In the early part of the twentieth century, only four pitchers reached the 20-win mark while playing for last place teams.
1901- Noodles Hahn Cincinnati Reds (22-19)
1918- Scott Perry Philadelphia A’s (20-19)
1923- Howard Ehmke Philadelphia A’s (20-17)
1924- Sloppy Thurston White Sox (20-14)
In 1951, Ned Garver pulled off the impossible, becoming the first and only pitcher to post 20 wins for a club that lost more than 100 games. He accomplished this unusual feat while playing for the lowly St. Louis Browns. At the time, the Browns were owned by Bill Veeck, a self-proclaimed “hustler” who often resorted to wild publicity stunts in order to draw fans to the ballpark. In his most famous gag, Veeck sent a 3-foot-7 circus performer named Eddie Gaedel to the plate to face Tigers hurler Bob Cain. Ned Garver was the Browns’ most reliable pitcher in 1951 and Veeck knew it. “There was almost nothing Ned could do to get knocked out of a game short of allowing ten runs in the first inning,” Veeck remarked in his 1962 autobiography. “We’d take him out then so we could start him again in a day or two.”
Highly durable, Garver worked at least ten innings in a game on seventeen occasions. A finesse pitcher, he used various arm slots to produce an assortment of curve balls and sliders. He was an excellent hitter, compiling a .258 batting average and .328 on-base percentage over portions of five seasons with the Browns. In 1951, he put forth his finest all around effort, hitting .305 with 5 extra-base hits and 10 RBIs. By the All-Star break, he had won 11 games. In stark contrast, the Browns had lost 52 and were sitting 25 games out of first place. Despite the lackluster play of his teammates, Garver had 15 wins to his credit by the end of August. Under strict orders from Bill Veeck, St. Louis manager Zack Taylor started Garver every fourth day and left him on the mound for as long as possible. Garver made 8 starts in September and was the pitcher of record in all of them. From September 7 through September 30, he logged 6 consecutive complete games, leading the league in that category for the second year in a row. On the last day of the season, he gave up 11 hits and 2 walks to the White Sox yet still managed to record his twentieth win. The Browns finished with a 52-102 record.