What he did: Hugh Casey and his contemporaries belong with Deadball Era home run champions or anyone who won a stolen base crown before 1950. Relievers like Casey, Joe Page, and others in the days before high-powered closers transformed late-inning pitching are like a prehistoric breed today. Casey’s National League-leading saves totals of 13 in 1942 and 18 in 1947 might not even rate in the top 10 these days. It certainly wouldn’t make him one of the most feared hurlers in baseball before and after World War II, able to pitch the Dodgers to two World Series, though it’s rumored a spit ball of his got by catcher Mickey Owen in the 1941 Fall Classic and lost it for Brooklyn.
I have to admit I wonder how much better Casey might fare in the modern game, when he wouldn’t have to be a maverick out of the bullpen and could learn from established relief artists. Baseball’s come a long way since Casey’s time when the bullpen was a secondhand consignment shop for arms not good enough to crack the starting rotation. Casey regularly posted far from mediocre numbers, though, and I like to think a man who went 75-42 lifetime with a 3.45 ERA over nine seasons might do ever better in a more favorable era for his talents.
Era he might have thrived in: Casey was a Southerner by birth who ended his professional career in 1950, a year after leaving the majors, helping his hometown Atlanta Crackers to a Southern Association pennant. I’d like to see what Casey could do for the modern Atlanta Braves, and with his ability to both start and finish games in multi-inning stretches, he might have been Atlanta equivalent of Rollie Fingers or Sparky Lyle in the 1970s or ’80s when great closers routinely went three or four innings.
Why: In a lot of ways, Casey was a victim of his times. Besides coming up in a less-sophisticated era for relievers, he lost three prime seasons in the middle of his career to World War II. He of course played at a point in baseball history decades before the abrogation of the Reserve Clause might have made him a millionaire. And Casey’s strikeout average, 3.3 for every nine innings which would seem to preclude him from closing today, might have been a facet of his time as much as anything– prior to the 1950s, I don’t think batters struck out nearly at the rate they do today.
In any event, he’d appear to be well-suited to close in the ’70s or ’80s, and while this might not be enough to get him in the Hall of Fame, since closers from those days like Lyle, Dan Quisenberry, and Mike Marshall remain under-recognized, it might help Casey’s life play out differently. A year after he last pitched for the Crackers, he committed suicide at 37, unable to return to the majors and apparently distraught over a paternity test. Reportedly, the death came after years of heavy drinking and womanizing. Along with Donnie Moore’s suicide and Rod Beck’s drug overdose, it’s one of the saddest ends I can think of for a once-great closer.
Any player/Any era is a Thursday feature here that looks at how a player might have done in an era besides his own.
Others in this series: Albert Pujols, Babe Ruth, Bad News Rockies, Barry Bonds, Billy Martin, Bob Caruthers, Bob Feller, Bob Watson, Bobby Veach, Carl Mays, Charles Victory Faust, Chris von der Ahe, Denny McLain, Dom DiMaggio, Eddie Lopat, Frank Howard, Fritz Maisel, Gavvy Cravath, George Case, George Weiss, Harmon Killebrew, Harry Walker, Home Run Baker, Honus Wagner, Ichiro Suzuki, Jack Clark, Jackie Robinson, Jimmy Wynn, Joe DiMaggio, Joe Posnanski, Johnny Antonelli, Johnny Frederick, Josh Hamilton, Ken Griffey Jr., Lefty Grove, Lefty O’Doul, Major League (1989 film), Matty Alou, Michael Jordan, Monte Irvin, Nate Colbert, Paul Derringer, Pete Rose, Prince Fielder, Ralph Kiner, Rick Ankiel, Rickey Henderson, Roberto Clemente, Rogers Hornsby, Sam Crawford, Sam Thompson, Sandy Koufax, Satchel Paige, Shoeless Joe Jackson, Stan Musial, Ted Williams, The Meusel Brothers, Ty Cobb, Vada Pinson, Wally Bunker, Willie Mays