Howie Koplitz, who pitched for the Tigers and the Senators in the 1960's and struck out Hall of Famer Carl Yastrzemski as the first Major League hitter he faced, passed away in his hometown of Oshkosh, Wis., on Monday. He was 73. Funeral services will be held at 1 p.m. CT on Friday at the First Lutheran English Church in Oshkosh, where Koplitz worked for the United States Post Office for 38 years after his retirement from baseball. He also coached baseball at the American Legion and Oshkosh-Lourdes High School. Oshkosh, led by legendary high school coach Harlan Quandt, is known for having a long and proud baseball heritage, and Koplitz was one of several pitchers from that town who made it to the Major Leagues. He combined to pitch a no-htitter in the 1954 Wisconsin state high school tournament that was won by Oshkosh.
"Howie was a great guy and he knew baseball," former Rangers pitcher Bill Gogolewski told the Oshkosh Daily Northwestern. "When he coached baseball he had patience with the kids. He didn't expect them to do more than they were capable of doing. I'll remember his laugh. Howie had a great laugh." Pitching in the Tigers organization, Koplitz was The Sporting News Minor League Player of the Year in 1961 when he went 23-3 with a 2.11 ERA in 24 starts and 12 relief appearances at Double-A Birmingham. He made his Major League debut with the Tigers on Sept. 8, 1961, against the Red Sox at Fenway Park. Yastrzemski, who was also a rookie, was the first batter Koplitz faced leading off the eighth, and the right-hander struck out the future Hall of Famer. The Red Sox loaded the bases against Koplitz but he struck out Jim Pagliaroni to end the inning without giving up a run. Koplitz ended up 2-0 with a 2.25 ERA in four games with the Tigers in 1961. Koplitz injured his arm trying to pitch in cold weather the next year in Spring Training and was never the same. He went 3-0 but had a 5.25 ERA in 10 games with the Tigers in '62. The Senators took Koplitz in the 1963 Rule 5 Draft and he spent parts of the next three seasons with them. He pitched in a career-high 33 games, including 11 starts, with the Senators in '65 and was 4-7 with a 4.05 ERA. He won his first seven decisions as a Major League pitcher.
T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Postcards from Elysian Fields, and follow him on Twitter @Sullivan_Ranger. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.