Tuesday, January 21, 2014

The Best Pitching Duos in History (Part V--1940-1949)

Kirby Higbe and Whit Wyatt/ Brooklyn Dodgers (1941-1943)

Higbe was a "good ole boy" from South Carolina. An incessant talker, he loved to brag about his pitching skills. He once told a writer: "I developed my arm throwing rocks at negroes and of course they returned the favor." Higbe threw at major league hitters throughout his career, frequently resorting to brushbacks and knockdowns. In 12 seasons, he won 118 games.

Wyatt had a great fastball and a deceptive changeup, which he developed in the minors after playing several seasons and getting demoted. He put up two quality starts against the Yankees in the '41 World Series, compiling a 1-1 record with a 2.50 ERA. He didn't enjoy his first great season until the age of 32. From 1940-1943, he averaged 17 wins per year, leading the NL in '41.

                                                                    1941               1942               1943
Kirby Higbe                                                    22-9                16-11              13-10
Whit Wyatt                                                    22-10               19-7               14-5*
*- Wyatt's season was shortened by an injury

Mort Cooper and Max Lanier/ St. Louis Cardinals (1942-1945)

 Cooper was among the most dominant hurlers of the war years. A big man at 6-foot-2, 210 pounds, he won 20 games three years in a row ('42-'44), leading the league twice. He was NL MVP in '42. Largely because of his efforts, the Cardinals made three straight World Series appearances. Bone chips in his elbow slowed him down in '46. He was out of the majors after the '49 slate.

Lanier broke his right arm twice as a child and learned to pitch left-handed. He enjoyed his peak seasons during the Cardinals run of dominance during the mid-'40's. He led the NL with an ERA of 1.90 in '43. He was among a handful of players suspended for jumping to the outlaw Mexican League.

                                                                         1942               1943               1944
Mort Cooper                                                       22-7                21-8                22-7
Max Lanier                                                         13-8                15-7               17-12

Johnny Vander Meer and Bucky Walters/ Cincinnati Reds (1941-1943)

Vander Meer became famous for tossing two consecutive no-hitters in 1938. During his next start, he twirled 3 more hitless frames before Debs Garms finally broke the string. "I could have kissed him," admitted Vander Meer. "The tension was eating me up." Vander Meer struggled with control issues throughout his career. He compiled a lifetime mark of 119-121, averaging close to 5 walks per nine frames.

Bucky Walters was paired with Paul Derringer in my last post. Beginning in 1938, he gathered no fewer than 15 wins in seven straight seasons. Extremely durable, he pitched 300-plus innings every year from '39-'41. He led the league three times in victories.

                                                                         1941               1942               1943
Johnny Vander Meer                                           16-13              18-12              15-16
Bucky Walters                                                   19-15              15-14              15-15

Hal Newhouser and Dizzy Trout/ Detroit Tigers (1944-1946)

Hall of Famer Hal Newhouser won back-to-back MVP awards in '44/'45. The most successful hurler of the war years, he led the league in wins four times between '44 and '48. He won 2 games in the '45 World Series against the Cubs though he got hit hard in two of his starts. Known for his overhand curve, catcher Birdie Tebbetts remarked in '46: "It's the best pitch I've ever seen. He threw three of 'em to Joe DiMaggio and Joe couldn't even foul 'em off."

A right-hander, Trout got his nickname for his oddball behavior. "I figured that by acting a little screwy, I could draw extra customers for the club, furnish copy for the newspapers and make more money for myself," he explained. Along with Newhouser and Mort Cooper, Trout was among the top pitchers of WWII. He averaged 19 wins per year between '42 and '45, leading the league in '43. His 2.12 ERA in '44 was tops in the junior circuit.

                                                                              1944               1945               1946
Hal Newhouser                                                         29-9                25-9               26-9
Dizzy Trout                                                              27-14             18-15             17-13

Warren Spahn and Johnny Sain/ Boston Braves (1947-1950)

Spahn won 363 games--sixth on the all time list and most by a left-hander. He would have won even more had he not lost several years to the war cause. He served in the Army and won a Purple Heart along with a Bronze Star. On the diamond, he won a Cy Young award and was honored by the Sporting News as NL Pitcher of the Year four times.

Right-hander Johnny Sain enjoyed his best years in Boston, winning 20 games four times between '46 and '50. He later gave his last great efforts to the Yankees. He played in four World Series altogether and compiled a 2.64 ERA in 6 games. 
Spahn and Sain really clicked in '48, leading the Braves to a long awaited World Series berth. Sports editor Gerald Hern penned a famous poem: "First we'll use Spahn, then we'll use Sain, then an off day, followed by rain. Back will come Spahn, followed by Sain, and followed, we hope, by two days of rain." The Braves actually had two decent starters behind the aforementioned hurlers in the rotation. Bill Voiselle and Vern Bickford combined for a 24-18 record.

                                                                               1947               1948               1950
Warren Spahn                                                           21-10             24-15             20-13
Johnny Sain                                                             21-12              15-12             21-17

Bob Lemon and Bob Feller/ Cleveland Indians (1948-1951)

Hall of Famer Bob Lemon started his career as a position player in the minors. He was converted to a pitcher after WWII. Between 1948 and 1956, he won no fewer than 17 games and led the majors three times. He posted 20 or more victories on seven occasions. Extremely durable, he led the AL in innings pitched four times and complete games five times. He also hit .232 with 37 homers.

Feller started in the majors at age 17 and lost three seasons to military duty after leading the American League in wins for three straight seasons. He almost certainly would have reached the 300-victory mark otherwise. Feller had one of the most explosive fastballs in history, leading the AL in strikeouts seven times. In 1940, he claimed a triple crown with 27 wins, 261 K's and a 2.61 ERA.

                                                                        1948               1949             1950            1951
Bob Lemon                                                        20-14             22-10            23-11           17-14
Bob Feller                                                          19-15             15-14            16-11            22-8

Vic Raschi and Eddie Lopat/ New York Yankees (1948-1951)

Lopat was sometimes referred to as "the Junk Man" for his use of slow curves and other assorted slop. Casey Stengel once joked: "Lopat looks like he's throwing wads of tissue paper. Every time he wins a game, fans come out of the stands asking for contracts." Lopat, a southpaw, was among few pitchers to appear in five consecutive World Series ('49-'53). He compiled a 4-1 record and 2.60 ERA.

Right-hander Vic Rashci had his best years during the Yankees incredible World Series run in the late-'40's/early-'50's. Raschi was the most successful hurler on the squad, averaging 18 wins per year in a five year span. He won six World Series rings in all, going 5-3 with a 2.24 ERA in 11 games. Raschi used a fastball/ slider/ changeup combination. He was traded to the Cardinals after the '53 campaign when he refused to take a pay cut. He was finished in the majors after the '55 slate.

                                                                       1948              1949            1950              1951
Vic Raschi                                                        19-8               21-10            21-8             21-10
Eddie Lopat                                                       17-11            15-10             18-8             21-9

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