clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

A look back at the career of Bruce Dal Canton

Overlooked cog.

Bruce Dal Canton was a player who was often overlooked during his eleven-year career. The oversights started early for Dal Canton. After a stellar American Legion career, Dal Canton was overlooked by scouts and instead elected to play college ball at his hometown university, the California University of Pennsylvania Vulcans. Cal U for short.

Dal Canton was a star at Cal U, leading the Vulcans to the 1962 NAIA National tournament. He recorded a 1.30 ERA that season, which still stands as a school and conference record. Dal Canton was part of the initial class to be inducted into the school’s Hall of Fame in 1995.

When professional scouts didn’t come knocking, Dal Canton went to work. He was teaching high school in the spring of 1966 at Burgettstown, Pennsylvania when the Pittsburgh Pirates, desperate for arms, held an open tryout camp. Wanting one last shot at baseball, Dal Canton impressed and was signed to a minor league deal.

He split the 1966 season between AA Ashville and AAA Columbus (OH). He started the 1967 season at AA Macon and pitched well enough that the Pirates gave the 26-year-old a September call-up. He excelled in Pittsburgh, making eight appearances, throwing 19 innings with a 1.88 ERA. He spent the 1968 season bouncing between AA York, AAA Columbus, and Pittsburgh. By 1969, he was in the big leagues for good. Dal Canton had always struggled a bit with his control and when the Royals came calling about trade possibilities, the Pirates were more than happy to include him despite the fact that Dal Canton had gone 20-8 over parts of four seasons in Pittsburgh.

On December 2, 1970, Royals General Manager Cedric Tallis made another in a series of brilliant trades by sending pitcher Bob Johnson (just acquired the previous season with Amos Otis in another brilliant trade by Tallis), catcher Jim Campanis and shortstop Jackie Hernandez to the Pirates for catcher Jerry May, Dal Canton and a diminutive backup shortstop named Freddie Patek. Johnson had just set the Royals single-season strikeout record with 206 and Hernandez was the team’s starting shortstop, so the trade was not without risk. But Tallis, who should be in the Royals Hall of Fame, was a transactional GM and not afraid to give something up to improve his team. This trade ended up being one of the biggest steals in club history. Dal Canton alone was worth more than the three players the Royals gave up, but the real star ended up being Patek, who redefined shortstop play in Kansas City.

Just a side rant. Isn’t it getting a little ridiculous that Tallis has not been honored by the Royals? If there is some reason why he is being kept out of the Hall of Fame, Dayton Moore needs to man up and explain why. Tallis was a master talent evaluator and horse trader, and his leadership was instrumental in turning the Royals into an American League powerhouse. His omission from the Royals Hall of Fame is an egregious mistake and needs to be addressed.

Back to Dal Canton. Bruce found his groove in his five seasons in Kansas City. The Royals used him whenever there was a need. Need a start? Bruce will do it. Need six innings of long relief? Yep, he can do that too. Closer? Sure, why not. He appeared in 127 games, making 65 starts. He threw 555 innings between 1971 and 1975, with a high of 175 in 1974. Dal Canton was the perfect bridge between early pitching stars Dick Drago and Roger Nelson and the younger crop of arms like Steve Busby and Dennis Leonard.

Already possessing a solid curveball, Dal Canton added the knuckleball to his arsenal for the 1974 season. The White Sox Wilbur Wood taught him how to throw the pitch. ”Wilbur said to cut my fingernails straight across instead of curved” deadpanned Dal Canton. Dal Canton had some success with the pitch, making a career-high 22 starts that season. He also threw a league-leading 16 wild pitches. Even though his won-loss record was only 8-10, he did sport a very respectable 3.13 ERA and despite a predilection to walks, he gave up very few home runs, just 48 in his career over 931 innings.

Dal Canton’s best game for the Royals came on August 25th, 1974, when he shut down the Brewers on three hits in a complete-game shutout. The Royals came through late to give Dal Canton the win. Amos Otis, Hal McRae, and Orlando Cepeda hit consecutive singles in the top of the ninth to plate a run. Tony Solaita brought home another run on an infield grounder. Dal Canton shut down Don Money, Dave May, and John Briggs in the bottom of the ninth to secure the 2-0 win. No closer needed in those days. He had another fine game on August 14th, 1971, when he set a then club record by retiring 23 Yankees in a row. That outing came at Municipal Stadium.

Dal Canton got off to a rough start in 1975, and the Royals, flush with young pitching talent, sent him to Atlanta for a player to be named later, which ended up being veteran reliever and Kansas City native Ray Sadecki. Dal Canton was released by the Braves following the 1976 season. He caught on with the White Sox, but only appeared in eight games. The Sox released him in late August and his career as a player was over.

His career as a pitching coach was just beginning. Dal Canton spent more than 25 years in the Braves system, most of it with Class A Myrtle Beach where he mentored a generation of excellent Atlanta pitchers. Dal Canton’s number 43 was retired by the club and they named the clubhouse in his honor.

Dal Canton was stricken with esophageal cancer and after a valiant fight, passed away on October 7th, 2008, at the age of 67. Described by former teammates and players as one of baseball’s nice guys, he was inducted into the Pennsylvania Sports Hall of Fame in 2004. He was survived by his wife Helene.