Bruce Dal Canton, a former Atlanta pitcher, former Atlanta pitching coach, and longtime minor league instructor, died Tuesday night in Pennsylvania at the age of 66.
Dal Canton played in the big leagues for 11 seasons, from 1967 through 1977. He played for the Pittsburgh Pirates (1967-1970), the Kansas City Royals (1971-1975), the Braves (1975-76), and the Chicago White Sox (1977). He compiled a 51-49 career record in 316 games (83 starts).
Dal Canton came to the Braves in 1982 as a minor league coach. He was the pitching coach in Atlanta from 1987 through 1990. Since the 1991 season he’s been an instructor in the Atlanta farm system, spending the last ten seasons in Myrtle Beach in the Carolina League.
The lives touched by Bruce Dal Canton will be in mourning with the news of his passing. He was more than just a former major league pitcher. He was more than just a great pitching coach. Bruce Dal Canton was a great man who impacted everyone he met.
As someone who covers the Braves minor league system I had the honor of knowing the man we all called ‘DC.’ Whenever possible I would pick his brain about pitching, and I know so much more about the game of baseball because of his great knowledge.
He didn’t care if it was a minor league prospect with great potential or just a reporter trying to find out who he liked as a prospect. Bruce Dal Canton was always generous with his time and just loved to talk baseball. He loved the game. He loved the atmosphere. He loved the bullpen. He loved his boys, the prospects who would learn so much from him every summer in the Carolina League.
Bruce Dal Canton was a gentle man. He had been a schoolteacher when he decided to give baseball one more try in the mid-1960s. The Pirates were in need of pitchers and signed him at a tryout camp. After a decent big league career, mainly as a knuckleballing reliever, Dal Canton became a coach.
And even though he was no longer in a classroom, the bullpen because his sanctuary. He taught young men how to pitch. That was his job. It was common to hear Braves executives say they would send a pitcher to Myrtle Beach to “let DC teach him how to pitch.”
He didn’t get the credit he deserved for helping mold the Braves young pitchers in the late 1980s. Leo Mazzone replaced him in the summer of 1990, but it was Dal Canton who was around when Tom Glavine and John Smoltz were coming up to the big leagues. DC was the one who helped created those Hall of Fame careers.
But it was his work in the minor leagues that may been the most meaningful. Other teams would try to hire him away for a big league job, but DC just wanted to stay in Myrtle Beach. The Braves wouldn’t even think about moving him, knowing how comfortable he was and what an impact he would make. And they knew that was the perfect place to send pitchers to learn how to pitch.
Dal Canton was good enough to be a big league pitching coach again, but he loved teaching young men how to pitch. He loved teaching them there was more to pitching than just throwing hard or striking people out. He loved getting them to the next level, and it was always a joy for him to tell a kid he was moving on to Double-A.
He would talk about makeup, and how the guys like Glavine and Smoltz separated themselves from the other young pitchers because of how they were on and off the mound.
“There were probably a lot of pitchers that had better stuff than Tommy Glavine when he first came up,” Dal Canton remembered in an interview. “You have to look at what the guy’s got inside and what he’s got on top of his shoulders. That’s what really set him apart.”
He would talk about how to look at a prospect and know whether or not they had ‘it.’ ”That kid,” he would occasionally say, “could be something special.”
There was joy in his heart when he would find a kid that would be a true prospect. The gleam in his eye would just be a bit brighter. But he also enjoyed working with the ones who actually had to work at being a prospect; the ones who knew it wouldn’t be handed to them and would be a struggle to even get to that next level.
Dal Canton would make them better. They may still not be good enough, but he would make them better.
The Braves prospects would learn from him, both from instruction in the bullpen or by just listening to his countless stories from his past. Dal Canton was ole time baseball. He could go back and talk about his playing days and what he faced himself as a pitcher. But he also drew on his experience as a coach, telling players who others who had made it had to go through the same things they were battling in A-ball.
Some coaches hollar and scream to get their point across, but that was never needed with DC. There was an air of respect around Bruce Dal Canton. All you had to do was hear his Pennsylvania draw in almost a whisper to know the man knew what he was talking about. You listened and learned and leaned on every word spoken.
One of the joys of every spring training is seeing players and coaches for the first time after a long winter’s break. Everyone looked forward to seeing DC, and next spring won’t be the same without him being there in that Braves uniform.
This is a man who truly will be missed.
Bill Shanks hosts The Atlanta Baseball Show on 680 the Fan in Atlanta and The Bill Shanks Show on SportsRadio 105.5 the Fan in Macon. He is the author of Scout's Honor: The Bravest Way To Build A Winning Team, a look inside the Braves‘ traditional scouting and player development philosophies. You can email Bill at firstname.lastname@example.org.