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FSU lefty Tony Avitable hit a season-high 24 batters against Furman in 1956

Tony Avitable has failed to find the strike zone consistently.

The Florida State left-handed pitcher struck out the first batter in the top of the first inning in the Seminoles’ season opener against visiting Furman on March 16, 1956. Avitable struck out the next batter but walked the next two to load the bases. When an FSU reliever started to throw the bullpen, Avitable walked out of the jam with two strikeouts.

The second inning didn’t start any better.

Avitable again walked first batter. After shuffling a pair of strikeouts, Avitable walked another batter. FSU coach Danny Litwhiler called time out and headed for the mound.

His message was clear.

“You walk in one more time and you’re out,” Avitable, 88, recalled with a laugh.

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Tony Avitable takes the message to heart, decides to set records

Avitable has settled down.

He struck out the next batter to close out the second inning.

From that point on, the junior and New York native’s redshirt was nearly unassailable. He walked just one and hit the side in the third, fifth, seventh and ninth innings.

When the game was over, Avitable had allowed one hit and scored a school and NCAA-record 24 in the 6-1 victory.

To help put Avitable’s success 67 years ago into perspective:

Howie Calhoun set the previous Seminoles mark of 18 strikeouts in a nine-inning game in 1948.

Mike Loynd, who holds the FSU school record for most strikeouts in a season with 223 in 1986, hit a career-high 16 in a nine-inning win over South Carolina that season. Richie Lewis, the program’s all-time strikeout leader with 520 from 1985 to 1987, struck out 20 batters in complete wins over Jacksonville (1986) and UNC-Charlotte (1987).

In 1974, college baseball switched from wooden to metal bats to reduce cost and increase offense.

While Avitable’s FSU record still stands, Miami (Ohio) southpaw Buddy Schultz swept an NCAA record 26 in a 6-0 win against Wright State in 1971. Ironically, Schultz also had a visit from his manager after loading the bases with one out in the top of the ninth on a single and two walks.

Bud Middaugh also had a stern message.

“He said, ‘I don’t care how many strike outs you have, we have to win this game. If another guy gets on, I’ll take you out!’ Schultz told the Journal-News in 2021. Schultz said he thought to himself, ‘I’ve already knocked out 24. We’re winning 6-0. What exactly is the problem?” I think it motivated me by getting really angry.

Schutlz struck out the next two batters to end the game.

Tony Avitable credits Litwhiler with changing his life

Avitable’s FSU teammates included Lee Corso (ESPN football analyst), Ron Frazier (former Miami coach), and Dick Howser (Kansas City coach). “I remember we couldn’t get Dick out (in the scrum). All he hit was a line drive,” said Avitable. “He IS one of the closest friends he’s ever had, one of the true gentlemen.”

After Avitable’s playing days at FSU ended and three years in professional baseball, Avitable remained in Tallahassee and sold insurance. He moved to Naples in 2000, where he lives with his wife Ellen, and is in good health. He also continues to follow the Seminoles, who kicked off the Link Jarrett coaching era with a season-opening visit to James Madison last weekend.

FSU (3-0) is in Jacksonville on Tuesday at 6:00 p.m

Avitable and former FSU coach Mike Martin, who retired four years ago as the NCAA’s all-time winningest coach in any sport, have remained good friends. Martin said the two often played golf together and were Gin Rummy buddies until “Tony A. threw down his cards and, when I looked at them, he had Gin Rummy,” Martin said and laughed.

Avitable landed at FSU in the 1950s from Lindenhurst, New York because he “wanted to go to a hot-weather school. And FSU was a lot less expensive than all the others.”

To this day, Avitable credits Litwhiler for its success.

“I will love Danny to the grave – he changed my whole life,” Avitabe said. “He instilled confidence in everyone who played for him.”

As reported by Jim Joanos for Garnet & Old, FSU was preparing to play a team during the 1955 season that had an excellent left-handed pitcher. Litwhiler asked Seminoles first baseman Avitable to pitch batting practice to the team. Avitable impressed so well with a fastball and sweeping curve that Litwhiler kept him at pitcher.

“I was throwing damn good,” Avitable said and laughed. “Danny told me, ‘From now on, you won’t be a first baseman anymore.’ I had a Stan Musial baseball glove that I really liked. Danny and I went to a sporting goods store together and bought a pitching glove.”

Despite control issues, Avitable posted a career-high 10-1 at FSU with two one-hitters and 135 strikeouts in 95.2 innings. He was inducted into the FSU Hall of Fame in 1991.

When asked if he thought his strikeout record would forever remain in FSU folklore, Avitable admitted:

“I hope so.”

Register FSU strikeout

Most in the game: 24, Tony Avitable v. Furman, March 16, 1956

Most in season: 223, Mike Loynd, 1986

Most in career: 520, Richie Lewis, 1985-87

FSU strikeouts per 9 innings (min. 50 IP)

14.15 Mac Scarso, 1970-71

13.64 Ross Dunn, 2021-22

12.98 Parker Messick, 2020-22

12.90 Mike DiBlasi, 1997-00

12.47 Tony Avitable, 1955-56

12.33 Davis Hare, 2020-22

12.23 Richie Lewis 1985-87

12.10 Shane Drohan, 2018-20

11.76 Wyatt Crowell, 2021-22

11.76 Bryce Hubbart, 2020-22

Biography of Tony Avitable

Hall of Fame Class: 1991 (Baseball)

Florida State pitcher Tony Avitable’s feat to strike out 24 Furman batters in 1956 is one of the school records that may never be broken, but it wasn’t his only notable feat. Avitable was an outstanding pitcher for FSU in 1955 and ’56 with a timed fastball in the ’90s and a big curveball. His career high was a glittering 10-1 at FSU with two single hits and 135 strikeouts in 95 2/3 innings pitched. Avitable’s 24 strikeouts in a single game stood as the NCAA record for 17 years until broken in 1973. Additionally, Avitable was the pitcher in FSU’s first NCAA regional appearance. He pitched one of his two batters in that game against Duke, leading 2-1. He signed with Kansas City after his junior year and played three years of pro ball. – Information provided by Seminoles.com

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