Yankees’ 20-game winners: Mel Stottlemyre, Bob Shawkey, Vic Raschi …

12 10 2015

This resumes my series on Yankee starting pitchers.

These won’t be all the Yankee 20-game winners, just the ones that didn’t make earlier posts in this series on Yankee starting pitchers. So these are the ones who never won a Cy Young Award or won 200 career games or deserve to be in the Hall of Fame, etc.

They are notable as Yankees for at least one season reaching that important 20-win mark. I present them roughly in the order I regard their importance as Yankees.

Mel Stottlemyre

Stottlemyre won 20 games three times for the Yankees in the late ’60s (when they were lousy teams, finishing around or even under .500). He posted a .690 winning percentage for a team that went .475 in 1965. That isn’t exactly Steve Carlton in 1972 (27 wins for a last-place team), but it’s an illustration of the fact that the starting pitcher is usually the biggest factor in whether his team wins a game.

Stottlemyre, a five-time All-Star, finished 164-139, well below Hall of Fame consideration unless your career is tragically shortened. He is probably best remembered for two things (which are why I moved him to the top of this list; I easily could have started with either of the next two pitchers):

  • Bob Gibson's autograph, with some Cardinal teammates, on a ball belonging to my son Joe.

    Bob Gibson’s autograph, with some Cardinal teammates, on a ball belonging to my son Joe.

    Holding his own as a rookie in head-to-head matchups with Hall of Famer Bob Gibson in the 1964 World Series. Gibson was perhaps the best World Series pitcher ever, but Stottlemyre prevailed in Game Two, leading 4-3 after eight innings and getting a complete-game victory, 8-3, after the Cardinals’ bullpen gave up four ninth-inning runs. Gibson did not give way to the bullpen in Game Five, winning 5-2 in 10 innings (the loss going to Pete Mikkelsen in relief; Stottlemyre gave up one earned run in seven innings). Both pitchers came back on two days’ rest in Game Seven, and Gibson prevailed, 7-5. The Yankees lost the Series, but their rookie pitcher gave an enticing glimpse of what was to come (though, sadly, it was his last World Series as a pitcher).

  • Stottlemyre was pitching coach under Joe Torre for the Yankees from 1996 to 2005, an excellent stretch of Yankee pitching.

The Yankees surprised Stottlemyre this season with his own plaque in Monument Park.

Bob Shawkey

Shawkey won 20 games for the Yankees four times, 1916, ’19, ’20 and ’22. From 1916 to 1924, he was probably their best starter. He won an ERA title at 2.45 in 1920.

Twenty-win seasons were plentiful in Shawkey’s day, and he only won 195 games, so I don’t include him as a Hall of Fame contender. But there are probably some worse pitchers in the Hall. (More on Shawkey in the post on Yankees who succeeded as starters and relievers.)

Vic Raschi

Vic Raschi's autograph, on a ball owned by my son Mike.

Vic Raschi’s autograph, on a ball owned by my son Mike.

Raschi won 21 games three consecutive years for Yankee world champions, 1949-51. And he was a solid 5-3 in World Series play. He had a strong six-year run as a Yankee starter, but retired with only 132 wins, far too few for Baseball Hall of Fame consideration.

But similar players who played key roles in pro football or basketball dynasties made it to their sports’ halls of fame. Think Henry Jordan of the Green Bay Packers, Lynn Swann of the Pittsburgh Steelers or Frank Ramsey of the Boston Celtics.

Eddie Lopat

Ed Lopat 2Lopat matched Raschi with 21 wins in 1951, and was a solid Yankee starter for seven years. He was 4-1 in World Series play and won 166 career games, also too few for the Hall of Fame. But the only Hall of Famers who can match Lopat and Raschi’s string of five straight world championships are their Yankee teammates. With Allie Reynolds, who also pitched all five championship seasons, and Whitey Ford, who pitched only two of the five, they have to be one of the best starting rotations ever. And certainly the most successful.

As noted above, if baseball chose its Hall of Famers the way basketball and football do, Raschi and/or Lopat would be likely candidates for Cooperstown.

Ralph Terry

Terry led the league with 23 wins in 1962, but he’s best remembered as the pitcher who served up the ball that Bill Mazeroski hit out of the park to end the 1960 World Series in the bottom of the 9th inning of Game Seven, still the only series to end that way.

That relief appearance wasn’t Terry’s only Game Seven decision. He also pitched a four-hit shutout to nail down the Yankees’ win over the Giants in 1962, a 1-0 decision that was one of the best games ever, ending with a Willie McCovey line drive to Bobby Richardson with the tying and winning runs on base. Terry went 2-1 that Series (the loss being a 2-0 shutout) and was the Series MVP.

That was the Yankees’ 10th World Series win in 16 years. And they wouldn’t win another until 15 years later.

Jim Bouton

Ball Four by Jim BoutonBouton went 21-7 in 1963, the best year in an otherwise undistinguished 10-year career in which he pitched mostly in relief. The 1963 season was stellar, though, with six shutouts, a 2.53 ERA and his only All-Star appearance.

Bouton is best-known as the author of Ball Four, baseball’s first tell-all memoir, published in 1970, when he was playing with the Astros. A ballplayer exposed the juvenile behavior of the locker room and America was shocked. Shocked!

Fritz Peterson

Speaking of shocking, Peterson is best-remembered for his 1973 wife swap with fellow Yankee pitcher Mike Kekich. Fritz also gave the Yankees six solid years as a starter in the late 1960s and early ’70s, peaking with a 20-11 All-Star season in 1970. And he won 133 career games. Update: Peterson himself adds an interesting stat in the comments: He had the lowest career ERA in old Yankee Stadium. For details, check his comment at the end of the post.

Ed Figueroa

Figueroa came to the Yankees before the 1976 season with Mickey Rivers from the California Angels in the trade for Bobby Bonds. Figueroa gave the Yankees three solid seasons as a starter, peaking at 20-9 in 1978. He struggled in the post-season, though, going 0-4.

Bob Grim

Grim was 20-6 for the Yankees in 1954, winning Rookie of the Year. More on him later in the post on Yankees who succeeded as starters and relievers.

George Pipgras

Pipgras led the American League with 24 wins in 1928, the best season in his solid six-year stretch in the Yankee rotation. He overlapped with the Hall of Fame tandems of Herb Pennock and Waite Hoyt in the 1920s and Lefty Gomez and Red Ruffing in the 1930s. Not bad for a third or fourth starter. He finished his 11-year career with 102 wins.

Tiny Bonham

This guy might be the least-known Yankee 20-game winner. Bonham was 21-5 in 1942, when many major leaguers were serving in the military (he served briefly in 1944). He won 103 games in a 10-year career. I’ll address his nickname in a future post.

Other Yankee 20-game winners

I tell the stories of many other Yankee 20-game winners in earlier installments in this series on Yankee starting pitchers:

Source note: Unless otherwise noted, all statistics cited here come from Baseball-Reference.com.

Correction invitation: I wrote this series of blog posts over several months, mostly late at night while unable to sleep while undergoing medical treatment. I believe I have fact-checked and corrected any errors, but I welcome you to point out any I missed: stephenbuttry (at) gmail (dot) com. Or, if you just want to argue about my opinions, that’s fine, too.

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20 responses

12 10 2015
12 10 2015
Yankee pitchers win more championships than Cy Young Awards | Hated Yankees

[…] Yankee 20-game winners […]

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12 10 2015
12 10 2015
12 10 2015
12 10 2015
12 10 2015
12 10 2015
13 10 2015
Yankees who succeeded as starters and relievers | Hated Yankees

[…] Yankee 20-game winners […]

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13 10 2015
Fritz Peterson

One thing I think you should have mentioned was that I had the lowest career ERA in the history of the original Yankee Stadium with a 2.52 lifetime ERA. Whitey Ford is second with a 2.58 ERA. That was a span of 85 years from 1923-2008. Thanks, Fritz Peterson

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13 10 2015
Steve Buttry

I didn’t know that. Quite an accomplishment! I will edit the post to direct people to your comment. Thanks!

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14 10 2015
15 10 2015
Yankee starting pitchers with family connections in baseball | Hated Yankees

[…] Stottlemyre, discussed at more length in the post on 20-game winners, is one of the few major leaguers to father two major leaguers, pitchers Mel Jr. and Todd. Neither […]

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16 10 2015
17 10 2015
18 10 2015
Other notable Yankee starting pitchers: Al Downing, Don Gullett, Jim Beattie … | Hated Yankees

[…] for the Hall of Fame (or even a long shot), didn’t win a Cy Young Award, pitch a no-hitter, win 20 games, have a great nickname or have a relative in the big leagues. But they made notable contributions […]

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19 10 2015
The Yankees’ 50 best starting pitchers | Hated Yankees

[…] Mel Stottlemyre […]

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20 10 2015
21 10 2015
Does pitching really win championships? Yes, but … | Hated Yankees

[…] the Yankees’ 20-game winners and pretty good pitchers have been as important to their championship success as their Hall of […]

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10 01 2016
Yankees have more borderline Hall of Fame contenders than any other team | Hated Yankees

[…] We need to count Yankees who clearly fell short of Hall of Fame standards, but had careers comparable to the borderline contenders I named from other teams: Fielder, Ken Griffey Sr., Lyle, Rogers, Randolph, Murcer, Mel Stottlemyre. […]

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