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St. Louis Jewish Light

A nonprofit, independent news source to inform, inspire, educate and connect the St. Louis Jewish community.

St. Louis Jewish Light

A nonprofit, independent news source to inform, inspire, educate and connect the St. Louis Jewish community.

St. Louis Jewish Light

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St. Louis icon Ken Holtzman, 3 x MLB champion and two-time no-hit pitcher, dies at 78

Former Major League Baseball pitcher and St. Louis sports icon Ken Holtzman, who played for five teams, pitched two no-hitters and was a three-time World Series Champion, died Monday, April 15.. He was 78.

Holtzman is the winningest Jewish pitcher in the major leagues with 174 wins.

“He was just so good,” said Bob Holtzman, Ken Holtzman’s younger brother. “And something people don’t know, but from his start in baseball in the Khoury Leagues through high school at University City, Kenny dominated, and was always the smallest kid on his team.”

In the Dec. 3, 1969, issue of the Jewish Light, N.T. Mendelsohn and Bruce Hendin wrote:

“Holtzman grew out of his youthful Khoury League days, winning 255 games between 1954 and 1963. In the Oct. 1, 1953, issue of the old ‘Y’ Journal, the paper headline read ‘Kenny Holtzman, 8-years-old, strikes out 21 in perfect game.'”

From Khoury League to the Major leagues 

1969; Cleveland, OH; USA; FILE PHOTO; Chicago Cubs pitcher Ken Holtzman in action on the mound against the Cleveland Indians at Cleveland Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Tony Tomsic-USA TODAY NETWORK

Holtzman was born on Nov. 3, 1945, in St. Louis, the oldest of three children.

A star at University City High School, he was selected the Most Valuable Player on the school’s state championship team in 1963, pitching a no hitter in the semifinals and relieving to seal the win in the finals. Holtzman compiled a record of 31-3 at U. City before moving on to pitch at the University of Illinois, while he studied business administration. He caught the eye of numerous MLB scouts, including ones from the New York Mets and the Chicago Cubs.

According to Bob Holtzman and a 1969 Jewish Light story, Henry “Hank” Holtzman, Ken and Bob’s father, played on the same varsity YMCA basketball team with future Cardinals general manager Bing Divine. In 1966, Devine was with the New York Mets and called his friend Hank to let him know they were interested in the younger Holtzman. But the Mets missed their chance when the Cubs drafted Holtzman in the fourth round of the first ever MLB amateur draft in 1965.

After playing in just 12 minor league games, he was called up to play for the Cubs, making his major-league debut on Sept. 4, 1965. Holtzman pitched in three games for the Cubs that year, showing he had the stuff to make it in the big leagues.

Being a Jewish lefthander who was known for both velocity and control, Holtzman was being called “the next Sandy Koufax” as soon as he arrived in the big leagues.

The two greatest Jewish pitchers in history faced each other for the one and only time in their careers on Sept. 25, 1966, the day after both had attended synagogue services for Yom Kippur. Holtzman was finishing his first full season in the majors while Koufax was winding down his final season. Holtzman outdueled Koufax, throwing a no-hitter for eight innings and winning 2–1. Holtzman would be the last pitcher to beat Koufax.

Jul; 1975; Anaheim, CA, USA: FILE PHOTO; Oakland Athletics pitcher Ken Holtzman in action during the 1975 season at Anaheim Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Darryl Norenberg-USA TODAY Sports

Military service and baseball

During the 1967 season, Holtzman spent significant time serving in the National Guard. Despite pitching only on weekends, he managed to go 9-0 record in just 12 starts. Holtzman threw a no-hitter against Atlanta on Aug. 19, 1969, and threw another no-hitter on June 3, 1971, against Cincinnati. After the 1971 season, he was traded to the Oakland Athletics, where he contributed to three consecutive World Series championships.

Holtzman was slated to pitch in the second game of the 1973 American League Championship Series against Baltimore, but the game coincided with Yom Kippur, so he chose not to play. Instead, he was taken by limousine to the Baltimore Hebrew Congregation and seated in the front row next to Jerry Hoffberger, owner of the Orioles.

Before the start of the 1976 season, Holtzman was traded to the Baltimore Orioles. On June 15, 1976, the Orioles dealt him to the New York Yankees. After two underwhelming seasons in New York, Holtzman was sent back to the Chicago Cubs on June 10, 1978, where he retired the following season.

Life after baseball

Despite the fame and fortune of becoming a major league ball player and World Series Champion, Ken Holtzman’ family said he always remained unassuming and down to earth.

“He was always very humble,” said Bob Holtzman. “Even as kid, when he dominated everywhere he played, he never let it give him an attitude.”

“He was raised, and he raised us, with the value that you needed to serve others,” said Robyn Schuster, Ken Holtzman’s oldest daughter. “And he was generous and supportive of his entire extended family. He always looked for ways that he could help people. He saw it as his mission in life to be there to support his kids and his family members.”

Schuster, who was born in Oakland, Calif., says growing up at the height of her father’s baseball career was definitely out of the ordinary.

“My first seven to eight years of life, at the height of his career, was definitely a whirlwind,” said Schuster, “But I think that being a baseball family and growing up Holtzman, you always understood the value of your teammates, and you always understood that competition was encouraged. And while I think our childhood looked a little different than other people’s, in some ways those core values were always there.”

And growing up in the shadow of Ken Holtzman was also source of pride.

“Huge pride. Yes, so much pride,” remembers Kim Holtzman Sloan, a niece of Ken Holtzman.

As a young employee at the Creve Coeur Jewish Community Center, Sloan remembers that before getting married, her name plate on her work cubicle said “Holtzman.”

“I always tease that every man over the age of 65 who walked by my cubicle would see Holtzman, take like two steps back, and say ‘Kenny Holtzman?’ So it was just one of those things. And growing up, everyone always knew that we were ‘those Holtzmans.’”

In the late 1990s, Ken Hotzman moved back to St. Louis and began a new career giving back to the local Jewish community. Holtzman worked as the health and physical education supervisor for the J where he coached teams representing St. Louis in the Maccabi games.

Although he served in the National Guard only for a short time, his service was always a source of pride for Holtzman.

“He stayed committed to veterans causes throughout his life, supporting the Jewish War Veterans of America,” said Schuster. “It was a brief time in his life, but it was definitely something he was proud of.”

Holtzman has also been honored as a member of multiple sports Halls of Fame, including the J’s St. Louis Jewish Sports Hall of Fame, the University City High School Hall of Fame, the St. Louis Sports Hall of Fame, the University of Illinois Athletics Hall of Fame and the Chicagoland Sports Hall of Fame.

Ken Holtzman is survived by his extended family including three daughters and four grandchildren, which includes 8-year-old Owen, a pitcher, of course.


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About the Contributor
Jordan Palmer
Jordan Palmer, Chief Digital Content Officer
Jordan worked at KSDK from 1995 to 2020. Jordan is a three-time Emmy award winner who produced every kind of show from news to specials during his tenure, creating Show Me St. Louis, The Cardinal Nation Show. He started ksdk.com in 2001 and won three Edward R. Murrow Awards for journalistic and website excellence in 2010, 2014 and 2020. Jordan has been married for 25 years and is the father of two college students. He is an avid biker, snowboarder, and beer lover. He created the blog drink314.com, focusing on the St. Louis beer community in 2015. Jordan has an incredible and vast knowledge of useless information and is the grandson of a Cleveland bootlegger.