The Glory Days: Indians Showcase Triple-20s
The Cleveland Indians’ pitching staff rode herd over the American League the first seven years of the 1950s, leading the league in earned run average four times during that period
More impressive is the fact that three times during the decade, the Indians had three 20-game winners. No other team in major league history has matched that.
Upon learning that Philadelphia had signed Cliff Lee last year, a friend of mine called to guarantee that the Phillies would have four 20-game winners in 2011.
Lee joined a rotation that already included Roy Halladay, Cole Hamels and Roy Oswalt. The assumption was that since Philadelphia also featured some potent bats, the fearless foursome would have wins drop into their gloves like apples from a tree in late summer.
We all know that didn’t happen. As a matter of fact, not one Phillies pitcher won 20. Not even the best pitcher in the game these days … Halladay won 19.
A lot of things have to go right for a pitcher to win 20, and many of them have little chance of taking place in the current era. More about that later in this column.
The last time three members of the same staff won 20 or more games was 1973. Ken Holtzman and Catfish Hunter won 21 apiece for the Oakland A’s, and Vida Blue added 20. That hasn’t happened in the National League since 1923 (Cincinnati – Eppa Rixey, Dolf Luque and Pete Donahue)
Cleveland’s Bob Feller, Early Winn and Mike Garcia all won 20 in 1951. Bob Lemon, Garcia and Wynn did it in ’52, with Herb Score joining Lemon and Wynn in ’56.
The benchmark for 20-game winners in a season is the 1971 Baltimore Orioles, who boasted four of them. Only one other team in major league history has matched that, the 1920 Chicago White Sox. Red Faber won 23, Lefty Williams 22, Eddie Cicotte and Dickey Kerr 21 each.
The Orioles had a nice balance, with two left-handers, Dave McNally and Mike Cuellar, and two right-handers, Jim Palmer and Pat Dobson, among their top four starting pitchers. McNally won 21, with Cuellar, Palmer and Dobson each getting 20 victories in ’71.
The previous year, Baltimore had three 20-game winners as Cuellar and McNally both won 24 and Palmer 20.
Checking out the Indians’ stats for those three years in the 1950s when they had three 20-game winners will provide quick clues as to why no staff is likely to put up three 20-club members in the same season even once in the current era.
1951 – Feller (22-8, 3.50 earned run average, 249.2 innings pitched, 32 games started, 16 complete games); Wynn (20-13, 3.02 ERA, 274.1 IP, 34 GS, 21 CG); Garcia (20-13, 3.15 ERA, 254 IP, 30 GS, 15 CG).
1952 – Wynn (23-12, 2.90 ERA, 285.2 IP, 33 GS, 19 CG); Garcia (22-11, 2.37 ERA, 292.1 IP, 36 GS, 19 CG), Lemon (22-11, 2.50 ERA, 309.2 IP, 36 GS, 28 CG).
1956 – Score (20-9, 2.53 ERA, 249.1 IP, 33 GS, 16 CG); Wynn (20-9, 2.72 ERA, 277.2 IP, 35 GS, 18 CG); Lemon (20-14, 3.03 ERA, 255.1 IP, 35 GS, 21 CG).
You got it, didn’t you? The innings pitched and complete games caught your eye.
The discussion of these numbers – the diminishing of them, actually – has been going on for years. Everyone knows the complete game is an endangered species, with 20-game winners (11 in the past six years) certainly a rarity these days.
But the obvious point is that the longer a guy stays in the game, the better chance he has of picking up a W. No science to that.
Having three 20-game winners on the same team has been accomplished 14 times in the American League and eight times in the National. Unless something changes drastically, it won’t happen again.