Clem Labine, 80; former Dodgers relief pitcher played in 5 World Series
Clem Labine, a pioneering relief pitcher and a member of the 1955 “Boys of Summer” Brooklyn Dodgers World Series championship team, died Friday at Indian River Memorial Hospital. He was 80.
Labine, a right-hander, played in five World Series: four with the Dodgers and one with the Pittsburgh Pirates. Three of the teams -- the Dodgers in 1955 and 1959, and the Pirates in 1960 -- won championships.
One of the first pitchers who specialized in entering a game in the late innings to preserve a victory, Labine twice led the National League in saves and recorded 96 during his 13-year career. He had a won-loss record of 77-56 with a 3.63 earned-run average, and notched a win and a save in the 1955 World Series, appearing in four of the seven games.
Labine had lived in Vero Beach since 1987 and was a popular instructor at the adult baseball camps at Dodgertown, appearing with former teammates that included Duke Snider, Carl Erskine, Ralph Branca and Preacher Roe, recounting stories made familiar in Roger Kahn’s 1972 book “The Boys of Summer.”
Shortly after making his 40th appearance at the camp last month, Labine was hospitalized because of pneumonia and congestive heart failure. He fell into a coma and never awoke.
“Clem Labine was one of the main reasons the Dodgers won it all in 1955,” said Vin Scully, the longtime Dodgers broadcaster. “He had the heart of a lion and the intelligence of a wily fox. And he was a nice guy too. He will be truly missed by all who knew him.”
Born Aug. 6, 1926, in Lincoln, R.I., Labine was raised in Woonsocket, R.I. The Dodgers signed him in 1944, and he made his major league debut in 1950.
Labine established himself as a valuable relief pitcher the next season, but his most memorable game that year came during a rare start. He shut out the New York Giants, 10-0, in the second playoff game of a three-game series, setting up a finale made a part of baseball lore when Bobby Thomson hit “the shot heard around the world,” a home run in the ninth inning that sent the Giants to the World Series.
“I always thought Clem would’ve had a great career as a starting pitcher,” said Erskine, Labine’s teammate from 1950 to 1959. “But he told me, ‘I didn’t want to start. I liked the pressure of coming into the game with everything on the line. I could also do it more often as a reliever.’ ”
Labine led the National League with 19 saves in 1956, but again, his most memorable outing was a postseason start. Brooklyn trailed the New York Yankees three games to two in the World Series when Dodgers Manager Walter Alston called on Labine as a surprise starter. He pitched a 10-inning shutout to keep the series alive.
The game was overshadowed because it came between two Yankees victories: Don Larsen’s perfect game the previous day and the Game 7 clincher the next day.
Labine remained with the Dodgers when the franchise moved to Los Angeles in 1958 and pitched on the 1959 team that won the World Series title. On June 15, 1960, Labine was traded to the Detroit Tigers for Ray Semproch and $350.
“Clem Labine was one of the greatest guys I had the pleasure of playing with,” said former teammate Tom Lasorda. “He represented the Dodgers with class, dignity and character.”
After he retired from baseball in 1962, Labine worked for a clothing company, then became a banker, maintaining homes in Rhode Island and Vero Beach.
Labine is survived by his wife, Barbara; his son, Clem Jr. of Woonsocket; four daughters, Kim Archambault and Gail Ponanski of Smithfield, R.I.; Susan Gershkoff of Lincoln, R.I.; and Barbara Grubbs of Reno; five grandchildren; and one great-grandchild.
A memorial service will be held Thursday at St. Helen Church in Vero Beach. Condolences can be posted on the website of the Cox-Gifford-Seawinds Funeral Home at www.seawindsfh.com. Donations can be made to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, 332 N. Lauderdale St., Memphis, TN 38105.