Vitautis Casimirus "Vito" Tamulis was born in Cambridge, MA in 1911. He was a prep sensation at Boston English High, pitching his school to the city championship in 1930. Turning down several college scholarship offers, Yankees scout Gene McCann signed him shortly before his 19th birthday. He worked his way up the Yankee chain: Chambersburg (Blue Ridge), Cumberland (Middle Atlantic), Albany (Eastern) and Binghamton (NYP), culminating in 1934 with a 13-7, 2.74 record with the Newark Bears. The Newark teams during the 1930 are rated as among the one hundred best minor league teams of all time.
He made his major league bow September 25, pitching a seven-hit shutout at Philadelphia. Tamulis had a successful 10-5, 4.09 record with three shutouts for the Yankees in 1935. During the winter, he was stricken with pleurisy and missed half the 1936 season. Still not fully recovered, he was sent to Newark and remained there in 1937. I ran across a story by a man who was just a young kid admiring the ’37 Bears. His favorite player was Tamulis and one day after a game he had the opportunity to talk to Vito and ask for his autograph. While signing the autograph, Vito said, "Kid, I know something you don’t know."
"What’s that Mr. Tamulis?"
"You’re standing on my new shoes." Followed by a hearty laugh and a rub on the kid’s head.
After the ’37 season, he was traded to the St. Louis Browns. After going 0-3, 7.63 in 1938, he was claimed on waivers by Brooklyn and enjoyed three successful seasons with the Dodgers, going 29-19, 3.77. In November 1940, Tamulis was traded to the Phillies in the deal that brought Kirby Higbee to Brooklyn. After six games with Philadelphia in 1941, he was back with the Dodgers, but after going 0-1, 5.56 in 18 total games he was released to Nashville. In 1942 he was 20-8, 4.28 in helping the Vols to the Southern Association and Dixie Series championships. He entered the service after the ’42 season. Returning to Nashville after the war, he went 7-6 in 1946. In 1948 he was recruited to manage the Hopkinsville Hoppers in the Kitty League.
The purest junk -- the junkiest pitch in history -- is the Eephus pitch. Said to have been invented by Rip Sewell of the Pittsburgh Pirates in the thirties, it was also Vito Tamulis’ secret pitch. The Eephus pitch is a pitch with absolutely nothing on it -- no velocity, no fancy spin, and no break. No deception at all. And most of all, no SPEED. It is the blooper pitch. Sometimes, the ball dropped down into the strike zone while the hitter flailed. More often they managed some kind of contact, yet for some reason they couldn’t knock it out of the park. And that’s all they wanted to do. A hitter doesn’t see an outrageous pitch like the Eephus and think, Single. The Eephus pitch was an insult: they wanted to pulverize it, kill it, crush it. They’d get so worked up waiting for it they couldn’t see it straight, and they’d ground out, or pop out, or miss altogether.
Left-hander Vito Tamulis used a principle opposite of Sewell’s. He announced the pitch, and reserved it for a select few good hitters with quick bats ... often for the great Johnny Mize. Tamulis was 5’ 9", had trouble controlling his weight, and he was anything but intimidating. He was rotund, and he was a junkballer -- good control, no fastball throughout his career. As a lefty, he was often called on to face the left-handed Mize. Tamulis would walk halfway in toward the plate and announce that he was going to throw a rainbow change: Here, hit this, you big stiff.
Mize had an incredibly quick bat. He pulled everything, even the best fastballs. His bat was so fast, it could be almost a weakness, and against Tamulis it was a weakness. He would nearly kill himself trying to hit this garbageball from a pitcher who was not quite marginal.
Hitters in the Kitty League in 1948 probably did not know they were in the same company as the great Johnny Mize. Had they know this perhaps they would have not felt so bad about not hitting the little fat man. Tamulis went 15-1 during the regular season and 17-3 overall with a 2.32 ERA in 1948. He also hit 5 homer runs with a batting average of .355. His Hoppers finish in first place ending the regular season. He personally beat the second place, and eventual playoff champion Union City Greyhounds five times. The Hopkinsville Hoppers were so successful against the Greyhounds that the Union City fans hated them almost as much as they hated the Fulton Lookouts.
Since the distance from Hopkinsville to Union City was to great to return home after each game, the Hoppers were one of three teams that stayed overnight during any series played in Union City. Consequently they did not have a regular batboy and that job went to the youngster who was earliest to meet the bus and ask the manager for the job. The pay was usually a practice ball, plus any broken bats. I was nine years old and this was my first successful quest for the job. As the visiting team the Hoppers and I were in the third base dugout.
My grandmother, who never missed a game, was seated in her regular spot on the first base side of the grandstand. I couldn’t wait for her to see me go out to retrieve the bats. I didn’t have to wait long. She made the trek through the grandstand to the third base side and called me through the chicken-wire screen. I had never seen her so mad. Rather than being happy for my chance to get a ball or bat, and for having beat out some of the older guys for the job, she considered me a traitor and an embarrassment for aiding and abetting the enemy. I was told where I best get and when I best get there. While I argued, I knew I had a losing position because she always came through with a dime for a cold drink during the seventh inning stretch-and that was every game. The Hopper job was only three nights. As I pleaded the first Hopper was retired on a ground ball to Don Petschow at third.
Vito tamulis barked, "Kid! You gonna get the bat, or what?"
I ran to the plate and picked up the bat. As soon as I returned it to the dugout I told Mr. Tamulis that I would find him a replacement. I knew that wouldn’t be hard because there were several friends sitting on top the dugout waiting for the opportunity. As I started around the dugout and off the field, he called to me.
When I turned, he pitched me a warm-up ball.
Quietly I pulled for the Hoppers the rest of the season-when they were not playing the Greyhounds.
Vito Tamulis returned to manage the Hopkinsville team in 1951 and he continued to live in the Nashville area until his death in 1974.