Tuesday, August 04, 2009

I'm in the process of correcting a major oversight.

I have read most of the great baseball books: Ball Four, Veeck as in Wreck, Moneyball, The Boys of Summer, Eight Men Out, Summer of '49 and so many others. Yet, somehow, I had never managed to read Lawrence S. Ritter's The Glory of their Times. I'm taking care of that now.

For those of you not familiar with the book, Mr. Ritter spent five years and 75,000 miles chasing down ballplayers who played in the early part of the century. He did this in the early 1960's, when most of these men were in their 70's and 80's. The stories from ballplayers like Harry Hooper, Smoky Joe Wood, Rube Marquard, Fred Snodgrass, Bill Wambsganss and others are fascinating. These guys played with and against the giants of baseball's early days: Cobb, Hornsby, Ruth, Gehrig, Walter Johnson, Cy Young, Christy Mathewson, John McGraw, Connie Mack and many others.

If you haven't read this book yet, I highly recommend it.

One thing struck me though. Many of the old ballplayers talked about how pitchers in their day would pitch the whole game, unlike then current pitchers. Keep in mind, this was the 1960's. Today we look back at the '60's and guys like Koufax, Gibson and Drysdale and wonder why pitchers can't throw complete games like those guys any more.

Did things change that much from the first 20 years of the century to the '60s or not? To verify this, I took complete game statistics from three seasons: 1920, which was roughly the middle of the period in which most of the players in The Glory of Their Times played; 1966, the year the book was published, and 2008, just for comparisons sake. Here's what I came up with. As always, thanks to the amazing Baseball Reference.com for the data.

Total games: 2,468
Complete games: 1,395
Percent complete: 56.5%
Best team: White Sox, 109 complete games (That's out of 154!)
Best player: Grover Cleveland Alexander - 33

Total games: 3,230
Complete games: 736
Percent complete: 22.8%
Best team: Twins and Giants, tied with 52
Best player: Sandy Koufax - 27

Obviously, the old-timers were right. Pitchers finished what they started less than half as often in 1966 as compared to 1920. Now, let's see how that compares to today.

Total games: 4,856
Complete games: 136
Percent complete: 2.8%
Best team: Blue Jays - 15
Best player: C.C. Sabathia - 10

No big surprise. Today's multi-million dollar arms almost never pitch a complete game. I wonder what those ballplayers from 100 years ago would have to say about that?


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