September 5 – Happy Birthday Al Orth
Watching CC Sabathia pitch during most of the 2013 season has not always been fun. I’m a huge fan of the Yankee ace but it looks as if the elbow surgery he underwent last year or maybe the pounds he took off during the offseason has had a negative impact on the velocity of his fastball. As a result, he’s learning how to pitch without a 95 mph heater in his arsenal and at times during the process, he’s been forced to learn some hard-hit lessons.
I wish I could have Sabathia talk to today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant, Al Orth, who in addition to being known as “Smiling Al” was also called “the Curveless Wonder” during his long-ago big league pitching career that began with the Phillies in 1895. Orth was considered to be one of the “softest throwing” pitchers in baseball history.
Hitters who faced the brawny right-hander did not worry about striking out. Orth fanned just two hitters per game during his 15-season career. Instead, opposing batsman fought impatience and attention deficit disorder as they watched and waited for Orth’s soft-tossed but well-aimed offerings to finally get close enough to the plate to swing at them.
The native of Sedalia, Missouri jumped to the newly formed American League in 1902 and pitched two-plus seasons for the Washington Senators before getting traded to the Yankees during the 1904 season, who were then still known as the Highlanders. In New York, he was united with “Happy” Jack Chesbro and introduced to Chesbro’s signature pitch, the spitball.
Experimenting with the juiced baseball, Orth found immediate success. He went 11-6 during his first partial season with the club and by 1906, he was throwing the wet one well enough to lead the AL in wins with 27. But Father Time and about nine-hundred innings of work the previous three seasons caught up to the veteran hurler. He turned 34-years-old in 1907 and when he lost 21 games that year, he became the first pitcher in history to lead the league in wins one season and in losses the next. When he lost 13 of his 15 decisions in ’08, the Yankees didn’t want him pitching any more but they did still want him on the team. Why?
In addition to being pretty good on the mound, Al Orth was one of the best hitting pitchers in baseball history. When he retired in 1909, he had a lifetime batting average of .273 and 184 career RBI’s. So in addition to having him talk to CC, if Orth was still around today, I might have him chat with Vernon Wells and Chris Stewart too. When he finally did quit playing, Orth became a big league umpire for a while. He died in 1948 at the age of 76.
|PHI (7 yrs)||100||72||.581||3.49||193||173||20||149||14||4||1504.2||1687||816||584||31||314||359||1.330|
|NYY (6 yrs)||72||73||.497||2.72||163||145||16||102||14||0||1172.2||1096||484||355||16||230||402||1.131|
|WSH (3 yrs)||32||44||.421||4.21||84||76||8||73||3||2||677.1||781||404||317||28||117||187||1.326|