Billy O’Dell, one of the greatest pitchers in Clemson history and the only former Tiger to be the MVP of the MLB All-Star Game, died Wednesday in Newberry, S.C. He was 85 years old. O’Dell is the second legendary Clemson pitcher to die in the last month. Joe Landrum, Clemson’s first baseball All-American in 1947, died on Aug. 19.
O’Dell played for Clemson from 1952-54. He was the top pitcher on the 1954 team that won the ACC championship, the first ACC title in any Tiger sport. He was named First-Team All-ACC and second-team All-American that year when he posted an 0.79 ERA, a mark that still stands today as the best in Clemson history by a starting pitcher.
The native of Whitmire, S.C., and graduate of Whitmire High School finished his Clemson career with a 1.51 ERA, still first in Tiger history 64 years after the conclusion of his college playing career. He totaled 300 strikeouts, sixth most in school history, and a 12.3 strikeouts-per-nine-innings- pitched mark, also first in school history. In 1952, he had 13.0 strikeouts per nine innings pitched and improved that to 13.4 in 1953.
After posting an 8-3 record with 111 strikeouts in just 91.1 innings pitched in 1954, O’Dell signed a professional contract with the Baltimore Orioles. He never spent a day in the minor leagues and made his professional debut just 27 days after his final game for Clemson, still the shortest time to reach the majors among former Tigers.
O’Dell pitched 13 years in the majors for Baltimore, San Francisco, Milwaukee and Pittsburgh between 1954-67 (he missed the 1955 season). He had a 105-100 career record with a 3.29 ERA, 13 shutouts, 1,133 strikeouts and 50 saves. He pitched three games for the San Francisco Giants in the 1962 World Series and earned a save in Game 4.
During that 1962 season, O’Dell had a 19-14 record and was fifth in the National League in strikeouts. Three of the four pitchers ahead of him were future hall of famers, Sandy Koufax, Don Drysdale and Bob Gibson. O’Dell had 20 complete games that year, and only Warren Spahn had more.
O’Dell pitched in the 1958 and 1959 MLB All-Star Games. Pitching in his home ballpark at Memorial Stadium in Baltimore, he was named MVP of the 1958 All-Star Game when he retired nine consecutive batters, helping the American League to a 4-3 win. Among the players he retired were future hall of famers Willie Mays, Stan Musial, Hank Aaron, Ernie Banks and Bill Mazeroski.