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Obituary: Wilmer 'Vinegar Bend' Mizell -- Pitcher with World Series-winning Pirates

Tuesday, February 23, 1999

By Shelly Anderson, Post-Gazette Sports Writer

It looked like a gamble in May 1960 when Joe Brown, then general manager of the Pirates, engineered a trade for pitcher Wilmer "Vinegar Bend" Mizell.

Mr. Mizell had an unimpressive 1-3 record with the St. Louis Cardinals that season, but Brown knew what he was doing.

Mr. Mizell went 13-5 over the remainder of the 1960 season and helped the Pirates get to the World Series, where they defeated the New York Yankees in seven games.

Mr. Mizell, who represented North Carolina in Congress after his baseball career, died Sunday while visiting his wife's family in Kerrville, Texas. He was 68. His son, David Mizell, said the family believed that Mr. Mizell died because of the lingering effects of a heart attack four months ago.

He was a starting pitcher for the Pirates for two seasons. Most fans remember him for the boost he gave the 1960 club.

"It was a super trade," said Bob Friend, another pitcher on the 1960 Pirates. "His record in St. Louis did not indicate the kind of pitcher he was."

Gino Cimoli, a Pirates outfielder in 1960, never doubted the move. He had played against Mr. Mizell years earlier.

"Vinegar was a big, jawboned, rugged individual when I first saw him, and he could really throw hard," Cimoli said. "He was a young kid who was not wild but was right out of the farm.

"He was really changed from the raw rookie I saw in '52 to the pitcher he was in '60. He was definitely a power pitcher when I saw him as a rookie, but he gained his control in the years after that.

"We needed a left-handed pitcher, and Vinegar picked us up as a starter. He could throw. He was tough."

The nickname came from the town where Mr. Mizell grew up, Vinegar Bend, Ala.

The 1960 season was probably the best of Mr. Mizell's baseball career. The Pirates acquired him May 28, along with third baseman Dick Gray, for second baseman Julian Javier and pitcher Ed Bauta.

Mr. Mizell's 13-5 record over the rest of the season came in 23 appearances. He had a 3.50 earned-run average.

In the 1960 World Series, Mr. Mizell started Game 3 and took the loss as the Yankees won, 10-0. Mr. Mizell pitched in relief in Game 6, a 12-0 Pirates loss that set up Game 7, which was made famous by second baseman Bill Mazeroski's Series-winning home run.

Mr. Mizell began his major league career with the St. Louis Cardinals in 1952. He was 69-70 with the Cardinals before being traded to the Pirates. He was traded to the New York Mets during the 1962 season, which was his last in the big leagues.

Overall, Mr. Mizell had a 90-88 record with a 3.85 ERA in the major leagues.

He was listed at 6 feet 31/2 inches and 205 pounds, but Cimoli doesn't believe it: "I'd put him closer to 6-5 and way over 200 pounds."

"He was a big man with a big windup," Friend said. "He was a good old boy from down South. He had a good overhand curveball and pretty good control, and he knew how to pitch."

Cimoli and Friend remembered Mr. Mizell as a soft-spoken sort who did not swear.

Once at Wrigley Field against the Chicago Cubs, Cimoli remembered, Mr. Mizell got ejected from a game moments after Pirates catcher Hal Smith got tossed. The battery mates had been upset over the way the strike zone was being interpreted that day. Cimoli, knowing Mr. Mizell would never swear at an umpire, couldn't resist finding out the details.

"After the game, I asked [Mr. Mizell] why," he said, "and he said, 'Smitty was really letting this umpire have it. All I said to him was that whatever Hal Smith said goes for me, too.'"

After retiring from baseball, Mr. Mizell, a Republican, was elected as a commissioner in Davidson County, N.C. He then served from 1968-74 as the U.S. representative from North Carolina's 5th District.

After Mr. Mizell lost his House seat, President Gerald Ford appointed him assistant secretary of commerce for economic development. In 1982, President Ronald Reagan selected him as an assistant secretary of agriculture for government affairs. Mr. Mizell also served under President George Bush on the Council of Physical Fitness.

Mr. Mizell lived in tiny Midway, N.C. He and his wife, Ruth Cox Mizell, also had a home in Alexandria, Va.

Mr. Mizell is survived by his wife; a brother, Curtis, of Leakesville, Miss.; a son, David, who is the football coach at High Point (N.C.) Andrews High School; a son, Danny, of Midway, N.C.; four grandchildren; two stepchildren; and four step-grandchildren.

A funeral will be Thursday in Faith Missionary Alliance Church in Midway.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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