Monday, February 17, 2014

The Best Pitching Duos in History (Part VIII--1970-1979)

Jim Palmer and Mike Cuellar/ Baltimore Orioles (1970-1973)

Cuellar got his first call to the Majors in 1959 with Cincinnati, but didn't reach his peak as a player until he was in his early-thirties. From 1969-1974, he won no fewer than 18 games per year for the O's. A left-hander, he relied on slow junk pitches, changing speeds and arm angles. A sportswriter once joked that you could catch his fastest pitch bare-handed.

Jim Palmer was one of the winningest Baltimore pitchers ever and arguably among the most dominant hurlers of the 1970s. During that decade, he was a 20-game winner seven times, leading the league in victories for three straight seasons. Palmer was a three-time Cy Young Award winner and a four-time Gold Glove recipient. He is remembered by many for the Jockey underwear ads he appeared in.

On an interesting side note, the Orioles became the subject of a trivia question in 1971, when four of their starters posted at least 20 wins--a feat that had not been accomplished in more than fifty years. For the record, the other two hurlers to win 20 games that year were left-hander Dave McNally and right-hander Pat Dobson. 

                                                              1970            1971            1972            1973
Palmer                                                   20-10             20-9            21-10           22-9
Cuellar                                                    24-8              20-9           18-12           18-13

Catfish Hunter and Ken Holtzman/ Oakland A's (1972-1974)

Hunter's Hall of Fame plaque reads: "The bigger the game, the better he pitched." His nickname was given to him by PR-conscious A's owner Charlie Finley. Known for his pinpoint control, he won at least 21 games every year from '71-'75. In '74, he captured a Cy Young Award with 25 victories and a 2.49 ERA. Hunter was a country boy at heart with a wry sense of humor. He was particularly fond of poking fun at arrogant teammate Reggie Jackson. He died in 1999 of Lou Gehrig's disease.

Holtzman tossed 2 no-hitters during his career. While playing for Chicago, he believed that manager Leo Durocher was holding him back and requested a trade. He landed in Oakland in time for three straight world championships. Between '72 and '75, Holtzman averaged 19 wins per year. In the Fall Classic, he was a clutch performer, appearing in 8 games and going 4-1 with a 2.55 ERA.

                                                                             1972              1973              1974
Hunter                                                                    21-7               21-5              25-12
Holtzman                                                               19-11             21-13            19-17

Fergie Jenkins and Milt Pappas/ Chicago Cubs (1970-1972)

Pappas got his start with the Orioles, winning no fewer than 15 games on six occasions between '59 and '67. He is on a short list of post-deadball pitchers to win 150 games before the age of thirty. In '72, he came one batter short of a perfect game. He had a 2-2 count on Larry Stahl with 2 outs in the ninth, but umpire Bruce Froemming determined the next two pitches to be outside the strike zone. Pappas settled for a no-hitter. He was a decent hitter with 20 career homers. In 1970, he was traded in late-June to the Cubs. He turned his season around and followed with two more great efforts. He retired after the '73 slate.

Jenkins won 20 games in six consecutive seasons for the Cubs from 1967 through 1972. He led the league twice in victories and retired with 284 wins. That number is impressive considering that he played most of his career with non-contending squads. He won the Cy Young Award in '71 with a record of 24-13 and an ERA of 2.77. He finished among the top three in Cy Young voting four other times. Extremely durable, Jenkins led the league in complete games four times. In 1980, he was arrested for cocaine possession and banned for life by commissioner Bowie Kuhn. It didn't stop him from being elected into the Hall of Fame.

                                                                                1970              1971              1972
Jenkins                                                                     22-16            24-13             20-12
Pappas                                                                     10-8*            17-14              17-7

*-Pappas arrived in Chicago in late-June of that year.

Luis Tiant and Bill Lee/ Boston Red Sox (1973-1975)

The outspoken Lee was among the most colorful characters of the 1970s--often making controversial statements to the press. At one point, he wanted to change his number to 337 because it spelled "Lee" upside down and backwards. Nicknamed "Spaceman," he won 17 games every year form '73-'75. He suffered arm trouble after that and was traded. He had just one good season left in him, going 16-10 with a 3.04 ERA in 1979 with the Expos.

The Cuban-born Tiant won 20 games four times between '68 and '76. He was a top notch hurler for both Cleveland and Boston. In '68 with the Tribe, he posted a 21-9 record and league-leading 1.60 ERA. He later became immensely popular in Beantown. He had an upbeat personality and was great in interviews. He was known for his pirouette style of delivery, during which he would turn his back to the plate. He also waggled his glove dramatically during his windup.

                                                                               1973              1974              1975
Tiant                                                                       20-13             22-13            18-14
Lee                                                                         17-11             17-11             17-9

Nolan Ryan and Frank Tanana/ California Angels (1974-1977)

Ryan was one of the top strikeout artists in baseball history. He set a record with seven no-hitters and also holds the all-time strikeout mark with 5,714. Extremely durable, he pitched in the majors until he was 46. Named to eight All-Star squads, he never won a Cy Young Award. Some of his best years came with the Angels during the '70s. He won 19 games four times between '72 and '79. California was often a poor team during his tenure with the club. In '76, he led the league in losses even though he posted a handsome 3.36 ERA.

A left-hander, Tanana began his career as a power pitcher. After suffering arm trouble, he relied on finesse. Tanana had a long career, gathering 240 wins in 21 seasons. His longest successful run came between '74 and '78, when he collected no fewer than 14 victories per year. In '77, he led the league with 7 shutouts and a 2.54 ERA. In '75, he topped the circuit with 269 strikeouts.

                                                                               1974            1975            1976            1977
Ryan                                                                        22-16           14-12*        17-18           19-16
Tanana                                                                     14-19**         16-9           19-10           15-9

*- Ryan's season was shortened by an injury
**- Tanana ended up with this losing record despite posting an excellent 3.11 ERA

Dennis Leonard and Paul Splittorff/ Kansas City Royals (1976-1978)

Born in Brooklyn, Leonard spent his entire 12-year career with Kansas City. From '75-'80, he was a 20-game winner on three occasions. He led the league in starts three times and placed among the top ten in shutouts on six occasions. He logged more than 200 innings of work in seven straight seasons and helped the Royals to consecutive division titles in '76,'77 and '78. In an unfortunate twist of fate, he was limited to just 2 appearances in '85 when Kansas City finally won the World Series.

Splittorff was known for his high leg kick. In '73, he was the first Royals' hurler to win 20 games. Between '72 and '80, he was a durable workhorse and prevailed in no fewer than 15 decisions on four occasions. Among the Royals' most reliable postseason performers, he went 2-0 with a 2.79 ERA in 7 appearances (4 starts). Retiring in '84, he was a Kansas City broadcaster for more than twenty years.

                                                                                  1976            1977            1978
Leonard                                                                      17-10           20-12           21-17
Splittorff                                                                      11-8*           16-6             19-13

*- Splittorff's season was shortened by a finger injury

J.R. Richard and Joe Niekro/ Houston Astros (1977-1980)

For a brief period, Richard was among the most dominant power pitchers in the majors. While playing for the Astros, who rarely contended, Richard won at least 18 games in four straight seasons. He led the NL with a 2.71 ERA in '79. He posted 200 or more strikeouts every year from '76-'79, reaching the 300 mark in back-to-back campaigns. He was off to a great start in 1980, when he suffered a stroke. He survived, but his big league career was over. 

Niekro is the brother of Hall of Famer Phil. Together, they hold the record for most wins by a sibling duo with 539. Joe's father taught both of his sons to throw a knuckleball. Joe began relying heavily on it while playing for Atlanta in '74. His most successful big league run came between 1978 and 1984, when he won 15 games five times and reached the 20-win threshold twice. In '79, he led the NL with 21 wins and 5 shutouts. Niekro pitched until the age of 42. In his last season, he was caught with a nail file in his pocket during a game and accused of "scuffing" the ball. He received a ten-game suspension.

                                                                             1977            1978            1979            1980
Richard                                                                  18-12           18-11           18-13          10-4*
Niekro                                                                    13-8             14-14           21-11          20-12

*- Richard made seventeen starts before his stroke and posted a 1.90 ERA along with 119 strikeouts

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