Tuesday, June 25, 2013

The Most Dangerous Pitchers of All-Time

In my last post, I talked about the intensity of Roger Clemens. It got me to thinking about the most notorious headhunters of all-time. Who were they and how many batters did they plunk? To satisfy my curiosity, I consulted the record book and came up with a Top Ten List.

Beanballs were far more common in the game's early days. In fact, they were a standard practice. Often ordered by managers themselves, they served two essential purposes:
1.) To retaliate for a home run or a plunking by an opposing pitcher.
2.) To prevent rival batsmen from getting too comfortable at the plate.
When Indians' shortstop Ray Chapman was killed by a Carl Mays' pitch in 1920, everyone became a bit more aware of the danger involved, though beanings continued to be a regular occurrence. In response to a rash of them during the 1940 slate, the Dodgers chose to wear protective cap liners in 1941. Only three other teams followed suit. Helmets would not be mandated in the majors for another 30 years. Nowadays, umpires have a zero tolerance policy and will thumb a pitcher out of a game at the slightest sign of trouble it seems. 

In compiling my all-time list of mound menaces, I was surprised to find several notoriously nasty hurlers missing. For instance, Don Drysdale, who instilled fear in the hearts of opponents for 14 seasons, hit a total of 154 batters, giving him a rank of 18. Bob Gibson, another scary guy, plugged 102 opponents between 1959 and 1975, placing him at #79. Other nasty boys such as Sal Maglie (who was nicknamed "The Barber" because of his close shaves), and Roger Clemens (who I railed against in my last post) are also absent from the Top Ten. (In case you're wondering, "The Rocket" is at #14 with 159 hit batsmen--just ahead of the fiercely competitive Nolan Ryan).

Without further ado, here is my list:
1.) Gus Weyhing 277
2.) Chick Fraser 219
3.) Pink Hawley 210
4.) Walter Johnson 205
5.) Randy Johnson 190
     Eddie Plank 190
6.) Tim Wakefield 185
7.) Tony Mullane 185
8.) Joe McGinnity 179
9.) Charlie Hough 174
10.) Clark Griffith 171

Weyhing played for 11 teams in 14 seasons from 1887-1901. In '87 and '88 alone, he pegged a cumulative total of 79 batters. His mark of 42 in 1888 is second only to Phil Knell, who drilled 54 unlucky batsmen in the American Association seven years earlier.

Fraser toiled for 7 teams between 1896 and 1909. He posted his highest single season total in 1901 with Connie Mack's A's, hitting 32 opponents.

Hawley spent just ten years in the majors but landed third on the all-time list by hitting at least 20 batters per year from 1893-1900. He led the National League twice in that category.

Walter Johnson was often referred to as "The Big Train." With 417 career wins and 2 pitching triple crowns, he was arguably the best hurler in history. He wasn't afraid to move batters off the plate though, posting double digit totals in the HBP column on 9 occasions. His single season high was 20 (in 1923).

Randy Johnson carried the moniker of "The Big Unit." In addition to being scowling and fierce, he was also a little bit wild. He led the AL in walks for three consecutive seasons while drilling a total of 34 batter in 1992/'93. During one All-Star outing, he had John Kruk so scared, the big first baseman bailed out on three consecutive pitches.

Plank: Another Deadball Era pitcher, Plank won 326 games (mostly for the A's) during his Hall of Fame career. He didn't find his way to Cooperstown by being a nice guy on the mound. He led the AL twice in hit batsmen, peaking at 24 in 1905.

Wakefield/ Hough: Both of these guys were practiced in the art of the knuckleball, which explains their wildness. Given the choice, most batters would prefer to be hit by knuckleballs, which travel at an average speed of roughly 68 mph.

Mullane may actually be higher on the all-time list since his career totals are incomplete (three seasons are missing). He hit 185 batters that historians know about. Nicknamed the "Apollo of the Box" he won at least 30 games every year from 1882-1887.

McGinnity packed his hit-by-pitch totals into a relatively short span with just 10 years of major league service. He averaged 18 beanings per year between 1899 and 1908, which he spent mostly with the Giants. Known as "The Iron Man" he hit 40 batters in 1900--the third highest total for a single season.

Griffith was referred to by Bobo Newsom as the "greatest pillar of honesty baseball ever had." Despite his personal integrity, he hit at least 20 batters during three seasons. After his 20 year pitching career was concluded, he became owner of the Senators and a beloved figure in Washington.

For good measure, I looked up the all-time victims' list and will conclude this post with it:

Hit-By-Pitch Leaders (Batsmen)

Hughie Jennings 287
Craig Biggio 285
Tommy Tucker 272
Don Baylor 267
Jason Kendall 254
Ron Hunt 243
Dan McGann 230


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