By Glen Sparks
There was a time when pitchers didn’t think much about winning 40 games in one season. That time was the Gilded Age.
Between 1877 and 1908, big-league pitchers won at least 40 games in one season 37 times. A few pitchers, such as Charles “Old Hoss” Radbourn, James “Pud” Galvin and Will White, did it more than once. Radbourn set the single-season mark with 59 wins for the Providence Greys in 1884. No pitcher has hit the 40-win mark since Ed Walsh compiled a sterling 40-15 record for the 1908 White Sox.
The Tigers’ Denny McLain was the last pitcher to win at least 30 games in one season. He went 31-6 in 1968. (Who are the biggest single-season winners in baseball since 1968?) The last National League pitcher to win 30 games was Dizzy Dean, for the 1934 Cardinals.
Since 2000, pitchers have reached 20 victories in a season 23 times. The Dodgers’ Clayton Kershaw and the Cardinals’ Adam Wainwright have done it in 2014. (The Reds’ Johnny Cueto has 19 wins and may have one more start this season. Dazzy Vance update: Cueto did indeed get another start, and he was as good as usual. He finished the season 20-9. Congrats, Johnny, one of baseball’s top pitchers.)
By Glen Sparks
Will White sported a walrus mustache and a rubber arm. He started 75 games for the Cincinnati Reds in 1879 and completed every one of them. Not only did this 5-foot-10-inch right-hander set the all-time single-season marks for starts and complete games, he also established records for innings pitched (680) and batters faced (2,906).
White didn’t need any bullpen help the season before that, either. The Caton, N.Y., native finished all 52 of his starts in the 1878 campaign. “Whoop-la” White, one of the few bespectacled players from his day, enjoyed a 10-year career in major league baseball and finished with a 229-166 won-loss record. In his 401 starts for the Reds, the Boston Red Caps, the Detroit Wolverines and the Cincinnati Red Stockings, White went the distance in all but seven.
The numbers that White put up certainly seem astonishing, especially in the modern era. In 2013, pitchers completed only 2.6 percent of their starts. Many hurlers struggle to throw 200 innings in one season, let alone the unreachable mark of 680. (The Phillies’ Steve Carlton was the last major league pitcher to throw at least 300 innings in one season, 304 in 1980.) We’re watching baseball during the time of five-man rotations, relief specialists and Tommy John surgeries.
Managers in the early days of baseball did not like to make that call to the bullpen. How can we put White’s numbers into perspective? Finding pre-1900 baseball statistics is tricky, but, according to the 2007 edition of Baseball Prospectus, pitchers completed 87.6 percent of their starts in 1904, one generation after White’s time. By 1914, that number had dropped to 55 percent and by 1964 to 24.5.
No pitcher has completed 30 games in one season since Catfish Hunter did it in 1975 for the New York Yankees. Fernando Valenzuela was the last to throw 20, for the 1986 Los Angeles Dodgers. Cy Young ranks first all-time with 749 complete games.
All those innings and complete games eventually caught up with White. His arm finally sore, he retired after going just 1-2 in 1886. He left the game to run an optical supply company with his brother, Deacon, in Buffalo, N.Y. On Aug. 31, 1911, White suffered a heart attack and drown near his summer home in Port Carling, Ont. He was 56.
By Glen Sparks
Thank you for stopping by. I hope you enjoy this introductory post and many more after that.
I call this blog the Dazzy Vance Chronicles. Vance was a hard-throwing, late-blooming ace for the Brooklyn Robins, a.k.a. the Dodgers. A Midwest guy, he could probably thank a painful night of poker playing for getting his Hall of Fame career going. (You’ll be able to read more about Vance in an upcoming post.)
Really, the blog might more aptly be titled the Will White Chronicles. White, who completed almost every game he started, inspired this Internet exercise. Does it fascinate you as much as it does me that pitchers from yesteryear like White, Walter Johnson and Cy Young threw so many innings and so many complete games? After reading about White and his pitching prowess (75 complete games in one season. Yes, that’s a record, and a very safe one.), I decided to write a blog that focuses on bygone baseball. (Like Vance, you can read about White in a future post.)
How did I settle on Dazzy Vance Chronicles as the blog’s title? Well, Charles Arthur Vance did have a pretty cool nickname, didn’t he? Beyond that, I wanted to name the blog after an old-time player. Will White just seemed too obscure. He pitched in an era not long after the Civil War had ended.
The Lou Gehrig Chronicles would have been too easy. Gehrig was a superstar of the first order, like Ty Cobb and Babe Ruth. Better to go down one notch. Dazzy Vance seemed just right, a better choice than Walter “Rabbit” Maranville or George “High Pockets” Kelly. And, OK, I am a lifelong Dodger fan, so there was that, too.