Brooklyn Ace Fashioned a Dazzling Career, Finally

DazzyVanceFree1By Glen Sparks

Charles Arthur “Dazzy” Vance pounded his right arm on a poker table and went to the doctor. From there, he won nearly 200 games and earned a spot in Baseball’s Hall of Fame.

The 6-foot-2-inch right-hander fooled batters with a lively fastball and a sharp curve. He led the National League in strikeouts seven straight seasons, still the only pitcher to accomplish that feat. The Iowa native,  born March 4, 1891, in little Orient, Iowa, also topped the league in strikeout/walk ratio eight times and in WHIP three times.

The great Casey Stengel, a middling outfielder before he became a legendary manager, once said, “I hit against Dazzy when I was with the Giants from 1921 to 1923, and I can say he was a great one.”

Talk about peaking late, though. Vance put together his best seasons from ages 31-39 after struggling early in his career. He went 0-4 with a 4.91 ERA in 33 innings during parts of two seasons (1915 and 1918) with the Pittsburgh Pirates and New York Yankees (at ages 24 and 27, respectively). From 1919-21, he went into exile in the minors.

The problem, at least in part, was that he couldn’t stay healthy. His arm always hurt. Luckily for Vance, smacking that poker table turned a chronic pain an excruciating one. He sorely needed medical attention.  Whatever the doctor did, it worked. Vance hoped for one last chance in the Major Leagues.

Finally, the Brooklyn Robins, the forerunner of the Dodgers, purchased Vance’s contract from the New Orleans Pelicans in 1922. He responded by winning 18 games in each of the next two seasons for Brooklyn.

That led up to 1924. The pitcher, with a big smile and a shock of wavy red hair that he hid underneath his cap, won the MVP award that season. Besides compiling a career-high 262 strikeouts, he went 28-6 with a 2.16 ERA (174 ERA+) and a WAR of 10.4.

Vance flat-out dominated National League hitters. Burleigh Grimes and Dolph Luque, finished second and third, respectively, in strikeouts that season. They fanned 221 batters combined, or 41 fewer than Vance. (Trivia: What did Vance win for being named Most Valuable Player? The answer is at the end of the article.)

The Dodgers’ ace threw a no-hitter in ’25 and went 22-9. He finished first in ERA in 1928 (2.09) and again in 1930 (2.61) at the age of 39. Following a 12-11 season in 1932, Vance left Brooklyn for the St. Louis Cardinals and then the Cincinnati Reds. He returned to Brooklyn for one more season, 1935, before calling it quits with a career won-loss mark of 197-140 and a 3.24 ERA (125 ERA+).

Sabermatrician Bill James rated Vance the 35th best pitcher of all-time in the 2003 paperback edition of his Historical Baseball Abstract, just ahead of Bert Blyleven and Hal Newhouser. Baseball writers elected Vance to Cooperstown in 1955. The Hall of Famer died Feb. 16, 1961, in Florida. He was 69.

(How did Vance get the nickname of “Dazzy”? One story is that people said he threw a “dazzling” fastball as a semi-pro pitcher in Nebraska.)

Vance won $1,000 in gold coins for being MVP.

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One comment

  1. Pingback: Happy (Belated) Birthday, Dazzy Vance « Dazzy Vance Chronicles

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