This annotated week in baseball history: Sept. 6-Sept. 12, 1913by Richard Barbieri
September 10, 2009
“It is well that war is so terrible, else we should grow too fond of it.”Lee, who spent all but the last five years of his adult life in the military, knew what of he spoke. In light of that, one can hardly imagine someone being enthused by the possibility of leaving a career as a major league pitcher in order to serve the country in war. But for Hugh Mulcahy, such an option might have seemed, if not ideal, then at least acceptable.
--Robert E. Lee
That’s because Mulcahy, who had spent 1935 through 1940 playing for the Philadelphia Phillies, lost 82 games in those seasons, including 76 from 1937 through 1940. That’s an average of 19 a season, which is pretty dreadful.
|Zach Duke, current NL loss leader, but no Hugh Mulcahy (Icon/SMI)|
On account of his woeful record, Mulcahy earned the sobriquet “Losing Pitcher,” owing his typical line in the box score. But of course, it is impossible to earn such a record without the determined, if ineffective, efforts of one’s teammates.
Mulcahy ended up with those teammates after growing up in Massachusetts where he split his time between baseball and ice hockey. Mulcahy originally played in the outfield but switched permanently to pitching as he approached his full height of 6-foot-2, which made him one of the tallest players in the league at the time of his debut in 1935.
That 1935 debut came for the Phillies who went 64-89. Mulcahy, perhaps overmatched at such a young age, started a trend by going 1-5. Mulcahy rebounded slightly the next season, though the Phillies sunk to 54-100; he went just 1-1, appearing in only three games.
1937 saw the Phillies go 61-92 but while they took a step forward, albeit a very slight one, Mulcahy took a notable step back. Appearing primarily in relief, although he made 25 starts as well, Mulcahy lost 18 games. That was second in the league, behind teammate Wayne LaMaster (which is, for the record, a simply outstanding name) who lost 19 and tied with another teammate, Claude Passeau. If you haven’t noticed, the Phillies were really, really bad.
The next season the Phillies got even worse, going 45-105, and things got even worse for Mulcahy. Upgraded to a full member of the rotation, he went 10-20. That was enough to lead the league in losses. For good measure, he also led the league in earned runs, though his ERA was merely poor rather than horrific.
Despite his numbers Mulcahy earned mild MVP support, finishing 25th. Although Mulcahy threw enough innings to rank fifth in the league, that was his only notable strong performance, so it seems his MVP votes must have come from a writer sympathetic to his plight, rather than one voting from a statistical perspective.
The Phillies meanwhile managed to get even worse in 1939, going 45-106. In addition to Mulcahy the Phils’ pitching staff featured Boom-Boom Beck and Jennings Poindexter, both of which sound like names I just made up but are not I promise you. Neither lost as many games as Mulcahy, who lost 16, third most in the league.
Unfortunately for Mulcahy, this gave him a total of 60 losses for the 1930s. Living up to his nickname, that put Mulcahy in the top 70 in losses for the decade, which is no mean feat given that he had pitched just over 75 innings in the decade through 1936. Mulcahy is also among the top 100 in losses in the first five seasons of a career. For years three through six of a career, only three pitchers had more losses.
(The leader in that category is Case Patten, which is another name it sounds like I just made up. Pattern lost 83 games pitching for the Senators in the first decade of the twentieth century.)
If Mulcahy hoped the 1940s would bring new success for him, those hopes were dashed in 1940. The Phillies lost 103 games, with 22 of those losses falling on him. Mulcahy finished 3 losses ahead of teammate Kirby Higbe for the league lead in losses, with another teammate Ike Pearson also in the top ten.
Unlike past seasons, this year Mulcahy was the victim of some bad luck. His 3.60 ERA was actually better than league average and he threw three shutouts while allowing a stingy 12 home runs in 280 innings. Mulcahy made the All-Star team in 1940, and received MVP support again, finishing twenty-ninth. (As did Higbe, I’m guessing the number one and two pitchers in losses don’t often receive that kind of votes.)
Before Mulcahy could attempt to reverse his losing ways, he was drafted into the military just before—some versions of the story say literally just before—he was to make his way to spring training for the Phillies.
Mulcahy was the first major league player to be drafted, and served approximately 10 months before being discharged in early December of 1941. He expected to resume his baseball career the next season.
Of course, early December of 1941 is a rather relevant period in history and less than a week after his discharge the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. Mulcahy was recalled to service—though largely in moral boosting duties as part of traveling teams—and would not return to the Major Leagues until 1945, missing much of the prime of his career.
For his service, Mulcahy was awarded a Bronze Star. I have never come close to either honor, but I am guessing Mulcahy was more appreciative of that than he was for his past limited MVP support.
Mulcahy threw just under 100 innings in three seasons after returning to the majors, and while reports usually claim he had lost his fastball in the Army, his performance is not noticeably worse than in the pre-war period, especially given the difference in age. Continuing his tradition, Mulcahy went just 3-7 in his return.
For his career, Mulcahy finished 45-89. The loss total is not anywhere near the all-time high, but his winning percentage (.336) is the second worst all-time among pitchers with at least 125 decisions. Mulcahy is actually lucky; just two more losses would make him number one, ahead of Buster Brown.
After his career Mulcahy spent many years in the White Sox organization, filling roles from scout to pitching coach. He died in October of 2001, leaving the legacy of "Losing Pitcher" behind.
Questions, comments and thinly veiled threats can be mailed to Richard on the back of a twenty dollar bill or e-mailed to him at RichardBarbieri@yahoo.com