Brandon McCarthy now holds an all-time major league record…but not for his pitching

On April 19, 2015, Dodgers pitcher Brandon McCarthy led off the bottom of the third inning and struck out. That gave him sole possession of an all-time major league record. It was the 89th plate appearance of McCarthy’s career, and he has never scored a run. That broke a tie with 1980s Montreal Expo Razor Shines, who finished his career runless in 88 trips to the plate. I have a bit more about Razor at the end of this post. McCarthy had a sacrifice bunt in his other plate appearance in the game to increase his record of runless PAs to 90.

Brandon McCarthy: better at pitching than he is at hitting

Brandon McCarthy: better at pitching than he is at hitting

McCarthy didn’t even reach base in his 10 trips to the plate in interleague games during his years in the American League from 2005-12. He hasn’t done much with the bat in his hand since coming to the National League, with just five hits (all singles) and four walks (he also reached on an error once). He’s never reached third base (although to be honest I haven’t checked to see if he ever reached base on a fielder’s choice and advanced to third after that).

Here is the list, updated through 4/19/2015, of all players in major league history who have had at least 50 career plate appearances without scoring a run. Note almost all of these players were primarily pitchers, the exceptions being Shines and two players from the deadball era, catcher Joe Jenkins and outfielder Frank Hemphill.

Player PA R From To AB H BB HBP BA OBP Pos TEAMS
Brandon McCarthy 90 0 2005 2015 79 5 4 0 .063 .108 *1 CHW-TEX-OAK-ARI-NYY-LAD
Razor Shines 88 0 1983 1987 81 15 5 1 .185 .239 /*H3175 MON
Gavin Floyd 80 0 2004 2014 74 5 2 0 .068 .092 *1 PHI-CHW-ATL
Mike Fiers 72 0 2011 2015 58 4 0 0 .069 .069 /*1 MIL
Carlos Silva 71 0 2002 2010 58 5 4 0 .086 .145 *1 PHI-MIN-SEA-CHC
Taylor Buchholz 65 0 2006 2011 56 5 4 0 .089 .150 *1/H HOU-COL-TOR-NYM
Jeff Reardon 65 0 1979 1994 57 5 1 0 .088 .103 *1 NYM-MON-MIN-ATL-BOS-CIN-NYY
Joe Jenkins 64 0 1914 1919 60 8 2 0 .133 .161 /*H2 SLB-CHW
John Dopson 62 0 1985 1994 55 3 3 0 .055 .103 *1 MON-BOS-CAL
Rawly Eastwick 62 0 1974 1981 56 4 2 0 .071 .103 *1 STL-CIN-PHI-NYY-KCR-CHC
Jim Colborn 60 0 1969 1978 55 4 2 0 .073 .105 *1 CHC-MIL-SEA-KCR
Al Williams 56 0 1937 1938 49 3 3 0 .061 .115 /*1 PHA
Jason Hirsh 55 0 2006 2008 50 3 1 0 .060 .078 /*1 HOU-COL
Tom Dixon 55 0 1977 1983 48 5 1 0 .104 .122 /*1 HOU-MON
Frank Hemphill 55 0 1906 1909 43 3 9 2 .070 .259 /*7 CHW-WSH
Ed Farmer 53 0 1971 1983 47 4 1 0 .085 .104 *1 CLE-DET-BAL-MIL-TEX-CHW-OAK-PHI
Marty Kutyna 53 0 1959 1962 47 9 1 0 .191 .208 *1 KCA-WSA
Albie Lopez 52 0 1993 2003 46 2 2 1 .043 .102 *1 CLE-ARI-TBD-ATL-KCR
John McPherson 51 0 1901 1904 48 3 2 0 .063 .100 /*1 PHA-PHI
Pat Misch 50 0 2006 2011 39 3 3 0 .077 .143 /*1 SFG-NYM
Johnny Gray 50 0 1954 1958 47 2 1 0 .043 .063 /*1H PHA-KCA-CLE-PHI
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 4/20/2015.

Standings in the Florida State League before the Internet…well, ¿quién sabía?

As someone who was born in 1958 — someone who, as a kid on Long Island, sometimes had to wait until the afternoon paper (RIP) came out to find out who won a game on the West Coast the night before — I don’t take for granted the marvels of modern technology for a moment. Not only can we get instant updates on all major league games, we can follow, even listen to, minor league games down to the lowest levels. The same is true even for college games…probably a lot of high school and American Legion games too. If you want to know who won, just go online and find out.

It didn’t used to be that way.

It wasn’t all that long ago, at least in terms of the geologic time scale, that it wasn’t so easy to find out who won. A story in The Sporting News of August 4, 1973, pointed out that no one was quite sure what the standings were in the Class A Florida State League.

FSL standingsFrom the story by Jack Flowers:

Exactly, who is in first?

It appears that not even league President George MacDonald, Jr., knows for sure, much less most of the FSL’s 10 general managers.

At a recent meeting in Tampa, there was considerable discussion of records of teams in the league.

Willie Sanchez, G.M. of the Daytona Beach Dodgers [said,] “I’m not even sure what our record is. Our newspaper (the Daytona Beach News-Journal) has stopped publishing the FSL standing because they are incorrect.”

A St. Petersburg Times survey of six newspapers in the state showed that not one of them published FSL standings which coincided with the other.

“I think I’ll look into the situation where next season I’ll have the umpires telephone me with the results of each game immediately after it’s over,” said MacDonald.

“We depend on the wire services to relay the scores to all the newspapers concerned. If these scores are not reported, then this presents a problem.”

Some FSL general managers depend on sportswriters to relay scores to the wire services, but in places like Key West, Daytona Beach, Lakeland and Winter Haven, most FSL games are not even covered by the hometown paper.

"No, for the love of God I don't know how Key West did tonight. Would you please stop calling?"

“No, for the love of God I don’t know how Key West did tonight. Would you please stop calling?”

“Last season,” said Jim Haynes of the Orlando Sentinel, “the only way I could get scores out of Key West was through a pay telephone booth outside the stadium. I would have to figure out about when the game would be finished and then I would start calling the number at the phone booth and when someone would answer, then I knew the game was over and maybe they could give me a score.

“I used to get this little Cuban kid all the time, and he would say: “Sí, sí, the game, it is over. Sí, Key West won. No, Key West lost!”

A spokesman for the Associated Press in Miami said, “We can get news out of Uganda faster than we can get FSL scores from Key West and a couple of other FSL cities.”

This wasn’t exactly the Middle Ages…heck, in 1973 TV shows were in color and we had pushbutton phones…yet finding out who won a professional baseball game in Florida could be an impossible challenge.

Wickers FieldKey West — which is closer to Havana than it is to what was its nearest FSL opponent, Miami — hasn’t had a minor league team since 1975. The site of what was Wickers Field, the home of the FSL’s Key West Conchs (also the nickname of Key West High School’s teams), is now the home of football and softball fields. The photo of Wickers Field at right was taken about 1970; it’s hard to believe it was the home of a professional team. That photo is from a page on Deadball Baseball that also has pictures of the site today, and here’s a page with more on Key West’s minor league history.

Too bad I can’t find a photo of that phone booth Jim Haynes used to call.

Wickers Field was the site of one of the odder events in baseball history, when a ball that went up never came down…or at least no one ever saw where it came down. It happened August 6, 1974. Joe Wallis of the Conchs, who would go on to play in the majors, hit a fly ball to right field, where John Crider of the visiting St. Petersburg Cardinals lost sight of it. None of Crider’s teammates nor the umpires could figure out what happened to the ball, so Wallis was awarded a home run.

Bruce Sutter, who would go on to make the Hall of Fame, was a 21-year-old pitcher for the Conchs. “The stadium wasn’t the best, and the lights weren’t the best,” Sutter told Key West magazine in 2007. (“Stadium” is a pretty generous term here.) “Wallis hit the ball by the lights. And nobody ever saw it come down. So they gave him a home run. What else are you going to do? It was one of the strangest things I ever saw.”

“Nobody knows what happened,” said Ernie Rosseau, who was St. Petersburg’s left fielder that night. “From the fans to the coaches, umps. No one knew. It went up and never came down. Nobody can give me an explanation.” Rosseau made his comments to reporter Ryan O’Leary in 2003, as O’Leary put together what seems to be the most thorough account of the events that night.

Nobody drove them in: the unusual seasons of Ron Northey, Bob Nieman and Smoky Burgess

Bob Nieman had a fine year at the plate as a pinch-hitter and occasional outfielder for the Cardinals and Indians in 1961, compiling a .378 batting average and .427 on-base percentage with 22 singles, seven doubles and seven walks. He also reached base on error twice.

Bob Nieman Cleveland

Bob Nieman

But not once after reaching base did Nieman score a run. He did score twice that season, on his own home runs, but no teammate ever drove him in. Nieman’s 37 times reaching base turns out to be the major league record for most times reaching base in a season for a player who was never driven in. Yes, I said 37 times reaching base, even though his singles, doubles, walks and reached-on-error add up to 38; one of his singles was a walk-off hit, so it wasn’t possible for anyone to drive Nieman in. (By the way, I checked the play-by-play of all Nieman’s games that season to see if he ever reached base on a fielder’s choice; he did not, but others who will come up later in this discussion did.)

One of the reasons Nieman never scored after reaching base was he was frequently removed for a pinch-runner. He was replaced by a runner four of the nine times he reached base for St. Louis, then after he was traded to Cleveland in May (and spent some time on the disabled list with torn leg muscles) he was replaced by a runner six times. Of course, that still leaves 27 times he was on base and didn’t score.

Nieman was thrown out at the plate twice in 1961. The first one was unexceptional, as he was thrown out at home on a bases-loaded fielder’s choice in the seventh inning on April 29. But the other was unusual, as he was thrown out trying to score from second on an infield hit in the first game of a doubleheader at Minnesota on July 16. How do you even think about scoring from second on an infield hit?

Nieman was on second with the bases loaded and nobody out in the top of the first inning and Bubba Phillips at the plate. Here’s the Retrosheet play-by-play of what happened next:

Phillips singled to shortstop [Temple scored, Nieman out at home (shortstop to catcher), Francona to third]

But the next day’s Cleveland Plain Dealer had a little more detail — and a different player making the throw home:

Phillips hit a slow bouncer to [shortstop Jose] Valdivielso for a single. Temple scored, but Nieman was out at the plate, [second baseman Billy] Martin to [catcher Earl] Battey.

At first glance this is even more puzzling; after all, the “single to shortstop” described in the Retrosheet play-by-play could have been deep in the hole where you might envision a scenario in which a runner could score from second. A “slow bouncer”? No way a man scores from second. But perhaps Valdivielso threw to second base to try to get a force out and Nieman (or his third base coach) thought the Twins were asleep at the switch, but Martin noticed and threw home after taking the throw from Valdivielso. We’ll likely never know what happened for sure. At any rate this appears to have been Nieman’s best chance of scoring a run after reaching base in 1961.

The last time Nieman was driven in by a teammate was on September 18,1960, when he drew a walk with nobody out in the bottom of the sixth, went to third on a double by Ken Boyer and scored on Stan Musial’s single. Nieman was on base seven times after that in 1960 without scoring. In 1962 he started the season with Cleveland, was sold to the Giants in late April and spent the rest of the season with them as a pinch-hitter (making three brief appearances in the outfield). He reached base eight times (six singles, a double and a walk) without scoring (he was removed for a runner six of those times). This is not counting the double he hit July 28 as he was thrown out trying to stretch it to a triple (with the Giants trailing by five runs), so he was never in a position to be driven in.

All told, then, Bob Nieman did not score after the last 52 times he reached base in his major league career. If you include postseason, the streak is 53; Nieman was intentionally walked in his final major league appearance, in Game 4 of the 1962 World Series, and was removed for a pinch-runner.

Nieman Patkin

This photo appeared on the front page of the Boston Herald September 15, 1951, the day after Bob Nieman’s major league debut. The Red Sox had hired baseball clown Max Patkin to entertain the fans during the game.

Nieman may not have been much of a runner (he was caught stealing on 30 of his 40 career major league attempts, the lowest career stolen base percentage ever for a player with as many attempts) but he was quite a hitter. A two-time minor league batting champion, he was the first man ever to hit home runs in his first two major league plate appearances in his debut for the St. Louis Browns on September 14, 1951, at Fenway Park. Teammate Satchel Paige said afterward, “Gimme him, two more — t’hell with nine — and we could win a lot of ball games. He’s just a lot of boy. Leans into that ball pretty good, and hits the pitch where it is.” Nieman finished his 12-year major league career with averages of .295/.373/.474. He hit .325 for Baltimore in 1958 and finished seventh in the American League MVP vote in 1956 when he hit .320.

Before Nieman, the record for most times reaching base in a season without ever being driven in was held by Ron Northey, whose nickname was “Round Ron” and who was often described in The Sporting News as “roly-poly.” What was unusual about Northey was at that stage in his career he was never even given the chance to score after he reached base.

Ron Northey TSN 1944

This sketch appeared in The Sporting News issue of March 2, 1944. Northey was spending the offsesason “doing guard duty at a war plant.” Northey was classified as 4-F and was turned down for military service three times because of a punctured eardrum, high blood pressure and a heart ailment, but when the military took a closer look at 4-F ballplayers in 1945 he was inducted into the Army — where he played baseball.

Northey was a left-handed hitting outfielder who drove in 104 runs for the 1944 Phillies and batted .321 in part-time play for the 1948 Cardinals. His weight was a constant source of comment; he was typically listed as 5’10” and 195 pounds, but a story in The Sporting News in 1952 said Northey had lost 24 pounds to get down to 202, “the least he has weighed since he left high school.” Here’s how he was described in the first big feature about him in The Sporting News, by Bill Dooly in 1944:

Northey is a short, bay-windowed party. In civvies he looks like a well-fed, prosperous young merchant. His cheeks bulge out as if he were concealing a couple of all-day suckers and he wears a perpetual grin of geniality and well-being.

In 1946 Phillies manager Ben Chapman said, “Ron has a waistline that looks like a man who just swallowed a watermelon.” In The Sporting News, writer Stan Baumgartner attributed that to Northey’s love of “double chocolate milk.”

In spring training 1951 with the Cubs Northey injured his knee and had to undergo an operation. He returned to action in an exhibition game against the Cubs’ Springfield (Mass.) farm club in July but had to come out of the game after he couldn’t get to an easy fly ball. “He just couldn’t run at all,” Cubs player personnel director Wid Matthews told The Sporting News. “It was pitiful to see him try to hobble around.”

After that Northey actually went on the voluntarily retired list, at age 31. But after a doctor recommended he lose weight to ease the stress on the knee, he cut down to 202 (as alluded to earlier) and was back in spring training with the Cubs in 1952. In The Sporting News, Edgar Munzel told the story of the diet Northey undertook under his doctor’s supervision.

He was allowed only 970 calories per day as against a normal intake of 4,000 to 5,000 calories. He could eat anything except potatoes and bacon as long as he stayed within the low-calorie limit.

“It doesn’t take much to use up those 970 calories,” laughed Northey. “You know, one piece of apple pie is 350 calories. Three pieces would put you over the limit for the day.”

This, my plump little pets, was a typical day’s menus for Northey:

Breakfast: Nothing at all. Feeling faint?

Lunch: Peanut butter sandwich on protein bread and coffee with cream and one sugar (186 calories). Vary with lettuce and tomato sandwich.

Dinner: Lean steak (200 calories), lettuce and tomato salad with vinegar (75), fresh corn on cob out of freezer [sic], with one-quarter pat of butter (50), one cookie (100) and two cups of coffee with cream and sugar (100).

“That would give me about 711 calories for the day, then I would use up the rest on a light snack of cookies and coffee around 10 o’clock in the evening while I was watching television,” said Northey. “That would mean only about two cookies, though.”

The relatively svelte Northey went north with the Cubs out of spring training, but after one pinch-hitting appearance was sent to the minors. In August 1955, at the age of 35, he returned to the majors as a pinch-hitter for the White Sox. Apparently he was no longer relatively svelte; a story in The Sporting News said a Dodger official had asked former Dodger pitcher Rex Barney who was the best left-handed pinch-hitter in the Class AAA American Association, where Barney was working as a broadcaster and Northey was playing. Barney said Northey, to which the Dodger official replied, “That’s what everyone tells us, but he’s so fat we don’t want to put him in a uniform.” In September 1956 Edgar Munzel wrote in The Sporting News that Northey was “built somewhat along the lines of an animated barrel” and “doesn’t move around too sprightly. In fact, he scarcely can bend over for a ground ball. But, brother, he can still swish that bat.”

Ron Northey 1957 Topps

Ron Northey’s 1957 Topps baseball card

Northey stayed in the majors through the end of the 1957 season, except for a brief stint in the minors in 1956. In his last 2+ years in the bigs he started just three games in the outfield and came off the bench to play in the field on just three other occasions. But as Munzel said, he could swish that bat: over the final weeks of the 1955 season his slash line was .357/.471/.714, in 1956 it was .354/.417/.583 (with just one strikeout in 60 plate appearances), and even though his batting average dipped to .226 in 1957 he walked enough to post a .408 OBP. (Apparently White Sox vice president Charles Comiskey had to persuade Northey to return in ’57, as Northey was vice president and sales manager of a toy manufacturer in his native Connecticut and was inclined to concentrate on the business.)

What Northey couldn’t do was run. After his return to the majors in 1955 he was driven in by a teammate just once over the rest of his career. That came on July 19,1956, in his last career start, when Fred Hatfield singled him home from third base. Two days later Northey made his last appearance in the field after pinch-hitting, and when he reached on a fielder’s choice later he stayed in the game (and was promptly doubled up after a line drive to second base).

From that point on, Northey played in 107 major league games, all as a pinch-hitter…and was removed for a pinch-runner EVERY TIME he reached base.

The last 13 times Northey reached base in 1956 (starting with the time he stayed in after the fielder’s choice) he did not score; that included six singles, two doubles and four walks, in addition to the fielder’s choice. (Two walk-off singles don’t count.) In 1957 (when he was released by the White Sox in July and signed with the Phillies the next day) Northey reached base 29 times — nine singles, one double, 17 walks and two fielder’s choices (again, a walk-off single doesn’t count) — and was replaced by a pinch-runner on each occasion. That 29 was the season record for times reached base without scoring before Nieman came along. Northey did score one run, when he homered in his first game after signing with the Phillies. It was his ninth career pinch-hit home run, which at the time tied him for the major league record. (Northey is still tied for the record for most career pinch-hit grand slams, with three, all of which came before his 1951 knee injury.)

Northey set another major league record in 1957. His 73 games played was the most for anyone who never played in the field. That record would be broken ten years later by the man who came closest to breaking Bob Nieman’s mark for not being driven in.

This is Smoky Burgess' 1965 Topps baseball card. The picture was taken while he was still with the Pirates.

This is Smoky Burgess’ 1965 Topps baseball card. The picture was taken while he was still with the Pirates.

Like Ron Northey in the mid-1950s, Smoky Burgess in the mid-1960s was a short, round man late in his career who could hit but couldn’t run. Burgess had been an all-star catcher (based on his bat, not his receiving skills) for the Phillies, Reds and Pirates. By the time he got to the White Sox in 1964 he was considered to be 5’8″ and 195 pounds. “Roly-poly” was his most-used Sporting News adjective, followed by “rotund.” “Smoky is so rotund,” Edgar Munzel wrote in The Sporting News in 1965, “that he looks like he ought to be wearing a bar apron and drawing foaming steins in a beer garden.” (In a 1966 story Munzel alluded to Burgess’ “aldermanic girth,” and in 1967 Munzel described him as “a year-round Santa Claus.” Washington Post columnist Bob Addie wrote in 1967 Burgess most resembled “the member of the state legislature who is eating too many portions of grits and corn pone.”)

The last time Burgess was ever driven in by a teammate was when he was still with the Pirates, on August 30, 1964, when he scored from second on a single by Bob Bailey in the third inning. At the age of 37, Burgess was already primarily a pinch-hitter, but he still started 40 games behind the plate for Pittsburgh in 1964. On September 12, 1964 he went to the White Sox on waivers and remained in a Sox uniform through the end of the 1967 season, but in those 3+ years he started just three games at catcher, came off the bench to catch in only four others, and spent a total of 31 innings behind the dish.

The rest of the time Smoky did what he did best: hit. In 1965 he reached base 34 times without being driven in, with 15 singles, four doubles and 11 walks; he reached on an error twice and on a fielder’s choice twice. Another walk-off single doesn’t count. (Two of the singles and a fielder’s choice came in games he started at catcher, all else was as a pinch-hitter.) Burgess scored twice when he hit home runs, but he never scored otherwise. Of course, Sox manager Al Lopez removed him for a pinch-runner 19 times.

Topps collectors got their first look at Smoky in a White Sox uniform in 1966

Topps collectors got their first look at Smoky in a White Sox uniform in 1966

In 1966 Burgess was 39 years old and playing under a new manager, Eddie Stanky, who cut down on Smoky’s opportunities to run the bases. Burgess again reached base 34 times, with 16 singles, five doubles, 11 walks and a hit-by-pitch, plus he reached once on an error and once on a fielder’s choice. Another single doesn’t count as Smoky was thrown out trying to stretch it to a double! (All but one of his times on base came as a pinch-hitter; he drew one intentional walk after staying in a game to catch.) But Stanky removed him for a runner 29 of those 34 times. In two of the games Burgess was allowed to stay in and run he got as far as third base but didn’t score.

And because Smoky didn’t hit a home run in 1966, he didn’t score at all that season, even though he was on the Sox roster all year. He holds the records for plate appearances (80) and times on base in a season for any player who did not score a run, as well as the record for most games (79) by any non-pitcher who did not score a run.

This photo of Smoky Burgess at his car dealership appeared in The Sporting News in December 1965

This photo of Smoky Burgess at his car dealership appeared in The Sporting News in December 1965

Burgess announced after the 1966 season he was retiring to devote full time to his auto dealership back home in North Carolina, but in February he decided to return to baseball at the age of 40 in 1967. That’s the year he went “the full Northey,” spending the entire year on the roster, never playing in the field (except for a midseason exhibition against the Cubs) and ALWAYS being removed for a pinch-runner whenever he reached base (which was far less frequently than it had been the previous two seasons). He played in 77 games, breaking Northey’s major league record for most games played in a season without playing in the field. (Many players in the DH era have broken that mark. Burgess’ record of most games played in a season without starting one was broken in 1974, when track star Herb Washington was used as a pinch-runner in 92 games for the A’s without ever being allowed to bat.)

Smoky’s batting average in 1967 was a dismal .133, affected by tearing a muscle in his rib cage in May. White Sox pitchers collectively outhit him with a .156 mark, but Smoky drew enough walks to lift his on-base percentage to .303, which was actually better than the overall team mark of .291. Burgess scored twice, on his two home runs, but he came out of the game immediately the 23 times he reached base (five singles, a double, 14 walks, a hit-by-pitch and two fielder’s choices). Burgess did not score a run the last 96 times he reached base in his career (including his last five in 1964).

Smoky Burgess' last baseball card, in 1967. Doesn't he look like he should be the beloved bullpen coach instead of an active player?

Smoky Burgess’ last baseball card, in 1967. Doesn’t he look like he should be the beloved bullpen coach instead of an active player?

After the 1967 season, for the second straight year, Burgess announced his retirement, but as the winter wore on he changed his tune and tried to get the White Sox to bring him back in 1968 at age 41. The Sox, understandably, declined. Burgess ended his career with what was then a record 150 pinch-hits; he still ranks fourth on the all-time list, behind Lenny Harris, Mark Sweeney and Manny Mota. No player active today is remotely close. His 16 career pinch-homers ranked second all-time when he retired.

The modern game doesn’t have room for anyone resembling Bob Nieman or Ron Northey or Smokey Burgess. With 12-man pitching staffs, not to mention designated hitters, who can afford to carry a player whose only job is to pinch-hit — let alone someone who needs to be removed for a runner whenever he gets on? The records they set are likely to last forever barring dramatic changes in tactics.

So, to recap, these are the players who reached base the most times in a season without ever being driven in by a teammate (or, to be more technically accurate, without ever scoring a run on anything but their own home run):

Bob Nieman 1961 Cardinals-Indians 37
Smoky Burgess 1965 White Sox 34
Smoky Burgess 1966 White Sox 34
Ron Northey 1957 White Sox-Phillies 29
Smoky Burgess 1967 White Sox 23

The player who’s come closest to cracking this list since Burgess is Boog Powell, who — like Northey and Burgess — was a heavy, slow man nearing the end of his career. Powell was much taller (6’4″) than Northey and Burgess and as a result much heavier (he was listed at 250 in the Indians’ 1977 media guide, 260 in an April 1977 Sporting News story, and was the largest player in the majors at the time).

Powell was a slugging first baseman who had been the American League Most Valuable Player in 1970 for the World Series champion Orioles; he had also finished second in the MVP vote in 1969 and third in 1966. But in 1976 he had a poor year with the Indians (a .215 average with just nine home runs), in part due to injuries, and late in spring training 1977 Cleveland let him go. The 35-year-old Powell immediately contacted the Dodgers, who had shown some interest in trading for him during the previous offseason, and signed with them just before the regular season started.

Boog Powell

Boog Powell

Steve Garvey was anchored at first base for the Dodgers, but first-year manager Tom Lasorda wanted Powell as a left-handed pinch-hitter. Lasorda already had a full-time right-handed pinch-hitter in 39-year-old Manny Mota, a holdover from Walter Alston’s regime. Powell and Mota each started just one game in 1977.

Powell had hit 339 home runs in the American League and ranked 30th on the all-time home run list when he went to Los Angeles, but he didn’t launch one out of the park as a Dodger; in fact, he didn’t have a single extra-base hit. He did reach base 22 times, on 10 singles and 12 walks. Nineteen of those came as a pinch-hitter. Boog was replaced by a pinch-runner 17 times; when he was allowed to stay on base he got as far as third once, but never scored. His 50 games played is the most in a season for any non-pitcher who didn’t score a run aside from Smoky Burgess’ 79 in 1966.

On August 17 the Dodgers acquired 41-year-old Vic Davalillo, who had been playing in Mexico. That gave Lasorda THREE pinch-hitting specialists (although Davalillo still played a little outfield), which didn’t seem tenable. Two weeks later the Dodgers traded for veteran catcher Jerry Grote, and to make room on the roster Powell was released, never to play again. Davalillo and Mota remained the Dodgers’ left-right tandem off the bench in 1978 and parts of the 1979 and 1980 seasons as well.

Here are some of the other players who never scored aside from their own home run. I identified these using Baseball-Reference.com’s Play Index, looking for the most times on base including reached on error for players whose runs scored equaled their home runs. I haven’t gone through any of these to look for times reached on fielder’s choice, or walk-off hits, or times when the player was thrown out trying to stretch a hit; for some of these seasons play-by-play accounts are not available to find those events anyway.

Player ETOB* HR Year Age Tm Lg G AB H 2B 3B RBI BB HBP BA OBP SLG
Ed Lennox 22 1 1915 31 PBS FL 55 53 16 3 1 9 7 0 .302 .383 .453
Bill Nicholson 19 3 1950 35 PHI NL 41 58 13 2 1 10 8 0 .224 .318 .448
Cy Falkenberg 21 0 1913 33 CLE AL 39 84 10 1 0 5 9 2 .119 .221 .131
Prince Fielder 17 2 2005 21 MIL NL 39 59 17 4 0 10 2 0 .288 .306 .458
Chris Heintz 18 0 2007 32 MIN AL 24 56 14 0 0 7 3 0 .250 .288 .250
Johnny Pramesa 17 1 1952 26 CHC NL 22 46 13 1 0 5 4 0 .283 .340 .370
Robin Roberts 17 1 1948 21 PHI NL 21 44 11 2 0 5 6 0 .250 .340 .364
Chet Chadbourne 18 0 1907 22 BOS AL 10 38 11 0 0 1 7 0 .289 .400 .289
Kelvin Torve 17 0 1990 30 NYM NL 20 38 11 4 0 2 4 2 .289 .386 .395
Dave Hillman 17 0 1959 31 CHC NL 42 60 9 0 0 3 6 1 .150 .239 .150
Slim Sallee 17 0 1915 30 STL NL 46 92 11 0 0 5 6 0 .120 .173 .120
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 3/30/2015.

* ETOB (estimated times on base) = H+BB+HBP+ROE (if known)-HR. Sorry I didn’t take the time to neatly rearrange these in ETOB order, although I did change the Play Index category from TOBwe, which includes home runs.

Falkenberg, Roberts, Hillman and Sallee were pitchers. The player here who’s closest to the Nieman-Northey-Burgess-Powell mold is Bill Nicholson, a slugging star with the Cubs through the 1940s who struggled with his health playing for the National League champion Phillies in 1950 and was primarily a pinch-hitter; turned out Nicholson had diabetes and he missed out on playing in the World Series.

Note the player who’s had the most times reaching base without being driven in since Boog Powell is Chris Heintz…which I mention only because his father was my junior high baseball coach. It’s not Bob Heintz’s fault I can’t play baseball.

Razor Shines

Razor Shines

Let’s wrap it up with the player who reached base the most times without being driven in during his entire major league career. That would be Razor Shines, who started nine games at first base and did some pinch-hitting for the Montreal Expos in the 1980s. Shines played 16 seasons in the minors but never got a long look in the majors and didn’t hit when he did get to play, posting a .185 career average. Over four seasons (1983-84-85-87), Shines reached base 21 times on 14 singles, a double, five walks and a hit-by-pitch and got as far as third base twice but never scored; he was removed for a pinch-runner on four occasions. His only multi-hit game in the majors came on September 25, 1984, when he had three singles…only to have the next batter ground into a double play each time (Tom Lawless twice, Mike Stenhouse once).

[ADDED 3/30/15] Actually I should adjust this and say Shines was on base 22 times in his career, because he was used as a pinch-runner in the Expos’ final game of the 1985 season…and was promptly caught stealing.

Shines played in 68 games in his career, the most of any non-pitcher who never scored a run (well, Shines wasn’t completely a “non-pitcher”; he once threw an inning of mop-up relief). His 88 career plate appearances were the most for any player who never scored until Brandon McCarthy broke that mark April 19, 2015. Of course, McCarthy still has a chance to score before his career is over, which could give the record back to Razor.

Razor Shines’ story is told in detail as part of the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR) Baseball Biography Project.

The longest-working men in baseball: Jack Coombs, Joe Harris, Al Jackson and other four-hour pitchers

I wish I could cite the exact source of this, but I believe it was Bill James who speculated the most important factor in causing a starting pitcher to tire may not be the number of innings pitched or the number of pitches thrown, but the length of time he works. If that’s true, it could be that one of the reasons we have seen such a steep decline in complete games in recent years — not the primary reason, maybe not even one of the biggest reasons, but a contributing factor — is that it’s taking longer to play nine innings these days.

With that in mind, I went to Baseball-Reference.com’s Play Index to look for the longest complete game performances by length of game, in time (as opposed to innings). A few caveats here. First of all, there are plenty of errors in the time of game data. For instance, B-R.com shows the longest game in its database (at least as I write this) is a 1941 nine-inning game between the Red Sox and Yankees that for some reason (surely a typographical error) shows up as 348 hours and 55 minutes. The attendance is also listed as 143, so you can see some odd keyboarding was going on…in fact, it looks like the time and attendance were transposed. Retrosheet, where B-R.com gets is data, shows the time of game as 2:23 with attendance of 20,935. Sometimes the typos are on Retrosheet’s end; for instance, this 1952 nine-inning complete game by Lou Kretlow is listed as 4:47, but in contemporaneous newspaper box scores the time was listed as a more-sensible 2:47.

Second, the only occasions on which time of game will equal what I call a pitcher’s “working time” (the time from his first pitch to his last) is when the home team pitcher throws a complete game and the home team doesn’t bat in the last inning (so the home team pitcher throws both the first and last pitch of the game). Obviously this excludes extra-inning games. Otherwise even a complete-game pitcher either starts pitching after the time-of-game clock begins, or finishes his work before the time-of-game clock stops. So we have no way of knowing for sure what pitcher had the longest “working time” — especially when you include some other factors. Rain delays aren’t included in time of game, so a pitcher who stays in after a rain delay could have a longer “working time” than the official time of game. And it’s possible there are pitchers who didn’t throw complete games — in marathons that went on after they were removed — who could have extremely long “working times.” We’ll look at a few of those later on.

But what we can establish is which pitchers, at least in the B-R.com database, had the longest game times in a complete game. And here’s more caveats: not all box scores include a time of game, and of course nothing before 1914 is in the database at all.

You may be surprised to learn the famous 26-inning 1920 tie in which both pitchers, Joe Oeschger and Leon Cadore, went the distance did not make the list. It was played in a relatively snappy (given the fact that it was the length of almost three normal games) 3 hours and 50 minutes, as the box score from the Boston Herald below shows:

1920 boxBut note the headline above the box score: “1906 Game Slower.” And directly below this box score is the box of what had previously been the longest game, by innings, in major league history, a 24-inning affair between the Athletics and the Red Sox in 1906. This box score is not yet in the Retrosheet or Baseball-Reference.com databases, and it looks like it has the record for longest complete game pitching performance by time, as both Philadelphia’s Jack Coombs and Boston’s Joe Harris went the distance in a game that took 4 hours and 47 minutes to play. Here’s the full box from the Boston Herald of September 2, 1906:

1906 box

From the front page of the Boston Herald, Sept. 2, 1906

From the front page of the Boston Herald, Sept. 2, 1906

Jack Coombs was a 23-year-old rookie who had joined the A’s just two months before this game after graduating from Maine’s Colby College (hence he was typically referred to as “Colby Jack Coombs”). In this game he struck out 18 and allowed just one run in 24 innings…and note in the box score he even stole two bases!

Joe Harris was 24 and also a rookie, although he had pitched in three games late in 1905. This game was the 18th of the American League-leading 21 he lost in 1906, against just two wins. But in this game he went 21-1/3 innings without allowing a run, the A’s scoring their first run with one out in the third inning (Coombs being the one who crossed the plate) and not scoring again until there were two out in the 24th, when Socks Seybold (0-for-9 in the game to that point) tripled home Topsy Hartsel. I can’t verify this, but I believe that’s the American League record for most consecutive scoreless innings thrown in a single game…a record set by a man who never won a major league game after this and finished his brief major league career with a 3-30 (!) lifetime mark. (Joe Oeschger held Brooklyn scoreless for the final 21-2/3 innings of that 26-inning game in 1920.) Bill Nowlin has more about this game in his biography of Harris as part of the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR) Biography Project.

Who else has pitched a four-hour game? It turns out it’s been considerably more unusual to pitch for four hours than it has been to, say, pitch more than 15 innings. I used Play Index to search games since 1914 that lasted less than four hours and found 45 pitchers who went at least 16 innings, 88 who went at least 15 and 207 who went at least 14. (By the way, contemporaneous accounts of Red Faber’s 16-inning game in 1920 say the time was 3:33, not 1:33. The Al Milnar-Tommy Bridges game in 1942 came in at 2:27, not 2:00…still remarkable for 14 innings. But Walter Johnson’s 14-inning game in 1918 really was timed at 2:12, and Larry French’s 14-inning game in 1931 really was 2:17.) On the other hand, I’ve found only 20 times in the post-1914 database when a pitcher has pitched a complete game that lasted at least four hours (two of whom pitched less than 14 innings), plus a handful of other pitchers who didn’t go the distance but may have still been in their game when it reached the four-hour mark.

Here is a list generated by Play Index of pitchers who hurled a complete game in a game that lasted four hours or longer. Click on the date to see the box score. I verified the Play Index-listed game time by checking contemporaneous printed box scores or stories. There’s also a qualifying game in the Play Index database that for some reason does not show up when I do this search; I’ll mention that later. (By the way, Tom Cheney‘s 16-inning, 21-strikeout game of 1962 just missed at 3:59.)

Player Date Tm Opp Rslt IP H R ER BB SO BF TIME
Al Jackson 1962-08-14 NYM PHI L 1-3 15.0 6 3 2 5 6 57 4:35
Mudcat Grant 1959-06-21 (2) CLE NYY W 5-4 14.0 14 4 4 3 8 58 4:18
Stan Williams 1961-05-17 LAD MLN W 2-1 11.0 4 1 1 12 11 49 4:15
Bob Rush 1957-08-23 CHC NYG L 2-3 15.1 11 3 3 2 10 58 4:14
Billy Hoeft 1957-07-28 (2) DET NYY L 3-4 14.1 9 4 4 5 7 58 4:13
Johnny Antonelli 1955-05-01 NYG CIN W 2-1 16.0 6 1 1 5 11 57 4:13
Mickey McDermott 1951-07-28 BOS CLE W 8-4 16.0 11 4 4 1 15 61 4:12
Mike Norris 1980-06-11 OAK BAL W 6-2 14.0 12 2 2 2 5 51 4:10
Warren Spahn 1963-07-02 MLN SFG L 0-1 15.1 9 1 1 1 2 56 4:10
Juan Marichal 1963-07-02 SFG MLN W 1-0 16.0 8 0 0 4 10 59 4:10
Camilo Pascual 1964-10-01 MIN KCA L 4-5 12.0 12 5 1 3 14 52 4:09
Art Nehf 1918-08-01 BSN PIT L 0-2 21.0 12 2 2 5 8 77 4:08
Carl Hubbell 1933-07-02 (1) NYG STL W 1-0 18.0 6 0 0 0 12 59 4:03
Luis Tiant 1974-06-14 BOS CAL L 3-4 14.1 11 4 4 4 5 56 4:02
Lew Burdette 1958-07-21 MLN STL L 4-5 14.0 10 5 4 5 5 54 4:02
Saul Rogovin 1951-07-12 (2) CHW BOS L 4-5 17.0 10 5 4 6 9 63 4:01
Ray Fisher 1920-08-27 (1) CIN NYG L 4-6 17.0 18 6 6 5 4 71 4:01
Art Nehf 1920-08-27 (1) NYG CIN W 6-4 17.0 16 4 3 2 0 66 4:01
Matt Keough 1980-05-17 OAK TOR W 4-2 14.0 5 2 1 6 8 48 4:00
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 2/22/2015.

 

Al JacksonThe longest complete game by time in the Baseball-Reference.com database went only 15 innings, but at 4 hours 35 minutes lasted nearly as long as the 24-inning A’s-Red Sox game of 1906. Lefty Al Jackson went the distance for the first-year New York Mets, facing 57 batters and allowing just six hits. The New York Times game story reported Jackson threw 215 pitches.

There’s an odd coincidence involving the two longest games on that list, the Al Jackson game and the Mudcat Grant game. In both, Marv Throneberry, playing first base for the losing team, committed an error in extra innings that led to a run.

The shortest game on this list in terms of innings is the 11-inning game won by Stan Williams in 4 hours 15 minutes. Stan managed to cram 206 pitches into those 11 innings, as he walked 12 and struck out 11 to run up the pitch count. His is one of only 12 games in the post-1914 database in which a pitcher reached double figures in both walks and whiffs (another one of those games will come up later in this discussion) and one of only two pitchers on that list (along with Herb Score) to have more walks than strikeouts in his double-double game. Williams is also one of just seven pitchers in the database to be the winning pitcher in a game in which he walked 12 or more (the record that category being 13, by Pete Schneider and Bud Podbielan).

The winning run in the Williams game scored when Bob Lillis, batting for Williams, drew a bases-loaded walk to force in the winning run, as Braves manager Chuck Dressen outsmarted himself in a battle of wits with the Dodgers’ Walter Alston. Dressen had ordered two intentional walks to load the bases after a leadoff triple by Frank Howard; relief pitcher Seth Morehead then struck out pinch-hitter Bob Aspromonte before walking Lillis in an epic 10-pitch at-bat, with two foul balls after the count went full. Had the Braves gotten out of the inning without a run scoring, Williams would have been replaced on the mound in the 12th inning and wouldn’t have shown up in my search.

The losing pitcher was Warren Spahn, who was relieved after yielding Howard’s 11th-inning triple. The game may have already reached the four-hour mark by the time Spahn got the hook, although possibly not. Spahn pitched in another four-hour game that will come up in a moment.

Johnny Antonelli in his 16-inning win in 1955

Johnny Antonelli in his 16-inning win in 1955

The run that ended Johnny Antonelli‘s 16-inning win after 4 hours 13 minutes came about in an unusual way. Whitey Lockman led off the bottom of the 16th with a single and was sacrificed to second. Bob Hooper tried to issue an intentional walk to Don Mueller, but when what would have been the fourth ball got too close to the plate, Mueller reached out and singled to left, moving Lockman to third. Pinch-hitter Bill Taylor then hit a fly ball to deep right field that Wally Post couldn’t hang onto; it was scored a single, but even if Post had caught the ball Lockman would have scored from third.

Mickey McDermott‘s 16-inning win was likely not even his first four-hour game of the month, although the other one doesn’t show up in this search. Fifteen days earlier he had pitched the first 17 innings of a game against the White Sox that wound up going 19. That game lasted 4 hours 47 minutes, and McDermott was almost certainly still in the game when it reached the four-hour mark. In his 16-inning complete game, McDermott won despite allowing runs in both the 15th and 16th innings. Clyde Vollmer ended the game with a grand-slam home run off Bob Feller, who had come on to pitch in relief in the 15th inning. For Vollmer, that capped a streak dating back to July 4 in which he hit 13 homers and drove in 38 runs in just 24 games.

One team had two pitchers who threw four-hour complete games: Billy Martin’s 1980 Oakland A’s. Matt Keough got a 14-inning win over Toronto May 17 in exactly four hours, and Mike Norris won a 14-inning game against Baltimore June 11 in which he threw 160 pitches in 4 hours 10 minutes. The A’s had two more 14-inning performances that season; Rick Langford beat Cleveland July 20 (in 3 hours 23 minutes) and Steve McCatty lost to Seattle August 10 (in 3 hours 36 minutes). No other team since 1952 has had even two pitchers work 14 innings in the same season, and aside from Martin’s quartet no pitcher has thrown 14 innings in a game since 1974. With help from the designated hitter, Martin got 94 complete games out of his staff in 1980, the most of any major league team since the 1941 White Sox had 106. (All 30 major league teams combined had just 118 in 2014.)

Carl HubbellOnly two pitchers in the database threw four-hour shutouts, and both of them are Hall of Famers. The first was Carl Hubbell, whose 18-inning 1-0 win over the Cardinals in 1933 lasted 4 hours 3 minutes and is arguably the greatest pitching performance ever; it is, at least since 1914, the longest shutout by innings in major league history (Walter Johnson also threw an 18-inning shutout, in 1918, but it took just 2 hours 50 minutes). Tex Carleton, pitching on two days rest after winning a nine-inning complete game against the Giants, worked the first 16 innings of that game for St. Louis. Hubbell faced 59 batters, giving up just six hits (no more than one in any inning) and walking no one. Only one Cardinal reached third base. Hubbell’s “game score” (something I’ve written more about here) is the third-highest in the post-1914 database, behind only the 26-inning performances of Leon Cadore and Joe Oeschger. (“Game score” puts a premium on long performances.) Hubbell actually batted in the bottom of the 18th, with one out and runners on first and second; he hit a ground ball that led to a force out at second base, moving Jo-Jo Moore to third, and the next batter, Hughie Critz, drove in the game’s only run.

Hubbell’s win was the first game of a doubleheader. The Giants also won the second game 1-0, but it lasted just 1 hour 25 minutes.

Marichal SpahnThe other four-hour shutout is a game so famous there’s even been a book written about it. Just Google Juan Marichal Warren Spahn 16 innings and you can read a whole slew of writing about this 1963 classic. Marichal came out the 1-0 winner over Spahn when Willie Mays homered with one out in the bottom of the 16th at Candlestick Park after 4 hours 10 minutes. This is actually one of two four-hour games in the post-1914 database in which both pitchers went the distance (of course, the Coombs-Harris 1906 marathon is not in the database). The first came on Aug. 27, 1920, when the Giants scored two runs in the top of the 17th to give Art Nehf a 6-4 win over Cincinnati’s Ray Fisher in 4 hours 1 minute.

Art NehfThat game made Nehf the only pitcher we know of, at least since 1914, to have two complete games that lasted at least four hours. In 1918, pitching for the Boston Braves, he lost a 21-inning game to Pittsburgh, 2-0. Retrosheet shows this game lasted 4 hours 8 minutes, the next day’s Boston Herald game story lists it as 4 hours 7 minutes. This game was scoreless for the first 20 innings; the only game in major league history that has gone longer without a run was the April 15, 1968 game between the Mets and Astros that was scoreless until Houston won it with a run in the bottom of the 24th. Nehf was lifted for a pinch-hitter in the bottom of the 21st, so like Stan Williams he wouldn’t have shown up in my search had his teammates come back to tie the game.

Luis Tiant was the last pitcher to work more than 14 innings in a major league game, a remarkable 1974 affair at Anaheim in which he went the distance, only to lose after 4 hours 2 minutes when Mickey Rivers scored on Denny Doyle’s double with one out in the bottom of the 15th. Nolan Ryan worked the first 13 innings for the Angels and joined Stan Williams on the strikeout-walk “double-double” list, fanning 19 and walking 10. Unfortunately no record of his pitch count survives, but it had to have been huge, as he faced 58 batters, the most of his career. The Los Angeles Times game story does note he threw 84 pitches in just the first four innings, in which he struck out nine and walked six; it’s a shame the game total wasn’t included. Ryan took a 3-1 lead into the ninth inning before Carl Yastrzemski tied the game with a two-run homer. The Angels threatened to win when they loaded the bases with one out in the bottom of the 12th, but Sox manager Darrell Johnson left Tiant in and he retired Bobby Valentine on a short fly ball and Mickey Rivers on a grounder to get out of the jam. Doyle’s double gave California relief pitcher Barry Raziano the only win of his brief major league career.

The four-hour game by Saul Rogovin is notable in that his 17-inning loss to the Red Sox came the day before the 19-inning game in which Mickey McDermott pitched 17. It’s the only time (at least since 1914) pitchers have worked 17 innings on consecutive days — and in this case the same teams were playing.

I mentioned there was a game that didn’t come up in my Play Index search that qualifies. Bob Smith pitched all 22 innings for the Braves on May 17, 1927, losing to the Cubs 4-3 in a game that lasted 4 hours 13 minutes. Smith faced 89 batters in the game, allowing 20 hits and walking nine. In the post-1914 database, only Cadore and Oeschger pitched more innings in a game or faced more batters. Bob Osborn got the win for the Cubs with 14 innings of shutout relief, the longest scoreless relief appearance in the major leagues, at least since 1914. The Cubs and Braves had played previously three days earlier (a Sunday of idleness due to blue laws and a Monday rainout intervened) in a game that went 18 innings, with Guy Bush going the distance for the victorious Cubs (that game lasted 3 hours 42 minutes).

What about “hidden” four-hour games, in which a pitcher who did not work a complete game may have been still in the game when it reached the four-hour mark? To look for candidates, I used Play Index to find pitchers who threw at least 14 innings in a game that lasted more than four hours.

Gaylord Perry pitched 16 shutout innings (making him the last major leaguer to go 16 innings; he was also the last to go 15, in a 1974 game) in a 1967 game that went 21 and lasted 5 hours 40 minutes. If all the innings were the same length Perry would have been in the game 4 hours 19 minutes. Vern Law worked the first 18 innings of a 19-inning game in 1955 (yes, he’s the last to pitch 18 in a game, or even 17 for that matter) that lasted 4 hours 44 minutes, making his prorated share 4 hours 29 minutes. Saul Rogovin (him again!) went the first 15 innings of a 17-inning game in 1952; his prorated share of the total time of 4 hours 40 minutes is 4:07. Ray Moore pitched the first 15 innings of a 16-inning game in 1957 that went 4:29; his share is 4:12. In 1934, Dizzy Dean and Tony Freitas each pitched the first 17 innings of a game that went 18; total time 4:26, their share was 4:11. Again, we have no way of knowing for sure if any of these pitchers were still in the game four hours after it started, but I would wager at least some of them were.

If you know of any other four-hour pitching performances, please leave them in the comments. Aside from the 1906 A’s-Red Sox game there could be others before 1914, and as I mentioned earlier there are games since 1914 that don’t have time of game in the Retrosheet/Play Index database, so I could be missing some.

And if you’re wondering who pitched the longest nine-inning game? That would be Mickey Lolich, whose shutout on the opening day of the 1970 season at Washington lasted 3 hours 43 minutes. Lolich faced 39 batters (only four pitchers have faced more in a nine-inning shutout since), allowing seven hits, walking five and striking out 10…and he threw 168 pitches — on opening day! Four Senators pitchers combined to throw 177.

The loss marked the eighth straight year the Senators had lost their traditional season opener in the nation’s capital…and I love the headline and subhead that appeared in the next day’s Washington Evening Star:

Mickey Lolich game

Randy Johnson just missed Lolich’s mark in 1990, pitching Seattle to a 13-4 win over the White Sox in Chicago that lasted 3 hours 42 minutes. Johnson gave up 10 hits, struck out 11 and threw 153 pitches; six Sox hurlers threw 192.

And what about the scenario I described earlier…the longest “working time” we can verify, a complete game won by the home team’s pitcher in which the home team did not bat in the last inning, thus the home pitcher threw both the first and last pitches? That distinction would be held by Billy O’Dell, who staggered to a 19-8 win over the Dodgers at Candlestick Park on April 16, 1962 in 3 hours 31 minutes. The Dodgers batted around in the ninth inning, scoring five runs, but Giants manager Al Dark left O’Dell in to finish what he started. O’Dell faced 47 batters in the game; only one pitcher since then has faced as many batters in a game in which he pitched nine innings or less (it didn’t happen all that many times before O’Dell, either). There were 27 hits and 14 walks in the game; O’Dell threw 172 pitches, and five Dodger hurlers combined to throw 199.

Jay Tibbs came up just short in 1989 when he pitched a complete-game 13-hitter (no one has allowed more hits in a complete game win since, and only twice since has a winning pitcher allowed more hits) against Toronto in 3 hours 30 minutes. Tibbs threw “only” 127 pitches…but three Blue Jays pitchers walked 15 Orioles (only five teams since have issued as many walks in a nine-inning game) and combined to throw 225 pitches. The win improved Tibbs’ record on the season with the Orioles to 5-0 with a 2.45 ERA after being called up from the minors. He left his next start in the fourth inning with shoulder trouble, spent the rest of the season on the disabled list and won only three more games in his major league career.

The only game in which the home pitcher threw the first and last pitch of the game to go even three hours since 2003 was Clay Buchholz‘s 2007 no-hitter, which went 3 hours 2 minutes.

A few final (maybe) thoughts on the unlikeliest pitching performances in major league history

Bill James introduced "game scores" in his 1988 Baseball Abstract

Bill James introduced “game scores” in his 1988 Baseball Abstract

I’ve written two previous posts (here and here) attempting to identify the unlikeliest pitching performances in major league history. In the second of those, I used data provided by Sean Forman of Baseball-Reference.com to look at the pitchers who had the biggest difference between their highest “game score” and their second-highest. “Game score” was a concept developed by Bill James in his 1988 Baseball Abstract to attempt to roughly quantify how good a starting pitcher’s performance was. The formula:

Start with 50 points. Add 1 point for each out recorded, (or 3 points per inning). Add 2 points for each inning completed after the 4th. Add 1 point for each strikeout. Subtract 2 points for each hit allowed. Subtract 4 points for each earned run allowed. Subtract 2 points for each unearned run allowed. Subtract 1 point for each walk.

Baseball-Reference.com has calculated the game score for every start in its database, going back (when this was written) to 1914.

Here’s Sean’s list of the greatest differences between a pitcher’s best and second-best game score. This chart includes: 1) the difference; 2) the pitcher’s name and the number of his career starts (you’ll notice almost all of them had just two starts, and only two of them had more than four); 3) the pitcher’s highest game score with his box score line (IP-H-R-ER-BB-SO); 4) the pitcher’s second-highest game score with his box score line; and 5) the team(s) he pitched for in the two games. For pitchers who had a tie for their second-best score, both are listed. Links go to the pitcher’s main page on B-R.com and to the box scores of the games involved.

69 Carlos Frias (2) 69 (6-3-0-0-1-4) 0 (0.2-10-8-8-0-0) 2014 Dodgers
66 Wally Holborow (2) 84 (9-2-0-0-3-4) 18 (8.1-16-8-8-3-2) 1945 Senators/1948 A’s
53 Leon Cadore (147) 140 (26-15-1-1-5-7) 87 (11-7-0-0-0-4) 1920 Dodgers
87 (12-7-1-0-2-3) 1919 Dodgers
52 Bob Clark (2) 77 (9-4-0-0-3-1) 25 (8-13-7-7-3-0) 1920 Indians
51 Joe Oeschger (198) 153 (26-9-1-1-4-7) 102 (14-6-0-0-3-5) 1920 Dodgers/1917 Phillies
50 Bob Lacey (2) 77 (9-7-0-0-1-5) 27 (2-6-5-4-0-1) 1980 A’s/1984 Giants
49 Don Loun (2) 79 (9-5-0-0-0-2) 30 (4-8-4-3-3-1) 1964 Senators
Mel Stottlemyre Jr. (2) 75 (7-1-0-0-3-3) 26 (3-7-5-5-1-2) 1990 Royals
Ben Callahan (2) 61 (6-3-1-1-2-1) 12 (1.1-7-7-7-1-1) 1983 A’s
48 Bob Hartman (2) 86 (10-3-1-1-3-7) 38 (4-4-5-3-2-2) 1962 Indians
Raul Sanchez (2) 78 (9-5-0-0-4-5) 30 (3-6-4-4-2-1) 1952 Senators
47 Dick Rusteck (3) 82 (9-4-0-0-1-4) 35 (4-7-3-3-1-0) 1966 Mets
Steve Schrenk (2) 66 (6-4-0-0-0-2) 19 (2.1-7-6-6-2-2) 1999 Phillies
46 Ed Fallenstein (4) 82 (9-3-0-0-1-2) 36 (6.1-8-5-4-3-0) 1933 Braves
Migel Puente (4) 72 (9-7-1-1-4-7) 26 (1.2-4-5-5-2-1) 1970 Giants
26 (3.1-6-6-5-2-2) 1970 Giants
44 Bill Clemensen (2) 68 (9-5-2-1-5-2) 24 (6.1-11-7-7-4-5) 1941 Pirates/1939 Pirates
43 Chris Bootcheck (3) 61 (6-5-1-1-0-3) 18 (3.2-10-6-6-0-1) 2005 Angels
Charles Leesman (2) 58 (5-4-1-1-5-8) 15 (2.2-9-6-6-1-0) 2013 White Sox/2014 White Sox
Ben Ford (2) 57 (6.1-5-2-2-3-5) 14 (2-6-7-7-2-0) 2000 Yankees

Most of these pitchers were addressed in my previous posts, but I want to mention a couple others here.

Migel/Miguel Puente

Migel/Miguel Puente

Migel Puente (that’s how his name appears on Baseball-Reference.com, but I’ve found his name in print only as Miguel), a native of Mexico, went 13-7 with a 2.52 ERA (second in the league) for the Giants’ farm club in the Class AA Texas League in 1969. He began the 1970 season at Class AAA Phoenix, then the Giants called him up in May and put him in the starting rotation. He got rocked in his debut, giving up five runs in less than two innings, but came back five days later to pitch a complete game in beating the defending World Series champion Mets on his 22nd birthday.

Puente made two more starts in the next week and was crushed in both, getting knocked out in the fourth inning of the first and the first inning (after facing seven batters) of the second. In his three non-winning starts combined he pitched 5-2/3 innings and gave up 16 runs. Ouch.

His next appearance came in relief in a wild game against the Padres at Candlestick Park; he entered in the 12th inning of a game tied 16-16 (!) and held the Pads scoreless for three innings until Steve Huntz led off the top of the 15th with a home run to give San Diego a 17-16 win. (Giants manager Clyde King was fired the next day.) Three days later he was brought in to face the Dodgers but was replaced without officially being credited with facing a batter; he threw three pitches to Claude Osteen before he was removed with what an Associated Press game story described as “a pulled muscle in his right [pitching] shoulder.” It wound up being his last major league appearance.

Puente did pitch in Phoenix again before the season was over; I have not been able to find out what he was doing in 1971, perhaps he was hurt, then he pitched in the Mexican League for several seasons starting in 1972. In the context of the rest of his big league career, his one win seems like a candidate for the short list of unlikeliest performances, but since he was considered a hot prospect at the time I’m inclined to leave him off the list.

(Puente is still alive as this was written; he will turn 67 in 2015. I found this story from 2012 showing him living in McAllen, Texas, and playing in a senior softball league.)

From the Springfield (Mass.) Daily Republican of Sept. 29, 1941

From the Springfield (Mass.) Daily Republican of Sept. 29, 1941

Bill Clemensen was just 19 when he made his major league debut for the Pirates in May 1939. He pitched 10 games in relief without getting a decision before getting a start on the final day of the season, in which he gave up seven runs in 6-1/3 innings. He returned to Pittsburgh in September 1941 and got another last-day-of-the-season start; this time he pitched a complete game five-hitter to beat the Reds and deny Bucky Walters his 20th win of the season.

That performance might have given Clemensen a chance to stick with the Pirates in 1942; alas Pearl Harbor intervened. In April 1942 he was inducted into the Army and spent the next four years in the Army Air Force. Clemensen did return to pitching after the war and got into one more game with the Pirates, in relief, in 1946.

Sean Forman also made me a list of the pitchers who had the biggest differences between their two best game scores and started at least 10 games in the major leagues.

53 Leon Cadore (147) 140 (26-15-1-1-5-7) 87 (11-7-0-0-0-4) 1920 Dodgers
87 (12-7-1-0-2-3) 1919 Dodgers
51 Joe Oeschger (198) 153 (26-9-1-1-4-7) 102 (14-6-0-0-3-5) 1920 Braves/1917 Phillies
36 Zach Stewart (14) 94 (9-1-0-0-0-9) 58 (7-7-2-2-1-4) 2011 White Sox/2011 Blue Jays
35 Carl Hubbell (433) 132 (18-6-0-0-0-12) 97 (16.1-11-2-1-4-6) 1933 Giants/1936 Giants
34 Lefty Tyler (182*) 126 (21-13-1-0-1-8) 92 (13-10-0-0-4-9) 1918 Cubs/1914 Braves
32 Rob Gardner (42) 112 (15-5-0-0-2-7) 80 (9-4-1-1-3-8) 1965 Mets/1966 Mets
Al Aber (30) 101 (15.1-9-1-1-3-8) 69 (9-6-2-2-3-5) 1954 Tigers
69 (9-5-2-2-4-4) 1950 Indians
31 Vern Law (364) 118 (18-9-2-1-2-12) 87 (12-11-0-0-1-8) 1955 Pirates/1965 Pirates
87 (9-2-0-0-1-5) 1964 Pirates
30 Andrew Lorraine (26) 84 (9-3-0-0-1-4) 54 (8-7-4-4-2-4) 1999 Cubs
29 Ralph Beard (10) 83 (12-8-2-1-2-5) 54 (7-6-2-2-3-0) 1954 Cardinals
54 (4-2-1-1-1-1) 1954 Cardinals
Bryan Bullington (10) 82 (8-2-0-0-1-5) 53 (6-5-3-3-1-4) 2010 Royals
Carl Bouldin (10) 75 (9-7-1-1-1-7) 46 (5-8-2-2-0-3) 1962 Senators
28 Les Mueller (18) 112 (19.2-13-1-0-5-6) 84 (9-2-0-0-2-3) 1945 Tigers
27 Phil Douglas (199**) 119 (16-4-0-0-3-8) 92 (12-6-1-1-1-7) 1915 Dodgers/1919 Cubs
Justin Lehr (11) 82 (9-4-0-0-1-4) 55 (6-4-3-3-3-6) 2009 Reds
Junior Walsh (12) 81 (9-3-0-0-2-2) 54 (6-6-2-2-1-3) 1949 Pirates
26 Dick Conger (12) 79 (9-2-1-1-2-2) 53 (6-6-3-1-2-3) 1943 Phillies
Dave Wehrmeister (10) 77 (9-5-1-1-3-7) 51 (6.1-7-2-2-2-2) 1977 Padres
25 Troy Herriage (16) 78 (9-3-1-1-5-6) 53 (7-5-4-4-5-7) 1956 A’s
Phil Gallivan (11) 77 (10-5-2-1-5-4) 50 (8-8-5-4-1-3) 1934 White Sox

* Tyler started 85 games before 1914 that are not in the B-R.com database; perhaps one of them had a higher game score than 92.

** Douglas started one game in 1912 that is not in the database, but his game score wouldn’t have been high enough to matter here, as he allowed seven runs in seven innings

You’ll notice many of the pitchers with the biggest differences had a game in which they pitched, and pitched well, for a huge number of innings. In each case that pitcher’s second-best game was still an excellent game.

I said in my previous post I can’t consider either Joe Oeschger or Leon Cadore for the unlikeliest performance, even though they both went the distance in a 26-inning tie between Oeschger’s Braves and Cadore’s Dodgers in 1920. The same two pitchers had just gone 11 innings against each other less than two weeks earlier, Cadore winning 1-0. Oeschger had pitched a 14-inning shutout in 1917 (a game that ended in a scoreless tie) and had pitched 20 innings in a game in 1919 (another tie). While such long performances were indeed unusual, they weren’t unheard of; from 1914, when the B-R.com database begins, through 1919 a pitcher went at least 20 innings seven times, and there were three more such performances in the 1920s, the last of which saw Ted Lyons pitch 21 innings and George Uhle 20 in 1929 (Uhle was relieved in the bottom of the 21st after his Tigers scored what turned out to be the winning run in the top of the inning).

By the way, the list above includes two “last-of-a-kind” performances…Les Mueller, who went 6-8 for the 1945 World Series champion Tigers in his only full major league season, was the last man to pitch at least 19 innings in a game, and Vern Law was the last man to pitch at least 18 innings in a game.

Ralph Beard's 1955 Bowman baseball card

Ralph Beard’s 1955 Bowman baseball card

One of the pitchers in the list above never won a major league game. Ralph Beard started 10 games for the 1954 Cardinals, losing four of them; the closest he came to a win was in his third start on July 22, when he came out after 12 innings with the score tied 2-2 (his Cardinals went on to beat Pittsburgh in 14).

There are a few pitchers on the list who may deserve closer consideration for possible inclusion on my list of 10 unlikeliest pitching performances in major league history. Zach Stewart turned in a dazzling performance in shutting out the Twins in the second game of a Labor Day doubleheader in 2011, facing just 28 men; Danny Valencia led off the eighth with a double to be the only Twin to reach base. Stewart had won only one major league game before that and has won only one since…his career big league record is 3-10 with a 6.82 ERA (he pitched in the minors in 2014 and is just 28 years old to start the 2015 season, so he may be back). I decided to leave Stewart off my “unlikeliest” list because he was considered a good prospect when he pitched his one-hitter; he had been a third-round draft pick just three years earlier and had already pitched a few reasonably good games in the big leagues. But in what is now the context of his full major league career, that one game sure stands out.

Andrew Lorraine‘s shutout stands out in a major league career that saw him go 6-11 with a 6.53 ERA. It came when he was 27 years old and was already pitching for his fifth major league team (he would go on to pitch for two more). Carl Bouldin, aside from his complete game win, was 2-8 with a 6.89 ERA in his major league career. Bryan Bullington‘s masterful performance against the Yankees in 2010 (eight shutout innings allowing just two hits) is the only win of his major league career, and it came while pitching for his fourth team; his career mark is 1-9 with a 5.62 ERA, and since 2011 he has pitched in Japan. (Bullington was the first player taken in the 2002 amateur draft; later first-round selections included Zack Greinke, Cole Hamels and Prince Fielder.) Aside from his three-hit shutout Junior Walsh had a career record of 3-10 with a 6.16 ERA. Dick Conger, Dave Wehrmeister, Phil Gallivan all had miserable careers…but on further review I’ll still keep Troy Herriage in my top-10 unlikeliest list ahead of all of them, even though they all (except Gallivan) have a bigger gap between their best and second-best game scores. Remember, Herriage pitched a three-hitter for his only win in a career that saw him go 1-13 with a 6.63 ERA, and he had more career starts that any of the pitchers mentioned here except Lorraine.

All right, I should have this topic out of my system for a while…but if there are any other unlikely performances you want to nominate, feel free to leave them in the comments.

Did Gene Mauch pinch-run for Ron Hunt in the first inning of games on the road?

Jonah Keri has an interesting post on FiveThirtyEight.com about Ron Hunt‘s remarkable 1971 season, when he was hit by a pitch 50 times…still the all-time single-season record, and 43 percent more than the second-highest season total.

But Keri had a footnote in the story that caught my attention:

Hunt’s manager in Montreal, the equally scrappy Gene Mauch, knew that his second baseman frequently played hurt, so he’d occasionally lead off with Hunt on the road, then pull him in for a pinch-runner if he reached base to start the game.

Turns out this is the kind of thing you can check easily enough…and after doing so I learned “occasionally” means “exactly never.”

God do I miss those uniforms...

God do I miss those uniforms…

I used Baseball-Reference.com’s Play Index to generate a list of all the Expos pinch-runners from 1971 through 1974, the years Hunt played for the Expos (Mauch was the manager all four years). I then arranged them by the position in the batting order in which the pinch-runner entered the lineup, then checked the box scores for details.

The only time Hunt left a game for a pinch-runner after his first plate appearance was on Sept. 2, 1973, when he led off at Philadelphia with a double and was replaced by Pepe Frias. But this seems to be more than a case of the kind of preventative maintenance described in Keri’s footnote; it was Hunt’s first game since he injured his knee in a game at San Francisco Aug. 8, and it would appear he was still hurt. Hunt did not start the next day, although he did appear as a pinch-hitter; he didn’t play again until Sept. 7, when he started the first game of a doubleheader but not the second. He took the next day off, then after starting Sept. 9 he was removed after five innings — and didn’t play again that season. Correspondent Ian MacDonald wrote in The Sporting News of Sept. 29, “Hunt finally had to undergo surgery for the knee he damaged in August while sliding home in San Francisco.”

Hunt was primarily a leadoff hitter for the Expos, but he did have a few starts in other spots in the lineup, so I checked to see if this scenario (leave for a pinch-runner after reaching base in the first inning in the road) ever played out in any of those. Nope. ADDED 2/7/15: I did find one game in 1971 in which Hunt, batting second at San Diego, fouled out in the top of the first and Gary Sutherland took the field in his place in the bottom of the inning. It doesn’t conform to the letter of Keri’s footnote — Hunt wasn’t batting leadoff, didn’t reach base and wasn’t removed for a pinch-runner — but it does conform to the spirit, the only game in Hunt’s Expo career that does.

Hunt was removed for a pinch-runner on numerous occasions in his Expos career, but I suspect it was because he was neither terribly fast nor much of a defensive player at that stage of his career. He was removed from 90 of the 471 games (19%) he started as an Expo.

I have to assume Keri got the information about Mauch “occasionally” pinch-running for Hunt in the first inning from one of the four people he quoted in his story: Hunt, teammate Bill Stoneman, broadcaster Dave Van Horne and writer Jacques Doucet. Whoever said it, his memory was wrong…which happens after 40-some years. Hell, sometimes it happens after 40-some minutes. Memories make for good stories, but they don’t always make for good facts.

More of the unlikeliest pitching performances in major league history, including guys named Claral, Oadis and Grover

This is a supplement to my earlier post in which I anointed Don Fisher‘s 13-inning shutout in his only major league start as the unlikeliest pitching performance in major league history. I mentioned a few other candidates in that post, and I’ve since found some others that deserve consideration.

Before delving into this I should articulate what I think makes a candidate for “unlikeliest” performance. First of all, at least to make the short list, I think it needs to be an unusually good performance, ideally one in which the pitcher throws nine or more innings and allows one or no runs. I’m willing to fudge that a little bit, but not much. Second, I think to be “unlikely” it needs to have context, ideally a pitcher who didn’t win many games in his career, although you can make a case for a pitcher who had one great game in a long and crappy career. Third, to truly be “unlikely” it should be the only one of its kind, the only really good game the pitcher had. (That’s why I don’t have Bobo Holloman‘s 1953 no-hitter in his first major league start at the top of the list, even though he won only two other games in the major leagues and was back in the minors before the end of the season — because one of those other wins was a strong one.) Finally, it’s nice if there’s a story to go along with it…like the Giants having signed Don Fisher out of a semi-pro league a month before his unlikely game.

I guess by definition an “unlikely” performance would be the only win of a guy’s major league career, like Don Fisher’s. Of course, there are an awful lot of people in major league history who won only one game, so I used Baseball-Reference.com’s Play Index to show me the players with one win who lost the most games in their career. (An aside: without Play Index and Retrosheet‘s volunteers who have gathered box scores and play-by-play data, none of what I do would be possible. Likewise I am grateful for online newspaper archives including The Sporting News (made possible by my membership in the Society for American Baseball Research), the New York Times, Chicago Tribune, Boston Globe, Cleveland Plain Dealer and Los Angeles Times, among others.)

Anyway, I thought those one-win pitchers might have some good candidates for the unlikeliest performance.

You would think a guy who would belong on the list of unlikeliest pitching performances would be Jack Nabors, since he ended his career with a record of 1-25, including a 1-20 mark in 1916. Yes, his one win was better than you’d expect from a guy with that kind of record: a complete game in which he allowed just two runs, both unearned. But he had three other similar performances in September, one of them slightly better, all of them losses. What was truly unlikely was his 1916 Philadelphia A’s winning a game with anyone pitching…they finished 36-117. Jack Nabors wasn’t their only problem. Anyway, I can’t put his win on the list of unlikeliest performances.

"Hi, this is Jim Nabors...What's that? You wanted a picture of JACK Nabors? Well goll-leeee..."

“Hi, this is Jim Nabors…What’s that? You wanted a picture of JACK Nabors? Well surprise, surprise, surprise!”

Nabors came to the A’s in 1915 all the way from the Class D Georgia State League, where he posted a 12-1 record with a 13-inning no-hitter (in which he did not allow a baserunner until the 12th) and a no-decision in a game in which pitched 15 shutout innings and allowed just three hits. A’s owner/manager Connie Mack purchased Nabors in July after “a spirited bidding contest” involving “almost every major league team,” according to The Sporting Life of July 31, 1915, resulting in Mack paying “what is said to be the highest price ever paid for a Class D minor league player.” But Mack may not have had full information about the merchandise; a story in the July 15, 1915 issue of The Sporting Life said Nabors was “but 20 years of age” when he was actually 27.

Nabors joined the A’s in August and went 0-5 for the rest of the season. Here’s what The Sporting Life had to say about him in the March 25, 1916 issue:

He probably has more natural ability than any man on the staff, but Nabors is so awfully green that he will not be of much use this year. At the present time Mack plans to send him to the mound regularly, believing that there is no better way to learn than by profiting from mistakes. He does not expect Nabors to show much until late in the season, but will not farm him out, as he wants to school this lad himself.

After winning his third start in 1916, Nabors lost his last 19 decisions, still the major league record for most consecutive losses in a single season. (Mack was right about one thing: Nabors seems to have done his best pitching in September.) He started the 1917 season with the A’s but was sent back to the minors a week into the season, had a 9-21 record in the rest of his professional career before contracting influenza during the worldwide epidemic of 1918-19, and was just 35 when he died in 1923.

Mike ThompsonThe next-losingest one-win pitcher in major league history is Mike Thompson, who won just one of his 29 career starts across four seasons, with 15 losses and a 4.86 ERA. His one win certainly stood out in the context of his career, pitching 8-2/3 scoreless innings at California as a rookie for the Washington Senators on August 14, 1971. The Angels loaded the bases in the bottom of the ninth, and Senators manager Ted Williams brought in Paul Lindblad to get the last out and preserve Thompson’s 2-0 win.

But Thompson’s major league debut earlier that year may have been even more unlikely…certainly more unusual, as he allowed just one hit over seven innings against Baltimore, while walking nine. Thompson is one of just nine men in major league history to allow no more than one hit in a game while walking nine or more and pitching at least seven innings…and he’s one of just two men to be the losing pitcher with such a line. (The other was Baltimore’s Steve Barber, who walked 10 in losing a combined no-hitter against the Tigers in 1967.)

Three pitchers finished with career records of 1-13, and two of them belong in the conversation for the unlikeliest pitching performance ever; the other is a decent candidate too.

Troy HerriageTroy Herriage was 24 years old when he had a good year in the Class A South Atlantic League in 1955, going 15-7 for Montgomery and finishing third in the league in ERA. The Kansas City Athletics selected him in the postseason draft and moved him past AA and AAA to the big league roster in 1956. He made two early season relief appearances before A’s manager Lou Boudreau put him in the starting rotation.

Herriage was knocked out in the third inning of his first start, the fourth inning of his next start and the sixth inning of his third start; he was hit hard in all three. He went into his start against the Senators on May 22 having allowed 16 runs, all earned, in 14 major league innings. But that night he pitched a complete game three-hitter and defeated the Nats 6-1.

Herriage made 12 more starts for the A’s and didn’t make it through five innings in half of them; he never had another game remotely like his performance against Washington. His season — and major league career — ended with a record of 1-13 and a 6.64 ERA. He spent two more seasons in the minors with a combined record of 8-20. I’d definitely put his one major league win on the short list of unlikeliest performances ever.

I have a feeling Troy Herriage was an interesting guy. The 1956 Sporting News Baseball Register lists his hobby as “A little art.” With the quotation marks; I’ve never seen another Register hobby listing with quotation marks. According to his obituary, after he stopped playing pro ball he went to work as a design engineer for rocketmaker Aerojet and later owned a bed and breakfast in Sonora, Calif., in the Sierra Nevada foothills.

There could be a really interesting story behind John McPherson, also known as Jack, but I haven’t been able to uncover it. He made his major league debut with the Philadelphia A’s at age 32 on July 12, 1901, the first season of the American League, giving up five runs in four innings in a loss to Boston. He didn’t return to the majors until three years later, when he surfaced with the National League Phillies at age 35 and went 1-12. His ERA of 3.66 sounds decent, but the league ERA was 2.73, and McPherson also allowed a higher than league average proportion of unearned runs.

Retrosheet doesn’t have 1904 box scores, but the reason I can consider McPherson for the unlikeliest performance ever is the fact that his stat line shows his one win was a shutout. The Phillies, who finished last with a 52-100 record, had only 10 shutouts, so I went looking through them and found McPherson’s. And it was no ordinary shutout: it was a 13-inning blanking of Brooklyn on June 22 in which McPherson allowed just six hits. Here’s the box score from The New York Times:

McPherson boxJohn McPherson holds the all-time major league record for most career losses by a pitcher whose only major league win was a shutout…a 13-inning shutout when he was 35 years old. That seems like it should score pretty high on the unlikelymeter. After his playing career McPherson worked as a bricklayer in his hometown of Easton, Pa.

Aside from Herriage and McPherson, the only other pitcher to finish his major league career with a 1-13 record was Russ Miller; like Herriage and McPherson, his only major league win was a complete game. After going 15-10 for Syracuse in 1927, Miller joined the Phillies in September and gave up eight runs in his big league debut. Five days later, he beat the Braves in Boston, 7-1 on a complete game 11-hitter. The next year, Miller went 0-12, which at the time was the record for most losses in a season by a winless pitcher. (The only pitchers who have lost as many games in a winless season are Steve Gerkin, who was 0-12 in his only major league season with the 1945 A’s, and Terry Felton, who was 0-13 for the 1982 Twins to finish his career with an 0-16 mark.)

Anyway, as unlikely as Miller’s win was, it wasn’t as good a performance as the unlikely games pitched by the likes of Don Fisher, Larry Anderson, Troy Herriage and John McPherson, so he’s not going to make the short list of unlikeliest games.

From The Sporting News of July 20, 1922

From The Sporting News of July 20, 1922

I mentioned John McPherson holds the record for most losses by a pitcher whose only win was a shutout. Next on that list was John Singleton, who I’m happy to bring into this conversation because he is one of the few major leaguers who was born in the same small town I was, Gallipolis, Ohio. Singleton (nicknamed “Sheriff” for reasons I have not yet divined) made his professional debut in 1915, then served in the Marines from 1916 until he was discharged in September 1920. He was apparently property of the Phillies when he lost 20 games for Newark of the International League in 1921; the next year he started with Toronto of the same league and was “sensational,” according to The Sporting News, but since he pitched in only nine games his stats don’t appear in the 1923 Spalding’s Official Base Ball Record. The Phillies brought him to the majors in June, and in his first major league start he shut out the Cardinals on six hits. His next three starts were a bit rockier, but then he lost a 1-0 decision at St. Louis. That led to a write-up in The Sporting News accompanying the photo above. and the uncredited writer raved, “Singleton indeed looks to be as good a pitcher as there is in either major league.”

So much for that. Singleton finished the season, and his major league career, with a 1-10 record and a 5.90 ERA. He spent the next five seasons in the Pacific Coast League and was active in the minors until 1932. He died of tuberculosis in 1937, when he was believed to be 40, at least according to his baseball age, which has him born in 1896…but Singleton’s gravestone shows his birth year as 1895, and military service documents found via Ancestry.com list his birth year as 1894. As unlikely as his one major league win was, I have to rank him a little lower on the list because he had a second excellent performance.

Don Fisher, John McPherson and John Singleton all pitched a shutout for their only major league win. That club is actually a little bigger than I would have guessed…there are 18 others who also have that distinction. This might be a good group to search for unlikeliest pitching performances…

It turns out Herb Bradley, who had a 5.93 career ERA in parts of three seasons (1927-29) for the Red Sox, doesn’t really belong on the list. He had one win and one shutout — but they weren’t the same game! His shutout was in a five-inning scoreless tie against the Senators in April 1928; his win was in his second major league start the previous September. And his first major league start, an 11-inning 2-1 loss, was if anything even more impressive. I can’t put him on my unlikeliest short list. By the way, there are 61 complete game shutouts without a victory in the Baseball-Reference.com database since 1914.

Clarence “Lefty” Russell was one of the biggest names in baseball in 1910. He won 24 games for Baltimore of the Eastern League, and Philadelphia A’s owner/manager Connie Mack bought his contract for $12,000, the most ever paid for a player to that point. Russell joined the A’s at the end of the season and pitched in one game, shutting out the Red Sox on Oct. 1. He was just 20 years old and appeared to have a bright future. But he ruined his arm the next spring, and for the remainder of his major league career he went 0-5 with a 7.53 ERA. He eventually went back to the minors and became a first baseman. Jimmy Keenen tells his story in great detail on the SABR Baseball Biography Project.

Claude Thomas pitched a two-hit shutout in his first major league start in September 1916. In his other six games, all that same month, he went 0-2 with a 6.05 ERA. Thomas won 231 games in the minors (his Baseball-Reference.com stats are missing 12 wins he recorded in last last professional season, 1926, at Des Moines) and fought in World War I. Bob Rives tells his story on the SABR Bio Project.

Bob Clark pitched a four-hit shutout in his first major league start for the pennant-winning 1920 Indians; he made just one major league start after that and was bombed for seven runs. Aside from his first start his career ERA was 6.59. Clark didn’t make his big league debut until 1920, although he actually joined the Indians in August 1919 after leading the Class B New England League in wins. I suspect there’s a good story here and I haven’t found it yet, but I must admit I haven’t put in much time trying. At any rate his shutout appears to be one of the unlikeliest performances.

This is actually Claral Gillenwater, pictured in The Sporting News in 1928

This is actually Claral Gillenwater, pictured in The Sporting News in 1928

In 1923 Claral Gillenwater (sometimes misidentified in print as Claude or Clyde) had a 10-1 record in the Class B Michigan-Ontario League when he was purchased by the White Sox in mid-August. In his major league debut was blasted for six runs in two innings of relief work. Five days later he made his first start and shut out the Red Sox on four hits. He pitched in just three more games in the majors and lost all three, allowing nine runs in 10-1/3 innings. I’ll definitely put Claral on the short list for unlikeliest performance. Bill Lamb dug deep to tell his story on the SABR Bio Project.

In September 1934 rookie John “Spike” Merena started three games for the Red Sox (winning promotion to the majors despite a 6.77 ERA with Syracuse of the International League). In his first start he took a 3-2 lead into the bottom of the ninth at St. Louis before losing on a two-run homer by Jack Burns. Four days later he shut out the Yankees on four hits; the Yankees’ loss clinched the American League pennant for the Tigers.

Merena made just one more start in 1934, a loss, was sent to the minors in 1935 and developed a sore arm, pitching in just eight games and never playing professionally after that. He went on to be a police officer in Bridgeport, Conn. Bill Nowlin does a great job telling his story on the SABR Bio Project.

Oadis SwigartOadis Swigart joined the Pirates in September 1939 and started three games. He gave up seven runs in the first of them and seven in the last; in between he shut out the Braves. Swigart spent most of 1940 with Syracuse but started and ended the season with Pittsburgh and was winless in seven appearances, although both his starts were good ones…he allowed a total of just two earned runs in 16-1/3 innings. He went to spring training with the Pirates in 1941 but was drafted by the Army and inducted May 1, more than six months before Pearl Harbor; he was one of the first players with major league experience to enter the military for World War II.

Corporal Oadis Swigart was pictured in The Sporting News -- reading The Sporting News -- while serving at Fort Leavenworth

Corporal Oadis Swigart was pictured in The Sporting News — reading The Sporting News — while serving at Fort Leavenworth

Swigart stayed in the Army for the duration of the war and played for service teams during at least some of that time, then tried to return to pro ball in 1946 but played just a handful of games in the minors. Gary Bedinfield has more of Swigart’s story on his terrific Baseball In Wartime website.

I would love to know more of the story of Mike Modak, as he seems like a candidate for unlikeliest performance. For starters, he apparently played both professional and college baseball at the same time…he shows up pitching in the Class D Pennsylvania-Ontario-New York League in 1943 and 1944 while he earned letters at Indiana University in 1944 and 1945 (he also played fullback on the 1944 IU football team and was a teammate of Ted Kluszewski). SABR member Bob Harris tells me the NCAA didn’t have blanket rules on eligibility that would prohibit professional play until about 1950.

A stocky righthander, Modak joined the Cincinnati Reds in June 1945 after the school year ended and, pitching out of the bullpen, mixed some good outings with some rough ones; through nine appearances he allowed 18 runs in 16-2/3 innings. He then reeled off 11-2/3 consecutive scoreless innings in his next five appearances, and Reds manager Bill McKechnie gave him the ball to start the first game of a September 5 doubleheader against the Phillies. Voila: Modak hurled a shutout in which he did not allow an extra-base hit. Two days later McKechnie used him to get the last out in a 6-2 win over the Phillies to extend his scoreless streak to 21 innings. Two days after that McKechnie brought him back to start against the Dodgers, who knocked him out in the third inning, and that was Modak’s last start in the big leagues; he made just three relief appearances over the rest of the season and finished with a 5.74 ERA.

On Ancestry.com I found Modak enlisted in the Panama Canal Department of the Army in February 1946 and was released on August 31, 1947, although it appears he pitched five games for Columbia (S.C.) of the Class A South Atlantic League that year. Modak apparently returned to Columbia in 1948, but an item in the June 9 issue of The Sporting News said he jumped to the semi-pro Palmetto League. I don’t know anything about what came of him after that; he died in Florida in 1995.

Here’s Modak from his 1941 school yearbook at Memorial High School in Campbell, Ohio:

Modak

Grover Powell deserves a full-blown SABR Bio Project entry; I’ll give you the short-ish version here. Some of the easily-found information online about him turns out to be wrong, so I’ve checked this pretty carefully.

Grover PowellPowell was a 5’10” lefthander who grew up in Pennsylvania dairy country and attended the University of Pennsylvania. In his one season of varsity baseball, as a sophomore in 1960, he struck out 116 batters in 70 innings. His 14.9 strikeouts per nine innings led all NCAA major college pitchers, and as this is written, his strikeouts remain a Penn single-season record; no other Quakers pitcher has recorded more than 80.

But Penn coach Jack McCloskey kicked Powell off the team in 1961. If the name Jack McCloskey sounds familiar to you, it’s likely because you’re a basketball fan; he was head coach of the NBA’s Portland Trailblazers for two years, and as general manager of the Detroit Pistons he built the teams that won NBA championships in 1989 and 1990. But before that he spent 11 years as both head basketball and head baseball coach at his alma mater, Penn.

So why did McCloskey get rid of the pitcher who had led the nation in strikeouts? Here’s how Powell told the story in 1963:

I had been up all night studying for an exam. About an hour and a half before we were to board a bus for a game at West Point, I tried to get some sleep. When I awoke, it was too late to make the bus, so I never showed up. For that, I was kicked off the team.

That really wasn’t the whole story. The next day, another pitcher and I were throwing chunks of dirt at each other during a workout when [McCloskey] walked in. That, coming on top of my missing the bus, I guess, was too much for him.

Here’s McCloskey’s version, from an undated interview:

[Powell was] always loud, overbearing to a point, and somewhat unusual — in a way that I had to drop him off the team. It was just an accumulation of things that Grover did. Once he wanted to come out of a game because he was cold. One day, he swore a lot at the equipment guy and threw clumps of grass. Then he missed a team bus. I finally said, “Enough is enough.”

In those days all young players were free agents; the amateur draft did not begin until 1965, and there weren’t yet rules prohibiting players attending four-year colleges from turning pro before the end of their junior year. So Powell could have turned pro and signed with anyone after his big sophomore season, and indeed he claims to have turned down a $8,000 signing bonus — not much compared to the bonuses of $50,000 to $100,000 or more some prospects received, but still a significant amount of money for the time. After he was kicked off the Penn team there were no pro offers. He left school in 1962, a semester short of graduating, when the first-year New York Mets gave him a $1,000 bonus, with the promise of another $1,500 if the organization decided to keep him after 90 days.

The Mets had Powell start his pro career with their Class AAA farm club at Syrcause. It didn’t go well there; he had a 2-6 record with a 5.79 ERA when he was sent all he way down to Class D and the Mets’ affiliate in Auburn, N.Y. It didn’t go well there either; he had a 2-6 record with a 5.12 ERA. But Powell did strike out 121 batters in 114 innings during his first pro season, and the Mets apparently saw enough that they didn’t want to risk losing him.

At that time all players were available to be drafted by any major league organization after their first season as a professional. This was a rule designed to encourage teams to limit the signing bonuses they offered amateurs, since they could lose their new recruits in the draft for just $8,000. But teams could hold onto their first-year players by placing them on the major league roster; by doing so the teams were required to include those players on their 25-man major league roster the following year. Teams did have the option in the following year of sending one of those first-year players to the minors, but he would still count as part of the 25-man roster, meaning there would be only 24 men to play at the major league level. SABR member Cliff Blau has a thorough explanation of the draft here.

The Mets, having just finished their first-ever season with a record of 40-120, felt like they could invest in the future, so they committed to keeping three first-year players out of the draft and on the major league roster in 1963: outfielder-first baseman Ed Kranepool, pitcher Larry Bearnarth and Powell. And they further committed to giving manager Casey Stengel just 24 players when they optioned Powell to their Class A farm club at Raleigh, N.C. to start the season.

Kranepool, just 18, was the Mets’ Opening Day right fielder in 1963 and held his own in the early going, but from early June into July he fell into a 7-for-65 slump, and management decided his development would be better served by sending him to the minors. But since they were allowed to have only one of their “first-year players” in the minors, sending Kranepool down meant Grover Powell had to be called up.

Stengel wasn’t afraid to use Powell, although he broke him in as a relief pitcher in games that were out of hand (not that those games were hard to find, as the Mets were in the midst of another horrible season). Through his first nine appearances Powell had a 1.88 ERA in 14-1/3 innings. Then Stengel tapped him to start the first game of a doubleheader August 20 at Philadelphia’s Connie Mack Stadium, not far from the Penn campus, and Powell shut out the Phillies on four hits.

Grover Powell ToppsA week later Powell was working on another shutout, at Pittsburgh, when he was hit in the jaw by a line drive off the bat of Donn Clendenon in the fifth inning. Powell finished the inning without allowing a run before being relieved, and he was in line to get the win until the Pirates scored two unearned runs in the bottom of the ninth to pull out a 2-1 victory.

Powell’s major league ERA to that point was 0.95. He made two more starts but was knocked out in the fifth inning of one and the third inning of the other. Including his relief appearances he allowed 19 runs in 21-1/3 inning after the Pittsburgh game.

That winter Powell pitched in Venezuela, and pitched well, but he went home with a sore shoulder before the season ended; he was — with one brief exception — never the same pitcher and never returned to the majors. He pitched just 19 innings in the minors in 1964; didn’t pitch at all in 1965 (taking advantage of the situation to go back to Penn and finish his degree in economics); then pitched just 23 innings in the minors in 1966. He went 2-9 in 1967.

The one glimmer Powell had of what might have been came in 1968, when he was the ace pitcher of Sparky Anderson’s last minor league team, the Asheville Tourists, champions of the Class AA Southern League. Powell went 16-6 with a 2.54 ERA and led the league in wins, ERA, starts and innings. But he was 27 years old, considerably older and more experienced than the vast majority of hitters he faced. At any rate he was unable to duplicate his success after that, going 1-5 in 1969 and 0-4 in 1970, his last season as a pro.

I’ve not been able to find out what Grover Powell did for a living after his baseball career. He died of leukemia in 1985, just 44 years old.

The next pitchers on the list don’t really qualify for the short list of unlikeliest performances, even though they each won just one major league game, because they showed such promise going into that game.

Don Loun

Don Loun

Of all the pitchers whose only major league win was a shutout, Don Loun pitched the fewest innings in his big league career. Loun grew up in Frederick, Maryland, where his high school baseball coach and business law teacher was Hal Keller. Keller had played in the major leagues, for the Washington Senators (his older brother Charlie had been a star outfielder for the Yankees) and was, in addition to his work at Frederick High, assistant farm director for the Senators. When the team moved to Minnesota after the 1960 season, Keller became farm director of the expansion Senators team that replaced them in Washington, and in 1961 he signed Loun.

Loun didn’t become a fulltime pitcher until he turned pro, and it took him a little while to completely get the hang of it; in 1962 he led the Class D Alabama-Florida League with 126 walks in 162 innings, although he struck out 177. In 1964 the 23-year-old Loun pitched well in both AA and AAA ball and earned a September call-up to the Washington Senators. In his major league debut on September 23 he shut out the Red Sox, allowing just five hits and walking no one.

But Loun made just one more major league appearance. Ten days after his shutout, on the next-to-last day of the season, he started against the Red Sox again and was lifted for a pinch-hitter after allowing four runs, eight hits and three walks in four innings. He went to spring training with the Senators in 1965 but was sent to Triple-A; he was called up to Washington in September but did not appear in a game. Loun continued pitching in the minors until 1969; his minor league record after his one major league win was 15-32.

Richard/Dick/Rich Rusteck

Richard/Dick/Rich Rusteck

Like Loun, Dick Rusteck was a lefthanded pitcher who threw a shutout in his major league debut. (At least “Dick Rusteck” was how his name usually appeared in print and how it is listed in the standard references, but his given name was Richard and his facsimile signature in the 1967 Sporting News Baseball register is as “Rich Rusteck.”) And like Loun, Rusteck never won another major league game.

Rusteck graduated from Notre Dame with a degree in economics, but he didn’t have a stellar pitching career for the Irish; according to Cappy Gagnon’s book “Notre Dame Baseball Greats: From Anson To Yaz,” Rusteck’s career record in three varsity seasons was just 5-6, and he didn’t pitch regularly until his senior year. But the Mets signed him after his graduation in 1963, and the hard-throwing youngster established himself as a prospect when he struck out 177 batters in 153 minor league innings in 1965.

Rusteck got off to a blazing start for the Mets’ Class AAA farm club at Jacksonville, Fla. in 1966. He pitched complete games in his first six starts and won them all, allowing a total of seven earned runs. He then got hit in the elbow with a line drive during practice and was out of action for two weeks, but shortly after he came back he was promoted to New York, and when he took the mound in the big leagues for the first time he shut out the Reds on four hits, all singles.

Four days later Rusteck faced the Cardinals and held them scoreless in the first inning. But he was pulled in the second inning after the first five batters reached base; all of them eventually scored. It was nearly three weeks before he got another start, against Pittsburgh; the game was tied 1-1 after four innings, but when the Pirates scored two in the fifth before anyone was retired, Rusteck was lifted. He didn’t pitch again for two weeks and then went on the disabled list. When Rusteck came off the DL he was sent back to Jacksonville, where he posted an 0-3 record.  The Mets brought him back when the rosters expended in September, and he did a good job, allowing just one run in nine innings of relief.

But that turned out to be the end of his major league career. Arm trouble limited him to 33 innings in the minors in 1967 and 35 in 1968. Later he had a huge year back in Class AA, going 17-8 in 1971 with a 2.40 ERA. The Phillies thought enough of him to draft him for their AAA team in Eugene, Ore., but he got knocked around in 1972, pitched in Mexico in 1973, then retired from baseball.

In August 1974 Rusteck was eating at a restaurant in Eugene when he ran into Frank Peters, the manager of the Portland Mavericks in the short-season Class A Northwest League. The league was dominated by youngsters new to pro ball, but Portland was not affiliated with a major league organization and was trying to put its best lineup on the field as an independent team. Peters talked Rusteck into making a comeback, and Rusteck spent four seasons with the team, finally giving it up in 1977 at age 36. By the end Rusteck was working as a mortgage banker in Portland and played only in games in Portland or Eugene.

Dave DownsIn 1972, just two years out of high school, Dave Downs put it all together for the Phillies’ Class AA farm club at Reading, Pa., going 15-7 with a 2.41 ERA. His 15 complete games included five shutouts. The Phillies brought him to the majors in September, and the 20-year-old shut out the Braves in his debut. He gave up three runs in seven innings in his next start, with no decision; three runs in just three innings in his next start; then on Sept. 19 he had to come out after four innings because of a stiff shoulder.

That was essentially the end of Downs’ baseball career, as the shoulder never recovered. He didn’t pitch at all in 1973, came back to pitch just 30 innings in the minors in 1974, didn’t pitch at all in 1975 and got shelled in 46 innings in one last comeback attempt in Class A in 1976. Ten years later his younger brother Kelly reached the majors to begin a career that saw him win 57 games and pitch in the 1989 World Series. Of the two, Dave had definitely seemed to be the better prospect.

Paul Marak actually had several good starts in his month in the major leagues with the Braves in September 1990, so as a result none of them can be considered a candidate for the unlikeliest performance, not even his four-hit shutout of the Astros. He had already pitched six shutout innings in a start against the Giants and would later throw eight shutout innings in a rematch with the Astros, both games resulting in no decision. Marak was a sinkerballer who didn’t show much in the minors after his cup of coffee and was pitching in an independent league in 1993.

The most recent player to throw a shutout for his only major league win was Andy Van Hekken, who blanked the Indians in his debut for the Detroit Tigers in 2002. Perhaps the most remarkable thing about that was there were only 43 complete game shutouts in the entire American League in 2002, when teams averaged 4.8 runs per game, and this 23-year-old rookie threw one of them for his only major league win. Van Hekken had been a third-round draft choice out of high school and had put up good numbers in the minors, so his strong debut couldn’t have been too much of a shock. He started four more games for the Tigers and, while he didn’t win any others, finished with an ERA of 3.00. But the telling statistic was he struck out only five batters in 30 innings. He never pitched in the majors again, but he knocked around the minors, including some stints in an independent league, through 2011, then went to pitch in Korea. Just last year (2014) he led the Korean league with 20 wins at age 34.

Mark Brownson

Mark Brownson

I’ve been looking at pitchers whose only major league win was a shutout to find unlikely performances…I also looked at pitchers, since 1914, who pitched a shutout in their first major league game, regardless of how many they went on to win. And there I found a great candidate for unlikeliest performance: Mark Brownson, who came up to the majors with the Colorado Rockies in July 1998 to replace injured John Thomson and, in his first game, shut out the Houston Astros, who finished the season with 102 wins and averaged 5.4 runs per game. Brownson had a 5.13 ERA for the Rockies’ Colorado Springs farm club, but he held the Astros hitless for the first five innings. It was one of only two complete game shutouts for the Rockies that season (Darryl Kile pitched the other). Six days later, Brownson was shelled, this time at Coors Field, and went back to the minors. For the (brief) rest of his major league career after his debut he posted an 8.54 ERA, although he did get one more win, in relief with the Phillies in 2000 (and he allowed just one run in seven innings in a 1999 start against the Braves in which he did not get a decision). Brownson’s has to be high on the list of unlikeliest pitching performances.

I thought of another way to identify unlikely pitching performances. Bill James created a “game score” for starting pitchers, to try to roughly quantify how good a performance it was. Baseball-Reference com has calculated the game score for every start in its database since 1914. Here’s the definition, from B-R.com’s glossary:

Start with 50 points. Add 1 point for each out recorded, (or 3 points per inning). Add 2 points for each inning completed after the 4th. Add 1 point for each strikeout. Subtract 2 points for each hit allowed. Subtract 4 points for each earned run allowed. Subtract 2 points for each unearned run allowed. Subtract 1 point for each walk.

I figure, by definition, any game score that’s far above any other game score that pitcher ever recorded would be considered unlikely. So I wanted to look at the pitchers who had the biggest difference between their highest-ever game score and their second-highest game score. (Note this method would not identify pitchers like Don Fisher and Larry Anderson, who made only one major league start, or John McPherson, whose starts are not yet in the database.) I couldn’t create this list using B-R.com’s Play Index, but I asked B-R.com’s creator Sean Forman if he could do that for me, and he was nice enough to oblige.

Let me tell you right off the bat there are two pitchers we’re going to throw out; their performances probably were the unlikeliest of all time, but their game was the most unusual as well. Joe Oeschger and Leon Cadore both went the distance in a 26-inning tie between the Braves and Dodgers in 1920. The length of the game really jacks up their game scores (remember, they get three points per inning PLUS two points for EACH inning completed after the fourth). Oeschger gave up just nine hits and four walks; his game score of 153 is the highest ever, and Cadore’s 140 is second. Oeschger was a below-average pitcher for most of his career, but he did win 82 games in the majors; Cadore won 68 games and pitched in the 1920 World Series. Cadore’s 26-inning game score was 53 points higher than the next best in his career, the third-biggest spread ever, Oeschger’s 51-point spread is the fifth-biggest ever.

Carlos Frias

Carlos Frias

But the highest spread between top two game scores occurred just last year (2014). In his eighth season of pro ball, 24-year-old Carlos Frias was brought up to the Dodgers in August. Working out of the bullpen, he allowed at least one run in five of his first eight appearances, with an ERA of 5.65. Then on Sept. 3, manager Don Mattingly gave Frias a start against Washington, and Frias responded with six shutout innings (he came out of a scoreless tie in a game the Dodgers lost in 14 innings, 8-5). Despite pitching just six innings, Frias’ game score was an admirable 69, and Mattingly said the rookie might get another start.

That chance came two weeks later. Unfortunately for Frias, it came at Denver’s Coors Field, and he didn’t get out of the first inning — he faced 11 batters, eight of whom scored (two of them on a hit after Frias left the game). His performance earned a game score of zero (remember, you start the game with 50). Frias didn’t start again, and so that 69-point difference between his best and second-best starts ever is the largest of all time (at least since 1914). Of course, there’s still time for Frias to make another start and cut that gap.

Prior to Frias, the biggest game score difference was held by another man who just made two major league starts; alas, his difference will never be reduced, as he died in 1986. And his story seems to have a lot in common with Don Fisher’s…in fact, their respective unlikely performances both took place in 1945, when World War II had the most impact on available major leaguers. Unfortunately I haven’t been able to dig up much about Wally Holborow, but I think he’s going to make the cut for unlikeliest performances.

Like Fisher, Holborow went to the majors directly from the semi-pro ranks. He had been pitching in his native New York and was with the high-profile Brooklyn Bushwicks when he signed with the Washington Senators in 1944 at age 30. His previous professional experience appears to be limited to three games in the Class C Middle Atlantic League in 1935. Holborow made one relief appearance late in the 1944 season, throwing three scoreless innings, and started the 1945 season in Washington. He wasn’t used often, and almost always in games the Senators were trailing, but he got the job done; he didn’t allow a run in nine of his first 11 appearances, with an ERA of 2.08.

Then on Aug. 4, Nats manager Ossie Bluege selected Holborow to start the first game of a doubleheader against the Red Sox. And he came through…Shirley Povich wrote in the next day’s Washington Post:

Wally Holborow PostBy the way, in the second game of that doubleheader, the Senators were trailing 14-2 in the fourth inning when Bluege called on rookie Bert Shepard, who had lost the lower part of his right leg in the war and pitched with an artificial leg. Shepard finished the game, allowing just one run in 5-1/3 innings, in what turned out to be his only big league appearance (and, to date, the only appearance by a player with an artificial leg). Terry Bohn tells his story on the SABR Bio Project.

Holborow’s shutout didn’t earn him more opportunities; in fact, he made only three appearances the rest of the season, all in relief, and gave up at least one run in each. But he finished the year with a 2.30 ERA in 31-1/3 innings.

From the Washington, D.C., Evening Star of Aug. 31, 1948

From the Washington, D.C., Evening Star of Aug. 31, 1948

After the season, with hundreds of players returning from the military, Holborow turned in his voluntary retirement papers and went back to the Bushwicks. But in late August 1948, A’s owner/manager Connie Mack lured Holborow — then 34 years old (although newspaper reports of his signing said he was 31) — to Philadelphia. And after three relief appearances, Holborow was called on to start the Sept. 23 game at Detroit. The A’s staked him to a 7-2 lead in the fifth inning (Holborow knocked in three of the runs himself), but the Tigers came back, and Sam Vico hit a two-run triple in the bottom of the ninth to give Detroit a 8-7 win. Why didn’t Connie bring in a relief pitcher? Who knows? But Holborow went all the way, facing 43 batters and giving up 16 hits.

Holborow’s game score was 18, 66 points less than the 84 he posted in his 1945 shutout. He made just one more appearance for the A’s and then went back to the Bushwicks. Any further information about Wally Holborow would be much appreciated.

The player with the fourth-highest game score difference (behind Frias, Holborow and Cadore) was the aforementioned Bob Clark (77 in his shutout, 25 in his other start for a difference of 52). Next comes Oeschger, then Bob Lacey, who pitched 282 games in relief from 1977-84. Lacey also made two starts. In the first, he shut out the Brewers on the next-to-last day of the 1980 season. In the second, he gave up five runs in two-plus innings in 1984. Game scores were 77 and 27 for a difference of 50.

The next players on the largest difference list are also ones who made just two starts. Ben Callahan, who pitched briefly for the 1983 A’s, had a score of 61 in his first start and a disastrous 12 (seven runs allowed in 1-1/3 innings) four days later. Next is Don Loun, mentioned earlier (his starts scored at 79 and 30). Mel Stottlemyre, Jr., who pitched for the 1990 Royals, pitched seven shutout innings in his first start, allowing just one hit, for a score of 75; six days later he gave up five runs in three innings for a score of 26. Bob Hartman started twice for the 1962 Indians; he gave up just one run in 10 innings in his first, then five days later gave up five runs in four innings (scores of 86 and 38).

From The Sporting News, Sept. 17, 1952. Raul Sanchez (right) did not pitch his shutout in his major league debut, but it was his first big league start. Mike Fornieles was the first man to pitch at least nine innings and allow no more than one hit in his first major league game; only four others have done it since.

From The Sporting News, Sept. 17, 1952. Raul Sanchez (right) did not pitch his shutout in his major league debut, but it was his first big league start. Mike Fornieles was the first man to pitch at least nine innings and allow no more than one hit in his first major league game; only four others have done it since.

One of the numerous Cubans who played for the Washington Senators in the early 1950s was slender righty Raul Sanchez. The 21-year-old made the team out of spring training in 1952, but he made just one brief relief appearance before manager Bucky Harris decided Sanchez would benefit from more time in the minors. After spending the summer with Havana in the Class B Florida International League, Sanchez returned to Washington in September and in his first outing shut out the Red Sox on five hits (game score 78). Five days later he gave up four runs in three innings against the White Sox (game score 30) and was done for the season. He didn’t return to the majors until 1957 and never started another game in the bigs. He finished his career with a 4.62 ERA in 49 games.

Dick Rusteck, already discussed, has the highest difference between his best and second-best game scores of any pitcher who has started more than two games (aside from Cadore and Oeschger). Rusteck made three starts, his best score being 82 and his next best 35.

Ed Fallenstein/Fallenstin

Ed Fallenstein/Fallenstin

Ed Fallenstein (also known as Fallenstin, which apparently was his real name) had won only five games in the minors when he made the Phillies as a 22-year-old in 1931. An item in The Sporting News early that year said Fallenstein “is credited with having the fastest ball in the [International] league, lacking only control to make him a hugely successful pitcher.” He put up a 7.13 ERA in 24 games with the Phillies and was back in the minors in 1932, this time winning just three games; apparently he suffered a broken hand in there somewhere. But in 1933 he made it with the Boston Braves after beating the defending World Series champion Yankees in an exhibition game (holding them hitless for the first eight innings), and after one relief appearance he pitched a three-hit shutout against the Giants (who would win the National League pennant that year) in his first big league start. His game score was 82. He started three more times, with scores of 36, 32 and 35; the difference of 46 between his two best starts is the most for anyone who started at least four games (again, aside from Oeschger and Cadore). Fallenstein was back in the minors in July and never pitched pro ball again after that season. Aside from his shutout he had a 6.25 career ERA. I’m guessing there’s an interesting story here, and I’d love to know it.

At some point in the near future I’ll do more with the list of pitchers with the biggest differences between their best and second-best game scores. (ADDED 2/7/15: That post is now up.) But for now I think I’ve found everyone I would consider for my extremely subjective list of ten unlikeliest pitching performances in major league history. They are:

  1. Don Fisher, 1945 Giants
  2. John McPherson, 1904 Phillies
  3. Larry Anderson, 1975 Brewers
  4. Bob Clark, 1920 Indians
  5. Mark Brownson, 1998 Rockies
  6. Wally Holborow, 1945 Senators
  7. Ed Fallenstein, 1933 Braves
  8. Mike Modak, 1945 Reds
  9. Claral Gillenwater, 1923 White Sox
  10. Troy Herriage, 1956 A’s

Let’s see how long it takes me to change that list. (ADDED 2/4/15: I’m already thinking I should move Gillenwater up a spot or two.) (ADDED 2/7/15: I’m also having serious second thoughts about leaving Bob Lacey off the list…but I like these ten so much!) Fire away with your comments below!