The Best Pitcher You’ve (Probably) Never Heard Of

Chicago White Sox pitcher Ed Walsh…

  • Holds the all-time records for lowest career ERA and FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching, designed to determine how good pitchers are at preventing balls from getting in play)
  • Holds the AL and post-1900 MLB records for most innings pitched in a season (464 in 1908). That’s a lot of innings.
  • Won the 1906 World Series against the Cubs.
  • Had a Sandy Koufax-style trajectory of burning out his arm when still fairly young (all those innings might have something to do with it)
  • Was elected to the Baseball Hall Of Fame.
  • Had one of the creepiest smiles of any baseball player.

The Scale Of Poor Champions

Ted Williams and many other Hall of Famers never won a World Series. Herb Washington, a bizarre (and ultimately unsuccessful) experimental “designated runner”, did, although he was partially responsible for the A’s only loss in that series by getting picked off at first in the ninth inning.

The largest group of less-than-ideal champion players are simply bench/low-level players who just happened to be on a championship team. Little needs to be said about them except that they got lucky in that circumstance. (Robert Horry is perhaps the king of these players-he managed to win more championships than Michael Jordan while being only a decent journeyman stats-wise.)

Then there are the players in starring roles who, while not absolute flops, are still less than ideal. The king of these players is Trent Dilfer, the man who won a Super Bowl thanks to his team’s defense and then got cut. “Honorable” mentions include all the starting centers on the Bulls and Warriors dynasties and many of the pitchers on the 1920s Yankees.

 

Four Assists

The career of Yinka Dare is worth noting for one number.

Four.

His 100+ game, four season career contained that many assists. A leading soccer player gets that many in one season alone. Now to be fair…

  • Dare played few minutes and almost always only played in blowouts.
  • “Bigs” at the time didn’t have that many assists.

In comparison, Darko Milicic in his rookie season, same general role, same general drawbacks, had… seven assists.

Diluted Sports Leagues

One of the craziest things I want to do is take the historical expansion of sports leagues and take it to extremes with…

  • Huge, diluted leagues. This can generally mean keeping franchises that historically moved or folded in business, or just coming up with new ones in cities technically big enough.
  • Longer regular seasons and shorter, less inclusive playoffs. This generally means only the best teams can compete, and they can pad their records beating up hapless tomato cans.

It would be er, “interesting”.

Short Point Guards

It’s weird, when my mind thinks up a fictional basketball player, nearly always it’s a short point guard. I don’t know if it’s because it’s easier to identify with someone of average height than a seven-foot giant or because it’s easier to retrofit past WIP characters as basketball players if they’re short already, but there I have it.

Basketball positions have always been the most arbitrary of any in sports, even without the current NBA fluidity. If you don’t need to pigeonhole someone into a role because of athletic limitations, you don’t. If your “point guard” can shoot baskets, your “forward” can pass well, or your “center” is very fast, all the more power to you.

Still,  I have a lot of short point guards in my mind. Not Muggsy Bogues (5’3″) short, but just 6’0-6’4 short.

Good Offense, Terrible Defense

One of my favorite footnotes in basketball history comes from the 1990-91 NBA season. Not Michael Jordan finally winning a championship. Rather, one team, the Denver Nuggets.

See, the 1990 Nuggets applied the Loyola Run and Gun offense under former university coach Paul Westhead. They scored 119 points per game on average. The Bulls scored 110, and even this regular season’s Bucks and Warriors, in an era of fast paced high scoring basketball only managed around 118.

With this scoring boom, the Nuggets finished-worst in the entire league with a 20-62 record? How? Well, that their opponents scored an average of 130 (!) points may have something to do with it. (For reference, again in a period of high scoring, the current Atlanta Hawks, the worst team in that regard, give their opponents only 119)

The closest baseball equivalent would be the 1930 Phillies, taking place in a monster hitters year. The Phillies that year finished last in the hit-crazy NL, scoring six runs per game on average-and giving up around eight.