Bob Renninger had what is called in baseball circles a “live” arm.
The lefthander could throw harder than anyone around and, according to Tom Sooy, a childhood friend and teammate on Keystone’s 1967 regional qualifying baseball team, was just wild enough to be effective.
How difficult was it for a hitter to step in against Renninger?
Curt Karpinski, another member of the ’67 squad, remembered quite well.
“His stepfather and my father coached us,” Karpinski said. “One year, I think it was in one of the younger Hot Stove leagues, we were both in terrible batting slumps. Our fathers got together and took us both to Veterans Park to work on things.
“I pitched to him and he pitched to me. I had really good control and he, well, he had that live arm. I had to stand in against him for awhile. I’m not sure how much help I got from that.”
Renninger died Dec. 1 following a lengthy illness. Along with pitching the Wildcats to that regional tournament berth, Renninger was a standout basketball player as well.
Following his senior season, the Cincinnati Reds made Renninger their selection in the 45th round of the 1967 Amateur Draft in June.
He played in the Reds organization for two seasons before a two-year tour in the military. When his service commitment was over, he signed with the Houston Astros. He pitched three seasons in the Astros’ organization before retiring following the 1974 season.
Word of Renninger’s exploits on the mound still keep people talking in LaGrange. He once struck out 20 batters in a seven-inning game … one of only 16 pitchers to accomplish that feat in Ohio high school history. When he took the mound his teammates knew exactly what was going to happen.
“The level of competition that we played at, being a small school, Bob was a superstar,” Sooy said. “He was dominant in every game against every team we played against. There was not a more dominant pitcher in the county. Every time he pitched, we knew we were going to win.”
After his pitching career ended, Renninger worked at his alma mater for a number of seasons as its pitching coach.
Todd Schlenkermann, who graduated from Keystone in 2005 before pitching for four seasons at Ashland, explained how Renninger made a difference on the pitchers he took under his wing.
“He taught us all about conditioning, core strength, band work and about the mechanics of pitching,” Schlenkerman said. “He taught us how to be pitchers, not just to throw the ball. High school players don’t want to hear about conditioning, but he helped us understand that’s what it would take if we wanted to get to the next level.
“He didn’t just teach us what to do on the mound, he shared with us all the hard work and dedication it took to get to the mound in the first place. And coming from him — a guy that actually played professional baseball — that made a difference. He had a great deal of credibility with us.”
Credibility indeed. He has been inducted into the Keystone Athletic Hall of Fame a total of three times … once as an individual and two times as a member of a team.
“When he got in a groove he was unhittable,” Karpinski said. “I don’t remember the specific game when he struck out 20 but I’m sure I was there, playing first base and probably hoping the catcher would drop a third strike because I had to be bored out of my mind.”
Sooy, who met Renninger in second grade, said most of his best memories of Renninger didn’t necessarily take place on the baseball field.
“Bob was a good guy, a good friend to have,” Sooy said. “We spent a lot of time playing basketball, baseball or any kind of sport. We used to go into Elyria, which was a big thing to do back then. We used to camp out in the summertime and things like that. It was a great way to grow up.”
Sooy is on a pair of teams that have been inducted into the Keystone Athletic Hall of Fame. He gives all the credit to Renninger.
“I was inducted into the Keystone Hall of Fame twice, and I was very fortunate because I wasn’t that good,” Sooy said. “I played on some exceptional teams. Our basketball team won the first conference championship in school history, then our senior year our baseball team went to regionals.
“It was all because of Bob. Bob was a stud. At the induction ceremony for the baseball team, I told Bob it was all because of him … if it wasn’t for him, none of us would have been standing there.”