yankees to a 3-2 win over the Braves.
In the 1956 World Series against the Dodgers, the day after Larsen pitched a perfect game, Turley lost a 10-inning, 1-0 heartbreaker to Clem Labine despite striking out 11. Unfortunately for Turley, the ’58 season proved to be the high point of his career. He never won in double figures again. In the 1960 World Series against the Pirates, he suffered his first arm injury — a bone chip in his elbow that limited him to only 72 innings in 1961. That winter, when Turley was 32, the Yankees sold him to the Los Angeles Angels. In July of 1963, a month after pitching a one-hitter against the White Sox, he was released. He signed on with the Red Sox the rest of the year and retired with a 101-85 record and 3.64 ERA.
Turley’s post-baseball career was actually far more successful than his playing one. He made a fortune as an independent life insurance salesman in Atlanta. “When I make a decision, it’s my own,” he said in a 1975 interview. “I don’t rely on anyone else. I sink or swim by myself. It’s like a pitcher shaking off a catcher. There’s no going back on yourself.”
Through the years, Turley was always one of the most popular and engaging players at Yankees’ Old-Timers’ Day Games. “I can’t understand some of these players today,” he said. “Nothing ever bothered me, signing autographs, doing interviews. You have all the privacy you want when you get out of the game.”