Former Leaf Bobby Tiefenauer was a 6’2″, 185 lb knuckleballer who spent two decades in pro ball as a reliever for six major league teams (a couple of them twice) and a dozen minor-league ones. He’s shown here coming off his best major-league season in which he made 46 appearances out of the bullpen for the 1964 Braves, finished 37 games and led the team with 13 saves. (The Braves also had another righthanded knuckler out of the pen that year – a kid named Niekro.)
He’d be part of five teams in 1965, sent to the Yankees in June and then purchased by the Indians in August (and putting in 24 minor-league appearances – for two different teams – to boot). This was sort of his lot in life as a major leaguer, but I doubt he was complaining, given that it wasn’t clear a few years earlier whether he’d be a major-leaguer at all.
As of 1955, Bobby had had two cups of coffee in the bigs with the Cardinals – the team he’d signed with out of high school in 1948. He’d moved his way up through the organization but never really showed that he could be a success at the highest level. That September, he was dealt to the Tigers, who kept him in AAA in 1956 and then traded him to the independent Toronto Maple Leafs for 1957.
Toronto wasn’t a bad place to play ball in the 1950s. The Leafs generally had good clubs – they’d led the International League in 1956 and would do so again in 1957. They had a veteran club with a lot of bats that was right at the top of the league in virtually every offensive category. They’d become relevant in the city again under owner Jack Kent Cooke and people were turning out at the ballpark. (Toronto had major league aspirations even then – they were a charter member of the Continental League in 1959 and would have potentially played in an expanded Exhibition Stadium, just as the Jays did.)
The problem was that in 1957 they were the only unaffiliated team in the International League. There would be no callups from Toronto.
Still, the city agreed with Tiefenauer. In 1957 and 1958 he put together two outstanding seasons. He made 68 appearances out of the Toronto pen in 1957 and spun a 2.14 ERA. In 1958, the team fell back a bit, but Tiefenauer was even better. He went 17-9 with a 1.89 ERA – numbers that would have been great for a starter, but he managed this entirely out of the pen (64 appearances). It was good enough that Cleveland came calling. He was traded to the Cleveland Indians in October, 1958.
Given a chance to join a major-league organization again, Bobby promptly retired. I have no idea why he did this.
Four months earlier, the NHL Leafs had plucked Johnny Bower from the unaffiliated Cleveland Barons of the AHL. Like Tiefenauer, Johnny was a guy who had had a cup of coffee in the bigs and then settled in to a successful minor league career. Bower had to be talked into coming to Toronto because he was established where he was. Was Tiefenauer the same way? I have no idea. Unlike Johnny, he didn’t move right off. He didn’t pitch at all in 1959.
By 1960, though, he joined the Indians and made the big club. He made six appearances and pitched well, but was sold back the the Cardinals in June, who promptly put him back in the minors.
Thus began his major/minor league odyssey in which he’d criss-cross the continent many a time before finally calling it a career in 1968. He’d be a Cardinal, a Colt 45, a Brave (Milwaukee edition), a Yankee, and Indian again and lastly a Cub. He was even a Leaf again for a stretch in 1963.
I don’t know whether he was ever really called “Tief the Chief.” Had I been watching the Leafs in ’57-58, I certainly would have called him that. (Note: Canada’s PM from 1957-61 was John Diefenbaker, often referred to as “Dief the Chief.” It would have even been an obvious moniker.) Of course, it it was pronounced TY-fen-(rhymes with hyphen)-auer, then the whole thing falls apart.