Luis Arroyo, Baseball’s Best Reliever in ’61, Dies at 88


An obituary by Bruce Weber for The New York Times.

Luis Arroyo, a stoutly built left-hander with a baffling screwball who was an All-Star in each major league, pitched in two World Series and as a reliever helped Whitey Ford achieve his finest season with the Yankees, died on Wednesday in Guayanilla, P.R. He was 88.

His daughter, Milagros, said the cause was cancer.

Over all, Arroyo had a middling career, spending all or part of eight seasons in the major leagues with four different teams. But in 1961 he was the best reliever in the game, a prototype of the late-inning specialist now known as a closer.

The Yankees were a powerful team — that was the season Roger Maris surpassed Babe Ruth’s record total of 60 home runs and Mickey Mantle added 54 — and Arroyo, who had joined the team the previous year, was something of surprise weapon. In fact he had a surprise weapon.

Some accounts of Arroyo’s career say he developed his screwball with the Yankees, though there is evidence that it was part of his repertoire much earlier. The pitch, a reverse-breaking curve, is difficult to throw and control and hard on the elbow, which is why few pitchers feature it. Most who do are left-handed — famous screwballers have included Carl Hubbell, Mike Cuellar and Fernando Valenzuela — because the pitch is especially effective for them against right-handed hitters. In any case, Arroyo’s screwball was especially fearsome in 1961.

Arroyo appeared in 65 games that season and finished 54, pitching 119 innings with a 2.19 earned run average. His record was a startling 15-5, and he has been credited with 29 saves. (The term was in use at the time, and The Sporting News had begun tabulating saves according to a formula that has since been modified, but the save did not become an official statistic until 1969.)

Many of the games he finished had been started by Ford, who completed just 11 of 39 starts and whose 25 victories (he lost only four) were the most of his Hall of Fame career.

“Beer for everybody on me,” Ford said in the locker room after his 20th win. “And two for my boy, Luis.”

Luis Enrique Arroyo Lugo was born in Peñuelas, P.R., on Feb. 18, 1927; according to a biographical article on, he was the third of five children of Felipe Arroyo González, a laborer on a sugar cane plantation, and Modesta Lugo de Arrazose. The article says he dropped out of high school to play professional ball in the nearby city of Ponce in 1947, though he would have been 19 or 20 at the time.

His early professional career was spent in the Puerto Rico winter leagues as well as in the American minors, and he came to the big leagues as a starting pitcher with the St. Louis Cardinals in 1955 at the relatively advanced age of 28.

It was an auspicious rookie season. He won his first six decisions, and with a 10-3 record in July he was named to the National League All-Star team. He did not play; he recalled later that he was preparing to warm up in the bullpen when Stan Musial homered in the bottom of the 12th to end the game. (He didn’t pitch for his other All-Star team, either, the 1961 American League squad.)


For the rest of 1955 he was less successful — his final record was 11-8 — and for the next few seasons he bounced around, playing for the Pittsburgh Pirates and the Cincinnati Reds. It was with the Pirates that he began making the transition from starter to reliever.

He was playing for the Reds’ minor league affiliate in Havana in 1959, the year the Cuban revolution took place; the Reds subsequently moved the team to Jersey City. That was where the Yankees scouted him, and he began playing in the Bronx the next season. He pitched in two World Series for the Yankees: in 1960, against his former team the Pirates (the Yankees lost in seven games), and 1961, against another former team, the Reds. That year he was the winning pitcher in Game 3 of the Yankees’ five-game championship triumph.

Arroyo married at least twice. In addition to his daughter, he is survived by three sons, Paicky, Luis and Harold; 11 grandchildren; and one great-granddaughter.

After two ineffective seasons and arm trouble, Arroyo was released by the Yankees in 1963 with a cumulative record of 40-32, with 45 saves. He played a bit longer in Puerto Rico, and after his playing days ended, he was a manager in Puerto Rico and a Yankee scout.

In later years he recalled that after the 1961 season, the Yankees paid him not to pitch in Puerto Rico during the winter, as he had during most of his career, something he would later view as a mistake. He put on weight, he said, though at 5 feet 8 inches and approaching 200 pounds in his prime, he was never svelte.

“They say he don’t look much like a pitcher,” his first Yankee manager, Casey Stengel, said about him. “Then again they say Yogi Berra don’t look much like a ballplayer.”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s