Designated HitterJanuary 31, 2008
The Yellow Hammer
By Russ McQueen

[Editor's note: Russ McQueen and my brother Tom were All-CIF pitchers on the Lakewood High School team that won the California Interscholastic Federation championship at Anaheim Stadium in 1970. Russ played on four consecutive NCAA championship teams at USC. He was named the College World Series MVP in 1972 when he pitched 14 shutout innings in relief while chalking up three of USC's five wins and saving a fourth. A 1970s CWS All-Decade selection, McQueen tossed a no-hitter vs. Cal to mark the opening of Dedeaux Field on 3/30/74. Russ was drafted by the California Angels in June 1974 and pitched three years in the club's minor league system.]

As I recently read some of Rich's articles, I was taken back to the Lakewood High baseball field one dreary, overcast, fall Saturday morning.

Seated in the third base dugout, I tried to stay as close to manager, scout and former Dodger pitcher Ed Roebuck as possible, to catch whatever he might say to help me comprehend the game of baseball. He might even ask me to get loose and pitch an inning or two; that is, if he ran out of pitchers or happened to remember I had thrown batting practice the last several Saturdays.

There was nothing unusual about seeing new faces, arms and bats at "The Lake" on a Saturday morning. After all, it was a scout league where minor leaguers and some college guys would show up for some work. A few of us high school guys came out in case... well, just in case.

A new fellow came by that morning with a big equipment bag and exchanged quick hellos and howaryas up and down the line. He meant nothing to me, and I figured him for another lower minor leaguer looking for some work. Mr. Roebuck caught his eye and offered, "Get loose and work a couple innings if you want to."

"If you want to?"

I thought no more about it, other than to spend an inning or so quietly lamenting the fact that I'd now have to wait at least two more innings to have any hope of hearing those words myself.

Then something happened.

The new guy took the mound and things changed. An air of expectancy took hold, and the place got quiet. Sounds were reduced only to those necessary. It felt like a premonition of something terrible, or terribly great, like right before a big fish takes your lure and you know in your gut he's about to hit.

The first batter took his stance. Fast ball, strike one called. Not bad, right down at the knees and on the inside corner. With considerable zip. Not the one he wanted to hit, I thought. But then the new guy threw something I had never seen before. It was gorgeous, and it was terrible, and I wasn't sure I had seen it correctly. Fast like a heater, but in front of the plate it made a wicked dive, down and a little bit away from the batter, who buckled at the knees. Strike two called. Hearts beat faster – I know mine did.

"Throw it again," I prayed.

He did, only this time the batter mustered up a feeble excuse for a swing and made his retreat back to the bench, where he joined other mortals to watch the continuing carnage.

Five more up, five more down. One guy grounded out, but everyone else fell to that monstrous, terrifying curve ball.

I've seen the Grand Canyon and the Grand Tetons. I've walked into Yankee Stadium and Fenway Park and Wrigley Field on a Sunday afternoon. I've been to dozens of countries all over the world and seen it all. But I have never seen anything more riveting than that curve ball on that one cool, gray Saturday morning.

I have always remembered that awesome pitch as a big hammer the new guy swung and pounded batters with. It certainly went way beyond any fair deal I ever witnessed. To say "he threw a curve" was to understate the terror of the act. However ordinary the new guy looked to begin with, to me he had become substantially taller, heavier, and more dangerous.

For a moment there was no one sitting between me and Mr. Roebuck. "That's some kind of a curve ball," I managed, trying to make it sound as casual as I could so Mr. Roebuck wouldn't think I was overly impressed.

"Son, that's a pure yellow hammer," replied Roebuck. "And that is Bert Blyleven."

Russ McQueen, a CPA with PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP, is married to his wife Betty (thirty-two years) and has three sons, including Matt, first baseman for the Biola University Eagles.



Nice story. Thanks.

Yes! An article that doesn't mention Jim Rice!

Nice job Russ! I sat on those same benches during scout league games, I know the same feelings of wanting to get into the games. I've come to know Blyleven a little bit, and he's a terrific guy. I've talked to many, many other scouts and the curveball you've described is still considered by all to be the best they ever saw. Thanks for writing this, I hope everyone feels the same emotion and senses the beauty of what you witnessed.

Thanks Rick. It's a paradox that when we were younger, our drive was to distinguish ourselves in competition, and now that we are older, we delight in the shared memories and feelings. For me, they've become the best part of baseball.

As a former catcher, I would loved to have had the opportunity to be behind the plate and call for Blyleven's curve.

Watch clips of BB throwing the yellow hammer and see how his catchers use two hands on it. They can stick with the one-hand method for a normal breaking pitch, but not with this monster.

Perhaps there is some way to communicate that sense of awe to those writers who claim to vote for the HOF based on such intangibles. If we could get them awestruck, might it convince them that Blyleven truly dominated? Can we concoct some virtual reality gizmo in which they experience the feeling that so many major leaguers felt trying to contend with that curve and so develop a gut level response to Blyleven.

Or would that be pandering and conceding to the very thought process we find so untenable? Yes, I think it would be. Never mind.

Beautiful article Russ.

Great article - nice change of pace - no curveball pun intended.

Terrific. Thanks so much. Really appreciated this story.

...I wandered into Three Rivers one day late in the summer of 1980 (long story) and caught a Pirates/Reds game. Blyleven vs Mario Soto. Future Hall of Famers all over the place. No one in the stands!! Soto with the amazing change up and fast ball, but Blyleven with this freakish pitch that I had never seen in person before....WOW. How did his elbow survive it all....

Nicely done Russ! Those who played and grew up in the Lakewood area during that era can recall similar experiences. To see pro ball players mixing in with high schoolers added to the mystique of Lakewood baseball. It was desinged with great intentionality and fore thought. The architect - John Herbold.

Russ --
This is a great story in so many ways. The many types of baseball fans who read these articles can appreciate your experience. Of course it's a fun trip down memory lane for those of us who had the honor to play baseball in the Long Beach-Lakewood area, especially under Coach John Herbold.

But the frosting on the cake is the tremendous storytelling talent you have once again shared.

You are right, Dan. I remember how John would coach us in how to approach the older guys and the former big leaguers and scouts: "Carry equipment, rake the infield, throw batting practice, and for cripes sakes, throw strikes." There was also the underlying feeling that they were being allowed into our yard, and that - of course - was also the influence of Mr. Herbold.

Tom, you are very kind. I hope you will write up the story of the final play in the 1970 CIF championship game. It is burned in the memories of those of us who were there, especially mine, since you (and Kim) removed me from the proverbial meat hook with your awesome performance that night. What a team that was! If only we hadn't lost that darn green box...

Hey Russ,
Thank you for the nice article and the memories. I am sorry that I took some of your mound time but I read by your success at USC you did great yourself. I still give Ed Roebuck and another scout who signed me with the Minnesota Twins, Jesse Flores, a lot of the credit for my success throughout my baseball career. Baseball, like life, has given us all many great memories. I remember those Saturday's at Lakewood High School because my dad always drove with me to those scout games. He loved the game of baseball as much as I did. Those are memories I will never forget. I lost my dad to Parkinson's in 2004 and your article brought a tear to my eyes because he was not only my dad but my best friend. Thank you and continued success to you and your family.

It is good to hear from you. Great story. I bet you could write a book. Let me give you some stories to work on. How about the song you wrote for our Salinas team and Buck Rogers, "There's ole Buckeroo. There's some things he can do..." I also loved catching the only pitcher I knew who mastered the spit ball, to compliment your sinker and slider. Willie Mays Aikins nearly threw out his back swinging and missing some of those pitches. Great times brother. Take care.
Mike Martinson


What a great article! I think I remember that day, if not, then only very similar to it. There were a lot of great memories in those "Saturday Scout League" games. I am sure you remeber the Washington Senator scout team, I know you and the Lederer's and other Lancers were just some of the great players and humans that were a part of the very successful Long Beach/Lakewood baseball experience. I am sure we could all go on for hours with the stories and tid bits from something that was and is even today great memories. Well I will end for as we all know the "sun is going down". Take care

Brad Peasley

Baseball, like no other game, lends itself to grand mythologies. Mr. McQueen has made Blyleven Olympian. That's one step above the Hall of Fame.


What a fantastic article! There is no pitch I love more than an awesome curve. And for the guy who suggested how to get some of those HoF voters to appreciate it? Have 'em step in a batter's box and watch those knees buckle when that hammer comes down.

With all of the current issues in baseball that we read about all the time, I was starting to get sick of all of it. I wish I could read an article like this every single day of my life.

Brad, Mike, Rick - awesome to hear from you. Would love so much to see you. Dan, Tom, ditto. Everyone, thanks for your kind comments. Bert, thanks for your note and for ALL the great memories.

Russ, I think I can speak for all by saying that was one heckuva piece. Your great story was made all the better by your writing excellence. It was so visual, I felt as if I was sitting in the dugout next to you, eavesdropping on your conversation with Roebuck and watching Blyleven perform his magic on the mound.

Thank you for sharing that Saturday morning with all of us. You were a great pitcher yourself, a tremendous competitor, and a winner. Your record in baseball and life speak for themselves.


Like I told you at 7AM this morning, you need to write a book. I think the further we get away from our playing days, the more we realize that the game is more than the game.

The dark matter that glues the baseball universe together is found in dugouts, bullpens and clubhouses. Although we all remember Hank's 715th and Nolan's no-no's, the real memories don't come from between the lines.

I've been listening to your stories for the past 30 years, and you have an uncanny gift.


Russ / Tom / Rich and other LHS Hard-ballers:

For what it's worth, I remember asking Tony Muser as a young, high school kid who the toughest MLB pitcher he'd faced in his career. I said, "Who's the toughest, Tony? Is it Nolan Ryan?"

To which he casually replied, "No Bub. Blyleven!" While saying that, he made a quick, downward motion towards the ground with his hand while whistling. That was his way of explaining the most horrific, sick, off the table top bender pitch that any batter ever had to face.

At that point, I gained considerable reverence for Bert Blyleven's formidable curve ball!! And just now, I gained considerable respect for some awesome comments by my fellow LHS Baseball Alunni!

J.O.H. III (aka: "Bubby")
Frosh/Soph Coach Tesoro H.S.


Really enjoyed your article. The suspense and terror of who had that yellow hammer. I suspected it would be someone who came down from a higher league. Having competed in sports in high school and college I know what its like to think 'I-got-game' and along comes someone with some kind of miracle flow in his veins and you start thinking
hamina-hamina-hamina...but, like your article on Burt, you don't know its some demigod until he gets on a roll and becomes one of the best EVER...
That's when we recall our brushes with the greatness of others and feel humble, grateful and inspired. You're a great story teller!
Albert Owens

Even as short as it is, this is one of the best pieces of baseball writing I've encountered in a long time. Thank you. And Mr Blyleven, for your comments: how can such a devastating player also have so much humility? You are a HOFer for sure.

Bert was kind enough to "try" and show me how he threw his curveball and I used it to as much success as my talent would allow me a few years after graduating from LHS in 1976 in a Long Beach Sunday semi-pro league. More memorable is that Bert and I shared the same compassion for children at risk. When I lived in CA I was on the BOD for Olive Crest Treatment Center for Abused Children. Bert showed up at one of our fundraisers and I arranged for a Toyota Van to be donated to the non-profit organization. Bert accepted the keys to the van at a charity softball game while he was a CA Angel and it made the OC Register. Bert did a lot of things for the kids of Olive Crest and we are all thankful for that. Great article Russ.

The headlines read: One of McQueen's Best!
Lakewood's High ace hurler Russ McQueen lofts a breaking ball over the plate to Ventura's Al Chavez in the 3rd inning in the CIF 4-A final action Monday night at Anaheim Stadium. Although Chavez wacked this pitch for a line drive single and later came home on a Duane Roberts home run into the left field seats(off McQueen), Lakewood pulled out a 5-4 victory for the 1970 large school championship.
Tuesday June 4th 1970

How I came about this article? My son is on the 2008 Lakewood varsity team as a junior and will be playing 3rd and will pitch for O'Neil this year. When I created this web site I never imagined the number of Moore league championships (29), CIF Championships(5) that Lakewood has won over the years. When I started research, I was amazed at the number of players who got drafted and the numbers who played pro ball. Over the years I found 50 or so alumni, guys who played in the 60’s like Rod Gaspar, Dave Marshall, Tony Muser, Gene Dusan and Anthony Piraino. In the 70’s Mike Fitzgerald, Clint Myers, Kenny Bonner, and other 70’s greats like Briggs, Martinson & Dan Gausepohl.
This year Lakewood High School has turned 50! It’s my intention to showcase all alumni who in one way or another helped create a high school baseball density, here in a little town called Lakewood. This past alumni game, 25 players showed up, giving all they could trying to beat this year’s varsity team, only to come away on the losing end of the stick, losing 7-3. One of the reasons I’m writing this e-mail is to ask all alumni to contact Spud O’Neil, Matt Nuez at the school or myself at with your contact information so we can compile a strong list of past alumni for future events.
Thanks for your time!