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.

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