The Worst of the Best, Part V: More Wins
Fewest Career Wins by a Three-Time League Leader since 1893. Sandy Koufax: 25 NL 1963, 26 NL 1965, 27 NL 1966; 165 career wins. It took a while for Koufax, a bonus baby in the 1950’s to find his command, and then when once he found it extremely heavy workloads forced him to retire shortly before his 31st birthday because of the pain and damage to his pitching arm. At his peak, Koufax was arguably the best ever.
Honorable Mention. Bucky Walters: 27 NL 1939, 22 NL 1940, 23 NL 1944; 198 career wins. Not well remembered today, except perhaps in Cincinnati where he was one of the best pitchers in Reds’ history, Walters led the Senior Circuit in wins and ERA in consecutive seasons, the only two years between 1920 and 1960 in which the Reds won the pennant. His two wins in the 1940 Series were key to the Reds’ championship over the Tigers.
Walters started his professional and major league career as a 3Bman, which delayed his development as a pitcher. As such, he didn’t become a full-time pitcher until age 26. Because of his advancing age, he was able to continuing pitching in the majors through the war years, leading the NL in wins again in 1944. However, he fell just short of winning 200 career games.
Fewest Career Wins by a Four-Time League Leader since 1893. Hal Newhouser: 29 AL 1944, 25 AL 1945, 26 AL 1946 and 21 AL 1948. A promising but wild young pitcher before WWII, during the war Newhouser, who was classified as 4-F (least likely to be drafted) because of a leaky heart valve, became virtually unhittable. During the last two years of the war and the first year after, Newhouser led the Junior Circuit in wins three consecutive seasons, in ERA and strikeouts twice each, and posted sub-2.00 ERAs in consecutive seasons 1945 and 1946. He lead the AL in wins one more time in 1948, but by age 30, there wasn’t much left in Prince Hal’s arm after years of heavy workloads.
Fewest Career Wins by a Five-Time League Leader since 1893. “Iron Man” Joe McGinnity: 28 NL 1899, 28 NL 1900, 31 NL 1903, 35 NL 1904 and 27 NL 1906; 246 career wins. In his early 20’s McGinnity looked like a mediocre minor league hurler who would never amount to anything. After a couple of undistinguished seasons for Montgomery of the Southern Association and Kansas City of the Western League in 1893 and 1894, McGinnity left professional baseball and returned to his home state of Illinois, where in Springfield he ran a saloon and worked as his own bouncer.
McGinnity continued to play semi-pro ball and it was during this period he developed “Old Sal” an underhand curveball that would become his bread-and-butter pitch (McGinnity also threw overhand and side-arm to give opposing hitters different looks). His major league career started with the original Baltimore Orioles of the National League in 1899 at age 28.
McGinnity was the “iron man” with the rubber arm. He pitched an astounding 3,441.1 innings in his ten year major league career and then pitched another 14 seasons in the minor leagues (with some gaps) pitching professionally until he was 54 years old, while contending that his arm never really hurt. McGinnity won at least 485 major and minor league games, behind only to Cy Young and Kid Nichols, as far as I have been able to determine.
Fewest Career Wins by a Six-Time League Leader. Bob Feller: 24 AL 1939, 27 AL 1940, 25 AL 1941, 26 AL 1946, 20 AL 1947, and 22 AL 1951; 266 career wins. Of course, the reason Rapid Robert failed to win 300 games is almost certainly because he lost nearly four years of his career to military service during WWII. However, it is worth noting that Feller’s numbers dropped off sharply once he reached age 30. Had he pitched from 1942 through 1945 and led the league in innings pitched as he did from 1939-1941 and 1946-1947, would his career have ended that much earlier? We’ll never know.