The Obit For Bill Voiselle

World Series pitcher, Ninety Six native, dies

February 2, 2005

Index-Journal sports editor

More than a decade ago, William Symmes “Bill” Voiselle summed up his life in two sentences.
“Everything I got, I owe it to baseball,” Voiselle said in a 1991 story that appeared in Sports Collector’s Digest. “I’m a little ol’ cotton mill boy – never had nothing and never been nowhere.”
The humble Voiselle, who died Monday at 86, was understating the truth, while at the same time reflecting the values he grew up with.

At 6-foot-4 and 200 pounds during his playing days, Voiselle was anything but little. His professional baseball career took him across the United States and to Canada.
He was an All-Star major-league pitcher who had a nine-year career and pitched in the 1948 World Series.

But Voiselle also loved the Ninety Six community where he grew up.

After he was traded to the Boston Braves in 1947, Voiselle had to get special permission from baseball commissioner A.B. “Happy” Chandler to wear uniform No. 96 to honor the town.
When he retired, he returned to his beloved Ninety Six for the chance to play baseball with his brothers, Jim and Claude, again — this time for the Ninety Six mill team in the Central Carolina Textile League.

“Back then we didn’t make much money playing baseball,” said Jim Voiselle, who along with Claude played in the minor leagues. “We played for the fun of it.
“I think he was great. He just had a good attitude and he loved to play ball.”

And he wasn’t forgotten after his pro career.

In 1999, The Index-Journal named Voiselle one of the top 100 most influential sports figures from Greenwood and the Lakelands area.

In 2001, he was honored by the South Carolina House of Representatives, along with Negro League player and Greenwood native Chino Smith, before a Lander-Erskine baseball game for bringing “honor and glory to the State of South Carolina.”

“He was just a wonderful guy, and everybody loved him to death,” said Bubba Summers, of Ninety Six, Voiselle’s neighbor for more than 50 years. “If you didn’t know him, you really missed out.”
Voiselle came from a baseball-playing family. The four brothers – Carl, Bill, Jim and Claude, nicknamed “Diz” – all played.

In the ’30s, the brothers went to school in the morning and, by the time they were 14, they were working in the cotton mill in the afternoon.

They still found time for baseball, and the four helped turn the Ninety Six High School team into one of the most feared prep squads in the Upstate.

“We had a coach that made us play Erskine College and Presbyterian College in exhibition games,” said Jim Voiselle, Bill’s younger brother by two years. “That’s how good a ball team we had at Ninety Six.”

“Diz” Voiselle remembers a game Bill pitched against Saluda, probably the one that propelled him into professional baseball.

“Back then, (Bill) could just rare back and fire it,” the 82-year-old said. “One year here, he was being scouted by Bill Laval, out of Newberry, and we were playing Saluda, and he struck out 19 batters in one game.

“Next thing you knew, he had signed with the Red Sox.”
Bill Voiselle made his major-league debut with the New York Giants in 1942.
He pitched for several minor-league teams in 1942 and ’43, coming up to the big club at the end of the season to pitch in a handful of games.

Voiselle made six appearances for the Giants in those two years, pitching 40 innings.
In 1944, Voiselle took the National League by storm.

Still a rookie, Voiselle went 21-16, starting 41 games for the Giants and was the only pitcher with a winning record on a team that went 67-87.

Voiselle pitched in 43 games, starting 41 and pitching 25 complete games. His 312.667 innings pitched and 167 strikeouts led the National League. No rookie has matched his complete game- or innings-pitched total since.

Voiselle was named to the 1944 All-Star team and finished fifth in MVP voting, just a few votes behind Hall-of-Famer Stan Musial.

He was named baseball’s Most Valuable Pitcher by The Sporting News.

Voiselle would have been named The Rookie of the Year, but Major League Baseball did not start that award until 1947. Instead, he earned the honor from the Chicago chapter of the Baseball Writers of America Association, which started giving out rookie awards in 1940.

Voiselle played for then player-manager Mel Ott and earned the ire of his boss on one famous occasion in 1945.

The Giants had a rule forbidding pitchers to throw a strike if they were ahead in an 0-2 count. Voiselle faced such a situation in a game and intended an 0-2 pitch to be high and inside. But the batter reached up and smacked the ball for a hit, and the Giants eventually lost the game.

Ott fined Voiselle $500, 10 times the normal amount. And he was earning just $3,500 at the time.
Voiselle pitched for two-plus more seasons for the Giants before being traded to the Boston Braves.
In 1948, Voiselle teamed with Warren Spann and Johnny Sain to form the top pitching rotation in the majors and led the Braves to the World Series.

Voiselle made two appearances in the ’48 Fall Classic against the Cleveland Indians and was the starting pitcher in Game 6, which the Indians won 4-3 to win the world title.
Even though he was a major leaguer, Voiselle never forgot his community.

In 1949, he helped put together a benefit exhibition game for Jackie Spearman, a Ninety Six woman with cancer.

“He brought in a bunch of major-league players, and they filled in the park at Ninety Six,” said George Voiselle, Bill’s nephew. “He was a real caring person to all us kids. Teachers would have him talk to students, and he never turned anyone down.”

Voiselle spent one more season with the Braves, then was traded to the Chicago Cubs and pitched one final season in the big leagues.

He played minor-league ball for parts of seven more seasons before retiring for good.
In his nine-year major-league career, Voiselle went 74-84 with a 3.83 earned-run average, 74 complete games and 637 strikeouts.

He pitched 502 games in the minors, going 88-107, with a 3.72 ERA.
In 1955, he pitched in 72 games for AAA Richmond, then a minor-league record.

When Voiselle and his wife, Virginia, moved back to Ninety Six, he didn’t give up on baseball.
He continued to pitch for the Ninety Six team in the Central Carolina League in-between stints in the minors. He was doing what he had done as a little boy – playing baseball with his brothers.
Greenwood’s Ray Riddle, who played with the Clinton Cavaliers in the 1950s, remembers battling against Voiselle in those Friday night games.

“He had lost his real hard fastball, but he still had a good curveball. He was always a very good fellow, just wonderful to be around,” Riddle said.

Voiselle also had a sense of humor.

Riddle remembers one game Voiselle was pitching where the Clinton first baseman, Charlie Gaffney, was getting the better of the Ninety Six resident.

Voiselle had given up two hits to Gaffney and when the first baseman came up for the third time, Voiselle tried a different strategy.

“Bill took his glove off and threw his glove up there for (Gaffney) to hit, and Gaffney hit that over his head,” Riddle said. “He was just a lot of fun.”

Greenwood’s Earl Proctor played with Voiselle for just one season, in 1956.
One game Voiselle was schedule to pitch, the team’s catcher didn’t show up, and Proctor took his place behind the plate — although he didn’t stay there long.

“I spent more time going back to the backstop than I did at home plate,” Proctor laughed. “He could still throw it.”

Even after he stopped playing, Voiselle never lost his passion for baseball.
He would often watch Ninety Six games, and later major league games on television, with family and friends.

Voiselle had the uncanny ability to predict which pitchers would do well and which would have long nights.

“He was smart and he always knew how the game was going to come out,” Summers said. “He could tell you just by looking at a pitcher if he was going to make it or not.”

Long after his playing days were over, Voiselle was still influencing baseball fans.
Greenwood’s Dean Lollis runs the Web site, which contains information on the more than 900 professional baseball players from South Carolina.

Lollis was at Legion Field when Voiselle was honored a few years ago and remembers seeing Voiselle “smiling from ear-to-ear just before the ceremony started.”

“The umpire of the game walked over to shake Mr. Voiselle’s hand,” said Lollis, who presented Voiselle the House’s proclamation before the game. “The umpire had been scheduled to call another game that afternoon, but he had switched to be at the Lander game because Mr. Voiselle was going to be there.”

That’s the kind of respect he earned from baseball fans — and from the Ninety Six community.