July 9th, 2013

July 9 – Happy Birthday Jack Powell

powellIn just their second year in New York, the 1904 Yankees, then known as the Highlanders, almost captured their first-ever pennant. Their MVP that year was a spit-balling right hander named Happy Jack Chesbro who set a modern day record that season by winning 41 games. But the Clark Griffith managed Highlander squad won a total of 92 times that year which means pitchers besides Chesbro had 51 more wins. Today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant had 23 of those 51 victories.

One of the joys I had as a baseball fan and a father was watching my oldest son Matt pitch when he played youth baseball. He started doing so at the age of ten when he was still playing in the first level of our local youth baseball league. At that level, the mound was just 45 feet from home plate and at that distance Matt’s fastball was pretty intimidating. As he advanced to the next levels of play the distance between the mound and the plate grew and my son quickly realized he couldn’t win games throwing just his fastball. Instead he became one of the youngest junk pitchers in history. He began experimenting with different arm angles, grips and speeds. Watching from the stands, it sometimes looked like he was lobbing the ball to the plate and the coaches of teams facing him would scream at their players who were batting that they should be hitting his pitches all over the park. But more often than not, they’d take off balance swings that resulted in outs instead of base-runners and Mattie-boy won a lot more games than he lost.

That’s why as I researched the career of Jack Powell, I came to the conclusion that his pitching philosophy was a lot like my son Matt’s. His entire objective on the mound was to fool hitters, not overpower them. Throw the ball near the strike zone at various speeds using different arm angles with the objective of keeping opposing hitter off-balance. Powell threw so effortlessly that sportswriters covering his games swore even they could hit him. He was one of the very few MLB hurlers to use no windup when he pitched and because he threw so easy, he could start often and give you lots of innings each time he did.

A native of Bloomington, IL, Jack “Red” Powell began his big league career in 1897 with the National League’s old Cleveland Spiders. He also pitched for the Cardinals and the Browns until he was traded by the latter to the Highlanders in March of 1904 for a guy named Harry Howell.

Unfortunately, Clark Griffith overdid things with his two best pitchers trying to win that 1904 pennant. Powell made 45 starts for the Highlanders that season and pitched a total of 390 innings. Add Chesbro’s unimaginable 454  innings that same year and these two guys pitched over 60% of the innings the Islanders played that season. It was absolutely no coincidence that both men developed sore arms in 1905 and neither ever again approached their win totals of 1904. In fact, Powell’s lifetime record through 1904 was 157-134 and just 88-120 afterwards.

His record was 8-13 in 1905, when the Yankees released him late in the season. He returned to the St. Louis Browns, where he continued to pitch until 1912.

Powell shares his birthday with this former Yankee reliever.

Year Tm W L W-L% ERA G GS GF CG SHO SV IP H R ER HR BB SO HBP WHIP
1904 NYY 23 19 .548 2.44 47 45 2 38 3 0 390.1 340 154 106 15 92 202 10 1.107
1905 NYY 8 13 .381 3.50 37 23 12 13 1 1 203.0 214 107 79 4 57 84 6 1.335
16 Yrs 245 254 .491 2.97 578 516 57 422 46 15 4389.0 4319 1991 1450 110 1021 1621 120 1.217
SLB (10 yrs) 117 143 .450 2.63 294 264 27 210 27 11 2229.2 2083 900 651 43 486 884 49 1.152
STL (3 yrs) 59 54 .522 3.79 131 117 14 101 7 3 999.0 1109 559 421 38 212 297 30 1.322
CLV (2 yrs) 38 25 .603 3.06 69 67 2 60 8 0 567.0 573 271 193 10 174 154 25 1.317
NYY (2 yrs) 31 32 .492 2.81 84 68 14 51 4 1 593.1 554 261 185 19 149 286 16 1.185
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 7/9/2013.