The Brooklyn Dodgers were ahead of the game in many facets – relief pitching being one of those facets – that Casey Stengel would say was turned on. Before World War II they had Big Hugh Casey putting out fires and after the war Clem Labine took to the fireman role. Labine was one of the top relief aces in the game during the 1950s.
During Labine’s rookie year, he posted a .833 winning percentage cleaning up messes created by the boys in the rotation. The yearling had a tidy 2.22 ERA and finished behind Willie Mays in Rookie of the Year voting. After a forgettable ’52 season, Clem flashed his fireman skills in 1953 saving seven games while winning eleven with a 2.78 ERA. He was the only pitcher on the Dodgers roster to have an ERA under 3.00, but they nevertheless won the NL pennant and took on the Yankees in the World Series. Clem saved Game 4 in the Fall Classic but it wasn’t enough as the Yankees took the series.
1955 was another fine year for Labine and another pennant won for his Dodgers. Clem led the senior circuit in games pitched while notching thirteen wins, eleven saves and a .722 winning percentage. The Dodgers road his steady arm through the World Series, pitching him in four games, which helped them take the crown away from the Yankees.
Leading the NL in saves in 1956, Labine was named to his first All-Star Game. The Dodgers won their second straight NL pennant and opted to use Clem in a more copious capacity in the World Series. Despite starting three games all season, Labine was asked to start the pivotal Game 6 of the Fall Classic. If the Dodgers lost, they were headed home for the winter. Clem stepped up and won Game 6, tossing a complete game shutout and forcing a final game. Don Newcombe was handled by the Yankees in Game 7 like a callous mailman delivering a fragile package to his ex-wife and the Dodgers lost the Series.
Copying his achievement from 1956 in 1957, Labine again led the senior circuit in saves, notching 17 for the Dodgers. Clem, who had had some troubles with his accuracy in the past, flashed brilliant control in ’57, issuing an average of 0.257 walks per inning. Other top notch firemen weren’t as good with their accuracy, indicated by the numbers posted by Hall of Famer Hoyt Wilhelm (0.382), Dick Farrell (0.434), Marv Grissom (0.277) and Turk Lown (0.548).
When the Dodgers vacated Brooklyn and loaded the U-haul for Los Angeles, Labine was one of the moving men. Clem finished second in the NL with 14 saves in California in ’58. Merely adequate in 1959, Labine was then shuttled off to Detroit for Baby Ray Semproch in 1960 but he didn’t last long in Motown. The Tigers released him in mid August and he caught on with the Pittsburgh Pirates. Labine flourished in Pittsburgh and helped them make the World Series with a 1.50 ERA down the stretch.
The Pirates were World Champions in 1960 but couldn’t sustain their excellence in 1961 despite Labine fashioning a brilliant .800 winning percentage out of the bullpen. He pitched with the expansion Mets, the worst team in baseball history, before calling it a career.
W 77/L 56/PCT .579/SV 96/G 513/IP 1,080/H 1,043/BB 396/SO 551/ERA 3.63