On my quest to complete the whole 1959 Topps set, this Christmas I became 3 cards closer. Here are the stories of those players:
Card #262 of 572
58th Yellow Background Card
15th Dodgers Player
8th Special Card
19th Hall of Famer
Getting to 1959:
Clem Labine was born in 1926 in Lincoln, Rhode Island while growing up mostly in nearby Woonsocket. Born to French-Canadian parents while living in the United States, Labine was raised as a three-sport athlete in football, hockey, and baseball. Due to his participation in non-combat combat sports, Clem broke his right index finger. While this appeared to be a devastating blow to a potential future in baseball, it turned out to be a benefit in disguise as scouts noted that his curveball- as a right-handed pitcher- seemed to play as if it was thrown by a lefty. Labine would pitch for the Woonsocket High School baseball team and graduate in 1944, after which he was offered a few tryouts with some ballclubs. Ultimately, his tryout with the Brooklyn Dodgers would go well enough that he was signed by Branch Rickey as a 17-year-old.
In 1944, Labine's professional baseball career would begin as a 17-year-old getting sent to play for the Newport News Dodgers. However, it was after this season that Labine- now 18 years old- volunteered to participate in the war effort of World War II while becoming a paratrooper with the United States Army. His time serving his country would keep him away from baseball for the entire 1945 season and almost all of the 1946 season (where he pitched in just 3 games).
After his time in the military, Labine would spend a few more years in the minor leagues between the Newport News Dodgers (1944, 1946-1947), Greenville Spinners (1947), Asheville Tourists (1947), Pueblo Dodgers (1948), and St. Paul Saints (1949-1952). However, after that first full season with the St. Paul Saints in 1949, Clem Labine was able to break spring training camp with the Brooklyn Dodgers and made his MLB debut on April 18th, 1950. Unfortunately for Labine, this would be his only MLB experience that season, as he was quickly sent back down to St. Paul. It was after that 1950 season where Labine spent some time in the Venezuela Winter League where he earned the nickname, "La Vaina" (or "annoying"), for how tough he was to beat on the mound. It was also in Venezuela learned to throw a sinkerball. (He also tried to learn to throw a spitball, but he couldn't control it.)
It would take 2 more seasons of up-and-down play between the Major Leagues and minor leagues for Labine to cement himself full-time at the MLB level. His 1951 season was fantastic as a true rookie (he finished 3rd for the Rookie of the Year after posting a 2.20 ERA) but his 1952 season saw a lot of control issues that led to far too many walks.
In 1953, Labine yet again broke spring training camp with the Dodgers and for the first time in his career he wasn't sent back down to the minor leagues. He was used as a spot starter and also passed 100 innings pitched for the first time in his career that season, as well as collecting the first 7 saves of his career in relief. Labine credited this to his mastery of the sinkerball he learned a few years prior in Venezuela. The 1953 performance would also be the story for Labine for the next 6 years of his career (1953-1958) as he slowly transitioned away from being a spot starter into the Dodgers go-to man out of the bullpen. In 1955, Labine was the most-used pitcher (as in he pitched in the most regular season games) in the MLB with 60, and then he was used for 4 of the 7 games in the World Series- while collecting 1 win and 3 saves- to get the Dodgers their first World Championship.
In 1956, Labine led the National League and MLB in game finished (47) and saves (19) while earning his first All-Star appearance. A similar story would unfold in 1957 as Labine was yet-again an All-Star before he finished the year with the NL lead in saves (17).
In 1958, Labine would pitch his final 100 inning season while following the Dodgers to Los Angeles. While collecting 14 more saves that season, Labine would also pass Al Brazle's career mark for saves by a National League pitcher at 60.
From 1959 On:
After moving across the country, Labine would pass another milestone by passing Brickyard Kennedy's mark of 381 games pitched for the Dodgers organization. It was in his season that Labine would be a part of another World Series Champion team, yet his involvement in the series was limited to just 1 inning of relief in a blow-out loss.
Entering the 1960 season as a 33-year-old, it was clear that Labine's career was starting to slow down. He would appear in 13 more games for the Dodgers before being traded to the Detroit Tigers for another pitcher (Ray Semproch) and some cash. The all-time leader in appearances and saves a pitcher with the Dodgers (with 425 games and 83 saves) was now gone. He was also not long for Detroit, as he never got involved with the clubhouse and pitched just 16 games before being released. However, this was a bit of blessing in disguise.
On August 16th (the day after being released), Labine signed on to play with the Pittsburgh Pirates, where he had a late-career resurgence while pitching to a 1.48 ERA over 30 innings with the Pirates to help get them to the World Series. He would be a World Champion again, though all 3 of his appearances came in blow-out losses. Clem Labine would also become the first player in MLB history to win back-to-back World Series titles while playing on 2 different winning teams.
Labine would spend the 1961 season with the Pirates, pitching 92.2 innings to a solid 3.69 ERA, though after the season he was left to find employment elsewhere. It was then that Labine went to sign on with the New York Mets in their inaugural season. Labine pitched 4 innings over 3 games with the Mets (to a 11.25 ERA) after which he was released on May 1st and retired as a player.
Clem Labine enjoyed retirement back in Woonsocket as a designer of men's athletic wear and as a general manager overseeing sporting goods for the Jacob Finklestein's & Sons company.
While broken since in the history of the Dodgers organization as a whole, Labine will forever hold two records for when the team was based in Brooklyn: his 304 games as a Brooklyn Dodger and 58 saves. His overall Dodgers mark of 425 games played was passed by Don Drysdale and his mark of 83 saves was passed by Ron Perranoski, both occurring in 1966.
Labine would stay affiliated with the Dodgers in his later life, after moving to Florida. He would attend fantasy camp and work as an instructor.
At age-80, after suffering two strokes and dealing with pneumonia, Clem Labine died on March 2nd, 2007.