Baseball: Past and Present

The impossible or at least the high baseball unlikely happened on Wednesday evening with 37-year-old vagabond pitcher Jeff Suppan winning his first game since 2010. Someone I follow on Twitter asked who must have felt worse, the Giants losing to Jim Bouton in 1978 or the Brewers falling to Suppan. I say the ’78 Giants. It was no great time to be a Giant then; Bouton was also playing just his second game back from an eight-year layoff after writing Ball Four when he combined with two others to three-hit the Giants on September 14, 1978.

I tweeted as much to my friend (@euqubud), who replied:

Probably. It makes me wonder who are the worst/unlikeliest pitchers to win a game. You’d think Bouton would be on it.

I did a few Play Index searches on Baseball-Reference.com, and for our purposes, Bouton comes nowhere close to infamy. Nor does Suppan, who managed to throw four-hit shutout ball over five innings. No, the men I’ll highlight did far worse.

Since 1918, 17 pitchers have won a game surrendering at least 10 earned runs apiece. Sixteen of these men did it in the days before use of relief pitchers was commonplace or sophisticated, when hurlers were expected to finish the games they started regardless of how they went. Then there’s Russ Ortiz, who got one of the ugliest wins ever on May 21, 2000, a landmark offensive season at the height of the Steroid Era.

A list of the 17 pitchers follows in chronological order:

Rk Player Date ▴ Tm Opp Rslt IP H R ER BB SO HR Pit Str BF
1 Gene Packard 1918-08-03 (1) STL PHI W 16-12 8.1 15 12 12 3 3 1 41
2 Ernie Wingard 1925-05-31 SLB CHW W 15-11 9.0 19 11 10 1 0 0 45
3 Bill Sherdel 1926-07-13 STL BRO W 12-10 9.0 16 10 10 1 5 4 42
4 Pete Donohue 1928-06-02 CIN BSN W 20-12 6.1 14 11 11 0 0 3 33
5 Elam Vangilder 1928-09-29 DET NYY W 19-10 9.0 18 10 10 1 3 2 46
6 Ray Moss 1929-05-18 (1) BRO PHI W 20-16 5.2 13 10 10 6 1 1 33
7 Herb Pennock 1930-06-26 NYY CLE W 13-11 7.1 16 10 10 1 3 3 38
8 Phil Collins 1932-06-23 PHI CHC W 16-10 9.0 14 10 10 3 2 2 40
9 Eddie Rommel 1932-07-10 PHA CLE W 18-17 17.0 29 14 13 9 7 0 87
10 Tommy Bridges 1934-09-26 (1) DET CHW W 12-10 7.0 11 10 10 3 7 1 35
11 Jack Knott 1936-09-02 SLB PHA W 13-11 9.0 12 11 11 7 2 1 43
12 Oral Hildebrand 1937-04-21 SLB CHW W 15-10 9.0 17 10 10 4 2 0 47
13 Buck Ross 1938-08-16 PHA BOS W 14-11 8.2 13 11 10 3 5 2 45
14 Thornton Lee 1938-09-28 CHW CLE W 14-11 9.0 16 11 11 6 3 2 49
15 Ralph Branca 1949-06-25 BRO PIT W 17-10 9.0 12 10 10 5 5 5 145 86 41
16 Bob Friend 1954-05-02 (2) PIT CHC W 18-10 7.2 14 10 10 5 6 4 42
17 Russ Ortiz 2000-05-21 SFG MIL W 16-10 6.2 8 10 10 3 7 2 132 81 32

This says nothing, of course, of the myriad of less physically-gifted pitchers who managed to win a game without getting torched. Surely in the distant annals of baseball history, some men who had no business pitching in the majors have won a game or two or more. As modern players continue to become better developed, the majors ever more densely packed with talent, I imagine their lesser pioneers will become ever more of bygone relics.

I’m not going too deep in my analysis here, though if anyone has any thoughts, please feel free to weigh in.



3 Comments so far

  1.    Chuck Moehringer on May 3, 2012 8:48 am      

    Not the worst “pitcher” to win a game, or the worst pitched game, but one of the the most unlikely was Rocky Colavito on 25 August, 1968 for the Yankees against the Tigers.

  2.    Graham Womack on May 3, 2012 8:52 am      

    Hi Chuck, good call. Joe Guzzardi wrote something about this game in 2010.

  3.    Alvy on May 4, 2012 11:08 pm      

    @Chuck. I remember that weekend and was at the Monday night game when they brought Gene Michael in. Those were sad days for Yankee fans for sure. And getting to see a game that the Yanks would shine seemed so rare despite their improvement in ’68.
    That reminds me of another game we went to that summer when Rocky shined. I think it might have been against the Athletics or Cleveland, not sure. My grandfather took me and my two older brothers to the game and I think by the 7th the Yanks were down 7-0. My older brother who was the real Yankee fan was so bummed out that he wanted to leave. My other brother and I kept quoting Yogi Berra, which did no good. We were past the turn-styles when we heard the crack of a bat and the crowd roaring and then another and another. By the time we got to the car and turned on the radio the Yanks had scored 5 runs! They ended up losing 7-6 with Rocky hitting a home run. It would have been the only rally we would have seen that whole season from the 4 games we had gone to.

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  • Written by Graham Womack