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Bert Blyleven: Pitching History and The Hall of Fame

As we approach the voting results for the Hall of Fame this year, Bert Blyleven‘s case deserves one more look.  It has been a long and arduous path for Blyleven gaining votes almost yearly until last year he was but five votes short of induction to baseball’s highest honor.  This path reminds me of his career — 4970 innings, twice fighting back from injury to reclaim excellence.

What makes a HOF pitcher?  In the sake of brevity, it is some combination of domination, excellence and endurance that puts a pitcher over the line for Cooperstown.  Historically, it has been measured in different ways. 

Some pitchers had brief brilliant careers, (Sandy Koufax, Addie Joss, Lefty Gomez, Dizzy Dean.)  Others have had careers of high quality — Juan Marichal, Jim Palmer, Carl Hubbell; and others have passed automatic milestones like 300 wins, or perhaps a more recent 3000 strikeouts. (Early Wynn, Bob Gibson)

The base minimum for wins to be considered for the HOF has been 200 wins — Hal Newhouser, Bob Lemon, Don Drysdale are examples of pitchers with win totals in the low 200s.  This is in contrast to 300 wins, which has been an automatic induction total.

So, Bert Blyleven‘s 287 should in no way prevent him from the HOF.  If anything it should strongly recommend him for the HOF.  His adjusted total of wins, called Neutral wins, is 313, and Baseball Reference had it figured to 325.  This is how many wins he would have had with even league average runs support throughout his career.  His losses would have been reduced to 227, and the whole debate over his qualifications and winning percentage would be a moot point.

Basically, the viewpoint of the writers from his era that he was just a good pitcher, but not great or dominant came from his W-L records over his first eight years of his career.  So, a year like 1973, when he led all players in WAR (not just pitchers!) with 9.1, he finished seventh in the Cy Young voting with a 20-17 record.  He deserved, or pitched well enough to win the award.

That year he was the best pitcher in baseball. Similarly, King Felix Hernandez won the Cy Young this year with a 13-12 record. So people that say he was never dominant are just basically wrong from the get go. The W-L records near .500 came from his poor run support during this time.

I personally can’t think of three stats that demonstrate domination and quality like strikeouts, strikeout to walk ratio, and career complete game shutouts.

First, let’s establish the quality of the work Blyleven produced during his 4970 inning career.  The great command stat is the K/BB ratio. The pitchers with the greatest “stuff” and command of the strike zone have put up the highest marks in this category.  These are the great command pitchers throughout history.

In the dead ball era it was Christy Mathewson leading the way with a mark of 2.96.  He did this over 4600 innings.  Right behind him were pitchers with shorter careers but great command, Ed Walsh, and Rube Waddell.  So the title from this period goes to Mathewson for the best ratio and the longest career.

In the live ball era, pitchers struggled to keep up with this stat.  The best were Carl Hubbell and Dazzy Vance.  Their ratios were at 2.46 and 2.30.

The legacy continues in the Golden Years with Robin Roberts, who led all comers with a 2.66 mark over a career around 4600 innings.

Then came the raised mound era with a larger strike zone.  Pitchers were given a boost, and results followed. Juan Marichal, a great command pitcher, and Sandy Koufax led the way with Marichal a bit over 3.00 and Koufax at 2.93.

In 1969 the mound was lowered and the strike zone was shrunk. But pitchers were still expected to put up great command figures along with strikeouts and complete games.  Among all the HOF pitchers of this era, Ferguson Jenkins (with several years during the raised mound under his belt), and HOF candidate Bert Blyleven lead the way. 

Blyleven’s mark of 2.80 is one of the highest since the live ball era began, and he did it over 4970 innings!  Bert Blyleven is one of the great command pitchers in baseball history!

Most people familiar with Blyleven’s case for the HOF know that he stands fifth all-time in strikeouts.  That was the first stat that struck me as important.  We set up a hit milestone of 3000 for automatic induction to the HOF. Walter Johnson broke the 3000 K barrier in the 1920s. Nobody came close to it again until Bob Gibson broke the barrier in the early 70s.

Since that time we have had two generations to see what kind of a milestone it is in modern baseball.  The pitchers who have passed the total have all been HOF worthy – Gaylord Perry, Nolan Ryan, Steve Carlton, Tom Seaver, Phil Neikro, Don Sutton, and more recently, Roger Clemens, Randy Johnson, Greg Maddux, Pedro Martinez, Curt Schilling, and John Smoltz. 

Now add Bert Blyleven to this list and put him not at the end, but fifth all-time with 3701 Ks.  This is a significant accomplishment, very strongly indicating HOF worthiness.

What I feel is Bert Blyleven’s strongest calling card for the HOF are his 60 career shutouts.  Since 1921, the advent of the live ball era, and the end of the low scoring dead ball era, when shutouts were prevalent — (Walter Johnson 110, Pete Alexander 90, Christy Mathewson 78, Eddie Plank 69), there have been four pitchers who have totalled 60 career shutouts.  They are Warren Spahn (63), Nolan Ryan (61), Tom Seaver (61), and Bert Blyleven (60).

Career shutouts are one of the most accurate gauges of pitching greatness we have.  They are at least as accurate in the modern era of baseball — 1901-1992 as Wins or ERA+ to measure pitching greatness and domination.

Take a look at the career shutout list and you see the greatest pitchers in the game!  Bert Blyleven is ninth on this list.

Blyleven has 15 shutouts when he won the games 1-0.  That is more than any other pitcher since the advent of the live ball era!

There is one more very strong indicator for HOF greatness — career WAR, or wins over replacement.  This is a system that puts a value to each year a pitcher performed and gives it a score for the value of the season compared to the level of a replacement pitcher. 

(The era Blyleven pitched — 1970-1992 was one of the greatest in history for pitching — thus a very high level for the replacement pitcher, and a premium placed on the score a pitcher was able to get during this time.)

Bert Blyleven’s career total WAR of 90.1 puts a value on his career.  He was 90.1 wins better than a replacement pitcher for his career.  There are pitchers with a higher score from his era, like Tom Seaver – 104-105.  But 90.1 places Blyleven 10th in the modern era since 1901!

His total is higher than Nolan Ryan, Steve Carlton, and Jim Palmer.  No pitcher in history has scored higher than 66 points and not made the HOF. Any cut off line for the HOF is passed easily by his 90.1 career WAR.  Whitey Ford (55), Tom Glavine (67), Bob Lemon (43) and Jack Morris (39.3). 

Here is one more strong and accurate measurement of career value that shows that Bert Blyleven belongs in the HOF. 

I think adding all this together you come up with an accurate picture of how Bert Blyleven fits in with the history of pitching in baseball, and fits in with the HOF.

There are more indications of strong performance, like his postseason record of 5-1 and a 2.47 ERA.  He has two World Series rings for his work with the ’79 Pirates and the ’87 Twins.  These were not his best years, but his record shows an ability to raise his game when he faced the best competition on the biggest stage.

I think high on this list also should be the impact of the curve ball he threw.  It was considered the best of his era, perhaps the best in baseball history, and has been used as a measuring stick for grading out curves from all comers since Blyleven.  This gives his career extra significance.

Was Bert Blyleven the best of his era — no, Tom Seaver was.  But he was one of the best in an era that had a great many great pitchers, more than any since the dead ball era.  A quick look comparing Seaver and Blyleven shows how close they truly were in important career categories:

Seaver – 312 neutral wins; Blyleven – 313

Seaver – 234 complete games; Blyleven 242

Seaver – 61 shutouts; Blyleven – 60

Seaver 3640 career Ks (6th); Blyleven 3701 (5th)

Seaver K/BB ratio – 2.65; Blyleven  – 2.80

Seaver was inducted into baseball’s HOF on the first ballot with the highest % to date. 

Waiting all these years to elect Bert Blyleven to the HOF has given us the opportunity in the baseball world to truly study what makes a great pitcher, and appreciate Blyleven’s place in the HOF!


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The Detroit Tigers’ All-Time Starting Rotation

Imagine you are responsible to select an all-time starting rotation for the Detroit Tigers.  The pitchers you pick will form the Tigers all-time team and compete against the best of their competition.

Who would you select?  To whom would you give the ball to face off against Walter Johnson, Lefty Grove, Whitey Ford, Jim Palmer, and Roger Clemens?  Who would be your backup pitchers and relievers as well?

The guidelines are simple: You may select pitchers from any era since the inception of the team in 1901.  Starting pitchers must have reached 1,000 innings for the Tigers, and relievers must have appeared in 250 games to be eligible for your team.

The Early Years: 1901-1945

The Tigers were one of eight charter teams in the American League.  Detroit had baseball before the Tigers got their start.  The Detroit Wolverines were a part of the National League from 1881-1888.  They won the pennant in ’87, but were soon contracted for lack of attendance after the ’88 season.

In 1894, the Western League, a minor league with big ambitions, established a team in Detroit.  Owner George Vanderbeck built Bennett Park in 1895 for the new team.

When the league changed their name to the American League in 1900, the team wrote to and got permission to use the name of a local military light guard unit with a heroic reputation, called the Tigers.

By the time the American League declared itself a major league in 1901, the team had the Tigers as its official name.

That first decade witnessed early success for the new team.

In 1905 the Tigers acquired Ty Cobb, who joined a talented team including Sam Crawford, Hughie Jennings, and pitchers Bill Donovan and George Mullin. 

By 1907, they were the team to beat in the AL, winning the first of three consecutive pennants.  Their best pitchers were George Mullin, who won 20 games five times; Bill Donovan, who went 25-4 in 1907; and Ed Killian, who won 20 games twice in his short career.

This pitching staff allowed the team to hold their American League competition at bay, while the offense took care of business.  But when it came time for the Tigers to face their National League opponents, it was a different story.

The 1907 and 1908 World Series pitted the Tigers’ prolific offense against the Cubs dominant pitching.

The Cubs came out on top both times, featuring one of the most dominant pitching trios in baseball history in Mordecai Brown, Ed Reulbach, and Orvall Overall.  The Cubs trio shut down the Tigers offense both years and took home the titles.

The Tigers again brought their game in 1909, armed with new pitching stars Ed Willett and Ed Summers, who combined for 40 wins in the regular season, joining Mullin (29 wins) and mainstays Donovan and Killian.

The Tigers handled Lefty Leifield, Deacon Phillippe, and eventual Hall of Fame pitcher Vic Willis at various points in the series.  It was Pittsburgh control artist, rookie Babe Adams, who stole the show, winning three complete games, including a shutout in Game Seven.

So, Ty Cobb remained thwarted of baseball’s biggest prize, a World Series title.  In 1907 and 1908, it was the dominant pitching of the Cubs, and in 1909, it was Honus Wagner and a sensational rookie pitcher.

The Tigers never again appeared in a World Series during Cobb’s considerable career as a player and manager through 1928.  They twice finished second in 1915 and in 1923.

The next resurgence of Tigers greatness came in the mid- and late 1930s.

Going into 1934 the team made two moves: They brought in veteran (and future Hall of Fame) catcher Mickey Cochrane and future Hall of Fame outfielder Goose Goslin.  They teamed up with Hank Greenburg, Charlie Gehringer, and third baseman Marv Owen to make one of the greatest offensive juggernauts the sport has ever seen.

Fronting the team on the mound were developing stars Tommy Bridges and Schoolboy Rowe.  Over the next three years, the duo won 128 games and pitched 25 shutouts.  They are one of the great pitching duos is baseball history.

Schoolboy Rowe was a strapping, naturally gifted athlete.  He became a fan favorite for his good looks and devotion to his high school sweetheart, Edna.

Eddie Cantor picked up on Rowe’s quotation of, “How am I doing, Edna?” The phrase caught on through radio broadcasts and was chanted at games.  Rowe featured excellent command, leading the league in K/BB ratio in both ’34 and ’35.

Tommy Bridges stood 5’10” and weighed 155 pounds, dripping wet.  Despite his slight frame, he possessed some of the best stuff in the league, leading in strikeouts in both 1935 and ’36.  It was his drop-off-the-table curve that opponents held in wonder.

In 1935, the Tigers finally won their first World Series title.  They beat the Cubs in the Series. Bridges won two games.

Despite Rowe being given the attention and lead starting roles in the World Series, it was Bridges who beat Dizzy Dean in the ’34 Series, and came away with a career record of 4-1 in the Tigers’ three World Series battles, including a win in the 1940 series against the Reds.

Bridges remained a leading pitcher in the league until he left for the war after the ’43 season.

Just two seasons later, the Tigers were in a youth movement.  They featured young star hurlers Dizzy Trout, Hal Newhouser, and Virgil Trucks. 

What a difference two years makes.

In ’43, Newhouser went 8-17.  But the following year, he flipped the switch, and became the dominant pitcher in the American League, winning 80 games over the next three years while winning two MVP awards.  He led the Tigers to a pennant and World Series title in ’45. 

The Tigers showed little patience toward former hero Tommy Bridges waiting for him to come back to form after he returned from the war.  The team basically sent him packing, telling him he was washed up.  But Bridges had some gas left in his tank, pitching a perfect game in ’47 and winning the ERA title in the Pacific Coast league.

With a bit of patience, the Tigers might have had a second Hall of Fame pitcher to go along with Hal Newhouser, as Bridges’s career total wins ended at 194, just short of the 200 opening the door for HOF consideration.  Newhouser ended with 207 wins.

Giving support to the efforts of Newhouser was Tigers workhorse Dizzy Trout.

Not being able to enlist because of a hearing impairment, Trout was one of the top AL pitchers during the war, winning 27 games in 1944.  He was instrumental in the Tigers second World Series title in ’45.


The Early Years Rotation

1. Hal Newhouser, 1939-53: 200 W, 33 SHO, ERA-plus 130

2. Tommy Bridges, 1930-46: 194 W, 33 SHO, ERA-plus 126

3. Dizzy Trout, 1939-52: 161 W, 28 SHO, ERA-plus 125

4. George Mullin, 1902-13: 209 W, 34 SHO, ERA-plus 102

T5. Bill Donovan, 1903-18—140 W, 29 SHO, ERA-plus 109

T5. Schoolboy Rowe, 1933-42: 105 W, 16 SHO, ERA-plus 114

Spot Starters: Hooks Dauss (223 W, ERA-plus 102), Virgil Trucks (114 W, ERA-plus 114), Fred Hutchinson (95 W, ERA-plus 113)


The Modern Era: 1960s to present.

Toward the end of the 1940s, Newhouser’s arm was shot, and the Tigers drifted into mediocrity over the next decade until the 1960s.

As the ’60s began, the team was blessed with some fine position players like Al Kaline, Bill Freehan, ’61 batting champion Norm Cash, and later, Willie Horton.  The team also featured dependable starters Frank Lary and Jim Bunning.

Bunning’s career really took off after he left the Tigers and put up some great years for the Phillies.

But it was not until the next generation of pitching started to emerge that the Tigers surged to the top of the league standings, winning the pennant in ’68 after narrowly missing the year before.

It was flamboyant Denny McLain who stole the show in 1968, winning 31 games, the Cy Young Award, and the MVP Award.  Even during his peak, McLain burned the candle at both ends, playing organ in a musical group which appeared at night clubs.

If it was Denny McLain who got the Tigers to the World Series, it was blue collar, lunch pail-carrying Mickey Lolich who brought home the title in the World Series.  Lolich was fearless, shutting down a great St. Louis team with his darting fastball and poise on the mound. 

When Game Seven came around, it was Lolich against the great Bob Gibson, who had already set the single game strikeout record (17) against the Tigers in Game One.  In one of the greatest series ever played, Lolich brought home the MVP award by winning his third game.

It was the Tigers’ third World Series title.

Denny McLain soon self-destructed, getting involved in gambling and the wrong ilk. It wasn’t long before he was out of the game.  One could only wonder what could have been if McLain could have controlled his problems.

The Tigers remained a good team for several years, making the postseason in ’72 with a rag tag group of older veterans including their core, pinch-hitter Gates Brown, super sub Tony Taylor, and late-season acquisition Frank Howard.

Their playoff series against the eventual World Series champion A’s was one of the most hotly contested playoff series in history.  It took every bit of greatness available to the three-time World Champion A’s to turn back the Tigers in this playoff series.

Twice Mickey Lolich pitched nine innings of one-run ball without coming away with a win. 

In Game Four, down two games to one in a best-of-five series, the A’s scored twice in the top of the 10th inning after Lolich left the game.  The series was theirs until the Tigers clawed back to score three runs in the bottom of the inning to send it to a fifth game.

Most of these Tigers players knew this was their last chance at postseason success, and they didn’t go down without a fight.  Game Five came down to the last at bat for the Tigers, down 2-1 and facing a dominant Vida Blue sent in as a reliever.

However, this time there was no miracle come-from-behind win, and on to the World Series went Catfish Hunter, Vida Blue, Reggie Jackson, Rollie Fingers, and the rest of the legendary A’s. They went on to win three titles in a row.

Mickey Lolich won 25 and 22 games in ‘71 and ’72, but narrowly missed winning a Cy Young award.  He came as close as any pitcher has to 3,000 strikeouts (2,832) without passing the milestone.  His 41 shutouts, World Series heroics, and career resume give him a strong case for the HOF.

After the old guard retired, the Tigers needed to rebuild.

They brought in Sparky Anderson, manager of the team of the decade in the ’70s—the Big Red Machine—to lead them onward.  Beginning in 1980, the Tigers began to surge, winning two division titles in ’84 and ’87 and finishing second in ’83, ’88, and ’91.

The magical year for the Tigers proved to be 1984.  They broke out of the gate at a record pace, going 35-5 to open the season.  The team never looked back and won the World Series.

The formula again was the convergence of strong position players with strong pitching. 

Catcher Lance Parrish led an offense that included Allan Trammell, Lou Whittaker, Chet Lemon, Kirk Gibson, and Darrell Evans.  They featured plenty of power and some great infield defense.

Leading the pitching staff was workhorse and ace Jack Morris, accompanied by Dan Petry and Milt Wilcox.

However, any mention of the ’84 Tigers would be remiss if it didn’t give ample credit to “Captain Hook’s” go-to guys, Willie Hernandez and Aurelio Lopez.  They combined to pitch in 151 games and 278 innings, giving up only 205 hits while saving 46 games between them.  They were truly amazing.

Jack Morris was consistent and strong throughout the ’80s for the Tigers.  But it was after he travelled on to the Twins and Blue Jays that he won two more championship rings and dazzled a generation of fans with his 10-inning, shutout performance in Game Seven of the ’91 series.

The Tigers, after winning only 43 games in ’03, built their way back to being competitive.  In their first year with Jim Leyland as manager in ‘06, they made it to the World Series.

Poor weather hindered the play of the Series.  Several costly errors by the Tigers pitchers also spelled the team’s doom, as they lost to the St. Louis Cardinals in an anti-climactic Series.

The leader of the Tigers staff today is Justin Verlander.  Verlander won Rookie of the Year award in ’06, and has generally turned in strong performances on his way to a significant career.  Other young Tiger pitchers have shown promise but not the ability to sustain success to this point.


The Modern Rotation

1. Mickey Lolich, 1963-75: 207 W, 39 SHO, ERA-plus 105

2. Jack Morris, 1977-90: 200 W, 24 SHO, ERA-plus 108

3. Frank Lary, 1954-64: 123 W, 20 SHO, ERA-plus 116

4. Jim Bunning, 1955-63: 118 W, 16 SHO, ERA-plus 116

5. Denny McLain, 1963-70: 117 W, 26 SHO, ERA-plus 110

Spot Starters: Milt Wilcox (1977-85), Justin Verlander (2005-10)


The Relievers

There are four relievers to mention when looking to name an all-time Tigers team.

Todd Jones leads the Tigers in saves with 235, but has a rather pedestrian ERA-plus of 114 for a reliever.  Mike Henneman has 154 saves and a very respectable ERA-plus of 136.

Both of these closers have inflated WHIP marks of 1.456 and 1.305.  This relates to having runners on base.

The two I am selecting for the team are John Hiller, who pitched in 545 games, had 125 saves, and an ERA-plus of 134 with a 1.268 WHIP, and Willie Hernandez, who appeared in 358 games, had 120 saves, and had an ERA-plus of 135.

There is certainly room for interpretation here in the choice, but I feel confident with the latter two, Hiller and Hernandez.


The All-time Rotation and staff

1. Hal Newhouser

2. Tommy Bridges

3. Mickey Lolich

4. Jack Morris

5. Dizzy Trout

Spot Starters: George Mullin, Bill Donovan, Schoolboy Rowe, Denny McLain

Relievers: Willie Hernandez, John Hiller


In Conclusion

If you’re a fan of Virgil Trucks, Jim Bunning, or Frank Lary, they could certainly go in the spot starter group in place of those listed.  The team is deep at this level of pitching.

Throughout the team history, success has depended on the combination of strong position players and sturdy pitching.  When the two came together, the team surged to success.

With a couple of breaks here and there, this rotation could be touting four of its pitchers as members of the Hall of Fame.  Bridges and Lolich have strong cases, and Jack Morris is still up for election.

The Tigers have a full-flavor history.  The pitchers are no exception.  Each one of these starters has a great story behind them.

It is my wish that Tiger fans understand and embrace their team history and the formula for future success that is so clearly laid down in their history.

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The Cleveland Indians All-Time Starting Rotation

The Cleveland Indians All-Time Starting Rotation

There is an ultimate fantasy league starting up, and it falls to you to pick the all-time rotation for the Cleveland Indians.  You can select pitchers from any era of the team since its beginning in 1901.  Who would you pick?  How would they fare against the best of other teams selecting their fantasy all-time rotations?

Here are the guidelines.  First, your starting pitchers need to have logged 1000 innings for the Indians to be considered eligible for this team.  Secondly, any relievers selected must have appeared in 250 games to make the team.  The pitchers will be only as effective as they were for the Indians, if they pitched for other teams.  Their performance in the fantasy league will follow how they pitched for the Indians alone, not their whole careers.

The Early Years –

Cleveland had baseball before the inception of the American league in 1901.  The team of the mid 1890s had been one of the best and won an early version of the world Series, the Temple Cup in 1895.  They had featured Cy Young as their ace pitcher.  But the team was contracted by the National league, and no replacement had been planned.

Ban Johnson, the president of the newly forming American league,  jumped on the opportunity to place a team in Cleveland.  He moved his Western league Grand Rapids team to Cleveland in 1900 and called them the Lake Shores.  They played in the same place the old Blues and Spiders had played, League Park.

For the opening of the new major league in 1901, the team borrowed the nickname from the National league team, the Blues.  (This was short from the official name of “Bluebirds”, and for their all-blue uniforms.)

The players, not too keen on being called the Bluebirds, opted for the Broncos for the next year.  That is when fortune smiled on the Cleveland franchise, as Napolean Lajoie was being forced to play outside the state of Pennsylvania, and landed with Cleveland.  In a poll, the fans voted to call the team the Naps, after their new star.

When Lajoie left the team after the 1914 season, the fans again voted and arrived on the name we know today, the Indians.

Napolean Lajoie was not the only star of the team that first decade.  Addie Joss was establishing himself as one of the top pitchers in the new league.  (These would have included Cy Young, Rube Waddell, Eddie Plank, Ed Walsh, and Addie Joss.)  Joss was an exquisite pitcher, winning 20 games four years in a row beginning in 1905, and establishing the second lowest career ERA (1.89)in baseball history.

He developed a form of meningitis which ended his career quickly and all too soon.  Joss died in 1911 at the age of 31.  Players from around the league came together to play an exhibition game to raise money for his family.  This was kind of a first all-star game, but it was done against the wishes of the league president.  The players went ahead with the game, and the president recanted his threats.

By the late teens, the team traded for new player/ manager Tris Speaker and pitchers Stan Coveleski and Jim Bagby.  The fortunes of the team began to turn around with the new leadership, and by 1920 the Indians had won their first pennant, edging out the White Sox and the Yankees.  They proceeded to win the World Series against the Brooklyn Robins, 4-2.

Stan Coveleski was the pitching star of the series, winning three complete games.  He was known for his pinpoint control and his spitball.  He was one of 17 pitchers allowed to continue to throw the pitch after it was outlawed.

The Indians didn’t win another pennant until 1948.  But their teams were usually pretty good, around .500 or better most seasons. They had a fine starting staff in the 30’s.

When Mel Harder came up to the major league team he wasn’t yet 20-years-old. He pitched is entire 20 year career with the Indians before becoming one of baseball’s most revered pitching coaches for another 20 years.

Harder won 20 games twice and pitched in four all-star games.  He is the only pitcher to have logged more than ten innings and never have allowed an earned run in all-star game history.  Harder was also a fine fielder and led the league in put outs four times.

As a pitching coach (1949-1963) he was responsible for working with the Indians’ great pitchers, Bob Lemon, Mike Garcia, Early Wynn, Herb Score, Sam McDowell, Luis Tiant and Tommy John.  He is truly a Cleveland legend.

The leading pitcher of the early 30’s for the Indians was Wes Ferrell. He won 20 games four consecutive years (1929-’32) before being traded to the Red Sox and winning 20 two more times.

Before the team could get through the summer of 1936, a 17-year-old corn fed farm boy was toeing the rubber for the Indians.  Rapid Robert Feller was turning scouts and player’s heads watching his fastball whiz by.  The Indians let him pitch 62 innings that first summer. 

By ’37 he was a sensation, striking out over a batter an inning – something no pitcher had ever done in the history of the game – not Rube Waddell, not Walter Johnson, or Smokey Joe Wood. 

By 1938, he led the league for the first time in strike outs with 240.  He led the league in Ks for his first seven full seasons he pitched.  Before his peak was over, he had led the American league in every important statistic – Wins five times, ERA, shutouts four times, complete games three times, innings pitched five times, WHIP twice, H/9 three times, K/9 four times, and K/BB.

After the ’41 season he left baseball to fight in WWII.  He left most of four seasons without hardly playing, which would be right at what should have been his peak.  In later interviews he has stated he had no regrets, knowing he did what was most important, and said the life lessons he gained made him the player he was later.

We’ll never know what could have been baseball-wise, but Bob Feller will always be an American hero for his contribution to the war.

In 1946, his first full season after the war, he began making up for lost time, seemingly. He completed 36 games while pitching 371 innings, winning 26 games, and pitching 10 shutouts.  He finished with 348 strike outs, one short of the single season record of Rube Waddell’s, set in 1904

By the end of the next season, though he began to lose the zip on his fastball, and had to find other ways to get batters out.

In 1948, with the addition of Bob Lemon to the staff, the Indians won the pennant and World Series, only their second title.

The Early Year’s Rotation –

1 – Bob Feller – 1936-1956 – 266W; 44 SHO; ERA+ 122

2 – Mel Harder – 1928-1947 – 223W; 25 SHO; ERA+ 113

3 – Stan Coveleski – 1916-1924 – 172W; 31 SHO; ERA+ 129

4 – Addie Joss – 1902-1910 – 160W; 45 SHO; ERA+ 145

5 – Wes Ferrell – 1927-1933 – 102W; 8 SHO; ERA+ 127


In 1949 Mel Harder came on as pitching coach, and the team switched into high gear.  The team added a young Early Wynn and Mike Garcia to the starting staff.  Few teams have boasted a starting rotation like the one the Indians possessed for the next several years.  Feller, Lemon, Wynn and Garcia are one of the great starting staffs in baseball history.

From 1950-1955 the team won 92 or more games each season.  They set an American league record in 1954 with 111 wins.  Only the Yankees dynasty at its peak kept them from winning multiple pennants.

In 1955 the Indians brought up an incredibly talented rookie, named Herb Score.  He possessed a blazing fastball and a drop off the table curve.  His stuff was like none had seen since a young Bob Feller some 20 years before. 

Score won the rookie of the year award in ’55 and followed it up with a 20 win season in ’56, but then ran into arm trouble, and never was able to compile a complete season again.  He finished his career with 55 wins.

Early Wynn came home in ’63 to win his 300th game.  It was a nice gesture by the club to give him that opportunity.  Wynn was a battler on the mound.  He found a way to win games.  He had a good fastball as a younger pitcher, but later relied more on guile.  He once said he would brush back his grandmother if she came to the plate.

He won 20 games five times for the Indians, and had more strike outs than any other pitcher during the 50s.  He was traded to the White Sox after a ’57 season that seemed to signal his decline.  However, he wasn’t finished, and led the ’59 Go-go Sox to the pennant in ’59.

The Indians were not finished producing great pitchers.  During the 1960s Sam McDowell and Luis Tiant mowed down batters at alarming rates.  “Sudden Sam” McDowell became one of the great strike out artists in baseball history, twice topping 300 Ks in a season.  In ’68 Tiant won 20 games, posted an ERA of 1.60 and allowed only 152 hits in 277 innings!

The Indians traded McDowell for Gaylord Perry in the early 70s.  Spit balling Perry pitched a huge  amount of innings over the next three and one half seasons for the Indians during his considerable peak.  But the team was heading into a prolonged funk.

Not until 1993 did the Indians show any signs of life.  They even became the subject of the humorous movie series “Major League”.

During the mid to late 90s the Indians hopes were resurrected and they built a new park – Jacobs Field.  They boasted one of the most potent offenses in baseball history with stars like Roberto Alomar, Albert Belle, Manny Ramirez, Jim Thome, catcher Sandy Alomar, center fielder Kenny Lofton, and defensive whiz Omar Vizquel at shortstop.

Their pitching was not so dominant however, but allowed for team success.  They featured the rebuilt arm of Orel Hershiser , Charles Nagy and later Bartolo Colon.

Since appearing in the World Series twice in the 90s, the Indians have had intermittent success.  Their last run fell just short of the World Series in 2007, behind CC Sabathia.

The Modern Rotation –

1 – Bob Lemon – 1946-’58 – 207W; 31 SHO; ERA+ 119

2 – Early Wynn – 1949-’57, ’63 – 164W; 24 SHO; ERA+ 119

3 – Mike Garcia – 1948-’59 – 142W; 27 SHO; ERA+ 118

4 – Sam McDowell – 1961-’71 – 122W; 22 SHO; ERA+ 119

5 – CC Sabathia – 2001-’08 – 106W; 7 SHO; ERA+ 115

The spot starters – Luis Tiant – ’64-’69, Gaylord Perry – ’72-’75, Bartolo Colon – ’97-‘02

The Relievers – Bob Wickham – ’00-’06 – 255 games; 139 saves; ERA+ 138

                             Doug Jones – ’86-’98 – 295 games; 129 saves; ERA+ 137

                             Set-up – Eric Plunk – 373 games; 26 saves; ERA+ 141

This is not a particularly strong relieving corps.  It’s passable, but probably belies the attitude of the team towards relief pitching throughout its modern history – just get somebody to fill the role.

The All-Time Starting Rotation and Staff –

1 – Bob Feller – 266W; 44 SHO; ERA+ 122

2 – Addie Joss – 160W; 45 SHO; ERA+ 142

3 – Stan Coveleski – 172W; 31 SHO; ERA+ 129

4 – Bob Lemon – 207W; 31 SHO; ERA+ 119

5 – Early Wynn – 164W; 24 SHO; ERA+ 119

Spot Starters – Mike Garcia, Sam McDowell, Mel Harder

Relievers – Bob Wickman, Doug Jones, Eric Plunk

In Conclusion –

The Indians have a rich history of pitching from 1901-1975.  The rotation includes interesting and very effective pitchers from each represented era.  They are all Hall of Fame pitchers. There aren’t many 300 game winners filling in as fifth starters! 

For two generations Mel Harder’s career was intertwined with the Cleveland Indians.  It was toward the end of this time that I felt the team had found a self identity, and a sense of striving for excellence.  He deserves a lifetime achievement award for his contributions to this team.

The Indians need to recommit to their roots of fine pitching in order to reach again the heights the team knew in the 50’s.  The model today is to accomplish this from within.  The team is not without talented players.  Much could be accomplished in a short time with the right teachers and focus.

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Tony Mullane: “Apollo Of The Box” Makes Reds HOF

This weekend, the Cincinnati Reds will be inducting three former players to the Reds Hall of Fame—Pedro Borbon, Chris Sabo, and Tony Mullane. I am familiar with both Borbon and Sabo, and enjoyed watching them play.

But the player that is most intriguing to me is 19th century legend Tony Mullane. Mullane was known for a few things in his career. First, he was able to pitch with both hands. He was probably the most successful ambidextrous pitcher of his time. Sometimes he would throw with both hands in the same inning, making the batter guess which way it was coming!

Mullane pitched for a few different teams.  He started with Detroit, then went to Louisville, and thirdly signed with the St. Louis Browns. In 1882, his second year in a majors, Mullane began a series of seasons where he won 30 games. 

After his first year in St. Louis, he wanted to change teams, but was blocked by the Browns because of the reserve clause.  The reserve clause in those days was so strong, that the players were virtually the property of the teams they signed with unless they were traded or sold. 

After much threatening by the Browns and the league Mullane relented from signing with another team, expecting to pitch for St. Louis the next year, but the Browns decided to ship him off to Toledo, and expansion team.  He again was a 30 game winner. 

After his season in Toledo, the team folded and he determined to sign with the Reds in Cincinnati.  This time when the Browns , still claiming him, blocked this, he didn’t back down.

The league decided to force him to sit out one full season before he could play for Cincinnati—he did, and started pitching for the Reds in 1886.  He won 30 games two more years after the hiatus, making five seasons in a row where he won 30 games or more. 

Mullane and Cincinnati hit it off.  He pitched there from 1886-1892, gaining quite a reputation as their lead pitcher.  In 1890 when the team transferred to the National League, he went with them.

Tony Mullane ended up with 284 wins in his career. 

In 1890, the players, who were fed up with the reserve clause, made their own league.  Many of the best players stood against the National League and instead, played in the Player’s league.

In a way,  Mullane was ahead of the time, standing up against the oppressive reserve clause and its applications.  He most surely would have won a good amount of games if he had played the year he was forced to sit out. (He very probably could have added a 30 win season to his resume, the suspension coming in the midst of five consecutive 30 win campaigns.) But he did what made him happy, signing in Cincinnati, where he wanted to play.

I applaud the Cincinnati Reds for finding the story about Tony Mullane and now adding him to their Hall of Fame.  He is truly a Cincinnati legend.

Scores of women fans would flock to the games when he pitched because of his good looks!  He gained the nickname, “the Apollo of the Box,” (pitchers pitched from a marked area, called the box, instead of the mound we have today).  He became a very popular figure in Cincinnati.

Recently,  the 19th century committee of SABR held their election for the overlooked legend from the 19th century for this year.  There were several candidates, including Mullane. We were to list them in order of priority #1-#5.  He got my #1 vote.  The winner will be announced at the 40th Society for the Advancement of Baseball Research conference in Atlanta August 5-8.

To me, I don’t understand why the man is not already in the baseball HOF.  Every pitcher who has won 300 games is in the hall.  The founder of the Player’s League, John Montgomery Ward, who never won 300 games  is in the HOF.  Mullane is not in because he did not win 300 games.  But he should have.  He stood up against an oppressive system, and has been punished for it?

I think it is time the Veteran’s Committee righted this wrong, and voted him into the baseball HOF, as he should be.

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The Chicago White Sox All-Time Starting Rotation

The Chicago White Sox All-time Starting Rotation

Imagine you are the lucky individual chosen to select the Chicago White Sox all-time starting rotation for a special fantasy league. 

Your rotation would then have to face off against every other team’s rotation to determine a champion.  Whom would you select?  Who would back up your top five starters and close out games?

The rules are simple.  You may select anyone from the entire history of the White Sox.  Starters need to have pitched 1,000 innings for your team.  Relievers chosen need to have logged 250 games for the White Sox.


The origins of the team

Chicago already had a rich baseball history before the founding of the American League White Sox.  Al Spalding and Cap Anson had acted as owner and player/manager for the history rich White Stockings of the National League. 

They had won consecutive titles back in the 1880s before Spalding had sold or traded all the star players away for going out for a “pint” after the game.

The NL Chicago team seemed to have abandoned the White Stockings name by the 1890s, going by the “Colts” and “Orphans” before landing on the “Cubs” by 1903.

The White Sox original team came from the Western League, a minor league, and more specifically a team which Charles Comiskey had bought and moved to St. Paul. 

When the NL gave the new American League permission to put a team in Chicago in 1900, Comiskey moved his St. Paul team to the near south side of the city and named them the White Stockings, taking the old name from the then-named Orphans.

The White Stockings won the Western League title in 1900, and the following year, the American League withdrew from the national charter for minor leagues and called themselves a major league, with Ban Johnson as the president, (a friend of Charles Comiskey from his days as manger of the Cincinnati Reds.)

Ban Johnson and Charles Comiskey were clearly the major driving forces of the newly formed league.

Comiskey brought in some players to give the new team a successful debut.  His lead pitcher was Clark Griffith (later owner of the Washington Senators), and long time friend and premier centerfielder of the 19th century, deaf lead-off hitter, Dummy Hoy. 

Comiskey had been involved with the initial use of signs for Hoy when he played for him in St. Louis and Cincinnati, signaling balls and strikes with the right and left hands. 

I’m sure Comiskey was also involved getting signs used for Hoy when he ran the bases as well. 

Now Comiskey had convinced Hoy, at the disbanding of the Louisville team in 1899, not to go with Honus Wagner, Fred Clarke, Tommy Leach, and Rube Waddell to Pittsbugh, but to come help him inaugurate the new American League in Chicago.

Hoy led off for the new White Sox, leading the league in BB, and the team in 2B, and OPS and OPS+ with a .407 OBP. 

Griffith did his part, winning 24 games, and the White Sox were the initial champions of the American League!  Next to Hoy in RF was rookie Fielder Jones.

Over the next few years the team developed a strong defensive attitude and rallied behind the pitching of Ed Walsh, Doc White and Nick Altrock. 

By 1906, the team surprised the baseball world by winning the World Series, defeating the juggernaut Cubs from across town for the title. 

The team was known as the “No-hit Sox,” as the top batter hit .279 and they were led by Fielder Jones’ 2 HRs!

In 1910, Comiskey Park was built.  They had consulted with leading pitcher Ed Walsh in designing the stadium, and it became known as one of the great pitching havens in baseball lore. 

Walsh had pitched the peak of his career before the stadium was built.  He was a spit ball artist of the highest level. 

Batters had complained that his spitball would just disappear at the plate.  Ed Walsh was so adept at preventing runs that he established the lowest career ERA (1.82) in the history of modern baseball.

Just as Walsh’s career was winding down, the White Sox developed star players Eddie Collins and Shoeless Joe Jackson, and pitching star Eddie Ciccotte.

The White Sox won the pennant and World Series in 1917 behind the pitching of Ciccotte, Red Faber, and Reb Russell.

The White Sox again won the pennant in 1919 and were favored to win the World Series against the upstart Cincinnati Reds. 

This is when “the fix’ is to have been made, throwing the series to the Reds, and forever marring the team as “the Black Sox.” 

Eight players, including stars Ciccotte and Jackson, were given lifetime bans from the game by newly appointed commissioner Landis by the end of the following season.

Landis was determined to get the game “clean.”  There was no wavering in his decisions.  This put an end to a potential HOF career by Eddie Ciccotte. 

His credentials are actually strong enough for HOF consideration, having won 209 games.  But he is ineligible because of this somewhat self-induced tragedy.

The Sox were not the same after the scandal. Whether from guilt or just a lack of the right players, they rarely produced even .500 baseball for the next two decades. 

The team had stars like Luke Appling and pitcher Ted Lyons, but not much success to go along with them.

Ted Lyons became a local hero of sorts, pitching seemingly forever…the last few seasons only on Sundays! 

He was able to stretch out his long career, garnering success as a once-a-week starting pitcher through 1942.  He ended up with 260 wins and a place at Cooperstown for his efforts.


The Early Rotation –

1 – Ed Walsh – 1904-1916 – 195W; 57 SHO; ERA+ 147 – the master of the spitball shut down opposing teams with remarkable efficiency for six incredible years.

2 – Red Faber – 1914-1933 – 254W; 29 SHO; ERA+ 119 – Faber also featured the spitball and was one of 17 pitchers “grandfathered” in to allow him to continue to throw it after the rules changed.  He remained remarkably successful throughout the 20s, pitching his entire career for the White Sox, and is in the HOF.

3 – Ted Lyons – 1923-1946 – 260W; 27 WHO; ERA+ 118 – another career White Sox pitcher, Lyons won 20 games three times.  Later in his career, manager Jimmy Dykes decided to pitch Lyons only on Sunday afternoons.  He gained the nickname “Sunday Teddy” and was very popular among the Chicago faithful.  Lyons pitched his way into the hearts of the HOF voters as well.

4 – Doc White – 1903-1913 – 159W; 42 SHO; ERA+ 114 – White was a slow ball specialist who led the league in ERA (1.56) in ’06 and wins (27) in ’07.  He held the scoreless-inning streak record until broken by Don Drysdale in 1968!  His 42 SHO are something to write home about as well.

5 – Ed Ciccotte – 1912-1920 – 156W; 28 SHO; ERA+ 133 Ciccotte was a battler on the mound.  He was widely successful until derailing in the 1919 postseason.

Spot Starters – Reb Russell, Thornton Lee (1940s – 104W)


Renewed success

When motivational manager Paul Richards took over the team in the early ’50s, things began to change.  Richards was highly into player development, especially developing young pitchers and young defensive experts.

Richards groomed young Billy Pierce, who the Tigers had cast off, and by ’53 had developed the next White Sox ace. 

The dominant team in the league, the Yankees featured a young Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra, and their young ace Whitey Ford.  It was the most powerful team baseball had seen since the Yankees and Tigers of the 30s.

The other leading team of the day was the Cleveland Indians with their incredible pitching staff, featuring Bob Lemon, Bob Feller, Mike Garcia, and Early Wynn.  The Indians set an American league record for wins in ’54 with 111.

But the White Sox had their own mojo.  The team and their fans seemed to have an insatiable drive to win each year.  They brought in Latin American favorites and stars Minnie Minoso and shortstop Luis Aparicio.  They teamed up with defensive whiz Nellie Fox to make a great up the middle defense for the team. 

Paul Richards and new manager Al Lopez were the architects of this pitching and defensive oriented team.  They became known as the “Go-go Sox” in the late 50s for their base stealing as well. 

From ’55-’60 the rivalry between the White Sox and the Yankees grew very intense.  Both teams would hold back their best pitcher to face the other team.

Billy Pierce became the face of White Sox for these rivalries.  He faced down the Yankees 42 times during those years and came away with a 21-21 record.

He pitched many low scoring gems, leaving without a win.  Sportswriters marveled how he could pitch on even terms against the far superior offense the Yankees possessed.

Particularly, his duels with Whitey Ford were legendary.  He came away with a 15-15 record against Ford which was finally broken by shutting out the Yankees and Ford in Game 5 of the 1962 World Series, while pitching for the Giants.

The White Sox brought in Early Wynn, who won 20 games for the ’59 season.  Things started to break the right way for the Sox that year, and they won the pennant for the first time since the 1919 scandal. 

They featured running, pitching and defense against the LA Dodgers who had surprised the NL as well that year.

The White Sox won two games in the series, but strangely, manager Al Lopez failed to start Billy Pierce even once in the series. 

This was the pitcher who had been tested in the fire of facing big game after big game, and had won the game that put the Sox in first place for good in August of that year.  But Lopez refused to start Pierce, and his teammates remained quiet.

The next several seasons witnessed some more great pitching in Comiskey Park.  The team often led the league in ERA, but just couldn’t score enough runs to top the Yankees.  In 1964, they won 98 games but fell short by one game!

New star pitchers came along, giving the fans hope of future success.  Gary Peters won two ERA crowns and a rookie of the year award in ’63.  Joe Horlen won the ERA title in ’67, and Tommy John was putting up great stats as well. 

If your team wasn’t shut down by Peters, Horlen, or John, then you had to face one of the stingiest bullpens ever assembled, with the likes of Hoyt Wilhelm, Ed McMahon, Eddie Fisher, and Bob Locker.

Wilbur Wood came along just as the rest of the team was starting to fade back to mediocrity.

Since the Sixties, the White Sox have featured pitchers like Jack McDowell (not Sam), and more recently their sometimes ace, Mark Buehrle.

The team finally won a World Series, breaking their long drought one year after the Red Sox broke their alleged curse in 2004! 

In 2005, they hired Venezuelan=born manager Ozzie Guillen.  Guillen wanted to emphasize, of all things, pitching and defense, and the ability to move the runner along the bases without the reliance on the home run.  This became known as “small ball.”

The baseball gods must have been smiling at the throwback to the “Go-go Sox” style of play and reliance now on Latin leadership for the team.

The White Sox dominated baseball as the best team for most of the year with their pitching and defense which could win 6-5 or 1-0 just as comfortably.

Mark Buehrle, Jon Garland, Jose Contreras, Freddy Garcia, and Orlando Hernandez won 72 games and were supported by a deep and versatile bullpen. 

It was a gritty, diverse, and motivated team.  They were led on the field by hard-nosed catcher AJ Pierzynski, offensive sources Paul Konerko and Jermaine Dye, speedy Scott Podsednik, and defensive standouts Tadahito Iguchi at 2B, and Aaron Rowand in CF.


The Modern Rotation –

1 – Billy Pierce – 1949-1961 – 186W; 35 SHO; ERA+ 123 – Billy “The Kid” Pierce was slight of build, but big of heart.  He was twice pitcher of the year (’56, ’57), and started 3 All-Star games for the AL.  He was the face of the Yankees – White Sox rivalry of the 1950s, and his size bespoke of the “David vs. Goliath” mentality many White Sox fans held at the time.

2 – Wilbur Wood – 1967-1978 – 163W; 24 SHO; ERA+116 – Wood threw a knuckleball he obviously learned during his days in the Chicago bullpen from Hoyt Wilhelm. It served him well as he moved from White Sox closer to ace in the early 70s, pitching as many as 376 innings, and winning 20 games four times.

3 – Mark Buehrle – 2000-2010 – 141W; 8 SHO; ERA+ 121 – Buehrle has been an important part of the White Sox success this past decade.  He has been a constant presence for the team, and the author of two no-hitters, one a perfect game last year.

4 – Gary Peters – 1959 – 1969 – 91W; 18 SHO; ERA+ 115 – Peters was the ace of the White Sox staff of the middle ’60s.  This was one of the stingiest pitching staffs in history and he won the ERA title twice.

5 – Jack McDowell – 1987-1994 – 91W; 10 SHO; ERA+ 117 – “Black Jack” enjoyed his peak with the White Sox from 1991-’93.  He won the Cy Young award in ’93.

Spot Starters – Joe Horlen, Tommy John, Alex Fernandez


The Relievers –

The top two relievers in White Sox history are Roberto Hernandez – 345 games, 161 saves, and ERA+ 154, and Hoyt Wilhelm – 1.92 ERA, 361 games, 98 saves, and ERA+ 171. 

The White Sox have been rich in relievers throughout their modern history with closers like Bobby Thigpen, Bobby Jenks, and Keith Foulke. Setting up they have had standouts like Eddie Fisher, Bob Locker, and Damaso Marte.


The All-Time White Sox Starting Rotation and Pitching Staff –

1 – Ed Walsh – lowest career ERA in modern baseball history and 57 SHO to boot!

2 – Billy “The Kid” Pierce – 5’ 10 “ and 160 lbs. dripping wet, he was ready for any showdown against any pitcher!

3 – Red Faber – show me that spitter one more time!

4 – Ted Lyons – ages like fine wine – on Sundays only!

5 – Doc White – holder of the scoreless streak record for over 50 years.

Filling in during the week when Lyons can’t make his scheduled start – Eddie Ciccotte – just make sure it isn’t the post season, and your team isn’t favored; Wilbur Wood – just in case your opponent haven’t seen enough junk yet!!  He excelled starting and relieving.

Closers – Roberto Hernandez – led the White Sox resurgence in the early 90s along with Frank Thomas and Jack McDowell.

Hoyt Wilhelm – Hoyt was at his stingiest best while with the White Sox – virtually unhittable! From ’64-’68 his ERAs ranged from 1.31 to 1.99, and his H/9 marks ranged from 5.5-6.6 – unbelievable!  It is no wonder he is the first reliever in the HOF.


In Conclusion

Chicago pitchers must have loved to pitch for the White Sox.  Many of them stayed their whole careers if they could.  Old Comiskey Park was the home to many a pitcher’s duel, whether it was at the hands of Ed Walsh, Doc White, Red Faber, Billy Pierce, against the Yankees, or a gem from modern-day Mark Buehrle.

The White Sox have always been at their best when they emphasized their pitching, defense and “small ball.” 

Today’s deep bullpen of Jenks, Thornton, Putz, and Co. belies the great pens of ’05 and the 60s.  The White Sox certainly have storied pitching careers and exploits to mark the way for the next generation of pitching success.

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The Boston Red Sox All-Time Starting Rotation

The Boston Red Sox All-Time Starting Rotation

Imagine you are responsible for selecting a fantasy starting rotation and pitching staff to represent the Boston Red Sox. Your staff would have to face the fantasy staffs of all the other major league teams. Who would make your rotation? Who would you select for back up and relief roles?

You have access to all pitchers in Boston history, but only how they performed for the Red Sox. Awards and performance for other teams can’t be lumped in to affect selection or performance. Starting pitchers must have pitched 1000 innings to be eligible for the team. Relievers need to have 250 games they appeared in for the team in order to be considered.

The Red Sox, a charter American League club, borrowed their name from the Boston National League team from the 19th century, later to be known as the Braves.  For much of their existence they were known as the Red Stockings. Now this was a name that was borrowed from the original professional team in Cincinnati named the Red Stockings. The owner moved the team from Cincinnati to Boston and decided to keep the name. They were a charter team of the National Association.

The location of the team was originally planned for Buffalo, b ut Ban Johnson, original American League president, decided to move the team to Boston to compete with the National League team.

The name Red Sox, however, wasn’t given to the team until 1908. From the advent of the American League, the team was known as the Americans. Soon after gaining the Red Sox name, a new park was built, and the team has played at Fenway Park since its completion in 1912.

The team won the very first world series in 1903. They won the pennant the next year, but John McGraw refused to play a post season. The teens saw the team win four pennants and World Series, even in 1918 under a reduced schedule. It must have seemed like the team couldn’t lose in the post season!

Instrumental to the team’s early successes was pitching great Cy Young, and a nice staff in the teens of Smokey Joe Wood, Dutch Leonard, and later Carl Mays and Babe Ruth. 

Selling players was not a new activity in baseball, and the Yankees were very acquisitive in the late teens, buying up star players left and right. Red Sox owner Harry Frazee sold Babe Ruth to the Yankees during the off season in 1919 to help finance an off broadway production of the original No, No, Nanette .

Ruth and his power hitting went on to bring about the advent of the live ball era as a hitter, not the pitcher the Red Sox had known.  The twenties and thirties were a down time for the Red Sox. Even after Yawkee bought the team in ’33 and brought in star players (Lefty Grove, Wes Ferrell, Jimmy Foxx and Joe Cronin), the team didn’t see another post season until Ted Willliams came back from the war in ’46.

In fact from 1918 until 1986, the team appeared in three World Series—1946, 1967 and 1975, but narrowly missed bringing home any titles.  Since ’86, the team has appeared in the post season 11 times, winning two World Series titles in 2004 and 2007.

Great pitching has been spread throughout the Boston team history.  Some of the great names in pitching history have taken their turn in Boston.  As in other articles, we will break down the team history into an early rotation, including pitchers up through 1950 or so, and a modern rotation, covering 1950-present.


The Early Rotation 

No. 1 Cy Young, 1901-’08, 192W, ERA+ 147, 38 SHO. Young joined up with the brand new team and league for the 1901 season.  He was already an established pitching star.  He had great success during his first few years in Boston, re-inventing his pitching style to become much more of a control pitcher.  In 1904 he issued only 29 BB in 380 innings!  Young’s greatest features were his ability to produce a high volume of quality work and his longevity.

Young had a couple of down years in Boston, but came back in top form by 1907 and 1908. He moved on to Cleveland in 1909.

No. 2 Smokey Joe Wood, 1908, ’15, 117W, ERA+ 149, 28 SHO. Part of the team’s return to success beginning in 1912 can be attributed to their star pitcher, Joe Wood. Wood was at his dominant best in 1912, winning 34 games while only losing five. He led the league in wins and in shutouts with 10.

By the next season however, he had hurt his arm, and went on with more limited success in a more part time role for the next few years. The level of Wood’s pitching reached such a pinnacle that it was often said to be as dominant as Walter Johnson’s at his peak.

No. 3 Lefty Grove, 1934-41, 105W, ERA+ 143, 15 SHO. Grove Joined the Red Sox for the 1934 season. He had just finished a period beginning in 1927 of unparalleled dominance of the American league. From 1928-1933 he went 142-41. He had been the ace of the Athletics’ pitching staff that had appeared in three consecutive World Series 1929-’31.

Grove had a rough first year in Boston, but found his way to one more 20 win season in ’35.  Although his dominance was in decline, Grove pitched with success for the Red Sox, posting winning seasons until his last year.  In ’37 he seemed to experience some more arm trouble, and beginning in ’38 his innings were cut back to preserve his arm so he could recover between starts.

He pitched until he won his 300th game in the ’41 season.

No. 4 Tex Hughson, 1941-’44, 1946-’49, 96W, ERA+ 125, 19 SHO. Born “Cecil Carlton” Hughson, he became known as Tex because of where he was from, having attended the University of Texas at Austin. He pitched his entire career with the Red Sox in the 1940s.  He was known for his hard fast ball, over hand curve and for brushing hitters back off the plate.

He pitched from ’41-’44 and ’46-’49, winning 20 games twice, and leading the American league in Ks, IP and wins once each. He doubled up in CG (’42, ’43), and in K/BB ratio, (’44,’46). His second twenty win season in ’46 came during the push for the pennant.

No. 5 Dutch Leonard, 1913-1918, 90W; ERA+ 129, 25 SHO. At age 22 in 1914 Leonard in his second year in the major leagues set the modern record for lowest season ERA at 0.96. In addition Leonard pitched well in the post season for Boston in ’15 and ’16. 

After he was traded to Detroit before the 1919 season, Leonard became the pointed target of much abuse from then Tigers manager Ty Cobb. It was a difficult situation with Cobb as manager. Leonard eventually accused Cobb and Speaker of fixing games. When he didn’t show for the hearing (after his life had been threatened if he did), both Cobb and Speaker were cleared.

While with the Red Sox, Leonard was extremely effective.

Honorable mentions: Joe Dobson, 1941-’59, 106W, ERA+ 115, 17 SHO. Babe Ruth, 1914-’19, 89W, ERA+ 125, 17 SHO. Carl Mays, 1915-’19, 72W, ERA+ 124, 14 SHO.


The Modern Rotation

No. 1 Roger Clemens, 1984-’96, 192W, ERA+ 145, 38 SHO. Fortunately for this report and the Red Sox legacy, the time he spent with the Red Sox team can be considered a more normal part of his history, probably not as influenced by Performance Enhancing Drugs as his later years. These are fine numbers indeed he posted for the team, including a Cy Young and MVP performance in ’86.

It is comments made after his great performance that year that begin to establish his rather sketchy reputation as a hot head and selfish player. Hank Aaron had made the comment to the media that he felt that MVP awards should be reserved for everyday players, and not for pitchers. Clemens retorted that he wished Aaron was still playing so he could crack him in the head.

Clemens tied Cy Young for the most team wins with 192, and for the most team shutouts with 38.  His performance in the ’86 World Series was less than spectacular. It is the only time Boston made the World Series during his time on the team.  Three more times the team made the playoffs, but Clemens and the Red Sox were unable win a single game.

After the ’96 season, he hadn’t won more than 11 games in five seasons.  Dan Duquette was probably correct in evaluating that Clemens was in decline (his total of 192 wins at this point has been insufficient enough to keep other pitchers out of the HOF, but his overall success in his career and three Cy Young awards might be enough for him to be considered a HOF pitcher without the rest of his career).

No. 2 Pedro Martinez, 1998-’04, 117W, ERA+ 191, 8 SHO. Pedro Martinez hit Boston baseball right as he was peaking as one of—if not the —premiere pitchers in either league.  Martinez managed to lead the league in wins one time, but gathered five ERA titles and three Cy Young awards along the way.

He attacked the strike zone with abandon. He used an assortment of fast balls, and breaking pitches with different arm angles, while maintaining pinpoint control. He had great torque and movement on his pitches.

Pedro’s postseason record is good if not great. He is 6-4 with a 3.64 ERA. His other peripheral numbers are close to his season levels.

No. 3 Mel Parnell, 1947-’56, 123W, ERA+ 125, 20 SHO. Parnell is the premiere lefty in Boston history, (followed closely by Dutch Leonard). He pitched his entire ten year career for the Red Sox, and posted two 20 win seasons, winning 25 in ’49. Overall he had five very fine years for the team.

After his career was cut short by a torn muscle in his pitching arm, he went into broadcasting for the team. Many of his calls for the ’67 miracle team are part of Red Sox lore and he is a member of the Red Sox Hall of Fame.

No. 4 Luis Tiant, 1971-’78, 122W, ERA+ 119, 26 SHO. The Red Sox took a chance on Luis Tiant when they hired him in 1971. He had suffered a broken leg the year before while pitching for the Twins. To the Red Sox credit, they stuck with him after a dismal first year when he won only one game for the team!

By the next year he was magic, having reinvented his delivery and style of pitching. Now he was no more the flame thrower from the 1960s, but a crafty and determined foe to all opposing hitters, with a variety of breaking pitches. His new delivery involved turning away from the batter, and then a complete turn of his body toward the plate.

Tiant won the ERA title in ’72 and had the league’s lowest WHIP in ’73. He was also a postseason hero in ’75, shutting down the A’s in the playoffs and winning two games against the Reds in the World Series.

No. 5 Tim Wakefield, 1995-’10, 177W, ERA+ 109, 3 SHO. Knuckleballer Tim Wakefield has worked both as a starter and reliever for the team. His contributions have been long and consistent. He has been invaluable filling in as both starter and reliever as the team has needed.


A Unique Development

Boston has helped define the role of the spot starter. Throughout their modern history they have had several pitchers successfully move in and out of starting and relieving roles. Mel Parnell, Bob Stanley, Ellis Kinder, Derek Lowe and Tim Wakefield have all been successful as spot starters for the Red Sox, and deserve recognition for their success.


The Relievers

Jonathan Papelbon, 2005-’10, 299 games, 168 save, ERA+ 229.

Dick Radatz, 1962-’66, 286 games, 104 saves, ERA+ 147.

These two relievers kind of act as bookends for the relief pitching history of the Red Sox.  Papelbon is the current reigning closer, and one of the best in the majors today. Radatz stormed MLB in 1962, leading the league in saves. On top of his save totals, he won 49 games pitching only as a reliever from ’62-’65. Within two years his career was over, but he was incredible while it lasted!


The Combined All-Time Rotation

No. 1 Cy Young , 1901-’08, 192W, ERA+ 147, 38 SHO.

No. 2 Roger Clemens , 1984-’96, 192W, ERA+ 145, 38 SHO.

No. 3 Lefty Grove , 1934-’41, 105W, ERA+ 143, 15 SHO.

No. 4 Pedro Martinez , 1998-’04, 117W ERA+ 191, 8 SHO.

No. 5 Smokey Joe Wood , 1908-’15, 117W, ERA+ 149, 28 SHO.

Spot Starters – Dutch Leonard, Tex Hughson, Luis Tiant, Mel Parnell

Relievers – Jonathan Papelbon, Dick Radatz


In Conclusion

Much like the history of the team as a whole, the history of Red Sox pitching is full of colorful characters and great performances. I think what is unique in review is how each great pitcher the team has had only gave part of their career to Red Sox history. Cy Young was there for the later part of his career, as was Lefty Grove and Luis Tiant. 

Pedro Martinez and Roger Clemens each had significant peaks for the Red Sox, but went on to pitch elsewhere, essentially being let go by the team. Babe Ruth, Dutch Leonard and Carl Mays were traded away during a controversial period in the team’s history.

Smokey Joe Wood, Mel Parnell, Tex Hughson and Dick Radatz all had careers shortened by injury.

All in all this is a rotation of great distinction, almost unmatched in performance and name recognition among any teams studied thus far.  Even the spot starters provide a group of pitchers rich in big game savvy and determination.

Boston fans can be thankful for so many great pitching memories to cherish, and look forward to more as the team continues its successful ways supplied by their rich farm system.

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