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The 19 greatest starts in Cubs history, No. 15: Bill Faul, August 3, 1965

Faul was eccentric in baseball before it was cool to be eccentric in baseball.

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Bill Faul was a righthanded pitcher from Ohio who was signed by the Tigers out of the University of Cincinnati in 1962.

He pitched briefly in the big leagues for Detroit over the next three seasons with little success before the Cubs purchased him March 27, 1965, just a few days before that season began. He broke camp with the Cubs and pitched briefly in one game in April before heading to Triple-A Salt Lake City, then the Cubs’ top affiliate.

Faul threw pretty well in 14 starts there (2.83 ERA, 1.191 WHIP) and was recalled in early July. He made four starts in July, three of which were pretty good, and then was scheduled to face the Phillies in a night game in Philadelphia August 3.

He held the Phillies to two hits, a single by Tony Gonzalez and double by Wes Covington, didn’t walk anyone and struck out nine in a 2-0 shutout win. Faul even drove in one of the Cubs’ runs himself with a seventh-inning single.

That’s a pretty dry story, but there’s more to Faul. He had a pretty successful 1965 season with the Cubs, posting a 3.54 ERA and 1.054 WHIP and participated in three (!) triple plays. He had an excellent walk rate of just 1.7 per nine innings and it was good for 1.4 bWAR, not bad for a 90-loss team. He was just 25 years old.

What went wrong? Faul was into alternative methods of success before that became popular, specifically self-hypnosis:

A popular topic for reporters to ask about was Faul’s fascination with hypnosis. Not of other people though – but rather of himself. It wasn’t something that he particularly liked to talk about for fear of being branded as a “kook”. Faul said that hypnosis helped him relax and keep his curveball low.

In a 1963 exhibition game against the Kansas City Athletics, Faul pitched eight shutout innings and was even good enough to gather two hits for himself. After the game, A’s owner Charlie Finley publicly protested against Faul’s novel strategy saying that hitters facing an opposing pitcher who was in a “trance” was a “very dangerous hazard” and that his club “has a hard enough time getting hits off of pitchers that aren’t hypnotized!”

As the rumor spread through the league that Faul was pitching under a trance, he would sometimes walk off of the mound, take off his glove, stare at the opposing team and then violently wiggle his fingers from both hands in front of his face. This would send the opposing team into a panic as hitters set foot in the batter’s box.

When not under self-hypnosis, Faul was widely considered to be a pretty easy going teammate.

This actually sounds pretty cool — similar to what a modern mental-skills coordinator would do with a ballplayer, try to help him mentally conquer the game.

You can imagine how well this sort of thing went over with Leo Durocher, who took over the Cubs in 1966. Faul was demoted to garbage time in the bullpen, didn’t do well there, was tried for a few starts with mixed results, and finally demoted to the Cubs’ Triple-A affiliate in Tacoma, where he had a poor 11 starts. He made only nine starts for the Cubs in Triple-A in 1967, likely injured, then was sold to the Indians before the 1968 season. He surfaced in the big leagues again for a few games for the Giants in 1970, pitched a handful of games in the Cubs’ minor leagues in 1973 and then was done with baseball.

It would be fascinating to look Faul up now and pick his brain about why he felt hypnosis would help him; he was far ahead of his time. Sadly, that can’t happen, as he passed away in 2002.

And one 1965 Bill Faul game for the Cubs stands as one of the top Game Scores (92) in franchise history.