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:
|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.