Chris Short, the crew-cut, 6-foot-4 lefthander who, with Jim Bunning, gave the Phillies a potent pitching duo in the mid-1960s, died yesterday at a convalescent home in Wilmington after spending nearly three years in a coma.
Mr. Short, 53, suffered a ruptured aneurysm in his brain in October 1988 and collapsed at the office of a Wilmington insurance company, where he worked as an agent.
The pitcher who once struck out 18 New York Mets in 15 innings spent the last months of his life lying in a hospital bed with his eyes open much of the time, in a room that was decorated with photos of the former Phillie on the pitching mound.
"He was a great competitor and a great pitcher," Bunning, now a Kentucky congressman, said yesterday.
"His family is sad today, but I would think that after all of the suffering of the last three years that they will step back, take a breath and say, 'My God, I'm glad that it's finally happened.' "
In his prime, Mr. Short was a strapping country boy who threw a 90-plus- m.p.h fastball, a slider, and a curve ball that sportswriters at the time said was as "crooked as a coat hanger."
He won 135 games in a 15-year career. His best seasons coincided with the resurgence of the Phillies. He went 17-9 in the ill-fated 1964 season, when the Phils lost the pennant after leading by 6 1/2 games with 12 games left. He followed that by going 18-11 in 1965, 20-10 in 1966 and 19-13 in 1968.
"We had a friendly competition to see who could pitch the best," Bunning said. "And it was, at best, a struggle to keep up with him."
If Mr. Short wasn't the undisputed ace of the Phillies, he was often regarded as the second-best lefthander in the league, behind the Los Angeles Dodgers' Sandy Koufax.
He had a herky-jerky motion that distracted lefthanded batters and a fastball that broke in on righthanders. He also had a habit of dragging his spikes across the pitching mound to smooth it out. "He would look like he was raking the mound all the time," Bunning recalled.
At the plate, Mr. Short, who batted righthanded, had an unorthodox foot-in- the-bucket batting stance, and usually hit the ball to right field. He once got four straight hits off Milwuakee Braves Hall of Famer Warren Spahn. "I'll never forget it, because I knew it was time to retire," Spahn told Mr. Short at a 1988 old-timer's game.
Mr. Short's teammates called him "Shorty" or "Styles," because of his weird dressing habits as a rookie.
When he came up with the Phillies in 1959, Mr. Short carried a brown bag with an extra shirt in it, a hair brush and a toothbrush. He would wash his underwear every night and hang it out to dry, former teammate Rich Ashburn recalled in a 1989 Daily News column.
" 'Styles' never would be mistaken for Beau Brummel, but how he could throw the baseball," Ashburn wrote.
Mr. Short was a fierce competitor. Once, on a road trip in Los Angeles, he told his teammates he could stay underwater longer than any of them. Mr. Short hopped into a pool at the Wilshire-Hyatt and stayed underwater for a scary length of time. Catcher Mike Ryan finally jumped in and hauled "the half- drowned, unconscious Short out of the pool," Ashburn recalled. After the water was pumped out of him, and he came to, Mr. Short's first words were, ''Did I win?"
Mr. Short missed out on the big-money era in baseball. He never made more than $50,000 in a season. He was amazed by all the baseball millionaires of recent times.
"I don't think the players are worth the money they're making," he said in a 1986 interview. "But if somebody offers you 20 million dollars, you're not going to say, 'I'm not worth it.' "
Bunning recalled that in 1966, when Mr. Short won 20 games and he won 19, he tried to persuade Mr. Short to join him in a holdout, as Koufax and Dodgers teammate Don Drysdale had done.
"We wanted to make a few dollars, but he only held out for a day or two," Bunning said. "He said he was satisfied with his contract."
Mr. Short was born in Milford, Del., the son of Judge Isaac D. Short 2d, who was vice chancellor of the State of Delaware.
When he was 13, Mr. Short grew two inches in two months. He loved baseball but nearly gave up the game after he hit batters as a seventh grader at Sanford Preparatory School in Wilmington and as a 10th grader at Lewes, Del., High School.
"I was real wild then," Mr. Short said in a 1965 interview. After he hit a batter in the 10th grade and knocked him unconscious, Mr. Short said, "I nearly broke out in tears. I didn't want to pitch anymore. But my high school coach urged me not to give up, said it wasn't my fault."
At Lewes and Bordentown Military Institute, Mr. Short compiled a 30-6 record and walked an average of less than one batter a game. Fourteen pro teams wanted to sign him, but he chose the Phillies.
He started slowly, as lefthanders often do. He was 0-0 in 1959, 6-9 in 1960 and 6-12 in 1961. His lack of success prompted manager Gene Mauch to say he was willing to trade the pitcher for a "load of hay." But Mauch's assistants talked him out of it, because of Mr. Short's great arm.
Mr. Short had back surgery in 1969, after pitching only 10 innings and finishing with an 0-0 record. Fans threw Mr. Short a night at old Connie Mack Stadium, giving him several gifts, including a rifle. He was an avid hunter.
He finished his 15-year major-league career with the Milwaukee Brewers in 1973 after going 1-1 for the Phils in 1972. He was 135-132 lifetime with a 3.43 earned run average and 1,629 strikeouts in 2,325 innings.
Perhaps his greatest game was Oct. 2, 1965. In an 18-inning game in New York, Mr. Short pitched 15 innings. He struck out 18, allowed nine hits, and left for a pinch-hitter in the 16th inning. The game ended in a 0-0 tie.
Mr. Short was born with the congenital bone deformation known as Osgood- Schlatter disease and had diabetes diagnosed several years ago.
He is survived by his wife, Pat; three sons, Rhawn, Nickey and Eric, and father.