The three-time champion A’s were missing a notable piece of their pitching staff when they opened the 1975 season. Gone was reigning Cy Young Award winner Catfish Hunter who left Oakland for the greener pastures of George Steinbrenner’s wallet.
So after sending mainstays Vida Blue and Ken Holtzman to the mound the first two games of the season, the A’s naturally turned to a 20-year old rookie for the rubber match with the White Sox. And naturally, the 20-year old delivered.
Mike Norris, born and raised in San Francisco, tossed a complete-game, three-hit shutout, becoming just the 35th pitcher in big-league history to throw zeroes in his debut. The first batter to face Norris – Pat Kelly – singled, and was promptly picked off by the right-hander. Future Hall-of-Famer Reggie Jackson provided Norris with all the runs he needed, hitting a three-run bomb in the third as the A’s coasted 9-0.
In his second outing Norris left the game in the top of the eighth having given up one hit and one unearned run (though it was his throwing error that prolonged the inning). The last batter he faced reached on an error (not his own), and ultimately came around to score as the usually reliable A’s bullpen coughed up the lead Norris left with, and lost 4-3.
Facing the Minnesota Twins in his third start, Norris walked the game’s first batter, and immediately walked off the mound with pain in his right elbow. He did not return to the A’s until September 25, pitching 2/3 of an inning in relief. In 16-2/3 innings in 1975, Norris did not yield a single earned run.
He started 83 uneventful games for Oakland from 1976-79, before putting it all together in what many believe should have been a Cy Young award winning season. Norris had to settle for a Gold Glove in 1980, which he won again in 1981, and put a stamp on a successful strike-shortened season with a complete-game shutout of the Royals in Game 1 of the ALDS.
By 1983, Norris was just another of Billy Martin’s burnouts, a casualty of a record setting 94 complete games thrown by the 1980 staff (Norris had 24 in 33 starts).
Like Vida Blue before him (and Blue Moon Odom, albeit post-career), drugs became a fixture in Norris’ life, stifling any hopes of rebuilding his career. He made one last effort – in 1990 – with (again) the champion A’s. He pitched in 14 games, all in relief, before calling it a career on July 4.
Mike Norris is a member of the Black Aces, one of thirteen black pitchers to win 20 games in a season. Blue (1971, '75), and Dave Stewart (1987-90) are also in this group. An excerpt of Mudcat Grant’s book by the same name – Grant is himself a member, and founder of the club – tells the story of Norris.
Like Dave Stewart before him, Norris spends his time these days giving back to a community that once adored him.
I was one of them.