Subscribe to the MagazineSubscribe to the Podcast
 

You are here

A Pitch in Time

The knuckle curve of Vermont's George Plender might have taken him to the major leagues, but military service intervened

George Plender (back row, sixth from left) and his knuckleball made history with the 1954 Vermont Catamounts. He pitched 57 2/3 straight scoreless innings that season. Though the Milwaukee Braves signed him after his senior year, he ended up joining the U.S. Air Force.

"Records are made to be broken," the saying goes. However, George Plender’s records span three generations, and the oldest records in Division I baseball show little sign of being surpassed anytime soon.

George Plender

The right-hander from Tenafly, New Jersey, was a walk-on at the University of  Vermont in the fall of 1951, but he went on to have the most commanding pitching streak in NCAA annals with 57 2/3 scoreless innings to close out the 1954 season – a record that stretched to 60 1/3 career scoreless innings in the first few games of the 1955 season.

Talent, hard work and geography all came into play for a young Plender as he developed the pitch that baffled batters in the Northeast. Plender lived in Nassau County, New York, across the railroad tracks from an anti-aircraft battery that protected Sperry Gyroscope’s bombsight factory. The troops stationed at the site took advantage of the nearby handball courts to play stickball.

“This one guy, about 19 years old from Iowa, he threw the ball four or five feet over the box and it would drop right down into the box,” Plender recalled. “What he did was take his first and second fingers and bent them down into the ball. When he threw it, he flipped those fingers out and got tremendous rotation.”

Plender’s knuckleball grip was similar to the one made famous in major league history by Burt Hooten and Jason Isringhausen.

After high school, Plender enrolled at Vermont and went to an open tryout for the baseball team.

“The crack of the bat in that building was so different than high school,” Plender said. “These were 23-, 24-year-old big powerful guys back from the war. So there I was, 17 years old, throwing this thing, and guys were swinging and missing.”

Plender began his streak April 23, 1954, in his junior season. 

 He was signed by the Milwaukee Braves after his senior year and went to spring training with their Triple-A team, but duty called. With the draft in place, he opted for an advanced ROTC program and flight training. He was stationed stateside. 

“I had responsibilities with kids, and I just couldn’t visualize going into the minor leagues and trying to get up to the majors,” he said.

Instead, he entered a training program at Chase Manhattan Bank, starting a 30-year career in finance. He retired in 1995.  

 

Plender’s Record-Setting 60 1/3 Scoreless Innings

 

About Champion

Champion magazine goes behind the headlines and beyond the scoreboards to celebrate the unique connection between Americans and college sports. Champion is published by the NCAA.

Subscribe to NCAA Champion Magazine >
Subscribe to the Podcast >