Looking for bullshit in Earl Weaver’s “Weaver On Strategy”

Weaver on StrategyADDED 7/4/16: A commenter below missed the point of this piece. The point isn’t that Earl Weaver was an idiot or that he couldn’t manage; that’s clearly not true. The point is that memories are often inaccurate. Nothing that Weaver got “wrong” in his book means that his principles weren’t sound. But I’m always fascinated by what we remember…or don’t remember.

Earl Weaver, the Hall of Fame manager who led the Baltimore Orioles to four World Series and a Series championship in 1970, wrote a book about his craft in 1984 after he retired from the dugout for the first time. In “Weaver On Strategy,” written with Terry Pluto, he laid out his philosophies in all areas of the game and his rationales behind them. It’s a fun read, and especially so 30+ years after it was written, as so many approaches to the game have changed radically since Weaver’s day (for instance, good luck finding a nine-man pitching staff in an era in which teams sometime use nine — or 13 — pitchers in a game).

Earl peppers his yarn with real-life examples…or at least what he remembers them to be. Because I am fond of holding baseball memories up to the light of reality (as I’ve done here, here, here, here and here), I’m going to take a close look at some of what Weaver remembered and call bullshit when need be.

Let’s start with Chapter 1, Spring Training, on page 22 (I’m using the 1984 Collier Books soft cover):

[Boog] Powell often had bad Aprils. He couldn’t stand the cold weather. He would go into May hitting around .100, but you had to stick with Boog until he got going.

Boog

Yeah, I forgot Boog Powell played for the Indians in 1975, even though the image of him in this all-red uniform should have been burned on my retina

VERDICT: Exaggerated, but essentially true. Powell actually hit below .200 in April only once, in 1972 when he hit .121, but he wasn’t much over .200 most of the Aprils he played for Weaver (1969-75). His .229 career average in April was by far his lowest of any month (he hit at least .260 every other month). But in his last April playing for Weaver, 1975, Powell hit an uncharacteristic .440, with four homers in 25 at-bats. (ADDED 7/5/16: Hey, guess what? I get to call bullshit on MYSELF! Yes, Boog hit .440 in April 1975, but as someone pointed out, he did so playing for Frank Robinson in Cleveland, not Earl Weaver in Baltimore. My credibility is shot already.)

On the other side of the coin is a guy like Pat Kelly….I don’t know why, but Pat often would be leading the league in hitting around May 15. Kelly always was a good hitter, but he was especially hot early in the season, and a manager should pay attention to such trends and get that guy in the lineup whenever possible in April and May.

VERDICT: Kinda sorta true. It’s true Kelly’s career April average of .305 was his highest of any month (his highest average in any other was .279). “Leading the league in hitting around May 15”? Well, in 1972 he was second in the American League, just one point behind Steve Braun, on May 15, and in 1973 he led the league by a wide margin on that date with a .426 average. Those two years clearly made a big impression on Earl. Of course, in 1976 Kelly was hitting a robust .152 on May 15. But in 1977, his first year under Weaver, Kelly was hitting .355 on May 15…not leading the league, but close.

Pat Kelly

Pat Kelly

However, Weaver seems not to have followed his own advice about how to use Kelly. Remember, Earl said “a manager should pay attention to such trends and get that guy in the lineup whenever possible in April and May.” But in 1978 — just one year after Kelly had once again gotten off to a hot start — Weaver put him in the starting lineup in just five of the Orioles’ 31 games through May 15. And Kelly started only six of 34 games during that same period in 1979, although in Earl’s defense Kelly hit a mere .217 in that time. Likewise Kelly started only five of 31 games through May 15, 1980, his last year playing for Weaver. Remember, all this happened before Earl wrote the book.

I’ve had rookies slump and I’ve stuck with them. In 1982 Cal Ripken, Jr., was batting .089 going into May. It was getting close to the point that he might have to go back to the minors. But then he got hit by a pitch, and I kept him out of the lineup for a few extra days, but to let him sit for a while and get things in perspective.

VERDICT: True in spirit. Ripken did get off to a horrible start in his first April with the Orioles — but he had three hits on opening day, and even when he stopped hitting after that his average never dipped below .100. He bottomed out at .117 after going 0-for-3 on May 1, and he hit in the ninth spot in the order the next day. Earl also exaggerated how long Ripken sat after being hit by a pitch on May 3…he missed all of one game before returning to action, and he missed exactly one game (the second game of a doubleheader) the rest of the year. His record streak of 2,632 consecutive games played began May 30, the day after he sat out that doubleheader nightcap, and his record streak of 8,264 consecutive innings began June 5.

On to page 23…

In 1977 Rich Dauer started the season at one for forty-four, and we were losing. General manager Hank Peters came to me and said that we didn’t have to keep Rich in the majors. I said, let’s give him a little more time.

VERDICT: Pretty damn close. Dauer had gone 4-for-39 in his first taste of the major leagues in 1976, and things went even worse to start 1977, as Dauer had just one hit in 41 at-bats through the end of May, playing sporadically (he started only 12 of the first 44 games). But the Orioles weren’t losing — they were 26-18 in those 44 games, despite Dauer’s lack of production at the plate. Looking back, it is pretty remarkable that Weaver was willing to stick with a guy who had gotten off to a 5-for-80 start in his major league career. Earl put some faith in the fact that Dauer had led the International League in 1976 with a .336 batting average.

Even though Mike Flanagan started one season at 2-8, I kept him in the rotation.

VERDICT: Absolutely right. Flanagan was 2-8 in 1977, his first full season in the rotation, then won his next six starts and finished the year 15-10.

Now to page 25:

Even good players run into a pitcher they simply can’t hit. For example, Gary Roenicke may never hit Dan Quisenberry. Boog Powell was one for sixty-one against Mickey Lolich. You defeat your purpose when you have guys in the lineup against pitchers they can’t hit. Boog had a miserable time against Jim Kaat, too. So when Lolich or Kaat pitched, it wasn’t smart to have Powell in the lineup.

Boog

Mickey Lolich wasn’t the only lefty who gave Boog Powell fits…Boog’s lifetime average against lefties was 37 points lower than his average against normal people

VERDICT: Sniff…sniff…I smell bull droppings with regard to Boog Powell, although again the spirit is pretty much correct. As far as Roenicke is concerned, Earl seems to have rushed to judgment. Before the book was written Roenicke had all of five plate appearances against the Royals relief ace during Weaver’s tenure (Earl stepped down after the 1982 season), with one walk, no hits and no strikeouts. That’s just not very much to base an opinion on, one way or the other.

But as far as Powell is concerned…if “it wasn’t smart to have Powell in the lineup” against Lolich, why in the world would Weaver have let him hit against him 61 times?

Despite the fact that Weaver thought Powell couldn’t hit Lolich, Boog did face Lolich more often that any other left-hander (Powell hit left-handed), and there were only five righties Powell went up against more often. And while Boog certainly struggled against Lolich, he wasn’t anything close to 1-for-61. (And by the way, on page 58 Weaver writes that Powell was 2-for-61 against Lolich. Still not true.)

Boog was actually at his worst against Lolich before Weaver took over as Baltimore manager, going 3-for-23 with two walks and no homers. Once Earl was in charge, here’s how Powell did:

Year AB H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG
1968 3 1 0 0 0 0 1 0 .333 .500 .333
1969 8 3 1 0 1 2 0 1 .375 .375 .875
1970 17 5 0 0 1 4 1 6 .294 .316 .471
1971 21 1 0 0 0 0 0 4 .048 .048 .048
1972 11 1 1 0 0 1 0 5 .091 .091 .182
1973 6 2 0 0 0 1 0 0 .333 .333 .333
1974 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 .000 .000 .000
TOTALS 67 13 2 0 2 8 2 16 .194 .214 .313
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 5/29/2016.

As bad as this is, it’s still a long way from 1-for-61. Boog’s 2-for-32 performance against Lolich in 1971-72 clearly left some scars on Earl’s memory.

It took a while for a Weaver to give up on Powell against Lolich.

Lolich starts vs. Orioles Powell starts vs. Lolich
1968 3 2
1969 4 2
1970 5 5
1971 6 5
1972 5 3
1973 6 2
1974 5 0

Note that in 1970 and ’71 Powell started 10 of 11 games against Lolich, but by 1973 Weaver had finally figured out how things were going, and Boog started just three out of 14 games against Lolich after that.

As far as Jim Kaat was concerned, Weaver was much quicker to shut down Powell. Boog was 9-for-46 against the Twins lefty before Weaver became manager, and in the 22 games Kaat started against Weaver’s teams Powell started only five, none of them after 1970…meaning the last 15 times Kaat went up against the Orioles Powell started the game on the bench. Boog had five hits (all singles) in 18 at-bats against Kaat under Weaver, with two walks; that includes a pinch-hit appearance and a time when Kaat faced him in relief. Boog was in the lineup in the 1970 American League playoff series game that Kaat started and stroked an RBI single his first time up; it was the first run of the game and held up as the game-winning hit.

Next we turn to page 41, and a discussion about Tom Shopay as Weaver writes about why he likes players who draw walks:

Shopay was a base-on-balls man. His record in the minors showed it. But when he did get into the lineup with Baltimore, he didn’t do one of the things he did best: take pitches and draw walks….I’d play him against Nolan Ryan, because I figured he could draw a walk and start a rally, assuming he wouldn’t swing at all those pitches Ryan would throw outside the strike zone. But Tommy would press and keep swinging at those bad pitches.

VERDICT: You know how many times Weaver started Shopay against Ryan? One…and while it’s true he went 0-for-3 with a strikeout, he did draw a walk. Shopay had four other plate appearances against Ryan off the bench, and walked in one of them. Two walks in eight appearances isn’t too shabby, even against Ryan.

But the real bullshit here is that Shopay “was a base-on-balls man.” He never walked more than 49 times in a minor league season, and his Class AAA walk rates were nothing special.

PA BB
1967 590 37
1968 490 21
1969 279 26
1970 408 49
1973 536 46
1974 400 41
1976 202 24

(Shopay spent all of 1971, 1972 and 1975 in the majors, playing very little.) Seems like walking in 25% of his plate appearances against Ryan was pretty good for a guy who walked in 8% of his AAA plate appearances from 1967-76. Maybe the reason Weaver remembers being so frustrated with Shopay was because he mis-evaluated him in the first place.

Now to page 44:

I remember a game in 1976 when Reggie Jackson was playing for the Orioles. Reggie had pretty good speed and he could steal a base. In this instance, Reggie was on first with two outs. A left-hander was pitching to Lee May. May hit a lot of home runs off lefties in his career, but Reggie decided to steal second. He made it, and he thought he made a good play, but the pitcher promptly walked May. I had wanted Lee to have a chance at winning the game in that spot, but the stolen base cost him the opportunity.

VERDICT: Bullshit. And in fact, something completely contrary to this did happen.

I looked at all the games in 1976 — the only year Reggie played for the Orioles — in which Jackson stole a base (he stole 28, including four games in which he stole two bases) AND May walked (he had 41, including three games in which he walked twice). I found May never walked after Jackson stole a base.

Reggie

Reggie Jackson’s career high in stolen bases came when he played for Earl Weaver in 1976

But on September 4, in the bottom of the seventh inning against the Yankees, Jackson drew a two-out walk off lefty Ken Holtzman with the Orioles trailing 2-1. Jackson then stole second. Holtzman didn’t walk May with first base open, perhaps because it would have meant putting the go-ahead run on base; May singled to score Reggie and tie the game, although the Orioles went on to lose, 4-2.

Maybe Weaver remembered the right incident with the wrong runner…maybe Reggie wasn’t the one who stole the base to take the bat out of May’s hands? Well, not in 1976…I looked at all eight of May’s intentional walks that year, and none of them came after a stolen base.

Perhaps something similar to this happened at some point in Weaver’s career and in his mind he put the blame on Reggie. But this event, as described, never occurred.

Here are a few from page 59:

Mark Belanger hit well over .300 against Jim Kern and Nolan Ryan, but he was barely a .200 hitter against the rest of the league.

VERDICT: There’s some bullshit in there. Belanger, a .228 lifetime hitter, went 10-for-16 against the hard-throwing Kern, but against Ryan he was 12-for-48 (including playoffs) for a .250 mark. Belanger did draw 10 walks off Ryan for a .367 on-base percentage.

Another unbelievable statistic was that Pat Kelly was six for eight against Detroit’s Dave Rozema — with four of those hits being home runs. If Rozema was in the game, I’d do everything in my power to get Kelly up to bat.

VERDICT: Kelly was indeed 6-for-8 with four homers against Rozema. But the bit about doing “everything in my power” to get Kelly to the plate against Rozema is a bit of a stretch. Rozema started only three games against the Orioles during Kelly’s years with the team (1977-80)…Kelly sat out the first, in 1977, then started and hit two homers in 1978 and another homer in 1979. In 1980 Rozema faced the Orioles in relief three times when Kelly wasn’t already in the lineup…and on two of those occasions Weaver chose not to use Kelly, including once when Weaver left right-handed hitting Lee May in to bat as DH against the right-handed Rozema rather than use Kelly, a left-handed hitter, to pinch-hit. But on September 10, Weaver brought Kelly in to hit for Benny Ayala against Rozema with the bases loaded, and Kelly launched a grand slam that provided the wining runs. (Kelly was hitting in the designated hitter’s spot in the first game in which Weaver used his “phantom DH.”)  At any rate, keep in mind that Kelly’s outstanding stat line against Rozema was compiled in just three games.

In my early years with the Orioles Curt Motton was three for five off Rudy May. The three hits were home runs.

VERDICT: Earl actually undersold this one. Motton faced May only four times…with homers in both at-bats in a game in 1969 and one homer in two trips to the plate in a game in 1970. But Weaver didn’t take full advantage of Motton’s seeming mastery of May, as May started five other games against the Orioles during Motton’s time with the team in which Motton did not appear.

Two of the players who gave [Jim] Palmer fits were Craig Reynolds and Doug Griffin. Palmer would say late in a game, “Griffin is coming up, and don’t let me get in trouble. Griffin is hitting about .400 against me.”

VERDICT: True. Griffin hit .362 against Palmer (17-for-47), and Reynolds was 5-for-6 and singled the first five times he faced Palmer, albeit those hits came in just two games a week apart. He went up against Palmer only once after that and struck out.

On to page 60:

This is something I did in September of 1975. Mark Belanger was a .220 hitter for me for most of his career, but he was also the greatest defensive shortstop I have ever seen. I spent some time trying to figure out how I could get the best of both worlds —  a good bat and Belanger’s amazing glove. I came up with this plan, which is still legal.

When my team was on the road, I would list someone else as our leadoff hitter and shortstop. Often it was Royle Stillman, a young outfielder we had brought up from Rochester. Stillman would bat in the top of the first, and then Belanger would go in to play shortstop in the bottom of the inning….Stillman was four for nine in those games. That’s .444, which isn’t too bad. His on-base percentage was over .500.

Stillman

His full name rolls off the tongue: Royle Eldon Stillman

VERDICT: Essentially true, but several things here aren’t quite right. Weaver did use this tactic with Stillman, but when he writes, “Often it was Royle Stillman,” that implies he used other players in this role in 1975. He didn’t; Stillman was the only one. And Stillman was not 4-for-9 in those games; there were only six of these games, and Stillman had three singles in six at-bats for a .500 average. Also, Stillman hit leadoff in only three of the games and batted second in the other three. Before using Stillman as his “shortstop,” Weaver used him once as a “center fielder,” having him bat in the top of the first before putting Paul Blair in the game (Blair’s .218 batting average in 1975 was actually lower than Belanger’s .226). Stillman was a left-handed thrower, and while he never actually appeared on the field as a shortstop, his appearance at the position on the lineup card earned him a mention in my review of left-handed shortstops, second basemen and third basemen.

Page 65:

Say it’s the eighth inning of a close game and the bases are loaded with one out. Rick Dempsey is hitting for the Orioles against Fergie Jenkins. Dempsey has a batting average just barely over .100 against Jenkins, and Fergie’s slider gives Rick all sorts of trouble. If a manager has Terry Crowley sitting on the bench and doesn’t use him to hit for Dempsey, there’s something wrong.

VERDICT: Again, Weaver undersold this, although he’s presenting this as a hypothetical. Dempsey never got a regular season hit off Jenkins, in eight plate appearances. Of course, that involved just two games Dempsey started, and in the first one (in 1977) Weaver pinch-hit for him in the ninth inning with Tony Muser (the Orioles were behind by four runs with the bases empty). In the second game (in 1979) Weaver let Dempsey hit in the eighth inning with the O’s down by four. What’s funny is Weaver twice used Dempsey as a PINCH-HITTER against Jenkins, although Baltimore was way behind on both occasions.

Ahead to page 77:

I also use my statistics to decide on changing pitchers. Let’s say it’s a crucial part of the game, and Jim Palmer is pitching to Graig Nettles. Nettles is a .375 hitter against Palmer, but my stats show that he’s only two for twenty-one against Tippy, so I’ll bring in Martinez to face Nettles. The decision is made for you.

VERDICT: Again this is presented as a hypothetical, but the faint whiff of bullshit is in the air. Nettles actually hit .243 in his career against Palmer, although in the first three years he faced Palmer (1969-71) he was 12-for-35 (.343), including the 1969 playoffs. But Weaver is close to the mark concerning Martinez; Nettles was 3-for-23 against Tippy while Weaver was managing the O’s.

Page 81:

I remember a game when Aurelio Rodriguez was with the old Washington Senators and I had Mike Cuellar pitching. In the first inning Cuellar threw Rodriguez a fastball, and he homered. The next two times up, Cuellar got Rodriguez with screwballs. In the ninth inning Rodriguez batted again. Mike got two strikes on him and figured that Rodriguez would be looking for the screwball….So Mike crossed him up and threw a fastball. Rodriguez hit it over the center-field fence to beat us.

VERDICT: True in spirit, but with some notable errors. Rodriguez hit only two home runs in his entire career against Cuellar, and they came in different games. But the first of those homers, in 1970, clearly triggered this memory. Aurelio (the original A-Rod) doubled in the first inning, then struck out and lined out his next two times up. His next time up, in the eighth (not ninth) inning, with the Senators trailing 3-2, Rodriguez hit a three-run homer for the margin of victory. I’ll give Earl a pass on this one.

And now page 106:

There was an episode with Doug DeCinces in 1978 when the Orioles were facing Cleveland in the first game of  a doubleheader. DeCinces was playing second base, and there were runners on first and second with one out. A ground ball was hit, and Mark Belanger had to range far to make the play. He caught it and threw to DeCinces at second for the force. The throw was to the outfield side of second, and Doug held on to the ball for quite a while. What Doug didn’t notice was that Buddy Bell kept running and scored all the way from second base….I took DeCinces out of the first game of that doubleheader, but he was back in the lineup for the second game.

VERDICT: Wow. Earl absolutely nailed this one. It happened on May 28, and I wonder if the reason the details are so accurate is because book co-author Terry Pluto was covering the game as the Indians beat writer for the Akron Beacon Journal and had his own scorebook or game story to refer to (I don’t know that for sure, but I suspect Pluto was working in that role at the time). DeCinces did indeed play in the second game of that doubleheader — but at third base, not second (Earl didn’t say he played second base in the game, I just thought you’d want to know). In fact, DeCinces played second base only once for Weaver after this (he was the Orioles’ primary third baseman through 1981).

None of my nit-picking is meant to denigrate the book; Earl imparts a lot of baseball wisdom in an entertaining way. It’s just a reminder to take baseball memories with at least a few grains of salt.

UPDATE: A few things about complete games

I started this blog in 2009; I now have some additional resources so I thought I might revisit and revise some of my earlier posts. For instance, when I first wrote about complete games, Baseball-Reference.com’s Play Index data base went back only to 1954. It now goes back to 1913, meaning I can paint a more complete picture.

For those of you under the age of 30, a pitcher is given credit for a “complete game” if he is his team’s only pitcher in a game. I don’t think there’s anything inherently better or more manly about the idea of a pitcher going all nine (or more) innings rather than having help from the bullpen. But the game has really changed from just a couple generations ago, and I’m going to include some numbers here that will boggle the mind if the only baseball you know is that of the 21st century.

In 1913, when the current Play Index database begins, 53% of all starting pitchers worked a complete game, and from there the number rose as high as 63% in the war-shortened 1918 season. Since the percentage of complete games has slowly but steadily decreased, dropping below 50% in 1923, below 40% in 1947, below 30% in 1957, below 20% in 1981 (the advent of the designated hitter rule in 1973 helped prop up American League complete games for a while), below 10% in 1991 and below 5% in 2001. Last season (2015) there were just 104 complete games in 4,858 starts, or 2.1%. In other words, complete games were more than 25 times as likely in 1913 and about five times as likely as recently as 1990. You can see the whole story, along with other relevant stats from each season, here.

At any rate, in the lists that follow, we’re not going to see any pitchers who worked in the last 30 years.

Let’s start with the pitchers who, since 1913, have the most complete game wins — and for this purpose I’m going to specify complete games of at least nine innings, so as to exclude games shortened because of weather, darkness, or other reasons. (In all of these charts, when you see “Ind. Games,” click on that link to see details for all the individual games in question.) The first name on this list blows my mind.

Player #Matching ERA SHO IP HR WHIP Tm
Warren Spahn 321 Ind. Games 1.56 63 2909.0 148 0.96 BSN,MLN,NYM,SFG
Pete Alexander 293 Ind. Games 1.34 77 2711.0 50 0.92 PHI,CHC,STL
Robin Roberts 236 Ind. Games 1.83 45 2151.0 145 0.91 PHI,BAL,HOU,CHC
Ted Lyons 236 Ind. Games 2.05 26 2152.0 77 1.09 CHW
Walter Johnson 235 Ind. Games 1.28 75 2183.0 31 0.90 WSH
Lefty Grove 235 Ind. Games 1.89 33 2150.0 64 1.08 PHA,BOS
Burleigh Grimes 232 Ind. Games 1.99 35 2114.0 56 1.12 BRO,NYG,PIT,BSN,STL,CHC
Gaylord Perry 225 Ind. Games 1.22 53 2040.0 73 0.85 SFG,CLE,TEX,SDP,ATL,SEA,KCR
Red Ruffing 223 Ind. Games 1.90 43 2038.0 68 1.06 BOS,NYY
Early Wynn 222 Ind. Games 1.31 49 2015.0 77 0.97 WSH,CLE,CHW
Bob Feller 218 Ind. Games 1.63 43 1977.0 67 1.04 CLE
Steve Carlton 215 Ind. Games 1.38 55 1940.0 72 0.92 STL,PHI,CLE
Carl Hubbell 211 Ind. Games 1.66 35 1924.0 87 0.95 NYG
Fergie Jenkins 208 Ind. Games 1.42 49 1877.0 112 0.82 CHC,BOS,TEX
Juan Marichal 206 Ind. Games 1.45 52 1873.0 110 0.85 SFG
Eppa Rixey 202 Ind. Games 1.49 34 1861.0 20 1.01 PHI,CIN
Red Faber 200 Ind. Games 1.66 29 1843.0 32 1.06 CHW
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 3/20/2016.
Spahn

Apparently this photo of Warren Spahn was taken without the use of a drone

Only 14 other pitchers in major league history have won more than 321 games in any form. Warren Spahn had 321 COMPLETE GAME wins of nine innings or more (and 10 of them went ten innings or more)…88% of his total career wins. Wow. Who needs a bullpen? Throw in the fact that Spahn earned five wins in relief, and that leaves just 37 games Spahn won as a starter in which he did not pitch a complete game of at least nine innings…out of 665 career starts. And look: in those 321 complete game wins, nearly 3,000 innings of pitching — the equivalent of about 15 SEASONS for a modern starting pitcher — Spahn had a 1.56 ERA.

Among recent pitchers, Greg Maddux had 355 career wins — just eight fewer than Spahn — and Roger Clemens finished with 354. But Maddux had just 91 complete game wins of nine innings or more (only one of them more) and Clemens only 92 (all of them nine innings),. Maddux had the same number of career complete game wins as Larry Dierker, who had just 139 total wins in the 1960s and ’70s. Clemens had fewer complete game wins than Denny McLain, whose career victory total in that same era was just 131. The active (as of 2016) leader in career complete games, CC Sabathia, has merely 27 complete game wins of nine innings (and none of more) among his 214 career victories. Things have changed. A lot.

Of course, the list above goes back only to 1913, and Spahn is not likely the all-time major league leader in complete game wins. Of the 14 other pitchers with more than 321 total wins, seven spent all or nearly all their careers before 1913, when complete games were much more likely (back in the 19th century, starting pitchers completed well over 80% of their games); several of them, led by all-time wins leader Cy Young, likely have more complete game wins. And Spahn is probably not even the all-time leader among pitchers on this list.

Grover Cleveland Alexander won 47 games in his first two seasons in the majors (1911-12) and threw 56 complete games. While he also had 17 non-save relief appearances, some of which may have resulted in victories, I’d guess he had enough complete game wins in those seasons to pass Spahn when combined with his 293 complete game wins from 1913 on. And Walter Johnson likely has even more. While he is 86 behind Spahn from 1913 on, he won 115 games from 1907-12 and pitched 169 complete games, finishing 87% of his starts. While he had 25 non-save relief appearances, I’d wager to say the vast majority of those pre-1913 wins were complete games.

Lyons

Ted Lyons

Ted Lyons is worth a mention here. Complete games of nine or more innings accounted for 91% of the longtime White Sox star’s career victories. In his career Lyons won only nine games he started and did not pitch a complete game of at least nine innings (he won 15 games in relief). And in one of those nine wins, he went 14-1/3 innings, the longest outing of his career. That leaves EIGHT of Lyons’ 245 career wins as a starter in which he didn’t pitch at least nine innings. Whoa.

Over the last decade or so of Lyons’ career he was known as a “Sunday pitcher,” typically starting only one game a week and typically finishing what he started. In fact, Lyons pitched a complete game in each of his last 28 career starts and in nearly three-quarters of his career starts.

Gaylord Perry is the first pitcher on this list whose career extended past 1966 (in his case, 1983). Jim Bunning and Catfish Hunter each won 224 games in their Hall of Fame careers. Gaylord Perry won 225 COMPLETE GAMES of at least nine innings (with an astounding ERA of 1.22 in more than 2,000 innings). That’s more wins than 19 Hall of Fame 20th Century starters, including Bunning and Hunter, earned in their entire careers.

Next let’s look at career complete game losses…in this case we’ll consider performances of eight innings or longer to account for complete game losses on the road.

Player #Matching ERA IP WHIP Tm
Walter Johnson 121 Ind. Games 2.86 1071.2 1.20 WSH
Ted Lyons 119 Ind. Games 4.00 1063.2 1.42 CHW
Red Ruffing 107 Ind. Games 4.10 941.0 1.35 BOS,NYY,CHW
Wilbur Cooper 90 Ind. Games 3.02 789.1 1.21 PIT,CHC
Burleigh Grimes 78 Ind. Games 3.55 673.2 1.41 PIT,BRO,NYG,STL,CHC
Pete Alexander 78 Ind. Games 3.27 689.0 1.23 PHI,CHC,STL
Gaylord Perry 76 Ind. Games 3.05 661.1 1.10 SFG,CLE,TEX,SDP,SEA
Bert Blyleven 74 Ind. Games 3.16 629.0 1.14 MIN,TEX,PIT,CLE,CAL
Eppa Rixey 73 Ind. Games 2.93 654.1 1.29 PHI,CIN
Red Lucas 72 Ind. Games 3.76 634.1 1.31 BSN,CIN,PIT
Howard Ehmke 72 Ind. Games 4.29 619.0 1.47 DET,BOS,PHA
Hooks Dauss 72 Ind. Games 3.68 630.2 1.39 DET
Bullet Joe Bush 72 Ind. Games 3.55 618.2 1.35 PHA,BOS,NYY,SLB,WSH,PIT
Sad Sam Jones 71 Ind. Games 3.77 628.1 1.39 BOS,NYY,SLB,WSH,CHW
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 3/20/2016.

Warren Spahn, who topped our complete game wins leaderboard, doesn’t even show up here as he had only 57 complete game losses (with a 2.73 ERA in those games). Note Walter Johnson’s stats in his complete game losses…he had a 0-121 record with a 2.86 ERA! That speaks to both the low scoring of his era and his lack of offensive support. Gaylord Perry, the “modern” leader in complete game losses, had an excellent 1.10 WHIP in those games.

Now on to complete game wins in a season…in a three-year stretch Grover Cleveland Alexander posted the top three totals in the database.

Player Year #Matching ERA SHO IP WHIP Tm
Pete Alexander 1916 33 Ind. Games 0.83 16 302.0 0.82 PHI
Pete Alexander 1917 30 Ind. Games 1.10 8 278.0 0.90 PHI
Denny McLain 1968 28 Ind. Games 1.46 6 253.0 0.83 DET
Pete Alexander 1915 28 Ind. Games 0.83 11 260.0 0.75 PHI
Dazzy Vance 1924 27 Ind. Games 1.59 3 249.0 0.94 BRO
Robin Roberts 1952 27 Ind. Games 2.24 3 253.0 0.96 PHI
Bucky Walters 1939 26 Ind. Games 1.78 2 237.0 1.02 CIN
Carl Mays 1921 26 Ind. Games 2.33 1 236.0 1.10 NYY
Bob Feller 1946 26 Ind. Games 1.10 10 237.0 1.03 CLE
Eddie Cicotte 1919 26 Ind. Games 0.96 5 244.0 0.89 CHW
Pete Alexander 1920 26 Ind. Games 0.92 7 253.0 0.96 CHC
George Uhle 1926 25 Ind. Games 1.70 3 227.0 1.11 CLE
Urban Shocker 1921 25 Ind. Games 2.04 4 225.0 1.08 SLB
Hal Newhouser 1946 25 Ind. Games 1.15 6 227.0 0.91 DET
Sandy Koufax 1965 25 Ind. Games 1.15 8 226.0 0.72 LAD
Lefty Grove 1931 25 Ind. Games 1.66 4 228.0 1.04 PHA
Bob Feller 1940 25 Ind. Games 1.76 4 225.0 1.00 CLE
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 3/30/2016.

Note 16 of Alexander’s 33 complete game wins in 1916 were shutouts…that’s the all-time single season record. He went the distance in 91 of his 94 wins from 1915-17, leading the National League in wins, complete games, shutouts, ERA, innings pitched and strikeouts each year. Alexander went into the Army in 1918 during World War I and was left deaf in his left ear and with muscle damage in his pitching arm, but he came back from the war to win another 181 games.

McLain

From the Detroit Free Press the morning after Denny McLain’s 30th win in 1968

When Denny McLain became the last pitcher to win 30 games in a season in 1968 (he won 31), all 28 of his complete games were victories. In his other 13 starts he went 3-6, winning games in which he pitched 7, 7 and 6 innings.

All 26 of Bob Feller‘s wins in 1946 were complete games, as were 25 of his 27 wins in 1940.

These are the pitchers who have had at least 20 complete game wins in a season since 1960:

Player Year #Matching ERA SHO IP WHIP Tm
Denny McLain 1968 28 Ind. Games 1.46 6 253.0 0.83 DET
Sandy Koufax 1965 25 Ind. Games 1.15 8 226.0 0.72 LAD
Juan Marichal 1968 24 Ind. Games 1.40 5 219.0 0.87 SFG
Sandy Koufax 1966 24 Ind. Games 1.00 5 216.0 0.91 LAD
Fergie Jenkins 1971 24 Ind. Games 1.87 3 217.0 0.87 CHC
Steve Carlton 1972 24 Ind. Games 0.99 8 218.0 0.85 PHI
Juan Marichal 1966 23 Ind. Games 1.53 4 212.0 0.78 SFG
Mickey Lolich 1971 22 Ind. Games 1.43 4 201.0 1.00 DET
Fergie Jenkins 1974 22 Ind. Games 1.23 6 198.0 0.80 TEX
Bob Gibson 1968 22 Ind. Games 0.57 13 204.0 0.76 STL
Warren Spahn 1963 21 Ind. Games 1.62 7 189.0 0.94 MLN
Gaylord Perry 1970 21 Ind. Games 1.33 5 189.0 0.80 SFG
Juan Marichal 1965 21 Ind. Games 0.85 10 190.0 0.77 SFG
Gaylord Perry 1972 20 Ind. Games 0.92 5 185.0 0.85 CLE
Gaylord Perry 1974 20 Ind. Games 1.15 4 180.0 0.83 CLE
Denny McLain 1969 20 Ind. Games 1.25 9 180.0 0.90 DET
Juan Marichal 1964 20 Ind. Games 1.79 4 181.0 0.92 SFG
Juan Marichal 1969 20 Ind. Games 1.15 8 180.0 0.81 SFG
Mickey Lolich 1972 20 Ind. Games 1.25 4 180.0 0.98 DET
Frank Lary 1961 20 Ind. Games 1.85 4 180.0 0.96 DET
Sandy Koufax 1963 20 Ind. Games 0.69 11 183.0 0.64 LAD
Bob Gibson 1969 20 Ind. Games 1.34 4 188.0 0.98 STL
Bob Gibson 1970 20 Ind. Games 1.65 3 185.0 0.89 STL
Vida Blue 1971 20 Ind. Games 1.20 7 180.0 0.86 OAK
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 3/30/2016.

 

Koufax

Sandy Koufax with one of his three Cy Young Awards

Sandy Koufax won the Cy Young Award in 1963, 1965 and 1966 — back when there was only one award, going to the pitcher voted the best in all the major leagues. Of his 78 wins in those seasons, 69 were complete games (24 of them shutouts)…and his ERA in those 69 games was 0.96. Juan Marichal won at least 20 complete games five times in six years from 1964-69. All 24 of Ferguson Jenkins‘ wins in 1971 were complete games. Jenkins and Gaylord Perry are the last men to win 20 complete games in a season, both in 1974; Perry, Steve Carlton and Mickey Lolich were the last to do it without a designated hitter, in 1972.

Then there’s Bob Gibson‘s heralded 1968 season in which he posted a 1.12 ERA. All 22 of his wins were complete games, three of them going extra innings. Gibby tossed 13 shutouts (five of them coming in consecutive starts) and gave up no more than one run in 20 of the 22 complete game wins, giving him an ERA in his wins of 0.57. (In his other 12 starts he allowed more than three runs only three times.)

Now on to the most complete game losses in a season (at least eight innings):

Player Year #Matching ERA IP WHIP Tm
Elmer Myers 1916 19 Ind. Games 3.84 164.0 1.39 PHA
Jim Tobin 1942 16 Ind. Games 4.44 140.0 1.34 BSN
Red Ruffing 1928 15 Ind. Games 4.27 132.2 1.42 BOS
Eppa Rixey 1920 15 Ind. Games 4.35 130.1 1.41 PHI
Red Lucas 1932 15 Ind. Games 3.09 137.0 1.28 CIN
Walter Johnson 1916 15 Ind. Games 2.24 136.1 1.15 WSH
Eddie Cicotte 1918 15 Ind. Games 3.20 132.1 1.28 CHW
George Baumgardner 1913 15 Ind. Games 3.40 132.1 1.47 SLB
Jack Quinn 1915 14 Ind. Games 3.18 121.2 1.24 BAL
Scott Perry 1918 13 Ind. Games 2.94 110.1 1.33 PHA
Walter Johnson 1914 13 Ind. Games 2.18 111.2 1.06 WSH
Walter Johnson 1917 13 Ind. Games 2.72 112.1 1.02 WSH
Wes Ferrell 1937 13 Ind. Games 3.63 114.0 1.47 BOS,WSH
Howard Ehmke 1925 13 Ind. Games 4.04 111.1 1.41 BOS
Jesse Barnes 1917 13 Ind. Games 2.54 110.0 1.01 BSN
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 4/1/2016.

The 1916 Philadelphia A’s had the worst record of any team in the 20th Century (or 21st, for that matter), finishing with a 36-117 mark. They scored the fewest runs in the American League, averaging less than three runs a game. You’d think that combination would mean they would be pinch-hitting for their pitchers a lot. You’d be wrong. Manager (and team owner) Connie Mack let his starters complete 94 of their 154 games, by far the most in the league.

Myers

From the Kalamazoo Gazette, June 7, 1916

And the man who led the A’s in complete games was Elmer Myers, a 22-year-old rookie who finished 31 of his 35 starts. Mack brought Myers up from a Class D league in September 1915 after Myers had won 29 games there; he used his newcomer in the A’s last game of the season and was delighted to see him pitch a two-hit shutout. When Myers started the 1916 season with a 6-1 record (the rest of the team was 7-16 at that point), Mack figured he was on to something special.

“Myers is the greatest young pitcher I have ever developed,” Mack was quoted as saying in an article in the Kalamazoo Gazette in June. The article concluded, “Mack predicts that before the season is over Myers will rank with Walter Johnson and Grover Alexander.”

Alas Myers went 8-22 over the rest of the season, while Johnson won 25 games for Washington and Alexander 33 for the Phillies. (Myers’ 23 losses didn’t lead the AL, though; that distinction fell to teammate Bullet Joe Bush, who went 15-24. The rest of the A’s pitching staff went 7-70. Yes, seven and seventy. No other pitcher on the team won more than two games.)

Mack was never shy about leaving his starting pitchers in to take a pounding. Myers allowed seven or more runs in seven of his complete games (including a game he won, 10-8). The worst drubbing came on September 27, when Myers gave up 17 hits and walked six in a 13-3 loss to Washington. Or, as Jim Nasium (really?) put it in the next day’s Philadelphia Inquirer, “when Elmer wasn’t striking them out they were in there whaling the dad-binged stuffings out of the pill.”

Myers TSN

A story focusing on Elmer Myers’ war experience in The Sporting News, December 19, 1940

Myers pitched in the major leagues until 1922, although he missed time to fight in World War I where he was victim of a poison gas attack by the Germans in Verdun. Bill Nowlin tells Myers’ story as part of the Society for American Baseball Research’s Baseball Biography Project.

Jim Tobin led the National League in complete games and losses for the 1942 Boston Braves, going all the way in 28 of his 33 starts and losing 16 of those games. Of course, manager Casey Stengel had motivation to leave Tobin in the game, as Tobin was one of his better hitters. He finished the season with a .246 batting average (the team average was .240) and six home runs in 114 at-bats.

Red Ruffing also used his bat to stay in the game for the 1928 Red Sox, as he hit .314 and drove in 19 runs in 121 at-bats (he also saw frequent duty a a pinch-hitter). A future star with the Yankees and a Hall of Famer, Ruffing went 10-25 for the last-place ’28 Sox, leading the AL in losses and complete games.

Red Lucas was another good-hitting pitcher who racked up a lot of complete game losses. Lucas finished 28 of his 31 starts for the last-place 1932 Reds (“last-place” is something a lot of pitchers on this list have in common) while hitting .287 and leading the team in pinch-hit appearances. Lucas won 157 games in the major leagues and also held the all-time record for career pinch-hits until the 1960s.

Only two pitchers on the list of most complete game losses had a winning record in the season in question: Walter Johnson (who had a winning record in all three of his seasons on the list) and Scott Perry. Perry was a 27-year-old who had 43-2/3 innings of major league experience when he joined the A’s in 1918. Even though he pitched for a last-place team (although not nearly as bad as they had been in 1916), Perry went 20-19 with a 1.98 ERA, led the league in innings pitched and completed 30 of his 36 starts (both of which led the league) in a season called off at Labor Day because of World War I. He had some success early in the season (including an 11-inning shutout and a one-hitter a week apart) before a nine-game losing streak left him at 5-14, but he rallied to win 15 of his next 19 decisions.

Whatever magic struck Perry in 1918 never returned; he went 4-17 in 1919, 11-25 in 1920, then announced he was finished playing organized baseball midway through the 1921 season.

Let’s look at the pitchers with the most complete game losses in a season since World War II:

Player Year #Matching ERA IP WHIP Tm
Mickey Lolich 1974 11 Ind. Games 4.14 95.2 1.28 DET
Johnny Lindell 1953 11 Ind. Games 3.87 95.1 1.52 PIT,PHI
Rick Langford 1980 11 Ind. Games 3.67 95.2 1.29 OAK
Catfish Hunter 1975 11 Ind. Games 3.23 92.0 1.15 NYY
Ned Garver 1950 11 Ind. Games 3.69 100.0 1.49 SLB
Clyde Wright 1974 10 Ind. Games 3.11 84.0 1.25 MIL
Wilbur Wood 1974 10 Ind. Games 2.63 89.0 1.12 CHW
Nolan Ryan 1974 10 Ind. Games 2.40 90.0 1.18 CAL
Nolan Ryan 1977 10 Ind. Games 3.71 87.1 1.42 CAL
Gaylord Perry 1973 10 Ind. Games 4.98 85.0 1.39 CLE
Phil Niekro 1979 10 Ind. Games 3.27 85.1 1.30 ATL
Mickey Lolich 1975 10 Ind. Games 3.64 84.0 1.24 DET
Roger Craig 1963 10 Ind. Games 1.94 83.1 0.96 NYM
Ken Brett 1976 10 Ind. Games 3.30 84.2 1.29 CHW
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 4/1/2016.

Note that of the 14 pitchers in double digits, 10 of the pitched in the American League in the early years of the designated hitter — four of them just in 1974. Wilbur Wood and Nolan Ryan deserve special mention here, as their ERAs in their complete game losses were lower than their overall season ERA. Wood’s ERA in his CGL (2.63) was almost identical to his mark in his 20 wins (2.61).

Look at poor Roger Craig with the 1963 Mets: a 1.94 ERA in 10 complete game losses, including four games he lost 1-0!  Roger had a 5-22 record for a team that went 51-111; his ERA in his five wins was 2.81.

One last note: Hall of Famer Lefty Grove had seven complete game wins in games that were called before nine innings were played, the most such games of anyone in the database.

UPDATE: Things I meant to write just after Mark Fidrych died

BirdI started this blog in 2009; I now have some additional resources so I thought I might revisit and revise some of my earlier posts. In this case I want to embellish a post I wrote a few months after Mark Fidrych died when he was just 54 years old; like his life, his playing career ended far too soon. Known as “The Bird” for his resemblance to “Sesame Street”‘s Big Bird, Fidrych was a nationally-known phenom in 1976 when he led the American League in ERA, won Rookie of the Year honors and was runner-up in the Cy Young Award voting for the Detroit Tigers, but because of injuries he won only 10 more games in his major league career.

Much of what was written about Fidrych both during his heyday and after his death focused on his unique personality, but I want to focus on the unusual way in which Tiger manager Ralph Houk used him. It’s something the likes of which we rarely saw before and haven’t seen since.

Fidrych had played just one-and-a-half seasons of pro ball before 1976 and had pitched just 205 innings, only 54 of them above Class A; he wasn’t even on the Tigers’ 40-man roster going into spring training and didn’t turn 22 until August 1976. Despite his youth and inexperience he pitched 250-1/3 innings for the Tigers in 1976, which certainly sounds like a lot by today’s standards; no one has thrown more than 250 innings in a season since another Tiger, Justin Verlander, worked 251 in 2011. (And, as we will see, he actually pitched even more because he started three in-season exhibition games and the All-Star Game.) It certainly was a heavy workload for one so young; since Fidrych the only pitchers to throw 250 or more innings in a season at such a young age are Dwight Gooden (twice), Fernando Valenzuela and Roger Erickson.

Fidrych RS

Not many baseball players have made it onto the cover of Rolling Stone…Mark Fidrych did when he was 22

But his innings pitched don’t tell the whole story of Fidrych’s unusual workload, because he didn’t start a game until Detroit’s 24th game of he season and had worked just one inning in relief prior to that (at least in games that counted); essentially it’s as if he pitched in a 138-game season (the Tigers played only 161 because of a rainout). Despite the late start he pitched 24 complete games; since World War II, the only pitcher who had more in a season at anywhere near as young an age was Bert Blyleven, who threw 25 complete games as a 22-year-old in 1973. And Blyleven entered that season with two-and-a-half years of major league experience. Fidrych’s 24 complete games came in only 29 starts, meaning he went the distance 82.8% of the time. Since then, the only pitcher who has started at least 20 games in a season and completed more than 75% of them is Rick Langford, who completed 28 of 33 starts (84.8%) for Billy Martin’s Oakland A’s in 1980, when he was 28. The only other pitchers who have completed more than 75% of their starts in a season since 1954 are all Hall of Famers: Catfish Hunter, Gaylord Perry, Ferguson Jenkins, Bob Gibson (twice) and Juan Marichal. And Gibson (who completed 28 of 34 starts in his fabulous 1968 season) is the only man aside from Fidrych and Langford to complete more than 80% of his starts (in a season with 20 or more) since 1953.

What’s more:

  • In five of Fidrych’s starts he pitched at least 10 innings, the most such starts in a season for any pitcher that young since at least 1913, the period covered by Baseball-Reference.com’s Play Index. (Seattle Bill James…not to be confused with Kansas Bill James…had seven such games as a 22-year-old for the “Miracle” Boston Braves of 1914. James won 26 games that year, plus two in the World Series, pitching a total of 343 innings. Perhaps not coincidentally, he developed arm trouble and won only five games in the rest of his major league career.) The only pitcher of any age who has had as many 10+-inning starts in a season since Fidrych was Mike Norris, who had five in 1980 (as a teammate of Rick Langford) at age 25.
  • Four times Fidrych pitched at least 11 innings; no pitcher of any age has had as many  such games since.
  • He also faced 40 or more batters in six starts; no pitcher of any age has had more such games in a season since, and only four have had as many.
Fidrych fans

Fans loved The Bird in ’76

Fidrych’s first major league appearance on April 20 came in an unusually stressful situation. Houk called on the 21-year-old to pitch to Don Baylor in Oakland in the Tigers’ seventh game of the season, bottom of the ninth, tie game, one out, runners on the corners. (That’s how you break in a rookie?) Baylor singled, game over.

Fidrych’s next outing was in an exhibition game against the Reds in Cincinnati on April 29, a fundraiser for the Greater Cincinnati Knothole program; he started and pitched at least six innings (I can’t find a box score, the line score I found shows Jim Crawford relieved him in the seventh). His next regular season game was an inning of mop-up relief on May 5. That would be his last ever major league relief appearance. On May 10 he started another exhibition fundraiser against the Reds, this one at Tiger Stadium on behalf of amateur baseball programs in the area, and went five innings. He was roughed up for eight hits and five runs.

Five days after that he made his first regular season start…and a legend was born.

First start

From the Detroit Free Press, May 16, 1976

Fidrych held the Indians hitless until Buddy Bell singled to lead off the top of the seventh; he finished with a complete game two-hitter and a 2-1 win. Houk followed that up by using Fidrych to start yet another exhibition game, May 20 against the Tigers’ top farm team in Evansville, Indiana (none of the brief accounts of that game I’ve found show how long Fidrych pitched, but it was long enough to give up five hits and strike out four).

The rookie returned to facing American League competition on May 25 at Fenway Park; Carl Yastrzemski hit a two-run homer in the fourth and Luis Tiant blanked the Tigers, 2-0, with Fidrych working an eight-inning complete game.

Fidrych TSNIn his third major league start, on May 31, Fidrych pitched an 11-inning complete game. Houk left him in to pitch the entire 11th inning even though he gave up three hits, a walk and the go-ahead run (the Tigers came back to win in the bottom of the inning). He faced 47 batters — that’s right, two guys (Robin Yount and Don Money) batted against him SIX times. The last time a pitcher faced at least 47 batters was 1986, and that was knuckleballer Charlie Hough. For a non-knuckleballer, you have to go back to 1983 and 40-year-old Tommy John. Fidrych is the only pitcher to do it before his 22nd birthday since 1967.

Five days later, he pitched ANOTHER 11-inning complete game, facing 41 batters. No pitcher faced more than 36 batters in a game in the entire 2015 season; Fidrych topped that twice in a week, just over a month into his major league career when he was 21 years old, and would do it five more times that season. (For what it’s worth, the last time a major league pitcher faced at least 41 batters in a game was 2002.)

TV

From the nationally televised win over the Yankees June 28, 1976

Six days later, complete game. Five days later, complete game. Five days after that he was lifted in the 8th –- and then he threw six straight complete games, including the nationally televised win over the Yankees that cemented his fame (you can watch it here) and an 11-inning shutout that came three days after he started and pitched two innings in the All-Star Game. (There have been only three shutouts of 11 innings or longer since then, the last of which was in 1990.)

There would be another stretch of six straight complete games in August, two of them going extra innings in which he faced 43 and 42 batters. And five of the six games — including both the extra-inning games — were thrown on just three days rest.

The last four of those games were as follows: complete game, four days later a 10-inning complete game (why the hell did Houk let him pitch to nine batters and give up four runs in the 10th?), four days later another complete game, four days later a complete game that he lost in the bottom of the 12th. That’s 39-1/3 innings in less than two weeks.

Fidrych finally showed he was human when he was knocked out in the fourth inning in his next start, but then he finished the season with five complete games in his last six starts (although he was knocked out in the third in the other one). He pitched at least seven innings in 26 of his 29 starts.

Fidrych S&SIn 1976 Fidrych started 13 games with just three days rest (and that doesn’t include his post-All-Star shutout)…the last pitcher to have that many was Tom Browning in 1988.  Fidrych completed 11 of those 13 starts, going 9-2 with a 2.61 ERA. But in eight starts with at least five days rest, he completed them all and had a 1.32 ERA in 75 innings. Wow. (Of course, that does include the 11-inning shutout that came six days after his last regular season start but only three days after the All-Star Game.)

Despite a workload that would be beyond what any pitcher — let alone one so young — has done for a generation now, the injury that started Fidrych’s road to early retirement wasn’t to his arm. It was torn cartilage in his knee from a fall in the outfield while shagging flies in spring training in 1977. But that injury may have led to his more serious arm injury because of changes to his pitching motion caused by the knee injury. At least that’s the way Fidrych saw it. Gary Smith wrote, in a 1986 profile of Fidrych for Sports Illustrated (that no longer appears to be online):

Nobody knew what caused the crippling pain [in his pitching arm], but many suspected it was Fidrych’s overeagerness to be a superstar pitcher again, that he’d begun throwing too hard too soon after he had injured the knee. “Maybe it was my stupidity,” he says. “I kept throwing. I didn’t want to give up. If you can’t perform, you’re gone, so you fool them as much as you can. I had to. I saw what was going on in my life.”

It’s common now to think Fidrych was never the same after his sensational rookie season. But that’s wrong. He started 1977 in the same groove. The spring training knee injury delayed his season debut, but his first start of 1977 came just 12 days later than his first start of 1976. And that first start after the injury was a complete game in which Fidrych faced 36 batters and allowed just one earned run.

Fidrych 1977

1977 headline

From the Detroit Free Press, May 28, 1977

He threw complete games in seven of his first eight starts. By that time he was 6-2 with a 1.83 ERA. He didn’t give up a home run in his first 66-1/3 innings. He faced 38 batters in each of those last two starts, with just three days rest between them. Performance-wise, he was every bit the pitcher he was in 1976 (at least through the end of August), if not better.

Fidrych Sport

Sport magazine, July 1977

Then he got the hell beat out of him in two starts, being knocked out in the sixth inning of each game, allowing 21 hits and 12 earned runs in 11-1/3 innings. He later came to believe he tore his right rotator cuff in the first of those two games, July 4 at Baltimore, although the injury wasn’t diagnosed as such until 1985. (In the 1986 SI piece, Gary Smith wrote Fidrych’s right shoulder popped “ten days after he returned from the disabled list,” which would be early June, which seems unlikely based on his performance.) On July 12 he was pulled while facing the fourth batter of the game and was done for the year. (Jim Crawford came in to relieve Fidrych and threw 8-1/3 shutout innings.) According to the next day’s Detroit Free Press, team doctor Clarence Livingood diagnosed Fidrych’s problem as “a tired arm.”

“It don’t hurt,” Fidrych said. “I only can’t throw.”

Fidrych didn’t have quite as much asked of him in 1977 as was the case in ’76. He never pitched more than nine innings in a game or faced more than 38 batters. He had more starts on four days rest than he had on three days. Still, he managed to pitch 69 innings in just over a month (34 days) once he started his season.

Fidrych was apparently back at full strength at the start of spring training in 1978. He discussed the effect of his 1977 injuries in an April 1978 Sports Illustrated story by Larry Keith:

“I was a different person,” the Bird says. “I had the bad leg and the bad arm and I was trying to get my head together. Everything I count on, my bread and butter, was missing, and it got me down. The doctors told me to relax, and some of the older players told me how they had come back from injuries, but I didn’t really know about myself until I went down to the instructional league in October. Then I knew for sure. I said, ‘Oh, wow! I can throw.’ “

He was the Tigers’ opening day starter and got a complete game win.

Fidrych 1978

From the Detroit Free Press, April 8, 1978

Four days later, another complete game win. But he was pulled after four innings of his third start, when his shoulder stiffened up. “I was going to stay out there until they knocked me out,” Fidrych said after the game, “but Ralph told me after the fourth inning that he was going to take me out. I guess it was a good thing he got me out of there before I hurt myself.”

“He said his wasn’t hurting, but when he threw, nothing happened,” Houk said. “He’s such a competitor, if I didn’t take him out, he would have kept going out there. And maybe he would have hurt himself. I’m certainly not going to take any chances with him.” (Not that you ever did, Ralph…)

1978 photo

From the Detroit Free Press, April 18, 1978. “The Tigers expect The Bird to be ready for his next turn Saturday.” His next major league appearance came 13 months later.

Fidrych would not pitch in a major league game again for more than a year. From then on he completed just one of 13 major league starts, going 2-6 with a 6.86 ERA.

But those last 13 starts came after Houk retired at the end of the 1978 season (he would return to the dugout with the Red Sox in 1981). During his time pitching for Houk, Fidrych completed 33 of 43 starts (76.7%) and posted a 27-13 record. He had a 2.47 ERA, allowing just 70 walks and 15 home runs in 353-1/3 innings. Of course, he had only 3.8 strikeouts per 9 innings, not a strong indicator of long-term success even if healthy. But he was certainly a remarkable pitcher in his time with Houk. And the way Houk used him was even more remarkable.

Here’s another way Ralph Houk was unusual in using his pitchers. Since 1967, a relief pitcher has worked 10 or more innings in a game only five times. Three of those were pitchers managed by Houk – for three different franchises:

  • Lindy McDaniel worked 13 innings in relief for the Yankees in 1973 (when he was 37) after Fritz Peterson suffered a leg injury in the second inning. That was the longest major league relief appearance since Eddie Rommel pitched 17 innings in 1932. McDaniel also had two relief outings of more than six innings in the three weeks prior to his marathon and pitched more than six innings in relief a total of five times that season. He worked 138-1/3 innings in relief that season in just 44 appearances (h also started three games and completed one!).
  • Jim Crawford (the man who pitched 8-1/3 innings in relief of Fidrych in 1977) went 10 innings for the Tigers in 1976. He entered the game in the first inning after starter Frank MacCormack walked three of the four hitters he faced (and threw two wild pitches) and took a no-hitter into the ninth before giving up a single to George Scott. Crawford pitched more than six innings in relief two other times that season.
  • Bob Stanley pitched 10 innings for the Red Sox in 1983, the last time a major leaguer pitched 10 or more innings in relief. Stanley pitched 168-1/3 innings in relief for Houk in 1982 and 145-1/3 in ’83. Only Mike Marshall (1973 and 1974) pitched more innings in a season without starting a game than Stanley did in 1982. And he did that in just 48 appearances, an average of more than 3-1/3 innings per relief appearance. That’s crazy off the charts; no other pitcher who has worked at least 20 games in a season without starting one has averaged more than 3 innings per appearance. Stanley is the last pitcher to work enough to qualify for the ERA championship in a season in which he didn’t start a game (and the others who did it all pitched significantly more games). In his career Stanley had 18 relief appearances of six innings or more, 11 of them for Houk.

In his first season managing the Tigers, 1974, Houk’s relievers had 16 appearances of six innings or longer; no team has had as many since 1941. John Hiller pitched 150 innings in relief for the ’74 Tigers (going 7-2/3 innings twice) with a record of 17-14, the most decisions in a season for a relief pitcher.

You never know what’s going to change your life, or when it’s going to happen

You never know what the most important day of your life is going to be. Even when it happens, it may be years before you realize it. For me, it wasn’t the day I met my wife. Or the day we got married. Or the day our children were born.

It was the day that made all those days possible. It was July 28, 1967. I was nine years old.

Bear with me, it takes a little while to connect all the dots.

My parents, younger brother and I lived in Louisville, Kentucky. In 1966 I had become a baseball fan, and I saw my first major league game at old Crosley Field that year when my parents took us on a family trip to Cincinnati. We made another trip in July 1967.

700 Vannah

Thanks to Google Maps, I have a recent photo of the house where my family lived from 1965 to 1968. It looks remarkably the same as I remember it from 50 years ago.

Monkees LPI needed help remembering the exact date. Fortunately for me, our visit coincided with an even more memorable occasion than a ballgame: The Monkees were in town for a concert, and we were staying in the same hotel. They were at the height of their popularity, with the first season of their TV series having just concluded. Somehow I found out what floor they were staying on, and I made a journey there in hopes of catching a glimpse of one of them. Security guards were camped out by the elevator when I disembarked, and I made some lame excuse about thinking there was a pop machine on that floor, but I was immediately sent back where I came from. That evening my family went to the lobby to head for the game, only to find the Monkees were leaving the hotel at the same time to head for their show — through the same lobby. The place was mobbed, completely packed with Monkee fans, and I remember seeing Mickey Dolenz’s head bobbing above the crowd of shorter youngsters.

Monkees 1

Monkees 2

Coverage from the Cincinnati Enquirer, July 29, 1967

TSN 7-29-67No, it wasn’t The Monkees that made this the most important day of my life. It wasn’t seeing the Reds play the Cubs that night, either. It was something that happened that afternoon, when I was killing time at the hotel newsstand. I bought a copy of a publication I had never seen before, something that looked like it was all about baseball: The Sporting News. (The photo at right is the cover of the issue I bought…alas I no longer have the one I purchased.) I was already in love with baseball and newspapers, so the combination of the two was irresistible.

I don’t remember how much else of the contents soaked into my brain that day, but in paging through the issue an advertisement drew my attention:

TSN adYep, I wanted to bring the major league players right into my home and manage them all myself. I had already played Ethan Allen’s All-Star Baseball with a neighborhood friend who had a copy, but this looked ever so much cooler…all the teams! All the players!

Brochure

This is actually from a 1975 APBA brochure, but I’m sure the one I got in 1967 had a similar image

As soon as we got home from Cincinnati I sent off for that full-color brochure, which got me even more excited. The only thing that wasn’t exciting was the price. There was a reason APBA didn’t list its prices in its advertising so you could just order straightaway — it was expensive, and most people needed more of a sales pitch before parting with that kind of money. APBA was good at sales pitches. I don’t remember the exact price, but it was surely in the neighborhood of $12-15…the equivalent of about $85-100 today. Not something a 9-year-old takes on lightly.

Lucky me…my parents were kind, and I talked them into buying the game with the promise that I would pay them back with household chores. Of course, I was too lazy and sullen to actually do the chores, but as I recall I paid my debt by cashing a few tickets when my father took me to Churchill Downs (I was even more into horse racing then than I was into baseball).

Once APBA arrived I immediately immersed myself in it. But we’re still a few steps away from me getting married and having kids.

The next year, 1968, Dad got a new job and we moved to Port Washington, New York…coincidentally, the home of APBA’s major competitor, the Strat-o-Matic Game Company. Their office/warehouse on South Bayles Avenue was within walking distance of our house. Before long I was making that walk on a regular basis, first to buy their football game and later to buy their baseball game, both of which I played avidly.

SOM ReviewIn 1971 two Strat-o-Matic fans in Kalamazoo, Michigan (well, one of them was in next-door Otsego) started a monthly publication, the Strat-o-Matic Review. Of course I subscribed. The next year, the Review’s editors announced they would host a convention in Kalamazoo and invited other Strat-o-Matic devotees from around the country to come, play some games and get to know each other.

Invite

From the July 1972 Strat-o-Matic Review

Ah, the kindness of my parents…yes, I talked them into letting me go. Dad and I flew to Kalamazoo. When we arrived and I checked in with the organizers, I was told a guy named Brad Furst had hitchhiked to the convention from Spencer, Iowa and was looking for a place to stay. My father — another act of kindness — said Brad could stay with us…the way I remember it was Brad and I shared a room and Dad got another room for himself. Brad was a few years older than I was, but we hit it off right away and spent a lot of time talking that weekend, developing a friendship that continued for several years.

Convention

From the September 1972 Strat-o-Matic Review…I was actually only 14

Hang on, we’re getting warmer…

Brad went on to attend Grinnell College, a superb school in his native Iowa, and when I was preparing to apply to colleges he told me about a school in Northfield, Minnesota he thought I would like, Carleton College. (The way I remember it — and this absolutely may not be true — Brad told me Carleton had a bigger and more established group of Strat-o-Matic players than Grinnell. Although I think Brad remembers it as he just wished he had gone there himself.) I had never been west of Chicago (well, DeKalb, Illinois) and this sounded pretty exotic.

I was accepted at three other schools, and each of them was my first choice for a while, but in the end I decided a small campus in a small town with severe winters was exactly what I wanted, and I chose Carleton. And I feel pretty certain that I never would have heard of it, or at least never given it much consideration, if I hadn’t heard about it from Brad.

Literally everything else that has happened in my life stems from that decision.

Skinner

Skinner Memorial Chapel at Carleton College, where Jo and I were married

I loved Carleton, I loved Northfield, I loved Minnesota. When I was finished with school I wound up in Boise, Idaho, but after about a year there I realized Northfield was home and I moved back in the summer of 1981. Soon after that I met the woman I married in 1983 (at Skinner Chapel on the Carleton campus); our twin daughters were born two years later. We stayed in Minnesota until 2005, when we moved to California. (Oh, and two of the ushers in our wedding were guys I played in a Strat-o-Matic league with when I went back to Northfield.)

And one other thing…Peter Tork, the bass player for The Monkees, attended Carleton in the early 1960s, thus bringing my story full circle. (We named the pinball room in the student union in his honor while I was a student.)

So, to review…I never would have been in Minnesota to meet my wife if it hadn’t been for Brad Furst…I never would have met Brad if I hadn’t gotten interested in table sports games…and I developed my interest in table sports games when I bought a copy of The Sporting News on July 28, 1967 at a hotel newsstand in Cincinnati.

Me and BradKind of weird the ripples that run through a life, huh?

I got to thinking about all this the other day when I had lunch with Brad, the first time we’d seen each other since 1973. (That’s me on the left.) I thanked him for giving me my wife and children and a happy life in Minnesota. Who knew all that was going to come from an accidental night in a motel room in Kalamazoo?

UPDATE: Pitchers who threw the most extra-inning games

I started this blog in 2009; I now have some additional resources so I thought I might revisit and revise some of my earlier posts. For instance, when I first wrote about pitchers who worked into extra innings, Baseball-Reference.com’s Play Index data base went back only to 1954. It now goes back to 1913, meaning I can paint a more complete picture.

Nine-inning games by pitchers are rare enough in the 21st Century, but extra-inning performances are all but extinct. It’s happened only six times in the 16 seasons from 2000-2015 (only Roy Halladay did it more than once in that period; he had two 10-inning games), and the last pitcher to do it as of this writing was Cliff Lee in 2012. But such games used to be much more common. Here are the pitchers who have gone at least 9-1/3 innings the most times from 1913-2015, with their records in those games (clicking “Ind. Games” will show you all of the games involved):

Player W L ERA CG ShO WHIP
Pete Alexander 51 Ind. Games 32 15 1.71 51 6 1.02 PHI,CHC,STL
Walter Johnson 44 Ind. Games 22 20 1.31 44 7 0.94 WSH
Gaylord Perry 39 Ind. Games 12 11 1.93 17 1 0.93 SFG,CLE,TEX,SDP,SEA
Ted Lyons 39 Ind. Games 19 19 2.24 38 1 1.15 CHW
Red Faber 36 Ind. Games 21 13 2.20 34 1 1.09 CHW
Eppa Rixey 33 Ind. Games 18 15 1.83 32 0 1.16 PHI,CIN
Wilbur Cooper 33 Ind. Games 20 9 1.67 33 1 1.04 PIT,CHC
Bucky Walters 31 Ind. Games 20 9 1.73 26 2 1.16 PHI,CIN
Red Ruffing 28 Ind. Games 11 15 2.63 25 2 1.17 BOS,NYY
Stan Coveleski 28 Ind. Games 14 13 1.54 26 3 1.05 CLE,WSH
Warren Spahn 26 Ind. Games 11 12 1.79 22 0 0.99 BSN,MLN
Carl Hubbell 26 Ind. Games 10 14 1.83 24 3 0.94 NYG
Lefty Grove 26 Ind. Games 14 10 2.06 24 1 1.17 PHA,BOS
Earl Whitehill 25 Ind. Games 11 11 2.61 22 1 1.30 DET,WSH,CLE,CHC
Robin Roberts 25 Ind. Games 12 9 2.16 19 1 1.05 PHI,BAL,CHC
Jeff Pfeffer 25 Ind. Games 8 12 1.61 23 2 1.02 BRO,STL
Dolf Luque 25 Ind. Games 11 11 1.71 21 2 1.00 CIN,BRO
Bob Gibson 25 Ind. Games 9 11 1.73 19 1 1.08 STL
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 3/19/2016.
Alexander

Grover Cleveland Alexander as a Philadelphia Phillie

The first two pitchers on the list are inner-ring Hall of Famers who spent the prime of their careers in the low-scoring dead ball era, at a time when pitchers were absolutely expected to finish what they started. Even so, what Grover Cleveland “Pete” Alexander accomplished was remarkable. From 1913 through 1928 he pitched into extra innings 51 times and completed every one of them…including a 17-inning game in 1920, three 14-inning games and four others in which he pitched at least 13 innings. By way of comparison, as of the start of the 2016 season the active pitcher with the most career complete games is C.C. Sabathia with 38 — none of which went extra innings.

And those 51 extra-inning complete games don’t even include the first two years of Alexander’s major league career. I can’t find how many times he pitched into extra innings in 1912 (although we know he started four games that went long), but as a rookie in 1911 Alexander got a decision in 11 extra-inning contests. So while we don’t know if he pitched into extra innings on any other occasions and was removed without getting a decision, we do know he pitched extra innings at least 62 times in his career, more than 10% of his career starts. We also know this wasn’t solely a factor of the dead ball era conditions, as 32 of those games came from 1920 onward, the last two of them coming when Alexander was 41 years old.

Johnson

Walter Johnson didn’t seem to mind extra work

Second on the list is the great Walter Johnson, who, like Alexander, completed all his extra-inning starts from 1913 on. But those 44 extra-inning games don’t include the first six seasons of his career, in which he started 194 games and completed 87% of them. During those years Johnson started games that went into extra innings once in 1907, four times in 1908, six times in 1909, three times in 1910 and once in 1912 (I can’t readily find a record of Washington’s extra-inning games in 1911). He likely pitched into extra innings in the majority of those 15 games, but that’s just a guess, and I’m not up for digging up the box scores just now.

With at least 38 extra-inning wins (32 from 1913 on plus six in 1911), Alexander is the runaway leader in that category, at least from 1911 forward. More than 10% of his 373 career wins went extra innings. Johnson’s 20 extra-inning losses from 1913 on are the most for any pitcher in that period, and in those games (remember, all losses) he had a 1.99 ERA.

The (relatively) “modern” leader in extra-inning performances, by a wide margin, is Gaylord Perry, who had 39 such games over a 19-year period. Here are the pitchers who have worked extra innings the most times since 1960:

Player #Matching W L ERA CG SHO WHIP Tm
Gaylord Perry 39 Ind. Games 12 11 1.93 17 1 0.93 SFG,CLE,TEX,SDP,SEA
Bob Gibson 23 Ind. Games 9 10 1.72 19 1 1.04 STL
Jim Palmer 20 Ind. Games 5 5 1.52 10 0 0.89 BAL
Tom Seaver 19 Ind. Games 4 3 1.15 6 1 0.82 NYM,CHW
Phil Niekro 18 Ind. Games 7 5 2.14 12 0 0.98 ATL,NYY
Bert Blyleven 18 Ind. Games 7 4 1.63 9 4 1.02 MIN,TEX,PIT,CLE
Nolan Ryan 17 Ind. Games 6 6 1.86 9 1 1.07 CAL,HOU,TEX
Jim Kaat 17 Ind. Games 9 6 1.16 12 2 0.98 MIN,CHW,STL
Jerry Koosman 16 Ind. Games 3 6 1.45 2 1 1.01 NYM,MIN
Jim Bunning 16 Ind. Games 4 3 1.16 5 0 0.92 DET,PHI
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 3/19/2016.
Perry

Gaylord Perry as The Ancient Mariner…I do love those Seattle caps

Perry did have the advantage of the designated hitter rule for 14 of his extra-inning games, in that he never needed to be removed for a pinch-hitter. Or maybe that’s a disadvantage, if you factor in that he never got to face an opposing pitcher. His last three overtime appearances came when he was 43 years old, pitching for Seattle in 1982. (But Perry was not the oldest man to pitch extra innings; the remarkable Satchel Paige tossed a 12-inning shutout for the St. Louis Browns when he was 46! Team owner Bill Veeck rewarded him by telling Paige to order himself a new suit of clothes. Gregory H. Wolf has more about this game as part of the Society for American Baseball Research’s Games Project.)

Paige headline

Paige photo

From the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, August 7, 1952

How about the most extra-inning games in a season? We discovered Grover Cleveland Alexander had 11 in 1911 that won’t be included in Play Index. Since 1913, we find Johnson and Perry at the top of the list.

Rk Player Year #Matching W L ERA CG SHO Tm
1 Walter Johnson 1918 9 Ind. Games 6 3 1.21 9 2 WSH
2 Gaylord Perry 1972 8 Ind. Games 5 3 1.37 7 0 CLE
3 Al Javery 1943 8 Ind. Games 7 1 1.40 8 0 BSN
4 Red Faber 1922 8 Ind. Games 4 4 2.92 8 0 CHW
5 Stan Coveleski 1918 8 Ind. Games 3 5 1.03 8 0 CLE
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 3/19/2016.

Perry’s eight extra-inning games in 1972 (pre-designated hitter, by the way) are as many as all major league pitchers have had in the last 18 years combined (1998-2015).

Al Javery

Al Javery

Al Javery is the only man I’ve found to earn seven extra-inning wins in a season…he went at least 11 innings in five of them, including a 14-inning triumph. Javery went 17-16 for the 1943 Boston Braves and, not surprisingly, led the National League in innings pitched and batters faced. I don’t blame you if you’ve never heard of Javery; he finished his career with a 53-74 record and was pretty much done once the boys got home from World War II.

For tough-luck losers…pity Stan Coveleski, who won 22 games in 1918 but lost five extra-inning decisions, all in a period of less than eight weeks, in which he allowed a total of five earned runs. The only other pitcher since 1913 to lose as many extra-inning games in a season was Nate Andrews in 1943, when he led the National League with 20 losses despite finishing fifth in the league in ERA. He worked more than 11 innings in three of his overtime defeats. We know Pete Alexander also lost five extra-inning games in 1911. In more recent years, Bob Gibson lost four extra-inning games in 1969.

Next, the most extra-inning games pitched without allowing a run, since 1913. Note this doesn’t include games in which the pitcher either took a shutout into extra innings only to allow a run later, or left the game in extra innings with a shutout but saw a reliever allow an inherited runner to score.

Player #Matching W L CG SHO Tm
Walter Johnson 7 Ind. Games 6 0 7 7 WSH
Jim Perry 6 Ind. Games 2 0 2 2 CLE,MIN,DET
Bert Blyleven 6 Ind. Games 4 0 4 4 MIN,TEX,PIT
Pete Alexander 6 Ind. Games 4 0 6 6 PHI,CHC
Tom Seaver 5 Ind. Games 1 0 1 1 NYM
Don Sutton 4 Ind. Games 2 0 2 2 LAD
Nolan Ryan 4 Ind. Games 1 0 1 1 CAL,HOU,TEX
Dick Rudolph 4 Ind. Games 2 0 3 3 BSN
Jerry Koosman 4 Ind. Games 1 0 1 1 NYM
Bob Feller 4 Ind. Games 2 0 2 2 CLE
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 3/19/2016.

Notice Walter Johnson pitched seven of these games, all shutouts, but earned only six wins. One of those games was a 12-inning scoreless tie in 1919. Likewise, Grover Cleveland Alexander (I so prefer seeing his full name as opposed to “Pete”) pitched two extra-inning games that ended in 0-0 ties, both in 1913. Johnson and Alex are the post-1913 leaders in extra-inning shutouts. Alexander did not pitch an overtime shutout in 1911 or 1912, but I did some digging on Johnson and found he pitched an 11-inning shutout in 1908 and a 12-inning shutout in 1909 (the DAY AFTER he pitched four innings) to give him at least nine career extra-inning shutouts (still don’t know about 1911).

You’ll also notice Jim Perry and Tom Seaver each pitched four extra-inning games in which he did not allow a run but did not get the win…ouch.

In more recent times, Bert Blyleven is the leader with four extra-inning shutouts…and two of them came in consecutive starts in June 1976!

Date Tm Opp Rslt IP H R ER BB SO BF
1975-08-27 MIN MIL W 1-0 11.0 6 0 0 1 13 39
1976-06-21 TEX OAK W 1-0 10.0 1 0 0 4 8 36
1976-06-26 TEX CHW W 1-0 10.0 10 0 0 2 5 40
1978-04-26 PIT NYM W 1-0 11.0 6 0 0 4 8 42
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 3/19/2016.

Since 1913 only 13 other pitchers have tossed two or more extra-inning shutouts in a season (Alexander, naturally, is the only man with three, which he did in 1913, and Johnson is the only man with two in a season twice, 1918 and 1919). Aside from Blyleven, only Lefty Tyler did it in consecutive starts, in August 1914 for the “Miracle” Boston Braves. The first of Tyler’s games was a 13-inning scoreless tie, followed four days later by a 10-inning 1-0 victory. Blyleven is thus the only pitcher, at least since 1913, to have complete-game extra-inning shutout victories in back-to-back starts.

Borowy headline

Hank Borowy, Blake Stein, Paul Wilson and the worst pitching performances in major league baseball history

This isn’t the first post I’ve written that was inspired by a recording of an old major league game broadcast I was listening to (previous examples are here and here). This time I was listening to the June 13, 1978 game between the Indians and the White Sox. Veteran knuckleballer Wilbur Wood started on the mound for Chicago, but after he gave up a single, triple, single and walk (with a wild pitch thrown in), Sox manager Bob Lemon decided Wilbur didn’t have it that day and removed him. Both the runners he left on base went on to score after reliever Pablo Torrealba entered the game.

Four batters faced, four runs allowed. That’s a pretty bad day at the office.

And it got me to wondering — what was the worst day at the office? Who faced the most batters while

  • not getting anyone out and
  • allowing each batter to reach base via hit, walk or hit by a pitch, with
  • each batter scoring (even after the pitcher who put him on base left the game)

I put Baseball-Reference.com’s Play Index to work, searching for pitcher games in which BF=R.

Hello, Hank Borowy.

BorowyBorowy (pronounced “buh-RO-ee”) was a Fordham University graduate who went 56-30 in three-and-a-half seasons with the Yankees during World War II. After he was sold to the Cubs in late July 1945 (shortly after he appeared on the cover of Baseball Digest as seen at right) he helped the Cubs win the pennant, going 11-2 with a 2.13 ERA (he was declared the National League ERA champion, despite pitching just 122-1/3 innings, because in those days eligibility was based on number of complete games). He remains the last Cubs pitcher to start a World Series game and the last Cubs pitcher to win one. Cubs skipper Charlie Grimm worked his ace hard in that ’45 Series…after Borowy pitched a six-hit shutout in Game 1, he came back four days later to start Game 5 and pitched five innings…the NEXT DAY he pitched four innings in relief to win Game 6…and two days later he started Game 7. He faced three batters, all of whom singled, before he was lifted. All three batters he faced scored…a foreshadowing of the Worst. Game. Ever.

The last time Borowy finished a season with a winning record was 1946. By August 1951 he was a 35-year-old hanging on as a relief pitcher with the Detroit Tigers. On August 14 Tiger manager Red Rolfe brought Borowy in to pitch the bottom of the tenth in a tie game at Cleveland, but a walk, a stolen base and a two-out single by Jim Hegan gave the Indians the victory. That left Borowy with a 5.02 season ERA.

It was about to get much worse.

On August 18 in St. Louis, the Tigers and Browns were tied 9-9 in the bottom of the seventh when, with one out, Bobby Young singled and Jim Delsing walked to put the go-ahead run in scoring position. Rolfe again entrusted a tie game to Borowy, sending him to the mound to replace Hal White. After that:

  • Matt Batts singled, scoring Young
  • Cliff Mapes singled, scoring Delsing
  • Hank “Bow Wow” Arft hit a three-run homer
  • Ken Wood singled
  • Fred Marsh singled
  • Bill Jennings walked to load the bases
  • Frank Saucier, pinch-hitting for pitcher Bob Mahoney, walked, scoring Wood for the only RBI of Saucier’s major league career (if Saucier’s name sounds familiar, he would become a footnote in major league history the next day, as we will see)
  • Young walked, scoring Marsh
  • Delsing walked, scoring Jennings to make the score 17-9

And after four straight walks — three with the bases loaded — Rolfe had finally had enough. Rolfe “never made a gesture to warm up a replacement until the contest was hopelessly lost and it was obvious that Borowy’s chance of ever retiring the side were [sic] slight,” Tommy Devine wrote in the next day’s Detroit Free Press.

Borowy headline

A headline in the Detroit Free Press, August 19, 1951

“Watch for Hank Borowy, veteran right-handed pitcher, to be cut adrift soon by the Tigers,” Devine wrote in another story in that edition. “Tiger manager Red Rolfe indicated his disgust at Borowy’s work by allowing him to take a cruel beating in a game in which the Tigers still had a chance.” Borowy remains the only man to pitch to nine or more batters in a major league game without getting any of them out.

There was still only one out when Borowy left the game. Rolfe replaced him with Fred Hutchinson, normally a starting pitcher who had worked eight innings four days earlier. Hutch got out of the inning, but not before allowing two singles that let all three runners Borowy left on base score. So the final line for Borowy: nine batters faced, nine runs allowed. His season ERA jumped from 5.02 to 7.17. The Browns’ 11 runs in that inning tied a team record, and their 20 runs in the game set a team mark.

Cleveland headline

From the Cleveland Plain Dealer, August 19, 1951

This game wasn’t the end of the line for Borowy, as Devine had predicted, but he pitched only five more times for the Tigers in 1951, all in lost causes, and had a 5.63 ERA in those games to end his major league career.

Borowy’s beatdown in St. Louis was overshadowed the next day…when 3’7″ Eddie Gaedel was sent to the plate as a pinch-hitter — for Frank Saucier — to start the bottom of the first inning for the Browns in the second game of a doubleheader.

Gaedel

From the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, August 20, 1951

What about pitchers who started a game? Who faced the most hitters without getting an out and allowing all of them to score?

Blake Stein was a 6’7″ rookie with the Oakland A’s in 1998. He started the August 31 game at Cleveland with a 5-7 record and an unimpressive 5.70 ERA, although he had pitched a two-hit shutout against the White Sox just 12 days earlier. Here’s how the bottom of the first went against the Indians: walk-hit batsman-walk-single-single-walk-single-single. That made it 6-0 Cleveland, and after A’s manager Art Howe lifted Stein, reliever Mark Mohler allowed both runners Stein left on base to score. Eight batters faced, eight runs allowed.

“Stein’s face as he strolled off the mound was a mask of disbelief and anguish,” Steve Kettmann wrote in the next day’s San Francisco Chronicle. “‘It was just one of those things where it kind of snowballed,’ he said. ‘In college [Spring Hill College in Alabama] I worked one-third of an inning once, but I got an out. Tonight I didn’t even get an out.'”

Stein got company in the eight-for-eight club seven years later in the person of Paul Wilson, who in 1994 had been the first player taken in baseball’s June amateur draft. Injuries kept Wilson from achieving the stardom predicted for him, and by 2005 he was a 32-year-old hanging on with his third major league team, the Reds. Wilson had a 1-2 record with a 5.25 ERA in his first six starts of the season going into a May 6 game against the Dodgers in Cincinnati. Here’s how his night went: hit batsman-homer-single-homer-walk-hit batsman-double-double. Relief pitcher Matt Belisle allowed the inherited runner to score.

Wilson

From the Cincinnati Enquirer, May 7, 2005

“It was terrible,” Wilson said after the game. “I let the team down. I got my ass kicked. It was embarrassing.” He pitched just two more games in his major league career, losing both and allowing 12 runs in 10-1/3 innings.

Oddly enough, this was the second time Wilson had started a game and allowed eight runs without getting an out. It also happened on July 10, 2003, but on that occasion the leadoff batter reached base on an error. Likewise, two other starting pitchers also faced eight batters and allowed eight runs but were victimized by an error: Oakland’s Bill Krueger on June 25, 1984 and the Mets’ Bobby Jones on September 17, 1997…although in Jones’ case, he was the one who committed the error.

The day Catfish Hunter was used as a pinch-hitter when he was already in the game

Thanks to Phil Ploquin for mentioning this incident in the Retrosheet Yahoo group recently, because I was not aware it had happened: in 1976 New York Yankees manager Billy Martin used Catfish Hunter as a pinch-hitter, even though Catfish was already in the game. Yes, it was illegal, and Martin apparently knew it, but it happened anyway.

Catfish

I haven’t been able to find a picture of Catfish with a bat in his hand, for the Yankees or anyone else, so this will have to do.

Hunter was the Yankees’ starting pitcher September 5, 1976 at Baltimore. Thirty-six-year-old Cesar Tovar, who had signed with the Yanks just days earlier, was New York’s designated hitter (the rule allowing for someone to bat for the pitcher throughout the game had gone into effect in 1973).

In the top of the sixth inning, with the game tied 2-2, the Yankees had Graig Nettles on first base with two out and second baseman Sandy Alomar due to bat. But Alomar had gotten sick with a virus (according to Murray Chass’ account in the next day’s New York Times, my source for this post). Martin had decided he would put Tovar at second base (a position he hadn’t played for nearly a year) in the bottom of the inning, meaning by rule he would no longer have a designated hitter and Hunter would have to bat for himself going forward. So Martin decided to have Hunter bat for Alomar.

The move was illegal under Major League Baseball rule 6.10(b), which read then (and still does), “The game pitcher may only pinch-hit for the Designated Hitter.” Meaning Hunter could have batted in place of Tovar, but nobody else — although once DH Tovar moved into the field to replace Alomar, pitcher Hunter would go into the batting order in Alomar’s spot. But Tovar had not yet gone into the field, meaning Hunter could not yet bat in Alomar’s spot.

Here’s what Martin had to say after the game, according to Chass:

I knew that’s what the [rule] book says [that Hunter could only pinch-hit for the DH]. I told the guys on the bench I don’t think I can do this, but I’m gonna try it. If they told me I couldn’t do it, then I would’ve put [Otto] Velez up, but I wanted to save Velez for later. I told the umpire my second baseman was sick so I was putting the DH into the game and he said O.K.

I was surprised [Orioles manager Earl] Weaver didn’t protest. I can’t fault the umpire. When the hell did you ever see anyone do it? The guy who looks bad is Earl. All he had to do was protest.

Weaver said home plate umpire Marty Springstead assured him the move was legal. “It was my fault,” Chass quoted Weaver as saying. “I didn’t know the rule.” Chass said Springstead admitted he didn’t know the rule either and said Springstead called it “a stupid rule.”

At any rate it worked out fine for the Orioles. Hunter made the third out of the inning on a ground ball to Baltimore shortstop Mark Belanger. And the Orioles went on to win the game, with two runs scoring in the eighth inning on an error by the Yankees’ second baseman. Only it wasn’t Tovar, as Martin removed Tovar from the lineup at the start of the bottom of the eighth and moved Fred Stanley from shortstop to second base (Jim Mason entered the game at shortstop). “Tovar hadn’t played second base in a long time,” Martin said. “I wanted defense out there.” With the Orioles leading 3-2, Stanley mishandled a bases-loaded ground ball by Tony Muser that allowed two runners to score. (Although he was a much more experienced infielder than Tovar, Stanley had played only one inning at second base in 1976 prior to this game.)

Hunter had the chance to bat again, leading off the ninth, but this time Martin did bring in Otto Velez. In the Retrosheet box score of the game Hunter appears with the unique designation “p, ph, p.” His sixth-inning appearance was the last at-bat of Hunter’s major league career, which he finished with a respectable .226 batting average (including a .350 mark in 1971) and six home runs. He even had three hits as a pinch-hitter, the last of which came in 1973 (the year the DH rule went into effect) when he batted for Bert Campaneris in a wild game in Oakland. That was the only time, other than the 1976 game, that Hunter batted after the DH went into existence.