Cliff Lee and Pea Soup

Yesterday I asked the great Reuben Frank on twitter when the last time was that a pitcher threw 200 innings, had an ERA as low as Cliff Lee, and won 6 or fewer games. The answer was incredible. Here’s that story. Thanks Roob for letting me know.

Cliff Lee is having a year for the ages. Lee has thrown over 200 innings. He has 6 wins. He has a 3.12 ERA. The last time a pitcher pitched this well and got screwed over this badly by his teammates? His name was George “Pea Soup” Dumont, and the United States was in the midst of World War I.

Dumont was born in Minneapolis, and started his pro career in the minors with the incredibly named Fargo-Moorehead Graingrowers. He came into the league with a bang, throwing 2-hitters in each of his first two big league starts with the Washington. But the success wasn’t sustained. In 1916 he battled injury and illness, and spent most of the season in the minors. In 1917, he was awesome…but simply couldn’t earn Ws. (It kills me that baseball-reference’s game logs go back to 1918, but not 1917. You have to think he had a ton of 1-0 and 2-1 losses.) He finished the year with a 5-14 record, despite a 2.55 ERA. Brutal. By contrast, team superstar Walter Johnson had an only slightly lower ERA that year (2.21), but a 23-6 record.

Nonetheless, he was only 21 years old and appeared to have a bright future. Appearances can be deceiving. In 1918, he went to work in Wilmington, Delaware as part of the War effort and missed most of the season. In the 1918 offseason he was dealt to the World Champion Red Sox in exchange for several players, including the incredibly named Slim Love (how is there not a rapper named Slim Love? Seriously.) He struggled in Boston, going 0-4 with a 4.33 ERA in only 35+ innings of work. He was then sent to the minors, where he spent the rest of his career. He was once signed by the Yankees, but didn’t get along with manager Miller Huggins and thus didn’t make the team. He returned to Minneapolis, where he became a car parts foreman and later a tavern owner. Musta been pretty cool to grab a beer at that tavern and listen to the bartender talk about former teammates Babe Ruth and Walter Johnson..and about the year he got hosed by his teammates.

To learn more about George Dumont, be sure to read his SABR project page.

The Saddest Nickname Ever: Hugh “Losing Pitcher” Mulcahy

One of our followers on facebook, Frank Trimborn, made me aware of Hugh Mulcahy, a Phillie with the saddest (and perhaps most unfair) nickname ever. Thanks, Frank. If any of our readers have anything you’d like to see us write about, please just let us know on our facebook page. We are always looking for interesting local sports history stories. I’m glad Frank pointed me in the direction of this one. It made me aware of a man who at first glance seemed to be little more than a hard luck pitcher with a funny nickname. But like most stories, it was a bit more complex than that. He turned out to be a class act and an American hero. 

It is quite easy for me to name the hardest luck pitcher of my lifetime. His name was Anthony Young, and despite a very respectable 3.89 career ERA (to put that into perspective, Cliff Lee’s career ERA is a slightly better 3.72), he could not win a game to save his life. He racked up 27 straight losses for the New York Mets in the early 1990s. If you think the Phils won’t score for Cole Hamels, you should have seen the inept Mets rack up zeroes on the scoreboard for Anthony Young. In 1993, they averaged a pathetic 2.09 runs per game that Young started. He was sent to the Cubs, but couldn’t shake the loser tag, and despite a solid ERA  he was out of baseball in 1996, finishing with a record of 15-48.

But Phillie fans in their 70s and 80s remember a pitcher who was every bit as snakebit as poor Mr. Young. His name was Hugh Mulcahy, and he was the losing pitcher in so many starts that he acquired that awful, unfair nickname: “Losing Pitcher” Mulcahy. Never mind that he played with a group of misfits better suited for Keystone Cops than for a baseball diamond, a team that lost over 100 games every year for the 3 straight years that Mulcahy started every 4th day. Never mind that the Phils owner, Gerry Nugent, sold off all the talent the Phils had in the late 1930s, leaving them with a shell of a team that really, honestly, shouldn’t have played in the Major Leagues. And never mind that, as sabermetrics have made us aware, the Win is a fairly useless statistic to determine a player’s value. Nope, Hugh Mulcahy couldn’t win for losing, a fact that was driven home with that brutally unfair nickname.

Of course, it shouldn’t have taken a sabermetrician to tell  you that wins were useless after Mulcahy’s 1940 season. He went 13-22, despite a 3.60 ERA (compare that to Zach Greinke of the Brewers, who this year has a 13-5 record and a 4.05 ERA). Despite the 22 losses, in his final game of the 1940 season he threw a 4-hit shutout, and it was obvious that this was a pitcher entering his prime. There is little doubt that he was poised to shed that awful nickname.

He never got the chance. Still snakebit, he was the very first major leaguer drafted by the Army, costing him the 1941 season. He was discharged on December 5th, 1941, then was back in fatigues 48 hours later. By the time the war ended and he returned to the majors in 1945, dysentery had cost him 35 pounds and the zip on his fastball, and he was out of the majors by 1947. He ended his career with a 45-89 record. After retiring from baseball, he became a coach and scout for the White Sox, working in baseball for another 30 years. And despite his cruel nickname, he had no regrets, and a remarkable sense of perspective. This from a baseball prospectus piece from John Perrotto:

Mulcahy had an easy laugh and could joke about his nickname. “You know, in sports, somebody’s gotta win and somebody’s gotta lose,” he said. “Well, I was the guy who always lost.”

And as far as the war taking away his prime?

“I don’t look back on it with any anger or bitterness,” Mulcahy said. “Our country was at war, and that was more important than baseball. There were a lot of guys who had their career interrupted because of the war. You didn’t think twice about it, though, because you doing your duty by serving your country. A lot of guys went to the war and didn’t come back. I came back and had a long career in baseball. I feel I was fortunate, not cheated.

Hugh Mulcahy was not blessed with much run support, but he was blessed with a long life. He died in Aliquippa, PA in 2001 at age 88.

RELATED: Steve Wulf wrote about Mulcahy in this 1979 piece in Sports Illustrated.

The Greatest Game in MLB History?

In June of 1971, at Riverfront Stadium, Rick Wise played perhaps the greatest game any MLB pitcher has ever played. He not only no-hit the Cincinnati Reds, he hit two home runs in the same game. He is the only pitcher to ever hit two homers while throwing a no-no. In August of 1971, he hit two dingers again, this time against the Giants. He finished the season hitting .237 with 6 homers and 15 RBIs. He talked about that game and that season with Bruce Markesun of the Hardball Times a few weeks ago.

Markusen: Let’s talk more about that game against the Reds. What did you have going for you in terms of pure stuff on the mound? What do you remember in terms of the pitching part that day?

Wise: Well, I felt warming up that I better locate my pitches because I was coming off the effects of the flu. I felt very weak that day. But it was my turn to start nevertheless. So warming up, it seemed like the ball was stopping halfway down to the catcher. So I said to myself that I better locate my pitches well.

I sweated out the remnants of the flu through the first inning; it was very hot on the carpet at Riverfront (Stadium). But I had a good rhythm. They were putting the ball in play early; it was 94 pitches in an hour and 53 minutes, and the game was over, so it went right along.

Of course, I added the two home runs. One in the fifth off Ross Grimsley, and then one off a reliever there, in the eighth inning. It was Clay Carroll, a very fine reliever at that time.

Markusen: From a hitting standpoint, Rick, the two home runs in one day. That had to be a bit of a surprise.

Wise: Well, not really. I had six home runs that year. I hit two home runs in a game twice that year. I tied a National League record. And one of those home runs was a grand slam, as a matter of fact. But I worked at hitting. I was always a good hitter, growing up in Little League, Babe Ruth, American Legion ball, high school ball, I was always hitting third or fourth. I had 15 home runs my first nine years in the National League, and then I went to the American League and never hit another one.

And Wise was no slouch on the hill that year either. He went 17-14 with an impressive 2.88 ERA. After the 1971 season, he was traded to the Cardinals for a player who would hit 10 career homers and knock in 112 RBIs over the course of his Phillies career. His name was Steve Carlton.

Cliff Lee Channels Spirit of Ol’ Pete

Cliff Lee averaged 1.2 walks for every 9 innings pitched over his first eight starts this year, leading the league.  He had not walked more than 2 batters in any one of those starts.  And then last night happened.  Lee lacked his usually dead-on-balls-accurate control and set a career high with 6 walks in 6.1 innings as the Phillies went down in St. Louis by a score of 3-1.

Lee isn’t the only pitcher to lose control this time of year.  In fact, on this day in 1923, Grover Cleveland Alexander (then pitching for the Cubs) walked three batters in a 7-4 win against the Phillies.  Walking three batters might seem to lack historical significance, but in Alexander’s case, it doesn’t.  On May 17, 1923, Alexander walked to the mound having started 6 previous games that year.  They were all complete games, totaling 52 innings pitched.  Alexander worked through each of those games and all of those innings without issuing a single free pass.  That feat still stands as the most consecutive innings pitched to start a season with no bases on balls.

The record for the longest streak of innings pitched without a walk is held by Bill Fischer, who went 84.1 innings without a single walk in 1962 for the KC Athletics.  Greg Maddux holds the National League record of 72.1 consecutive innings, which he set in 2001.