Werner Joseph “Babe” Birrer, one of the legends of Buffalo baseball, died Tuesday in Brothers of Mercy Nursing Home, Clarence. He was 84.
A right-handed pitcher, he was on the same staff as Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale during the Los Angeles Dodgers’ first season on the West Coast in 1958. One of his minor-league roommates was Tommy Lasorda and the longtime Dodgers manager became a lifelong friend.
He played nearly two decades in pro baseball, with other major league stints with the Detroit Tigers in 1955 and the Baltimore Orioles in 1956. He played in 56 games in the majors, primarily as a relief pitcher, and won four games. In his overall career, he made 589 appearances and won 143 games.
His best major league game, the one that earned him his nickname, came on July 19, 1955, in Tiger Stadium, when he hit two three-run home runs and pitched four scoreless innings in a 12-4 win.
According to the Baseball-Reference.com website, “He is perhaps the only man in the history of MLB who played more than one year to have achieved his entire lifetime home run and RBI totals in one game.”
In 1957, after he was traded from Vancouver, the Triple-A affiliate of the Orioles, to the Brooklyn Dodgers’ Triple-A affiliate, he threw a no-hitter against his old Vancouver manager. He also gave up one of Mickey Mantle’s three longest shots.
Mr. Birrer was drafted by the Tigers in 1947 and played nine seasons with the Buffalo Bisons – 1952, 1955 and 1960 to 1966 – one of the few Buffalo-born players to ever be on the team’s roster.
He pitched the last game in Offerman Stadium in 1960 and helped the Bisons win the Junior World Series in 1963.
A familiar figure at Bisons home games for decades afterward, he was inducted into the Buffalo Baseball Hall of Fame in 1995.
“I never met a man who was so proud to be a ballplayer as Babe was,” said retired Buffalo News baseball writer Cy Kritzer when he introduced him at the induction ceremonies.
Mr. Birrer, who was born on July 4, 1929, grew up in the German section of Buffalo’s East Side and was a 1947 graduate of Kensington High School, where he excelled in all sports.
He interrupted his baseball career to serve in the Army with the 101st Airborne Division during the Korean War and later served in the North Carolina National Guard.
He graduated from the University at Buffalo with a degree in education and earned his master’s degree in education from Niagara University.
He taught for more than 20 years in the Buffalo schools and served on the Williamsville Board of Education. He was a founding member of the North Forest Civic Association.
He also was active as a coach for high school and youth sports, including baseball, football, basketball and cross country. He also directed summer baseball camps.
He was well-known for his good-natured personality and was a featured visitor at local German festivals.
An avid photographer, he amassed a large collection of pictures and slides from around the world.
His wife of 42 years, the former Rosella “Ellie” Winkle, died in 1997.
Survivors include three daughters, Cynthia Cominsky, Sherry Birrer-Ling and Kristin Fecko; a son, Terry; and 15 grandchildren.
A Mass of Christian Burial will be offered at 9 a.m. Friday in St. Gregory the Great Catholic Church, 200 St. Gregory Court at Maple Road, Amherst.
– Dale Anderson