Bud Zaremba, Practical Joking Knuckleballer, Dead at 88

KEOKUK, Iowa. Elwood “Bud” Zaremba, pioneering knuckle-ball pitcher, died in his sleep in a nursing home here Sunday night after a brief illness.

Zaremba played with five major league teams over a 17-year career during which he gained a reputation as a solid middle-reliever and a practical joker par excellence.

“Bud was always up to something,” said Red Rodney, his manager when Zaremba was with the AA Sault Ste. Marie Frost Heaves. “One time he beat me home from the ballpark and got into bed with my wife to pretend they were having an affair. I had to stop for gas and a quart of milk and got back a little late and, well, let’s just say nature took its course.” Rodney’s wife had twins as a result of the gag gone awry, but his manager never begrudged Zaremba the indulgence. “I raised those kids like they were my own–Bud was such a fun guy to be with.”

On another occasion Zaremba gave umpire Jim Barnes a “hotfoot,” a trick that involved sticking a wooden match between the sole and leather of someone’s shoe, and then lighting it. Barnes’ pants caught on fire, causing third degree burns over most of his right leg and an end to his career as an umpire. “That was just Bud being Bud as they’d say nowadays,” Barnes said from his wheelchair. “Some people thought he was mean, but he was really just a cut-up.”

Lenny Bruce: “Bud, you crack me up!”

Zaremba’s career paralleled that of Moe Drabowsky, another pitcher of his era who liked to pull zany pranks on his teammates. “If Drabowsky was the Bob Hope of baseball practical jokes, Bud Zaremba was the Lenny Bruce, because his jokes would really sting you,” said baseball historian Peter Arsdale of Iowa State University. “Moe would put a snake in your shoes, but Bud once put a live alligator in the back seat of an opposing pitcher’s car. The guy lost half his hand, and they started calling him Leonard ’Two Fingers’ Curley.”

Zaremba didn’t leave his sense of whimsy in the dugout either. “One time I went out to the mound and called for an intentional walk,” Red Rodney recalled. “Bud said ‘Why waste my energy on three extra pitches? I’ll just hit him.’” Zaremba wound up and fired his mediocre fastball at the batter’s head, producing an injury that required a three-inch Band Aid to close.


Zaremba holds one major league record that is unlikely to be broken. Every team he played on subsequently moved to another city, changed its name or both. He spent his rookie year with the St. Louis Browns, now the Baltimore Orioles; four years with the Milwaukee Braves, who moved to Atlanta; four with the Kansas City Athletics, who moved to Oakland; and seven with the second coming of the Washington Senators, who became the Texas Rangers. In 1969, his final season, he appeared in 23 games for the Seattle Pilots, who a year later became the Milwaukee Brewers. “I don’t know that Bud had anything to do with it,” historian Arsdale notes, “but after you’d played with him for awhile, most people wanted to get out of town.”

Funeral arrangements will be private. In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations be made to the Institute for the Study of Beanball Induced Head Trauma.

Available in Kindle format on amazon.com as part of the collection “Fauxbituaries.”

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