Tuesday, January 28, 2014

The Best Pitching Duos in History (Part VI--1950-1959)

Robin Roberts and Curt Simmons/ Philadelphia Phillies (1950-1954)

Among the most dominant hurlers of the 1950's Roberts was at one time the franchise leader in wins and strikeouts (both marks were later broken by Steve Carlton). He won no fewer than 20 games every year from 1950 through 1955. A workhorse, he tossed more than 300 innings in six straight seasons. He once held the dubious record of most home runs allowed, but Jamie Moyer did him a tremendous favor when he broke it in 2010. A statue of Roberts stands outside Citizens Bank Park in Philly.

A left-hander, Simmons rarely got his due with Roberts in the rotation, but he was a fabulous pitcher in his own right. A three-time All-Star, he led the AL in shutouts during the '52 slate and won at least fifteen games in five seasons. The 1950 Phillies were known as "The Whiz Kids" for their youth and spirit. Unfortunately, Simmons missed out on a World Series opportunity when he was called to the Army reserve with a few weeks left in the season. The Phillies went down in flames versus the Yankees.

                                                                               1950            1951            1953            1954
Robin Roberts                                                           20-11          28-7             23-16           23-15
Curt Simmons                                                           17-8           14-8             16-13           14-15*
*-Simmons ERA was a highly respectable 2.81 despite his sub-.500 record

Sal Maglie and Larry Jansen/ New York Giants (1950-1952)

Maglie earned the nickname "The Barber" because he liked to throw inside on hitters. "When I'm pitching, the plate is mine," he once insisted. Maglie jumped to the outlaw Mexican League after the '45 slate and was suspended until 1950. His peak seasons came between '50 and '52. He led the league in wins during the '51 slate. He posted the highest winning percentage and lowest ERA in 1950. He later became famous as Jim Bouton's ornery pitching coach in the classic book Ball Four.

Jansen set a record in the 1950 All-Star Game when NL skipper Burt Shotton left him in the game for 5 innings. He was the winning pitcher in the '51 NL playoff game that featured Bobby Thomson's famous "Shot Heard 'Round the World." Though he suffered from asthma, Jansen had five excellent seasons for Giants, winning 15 games every year from 1947-1951.

                                                                                   1950            1951            1952
Sal Maglie                                                                    18-4             23-6             18-8
Larry Jansen                                                                 19-13           23-11           11-11*
*- Jansen's season was cut short in early-September by a back injury.

Don Newcombe and Preacher Rowe/ Brooklyn Dodgers (1949-1951)

"Newk" was a big man at 6-4, 220 pounds. He was one of the first black players in the majors. In his '49 debut, he shut out the Reds. He remains the only player ever to win a Cy Young, MVP and Rookie of the Year Award. His best year came in '56, when he led the league with 27 wins and a .794 winning percentage. He had paced the loop in the latter category the previous year with a 20-5 record.

Roe was never in a hurry to finish a game, gaining a reputation as one of the slowest workers in the majors. He was known to mix in an occasional spitball along with his other slow offerings. "I got three pitches," he once said. "My change. My change off my change and my change off my change off my change." Roe's career was interrupted by injuries, but he had his best years with the Dodgers. From '51 through '53, he appeared in more than 80 games and lost only 8.

                                                                                      1949            1950            1951
Don Newcombe                                                               17-8            19-11            20-9
Preacher Rowe                                                                15-6            19-11            22-3

Early Wynn and Bob Lemon/ Cleveland Indians (1951-1956)

The Indians were one of the most pitching-rich clubs of the '40's and '50's. In my last post, I paired the illustrious Bob Feller with Hall of Famer Bob Lemon. When Feller began to fade, Lemon was backed by Early Wynn for several years. Though the subject of this post is "Pitching Duos," a third Indians' staff member--Mike Garcia--warrants honorable mention.  A three-time All-Star, the burly right-hander picked up the nickname "the Big Bear." Between '51 and '54, he won no fewer than 17 games and reached the 20-win threshold twice. Lemon and Wynn were even better, combining for no fewer than 35 victories in six straight seasons. Early Wynn was one of the most universally feared pitchers of his time, throwing at hitters often. "A pitcher has to look at the hitter as his mortal enemy," the irascible hurler once said. Iconic slugger Mickey Mantle griped: "That s.o.b. is so mean, he would f--ing knock you down in the dugout."  Lemon was mild-mannered and soft-spoken--the antithesis of Wynn. He used his curveball, slider and sinking fastball (his money pitch) to fashion five 20-win campaigns.

                                                        1951          1952         1953          1954          1955        1956
Early Wynn                                       20-13        23-12         18-9           23-11        17-11         20-9
Bob Lemon                                        17-14        22-11         21-15         23-7          18-10        20-14

Warren Spahn and Lew Burdette/ Milwaukee Braves (1956-1961)

Spahn was featured in my last post paired with Johnny Sain. When Sain defected to the Yankees in '51, Spahn more or less carried the entire pitching staff. He would eventually form a potent tandem with right-hander Lew Burdette. The dynamic duo would remain effective for the better part of a decade, leading the Braves to consecutive World Series appearances in '57/'58 (they split with the Yankees).
Like Spahn, who was forced to employ a screwball after his fastball began to fade, Burdette was more of a finesse pitcher who relied on pinpoint control. During his career, he averaged less than 2 walks per 9 frames. Burdette was accused of throwing spitballs on several occasions and always denied the charge, stating that it was part of his strategy to make batters think he was throwing them. According to the Baseball-Reference website, Burdette was known for his "constant agitation" on the mound.

                                                  1956          1957          1958          1959         1960          1961  
Warren Spahn                              20-11        21-11         22-11         21-15        21-10         21-13
Lew Burdette                               19-10         17-9          20-10         21-15        19-13         18-11 

Billy Pierce and Dick Donovan/ Chicago White Sox (1955-1958)

Pierce spent thirteen years with the White Sox and won 186 games--among the top totals in franchise history. The Sox retired his number and posted his image on the outfield wall at U.S. Cellular Field. Using a fastball/slider combo, the left-hander won 15 or more games eight times during his career.

Donovan's name is known to few nowadays, though he enjoyed several fine seasons with the White Sox. He later led the AL with a 2.40 ERA in '61 while playing for Washington. Traded to Cleveland the following year, he won 20 games. In '57, Donovan posted the highest winning percentage in the league and also paced the loop with 16 complete games. He tossed a pair of one-hitters that year.
Chicago finished in the first division every year from '55-'58 when Pierce and Donovan were at their peak together. Donovan was slowed by a sore shoulder and Pierce was hampered by a hip injury when the Sox finally won the pennant in 1959.

                                                                          1955           1956          1957           1958
Billy Pierce                                                          15-10          20-9          20-12          17-11
Dick Donovan                                                       15-9           12-10         16-6            15-14


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