March 8th, 2013

Ed Walsh Remembers

Big Ed Walsh

Big Ed Walsh

Ed Walsh,born in Plains County, Pennsylvania, not far from Wilkes-Barre, began his Organized Baseball career pitching for the Meriden, Connecticut, team in 1902. After a few unremarkable seasons in the minors he was finally drafted by the White Sox, with whom he became one of the American League greats. Famed for his spitball, Walsh was a workhorse, hurling more than 360 innings in five of of the six years 1907-1912–and leading the American League in saves five times!. In 1908 he won 40 games, a feat matched only once in the 20th century, by fellow spitballer Jack Chesbro in 1904. In the 1912 City Series between the White Sox and Cubs His career ERA of 1.82 is the lowest ever.

But 1912 was his last great year, as he ruined his arm in the October City Series between Chicago’s Cubs and Sox. In Game 1 Walsh threw nine innings of a scoreless tie, allowing only one hit. Then he pitched three innings of relief in Game 2, which after 12 innings resulted in another tie. The Cubs took the next three games,placing the Sox on the brink of elimination. The Sox took the next three to even the Series. Although he had already pitched three complete games and relieved twice in nine days, Walsh was named to start the series finale. He was in top form, hurling his second shutout of the Series, a five-hitter for his fourth complete game. Walsh, who had won twenty-seven games during the regular season, won only eight the next year, and only thirteen in his final five seasons of major league ball. Here he recalls his greatest day in baseball, as told to Francis J. Powers ca. 1940.

Did you ever see Larry Lajoie bat? No. Then you missed something. I want to tell you that there was one of the greatest hitters–and fielders, too–ever in baseball. There’s no telling the records he’d have made if he’d hit against the lively ball. To tell you about my greatest day, I’ll have to go back there to October, 1908, when I fanned Larry with the bases full and the White Sox chances for the pennant hanging on every pitch to the big Frenchman.

That was October 3, and the day after I had that great game with Addie Joss and he beat me 1 to 0 with a perfect game; no run–no hits-no man reached first. There was a great pitcher and a grand fellow, Addie. One of my closest friends and he’d have been one of the best of all time only for his untimely death two years later. That game was a surprise to both of us for we were sitting on a tarpaulin talking about having some singing in the hotel that night, when Lajoie, who managed Cleveland, and Fielder Jones told us to warm up. A pitcher never knew when he’d work in those days.

Walsh (left) and Addie Joss 1908

Walsh (left) and Addie Joss 1908

I don’t think there’ll ever be another pennant race like there was in the American League that year. All summer four teams, the Sox, Cleveland, Detroit, and St. Louis, had been fighting and three of ‘em still had a chance on this day. When Joss beat me the day before it left us two and one-half games behind the Tigers and two behind the Naps (as Cleveland was called in honor of Lajoie). We had only four games left to play.

It was a Saturday and the biggest crowd ever to see a game in Cleveland up to that date jammed around the park. Jones started Frank Smith for us and we got him three runs off Glenn Liebhardt and were leading by two going into the seventh. I was in the bull pen, ready for anything because, as I said, we had to win this one.

As I recall it George Perring, the shortstop, was first up for Cleveland and he went all the way to second when Patsy Dougherty muffed his fly in the sun. I began to warm up in a hurry. Nig Clarke batted for Liebhardt and fanned and things looked better. Smith would have been out of trouble only Tannehill fumbled Josh Clarke’s grounder and couldn’t make a play. Clarke stole second and that upset Smith and he walked Bill Bradley.

Walsh, Turkey Red Card

Walsh, Turkey Red Card

I rushed to the box and the first batter I faced was Bill Hinchman. Bill wasn’t a champion hitter but he was a tough man in a pinch. I knew his weakness was a spit ball on the inside corner so I told Sully (Billy Sullivan) we’d have to get in close on him. I did. My spitter nearly always broke down and I could put it about where I wanted. Bill got a piece of the ball and hit a fast grounder that Tannehill fielded with one hand and we forced Perring at the plate.

So, there were two out and Larry at bat. Now if the Frenchman had a weakness it was a fast ball, high and right through the middle. If you pitched inside to him, he’d tear a hand off the third baseman and if you pitched outside he’d knock down the second baseman. I tried him with a spit ball that broke to the inside and down. You know a spit ball was heavy and traveled fast. Lajoie hit the pitch hard down the third base line and it traveled so fast that it curved 20 feet, I’d guess, over the foul line and into the bleachers. There was strike one.

My next pitch was a spitter on the outside and Larry swung and tipped it foul back to the stands. Sully signed for another spitter but I just stared at him; I never shook him off with a nod or anything like that. He signed for the spitter twice more but still I just looked at him. Then Billy walked out to the box. “What’s the matter?” Bill asked me. “I’ll give him a fast one,” I said, but Billy was dubious. Finally, he agreed. I threw Larry an overhand fast ball that raised and he watched it come over without ever an offer. “Strike three!” roared Silk O’Loughlin. Lajoie sort of grinned at me and tossed his bat toward the bench without ever a word. That was the high spot of my baseball days, fanning Larry in the clutch and without him swinging.

Walsh's Spitball Grip by Charles Conlon

Walsh’s Spitball Grip by Charles Conlon

I like to think back to the White Sox of those days. In 1906, we won the pennant and beat the Cubs in the World Series. Next season we were in the pennant race until the last days of September and in 1908 we fought them down to the final day of the season. There never was a fielding first baseman like Jiggs Donahue in 1908 when he set a record for assists. Sullivan was a great catcher, one of the greatest. It was a great team, a smart team. But the tops of all days was when I fanned Lajoie with the bases filled. Not many pitchers ever did that.

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