More Southpaws

Continuing in the vein of the last post, here’s some thoughts on three more left-handed pitchers. They are listed in the order they arrived in the Major Leagues. No implication of order in a list of 10 or 20 or 3 is implied.

Carl Hubbell–rates as the National League’s finest pitcher of the 1930s and with the possible exception of Lefty Grove is the best pitcher in the big leagues. Hubbell played 16 seasons, all with the Giants and led the team to three pennants and the 1933 World Series championship (over Washington). He won 20 or more games five years in a row, 17 or more three more times, won three ERA titles, a shutout title, led the NL in strikeouts once, and his ERA+ peaked at 195 in 1933. He’s also famous for winning a season’s worth of games in a row and striking out the first five men in an All Star game. His winning percentage is .622 and his ERA is 2.98 which is terrific for the 1920s and 1930s. His overall record is 253-154 and then there’s that MVP trophy for both 1933 and 1936 making him one of three pitchers to win multiple MVP awards. Walter Johnson won both a Chalmers Award and a League Award, early versions of the modern MVP. Hal Newhouser is the other pitcher to win multiple MVP awards (back to back in 1944 and ’45).  Hubbell’s great pitch was the screwball and according to legend he threw it so much the palm of his hand turned to face outward when he walked. Over the years he’s lost some of his luster. A couple of reasons for that. First, it was a long time ago and secondly he never got to 300 wins. I also think it matters that the Giants have moved to San Francisco. There seems to be a disconnect between the New York and Frisco versions of the Giants that is different from the Los Angeles and Brooklyn versions of the Dodgers. The LA Dodgers seems to embrace the Brooklyn team, the Giants not so much (Giants fans might disagree but that’s how it seems to me).

Whitey Ford–among pitchers with 110 wins or more who pitched from a mound, Ford has the highest winning percentage at .690. He got to New York in 1950, became the youngest man to win a World Series game at age 21 (don’t know if that’s still true), went to the military for Korea, then came back and was the major pitching force for the late 1950s and early 1960s Yankees. He won 236 games, lost 106 and put up an ERA of 2.75 over a 16 year career (the same number of years as Hubbell). The Yankees through that entire period had at best a mediocre pitching staff. One year Johnny Kucks had a good years, the next season it was Don Larsen, another it was Bob Turley or Art Ditmar. What they had was Ford. He gave them good years for most of the period and in World Series play went 10-8 with four of the losses coming in his last three Series’. He broke Babe Ruth’s record for consecutive scoreless innings in World Series play. And somehow he’s gotten overlooked in the grand scheme of things. I think because he pitched in a hitters era and his team was primarily known as a hitting team, Ford falls through the cracks. He wasn’t quotable like Berra, or charismatic like Mantle or DiMaggio. He was, however, a heck of a pitcher.

Sandy Koufax–there is absolutely nothing obscure about Koufax. He still maintains his hold on the American imagination although he hasn’t pitched in 45 years. For those of us who saw him we understand why. He simply was the best I ever saw. In his prime he was better than Seaver (and Seaver is probably the best right-hander I ever saw), better than Clemons (with our without steroids), better than Palmer (although Koufax lost his last game to Palmer). “They” say a curve ball doesn’t really curve. “They” never faced Koufax. His record was 165-87 for a .655 winning percentage (129-47 and .733 over his last six seasons). He led the National League in wins three times, in ERA five, in strikeouts four, and his 382 whiffs in 1965 was a record (and it’s still second to Nolan Ryan’s 383). He led the league in shutouts three times, in WHIP four, and won the 1963 MVP Award. He also has one of my favorite stat sets: 2324.1 innings pitched and 2396 strikeouts. Not many pitchers with 1000 innings pitched have more strikeouts than innings pitched. Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, Nolan Ryan, and Oliver Perez did as do current pitchers Tim Lincecum and Kerry Wood. Among relievers only Trevor Hoffman did. In his first six years he was wild, but never walked more than he struck out (although it’s close a couple of years). He was a “bonus baby”, which meant he had to spend his first two years in the Majors without benefit of Minor League experience. It showed. He was a member of four Dodgers World Series winners, although is contribution to the 1955 win was negligible. He ended up with arthritis and retired at 30 after a year in which he won 27 games. And I think that’s also a great deal of his mystique. We never saw a worn out, tired, over the hill Koufax whose curve didn’t and whose fastball wasn’t. So there is always a “what did we miss?” quality about him and an awe at what we did see.

Add these three to the six 300 game winners and you easily have a top nine of left-handers. That still leaves one more for ten. Another post for another day.

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