“Mark my words a man will land on the moon before Gaylord Perry hits a home run.”
Giants manager Alvin Dark’s response when Harry Jupiter of the San Francisco Examiner told him Gaylord Perry was looking good during batting practice in 1964. Perry, like most pitchers, was not a threat with the bat, just his arm. Pitchers are paid to get outs not hit baseballs. Few were ever better at pitching while having minimal ability to hit a baseball than Gaylord Perry.
The Space Race was in high gear in 1964. Both the Soviet Union and the United States had achieved space flight and cosmonauts and astronauts were following Yuri Gagarin, Alan Shepard, and John Glenn into Space. President John F. Kennedy committed America to “achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth.” After Kennedy’s assassination, President Lyndon Johnson sought to fulfill the mission. Project Mercury was winding down as Project Gemini ramped up. Glenn’s three orbits of the earth two years earlier was light years behind Gordon Cooper’s day long Space flight.
Gaylord Perry was outstanding on the mound, winning 314 games. (National Baseball Hall of Fame)
Back on earth, 25 year old Gaylord Perry was establishing himself as a Major League pitcher. Entering his third season, Perry was 4-7 with a 4.46 ERA in 119 innings. Alvin Dark and the Giants were just two seasons removed from winning the National League Pennant. San Francisco was once again among the front runners for the Pennant and Dark needed every player to contribute in the field and at bat. Space was on everyone’s mind and Perry could not hit.
Gaylord Perry finished the 1964 season 12-11 with a 2.75 ERA in 206.1 innings, the best of his young career. However, Dark’s words about Perry’s hitting abilities appeared true. Perry went 3 for 56 at the plate, a .054 Batting Average, .071 OBP, .071 SLG, and .156 OPS. His -56 OPS+ was otherworldly, considering a 100 OPS+ means a player is league average. Gaylord Perry was 156% worse than an average Major League hitter.
Gaylord Perry pitched for 22 seasons for eight different teams, most notably the Giants. Perry won 314 games with a 3.11 ERA and 1.181 WHIP in 5,350 innings. He struck out 3,534 batters while throwing 303 Complete Games, including 53 Shutouts. Perry was elected to five All Star Games, and won a Cy Young Award in each league (1972 for Cleveland and 1978 for the Padres). He won 20 or more games five times. Throwing 10 or more Complete Games in 12 consecutive seasons. Perry’s durability on the mound allowed him to pitch 205+ innings in 15 consecutive seasons. Always taking his turn in the rotation, Perry pitched 300 innings six times, including four straight from 1972 to 1975. Perry was elected to Cooperstown in 1991 in his third year of eligibility.
Gaylord Perry would do anything to gain an advantage on a batter, including doctoring up a baseball. Umpire John Flaherty checks Perry for foreign substances in 1973. (Associated Press)
Success on the mound meant nothing for Gaylord Perry’s legendary anemic abilities with the bat. In 1,076 career At Bats, he collected only 141 Hits, 23 for extra bases, a .131 Batting Average. He scored 48 Runs, drove in 47 RBI, drew 22 walks, and struck out 369 times. Gaylord Perry posted a career .153 OBP, .164 SLG, .316 OPS, and -10 OPS+. He was a liability at the plate.
1964 was Alvin Dark’s final season as Giants manager. He managed the Kansas City Athletics for two seasons before managing the Cleveland Indians. In 1969, five years after Dark’s proclamation to Harry Jupiter little had changed for Perry at the plate. Gaylord Perry, at this point in his career, was a .141 hitter now with no Home Runs. His four extra base hits were all doubles.
Entering the game against the Dodgers on July 20, Perry’s season Batting Average was just .100. While the world waited for news of Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, the Giants and Dodgers began their game at Candlestick Park. Not long after first pitch, at 1:18 PM Pacific Standard Time, Armstrong told the world “The Eagle has landed.” As Armstrong and Aldrin prepared to take the first steps on the moon, Perry surrendered three runs to Los Angeles in the top of the first. The scored remained 3-0 entering the bottom of the third, with Dodger starter Claude Osteen facing the minimum. Hal Lanier flew out to second baseman Ted Sizemore. Bob Barton followed by grounding out to Bill Sudakis at third. The San Francisco faithful had little hope as Gaylord Perry stepped to the plate. Shocking everyone, Perry drove Claude Osteen’s pitch over the outfield wall. Alvin Dark had no idea his proclamation five years earlier prove correct, but by just 30 minutes. Perry sparked a Giants comeback, as San Francisco defeated the rival Dodgers 7 to 3. Gaylord Perry pitched a Complete Game, allowing three Runs, six strikeouts, and no Home Runs.
Alvin Dark was mostly right about Gaylord Perry and the Moon landing. A man was on the Moon, when Perry hit his Home Run but had not walked on it. (NASA)
Gaylord Perry hit six career longballs. He hit one each season from 1969 to 1972. San Francisco traded Perry to Cleveland and after three and a half seasons, Cleveland sent him to the Rangers. Perry did not bat in the American League because of the Designated Hitter. Returning to the National League with the Padres in 1978, Perry needed a season to warm up before going deep again in 1979. He spent 1980 split between the Rangers and Yankees, before hitting his sixth and final Home Run for the Braves in 1981 at the age of 42.
Known for his pitching and lackluster abilities at the plate, Gaylord Perry was destined for baseball greatness. It took a frustrated manager, an optimistic sportswriter, and the Space Race to create the perfect cosmic storm. Alvin Dark never dreamed he was foreshadowing Perry’s first career Home Run. Yet the stars and the moon aligned to create one of the most memorable moments in baseball history.
On May 25, 1961 President John F. Kennedy addressed a Joint Session of Congress with a Special Message To The Congress On Urgent National Needs. As every President does, Kennedy spoke of the pressing needs facing the nation and his plan to solve them. When the speech reached the ninth section, President Kennedy told Congress, “I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth.” The Space Race began before Kennedy took office, but he pushed the race with the Soviets to the next level. The Soviets reached space first, but the moon was America’s opportunity to win.
On July 20, 1969, 2,979 days after President Kennedy spoke to Congress, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed the Apollo Lunar Module Eagle in Tranquility Base as Michael Collins circled in lunar orbit in the Columbia Command Module. America achieved Kennedy’s goal of landing a man on the moon and return him safely to earth by the end of the decade.
Wally Moon adjusted his swing to take advantage of the strange configuration at the Coliseum. (Los Angeles Times)
Back on earth, the Dodgers and the Giants have one of the most intense rivalries in baseball, regardless of the standings. In 1958, Dodger owner Walter O’Malley moved the team from Brooklyn to Los Angeles. Construction on Dodger Stadium would not begin until September 1959 forcing the Dodgers to play in the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. The Coliseum is home, most prominently, to the University of Southern California football team. Turning the Coliseum into a baseball field meant the fence in Leftfield was only 251 feet from home plate. A 41 foot tall screen was constructed, making Home Runs more difficult. Batters needed to loft the ball high above the screen for a Home Run, and no player is more remembered for this than Wally Moon and his Moonshots.
Wally Moon broke into the Majors in 1954 with the St. Louis Cardinals, winning the Rookie of the Year Award over Ernie Banks and Hank Aaron. He was an All Star in 1957 before a disappointing 1958 season made him expendable. Moon and Phil Paine were traded to the Dodgers for Gino Cimoli. Moon played 12 seasons in the Majors, five in St. Louis and seven in Los Angeles. In 1,457 career Games, Moon hit .289, with a .371 OBP, .445 SLG, and .817 OPS. He scored 737 Runs, collected 1,399 Hits, 212 Doubles, 60 Triples, slugged 142 Home Runs, drove in 661 RBI, stole 89 bases, drew 644 walks, and struck out 591 times. He was a three time All Star, 1957 and twice in 1959, and won a Gold Glove in Leftfield in 1960. Moon won two World Series with the Dodgers, 1959 and 1965. His pinch hit ground out in Game 6 of the 1965 Fall Classic was his final game. Moon sat on the bench in Game 7, watching Sandy Koufax pitch a Complete Game shutout to secure the World Series victory. Wally Moon enjoyed a successful career, however he appeared on the Hall of Fame ballot just once, in 1971, receiving just two votes (0.6%) and falling off the ballot.
Arriving in Los Angeles, Wally Moon was greeted by two things. The short, yet high porch in Leftfield and the rivalry with the Giants. Moon, hitting from the left side, understood he did not possess the power to launch baseballs out of the Coliseum to Rightfield, as the wall was 440 feet away. His career high in Home Runs was just 24. Moon adjusted his swing with Stan Musial’s help to hit balls to the opposite field.
The Coliseum created one of the strangest field configurations in baseball. (www.cbssports.com)
The Dodgers and Giants were locked in a pennant race as summer began to wane in 1959. San Francisco held a slim two game lead entering play at the Coliseum on August 31. Jack Sanford and Sandy Koufax were locked in a pitchers duel, allowing two runs each in the first eight innings. Koufax struck out the side on just 10 pitches in the top of the ninth. Sanford began the ninth by inducing a Maury Wills ground out. Koufax and Jim Gilliam hit back to back singles to Left. Giants manager Bill Rigney called in Al Worthington from the bullpen to end the threat. Worthington threw a first pitch strike to Wally Moon. His next pitch missed. On the third pitch, Moon lofted a deep fly ball to Left, clearing the screen. The Moonshot gave the Dodgers a 5 to 2 walk off victory. Los Angeles trailed the Giants by one game.
The Dodgers won the 1959 National League Pennant, two games ahead of the Milwaukee Braves and four ahead of the third place Giants. Los Angeles defeated the Chicago White Sox in six games, winning the only World Series ever played at the Coliseum. Wally Moon’s Moonshot against the Giants came 634 days before President Kennedy presented his vision of sending a man to the moon and returning him safely to earth.
The Moonshot took men to the moon and safely returned them back to earth. (NASA)
A walk off Home Run between bitter rivals foreshadowed the next stage of the Space Race. Wally Moon used the short porch in Leftfield at the Coliseum to his advantage. President Kennedy and NASA did the unimaginable, sending a man to the moon and back defeating the non-baseball playing Soviet Union. The United States won the Space Race with a few steps by Neil Armstrong, while Wally Moon helped to win the Pennant with one swing of his bat. Both were incredible Moonshots.
Happy 50th anniversary of the Moon Landing.
Lou Gehrig is remembered for three things: his greatness on the field, a speech, and the disease that claimed his life. He left a legacy in baseball and for those facing adversity, especially those battling ALS (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis), Lou Gehrig’s Disease. Today is the 80th anniversary of Lou Gehrig Day at Yankee Stadium and Gehrig delivering baseball’s most famous speech. He did not focus on his problems, rather he spoke of the good in his life. A life cut short less than two years later.
On the diamond, Lou Gehrig was a tremendous competitor, forming the toughest duo in baseball history with Babe Ruth. Gehrig played 17 seasons for the Yankees, 1923 to 1939. In 2,164 Games, Gehrig collected 2,721 Hits, 534 Doubles, 163 Triples, 493 Home Runs, 1,995 RBI, scored 1,888 Runs, Stole 102 Bases, drew 1,508 Walks, 790 Strike Outs, .340 BA, .447 OBP, .632 SLG, and 1.080 OPS. Gehrig’s career numbers ensured his enshrinement into Cooperstown, even without his special election in 1939.
Putting Lou Gehrig’s greatness into perspective, consider his all time rankings today. Gehrig ranks 64th in Hits with 2,271. He is 42nd in Doubles with 534 and 33rd in Triples with 163. His 493 Home Runs still ranks him 28th. His 1,995 RBI are seventh all time. Gehrig’s 1,190 extra base hits are 11th most and his 5,060 total bases are 19th all time. His 1,888 runs scored rank 12th all time. He walked 1,508 times, 17th most. A career .340 hitter, 16th best. His .447 OBP is fifth, his .632 SLG and 1.079 OPS both place him third all time. His 179 OPS+ ranks fourth and his 112.3 oWAR places him 14th. 80 years after his final game, Lou Gehrig remains an all time great.
Hall of Fame numbers are not compiled in a few good seasons here and there, they come from excellence year after year. In Gehrig’s 17 seasons with the Yankees, he played fewer than 13 games in three seasons. Playing 14 full seasons before ALS robbed him of his abilities further shows Gehrig’s greatness. The Iron Horse registered eight seasons of 200 or more hits, leading the league in 1931. In 1927 and 1928 he led baseball in Doubles with 52 and 47 respectively. In 1926, his 20 triples paced baseball. Gehrig was the Home Run King three times (1931, 1934, and 1936). He was perfectly placed in Murderers’ Row, leading the league in RBI five times, driving in at least 109 in 13 consecutive seasons. He led baseball in Runs Scored four times, scoring 115 or more Runs in 13 consecutive seasons. The Iron Horse possessed both power and patience at the plate, drawing at least 100 Walks in 11 seasons, leading baseball on three occasions. Gehrig struck out a career high 84 times in 1927, he would never strike out more than 75 times in any other season. Gehrig hit .300 or better in 12 straight seasons, led the league in Slugging twice, OPS three times with 11 consecutive seasons above 1.000. He had five seasons with at least 400 total bases, leading baseball four times. In 1934, Gehrig won the American League Triple Crown with a .363 BA, 49 Home Runs, and 166 RBI. Shockingly he finished fifth in MVP voting behind a trio of Tigers (Mickey Cochrane, Charlie Gehringer, and Schoolboy Rowe) and teammate Lefty Gomez. Gehrig did win two MVP Awards (1927 and 1936), while finishing in the top five in six other seasons. The Iron Horse was always a MVP contender.
Lou Gehrig was one of the greatest players to ever step on a diamond. (Mark Rucker/ Transcendental Graphics, Getty Images)
The Yankees during the Gehrig years were seemingly in the World Series every October. Lou Gehrig played in seven Fall Classics. New York won six World Series with Gehrig (1927, 1928, 1932, 1936, 1937, and 1938), sweeping their National League opponents four times. Gehrig played in 34 Games with 119 At Bats. He collected 43 Hits, 8 Doubles, 3 Triples, 10 Home Runs, 35 RBI, and scored 30 Runs. He drew 26 walks against 17 Strikeouts. Gehrig hit .361, .483 OBP, .731 SLG, and 1.214 OPS. The Iron Horse helped the Yankees reach and win multiple World Series.
Despite his greatness on the diamond, Lou Gehrig is best remembered for the speech he gave on July 4, 1939, Lou Gehrig Day, as the Yankees honored him as he fought ALS. The Gettysburg Address of Baseball remains one of the most famous moments in baseball history. There is no known full recording of the speech, however we do have a partial recording and a transcript of Gehrig’s words.
“For the past two weeks you have been reading about a bad break. Yet today I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth. I have been in ballparks for seventeen years and have never received anything but kindness and encouragement from you fans.
When you look around, wouldn’t you consider it a privilege to associate yourself with such a fine looking men as they’re standing in uniform in this ballpark today? Sure, I’m lucky. Who wouldn’t consider it an honor to have known Jacob Ruppert? Also, the builder of baseball’s greatest empire, Ed Barrow? To have spent six years with that wonderful little fellow, Miller Huggins? Then to have spent the next nine years with that outstanding leader, that smart student of psychology, the best manager in baseball today, Joe McCarthy? Sure, I’m lucky.
When the New York Giants, a team you would give your right arm to beat, and vice versa, sends you a gift- that’s something. When everybody down to the groundskeepers and those boys in white coats remember you with trophies- that’s something. When you have a wonderful mother-in-law who takes sides with you in squabbles with her own daughter- that’s something. When you have a father and a mother who work all their lives so you can have an education and build your body- it’s a blessing. When you have a wife who has been a tower of strength and shown more courage than you dreamed existed- that’s the finest I know.
So I close in saying that I might have been given a bad break, but I’ve got an awful lot to live for. Thank you.”
There is getaway day and then there was September 28, 1919. The New York Giants hosted the Philadelphia Phillies in a doubleheader on the last day of the season. The first game, all nine innings lasted just 51 minutes, the fastest game in Major League history. MLB is eager to increase the pace of play, New York and Philadelphia may have taken this too far a century before pace of play was an issue. The game was the opposite of Dan Barry’s Bottom of the 33rd.
It was the final day of the season, neither team won the pennant, and both teams knew the faster they played, the sooner they could head home for the winter. The Giants finished the season in second place, 9 games behind the eventual World Series champion Cincinnati Reds. Cincinnati’s World Series victory is a story for another day. Philadelphia’s season was over in August, the Phillies finished last in the National League, 8th place, 47.5 games behind the Reds. The doubleheader was played simply because it was on the schedule.
The first game featured six future Hall of Famers; four players, a manager, and an umpire. Dave Bancroft was Philadelphia’s future Hall of Fame shortstop. New York had future Hall of Famer Ross Youngs in Right Field, Frankie Frisch at Third, High Pockets Kelly at First, and manager John McGraw. Umpiring the game were Future Hall of Famer Bill Klem and the notorious Bob Emslie. Klem is the father of baseball umpiring, working a record 18 World Series. He was the first umpire to wear a chest protector, taught other umpires to call balls and strikes from the slot, and the first to use arm signals when making his calls. Emslie was the base umpire during Merkle’s Boner in 1908. The controversial play earned him the despised nickname Blind Bob.
The Polo Grounds, a few seasons after the 51 minute sprint in 1919. The view from the outfield bleachers towards the infield and Coogan’s Bluff, with fans watching from behind the Grandstand. (Transcendental Graphics/Getty Images)
The Phillies got off to a great start, scoring in the top of the first inning. Lena Blackburne doubled and later scored thanks to an Art Fletcher error, giving Philadelphia a 1-0 lead. Philadelphia held the Giants scoreless in their turn at bat, and New York returned the favor in the top of the second.
In the bottom of the second, the Giants offense awoke. New York scored one in the second, three in the third, and two in the sixth on their way to a 6 to 1 victory. The Giants pounded out 13 hits, including five doubles, and drew three walks. Every Giants starter collected at least one hit; Larry Doyle and Art Fletcher collected two hits and High Pockets Kelly collected three hits. The final line for Phillies starting pitcher Lee Meadows was ugly: 8 innings (Complete Game), 13 Hits, 6 Runs, 5 Earned Runs, 3 walks, and 1 strikeout. Taking the loss, Meadows, who split the 1919 season between the Cardinals and Phillies, finished with a 12-20 record and 2.59 ERA.
The Phillies completed their anemic campaign on the final day of the season. Philadelphia collected five hits, one double, no walks, two strikeouts, scoring one unearned run. New York’s Jesse Barnes pitched 9 innings (Complete Game), allowing 5 hits, 1 run, 0 earned runs, no walks, and 2 strikeouts. The victory gave Barnes his National League leading 25th victory, finishing with a 25-9 record and a 2.40 ERA. The Giants swept the Phillies, winning Game Two 7 to 1, closing the 1919 season and the career of Phillies’ catcher Bert Adams.
Jesse Barnes, winning pitcher, fastest game in MLB history. (1922 Eastern Exhibit Supply Company/ http://www.vintagecardprices.com)
Some games are historically significant for Major League Baseball, others are played because they are on the schedule. The Giants and Phillies played a doubleheader on September 28, 1919 because the games were on the schedule. While neither game altered the 1919 season or baseball history, the first game set an almost unbreakable record and gave insight into the future of both franchises.
The Phillies were just four seasons removed from their first World Series appearance, yet they were in the second of 14 consecutive losing seasons. The team would not return to the Fall Classic until 1950. The Phillies had just four winning season (1916, 1917, 1932, and 1949) between their first and second World Series appearances. The 1919 Phillies changed managers midseason. Jack Coombs began the season, managing the Phillies to an 18-44-1 record before he was replaced by Gavvy Cravath. Cravath finished the season 29-46. He would return to the Phillies for the 1920 before he was fired at seasons end, concluding his playing and managing career. Coombs went on to become the winningest baseball coach in Duke University history, winning 381 games over 24 seasons in Durham.
The Giants thrived with 28 winning seasons between 1919 and their move to San Francisco in 1957. They played in nine World Series, winning four. New York finished within five games of the National League pennant in seven other seasons. John McGraw managed the Giants until 1932, compiling 2,583 wins for New York. The Giants were a powerhouse.
One game, even if not important in the moment, can tell you so much about baseball and a franchise. Never underestimate a baseball game, regardless of the pace of play, or if it is played just because it is on the schedule.
Rap is not the usual music genre for baseball songs. Teams may create a music video for the upcoming season, postseason, or a particular player. College teams are known to lip sync from time to time, looking at you 2012 Harvard baseball team. However, it is rarely a rap song. Macklemore & Ryan Lewis changed this with My Oh My. The song was written in response to longtime Seattle Mariners radio broadcaster Dave Niehaus’ sudden death in November 2010. It is the best baseball song of the last decade.
My Oh My is not reserved just for Mariner fans, however to fully appreciate the song you must understand what Dave Niehaus meant to the Pacific Northwest. He was the Mariners broadcaster since their inception in 1971. He broadcast more than 5,000 games, missing roughly 100 games in 40 years. Niehaus was the voice of baseball for Mariners fans.
Baseball had a tough beginning in Seattle. The Pilots lasted only one losing season, 1969, before moving to Milwaukee. The Mariners, and their fans, suffered through 14 consecutive losing seasons. They did not make the postseason until the fabled 1995 season, their 19th. There was little excitement on the diamond, yet the fans tuned in their radios to listen to Dave Niehaus.
Dave Niehaus was the voice of baseball in the Pacific Northwest. My Oh My was a loss.(John Lok/ The Seattle Times)
Mariners fans were rewarded by listening to Niehaus call the golden age of Mariners baseball. From 1995 through 2001, the Mariners made the postseason four times, reaching the American League Championship Series three times. The excitement inside the Kingdome moved to Safeco Field, now T-Mobile Park, on July 15, 1999 with Dave Niehaus throwing out the first pitch. The following summer, Niehaus became the second member of the Mariners Hall of Fame, after former first baseman Alvin Davis. In 2008, Niehaus received the highest award in baseball broadcasting, the Ford C. Frick Award, and was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. Niehaus was more than a broadcaster. The 2011 season was the teams first without him in the booth. The team honored Niehaus with a performance of My Oh My on Opening Day.
My Oh My was released six weeks after Dave Niehaus’ death as a bonus track on Macklemore & Ryan Lewis’ album The Heist. Macklemore begins by recounting the winning run of the 1995 American League Divisional Series against the Yankees. The voice of God on the radio calling the game as Edgar Martinez drives in Joey Cora tying the game and Ken Griffey Jr. is waved home to win the game. The pace of the song quickens along with your pulse for the play at the plate.
Wisely, Macklemore & Ryan Lewis step back while Dave Niehaus makes the call during an interlude. Artists recognize the talents of other great artists. Niehaus paints the picture of the play at the plate and how it felt inside the Kingdome and across the Pacific Northwest.
The second verse zooms out to examine baseball memories from childhood. Macklemore discusses learning to play baseball, spitting sunflower seeds, playing under the sun, and his Dad teaching him the beauty of the game. He layers in childhood favorites of Big League Chew, recreating The Sandlot, and begging his Mom for one more inning before bed. Recalling childhood memories quicken the pace of the song, like an excited child talking faster and faster.
Macklemore rounds out My Oh My with a final verse connecting baseball and real life. The third verse begins at a frantic pace. The same feeling Mariner fans had as Griffey rounded third. Life feels as though it’s moving faster than we can grasp it. There is a touch of anger underpinning the understanding that life will give you bad hops and you must be ready for them. The lessons of baseball stay with you as an adult. Life is a trip around the bases, success comes by putting your head down and running as hard as you can. The verse slows as it approaches the end and finishes with a trombone playing a mournful farewell…almost a baseball version of Taps.
Macklemore’s description of Dave Niehaus’ call and how baseball makes him feel could be anyone, not just a kid from Seattle. Every baseball fan knows the thrill of following the winning run racing home. My Oh My takes baseball fans back to their childhoods and the joys of baseball and the lessons it teaches.
The song is also a reflection of becoming an adult and losing your childhood heroes. Baseball is a child’s game played by adults, yet those adults are not invincible. Every kid eventually deals with the loss of a hero. Despite never meeting the person, it has a profound impact on their life. Macklemore & Ryan Lewis are spot on with My Oh My and the music video. The video is simple, just baseball pictures, equipment, jerseys, old stadiums, and replays of past moments. No wonder people in Seattle had to pull over to collect themselves when they heard My Oh My for the first time.
Major League Baseball is roughly two years away from welcoming its 20,000th player. The overwhelming majority of players are not Babe Ruth, Willie Mays, or Mike Trout. They are players like Virgil Jester. While they do not have the accolades of those in Cooperstown, players like Jester helped build baseball into the game it is today.
Fooling your opponent is part of baseball. Deceiving a batter with a curveball. Catching the defense sleeping by stealing second base. These are fundamental parts of baseball. On April Fool’s Day it seems fitting to highlight one of the players who despite not having a long, distinguished career deserves recognition for his contribution to the game. The only Jester in Major League history, Virgil Jester.
Virgil Jester was a star high school and college pitcher in Denver when he signed with the Boston Braves in 1947. He worked his way through the Minor Leagues before debuting with the Braves on June 18, 1952. Jester entered the game against the Cincinnati Reds in the top of the 7th inning with the score tied at 5. He struck out his first batter, Cal Abrams. The next batter, Andy Seminick, was not as kind, smacking a solo home run to give the Reds a 6-5 lead. In the 8th inning, Jester walked Bobby Adams before allowing a RBI double to Willard Marshall, extending the Reds lead to 7-5. The Braves scored a run in the bottom of the 8th, making it 7-6, but would get no closer. Jester pitched 2 innings, allowing 2 hits, 2 runs, walking 2, struck out 3, with a 9.00 ERA, and took the loss.
Virgil Jester was the winning pitcher in the Boston Braves’ final victory before moving to Milwaukee. (www.baseball-reference.com)
The Braves final season in Boston was Virgil Jester’s best. In 1952, he went 3-5 with a 3.33 ERA and 1.411 WHIP. He appeared in 19 games, starting 8, throwing 4 complete games, and 1 shutout. Jester pitched 73 innings allowing 80 hits, 31 runs, 27 earned runs, 5 home runs, walking 23 , striking out 25, and hitting 1 batter. Jester’s season was capped with a complete game victory over the Brooklyn Dodgers on September 27th, the final Braves victory in Boston.
In 1953, the Braves moved to Milwaukee and Virgil Jester concluded his brief Major League career. He appeared in just two games. He pitched 2 innings, allowing 4 hits, 5 runs, a home run, 4 walks, no strikeouts, with a 22.50 ERA and 4.000 WHIP. Jester finished his career with a 3-5 record, 3.84 ERA, 1.480 WHIP, appearing in 21 games, 8 starts, 4 complete games, 1 shut out, pitching 75 innings, allowing 84 hits, 32 earned runs, 6 home runs, 27 walks, 25 strikeouts, and 1 hit batter.
Pitching got Virgil Jester to the Majors, however he was also a good hitting pitcher. In 22 plate appearances, he collected 4 hits, including a triple, scored 3 runs, 2 RBI, drew 1 walk, struck out 4 times, and posted a .211 BA, .250 OBP, .316 SLG, and .566 OPS.
Virgil Jester’s career did not lead to enshrinement in Cooperstown. However he joined the elite group of players who have played baseball at the highest level. Fewer than 20,000 people have played in the Major Leagues. Virgil Jester played alongside the giants of the game. Only a select few have that opportunity, and Virgil Jester was among those who rose to the top. Even a fool can understand that.
Valentine’s Day is about spending time with that special someone in your life. You express your love with gifts, flowers, candies, a nice meal, or simply spending time together. Winning builds love in baseball, it solves every team’s problems. Yankee owner George Steinbrenner hated losing, “Winning is the most important thing in my life, after breathing. Breathing first, winning next.” So what creates more love, winning, in baseball? WAR.
WAR, Wins Above Replacement, measures a player’s value in all facets of the game by deciphering how many more wins he’s worth than a replacement-level player at his same position. The higher a player’s WAR the more they help the team.
The highest career WAR for any Major Leaguer born on Valentine’s Day belongs to Charles “Pretzels” Getzien. Born in Germany on February 14, 1864, Getzien played for five teams during his nine seasons in the National League. Nicknamed Pretzels for throwing a double curve ball, Getzien’s career 18.1 WAR far outpaces his closest competitor Arthur Irwin’s career 15.2 WAR. Even Candy LaChance’s career 11.1 WAR was no match for Getzien.
Charles “Pretzels” Getzien while with the Detroit Wolverines. (Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs)
Baseball in the 1880’s and early 1890’s was not the same game played today. Getzien, a starting pitcher, was expected to pitch every few days; teams did not use the modern five man rotation. Starters were expected to pitch the entire game; pitch counts did not matter. Bullpen matchups in high leverage situations were never a thought. In 1884, Getzien’s first season in the National League, it took six balls to walk a batter, not the modern four. There were other rule changes along the way.
1886 was Pretzels Getzien’s best season. He started 43 games for the Detroit Wolverines, pitching 42 Complete Games, and 1 Shutout. His 30-11 record included a 3.03 ERA and 1.223 WHIP. Getzien pitched 386.2 innings, allowing 388 Hits, 203 Runs, just 130 Earned Runs, 6 Home Runs, striking out 172, walking 85, and throwing 19 Wild Pitches. At the plate, he hit .176 in 165 At Bats, collecting 29 Hits, 3 Doubles, 3 Triples, 19 RBI, 3 Stolen Bases, scoring 14 Runs, 6 walks, 46 strikeouts, for an .205 On-Base Percentage, Slugging .230, and .435 OPS. Getzien’s 1886 season was the first of five consecutive seasons with at least 40 starts.
More rule changes occurred before the 1887 season. Batters could no longer call for high or low pitches. Five balls were required to walk a batter, not six. Striking out a batter required four strikes. Bats could have one flat side. While the rules changed Getzien’s success remained. He was the only Wolverine starter to make more than 24 starts, starting 42 with 41 Complete Games. Riding Getzien’s right arm, Detroit won the National League Pennant. They faced the American Association champion St. Louis Browns in the World Series. Pretzels Getzien went 4-2, throwing 6 Complete Games, 58 innings, with a 2.48 ERA and 1.310 WHIP. He allowed 61 Hits, 23 Runs, 16 Earned Runs, walked 15, and struck out 17. Getzien was a threat at the plate too. He hit .300 in 20 At Bats, collecting 6 hits, including 2 Doubles, 1 stolen base, scoring 5 Runs, 2 RBI, 3 walks, and 6 strikeouts. He boasted a .391 On-Base Percentage, .400 Slugging, and .791 OPS. The Wolverines won the series 10 games to five.
The 1887 World Series Champions, Detroit Wolverines. (www.detroitathletic.com)
In 1888, Getzien started 46 games throwing 45 Complete Games. The Wolverines pitching staff also had Pete Conway, 45 starts, and Henry Gruber, 25 starts. Despite the team’s success Detroit owner Frederick Stearns disbanded the Wolverines after the season due to financial woes. Getzien joined the Indianapolis Hoosiers for the 1889 season. Prior to the season, the National League adopted the modern four balls for a walk and three strikes for a strikeout rule. Getzien started 44 games, throwing 36 Complete Games. After one season with the Hoosiers, Getzien spent 1890, his last great season, pitching for the Boston Beaneaters. He made 40 starts, throwing 39 Complete Games alongside future Hall of Famers Kid Nichols and John Clarkson. Nichols, a rookie, threw a Complete Game in all 47 of his starts. Clarkson made 44 starts with 43 Complete Games. Getzien’s pitching career began to decline after 1890.
Getzien started nine games for Boston in 1891 before he was released. He would sign with the Cleveland Spiders and pitch just one game. Getzien finished his career with the St. Louis Browns in 1892. It was the only season of his career where batters were forced to hit a round ball with a round bat squarely; bats could no longer have a flat side.
In 1893, Getzien’s first season out of professional baseball, saw the pitching distance moved from 50 feet to 60 feet, 6 inches. The rules governing baseball in the 1800’s shed light on the games’ differences in its infancy and today. In 1901, almost a decade after Pretzels Getzien last pitched, the National League would count foul balls as strikes. Previously if a batter fouled off seven consecutive pitches to begin an at bat the count remained no balls and no strikes. Striking out a batter required a swing and miss or a called strike.
Pretzels Getzien as a member of the Detroit Wolverines in 1888. (Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs)
Getzien compiled a career record of 145-139, 1 Save, 3.46 ERA, and 1.288 WHIP. He started 296 games, throwing 277 Complete Games, and 11 shutouts. In 2,539.2 innings, Getzien allowed 2,670 hits, 1,555 runs, 976 Earned Runs, struck out 1,070, walked 602, hit 28 batters, and threw 111 Wild Pitches. He is the all-time leader in Wins, Loses, Complete Games, Shutouts, Innings Pitched, Hits Allowed, Runs, Earned Runs, Wild Pitches, and Batters Faced for German born Major Leaguers. Getzien led the National League in Home Runs allowed in 1887 and 1889, with 24 and 27 respectively. In an era of few home runs Getzien allowed more Home Runs than many modern day pitchers. He allowed 6.2% of the 383 Home Runs hit in 1887 and 7.2% of the 371 hit in 1889. In 2018, Tyler Anderson of the Rockies and Chase Anderson of the Brewers led the National League with 30 Home Runs allowed. They both allowed 1.1% of the 2,685 Home Runs hit.
Offensively, Getzien had 1,140 Plate Appearances, 1,056 At Bats, collecting 209 Hits, 27 Doubles, 15 Triples, 8 Home Runs, 109 RBI, 17 Stolen Bases, 78 Walks, 247 Strike Outs, .198 Batting Average, .257 On-Base Percentage, .275 Slugging, and .532 OPS. His pitching, not hitting, abilities made him dangerous on the diamond.
Pretzels Getzien is most remembered for his odd nickname. On his 155th Birthday, let us remember him as the career WAR leader for Major Leaguers born on Valentine’s Day. So in his honor, may the love of your life be kind like the warm sunshine and green grass of the coming baseball season. Happy Valentine’s Day, WAR can create love.