Werner Joseph Birrer (July 4, 1928 – November 19, 2013) was an American pitcher in Major League Baseball. Listed at 6' 0", 195 lb., Birrer batted and threw right handed. He was born in Buffalo, New York.
Birrer pitched for the Detroit Tigers, Baltimore Orioles and Los Angeles Dodgers in all or parts of three seasons spanning 1955–1958. He posted a combined record of 4–3 and a 4.36 earned run average (ERA) in 56 pitching appearances, including three starts, one complete game and four saves, giving up 39 runs (37 earned) on 129 hits and 29 base on balls, while striking out 28 in 1192⁄3 innings of work.
His career highlight came on July 19, 1955, at Briggs Stadium, when he belted two three-run home runs off George Zuverink and Art Schallock, while pitching four scoreless innings in a 12–4 win over the Baltimore Orioles. In addition, he became the only player in Major League history who played for more than a regular season to have all of his lifetime home runs and runs batted in in just one game.
Besides, Birrer had a long time career in the minor leagues between 1947 and 1966, most prominently with the Buffalo Bisons of the International League. In an 18-year career, he compiled a 139–145 record and a 4.01 ERA in 518 games. In 1957, while pitching for Triple-A Los Angeles Angels, he hurled a no-hitter against his former team the Vancouver Mounties.
Birrer also gave five seasons of good service in the Venezuelan League, while pitching for four different teams, and starring in the Caribbean Series.
He went 30–34 with a 2.87 ERA in 84 games, including 40 complete games, 114 walks, and 282 strikeouts in 5662⁄3 innings. In addition, he posted the best ERA in the league during the 1959–1960 (1.89) and 1960–1961 (1.64) seasons.
Birrer then made the 1959 Caribbean Series All-Star team, after going 2–0 with a 1.25 ERA and 18 strikeouts in 212⁄3 innings, including a 13-inning victory. He also set a Series record with his 13 innings pitched in a single game, which still remain intact.
Regrettably, Birrer was among a group of some 900 former big leaguers denied pensions and medical benefits, as a result of the failure of both Major League Baseball and the Players Association to retroactively amend the vesting requirement change that granted instant pension eligibility to ballplayers in 1980. Prior to this date, major leaguers need to have four years of service credit to earn a pension and medical benefits. After 1980, only one day of service credit for health insurance and 43 days of service credit for a pension is required for any player.
Thanks to the persistent advocacy of former pitchers David Clyde and Gary Neibauer, as well as sportswriter Doug Gladstone, both MLB and the MLBPA announced in 2011 that all these inactive, non-vested men like Birrer and all of whom played between 1947 and 1979, would receive up to $10,000 per year.
Birrer spent the last years of his life at a nursing home in Clarence, New York, where he died in 2013 at the age of 85.
By Dean Hanley
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