A giant of a man, John Candelaria stood at six-feet-seven-inches. Working from a downward plane, The Candyman was a terrific pitcher who led the National League in ERA during the 1977 season. Regarded as a journeyman because of his nomadic days at the end of his career, John spent many years in Pittsburgh before his wandering ways began.
A second round pick by the Pirates in 1972, Candyman was untouchable for Charleston of the International League in 1975. The Pirates called John up to Pittsburgh halfway through the season and the tall southpaw flourished. The Pirates won their division and John had one of the best starts in postseason history when he fanned 14 batters in Game III of the ’75 NLCS. Despite his dominance in that game, John was handed a no-decision and the Pirates fell to the eventual champion Cincinnati Reds.
In 1976, John showed the baseball world that he wasn’t a one-year wonder. He fashioned a 16-7 record for the guys of unsightly striped, black and gold lids. With his tall build and nasty assortment of pitches, Candyman was one of the top pitchers in the business. He fashioned a terrific 0.786 hits per inning pitched average in ’76–superior to Hall of Fame peers Steve Carlton (0.885) and Don Sutton (0.862). But Candyman was just getting warmed up.
Named to the 1977 All-Star at the age of 23, John led the National League with a 2.34 ERA and an .800 winning percentage. A 20-win pitcher, John worked 231 innings and only issued 197 base hits. But it wasn’t until 1979 that Candelaria got his second taste of postseason action. With the “We Are Family” Pirates of ’79, John fashioned a 3.22 ERA and beat Baltimore in Game VI of the World Series. The Pirates would take Game VII and give Candyman his only World Series title.
After tossing a career high 233 innings in 1980, Candyman’s 1981 season was a bust, due to the player’s strike and injury. But he came back strong in ’82 with 133 strikeouts to 37 walks on a nifty 2.94 ERA. He then went 15-8 in 1983 before trimming his ERA down to 2.72 in 1984. But the Pirates were no longer contenders and John was barely able to fashion a winning record on his low ERA. In the 1985 season, the Pirates packaged John in a Youth Movement deal with fellow veterans George Hendrick and Al Holland for youngsters Mike Brown, Pat Clements and Bob Kipper.
The Angels captured the AL West flag in 1986 as John had an .833 winning percentage for the Halos. He had an amazing 0.84 ALCS ERA but the Angels fell to the Red Sox. Late the following season, the Angels traded John to the Mets and the nomadic chapters–his travails could fill several volumes–began. He had a strong year with the Yankees in 1988 when he posted a 13-7 record and only issued 23 walks in 24 starts.
Late in John’s career, he became veteran trade bait as he redefined his career as a left-handed specialist. The Yankees used John to acquire third baseman Mike Blowers and he was later used as bait for the Twins to bring in Pedro Munoz and Nelson Liriano. But the Candyman still had worth as an old pitcher in the early 1990s. As a left-handed specialist for the Dodgers in 1991, Candelaria averaged over a strikeout per inning. He ended his career in 1993, in the city of his baseball birth, Pittsburgh.
W 177/L 122/PCT .592/ERA 3.33/G 600/CG 54/SHO 13/IP 2,526/H 2,399/BB 592/SO 1,673