The Detroit Tigers’ streak of 12 consecutive complete games in 1968

I have a collection of recordings of old baseball radio broadcasts. Recently I was listening to the September 20, 1968 game between the Cardinals and Dodgers; Harry Caray, while reviewing the out-of-town scoreboard, mentioned the Detroit Tigers’ streak of 12 consecutive complete games had come to an end.

I’ll bet that Joe DiMaggio’s hitting streak and Cal Ripken’s consecutive games streak will both be broken before any team throws 12 straight complete games again.

Denny McLain pitched four of the 1968 Tigers' 12 consecutive complete games. His 30th win of the season was the eighth game of the streak.

Denny McLain pitched four of the 1968 Tigers’ 12 consecutive complete games. His 30th win of the season was the eighth game of the streak.

To put the streak in perspective: as I write this, no major league team has had 12 complete games in an entire season in any of the last three years (2012-14). In fact, no team has had as many as 10 in a season during that period. In 2014, pitchers threw a complete game in just 2.4% of their starts (118 of 4860). The Mets, Rockies, Cubs, Mariners, Pirates, Phillies and Twins COMBINED had just 11 complete games.

But things were different in 1968, the most offensively-challenged season of modern times: the 20 major league teams combined to average just 3.42 runs per game with a .237 batting average and .340 slugging percentage. And starting pitchers went the distance more than a quarter of the time (27.6%, to be precise, 897 of 3250), making it more than 10 times as likely as it is today. The Tigers had 59 complete games in 1968 and didn’t even lead the majors; the Cardinals, the team Detroit defeated in the World Series, had 63, while the Giants had 77, nearly half their games (and the second-most of any team in the last 60 years; the team with the most will come up later).

Still, the odds against a team that gets a complete game even half the time stringing together a streak of 12 straight are pretty staggering. (Just to show how difficult it is, the 1917 Red Sox had complete games in 115 of their 157 games, and yet their longest streak was 12. Those 1968 Giants? Their longest streak was seven.) And yet, in looking at issues from The Sporting News from 1968, I find no acknowledgment of the Tigers’ streak, let alone how unusual it was.

Using Baseball-Reference.com’s Play Index tool, I found the streaks of 12 or more consecutive complete games in a season going back to 1914, which is as far as the database goes:

StrEAk Start End Games W L SHO ERA
NYY 1922-04-19 1922-05-07 18 12 6 4 2.37
DET 1918-07-12 1918-07-30 18 11 7 4 1.52
NYY 1923-08-27 1923-09-13 17 14 3 2 2.21
BRO 1919-09-11 1919-09-27 16 9 7 1 3.10
PHI 1919-08-26 1919-09-10 15 6 9 1 3.00
NYY 1922-05-24 1922-06-08 14 9 5 0 3.28
BOS 1918-07-04 1918-07-17 14 11 3 6 1.39
PHI 1917-05-31 1917-06-17 14 8 6 3 1.90
BOS 1919-08-28 1919-09-11 13 11 2 4 2.21
CHC 1919-05-31 1919-06-12 13 11 2 3 0.89
BSN 1918-05-21 1918-06-04 13 8 5 1 2.11
NYY 1917-04-24 1917-05-13 13 7 6 2 1.42
BSN 1914-09-21 1914-09-30 13 11 1 2 1.78
DET 1968-09-06 1968-09-19 12 10 2 3 1.67
CHC 1936-06-04 1936-06-16 12 12 0 1 2.42
CHC 1931-08-16 1931-08-24 12 6 6 1 2.00
CLE 1929-08-29 1929-09-12 12 8 4 3 2.31
NYY 1921-06-22 1921-07-04 12 10 2 0 2.50
BSN 1917-08-29 1917-09-08 12 7 5 2 2.61
BOS 1917-04-24 1917-05-13 12 9 3 3 1.07
CIN 1943-09-25 1943-10-03 12 10 2 5 0.90
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 11/22/2014.

 

Notice 12 of these 21 streaks came before 1920, during the deadball era. That means there have been just nine complete game streaks of 12 games or longer in a single season since 1920…the last of which was by the 1968 Tigers. Theirs was the longest since the 1943 Reds finished the season with 12 straight complete games (and then opened the 1944 season with six straight CGs). The last team before the Tigers to have a longer stretch of complete games was the 1923 Yankees, who had 17 in a row.

Let’s look at that Tiger streak. The last game before it came on September 4, when starting pitcher John Hiller was lifted for a pinch-hitter in the top of the eighth in a tie game at Oakland. The Tigers scored two runs in that inning, and Pat Dobson pitched the final two frames to get the save and keep Detroit eight games ahead of second-place Baltimore.

September 6: The Tigers scored four runs in the bottom of the first, three of them on a home run by Willie Horton, and went on to beat the Twins 8-3. Denny McLain struck out 12 to improve his season record to 28-5, the most wins for any major leaguer since Hal Newhouser won 29 for the Tigers in 1944.

Graig Nettles gained his greatest fame as a Yankee, but he broke into the majors with the Minnesota Twins in 1968.

Graig Nettles gained his greatest fame as a Yankee, but he broke into the majors with the Minnesota Twins in 1968.

September 7: Rookie Graig Nettles led off the top of the ninth with a home run, his second of the game, to give the Twins a 2-1 win over the Tigers. Nettles had also homered off McLain the previous night in his major league debut. Dobson took  a four-hitter into the ninth, and Tiger manager Mayo Smith left him in to finish the game after giving up the tie-breaking homer. Had the Tigers tied the game in the bottom of the ninth, after Dobson was lifted for a pinch-hitter, a relief pitcher would have entered the game, but when the Tigers failed to score Dobson got credit for the complete game.

September 8: For the second straight day a Tiger pitched a complete game in defeat, as Earl Wilson lost to Dean Chance and the Twins 3-1…and again the hero was the rookie Nettles, who hit a three-run homer in the sixth inning. After Tom Matchick singled to open the bottom of the eighth, Smith let Wilson go to the plate as the tying run and he struck out. Letting Wilson bat in that situation wasn’t a shock; he hit seven homers in 88 at-bats in 1968 and was used as a pinch-hitter six times. (By the way, the record for most consecutive complete game losses for a team, at least since 1914? Seven, by the 1940 Philadelphia A’s.)

September 9: In Anaheim, Mickey Lolich pitched a two-hit shutout and drove in a run himself with a double as the Tigers blanked the Angels 6-0. A three-run first inning (including a two-run homer by Horton) got the Tigers off to a flying start.

September 10: McLain struck out 12 for the second straight time and coasted to a 7-2 win over the Angels, his teammates having staked him to a 6-0 lead before the Angels hit a pair of solo homers in the sixth. McLain had three hits of his own, including the first triple of his major league career (he would hit another in 1971), and drove in two runs in earning his 29th win; to that point he was 17-1 on the road (he would lose his only start away from Tiger Stadium after that). California starter Andy Messersmith took his first major league loss.

September 11: The Tigers got off to another hot start, scoring five runs in the second inning and two more in the third (Horton leading off both innings with a homer), allowing John Hiller to go the distance in a 8-2 win over the Angels despite allowing 10 hits and walking three. Hiller would go on to have some outstanding seasons as a relief pitcher for the Tigers, but in 1968 he started 12 games and went the distance in four of them.

A fine pitcher, Earl Wilson was also a threat with the bat in his hand, hitting 35 career home runs.

A fine pitcher, Earl Wilson was also a threat with the bat in his hand, hitting 35 career home runs.

September 13: After a day off to get home from the West Coast, the Tigers blanked the A’s 3-0 on a 10-hit shutout by Wilson, whose homer accounted for Detroit’s final run. (Claude Osteen of the Dodgers pitched a 10-hit shutout the same day; there were only two other 10-hit shutouts in 1968, and nobody allowed more hits in a shutout that year.) Manager Smith allowed Wilson to pitch out of trouble, as the A’s put runners on second and third with nobody out in the seventh inning, first and third with nobody out in the eighth and first and second with one out in the ninth. In his roundup of American League games in the next day’s newspapers, Associated Press writer Hal Bock noted the Tigers had turned in seven straight complete games.

 

September 14: Coming into this game, McLain had already pitched 304 innings on the season; that, combined with the tension that had mounted as the possibility grew that he could win 30 games, made Denny a little shaky in this game in front of a home crowd of 44,087 (the box score shows just the paid attendance) and a national television audience (back in the era when just one game each week was available to the whole country). Reggie Jackson, in his first full major league season, hit a two-run homer off McLain in the top of the fourth; then, after Norm Cash hit a three-run homer in the bottom of the inning, Bert Campaneris tied the game with an RBI single in the fifth and Reggie put the A’s ahead with a solo homer in the sixth.

A photo taken after Denny McLain's 30th win in 1968.

A photo taken after Denny McLain’s 30th win in 1968.

But McLain settled down after that, retiring nine of the last ten men he faced. The Tigers still trailed 4-3 going into the bottom of the ninth, and manager Smith used Al Kaline to pinch-hit for McLain leading off. Kaline walked, later scored on a throwing error by Danny Cater, and Willie Horton then singled home Mickey Stanley to give the Tigers a 5-4 victory. making McLain the major leagues’ first 30-game winner since Dizzy Dean in 1934. (No one has done it since.) This was the only game of the streak in which the Tigers allowed more than three runs.

It was the second time in the Tigers’ complete game streak that the pitcher had been removed for a pinch-hitter in the Tigers’ last at-bat. McLain nearly didn’t make it to the ninth inning. In the bottom of the eighth, the Tigers had men on first and second with two out when Smith called on Gates Brown (who went 18-for-40 as a pinch-hitter in 1968) to bat for Don Wert, with McLain on deck. Had Brown walked, or gotten a hit that did not give the Tigers the lead, McLain may well have been lifted for a hitter. But Brown popped up on the first pitch and McLain was free to return to the mound.

September 15: The Tigers again scored early, with three runs in the first inning, and kept the runs coming in a 13-0 rout of the A’s. Mickey Lolich pitched a three-hitter, striking out 12, for his second straight shutout.

September 16: A familiar formula…the Tigers scored four in the first inning, five more in the second, and Hiller cruised to a 9-1 victory over the visiting Yankees. That ended a 10-game winning streak by the Yankees and allowed the Tigers to clinch at least a tie for the American League pennant (the Orioles defeated the Red Sox that night to prevent the Tigers from winning the flag outright).

September 17: Joe Sparma, who had driven in the only run of the game in the fifth inning, took a three-hit shutout into the top of the ninth, only to have the Yankees tie the game on Jake Gibbs’ two-out RBI single. Manager Smith left Sparma in the game to face the next batter, Mickey Mantle, who struck out. The first two Tiger batters were retired in the bottom of the ninth, then a walk, single and walk loaded the bases and Don Wert singled to give the Tigers a 2-1 victory. (Sparma did not come to the plate in the ninth.) Sparma had been a last-minute choice to start the game after scheduled starter Earl Wilson strained a muscle in his pitching shoulder while warming up. It marked the 29th time in 1968 the Tigers had won a game in their last at-bat, and it gave the team its first pennant since 1945. Detroit had actually clinched the pennant a few minutes before Wert’s winning hit, when Baltimore lost to Boston, but Tiger general manager Jim Campbell didn’t announce that result to the Tiger Stadium crowd of 46,512, fearing they would swarm the field before their own game was done.

MantleSeptember 19: After the Tigers’ first rainout of the season on the 18th, McLain took the mound again and defeated the Yankees 6-2. Norm Cash broke a 1-1 tie with a two-run homer in the bottom of the sixth, and the Tigers went on to score another run in that inning and two more in the seventh. The game is best remembered for Mickey Mantle’s 535th major league home run, breaking a tie with Jimmie Foxx and moving him into sole possession of third place on the all-time list at that time, behind Babe Ruth and Willie Mays. (To that date Hank Aaron had 508.) The home run came in the eighth inning with the Tigers leading by five and was a gift from McLain (“a medium fastball delivered with senatorial courtesy,” Joe Durso wrote in the next day’s New York Times). “That Mantle — he was my idol,” McLain said after the game. “Baseball is going to be sad when he leaves.” (Mantle retired the following spring.) The win was McLain’s 31st and last of the season; he made two more starts and allowed just one earned run but won neither.

That made it nine straight wins and 12 straight complete games for the Tigers (and note all the complete games went nine innings, no rain-shortened games or road losses in which the home team didn’t bat in the bottom of the ninth). The winning streak continued the next night, when the Tigers went to Washington and defeated the Senators 6-3, thanks to three homers accounting for four runs in the top of the eighth inning. But Mayo Smith intentionally ended the complete-game streak when he batted for Mickey Lolich in the top of the eighth after the Tigers had gone up by three runs. “I’d like to leave [Lolich] in long enough to get the win, but I don’t want him to go the full nine,” Smith had told his Senators counterpart Jim Lemon before the game. Pat Dobson, who had been the last relief pitcher used by the Tigers two weeks earlier, worked the final two innings to save the Tigers’ 100th win of the season. Detroit played eight more games, and no starting pitcher worked more than seven innings in any of them as Smith cut back on their workload to prepare for the World Series.

Since 1968, no team has threatened the Tigers’ complete-game streak. The closest any team came was the 1980 Oakland A’s, when the combination of Billy Martin and the designated hitter led to 94 CGs, the most of any team since the White Sox finished what they started 106 times in 1941 (their longest consecutive streak was 10). The A’s had nine straight complete games from August 9-17; they also had seven straight in July and six in a row in September. Since 1980, the longest streak was five, by Martin’s A’s in 1981; the longest streak since then has been four, most recently by the 1992 Red Sox. The last team to get three in a row was the 2010 A’s. The Tigers and Braves were the only teams to get back-to-back complete games (once each) in 2014.

The 1968 Tigers had another unusual pitching achievement, although I don’t know how it stacks up all time. Mayo Smith went more than three weeks — 20 games — without changing pitchers during an inning. On September 3, Roy Face replaced Earl Wilson with two out in the bottom of the eighth in Oakland; that was the last mid-inning change until the next-to-last game of the season, September 28, when Jon Warden replaced Don McMahon with two out in the top of the ninth against the Senators. In between the Tigers either had complete games or relief pitchers entered at the start of an inning.

Playing in the College World Series and major league World Series in the same year could have happened in 1962

I’m writing this on the eve of the 2014 World Series, and there’s talk about how Kansas City relief pitcher Brandon Finnegan could become the first player ever to appear in both the NCAA College World Series and major league World Series in the same year. (UPDATE: It happened in Game 3 on October 24.) Finnegan pitched for TCU before signing with the Royals after being selected in the first round of the amateur draft.

But this unusual combination could have been pulled off more than 50 years ago…by a pitcher who never won a game in the majors. And unlike Finnegan, he went directly from campus to the big leagues.

From The Sporting News of June 30, 1962

From The Sporting News of June 30, 1962

Bob Garibaldi was named most valuable player of the 1962 College World Series, even though he was the losing pitcher in the championship game; in fact, he was the losing pitcher in both games his Santa Clara Broncos lost in the double-elimination tournament. But his performance in the event was remarkable then, unthinkable today.

With a lineup that featured three future major leaguers (first baseman John Boccabella, shortstop Ernie Fazio and third baseman Tim Cullen), Santa Clara entered the eight-team College World Series as the top-ranked team in the country. Garibaldi, a 6’5″ sophomore in his first season of varsity competition (at that time freshmen were ineligible for varsity play under NCAA rules), was the Broncos’ ace pitcher with an 8-1 record,

But Garibaldi and the Broncos lost their opening game of the tournament June 11 to Florida State. Garibaldi struck out the first five hitters he faced and hit a home run (his only one of the season) in the fifth inning to tie the game 1-1, but the Seminoles scored two runs off him in the sixth inning and two more in the seventh to knock him out of the box on the way to a 5-1 win. Garibaldi had two singles to go with his homer (he had all the Broncos’ hits in the game) and struck out nine in 6-2/3 innings.

The loss left Santa Clara in a win-or-go-home position for the rest of the tournament. And coach Paddy Cottrell made it clear the Broncos weren’t going home without giving Garibaldi a chance to save their season.

The next night Santa Clara took a 4-1 lead into the bottom of the ninth against Missouri. But when the Tigers rallied to tie, Garibaldi was brought in to pitch and got the victory when the Broncos scored three unearned runs in the 12th. Garibaldi pitched 3-1/3 shutout innings, striking out three. [ADDED 10/22/14: I found this very good 1995 story about Garibaldi in the San Francisco Chronicle that says Garbaldi came in with the Broncos ahead 4-3 and the tying run on base, with the run scoring on a wild pitch and passed ball. I hadn’t seen any details of that inning in the Omaha newspaper accounts of the time.]

The next night Santa Clara had a relatively easy 12-7 win over Holy Cross, and Garibaldi’s services weren’t needed. But the next night, June 14, in a rematch against Florida State, Cottrell took no chances. When the Seminoles, trailing 11-2, scored four runs in the seventh, Cottrell called on Garibaldi for the third time in four days to put out the fire, and the big righthander struck out three in 2-1/3 scoreless innings.

Garibaldi’s two longest appearances of the tournament were still to come.

From the 1962 Santa Clara yearbook

From the 1962 Santa Clara yearbook

The next night, with Santa Clara trailing Texas 2-1 in the bottom of the third, and the Longhorns having the bases loaded with one out, Cottrell called on Garibaldi again. He walked the first batter he faced to force in a run but then shut down the Longhorns the rest of the way, allowing just two hits and striking out 12 over 7-2/3 innings and getting the win when Santa Clara’s Mickey McDermott hit an inside-the-park home run (his only homer of the season) off future major leaguer Chuck Hartenstein in the 10th inning.

Garibaldi had pitched four times in five days, a total of 19-2/3 innings. He told the Omaha World-Herald he didn’t think he had been overworked. “Before I came here [to Omaha for the CWS], I had a 10-day layoff,” he said. “Furthermore, I find that I do better when I throw every day.”

He’d have a chance to prove that the next night.

On June 16 Santa Clara took on Michigan to determine the CWS champion (the Wolverines having lost a game to Texas, so the loser of the game would be eliminated with two losses). Cottrell let Garibaldi start the game in the dugout, as Charlie Marcenaro took a perfect 8-0 record to the mound for the Broncos. Santa Clara staked Marcenaro to a 3-1 lead, but a two-run triple by Michigan pitcher Fritz Fisher in the seventh tied the game, and when the Wolverines’ leadoff hitter in the eighth reached third base, it would be Garibaldi’s game — and championship — to win or lose. (I haven’t been able to find a story that says who led off for Michigan in the eighth or how he got to third. The box score in The Sporting News of June 30, 1962 says Marcenaro pitched to just one batter in the eighth, and the accompanying game story says Garibaldi entered the game with a runner on third and none out.) [ADDED 10/22/14: The San Francisco Chronicle story I alluded to earlier says Marcenaro was hit in the hand by a line drive; I did not find that detail in the contemporaneous accounts of the game I read in the World-Herald, Associated Press or Sporting News.]

Garibaldi got out of the jam, striking out two batters and retiring the runner on third in a rundown. He struck out the side in the ninth…and again in the 12th, as for the third time in six nights Santa Clara played extra innings. At one point he retired 15 batters in a row, even though he later said he didn’t have his breaking stuff because of his earlier work in the tournament.

Garibaldi pitched 7-2/3 innings before giving up a hit. And then, quickly, the season came to an end.

After Garibaldi retired Michigan’s first two batters in the top of the 15th, third baseman Harvey Chapman, the number eight hitter in the lineup, beat out an infield single that bounced over Garibaldi’s glove. That brought up sophomore Jim Bobel, who had entered the game as a relief pitcher in the 10th inning and had exactly one hit all season. Bobel tripled to score Chapman, then scored himself when Garibaldi threw a wild pitch. [ADDED 10/22/14: The 1995 San Francisco Chronicle story describes the triple as a “misplayed fly ball” that “went between two outfielders.” An Associated Press account of the game said the Broncos’ center fielder and right fielder “converged on the ball” but “it went between them untouched,” without offering an opinion on whether it could have been caught. Neither the World-Herald nor The Sporting News included any details about the hit.]

And Bobel’s run would turn out to be the margin of victory; Cullen drove in a run for the Broncos in the bottom of the 15th but Michigan held on for a 5-4 win.

Garibaldi went eight innings in relief in the game, allowing just the two hits and striking out 11. For the tournament he pitched 27-2/3 innings, allowed 15 hits and struck out 38 — all in just six days. He still holds the records for most innings pitched and most strikeouts in a single CWS (along with, alas, the record for most wild pitches). “My arm’s just numb,” he said. “I’m just going to relax for two weeks. I’ll do some water skiing — but I won’t touch a baseball.”

Of course, there were plenty of major league teams lined up to give Garibaldi a lot of money to touch a baseball for them. This was before the rule was implemented that prohibits players at four-year colleges from signing professional contracts until after their junior year, so Garibaldi was fair game to sign as a free agent (the amateur draft wouldn’t start until 1965). And on July 4 the Giants, just up the San Francisco peninsula from Santa Clara, announced they had given Garibaldi the biggest bonus they’d ever paid any player — $150,000 — to sign with them. (That was the amount reported in The Sporting News issue of July 14, 1962. A story in The Sporting News the next spring said the bonus was $130,000.) Garibaldi said 12 of the 20 major league teams had made him an offer and that at least one team offered more money, but he liked the idea of pitching for a team that scored a lot of runs (with the likes of Willie Mays, Orlando Cepeda and Willie McCovey) and also played close to his home in nearby Stockton.

Garibaldi GiantsGaribaldi went straight to the majors, making his debut on July 15 with a scoreless inning of relief in New York against the Mets. (Under the rules of the time, the Giants had to keep him on their roster or risk losing him for $8,000 in a postseason draft of first-year players.) The next day he came on with two out and the tying run on third in the bottom of the ninth and retired Rod Kanehl on a fly ball to get the save in a 3-2 Giants win. But with the Giants in a pennant race, manager Alvin Dark was reluctant to use the rookie, and his subsequent appearances all came with the Giants trailing. Still he performed well, with a 2.38 ERA in his first eight appearances, before he allowed four runs in an inning of work against Milwaukee on August 29.

And that would be Garibaldi’s last appearance of the season, although he remained on the active roster for the World Series against the Yankees. He did not appear in any of the seven games.

Garibaldi would pitch in only six major league games after that: four in September 1963, one in September 1966, and his only major league start on the next-to-last day of the 1969 season, right after the Giants had been eliminated from the pennant race. He pitched four scoreless innings against the Padres, then gave up four runs (three of them unearned) in the fifth to take the loss. He finished his big league career with an 0-2 record and a 3.08 ERA in 26-1/3 innings. Yes, he pitched more innings in six days in the 1962 College World Series than he did in the major leagues.

But Garibaldi did a solid job in the Class AAA Pacific Coast League, winning 96 games in that loop from 1963 through 1971 and reaching double figures in victories in eight of those nine seasons (in the other season, 1964, he pitched only 55 innings because of a bad arm). In 1969 he led the league in wins and complete games and was sixth in the league in ERA; in 1970 he won 15 games and again led the league in complete games, ranking second in the league in ERA.

Okay, I’m running out of time here, and maybe I’ll be able to flesh this out later, but Garibaldi was also a superb basketball player, leading Santa Clara in scoring during his only varsity season as a sophomore in 1961-62. His older brother Dick was at the time Santa Clara’s freshman baseball and basketball coach and would later become the Broncos’ varsity basketball coach. Dick Garibaldi had played on Santa Clara’s team that reached the NCAA basketball Final Four in 1952.

The day Casey Stengel’s pinch-runner fell down trying to score because he was wearing the wrong shoes

My antennae are always raised when I read a baseball story that seems too good to be true — most of them are — so I went into research mode when I read this in Leonard Koppett‘s classic 1967 book “A Thinking Man’s Guide To Baseball”:

In 1939 Casey [Stengel] was managing the Braves (who were called the Bees then). They got involved in an extra-inning game with the Dodgers, in Boston. In the 14th inning, the Braves [sic] got a man to second base and Casey looked around for a pinch runner. He found a rookie named Otto Huber. Sure enough, Al Lopez singled, and here came Huber around third with the winning run — only to fall flat on his face halfway home. He was tagged out, the game went on through he 20th inning and ended in a tie.

“The next day,” Stengel recounts, “I looked at this man’s shoes, and the spikes were worn all the way down, almost flat. They buy their own shoes, you know. But in his locker was a brand-new pair.

” ‘That the best equipment you got?’ I asked him, meanin’ the old shoes, of course.

” ‘No,’ he sez to me, ‘but these old ones are more comfortable for my feet, and I had them on because I didn’t think you were gonna use me.’

“Can you imagine? For the next three years, whenever I wanted to use a hitter or a runner, I’d call him over first and make him show me his spikes.”

Great story…but could it possibly be true? It’s not like I haven’t found tall tales involving Stengel before.

Casey Stengel as manager of the Boston Bees. Courtesy of the Boston Public Library, Leslie Jones Collection.

Casey Stengel as manager of the Boston Bees. Courtesy of the Boston Public Library, Leslie Jones Collection.

Well, I’m taking Casey at his word about the spikes, because the rest of the story checks out with a few minor differences. In fact, one of the minor differences makes it an even better story.

The Braves purchased Huber from their Class B farm club at Evansville, Ind., at the end of the 1938 season. Evansville had won the pennant in the Three-I League, with second baseman Huber batting .311 and finishing second in the league in doubles with 35. He went to spring training with the Bees in 1939 but was sent to Hartford of the Class A Eastern League, where he was shifted to third base as the Senators had a promising 18-year-old, Sebastian “Sibby” (or “Sebbi”) Sisti, at second.

Huber got off to a terrible start at the plate for Hartford and was batting under .200 in early June when he was called up to the Bees. I’ve not been able to find details and reasoning for the transaction in either The Sporting News or Boston Globe archives, but Boston’s regular second baseman Tony Cuccinello was injured at the time and Huber was known as a good glove man.

Otto Huber

Otto Huber

Huber had played in all of five major league games (four off the bench and one as a starter, with five hits in nine at-bats) going into the fateful events of June 27 in Boston. It’s easy to see why he assumed he wouldn’t play that day {although assumptions are always dangerous, aren’t they?), and he did not play in the first 12 innings.

The Bees and Dodgers were tied 2-2 in the 13th inning (not the 14th as Koppett said) when, with one out in the bottom of the inning, third baseman Henry Majeski reached base when Brooklyn second baseman Pete Coscarart let his ground ball go through his legs for an error. Huber then went in to run (at first base, not at second as Koppett’s telling would indicate) for Majeski, who was described in the next day’s Boston Globe as “still limping” from a previous injury.

Huber advanced to second on Eddie Miller’s single, then Al Lopez came to the plate and hit a ground ball past third baseman Cookie Lavagetto that, according to the New York Times game story, was scored an error (not a single as in Koppett’s account).

Let’s let those who were there describe what happened next. First, the Times’ Roscoe McGowen:

Master Huber will have to go down in sports history alongside Roy Riegels, Fred Snodgrass and Fred Merkle. [Note from me -- that's a little dramatic for a late June game between two teams with losing records; it should be noted many devotees of sports history today know of Riegels, Snodgrass and Merkle, and I think it's safe to say Huber has been forgotten.] For Huber…was transporting the winning run around third base with time to spare when he stumbled and sprawled flat on his face.

Professor Casey Stengel threw his cap high in the air, sprang at least four feet in the same direction and came down screaming in anguish.

From the New York Times of June 28, 1939

From the New York Times of June 28, 1939

The Globe’s Gerry Moore went into even more detail:

Huber was under full sail with the crack of the bat and when the ball went through Lavagetto it was a million-to-one shot Otto would score. The millionth happened. A few feet before he reached third the youngster looked out at the ball in left field and it was then he tripped over his own feet and fell flat on his face on top of third base.

He picked himself up and started for home, but by this time left fielder Ernie Koy was returning the pellet to the infield and Huber had all he could to to scramble back to third safely.

Note Huber was not tagged out, as Koppett’s tale had said. The Bees still had the bases loaded with just one out, but pinch-hitter Stan Andrews struck out and Debs Garms grounded out to end the inning, with the score still tied 2-2.

From the Boston Globe, June 28, 1939

From the Boston Globe of June 28, 1939

And that was still the score, 10 innings later…yes, the game lasted 23 innings (not 20, as Koppett wrote) and ended in a 2-2 tie. The Tuesday afternoon game had started at 3 p.m. and was called on account of darkness at 8:15, 10 minutes before official sundown, by home plate umpire Babe Pinelli. (The Bees’ home field did not yet have lights.) It was to that point the third-longest game by number of innings in major league history. “Most amusing interlude of the affair,” Moore wrote, “were the frequent phone calls at National League Field offices from anxious housewives who wanted to check up and see if the game was really still going.” (National League Field is what the ballpark was being called that year; it had previously been known, and would again, as Braves Field. At any rate not many husbands were missing supper because of the game, as the attendance was given as only 2,457.)

The Dodgers’ starting pitcher in the game was Whitlow Wyatt, who was the hottest pitcher in baseball at the time. Wyatt had put up a record of 26-43 with a 5.22 ERA in the American League from 1929-37, but after returning to the minors in 1938 turned his career around when he went 23-7 for Milwaukee of the American Association and led the league in wins, strikeouts and ERA. Wyatt entered the June 27 game with a 7-0 record and pitched the first 16 innings against the Bees, lowering his ERA for the season to 1.45. That performance came even though his left knee was apparently still showing the effects of an injury in a collision at first base that had caused him to miss three weeks in late May and early June. (Wyatt’s left leg was “completely strapped up,” according to he Globe’s Moore.) The effort may have taken a toll; Wyatt was shelled in his next start five days later, won just one of his next five starts and didn’t pitch after July 19 because of knee problems. But he bounced back to remain the Dodgers’ ace over the next four seasons, and his league-leading 22 wins in 1941 helped Brooklyn win the pennant.

Otto Huber signatureAs for Otto Huber…he finished the game at third base after his baserunning blunder, going 0-for-4. He played just five more games for the Bees, getting just one hit, before Boston returned him to Hartford on option on July 21, calling up the 18-year-old Sibby Sisti to take his place. Sisti was never a star but was with the Braves until they left Boston after the 1952 season and was one of the franchise’s most popular players.

Huber never returned to the majors, staying with Hartford through the 1941 season and then going back down to Evansville before missing three seasons to serve in the Army during World War II. He went back to the minors after the war and was a player-manager for Mt. Vernon of the Class D Illinois State League in 1947. The last reference I can find of him involved with baseball was as the manager of the Minot (N.D.) Mallards of the semi-pro ManDak League in 1951. According to his 1989 obituary in the Hacksensack (N.J.) Record, he spent 25 years as a master plumber for the city of Garfield, N.J., his birthplace.

I’ve not found any stories about Huber’s worn-down spikes in The Sporting News, New York Times or Boston Globe in 1939. I’d be curious to know when that story first appeared in print, and if anyone can provide any possibilities please do so in the comments below.

(The information that Huber was batting under .200 when he was called up to Boston is in a story in the Hartford Courant of July 21, 1939, “Sebbi Sisti Recalled By Boston Bees.”)

Jeff Samardzija still can’t win…and leads the majors in ERA

This is a update of my earlier post about the historic start to Jeff Samardzija‘s season. Samardzija shut out the Yankees for seven innings on May 21, only to see the Yanks rally to tie the game against the bullpen in the ninth and win in extra innings. That makes 10 starts for Samardzija this season, eight of them quality starts (three in which he gave up no runs and a fourth in which he gave up no earned runs), a 1.46 ERA (best in the majors!)…and no wins.

"Yes! I have by far the best ERA ever for a pitcher who was winless through his first ten starts of the season!"

“Yes! I have by far the best ERA ever for a pitcher who was winless through his first ten starts of the season!”

Using Baseball-Reference.com’s Play Index Pitching Streak Finder, I find 181 other occasions since 1914 when a pitcher has not won any of his first 10 starts of a season. Some of those pitchers also pitched in relief during that period, and some of them won games out of the bullpen. But none of them had an ERA through 10 starts anywhere near as low as Samardzija’s.

My earlier post checked out the competition through eight and nine starts. Let’s look at the closest competitors now:

Rube Schauer – né Dimitri Dimitrihoff — lost his first 10 starts for the 1917 A’s, with a 2.33 ERA in those games. Of course, he’d allowed more unearned runs (25) than earned runs (21), so it’s not like he was pitching that great. (Samardzija has given up five unearned runs in his first ten starts.) And Schauer was not winless, as he had made six relief appearances (five of them lasting at least five innings) and won two of them. His overall ERA was 3.19 through his tenth start, and he finally won start 11.

The previous year, through ten winless starts for the 1916 A’s, Tom Sheehan had lost eight of them but had a 2.58 ERA in those games. He had also allowed 14 unearned runs. Like Schauer, Sheehan was not winless on the season by that time, as he had earned a win in one of his 14 relief appearances. His season ERA through his tenth start was 3.30. Sheehan won none of his 17 starts in 1916 (thanks for the fix, @mighty_flynn), going 0-14 with a 3.27 ERA in those games. Only Matt Keough, who lost his first 23 starts for the 1979 A’s (with no relief wins either), and Bob L. Miller, who lost his first 20 starts for the famed 1962 Mets (and was also winless in relief) before pitching a complete game seven-hitter against the Cubs on the next-to-last day of the season, started a season with a longer streak of winless starts than Sheehan’s.

Bill Piercy was not only winless in his first ten starts of 1923 for the Red Sox, he was the losing pitcher in nine of them — and he lost two relief appearances during that time as well. His season ERA to that point was 3.14, with a 2.69 ERA as a starter. But he gave up at least one unearned run in each of those ten starts, 23 in all, compared to 20 earned runs. Like Schauer, he got his first win in start 11.

Andy Ashby was 0-5 with a 2.85 ERA through 10 starts with the 1994 Padres. He pitched a four-hitter against the Pirates to win start 11. The previous year Ashby was winless in his first 11 starts, nine with the expansion Rockies plus his first two after being traded to the Padres. Yet somehow Ashby went on to pitch in two All-Star Games and a World Series.

Rick Langford led the American League in losses with 19 in his first full major league season in 1977, and was winless in his first six starts for the 1978 A’s before going to the bullpen, then he got another shot at starting in mid-June. When he did not win his tenth start — a game in which he allowed no runs — his ERA to date as a starter was 3.04 and his overall ERA was 2.87…but he had won a game in relief. In his eleventh start Langford pitched a complete game five-hitter and lost 1-0 to the Twins before finally winning start 12. He went on to win his next four decisions, two of them shutouts. In 1980 Langford won 19 games and pitched 28 complete games — something no major leaguer has done since — then led the league again in 1981 with 18 complete games before his arm gave way.

Rickey Clark was 0-6 with a 3.19 ERA through 10 starts for the 1968 Angels (like Ashby, he was not used in relief during that period) and would not finally win until start 13…his only win of the season (he finished 1-11).

Guy Morton made his big league debut in June 1914 for the Indians and appeared in relief in his first seven outings. He got his first start in mid-July and didn’t win any of his first 10 starts, losing the first nine before getting a no-decision. He had a 3.21 ERA in those games, and including his nine relief appearances had a 3.19 overall ERA. Morton, like Bob Miller, would get his only win in his final start of the season, after going winless in his first 12. Morton was a 16-game winner for the Indians the next year, and while he was never a star he never had another losing record until his final season, when he was 0-1 in 10 relief outings for the 1924 Indians.

Pablo Torrealba lost all 10 of his starts for the 1977 A’s (the same team Rick Langford lost 19 games for; we’ve certainly mentioned a lot of A’s here), going 0-5 with a 3.34 ERA. However, he also made 31 relief appearances in which he put up a 1.73 ERA and won four games. His overall ERA on the season was 2.62.

You can’t win if your teammates don’t score: the toughest-luck seasons ever for major league pitchers

I’ve written about Jeff Samardzija’s winless start to the 2014 season. In nine starts to this writing (5/17/14), Samardzija has a 1.62 ERA — by far the best of any pitcher ever who was winless through his first nine starts of the year — and he has not allowed more than three earned runs in any game. That got me thinking: who has had the most winless starts in a season in which he allowed three or fewer earned runs?

Twenty times a pitcher has had 20 or more such starts:

Player Year #Matching W L ERA IP H ER BB SO WHIP Tm
Jack Nabors 1916 24 Ind. Games 0 15 2.45 143.1 117 39 59 44 1.23 PHA
Nolan Ryan 1987 23 Ind. Games 0 13 2.75 140.2 94 43 65 170 1.13 HOU
Claude Osteen 1975 22 Ind. Games 0 10 3.82 115.1 135 49 52 34 1.62 CHW
Rollie Naylor 1920 22 Ind. Games 0 18 3.04 130.1 152 44 56 46 1.60 PHA
Pete Schneider 1915 21 Ind. Games 0 15 2.65 142.2 136 42 53 59 1.32 CIN
Dennis Lamp 1978 21 Ind. Games 0 10 2.37 129.0 118 34 27 45 1.12 CHC
Joe Horlen 1968 21 Ind. Games 0 12 2.60 124.2 122 36 45 52 1.34 CHW
John Dopson 1988 21 Ind. Games 0 10 2.91 136.0 112 44 51 80 1.20 MON
Steve Bedrosian 1985 21 Ind. Games 0 8 2.76 124.0 109 38 58 80 1.35 ATL
Brandon Webb 2004 20 Ind. Games 0 8 2.68 117.2 107 35 70 94 1.50 ARI
Claude Osteen 1965 20 Ind. Games 0 10 2.54 141.2 125 40 38 77 1.15 LAD
Phil Ortega 1967 20 Ind. Games 0 8 3.28 120.2 110 44 33 66 1.19 WSA
Jim McGlothlin 1969 20 Ind. Games 0 11 2.92 111.0 97 36 32 59 1.16 CAL
Jim Kaat 1965 20 Ind. Games 0 8 2.45 106.1 110 29 32 54 1.34 MIN
Ken Hill 1989 20 Ind. Games 0 11 3.38 122.2 110 46 58 71 1.37 STL
Bob Forsch 1976 20 Ind. Games 0 6 3.18 116.0 117 41 39 43 1.34 STL
Phil Douglas 1917 20 Ind. Games 0 14 2.38 136.0 137 36 21 70 1.16 CHC
Jose DeLeon 1991 20 Ind. Games 0 7 2.32 112.2 90 29 45 86 1.20 STL
Tom Bradley 1972 20 Ind. Games 0 12 3.38 114.2 105 43 30 102 1.18 CHW
Doc Ayers 1914 20 Ind. Games 0 10 2.41 123.1 119 33 19 69 1.12 WSH
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 5/17/2014.

 

Jack Nabors finished his career with a 1-25 record (read that out loud — “one and twenty-five” — so it sinks in) with an adjusted ERA well below league average…but it wasn’t all his fault. After the Philadelphia A’s won four American League pennants in five years from 1910-14, owner/manager Connie Mack sold almost all his best players in the face of financial competition from the Federal League. In 1915, when Nabors went 0-5 as a rookie, the A’s season record was 43-109. Then in 1916, when Nabors was 1-20, the A’s were 36-117 and may have been the worst major league team of all time.

Nabors started 30 games in 1916, and in 25 of them he allowed three earned runs or fewer. Of those, he won one, his third start of the year. Of course, those 25 starts include seven in which he pitched no more than four innings. He was victimized as much by his teammates’ poor fielding as he was by their poor hitting. For instance, Nabors lost five starts in which he went at least seven innings and allowed no more than one earned run, a total of three earned runs allowed in those five starts (0.66 ERA). But he allowed at least two unearned runs in each of those five games. Not that it helped that his teammates were shut out in two of them and scored just one run in another…

Nabors was a victim of the flu pandemic that swept the world in 1918 and died in 1923 at age 35…much tougher luck than anything he faced as a member of the Philadelphia A’s.

If you played in a Strat-o-Matic or other simulation game based on the 1987 season, you wanted Nolan Ryan on your pitching staff. After all, he led the National League in ERA and strikeouts and allowed the fewest hits per nine innings. But his record was just 8-16, and in 23 of his 34 starts he allowed no more than three earned runs and did not get a win.

Note Claude Osteen is on this last twice, for seasons ten years apart. In 1965, his first season with the Dodgers, he ranked ninth in the National League in ERA for a pennant-winning team, but his record was just 15-15 as the Dodgers had a nasty habit of not scoring much for him. (They didn’t score much for anybody that year, but it seemed to have more of an impact on Osteen.) His toughest luck came on June 21, when he took a one-hit shutout into the ninth against the lowly Mets only to lose, 1-0, when Billy Cowan led off the ninth with a home run.

Then in 1975, Osteen’s final year in the majors with the White Sox, he had 22 starts in which he didn’t win and allowed no more than three earned runs…but he didn’t really pitch all that well in those games. Note that in those 22 starts he had a 3.82 ERA and a bloated 1.62 WHIP. Included were three losses in which he was knocked out before the end of the third inning. Osteen didn’t pitch very well in his other games, either, finishing the year with a 7-16 record and a 4.36 ERA.

Remember Dennis Lamp? I’ll give you a pass if you don’t…he finished his major league career with a .500 record and never won more than 11 games in a season. But in his first year in the majors, he looked like a pretty good pitcher, despite a 7-15 record for the Cubs. Note his performance in his 21 winless starts in which he allowed no more than three earned runs: a 2.37 ERA and a 1.12 WHIP. That’s darn good pitching for not winning. A few poor outings left his overall season ERA at a still-respectable 3.30. Lamp had three no-decisions in which he went at least seven innings, allowed just one run, and his teammates went on to win after he left the game.

I showed in my previous post that the 1968 White Sox hold the all-time record — by a wide margin — for most games in which the starting pitcher allowed three earned runs or fewer and did not get a win. The pitcher who has the most of those games was Joe Horlen with 21, followed by Gary Peters and Jack Fisher, with 15 each, then Tommy John, Cisco Carlos and Bob Priddy with 13 each. In John’s 13 games he had a 1.94 ERA, a 1.08 WHIP — and no wins.

Jim Kaat still managed to go 18-11 for the pennant-winning 1965 Twins even though he had 20 starts in which he allowed no more than three earned runs and did not win, with a superb 2.45 ERA in those 20 games. But Kaat did allow an unusually high number of unearned runs (27) in those games, with four in one start and six in another. Teammate Mudcat Grant, who pitched more innings, allowed only eight unearned runs all season.

The most recent pitcher on the list, Brandon Webb, also allowed a lot of unearned runs (21 in 20 games).

Okay, let’s raise the tough-luck bar…how about the most non-winning starts in a season allowing no more than two earned runs?

Player Year #Matching W L ERA IP H ER HR BB SO WHIP Tm
Jack Nabors 1916 18 Ind. Games 0 10 1.78 106.1 84 21 1 45 28 1.21 PHA
Brandon Webb 2004 17 Ind. Games 0 6 2.34 100.0 95 26 8 59 76 1.54 ARI
Nolan Ryan 1987 17 Ind. Games 0 9 2.15 104.2 65 25 7 41 129 1.01 HOU
Sam McDowell 1968 17 Ind. Games 0 11 1.47 110.1 78 18 6 51 106 1.17 CLE
Jim Kaat 1965 17 Ind. Games 0 7 2.10 85.2 91 20 7 30 48 1.41 MIN
Doc Ayers 1914 17 Ind. Games 0 9 2.10 102.2 98 24 2 16 56 1.11 WSH
Clayton Kershaw 2009 16 Ind. Games 0 2 1.53 94.0 59 16 3 42 105 1.07 LAD
Tommy Hanson 2010 16 Ind. Games 0 5 1.74 98.1 75 19 3 24 85 1.01 ATL
Jose DeLeon 1991 16 Ind. Games 0 6 1.69 90.1 63 17 6 31 68 1.04 STL
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 5/17/2014.

 

Let’s raise a tough-luck toast to Sam McDowell, who lost 11 starts in which he gave up no more than two earned runs in 1968…although we should note he allowed 19 unearned runs in those 11 games. Still, you gotta feel for a guy who lost an 11-inning 1-0 game in which he struck out 14a three-hitter in which he struck out 14…another 1-0 game in which he pitched a complete-game five-hitter…and a game in which he pitched nine shutout innings only to see his teammates win it in 12. McDowell finished the year second in the American League in ERA, behind teammate Luis Tiant, despite a mere 15-14 record. (Tiant, getting better support, went 21-9.)

Note the unusual season for Clayton Kershaw in 2009: 14 no-decisions in starts in which he allowed no more than two earned runs, including nine in which he allowed no more than one (and in those he allowed no more than one run of any kind). Of course, in seven of those games he was pulled before the end of the sixth inning…but three times he threw at least seven shutout innings before coming out of a scoreless game.

Let’s make it tougher: most non-winning starts in a season allowing no more than one earned run:

Player Year #Matching W L ERA IP H ER BB SO WHIP Tm
Fred Toney 1916 12 Ind. Games 0 7 0.70 90.0 54 7 23 51 0.86 CIN
Sam McDowell 1968 12 Ind. Games 0 7 0.87 83.0 58 8 38 87 1.16 CLE
Pete Schneider 1917 10 Ind. Games 0 8 1.01 71.0 69 8 19 25 1.24 CIN
Jack Nabors 1916 10 Ind. Games 0 5 0.76 59.1 46 5 19 13 1.10 PHA
Lee Meadows 1916 10 Ind. Games 0 7 0.58 77.1 51 5 22 37 0.94 STL
Dennis Lamp 1978 10 Ind. Games 0 5 0.92 59.0 49 6 11 20 1.02 CHC
Clayton Kershaw 2009 10 Ind. Games 0 1 0.58 61.2 29 4 28 68 0.92 LAD
Jim Kaat 1965 10 Ind. Games 0 5 1.13 47.2 50 6 12 27 1.30 MIN
Jose DeLeon 1991 10 Ind. Games 0 2 0.83 54.0 32 5 14 36 0.85 STL
Roger Craig 1963 10 Ind. Games 0 8 0.90 80.1 68 8 19 43 1.08 NYM
Tom Candiotti 1993 10 Ind. Games 0 2 0.88 72.0 51 7 18 62 0.96 LAD
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 5/17/2014.

 

Fred Toney‘s games included a 16-inning 0-0 tie in which he pitched the first 11 and a 12-inning 1-1 tie in which he went the distance. He also lost a pair of 1-0 games.

But for tough luck, how about Roger Craig of the hapless 1963 Mets, who lost eight starts in which he gave up no more than one earned run, tying a single-season record held by three other pitchers. Five of the losses were by 1-0 scores, two were 2-1 and the other was 2-0. Craig finished the season with a 5-22 record and led the National League in losses for the second straight year.

Eight times in 1963 Craig pitched at least eight innings, allowed no more than one earned run, and did not get the win…that’s tied for the single-season record (at least since 1914) with the unfortunate Jack Warhop of the 1914 Yankees. (The Yanks were shut out in seven of Warhop’s games, and the other was a 1-1 tie.) Craig’s seven starts with at least eight innings allowing no more than one run of any kind and not getting a win is the single-season record. And Craig set another record in 1963 by losing six starts in which he allowed just one run. (Hall of Famer Jim Bunning holds the career record in that category, losing 17 starts in which he allowed just one run…he pitched at least seven innings in each.)

Well, you know where we’re going next: most non-winning starts in a season allowing no earned runs:

Player Year #Matching W L IP H ER HR BB SO WHIP Tm
Reb Russell 1914 6 Ind. Games 0 3 16.0 14 0 0 7 6 1.31 CHW
Jimmy Key 1985 6 Ind. Games 0 0 30.1 20 0 0 9 12 0.96 TOR
Clayton Kershaw 2009 6 Ind. Games 0 0 38.2 18 0 0 16 43 0.88 LAD
Dustin Hermanson 1997 6 Ind. Games 0 0 33.1 13 0 0 11 24 0.72 MON
Roger Clemens 2005 6 Ind. Games 0 0 40.0 17 0 0 9 43 0.65 HOU
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 5/17/2014.

 

Yeah, that is a weird line for Reb Russell, who did not complete five innings in any of those six starts and didn’t even get through two innings in three of them. He allowed at least one unearned run in four of those games.

In the cases of Dustin HermansonRoger Clemens and Clayton Kershaw, not only did they allow no earned runs in their six non-winning starts, they didn’t give up any unearned runs either. No one else has had that many non-winning starts without allowing a run.

Let’s see the career record in that category: most starts in which the pitcher allowed no runs but did not get a win:

Player #Matching IP H ER BB SO WHIP Tm
Nolan Ryan 19 Ind. Games 96.0 35 0 31 113 0.69 NYM,CAL,HOU,TEX
Greg Maddux 18 Ind. Games 117.1 68 0 15 75 0.71 CHC,ATL,LAD,SDP
Roger Clemens 16 Ind. Games 105.1 54 0 30 110 0.80 BOS,TOR,NYY,HOU
Chris Young 15 Ind. Games 78.2 40 0 33 62 0.93 TEX,SDP,NYM,SEA
Rick Reuschel 15 Ind. Games 90.2 53 0 21 51 0.82 CHC,NYY,PIT
Jarrod Washburn 13 Ind. Games 79.0 46 0 23 65 0.87 ANA,LAA,SEA,DET
Jimmy Key 13 Ind. Games 78.0 50 0 17 36 0.86 TOR,NYY,BAL
Orel Hershiser 13 Ind. Games 66.1 30 0 24 37 0.81 LAD,SFG
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 5/17/2014.

 

Ryan’s record is somewhat tainted because he was knocked out before the end of the fifth inning in eight of those starts, including one in which he faced only one batter and another in which he faced only two. Maddux, on the other hand, pitched at least five scoreless innings in a start without a win 16 times and Clemens 15 to rank one-two in that category.

But for real tough luck, how about pitching at least nine innings in a start without giving up a run — and not getting a win? Your career leaders:

Player #Matching IP H ER BB SO WHIP Tm
Don Sutton 7 Ind. Games 66.0 35 0 19 34 0.82 LAD,HOU,MIL
Tom Seaver 6 Ind. Games 58.0 25 0 16 56 0.71 NYM
Jim Perry 5 Ind. Games 50.0 25 0 7 23 0.64 MIN,DET,CLE
Phil Niekro 4 Ind. Games 38.0 19 0 9 19 0.74 ATL
Jerry Koosman 4 Ind. Games 41.0 21 0 9 41 0.73 NYM
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 5/17/2014.

 

Sutton’s losses include one game in which he pitched 10 scoreless innings and another in which he threw 11. Seaver and Perry each had four games in which he pitched at least 10 shutout innings without a win.

The historically tough-luck start to the season for Jeff Samardzija, and the surprising major league record held by Ray Washburn

(UPDATE 5/16/14: Some numbers through nine starts at the end of this post. ADDED 5/21/14 And I’ve updated his numbers through ten starts in this post.)

I’m aware of this only because Jeff Samardzija is on my National League fantasy team this year, and our head-to-head league has wins as a category and not quality starts. Samardzija has started eight games so far this season, through May 10, with seven quality starts…and no wins. His 1.45 ERA and 1.05 WHIP are helping me plenty, but despite those fabulous numbers he has no wins.

Date Opp Rslt Dec IP H R ER BB SO ERA
Mar 31 @ PIT L,0-1 7.0 5 0 0 2 3 0.00
Apr 5 PHI L,0-2 L(0-1) 7.0 6 2 2 3 8 1.29
Apr 11 @ STL W,6-3 7.0 6 1 1 0 4 1.29
Apr 18 CIN L,1-4 L(0-2) 7.0 6 3 1 2 7 1.29
Apr 23 ARI L,5-7 7.1 7 2 2 2 5 1.53
Apr 29 @ CIN L,2-3 L(0-3) 5.2 8 3 3 4 4 1.98
May 5 CHW L,1-3 9.0 3 1 0 2 7 1.62
May 10 @ ATL L,0-2 6.0 2 0 0 1 7 1.45
56.0 43 12 9 16 45 1.45
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 5/12/2014.

 

And that makes him the unluckiest pitcher to start a season in major league history.

What does a guy have to do to get a win around here? Maybe get traded to a team that can hit?

What does a guy have to do to get a win around here? Maybe get traded to a team that can hit?

At least that’s the case going back to 1914. To determine that, I use Baseball-Reference.com’s Play Index feature, which accesses stats going back that far. I used the Player Pitching Split Finder to find the pitchers who were winless in their first eight or more starts of a season…there have been 472 of them. But it turns out the Play Index search function counts only starts when answering that request; many of these pitchers had relief appearances before or during their winless-start streak (or both).

Here’s what I did to find pitchers whose seasons started at all similarly to Samardzija: I looked at the detailed game logs of all the pitchers who had an ERA of 3.50 or less in their winless-start streak to see what their records were through their eighth winless start, and I tossed out any pitchers with a significant number of relief appearances before their first win as a starter. And nobody else had an ERA below 2.00 during their streak, let alone one as low as Samardzija’s 1.45 (which, to this point, is the second-lowest in the major leagues behind Cincinnati’s Johnny Cueto).

The only reasonably close comparison to Samardzija was just two years ago, and it was another Cub: Ryan Dempster had a 2.14 ERA through his first eight starts in 2012, and like Samardzija this year had an 0-3 record. Dempster extended his winless streak when he was pummeled in his ninth start, but then he went on a tear, not allowing a run in five consecutive starts covering 33 innings (and yes, he won all five, his only wins of the season for the Cubs in 16 starts). Dempster was traded to Texas at the deadline, and his luck went the other way with the Rangers, as he had a lousy ERA (5.05) and a good record (7-3).

Hall of Famer Whitey Ford was a 37-year-old veteran with a last-place Yankee team in 1966, when he didn’t win any of his nine starts. Whitey lasted just two innings in his sixth start and one inning in start number seven, then went on the disabled list and didn’t pitch for a month before returning with a two-inning relief appearance in a Yankee loss. In his eighth start of the year he was cuffed for 10 runs…but only three of them were earned, so his ERA for the season to that point was 2.44 (2.35 as a starter). Ford went to the bullpen after his next start and underwent season-ending surgery in August.

Al Javery, who had won 17 games and led the National League in innings pitched in 1943 for the Boston Braves, lost his first six starts of 1944 before getting a one-out save (at least what we now call a save) on May 16. He then lost his next two starts; through his seventh start he had a 2.03 season ERA (2.04 as a starter), but when he was racked for six runs in 2-2/3 innings in start number eight his ERA was 2.83 (2.85 as a starter). Javery pitched a shutout in his next start for his first win but went 9-13 the rest of the season with a 3.92 ERA and won only two major league games after that season.

Steve Bedrosian had made just eight starts, with 181 relief appearances, in his first four major league seasons, then new Atlanta manager Eddie Haas made him a full-time starting pitcher in 1985. “Bedrock” had no wins and a 2.91 ERA through eight starts before finally winning a game; he went 6-13 with a 4.25 ERA over the rest of the season and never started another game in the majors, although he did win the Cy Young Award as a reliever in 1987.

(ADDED 5/16/14: After going 12-11 with a 2.59 ERA as a rookie in 1967, California Angels pitcher Rickey Clark lost his first eight starts in 1968, with a 2.91 ERA, although he gave up at least one unearned run in six of those eight starts. He also failed to pitch into the fifth inning in four of them. Clark was winless in his first 12 starts before finally getting a W in number 13, his only win of the season; he finished 1-11 in 17 starts, with no decisions in four July relief appearances. He didn’t win a major league game again until 1971 and had just six more wins in his big league career.)

Dean Chance, a former Cy Young Award recipient and two-time 20-game winner, was just 29 years old when the 1971 season started, but it would be his last major league campaign because of arm problems. Chance was winless in his first eight starts despite a 2.97 ERA; he was on the verge of winning the eighth when he was lifted with two out in the fifth inning and a 2-0 lead. In fact Chance was pulled before the end of the fifth in five of his first eight starts, giving him no chance to win any of those games. Chance also lost his ninth start before finally getting a win, but he started just four more games after that and earned only three more wins, all in relief.

Andy Ashby entered the 1994 season with a 5-18 major league record and a 6.77 ERA. He then went 0-5 in his first 10 starts of 1994 but posted a respectable 2.85 ERA; through eight starts it was 2.98. Ashby pitched a four-hitter in his 11th start to finally earn a victory and went 5-6 the rest of the way. He spent all or part of the next ten seasons in the big leagues and pitched in two All-Star Games, including in 1998 when he won 17 games for the Padres.

Those are the only pitchers I can find who had an ERA under 3.00 with no wins through their first eight starts of the season, with no more than one relief appearance to that point. Special hard-luck mention goes to Rick Langford, who was winless in his first 11 starts in 1978 with a 2.62 ERA in those starts. But by the time he got his first win as a starter, on July 18, he had pitched in 13 games in relief with a win.

UPDATE 5/16/14: Samardzija is now winless through nine starts…no quality start in his ninth, though, as he lasted only five innings, giving up two earned runs, against the Cardinals. That raised his season ERA to 1.62, still the lowest ever through nine winless starts at the beginning of a season. Behind him are: Whitey Ford 1966, 2.47 ERA in his first nine starts (and a 2.55 overall ERA including a relief appearance; he did not make any more starts that year); Andy Ashby 1994 2.79; future “Black Sox” conspirator Eddie Cicotte 1918 2.82 ERA in his first nine starts (and a 2.74 overall ERA with a three-inning relief appearance along the way); Ryan Dempster 2012 2.90; Rickey Clark 1968 2.92. Those are the only pitchers I can find with an ERA under 3.00 through nine winless starts with no more than one relief appearance. And of them only Ashby lost his tenth start.

ADDED 5/16/14: Here are a couple of pitchers I consider special cases. Rube Schauer – born in Russia as Dimitri Dimitrihoff — lost his first nine starts of the 1917 season for the Philadelphia A’s, with a 2.38 ERA in those games. But he was not winless, as he had made three relief appearances (all of them lasting at least five innings) and won two of them. His overall ERA was 2.56 through his ninth start. Bill Piercy was not only winless in his first nine starts of 1923 for the Red Sox, he was the losing pitcher in eight of them — and he lost two relief appearances during that time as well. His season ERA to that point was 3.06, with a 2.55 ERA as a starter. Both Schauer and Piercy extended their streak of winless starts to ten.

ADDED 5/17/14: ESPN’s Buster Olney has this item in his column today:

From ESPN Stats & Information, more about the hard luck of Samardzija so far this season. 

He has 12 straight starts in which he has allowed three earned runs or fewer, and he hasn’t won any of them. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, that’s the second-longest such streak since earned runs became an official stat in both leagues in 1913. 

Samardzija’s streak began last season. Thanks to Play Index, here are the three longest streaks of winless starts without giving up more than three earned runs in any of them:

Strk Start End Games W L CG IP H R ER BB SO HR ERA Tm
Ray Washburn 1969-04-27 1970-05-18 15 0 8 1 84.2 96 47 32 33 55 7 3.40 STL-CIN
Jeff Samardzija 2013-09-17 2014-05-16 12 0 5 0 80.0 67 23 18 25 70 4 2.03 CHC
Jim Bouton 1966-06-10 1966-08-17 11 0 5 1 56.2 57 26 21 20 30 10 3.34 NYY
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 5/17/2014.

 

Ray Washburn had a fine season for the 1968 National League champion Cardinals, going 14-8, finishing eighth in the league with a 2.26 ERA and throwing a no-hitter against the Giants. But after he won two of his first three starts in 1969 he earned just one more victory that season (in relief) despite allowing no more than three earned runs in his last 13 starts. (He did allow a total of 11 unearned runs in those starts.)  In 1970, with the Reds, he gave up three runs in 4-2/3 innings in his first start, then in his next start more than a month later he allowed six runs — but only two earned — in 1-2/3 innings to extend his streak to 15 games. He made just one more start in the major leagues and was bombed, retiring only one batter and allowing seven runs.

Washburn didn’t allow more than three earned runs in any of his 16 starts in 1969, or in his last 20 starts of 1968. Throw in his first two starts of 1970 and that’s a streak of 38 starts allowing three earned runs or fewer…the longest of all time. And he had a losing record in those starts! Here’s the list of longest streaks of starts allowing no more than three earned runs:

Strk Start End Games W L CG SHO IP H R ER BB SO HR ERA Tm
Ray Washburn 1968-06-16 1970-05-18 38 13 14 9 3 261.1 249 94 66 76 155 11 2.27 STL-CIN
Claude Osteen 1965-09-02 1966-08-15 36 17 11 7 2 244.0 241 77 64 70 141 6 2.36 LAD
Pete Alexander 1915-06-01 1916-04-18 33 24 6 28 11 290.0 187 58 36 49 172 4 1.12 PHI
Roger Clemens 1990-05-09 1991-05-13 32 23 4 9 5 244.1 191 47 37 51 224 5 1.36 BOS
Joe Benz 1915-07-05 1916-09-12 32 16 10 15 6 219.0 164 59 37 40 74 1 1.52 CHW
Ernie Shore 1915-04-29 1916-04-18 32 18 8 16 4 236.1 184 65 38 59 92 2 1.45 BOS
Walter Johnson 1914-09-14 1915-08-06 32 22 9 28 5 273.0 203 60 39 49 152 0 1.29 WSH
Guy Morton 1915-06-20 1916-08-21 31 18 12 16 2 241.0 205 76 53 52 149 2 1.98 CLE
Fred Toney 1915-06-17 1916-05-15 31 17 9 20 6 246.0 178 56 43 81 111 1 1.57 CIN
Bob Gibson 1967-07-03 1968-07-30 30 19 6 19 8 254.2 167 39 31 49 202 7 1.10 STL
Lefty Williams 1916-05-30 1917-05-19 30 15 4 10 2 201.1 190 76 57 52 115 2 2.55 CHW
Greg Maddux 1993-07-31 1994-06-22 29 19 5 9 3 227.2 177 51 40 40 172 4 1.58 ATL
Bryn Smith 1988-06-22 1989-05-31 29 13 6 3 1 188.0 143 53 41 40 107 8 1.96 MON
Dwight Gooden 1984-09-07 1985-08-10 29 21 4 15 7 231.2 157 41 38 55 240 11 1.48 NYM
Luis Tiant 1967-09-02 1968-07-28 28 21 5 19 8 232.2 134 40 34 62 227 11 1.32 CLE
Al Benton 1942-08-06 1945-08-21 28 12 8 13 5 197.1 177 66 44 73 83 8 2.01 DET
Mike Morgan 1992-04-21 1992-09-07 27 14 4 4 0 194.2 168 54 44 65 98 9 2.03 CHC
Orel Hershiser 1985-07-12 1986-05-25 27 16 3 7 2 197.0 145 52 37 66 132 7 1.69 LAD
Mellie Wolfgang 1914-08-11 1916-08-11 27 9 10 15 3 198.2 164 55 31 44 73 0 1.40 CHW
Erv Kantlehner 1915-07-13 1916-06-25 27 7 15 15 2 190.2 160 68 43 72 67 1 2.03 PIT
Chris Short 1967-04-29 1968-04-19 26 10 11 9 3 199.0 151 48 47 67 148 10 2.13 PHI
Sandy Koufax 1966-05-10 1966-08-26 26 18 6 18 4 217.2 154 40 35 48 225 14 1.45 LAD
Eddie Cicotte 1916-08-29 1917-07-25 26 19 7 24 5 227.2 149 50 33 45 113 1 1.30 CHW
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 5/17/2014.

 

Going back to the winless streaks without allowing more than three earned runs…note Jim Bouton’s streak of 11 such games for the 1966 Yankees. Whitey Ford allowed no more than three earned runs in any of his nine starts for that same team (and stretched his streak to 10 in 1967). The Yankees as a team had 77 such starts in 1966, their starting pitcher allowing no more than three earned runs and not getting the win — almost half their games. And that’s not the record.

 

Oh the frustration of pitching for the 1967-68 White Sox. In ’67 the Sox managed to stay in pennant contention until the final days of the season, despite averaging just 3.3 runs per game. But in 1968, when the offense managed just 2.9 runs per game, they fell to ninth place. The 1964 Angels featured Cy Young Award winner Dean Chance, who had eight losses and six no-decisions in starts in which he allowed no more than three earned runs and still won 20 games anyway (18 as a starter). Chance allowed three earned runs in one of his wins and no more than two in the other 19, including 11 shutouts (although two of those wins were in relief).

Off-season jobs of major league baseball players in the winter of 1958-59

Baseball players today are paid enough during the season that they don’t have to worry about making ends meet in the winter, and the best of them can put away enough money during their playing careers that they don’t have to worry about money after their careers end. But in my younger days major leaguers routinely held down jobs during the off-season, both to keep cash coming into the household and to establish themselves in positions that could provide a living when their playing days were over.

As just a tiny bit of evidence of this, I share here some off-season jobs held by players as listed on page 12 of The Sporting News of Oct. 8, 1958, something I stumbled upon while researching something else. TSN correspondents often provided rundowns of how their teams’ players would be spending the winter as the regular season came to a close. So this is the most random of samplings — I’m not even trying to look at other players mentioned in the same issue, just the ones on this particular page.

Eddie Mathews: president of Eddie Mathews Enterprises, a construction firm.

Johnny Logan: president of a title company that bears his name.

Gene Conley: vice-president of an oil company.

Ernie Johnson: insurance salesman.

Frank Torre: public relations representative for a soft drink concern.

Bob Rush: sell real estate in Mesa, Arizona.

Bob Buhl: has an appliance dealership in Saginaw, Michigan.

Harry Hanebrink: drive an oil truck in St. Louis.

Joe Koppe: paint houses in Detroit.

Warren Spahn: work his cattle ranch in Hartshorne, Oklahoma.

Joey Jay: work his chicken farm in Lutz, Florida.

Cal McLish: work for the Associated Oil Fields Rental Company in Oklahoma City.

ChunkyRay Narleski: “a good-will representative for Chunkies, a chocolate candy bar.” Perhaps the bar in question was Chunky; a frame from a 1959 commercial is at right.

Billy Hunter: work in his insurance agency in Baltimore.

Woodie Held: sell houses for a contractor in Kansas City.

Rocky Colavito: work for the Temple Mushroom Transportation Company, Temple, Pennsylvania.

Don Ferrarese: work for a sporting goods store in Pleasant Hill, California.

Morrie Martin: “intends to buy into a meat-processing plant in Washington, Missouri, and will study the butchering trade.”

Hal Woodeshick: work for the Baldwin Supply Company, learning to be a salesman in the industrial mill supply business in Charleston, West Virginia.

Randy Jackson: work at his insurance business in Athens, Georgia.

Vic Wertz: has a beer distributorship in Mount Clemens, Michigan.

Gary Bell: work for a photographer in San Antonio, taking pictures of school children.

Rudolph and WagginDon Rudolph: work as a clothes-catcher for his wife, burlesque star Patti Waggin (together at left). No, Patti Waggin was not her real name. Rudolph and Waggin are both deceased but they have a website and each still has a fan club you can join. Mike Hasse has written a brief bio of Rudolph.

Nellie Fox: operates a bowling establishment in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania.

Early Wynn: in the construction business in Nokomis, Florida.

Dick Donovan: “has a thriving insurance agency of his own in Quincy, Massachusetts.”

Billy Pierce: helps out in the pharmacy owned by his dad in Detroit.

Gerry Staley: works in a lumber mill in Vancouver, Washington.

Jim Rivera: “will give his father-in-law a hand on the latter’s farm near Angola, Indiana.”

Ron Jackson: will break into the insurance field as a salesman in Kalamazoo.

Alex Kellner: roping mountain lions in his native Arizona to sell to zoos and circuses.

Joe Nuxhall: salesman for a trucking firm in his native Hamilton, Ohio.

Bob Purkey: public relations man for the Vienna Baking Company in Pittsburgh.

Hal Jeffcoat: construction work and “peddle some real estate and insurance” in Tampa.

Don Newcombe: whiskey business in Newark, New Jersey.

Walt Dropo: sell real estate in Marblehead, Massachusetts.

Pete Whisenant: has a bar in Charlotte (“I’ll sell beer and drink beer”).

Smoky Burgess: run a service station in Forest City, North Carolina.

Bob Schmidt: “will wrestle a concrete mixer in St. Louis.”

Sad Sam Jones: drive a lumber truck in West Virginia.

Larry Jackson: “plans to work on the sports staff of the Idaho Daily Statesman back in Boise.” (After his playing days Jackson served in the Idaho legislature and ran for governor.)

Stan Musial: “has a bowling alley to look after, in addition to his restaurant, banks, etc.”

Del Ennis: opening a bowling alley in Jenkintown, Pennsylvania.

Irv Noren: owns a bowling alley in Pasadena, California.

Eddie Kasko: work with a beer distributor in Richmond, Virginia.

Ray Katt: sell life insurance in New Braunfels, Texas.

Wilmer Mizell: with a new insurance firm in St. Louis.

Jim Brosnan: will resume his job with a Chicago advertising agency. (During the 1959 season Brosnan would write the first of his classic books, “The Long Season.”)

Sal Maglie: has a liquor store in Niagara Falls, New York.

Quite a few players reported they would be involved in some variation of taking it easy, and a number were playing winter ball. But most of them had gainful employment.