100th anniversary: Eppa Rixey debuts

100 years ago, a Hall of Famer made his big league debut, southpaw starting pitcher Eppa Rixey.

He’s frankly one of the stranger and more questionable Hall of Fame picks. He isn’t one of the worst mistakes in Cooperstown history. Those guys are short career’ed hitters with numbers inflated by the era they lived in – people like George Kelly or Chick Hafey.

Rixey was a good pitcher for a long enough time to accrue some legitimate overall value, but he was never really a great pitcher in any one moment.

He won 266 games in his career, a very impressive total. He also lost 251 games, also impressive, but not in a good way. His .515 winning percentage is the worst for any Hall of Fame starting pitcher.

That wasn’t entirely his fault, as his teammates didn’t support him very well. That was especially true after World War I. The Phillies began a stretch of 30 losing campaigns in 31 seasons in that span, and Rixey was there for the beginning. After serving in the armed forces in 1918, Rixey went 17-34 with his talent deprived team in 1919-20.

Then good fortune shined Rixey’s way and the Reds traded for him. He’d post three winning seasons for them in the 1920s, most notably a league-leading 25 wins in 1922. That was the only time he led the league in any really notable category. Rixey also led the league in starts, innings, hits allowed, and total batters faced in 1922. He was the quantity king that year.

With the Phillies he’d twice led the league in losses, but then again no one wants to do that. With the Reds he’d later once top the league in shutouts and a second time in both starts and hits allowed.

While he was durable, Rixey was ultimately more good than great. He could tally 20 wins multiple times because it was easier to get 20 wins then than now. He was the Jerry Koosman of his day, though.

Perhaps that isn’t fair, as Rixey was more durable than Koosman. When he retired, Rixey was sixth in games, eighth in games started, and 14th in all-time innings pitched. From 1900-59, only three pitchers started 550 games: Walter Johnson, Pete Alexander, Christy Mathewson, and Eppa Rixey. And Rixey had more starts than Mathewson.

So while Rixey was a quantity king, but he was more than just some quantity prince.

A better comp for Rixey might be Early Wynn. Both had similar career counting stats—IP, TBF, GS. Wynn had a clearly superior W-L record but Rixey tops him in ERA+.

Rixey is hardly one of the most glamorous Hall of Famers, but if you’re fairly comparable to Early Wynn, you’re also not one of the worst Hall of Famers. And he began his Hall of Fame career exactly 100 years ago today.

Aside from that, many other baseball events celebrate their anniversary or “day-versary” (which is something that occurs X-thousand days ago) today. Here they are, with the better ones in bold in case you want to skim.

Day-versaries

6,000 days since the MLB executive council approves of interleague play beginning in 1997. It still needs the Players’ Association to approve of it, but they will.

7,000 days since Seattle’s Chris Bosio tosses a no-hitter. He walks the game’s first two batters and then retires 27 in a row in a 7-0 win over the Red Sox.

7,000 days since Mark Koenig, a starting infielder on the 1927 Yankees, dies.

8,000 days since the Cubs top the Expos 2-0 in 10 innings in an excellent pitchers duel. Both Chicago’s Greg Maddux and Montreal’s Mark Gardner tosses nine innings of shutout ball, allowing a combined six hits (two by Maddux), and two walks (one each) while fanning 15 (10 by Gardner).

15,000 days since Chris Chambliss makes his big league debut.

Anniversaries

1866 Matt Kilroy, who struck out over 400 batters in a season in the 1880s, is born.

1884 Deacon McGuire makes his big league debut. The long-lasting catcher will appear in games in 26 different seasons.

1888 George Van Haltren throws a rain-shortened six inning no-hitter. Despite his pitching prowess, he’ll soon switch to the outfield, where he’ll be one of the best center fielders of the 1890s.

1890 Silver King tosses a shortened game eight inning no-hitter in the Players League.

1892 The Phillies all-time franchise record hits .500 (568-568). It’ll stay above this level for the next 30 years.

1901 Despite the Reds losing 21-2 to the Dodgers, Cincinnati starting pitcher Doc Parker goes the distance, allowing 21 runs on 26 hits in eight innings of work. By the eighth inning, Brooklyn batters are so sick of running around the bases that they half-heartedly tap the ball into play.

1901 Hughie Jennings is in Philadelphia to sign with the A’s, but changes his mind and signs with the Phillies instead.

1903 Washington manager Tom Loftus gets into a fight with Browns starting outfielder Jesse Burkett. Both home plate umpire Tom Connolly and Browns manger Jimmy McAleer believe that Loftus is drunk during today’s game.

1904 The Boston Herald newspaper refers to the AL New York club as the Yankees, which might be the first time that’s ever happened in print.

1914 Walter Johnson hits his only grand slam, which proves to be the difference in a 7-3 Senators win over the Tigers.

1915 Rube Foster throws a no-hitter for the Red Sox, 2-0 over the Yankees. It’s the first no-hitter at Fenway Park.

1917 In the Pacific Coast League player tries to steal third base—but the bases are loaded. Incredibly, it works as it causes the pitcher to balk.

1918 Davy Force, 1870s baseball star, dies.

1918 Ed Lopat, star Yankees pitcher in the Casey Stengel years, is born.

1928 In the ninth inning of the second game of a doubleheader, star Cub outfielder Hack Wilson goes into the stands at Wrigley Field and attacks milkman Edward Young, who’d been heckling him all day long.

1929 Babe Ruth ties a personal best with seven RBIs in one game. It’s the second of four times he does that.

1930 Ill-deserving Hall of Fame starting pitcher Jesse Haines endures his worst Game Score ever: -7. His line: 8 IP, 20 H, 13 R, 11 ER, 2 BB, and 1 K. It’s personal worst for hits, runs, and earned runs allowed.

1932 Goose Goslin, who is near the end of his career, hits his first home run. It’s career homer 175 out of 177.

1933 In the Texas League, Dizzy Dean loses when opposing pitcher Ralph Erickson tosses a 2-0 no-hitter.

1935 The Reds purchase veteran outfielder Babe Herman from the Pirates.

1938 Red Sox hitter Pinky Higgins sets a record by getting 12 straight hits. He reaches base in 14 consecutive times in this stretch.

1939 Mel Ott gets his 2,000th career hit.

1941 The Browns top Lefty Grove at Fenway Park. No one has beaten him there at May 3, 1938 – their 20th straight win at home.

1945 The Tigers and A’s battle to a 1-1 24 inning tie.

1946 Hall of Famer Hal Newhouser wins his 100th game. His record: 100-72.

1946 A syndicate headed by Bill Veeck buys the Indians from Alva Bradley for $1,600,000.

1951 Bill Veeck gets an option to buy the Browns from Bill and Charles DeWitt.

1951 Johnny Mize enjoys the last of his 30 multi-home run games.

1952 The Inter-State League’s Harrisburg club signs Eleanor Engle, a female player. She’ll never play as the league president will ban her before she gets a chance.

1955 The Red Sox signs amateur free agent pitcher Bill Monbouquette, who will be a very good pitcher for them for some time.

1955 Richie Ashburn has the first of three career multi-home run games. Not bad for a guy with only 28 career home runs. His WPA for the day is 0.622, his best. He drives in four runs in a 10-8 Phillies win over the Cardinals.

1955 Mickey Mantle becomes the first ever player to homer to straightaway centerfield at Yankee Stadium, clearing a 30-foot high wall.

1956 The Orioles and White Sox toss dueling one-hitters against each other. The Sox win, 1-0.

1956 Rick Sutcliffe is born.

1957 Von McDaniel two-hits the Dodgers in his first big league start. Not bad for a kid who just graduated from high school a little earlier this year. There are no hits until the sixth inning.

1959 Hank Aaron smashes three homers in one game. He’d never done that before and will never do it again. His six RBIs today ties his personal best also.

1960 Richie Ashburn hits his 100th career triple.

1960 In the California League, Steve Dalkowski fans 19 for Reno over Stockton.

1963 The Indians sign free agent Early Wynn.

1963 The Twins sign amateur free agent Reggie Smith.

1964 Jim Bunning tosses a perfect game, which is also his second career no-hitter. He fans 10 for a Game Score of 97.

1966 Satchel Paige makes his final professional appearance on the mound, tosses two innings for the Carolina League’s Peninsula Grays versus the Greensboro Yankees. He allows two runs in it.

1967 Bob Uecker smashes the only grand slam of his career.

1968 Hall of Fame skipper Walter Alston suffers his 1,000th loss. His record: 1,278-1,000.

1968 After 48 straight scoreless innings, the Cubs finally score a run. They lost three games 1-0 in the meantime.

1968 Hank Aaron smashes his 494th career home run, passing Eddie Mathews as all-time Braves dinger king.

1969 Veteran pitcher Johnny Podres plays in his last game.

1970 Jim Fregosi becomes the first person to homer 100 times for the California Angels.

1970 In a 12-inning game, lifetime .215 hitter Carlos Gutierrez gets seven hits for the Tigers.

1971 Ken “Hawk” Harrelson announces his retirement from baseball to join the pro golf tour. It doesn’t take.

1972 Bob Gibson wins his 211th game, passing Jesse Haines as the all-time Cardinals franchise win leader.

1972 Rico Petrocelli ends the day with an unusual line}: six RBIs but just one hit. He had a grand slam and two sacrifice flies.

1973 Bert Blyleven tosses the sixth of his 15 career 1-0 complete game shutout victories.

1973 Bob Robertson hits the only walk-off GIDP since 1956. Pirates 2, Mets 1.

1973 Dave Winfield smashes his first home run.

1973 Lee May smashes three homers in one game for the Astros.

1973 Stan Bahnsen shuts out the Indians 2-0, but gives up 12 hits while doing so.

1974 Matty Alou appears in his final game.

1975 Against the Rangers, young Angels fireballer Frank Tanana fans 17 batters in one game, his personal best.

1976 Bert Blyleven wins his 100th game, giving him a record of 100-93. It’s also the ninth of his career 15 complete game 1-0 shutout victories.

1976 The Giants sign amateur free agent Bob Brenly.

1978 The Red Sox currently lead the Yankees by 13.5 games. They will blow the lead, though.

1982 The Yankees release outfielder Bobby Bonds.

1982 Rod Carew’s longest hitting streak peaks at 25 games.

1986 Heisman Trophy winner Bo Jackson signs with the Kansas City Royals.

1986 Tony Gwynn enjoys his best WPA game: 4-for-6 with an IW, HBP, and two stolen bases for a 0.757 WPA in a 8-7 Padres win over the Dodgers.

1988 Alan Trammell belts a walk-off grand slam for a 7-6 Tigers win. The homer came on a full count, too.

1989 The Yankees trade Rickey Henderson back to the A’s for three home runs.

1989 Sammy Sosa hits his first career home run. It comes off Roger Clemens.

1991 Frank Thomas suffers his worst WPA game: 0-for-4 with 3 Ks, a walk, and a GIDP for a –0.472 WPA. In the bottom of the ninth with one out and the bases loaded, Thomas hit into an inning-ending double play that sent the game into extra innings.

1993 Jeromy Burnitz makes his big league debut.

1994 Lou Whitaker smashes a walk-off grand slam, the sixth of eight career walk-off homers for him. Eight is a lot for someone with fewer than 250 homers.

1997 Milwaukee’s County Stadium suffers flooding when six inches of rain land in a few hours. Dugouts are filled with water to the roof.

1998 Al Campanis, former Dodgers front office official, dies.

1998 Bob Howry makes his big league debut.

1998 Paul Lo Duca makes his big league debut.

2000 Eric Chavez hits for the cycle.

2001 The White Sox purchase veteran slugger Jose Canseco from the Newark squad in the Atlantic League.

2002 In a New York-Pennsylvania League game, a 38-year-old woman runs on the field to argue an umpire’s call. She’s there with her eight-year-old daughter’s Brownie troop.

2003 In a 13-inning game, Nomar Garciaparra gets six hits.

2003 Jim Thome enjoys his greatest game according to WPA. He’s three for five with two homers and a walk in a 6-5 Phillies win over the Red Sox. His WPA: 0.888.

2006 Jose Reyes hits for the cycle.

2009 Albert Pujols hits his ninth career grand slam. It’s the third of five he’ll get this year.

2009 Tony LaRussa becomes just the third manager to ever notch 2,500 career wins.

2010 Tampa Bay owner Stuart Sternberg says the team can’t succeed if they continue to play in Tropicana Field—or in downtown St. Petersburg at all.

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Comments

  1. Paul G. said...

    They traded Ricky for three home runs?  We could only hope that Polonia, Cadaret, and Plunk were that useful!

    Rixey is indeed an interesting case.  My suspicion is he was being judged on a curve of two sorts.  After his last season of major league ball in 1933, Eppa had 266 wins which at that point was historically very good but not overwhelming.  There were already 11 300-game winners at that point and if my perusal of baseball-reference.com is right, he would have ranked 14 all-time in victories.  However, we now encounter curve #1, which is the fact that Rixey is a lefty.  In 1933 those 266 wins made him #2 among portsiders behind Eddie Plank (326).  (Of note, Lefty Grove was at 195 on his way to 300; Carl Hubbell was at exactly 100 on the path to 253.)  So he has the novelty advantage going for him there as he was the second best in a limited but still important category, the beta fish in the small pond if you will. 

    This brings us to our second factor, which is the HOF membership at the time.  Look at the LHPs enshrined when Eppa was selected in 1963.  Plank and Grove are clearly superior.  Hubbell (elected 1947) has the better ERA+ (130 to 115) but their raw ERAs, which is what the sportswriters at the time would have referenced, are similar (2.98 to 3.15), plus Eppa has more wins and threw more than 900 more innings.  Waddell (Old-Timers 1946) has an even more impressive raw career ERA (2.16! only 135 ERA+) but he only won 193 games and pitched 1500 less innings.  And finally there is Herb Pennock (1948) who was voted in by the writers – yes, the baseball writers thought he was good enough, not some questionable committee decision – ahead of Eppa despite the fact that Eppa has more wins, a better raw ERA by quite a bit (3.15 to 3.60!), and 900 more innings.  When you have a guy on the outside looking in and has a decent argument that he is better than the majority of the Hall of Famers in his category, it gets awkward to argue against him.

    It also helped that he died in 1963, the year he was selected.

  2. Chris J. said...

    Paul – nice break did.  Especially good point about his death helping his candidacy.  That often does help.

  3. Bill Rubinstein said...

    Rixey was probably elected because Warren Spahn had broken his NL lifetime wins mark for left-handers a few years earlier. Rixey was a well-educated man and quite a wit- when he was elected he is reputed to have said “They are really scraping the bottom of the barrel, aren’t they?” and also said that he was glad that Warren Spahn had broken his record, otherwise no one would have heard of him. He was a very good pitcher on mediocre teams.

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