Most Wins (By Letter)
So, we had some fun last week by looking at the leading home run hitter by letter of the alphabet, and the response was so great that I came up with this idea of trying to do something quirky on Fridays that we will call “Weekend Fun Read.”
Check out the fun new header!
The Weekend Fun Read could be anything. It could be a countdown of some kind, or it might be something wildly off topic or it might be a brilliant reader request — let’s see how it evolves. For now, since you liked the Home Run countdown so much, I figure our first official WFR will be seeing which pitchers have the most wins by letter.*
*Yes, it’s true, we here at JoeBlogs have little-to-no use for the analytical value of pitcher wins. However, for a list like this, I think they work pretty well. I was going to do this by pitcher strikeouts (and still might down the road) but I think it’s just a little bit more fun to use wins. Let’s see how many you guess right.
A: Pete Alexander, 373 wins
I’m trying to think when Grover Cleveland Alexander began to be known colloquially as Pete. I think Bill James is the one most responsible. But even now there are people who when you say “Pete Alexander” have no idea who you’re talking about, but when you say “Grover Cleveland Alexander,” they somehow know. … By the way, Doyle Alexander is tied for second on this list with 194 wins, which is fun.
B: Bert Blyleven, 287 wins
Blyleven is well ahead of Three Finger Brown (239). When you look at Blyleven’s jaw-dropping numbers now — 287 wins, 3,701 strikeouts, 60 shutouts — it is utterly stupefying, beyond belief even, that it took so long for him to get into the Hall of Fame. I’m not going to get into ESPN’s 100 greatest players countdown because, frankly, it would be uncharitable for me to do so, but for them to leave Blyleven out sort of gives you an idea just how under-appreciated the guy still is. (And yes, he’s in The Baseball 100.)
C: Roger Clemens, 354 wins
You will ask — well, maybe you won’t ask, but I did — “How many letters are there where Steve Carlton’s 329 wins are not enough to lead?” The answer is nine letters, which I have to say is way more than I expected, though some of that is because of those pitchers in the 19th Century and Deadball who piled up a lot of wins.
D: Hooks Dauss and Paul Derringer, 223 wins
Our only tie. Dauss was a small but mighty pitcher for Detroit between 1912 and 1927. They called him Hooks because of his dazzling curveball, and he averaged more than 260 innings per season from 1913 through 1923. He was soft-spoken and universally liked. Derringer, meanwhile, was a giant man with impeccable control, at least on the mound. Off the mound, he was a wild man who loved fine clothes (they called him “The Dude”), good liquor and getting into the more-than-occasional brawl. He won 20 games for the Reds each year from 1938 through 1940.
E: Dennis Eckersley, 197 wins
It is often overlooked how good a starter Eckersley was from 1975 through ’85. It’s true, he wasn’t exactly on the Hall of Fame track, but he won 145 games by age 30. I have sometimes wondered how Eckersley as a rookie in 1975 — when he went 13-7 with a 2.60 ERA and a top 10 finish in strikeouts — did not receive a single Rookie of the Year vote. But the answer is actually simple: In those days, each writer voted for only one player for Rookie of the Year (no second- or third-place votes) and that was the year that Fred Lynn won both the Rookie of the Year AND the MVP.*
*But, interestingly enough, Lynn did not win Rookie of the Year unanimously. Well, he sort of did, but one writer split his vote between Lynn and teammate Jim Rice.
F: Bob Feller, 266 wins
A baseball analyst named Ralph Winnie figured that if it had not been for World War II, Feller would have finished with 373 wins. Feller liked that so much he would carry around Winnie’s statistical projections with him to baseball card shows and other events and show the numbers to curious fans. I know this because I was once one of those curious fans.
G: Pud Galvin, 365* wins
There are a thousand fascinating things I could tell you about Pud Galvin — including the fact that they called him “Pud” because he could turn hitters into pudding — and I’m sure I will soon. But I think the thing people might know about Galvin is that he would be injected with the Brown-Séquard elixir, which contained monkey testosterone, and this is why there’s an asterisk next to his win total. If you prefer your pitchers monkey-testosterone free, then Tom Glavine is your next choice at 305 wins.
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H: Carl Hubbell, 253 wins
King Carl won 20-plus games every year for the Giants from 1933 through 1937 — and he won two MVP awards along the way. It’s wild to me that Hubbell, who was so great, is almost certainly best known for something he did in the ALL-STAR GAME. Yes, it was cool what he did — he struck out Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Jimmie Foxx, Al Simmons and Joe Cronin in order. But still it’s just kind of wild that in such a great career — which included three World Series, by the way — it is an exhibition game performance that everybody remembers.
I: Hisashi Iwakuma, 63 wins
There have been stunningly few pitchers whose last name starts with “I.” Best I can tell, here’s your Top 5:
Iwaukma, 63 wins
Jason Isringhausen, 51
Kazuhisa Ishii, 39
Hideki Irabu, 34
Bert Inks, 27
Special shoutout to Jeff Innis, who passed away late last week. Innis won only 10 games, but he had a super-cool pitching motion and was awfully good in relief for a few years there.
J: Walter Johnson, 417 wins
There’s an argument to be made — a pretty good one, in fact — that the best right-handed pitcher and the best left-handed pitcher in baseball history were both named Johnson. Walter and Randy. Seven-hundred-twenty wins between them. Eight-thousand-three-hundred-and-eighty-four strikeouts between them. At least one dead bird between them. Sixty-one years between them. It’s a beautiful thing, baseball, the way that it flows through the years, the way that it connects 1912 with 2002, the way it joins a stocky 6-foot-1 fireballer from Humboldt, Kan., with a lanky 6-foot-10 fireballer from Livermore, Calif.*
*Why We Love Baseball. Someone should write a book with that title.
K: Tim Keefe, 342 wins
They called him Smiling Tim because in the 1880s that’s what passed for a nickname. He was a carpenter with, legend goes, a paralyzing change-up. Funny thing is that in those days, the change-up wasn’t about the grip. The idea now is that you grip the ball a certain way — holding it more with the palm — and then it automatically comes out slower than the motion suggests. But back then, the change-up was truly a change-up; the pitcher gripped the ball the same way but PRETENDED to throw the ball hard when actually throwing it slow. Keefe, it is said, was the master.
L: Ted Lyons, 260 wins
What percentage of baseball fans, do you think, would know that Ted Lyons is in the Hall of Fame? It has to be less than 10%, no? Lyons was a very good pitcher; he spent his whole career with the White Sox from 1923 through ’46, and he became known as “Sunday Teddy” because he would generally pitch once a week — on Sundays. He called his go-to pitch a “sailer” — it was a fastball that he threw with very little spin (almost a knuckleball, which he also threw) so that it would appear to sail away from the hitter.
M: Christy Mathewson, 373 wins
So Greg Maddux is definitely our hard-luck pitcher — his 355 wins are good for only second place because of Matty. It’s a hard-luck life, being a pitcher with a last name starting with M. Juan Marichal with 243 wins would be the leader if his name were Darichal or Quarichal or Tarichal, but in the Ms he’s only good for 11th place behind, among others, Mathews, Mullane, Mussina, Moyer, Morris, McGinnity and Martinez.
N: Kid Nichols, 362 wins
Phil Niekro is second on the list with 318 wins. Joe Niekro is third with 221.
O: Al Orth, 204 wins
Like Tim Keefe, Orth was also known as a smiler — Smiling Al the Curveless Wonder. As the nickname suggests, he simply did not throw a curveball. And he didn’t have much of a fastball, either. What he did have was either a tantalizing slow ball or the weirdest damn spitball anyone ever threw. Branch Rickey said that Orth’s spitball, instead of breaking down, broke sideways. Whatever he threw, it was good enough to keep him in the big leagues for 15 years.
P: Eddie Plank, 326 wins
Eddie Plank was a character. He had no pickoff move because he did not believe in throwing the ball to first base. “There are only so many pitches in this old arm,” he told a teammate. He would constantly remind himself — out loud — how many outs were left in the game. He would talk to the baseball too. He also was known for taking forever between pitches — or at least what was considered “forever” more than 100 years ago. I suspect that if he played today, he’d be considered a fast worker.
By the way, I have no doubt that the right answer here is Satchel Paige, who figured he probably won around 2,000 games over his career.
Q: Jack Quinn, 247 wins
I guessed that this would be Jose Quintana, who is actually second on the list with 83 wins. That’s because I forgot all about Jack Quinn, one of only two big-league players born in Slovakia (the other was Elmer Valo). He had a colorful and long career — he pitched in the big leagues for eight teams over 23 years. He was a spitballing maestro; so much so that when the spitball was outlawed in 1921, Quinn was one of the few whose spitter was grandfathered in. The guy was still throwing the spitball in 1933.
R: Nolan Ryan, 324 wins
I was proud to be a small part of the documentary “Facing Nolan,” which will be premiering at South by Southwest in March.
S: Warren Spahn, 363 wins
You probably know this story, but it’s always worth repeating — Willie Mays got off to a horrible start in his big league career. He went 0-for-5 in his first game against Bubba Church and the Philadelphia Phillies. Next day he went 0-for-3, and the day after that he went 0-for-4 — the guy went 0-for-12 in Philadelphia.
“He looks like he’ll be a real good ball player,” Phillies manager Eddie Sawyer said. “But it seemed to me he’s not quite ready.”
The next day, the Giants came home to play the Braves, and Warren Spahn was pitching.
First time up, Mays crashed a long home run over the left-field roof at the Polo Grounds.
Spahn threw a shutout the rest of the game and won easily. But, as the year went on, he never stopped regretting that home run.
“His first major league hit was a home run off of me, and I’ll never forgive myself,” he would say. “We might have gotten rid of Willie forever if I’d only struck him out.”
T: Frank Tanana, 240 wins
This one is dedicated to my friend Howard, the world’s biggest Frank Tanana fan. Tanana was something else — a fireballer as a young man, a junkballer as an old man, he seemed on his way to the Hall of Fame, he seemed on his way out, it was one remarkable ride. Put it this way — in 1975, he went 16-9 and struck out 9.4 batters per nine innings, the best rate in baseball (he also led the league in strikeouts). Sixteen years later, he went 13-12 and struck out 4.4 batters per nine innings.
U: George Uhle, 200 wins
George Uhle might have invented the slider. Waite Hoyt insisted that he did. Uhle himself wasn’t exactly sure about that — at some point, he thought, pretty much every pitch that moved a little was called a slider — but he did take credit for inventing the slider name. Two things about Uhle. One, he was a Clevelander, through and through, and every now and again when I was growing up in Cleveland, the paper would do a little story about him. He seemed really colorful. The other thing is that Babe Ruth once called him the toughest pitcher he ever faced (Though Ruth did hit .336 off Uhle).
V: Justin Verlander, 226 wins
A few years ago, he passed Dazzy Vance (197 wins). There have actually been a surprising number of terrific pitchers with V names — Viola, Valenzuela, Vasquez, Vander Meer, even Cy Young winner Pete Vuckovich.
W: Mickey Welch, 307 wins
You won’t believe this — his nickname was Smiling Mickey. Seriously. What’s the deal with great pitchers of the 19th century all being called “Smiling”? Welch was a little guy, no taller than 5-foot-8, and he pitched without a windup. He pitched 574 innings for the Troy Rojans in his first season (going 34-30) and he twice pitched 500-plus innings after he came to play for the Giants.
X: David Price(?), 155 wins
Well, he called himself X — closest thing as there has ever been to a big league pitcher whose last name started with X. I believe Xavier Hernandez (40 wins) has the most wins for a pitcher with a first name starting with X.
Y: Cy Young, 511 wins
Next on the list — Chris Young with 79.
Z: Tom Zachary, 186 wins
I would have guessed Barry Zito or Carlos Zambrano, who are second and third on the list. Tom Zachary was a knuckleball-throwing lefty who pitched for seven different teams between 1918 and 1936. He won 18 games in 1921 for Washington and never won that many again, but he is best known for his 1929 season with the Yankees. That year he went 12-0 in one of the more remarkable feats of luck in baseball history.
May 7: Entered in the eighth inning with the Yankees losing 5-4 to St. Louis. The Yankees scored two in the ninth to win it (1-0).
May 25: Pitched a nine-inning complete game against Boston; he allowed 13 hits and four walks but somehow held the Red Sox to three runs and the Yankees won big (2-0).
July 9: Entered a tie game against St. Louis in the bottom of the fifth, and gave up two singles, a double and a walk in 1 1/3 innings, but somehow kept the Browns scoreless. The Yankees scored three runs in the top of the seventh and Zachary was credited with the win (3-0).
July 13: Threw nine innings against the White Sox and despite giving up nine hits and striking out zero, he held Chicago to two runs and got the win (4-0).
July 19: Another complete game, this one at Cleveland, eight hits, four walks but only two runs as the Yankees breezed (5-0).
July 28: Entered the game against St. Louis in the sixth and pitched seven scoreless innings; the Yankees won in the 12th (6-0).
Aug. 4: A complete-game shutout against Cleveland — again didn’t strike out a single batter (7-0).
Aug. 10: Pitched 5 1/3 innings at Cleveland, gave up eight hits but only two runs — Babe Ruth homered and the Yankees won (8-0).
Aug. 20: Made it 6 2/3 innings against Chicago, allowed four runs, but the Yankees scored five, even with Babe Ruth going 0-for-5 (9-0).
Sept. 1: Complete game at Boston, gave up 14 hits and four runs, but Ruth homered and Tony Lazzeri hit two homers and the Yankees won again (10-0).
Sept. 15: Maybe Zachary’s best game of the season, a four-hit shutout against Cleveland (11-0).
Sept. 24: One more complete-game performance, nine hits, three runs, one strikeout and the Yankees won 5-3 (12-0).
Crazily, the 1929 Yankees did not go to the World Series — the first Yankees team since 1925 to not win the pennant. They actually finished a distant second behind Connie Mack’s Philadelphia Athletics.