May 19 – Happy Birthday Ed Whitson

whitsonSome guys love playing under the brightest of lights. Eddie Lee Whitson definitely wasn’t one of those guys. The native of Johnson City, Tennessee had come up with the Pirates in 1977 and went 39-48 during his first seven seasons in the big leagues while pitching for four different teams. Then in 1984, the right-hander finally put it all together for the San Diego Padres, going 14-8 and helping the team capture the NL West Pennant and advance to the franchise’s first-ever World Series. I happened to be rooting for the Padres that year because the Yankee’s failed to make it to the postseason and ex-Yankees Graig Nettles, Goose Gossage and Bobby Brown all played for that San Diego team. The first time I ever saw Ed Whitson pitch was when he started the second game of that Fall Classic between the Padres and the Tigers. He got hit hard immediately, giving up five singles and three runs and was knocked out of the game in the first inning.

In any event, a few months later when I heard that the Yankees had signed the free agent Whitson to a four year deal, his disastrous start against the Tigers was the first thing that popped in my mind. History was about to repeat itself in the Bronx.

Whitson got off to a horrible start with New York and by the middle of May, his record was 1-6 and his ERA was over six. Yankee fans began booing him unmercifully and Whitson had a tough time dealing with their hostility. He refused to let his wife attend home games and at one point, the Yankees stopped starting him in games at Yankee Stadium. To make matters worse, George Steinbrenner had fired Yogi Berra in April of that season and brought back the mercurial Billy Martin as field boss. Martin immediately started picking on Whitson for his bad performances on the mound, often calling him gutless in front of his teammates. The bewildered pitcher would later tell people he hated every day he was a Yankee.

Somehow, Whitson began pitching much better and he had won nine of his previous ten decisions when Martin started him in a big game against Toronto in mid-September. At the time, New York was trailing the first-place Blue Jays by four-and-a-half games and couldn’t afford to give up any more ground. Whitson got shelled in the third inning as Toronto scored six runs in that frame to put the game away and also cause irreparable damage to the Yankees pennant hopes.

Billy Martin was so mad about the pitcher’s performance, he skipped over Whitson when his next scheduled start came up. That action enraged the pitcher and set the stage for one of the most famous bar fights in Billy Martin’s illustrious history. It happened after a Yankee game in Baltimore on September 22, 1985 in the cocktail lounge of the hotel at which the Yankees were staying. Martin was drinking heavily at the bar while Whitson was downing drinks just as quickly sitting at a table with friends. Reports of the incident indicate it was actually Whitson who started the altercation by getting into it with another customer in the lounge that evening. Martin was trying to act as a peace keeper when Whitson turned on his manager. Before it was over, Whitson had doubled Martin over with a kick to his crotch, broken Billy’s arm and cracked two of his skipper’s ribs.

It wasn’t until July of his second season in pinstripes that the Yankees finally granted Whitson’s desperate wish to get him out of New York. He was traded back to the Padres for reliever Tim Stoddard. He spent the final six of his fifteen big leagues seasons pitching for the Padres, retiring in 1991 with a lifetime record of 126-123 and an ERA of 3.79. During his season and a half with the Yankees he was 15-10 with an ERA of 5.38.

Whitson shares his May 19th birthday with the 1951 Rookie of the Year and this former Yankee starting catcher.

Year Tm W L W-L% ERA G GS GF CG SHO SV IP H R ER HR BB SO WHIP
1985 NYY 10 8 .556 4.88 30 30 0 2 2 0 158.2 201 100 86 19 43 89 1.538
1986 NYY 5 2 .714 7.54 14 4 6 0 0 0 37.0 54 37 31 5 23 27 2.081
15 Yrs 126 123 .506 3.79 452 333 48 35 12 8 2240.0 2240 1045 944 211 698 1266 1.312
SDP (8 yrs) 77 72 .517 3.69 227 208 4 22 6 1 1354.1 1314 596 555 148 350 767 1.229
SFG (3 yrs) 22 30 .423 3.56 74 73 1 10 3 0 435.0 450 196 172 22 142 217 1.361
PIT (3 yrs) 8 9 .471 3.73 67 9 19 0 0 5 147.1 130 73 61 11 82 105 1.439
NYY (2 yrs) 15 10 .600 5.38 44 34 6 2 2 0 195.2 255 137 117 24 66 116 1.641
CLE (1 yr) 4 2 .667 3.26 40 9 18 1 1 2 107.2 91 43 39 6 58 61 1.384
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 5/19/2013.

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