Glancing Back, and Remembering Sam McDowell
His fastball was on top of the plate before you could barely get the bat off your shoulder. The break in his curve was nothing less than wicked. And his imposing stature on the mound made his heat, and occasional wildness, all the more intimidating.
“Sudden” Sam McDowell threw as hard as any pitcher of his time. And he struck out more American League batters (1,663) than anyone else in the 1960s.
McDowell was signed by the Cleveland Indians in 1959. He saw limited service with the Indians from 1961 to 1963, winning a total of six games in the majors in those three years. His breakout year was 1964. After an 8-0 start at Portland, the Tribe’s AAA affiliate, McDowell was brought up to the major league club , where he went 11-6 with 177 strikeouts in 173 innings and registered a 2.70 ERA.
McDowell was dominating in his first full season with the Indians. He went 17-11 with a fifth-place Cleveland team. McDowell led the league in strikeouts with 325, still the American League record for a left-hander. Always better known for his “stuff” than his control, McDowell led the league in wild pitches (17) and walks (132) as well. He also posted the league’s best ERA at 2.18.
Throughout the rest of the 1960s, despite consistently high strikeout totals and very respectable ERAs, McDowell was basically a .500 pitcher for the Indians. He led the league in strikeouts in 1966 (225), 1968 (283), and 1969 (279), finishing second with 236 to Jim Lonborg in 1967. In 1968 he posted a career-low ERA of 1.81 that was second best in the American League – to the 1.60 posted by teammate Luis Tiant. Despite these numbers, McDowell was only 55-51 for the years 1966 to 1969.
Although Mc Dowell’s only 20-victory season came in 1970, his best performance may have come a year earlier. Pitching for a woeful Cleveland club that lost 99 games during the 1969 season (one more than the expansion Seattle Pilots), McDowell was Cleveland’s one bright spot that season. He went 18-14 with a 2.94 ERA and pitched 18 complete games.
A six-time All-Star, McDowell finished his 15-year career with 141 victories and 2,453 strikeouts.