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Larry Biittner

Pocahontas native Larry Biittner played 14 years in the big leagues for five teams before retiring in 1983 after his second stint with the Texas Rangers.

Although he never was an All-Star, the outfielder/first baseman of German descent had a five-year run with the Chicago Cubs that included a game-winning home run on Opening Day on April 14, 1978, off Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher Jim Bibby.

The low point of his career came on July 4, 1977, when he pitched 1.1 innings in the second game of a doubleheader against his former team, the Montreal Expos. With the Cubs trailing 11-2, he immediately gave up a three-run homer to the Expos’ Larry Parrish. By the time the carnage had ended, Biittner had surrendered six runs – all earned, given up five hits including three homers, and struck out three batters.

After earning All-State basketball honors as a Pocahontas Catholic High School senior, Biittner was named to the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics’ All-America baseball team during his senior year at Buena Vista College in Storm Lake. The 6-foot-1 lefthander finished 11-2 and had a 1.32 earned run average.

Biittner was the 212th pick in the 1968 major league draft and received a bonus upon signing with the Washington Senators in 1968. He was then assigned to Savannah, Georgia, in the Class AA Southern League.

Two years later he just missed garnering the Eastern League batting title despite hitting .3247 while playing for Pittsfield. Reading’s Greg Luzinski won the batting crown that year with a .3248 mark.

Biittner made his major league debut on July 17, 1970, at age 23 against the California Angels at Robert F. Kennedy Stadium in Washington. Batting for the pitcher in the bottom of the third inning, Biittner grounded out pitcher to first.

Biittner moved with the Senators to Arlington, Texas, when the team became the Texas Rangers in 1972. After two years with the Rangers, he was traded to the Montreal Expos on December 20, 1973. In 1975 he hit .315 to lead Montreal and struck out only 33 times in 346 at-bats.

On October 4, 1975, the Pocahontas Chamber of Commerce held Larry Biittner Day for the town’s first and only major leaguer. The festivities included a parade and banquet that evening. In addition, the community’s ball field was named Biittner Field.

On May 17, 1976, Biittner and pitcher Steve Renko were traded to the Cubs for first baseman Andre Thornton. During his five years on Chicago’s North Side, Biittner served as backup to first baseman Bill Buckner, played left field often and was an excellent pinch-hitter. In 1977 he set career highs in games (138), at-bats (493), RBIs (62), home runs (12), doubles (28), hits (147) and runs (74). In 1978 he had the Cubs’ longest hitting streak (15 games) and averaged .333 with 12 RBIs as a pinch-hitter.

Biittner became the first free agent with the Cincinnati Reds when he signed on January 12, 1981. In 97 games with the Reds in 1982, he hit .310. He signed a free agent contract with the Rangers on December 29, 1982, and played his final major league game on September 29, 1983, against the Minnesota Twins at the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome. In the ninth inning Biittner pinch-hit and grounded out second to first in his final plate appearance.

Over all, Biittner played 1,217 games, hit .273, collected 861 hits and drove in 354 runs. He also had 29 home runs, 144 doubles and 20 triples. He struck out only 287 times and drew 236 walks in 3,151 at-bats.

Biittner is one of 54 former major leaguers who also are veterans of the Vietnam War. He and his wife, the former Ann Cleal of Rolfe, have two adult sons, Tommy and Bobby. After retiring from baseball, Biittner operated a donut business in suburban Chicago for awhile. He and his wife now live in Pocahontas.

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