A member of the Oakland A’s three consecutive World Series squads from 1972 to 1974, Holtzman was the left-handed answer to the right-handed Catfish Hunter. Steady and reliable, Holtzman eclipsed 15 wins six times in his career and was named to two All-Star teams. A brilliant southpaw who had a perfect record in 1967, Ken remains the winningest Jewish pitcher in the Major Leagues with a handful more Ws than Koufax.
Holtzman was a fourth round selection in the amateur draft by the Cubs in 1965 and he made his Major League debut that season as well. A regular in the Cubs rotation as a 20-year-old in ’66, Holtzman led Cubs pitchers in wins and strikeouts as a rookie. The military took Ken away for the 1967 season but he was able to play with the Cubs when not training. While pitching for the Baby Bears, Ken went a perfect 9-0 with a 2.53 ERA.
After a losing season in ’68, Ken fashioned a fine 17-14 worksheet in 1969. His six shutouts were fourth best in the National League. He matched his wins output of ’69 in 1970 by nailing down 17 wins again. Holtzman eclipsed the 200 strikeout plateau for the only time in his career in 1970 as Cubs skipper Leo Durocher worked him in 288 innings. A reliable workhorse, Ken exceeded 200 innings pitched in nine seasons.
After a forgettable 1971 season, the Cubs shipped Ken off to Oakland for center fielder Rick Monday. The trade worked swimmingly for the boys from California. Ken took his turn in the rotation the next three years for Oakland and the Green and Gold Gang were rewarded with three-straight World Series titles. Ken went 19-11 his first year in Oakland with a nifty 2.51 ERA. Always a postseason beauty, Holtzman looked sharp in the Fall Classic. He won the opening game of the World Series and fashioned a fine 2.13 ERA for the contest.
The A’s repeated as World Champions in 1973 with Ken notching his lone 20-win season. He teamed with Hunter and Vida Blue to give the A’s a trio of 20-game winners. Ken’s 2.97 ERA paced the star trio as they led Oakland to postseason play. In the ALCS, Ken won an eleven-inning marathon Game III against Mike Cuellar but an even bigger win came later when he gathered the W in the deciding game of the Fall Classic.
Holtzman came one win shy of another 20-win season in 1974 but he collected that win in the postseason. Ken put on a clinic in October, with a complete game shutout in his lone ALCS appearance. In the World Series, Ken had the Dodgers number by fashioning a 1.50 ERA in two starts. In 1975, for the first time since he joined the A’s, they failed to make the postseason. Ken did his part with 18 wins and a tidy 3.14 ERA.
Just before the start of the 1976 season, Ken was involved in a blockbuster trade that sent him and Hall of Famer Reggie Jackson to Baltimore for outfielder Don Baylor (a better clubhouse presence than Jackson) and pitcher Mike Torrez. Ken made 13 starts in Maryland but the Yankees needed a shot-in-the-arm and acquired him during the summer in a large trade that saw pitchers Doyle Alexander and Grant Jackson, as well as catcher Ellie Hendricks move to New York for a bevy of young talent that included catcher Rick Dempsey and southpaws Scott MacGregor and Tippy Martinez. Ken won nine games for the Yankees but they failed to reach the playoffs.
Holtzman’s days on top were over by 1977. That year he struggled through a torturous campaign with the Bronx Bombers. Midway through the 1978 season the Yankees shipped him to the place where his professional days began, Wrigley Field, for relief pitcher Ron Davis. He pitched one final year with the Cubs, calling it quits after the 1979 season.
W 174/L 150/PCT .537/G 451/CG 127/IP 2,867/H 2,787/BB 910/SO 1,601/SHO 31/ERA 3.49