Monday, June 30, 2014

The Greatest Offensive Pitchers (Pre-DH Era) Concluded

Here's the final installment of a three part series about pitchers who knew how to handle themselves with a bat. This little chapter takes us beyond the war years.

Schoolboy Rowe (1933-1949)
Rowe was a big man for the era at 6-foot-4 and a half, 210 pounds. Beset by injuries throughout his career, he had several dominant seasons for the Tigers during the 1930s. Between 1934 and 1936, he averaged 20 wins per year. His arm went bad after that, but he bounced back with a remarkable 16-3 record in 1940. Rowe was a skilled batsmen throughout his career, hitting no lower than .246 on eight occasions. He topped the .300 mark three times. Frequently used as a pinch-hitter, he gathered 28 hits in 101 at-bats. He was reportedly the first man to hit a ball into the center field bleachers at the Polo Grounds. He did it during batting practice.

Warren Spahn (1942-1965)
 Spahn won more games than any left-hander in history, gathering 363 victories over the course of his illustrious 21-year career. In a famous anecdote, Boston manager Casey Stengel demoted him to the minors during his rookie season after he refused to throw a brushback pitch at Dodger shortstop Pee Wee Reese. Stengel later commented that it was the biggest mistake of his managerial career. Between 1956 and 1961, Spahn assembled a streak of six consecutive 20-win campaigns. Extremely durable, he led the NL in complete games nine times. Though he finished his career with a .194 batting average, he demonstrated consistent power at the plate, blasting 35 homers. He hit 3 or more in a season four times. He was adept at moving runners along on the basepaths, successfully executing 82 sacrifices while gathering 189 RBIs.

Bob Lemon (1946-1958)
Lemon began his career as a third baseman, leading the Eastern League in runs scored and hits during the 1941 slate. Upon joining the Navy in 1943, he ended up on a service team and was used as a pitcher. He developed a highly effective curveball. After the war, the Indians tried him as a positional player, but he got off to a slow start. Acting on the advice of several veterans who had played against him in the armed forces, Cleveland Manager Lou Boudreau gave Lemon a trial on the mound. It was the beginning of a very productive career as Lemon collected more than 200 victories in a twelve-year span. Since Lemon had been trained as an infielder, he was fairly adept with a bat, gathering 100 extra base hits during his career, including 37 homers. In 1947, he complied a .321 batting average. He later became famous for the colorful statement: "Baseball is a kids' game that adults just screw up."   

Don Newcombe (1949-1960)
Newcombe captured Rookie of the Year honors in 1947 with a 17-8 record and a 3.17 ERA. His career was interrupted by two years of military service. If he had one weakness, it was a tendency to lose focus on the mound. Teammate Jackie Robinson would sometimes yell at him for it, saying: "You ought to go home because you're fooling around."  "Newk's" finest season came in 1956, when he garnered Cy Young and MVP honors on the strength of his 27 victories. The hard-throwing right-hander was one of the best offensive pitchers of all time with a .271 lifetime batting average. In 1955, he hit .359 with 7 homers and a .632 slugging percentage. Only Willie Mays posted a higher mark among qualified candidates that year. Newcombe was used frequently as a pinch-hitter and collected 20 hits while performing the job. In all, he topped the .300 mark at the plate four times, posting his highest individual average in 1958 at .361.

Don Larsen (1951-1967)
During his fourteen-year career, Larsen's highest single season win total was 11. In 1954, he led the league in losses with 21. His lifetime ERA was an unremarkable 3.78. But on one golden afternoon at Yankee Stadium in 1956, Larsen attained immortality by spinning the only perfect game in World series history. It was no easy feat as the Dodgers started five Hall of Famers against him that day. Though Larsen may not have distinguished himself otherwise, he was a fine hitter, compiling batting averages of .250 or better on six occasions. In 596 career at-bats, he slugged 14 homers and drove in 72 runs. He was patient enough at the plate to draw 43 walks. In 1953, he set a major league record for pitchers with 7 straight hits.

Don Drysdale (1956-1969)
Drysdale was a fierce competitor, hitting 154 batters during his career while leading the league in that category five times. Frank Robinson once commented about getting beaned by Drysdale: "When he did it, he just stood there on the mound and glared at you to let you know he meant it." Using intimidation to an advantage, he led the Dodgers to five World Series appearances between 1956 and 1966. His most remarkable season on the mound came in 1962, when he posted a 25-9 record with a 2.83 ERA. He was an overwhelming choice for the Cy Young Award that year. Drysdale had a few good years as a hitter during his career, especially in 1958, when he slugged 7 homers in 47 games. He hit 7 more long balls in 1965 while compiling a .300 batting average. Drysdale's success at the plate was sporadic as he consistently failed to break the .200 mark. But his 29 career home runs are among the top totals for a pitcher.

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