Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Fearsome Foursomes

Inspired by my former teammate Rick, I would like to conjure up some teams with pretty awesome starters. The current MLB team with the best starters would have to be the Phillies, with Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Roy Oswalt, and Cole Hamels.

In recent years teams that have had great starting foursomes would include the '85 Dodgers, who featured Orel Hershiser, Fernando Valenzuela, Bob Welch, and Jerry Reuss (all with ERA's under 3.00); the '98 Mets, with David Cone, Dwight Gooden, Ron Darling, and Sid Fernandez; the 2004 Red Sox, with Curt Schilling, Pedro Martinez, Derek Lowe, and Tim Wakefield; and of course the Braves of 1998, with Tom Glavine, Greg Maddux, John Smoltz, and Kevin Millwood.

Going back a few years you had the Oakland A's of '72 with Catfish Hunter, Vida Blue, Ken Holtzman, and Blue Moon Odom, and the 1981 Orioles, who rolled out Mike Cuellar, Dave McNally, Jim Palmer, and Pat Dobson. The Indians of the '50s may have had the best foursome of all time, namely Bob Feller, Early Wynn, Mike Garcia, and Bob Lemon. Amazingly, they had a great bullpen too (long before that was common) with Don Mossi, Ray Narleski, and aging Hal Newhowser. The Yankees of that era could throw at you Vic Raschi, Ed Lopat, Johnny Sain and Whitey Ford. Not bad. The Gas House Gang (the '30s Cardinals) boasted Dizzy and Daffy Dean, Tex Carleton, and Bill Hallahan, with Dazzy Vance for the late innings.

Top threesomes ... among others, in the same season – 1912 – the Pirates (103 wins) had Jack Chesbro, Deacon Phillipe, and Jesse Tannehill and the Giants had Christy Matthewson, Rube Marquade and Jeff Tesreau. I'm sure readers will come up with others.

For top pairs of pitchers how about Randy Johnston and Curt Schilling of the Diamondbacks, Spahn and Sain of the Braves (whom Rick mentioned); Koufax and Drysdale of the Dodgers - with Ron Perranoski out of the bullpen; Lefty Gomez and Red Ruffing of the Yankees; or Robin Roberts and Curt Simmons of the 1950 Phillies, with Jim Konstanty to clean up.

The one great starter wonders of all time may have been the 1906-08 Cubs, who really had only Moredcai Three-Finger Brown. The old Washington Senators had fireballing Walter Johnson. (Ty Cobb always crowded the plate knowing that Johnson, the ultimate gentleman, was afraid of hitting batters.) Their next best starters were Jim Shaw and Bob Groom. Who? The mid-1970s Big Red Machine had great hitting but only top-notch starter – Don Gullett. I'm sure readers will come up with other examples though. Not Denny McLain, he had Mickey Lolich to follow him.

The Brooklyn Dodgers of the '50s had great hitters, but their only great starter was Don Newcombe - okay Carl Erskine was pretty good too. All their pitchers had high ERA's though.

And some teams have had both amazing pitching AND hitting. How about the '29 to '31 Athletics with Lefty Grove, George Earnshaw, and Rube Walberg with Eddie Rommel in relief and Jimmie Foxx, Jimmie Dykes, Al Simmons, and Mickey Cochrane to swat the ball around for them? No wonder the '26 to '28 Yankees gave way to them.

Best starter-reliever story. In 1961 Whitey Ford won 25 games but was teased a lot because Luis Arroya finished and saved a lot of those for him. It was still a bit unmanly not to finish what you started. When he received the Cy Young Award, Ford stopped during his acceptance speech and Arroya came out to finish it for him.


John the Tomahawk Trembath said...

Great article Will. Great memories.
Oh I remember 1968 and Denny McLain. A phenomenon. Quirky and twitchy as his latter life would indicate. For two years he was unbeatable. 31 games in 1968. Then he lost it. He got the Tigers to the WS but he went 1-2. Mickey Lolitch was the MVP winning 3-0.

Will Braund said...

You guys keep giving me great ideas for blogs; this time it'll be wacky pitchers - and they aren't all lefties either. Your comment brings to mind Mark "the Bird" Fidrych, one of the all-time flashes-in-the-pan. He was beloved by Tiger fans ('Bird Watchers') in '76 when he stood in for a teammate with the flu and threw seven no-hit innings and then went 19-9 in 250 innings. He would crouch down and talk to the ball before every pitch. He demanded umpires remove balls that had hits in them from play. Sadly he tore cartilage in his knee fooling around in the outfield at Spring Training the next year and went 10-10 in just 161 innings in the next four years and was done.

Rick Blechta said...

Excellent posting, William. John's correct, some great memories here and some good information historically.