Big Ed

Big Ed Walsh

This year marks the 100th anniversary of Ed Walsh’s retirement from the Major Leagues. It dawned on me that I’ve never actually done anything in particular on him. So I’ve decided to change that.

Most people know nothing about him. I suppose if pressed, they might know he’s in the Hall of Fame, but wouldn’t have any idea why. A few might know he won 40 games one season, but not many. Another group might know he has the lowest ERA of any major pitcher, and some of them might guess that’s why he’s in the Hall of Fame. They’d probably be right on that.

Walsh played a long time ago (1904-1917), mostly with a fairly obscure team (the Chicago White Sox–who are much more obscure than their crosstown rivals, the Cubs), and didn’t win anywhere near 300 games (195). He was a Deadball Era pitcher and his ERA (1.82) makes him, arguably the deadest of deadball pitchers. If you look at any season in which he pitches at least 100 innings, his highest ERA is 2.60, his rookie season. His low is 1.27 in 1910, a year he goes 18-20 over 370 innings (proving ERA and win-loss record do not necessarily correlate). His 40 wins come in 1908 when he leads the American League in wins, strikeouts, winning percentage, complete games, innings pitched, shutouts, and just about everything else a pitcher can lead in except, interestingly enough, ERA. His 1.42 is third behind Addie Joss and some guy named Cy Young.

In 1906 the “Hitless Wonder” White Sox managed to get to the World Series while being dead last in the AL in hits, homers, and batting average (and next-t0-last in a lot of other categories). That, you’ve already figured, means they had to pitch pretty well, right? True and Walsh was in the mix going 17-13 with a 1.88 ERA (his first ERA under two), and a league leading 10 shutouts. His WAR was 4.7 (his first WAR above 1). In the World Series, where the ChiSox upended the heavily favored Cubs in six games, Walsh won two games, one a complete game shutout and struck out 17 Cubs in 15 innings. There was no Series MVP in 1906, but he might have won it if it existed.

He hurt his arm in 1912. At the time his record stood at 182-118. He played five more years going 13-8 to finish 195-126 (.607 winning percentage). Both his 1.82 ERA and 2.02 FIP are all time records. His career WAR ended at 63.2. The Hall of Fame came in 1946. He died in 1959. His son played a few years in the Majors without much success.

Ed Walsh is, in some ways, the epitome of a Deadball Era pitcher. He has a low ERA, a lot of innings pitched, a lot of wins in a season, a ton of complete games, and a high winning percentage. He deserves to be remembered.





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