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.
What does it take to go from sitting in the stands watching a game to on the field as part of the game? A lot of time and energy. Working a game as an umpire means spending hours studying the rules and mechanics, getting physically fit to meet the demands of calling a game, and suiting up with all the proper safety equipment before stepping on the field.
What does it take to go from umpiring a game to sitting in the stands? One pitch. I received this painful reminder Saturday afternoon. I was the home plate umpire for a 17U game. In the top of the 5th inning, the pitcher threw a fastball chest high, the left handed batter swung and fouled the pitch back. This minor redirection meant the baseball slammed into the right side of my throat. I do not know if I was slightly out of position in my stance, if my chest protector had slid down, or how the ball missed my mask, I wear the hockey style mask, and throat guard. All I know is I never want to experience that pain again.
Derek working behind the plate before getting hit in the throat later in the game. (The Winning Run/ SCL)
As luck would have it my parents and wife were watching my call the game, they were sitting 20 feet away. They said I dropped like I had been shot. I remember getting hit and I remember landing on the ground, I do not remember falling. After what seemed like forever, but was probably only a few seconds I was moving around collecting myself. I was trying to determine if I was hurt or injured. I sat up and started to move around. A coach waiting to play the next game came on the field to examine me. He is an ICU doctor. He said I was ok, but if my head started to hurt or if my neck swelled I needed to go to the Emergency Room immediately. I felt well enough to continue, so after reassuring my wife and parents and we continued the game.
At the end of the half inning my head started hurting and I was having difficulty turning my head. Clearly I had no business on a baseball field. The coach/ doctor checked me out again and said I needed to head directly to the Emergency Room. After several hours at the Emergency Room, the doctor said I am fine beyond some swelling and bruising. Relieved I avoided serious injury, I thought about how easily it could have turned out very differently.
The best I can describe getting hit in the throat with a fouled off fastball is imagine you are in a serious car crash but only to your throat. My entire right right is still sore from the impact. My throat is swollen, I still cannot full turn my head side to side. It is difficult to find a comfortable position to sit or lay down. I sound like I have been a heavy smoker for the last 50 years.
Jesse working behind the plate at Georgia Gwinnett College. (The Winning Run/ DJ)
I asked my wife and parents individually if I turned my head at all before the ball hit me. They all said I did not move. Flinching is dangerous when you are umpiring behind the plate. If you are moving around you are opening yourself up to pain and injury. Even in some magical world where I knew the pitch was coming for my throat after it touched the bat, there is not enough time for me to move.
Even when you do everything correctly, there is no guarantee you will leave the field uninjured. It may be a baseball or a bat or a non-contact injury that ends your career. No one stays on the field forever. One pitch can hasten your leaving the field for the last time only return as a spectator. Cherish every moment, good and bad, you are on the field. You never know when you step off the field for the last time.
The netting at baseball games is about to increase. Major League Baseball has recommended that teams add netting to shield field level seats within 70 feet of home plate. This is an effort to protect fans from baseballs and bats that can reach the stands before fans have the opportunity to react.
There has been some resistance to the additional netting from Major League teams and fans. Teams do not want to run the risk of installing additional netting and upsetting fans. Fans do not want their view of the game obstructed in any way. Both the teams and the fans have valid arguments. However, a third argument is even more important: fan safety. Fans are the lifeblood of the sport, without them professional baseball does not exist. Protecting the fans is important for multiple reasons, but there are two primary reasons why Commissioner Rob Manfred and Major League Baseball had to take this step. First, protecting the fans is critical from a decency standpoint. Additional netting is a simple solution to a problem that can result in serious injury or potentially death.
The National Hockey League was pressed into adding additional netting behind each goal following the death of 13 year old Brittanie Cecil who died two days after being struck by a puck in 2002. Hockey understood that it had to protect its fans. Commissioner Gary Bettman also understood that fans want to see the action on the ice. The netting allows for both as Bettman responded to concerns about an obstructed view of the game “After three minutes people won’t know it’s there.”
The addition of some extra netting does not change how the game is played on the field, thus it preserves the pleasure fans seek from attending a game. This leads us to the second reason. Baseball fans watch the game in an intimate setting. Seats are literally inches from the playing field. Sitting close enough to home plate where you can see curveballs curve. The addition of netting does not change this. I have had the opportunity to sit behind the netting at minor league and college games. On several occasions, if a ball had been hit at me I would not have had enough time to react to protect myself. However, the netting in place protected me without obstructing my view and enjoyment of the game. If the netting did obstruct the view of the game baseball as a whole would have long ago found a way to resolve this issue. The seats directly behind home plate, and behind the netting, are not cheap, baseball is going to take care of their highest paying customers.
About 15 years ago, my family and I attended a Greenville Braves game in Greenville, South Carolina. Greenville Municipal Stadium was a great place to watch a baseball game. We sat down the third base line, a few sections past the dugout and third base. A screaming foul ball came our way and everyone ducked, but the ball ricocheted off the seats behind us and hit my Mom in the head. The medical staff quickly arrived and checked my Mom out. She was thankfully fine, nothing more than a good knot on her head and a decent headache that went away in an hour or so. Imagine what that ball could have done to someone’s face if they did not have time to react and the ball had not ricocheted off something, thus reducing the force of the impact. My Mom could have easily been hospitalized or worse. Simple solutions to potentially life altering problems should be common sense.
The addition of extended netting to protect fans is a win-win. Families with small children do not have to worry about their children being struck by a bat or ball. These families can gain a new and wonderful view of the game. Major League Baseball has worked to keep the focus on the field where teams are playing and not in the stands after a fan is struck with a bat or ball and unfortunately injured. Attending a baseball game should always be about having fun not worrying about being hit by a bat or ball. Commissioner Manfred and the rest of Major League Baseball have done the right thing, there was a problem with a simple solution and they took action to fix it.