You are the owner of this article.
featured

Strike three, you're out! Pat Underwood discusses MLB debut, baseball career

  • 11 min to read
Pat Underwood

BROTHERS — Pat Underwood (left) poses with his brother, Tom Underwood (right), before Pat's debut game with the Detroit Tigers against the Toronto Blue Jays. Detroit defeated Toronto 1-0.

With good genetics, plenty of neighborhood kids to play with, and a talented left arm, it was no wonder Kokomo-native Pat Underwood would one day grow up to play baseball in the big leagues.

Underwood’s father, John Underwood, loved the game of baseball and even played a brief season in the minor leagues for the Philadelphia Phillies before serving in World War II. When Underwood and his brothers were old enough to catch a ball, they were always outside throwing a ball around with their father.

“Back in those days, in the ‘60s as kids, you played outside. There weren’t indoor games much. My dad took us out there, and he liked to play catch,” Underwood said. “And he realized I was left-handed. I do remember as a 6-year-old kid getting my first mitt for Christmas. That was a big thing.”

Additionally, Underwood remembered the days of his childhood growing up near Lafayette Park in Kokomo where he played many games of sandlot baseball at the little league park with the other kids in the neighborhood.

“I came up during the baby boom era, and there was just kids everywhere. I grew up over here by Lafayette Park, and all those houses went up in the ‘50s and ‘60s from the veterans that came back from war. And they all had four and five kids,” Underwood said. “I played a lot of sandlot baseball growing up as a kid. It wasn’t organized. It was just a bunch of kids playing baseball.”

As an amateur player, Underwood played four years varsity baseball for Kokomo High School. He had 12 complete games and 187 strikeouts as a junior in 1975. He had eight shutouts and had a 0.24 ERA in 1976 as a senior. Additionally, Underwood had 40 complete games and pitched in 338 innings in his career, as well as 22 career shutouts, a 0.58 ERA in his career, and still currently holds the high school state record for 637 career strikeouts.

Along with his high school career, Underwood played four years of American Legion baseball. During his final season in the Legion league, Underwood went 13-0 as a pitcher with several no-hitters, leading the team to the state finals.

In 1975, Underwood appeared in Sports Illustrated’s “Faces in the Crowd” after throwing five no-hitters in a row. The feature spotlighted amateur and college athletes who had accomplished impressive stats.

Pat Underwood baseball

PLAY BALL — Pat Underwood (left) stops to talk with his brother, Tom Underwood, at the Detroit versus Toronto game on May 31, 1979.

With his older brother, Tom Underwood, already in the major leagues, Underwood was scouted heavily between his junior and senior years of high school. Already having his foot in the door, impressive numbers, and a strong left arm, he attracted numerous college and professional teams.

“I had a lot of scouts that were just coming to Kokomo looking at me because they had heard about me, and they knew about Tom. They had heard that I was even better than my brother. My brother really kind of helped me along that way with getting noticed. But my numbers also stood out as an amateur,” Underwood said.

Unfortunately, during the second start of his senior year, Underwood pulled a back muscle, causing him to sit out for two-and-a-half weeks, missing four games. With the amateur draft right around the corner, he was concerned his injury would move him further down in the draft. However, Underwood recovered before the June draft and put in a few more starts, verifying he was still healthy.

After several phone calls and interviews with professional teams, in 1976, Underwood was the number-one high school pick and second overall pick of the Major League Baseball (MLB) amateur draft. The Houston Astros chose Floyd Bannister as the number-one pick, another left-handed pitcher from Arizona State University. Underwood was picked second by the Detroit Tigers.

Two weeks after graduating high school, Underwood left the City of Firsts for Lakeland, Fla., for his Class A appearance. As a young kid, the transition was tough.

“You’re thrown onto the team with a bunch of people you don’t know. The professional lifestyle, you had to adapt and get used to. It’s not really for everybody to be truthful about it. You had to be strong-minded and strong-willed because you’re not playing at home in front of your parents and all your friends and then going home at night and sleeping in your bed. You’re now with a bunch of kids your own age who are trying to do the same thing. They’re trying to make it up to the big leagues,” Underwood said.

In May 1979, after finishing a four-game series in Class AAA with the Evansville against the Baltimore Orioles without pitching at all, Underwood was called up to the big leagues. On May 31, 1979, he made his debut with Detroit against the Toronto Blue Jays. After getting called to the coaches’ office immediately after arriving for the Monday night game, the Tigers’ manager informed Underwood he would be getting a start during the series against Toronto before asking, “By the way, it’s against your brother. Are you going to have a problem with that?”

Tom, after already being in the league for five or six years at the time, had a bigger gripe about the situation than he did. Underwood said the game and lineup were likely set up for the two brothers to go head-to-head for entertainment purposes.

“We’re thinking that they probably set it up like that to sell tickets and TV views. And they did. They promoted it for three days about the dual between the two of us … So, we gave them a good performance. It was a good game. I won 1-0. There wasn’t a lot of scoring, but we both pitched through the ninth inning. I ended up winning 1-0,” Underwood said.

In the early 1980s, Tom went to the New York Yankees where he and Underwood, still with Detroit, would meet again during a game. However, the two pitched in opposite innings that game unlike their first match-up together in the major league.

In the famed Disco Demolition Night at Comiskey Park, Underwood started against the Chicago White Sox. He went seven and two-thirds innings, giving up only one run in game one of a doubleheader.

In 1981, Underwood was demoted to AAA, and with the major league season halted by a players’ strike, he spent the year with Evansville. At the start of 1982, Underwood was back with Detroit.

However, after suffering an elbow injury, he started the season with Evansville in 1983. He briefly returned to Detroit; however, in June of that year, Underwood was traded to the Cincinnati Reds in exchange for Wayne Krenchicki. For the remainder of the 1983 season, Underwood stayed in AAA with the Indianapolis Indians until the Texas Rangers drafted him from the Reds in December 1983 in the Rule 5 draft, but the Rangers released him before the start of the 1984 season.

After signing with the Baltimore Orioles in April 1984 as a free agent, Underwood played for the Rochester Red Wings. A year-and-a-half after his elbow injury, he had surgery, knowing he would need 18 months of rehabilitation. In 1985, he began pitching for the semi-pro Kokomo Highlanders, along with Tom. Discovering he’d lost the speed needed on his fastball and curveball, along with the expectation of his first child, Underwood decided it was time to officially retire.

“Long story short, it was a fun, good career. It was a nice draft. I was able to play in the big leagues for almost four years. It didn’t go as long as what I would’ve liked, but it is what it is. I made the most out of it,” Underwood said.

Returning to Kokomo after retiring from his baseball career at the age of 28, Underwood decided to start a new career. With money saved, he acquired his undergraduate degree from Indiana University in business administration and management before earning his master’s degree in management from Wesleyan University.

He was hired by Delco Electronics in 1989, starting as a salary supervisor. Now General Motors, Underwood has worked for nearly 31 years in the manufacturing and quality engineering departments.

When asked how he thought the game of baseball had changed over the years, Underwood said the athletes and the game today are much “faster, bigger, and stronger.” He said the players just “showed up with the bodies that we had,” with running as the only exercise they participated in.

Underwood remembered when Nolan Ryan, the debut pitcher for the New York Mets, was the fastest thrower in the league, throwing 95 to 97 miles per hour. Today, all teams have multiple pitchers who do that, according to him. He reflected on his own talent for left-handed pitching.

Support Local Journalism

Now, more than ever, the world needs trustworthy reporting—but good journalism isn’t free. Please support us by making a contribution.

“There’s not a lot of left-handed pitchers, good ones, that is, at that time. Most of them were right-handed,” Underwood said. “It was God-given. It was a God-given gift. It wasn’t something I went out and worked on and really practiced. It just felt natural and was given to me, and I just kind of took what I had and worked with it, took it to my advantage and used it.”

With good genetics, plenty of neighborhood kids to play with, and a talented left arm, it was no wonder Kokomo-native Pat Underwood would one day grow up to play baseball in the big leagues.

Underwood’s father, John Underwood, loved the game of baseball and even played a brief season in the minor leagues for the Philadelphia Phillies before serving in World War II. When Underwood and his brothers were old enough to catch a ball, they were always outside throwing a ball around with their father.

“Back in those days, in the ‘60s as kids, you played outside. There weren’t indoor games much. My dad took us out there, and he liked to play catch,” Underwood said. “And he realized I was left-handed. I do remember as a 6-year-old kid getting my first mitt for Christmas. That was a big thing.”

Additionally, Underwood remembered the days of his childhood growing up near Lafayette Park in Kokomo where he played many games of sandlot baseball at the little league park with the other kids in the neighborhood.

“I came up during the baby boom era, and there was just kids everywhere. I grew up over here by Lafayette Park, and all those houses went up in the ‘50s and ‘60s from the veterans that came back from war. And they all had four and five kids,” Underwood said. “I played a lot of sandlot baseball growing up as a kid. It wasn’t organized. It was just a bunch of kids playing baseball.”

As an amateur player, Underwood played four years varsity baseball for Kokomo High School. He had 12 complete games and 187 strikeouts as a junior in 1975. He had eight shutouts and had a 0.24 ERA in 1976 as a senior. Additionally, Underwood had 40 complete games and pitched in 338 innings in his career, as well as 22 career shutouts, a 0.58 ERA in his career, and still currently holds the high school state record for 637 career strikeouts.

Along with his high school career, Underwood played four years of American Legion baseball. During his final season in the Legion league, Underwood went 13-0 as a pitcher with several no-hitters, leading the team to the state finals.

In 1975, Underwood appeared in Sports Illustrated’s “Faces in the Crowd” after throwing five no-hitters in a row. The feature spotlighted amateur and college athletes who had accomplished impressive stats.

With his older brother, Tom Underwood, already in the major leagues, Underwood was scouted heavily between his junior and senior years of high school. Already having his foot in the door, impressive numbers, and a strong left arm, he attracted numerous college and professional teams.

“I had a lot of scouts that were just coming to Kokomo looking at me because they had heard about me, and they knew about Tom. They had heard that I was even better than my brother. My brother really kind of helped me along that way with getting noticed. But my numbers also stood out as an amateur,” Underwood said.

Unfortunately, during the second start of his senior year, Underwood pulled a back muscle, causing him to sit out for two-and-a-half weeks, missing four games. With the amateur draft right around the corner, he was concerned his injury would move him further down in the draft. However, Underwood recovered before the June draft and put in a few more starts, verifying he was still healthy.

After several phone calls and interviews with professional teams, in 1976, Underwood was the number-one high school pick and second overall pick of the Major League Baseball (MLB) amateur draft. The Houston Astros chose Floyd Bannister as the number-one pick, another left-handed pitcher from Arizona State University. Underwood was picked second by the Detroit Tigers.

Two weeks after graduating high school, Underwood left the City of Firsts for Lakeland, Fla., for his Class A appearance. As a young kid, the transition was tough.

“You’re thrown onto the team with a bunch of people you don’t know. The professional lifestyle, you had to adapt and get used to. It’s not really for everybody to be truthful about it. You had to be strong-minded and strong-willed because you’re not playing at home in front of your parents and all your friends and then going home at night and sleeping in your bed. You’re now with a bunch of kids your own age who are trying to do the same thing. They’re trying to make it up to the big leagues,” Underwood said.

In May 1979, after finishing a four-game series in Class AAA with the Evansville against the Baltimore Orioles without pitching at all, Underwood was called up to the big leagues. On May 31, 1979, he made his debut with Detroit against the Toronto Blue Jays. After getting called to the coaches’ office immediately after arriving for the Monday night game, the Tigers’ manager informed Underwood he would be getting a start during the series against Toronto before asking, “By the way, it’s against your brother. Are you going to have a problem with that?”

Tom, after already being in the league for five or six years at the time, had a bigger gripe about the situation than he did. Underwood said the game and lineup were likely set up for the two brothers to go head-to-head for entertainment purposes.

“We’re thinking that they probably set it up like that to sell tickets and TV views. And they did. They promoted it for three days about the dual between the two of us … So, we gave them a good performance. It was a good game. I won 1-0. There wasn’t a lot of scoring, but we both pitched through the ninth inning. I ended up winning 1-0,” Underwood said.

In the early 1980s, Tom went to the New York Yankees where he and Underwood, still with Detroit, would meet again during a game. However, the two pitched in opposite innings that game unlike their first match-up together in the major league.

In the famed Disco Demolition Night at Comiskey Park, Underwood started against the Chicago White Sox. He went seven and two-thirds innings, giving up only one run in game one of a doubleheader.

In 1981, Underwood was demoted to AAA, and with the major league season halted by a players’ strike, he spent the year with Evansville. At the start of 1982, Underwood was back with Detroit.

However, after suffering an elbow injury, he started the season with Evansville in 1983. He briefly returned to Detroit; however, in June of that year, Underwood was traded to the Cincinnati Reds in exchange for Wayne Krenchicki. For the remainder of the 1983 season, Underwood stayed in AAA with the Indianapolis Indians until the Texas Rangers drafted him from the Reds in December 1983 in the Rule 5 draft, but the Rangers released him before the start of the 1984 season.

After signing with the Baltimore Orioles in April 1984 as a free agent, Underwood played for the Rochester Red Wings. A year-and-a-half after his elbow injury, he had surgery, knowing he would need 18 months of rehabilitation. In 1985, he began pitching for the semi-pro Kokomo Highlanders, along with Tom. Discovering he’d lost the speed needed on his fastball and curveball, along with the expectation of his first child, Underwood decided it was time to officially retire.

“Long story short, it was a fun, good career. It was a nice draft. I was able to play in the big leagues for almost four years. It didn’t go as long as what I would’ve liked, but it is what it is. I made the most out of it,” Underwood said.

Returning to Kokomo after retiring from his baseball career at the age of 28, Underwood decided to start a new career. With money saved, he acquired his undergraduate degree from Indiana University in business administration and management before earning his master’s degree in management from Wesleyan University.

He was hired by Delco Electronics in 1989, starting as a salary supervisor. Now General Motors, Underwood has worked for nearly 31 years in the manufacturing and quality engineering departments.

When asked how he thought the game of baseball had changed over the years, Underwood said the athletes and the game today are much “faster, bigger, and stronger.” He said the players just “showed up with the bodies that we had,” with running as the only exercise they participated in.

Underwood remembered when Nolan Ryan, the debut pitcher for the New York Mets, was the fastest thrower in the league, throwing 95 to 97 miles per hour. Today, all teams have multiple pitchers who do that, according to him. He reflected on his own talent for left-handed pitching.

“There’s not a lot of left-handed pitchers, good ones, that is, at that time. Most of them were right-handed,” Underwood said. “It was God-given. It was a God-given gift. It wasn’t something I went out and worked on and really practiced. It just felt natural and was given to me, and I just kind of took what I had and worked with it, took it to my advantage and used it.”