Luis Tiant

Many of my all-time favorite pitchers were active in 1968.  There was Luis Tiant, of course, who had that crazy delivery that every young pitcher was trying to copy in 1975 (best by far on the Regina squad was Bill Donahue’s version).  Ex-Cubs Larry Jackson & Dick Ellsworth were partly why my neighbors the Nortons were such big fans; meanwhile the local ChiSox fans were pretty keen on a pair of current and future favorites, Wilbur Wood & Stan Bahnsen.  And there was a new family one the street, the Ahlgrens, that had moved from Buffalo and loved their Mets and Jerry Koosman.  These six pitchers are also linked by a peculiar feat: they all won 20 and then lost 20 in back-to-back seasons.

Tiant went 21-9 with a 1.60 ERA in 1968, a remarkable season by any measure — and keep in mind that, as mentioned last time, Cleveland’s park wasn’t exactly a pitcher’s haven.  A year later, pitching in the same yard, he flips the record to 9-20 and the ERA jumps to 3.71.  Perhaps the changes in mound height and strike zone were to blame, and he may already have been dealing with the shoulder troubles that would plague him in 1970.

Mike Maroth

It’s gotten quite hard to win twenty in today’s baseball.  Blake Snell of the Rays is the only pitcher to do so the past two years, and since 1980 just one has lost 20 (the otherwise forgotten Mike Maroth).  But in 1968 there were four active hurlers who managed to lose twenty twice in their careers: Phil Niekro, Wilbur Wood, Al Jackson, and Dick Ellsworth.  The most losses that season were 18 by both Ray Sadecki and Claude Osteen — who would each win twenty in other years.  There is an old saying about being a Soviet soldier during WWII, where the military police was famous for shooting its own for retreating: It takes a brave man to be a coward in the Russian army.  I guess something similar could be said about the big losers on the mound: you’ve gotta be a pretty good pitcher to lose twenty.  Even Maroth.

The psychology of taking an L, at least in my case, was to discount my part in it.  One more run, one less error, and so on could have made all the difference.  And one of the blessings of the human mind is to forget the bad stuff anyway — I remember my wins but not the losses.  In the case of Luis Tiant, I suspect the 1968 memories flow pretty freely.  

Tiant made 32 starts that summer, saving the best for last: a 1-hit complete game shutout at Yankee Stadium on September 25th.  He’s a co-ace of the Crusaders rotation along with Sudden Sam McDowell (15-14, 1.81, 269 IP) and Big Daddy Stan Williams (13-11, 2.50, 194 IP).  Beyond those three is mediocrity: Sonny Siebert (12-10, 2.97, 206 IP), Gerry Arrigo (12-10, 3.33, 205 IP), and 24-yo George Culver (11-16, 3.23, 226 IP).  Note that 1968 was Culver’s only year as a starting pitcher, and he even tossed a no-hitter at the Phillies in July!  But seven years later was pitching his last pro games in Japan.

That trio of starters at the top is the staff's obvious strength, but the bullpen is none too shabby.  At the back end is a talented trio with enough innings to be used early and often: 20-yo Gary Nolan (2.40, 150 IP), 35-yo Ted Abernathy (2.46, 135 IP, 13 saves), and Clay Carroll (2.69, 144 IP, 17 saves).  The ostensible closer is Vicente Romo (1.62, 83 IP, 12 saves), but the Crusaders have lots of options in the 9th.  Suitable mostly for mop-up work are the bullpen’s lone lefty, 23-yo Mike Paul (3.93, 92 IP), and two righties, Eddie Fisher (2.85 and 95 IP) and Bill Kelso (3.98, 54 IP).  

On paper, the Sioux City staff has wide swings in quality, but thus far in my IBC season only Culver (4.19), Arrigo (6.63) and Paul (9.24) have ERAs above 3.35.  The shift to a neutral park has helped!

Just two pitchers with the sorting requirement of 120+ IPs and/or a WAR of 0.5+ didn’t make the final 30-man roster for Sioux City: Jim Maloney (16-10, 3.61, 207 IP) and Steve Hargan (8-15, 4.15, 158 IP).  Maloney was a difficult cut, given he would have been #2 on the club in terms of wins.  Not sure what my thought process was.  One things for certain: he would have definitely been a keeper if pitchers hit in the IBC!

This concludes my look at Week 9.

© John Kisner 2019