Hall of Fame Travel Companion

 

Glancing Back, and Remembering Al Smith

Outfielder Al Smith was traded three times during his 12-year major league career. In the first two of those trades, to Chicago and to Baltimore, Smith had the distinction of being traded with a future Hall of Famer. He also distinguished himself as a good hitter whose legs and bat produced plenty of runs.

Al Smith was originally signed by the Cleveland Indians in 1948 and made his major league debut in 1953. He batted .306 in 1955 and led the American League in runs scored with 123.

Smith was signed by the Cleveland Indians in 1948 and made his debut in Cleveland in 1953, hitting .240 in 47 games. He opened the 1954 season as the Indians’ starting left-fielder, batting .281 for the American League champions. He scored 101 runs and led the team in doubles with 29.

In 1955, Smith led the American League by scoring 123 runs. He batted .306 with 22 home runs and 77 RBIs, and was named to the American League All-Star team. He finished third in the Most Valuable Player balloting for that season.

Smith played two more seasons with the Indians and then was traded (with future Hall of Famer Early Wynn) to the Chicago White Sox for Minnie Minoso and Fred Hatfield. He struggled in his first two seasons in Chicago, batting .252 in 1958 and .237 in 1959. He bounced back in 1960, hitting .315 with 31 doubles, 12 home runs and 72 RBIs. In 1961, he posted the best power numbers of his career, hitting 28 home runs with 93 RBIs.

Al Smith’s best season with the Chicago White Sox came in 1961. He batted .278 with 28 home runs and 93 RBIs.

Smith’s last season in Chicago was 1962, when he batted .292 with 16 home runs and 82 RBIs. In the off-season, he was traded with another future Hall of Famer, shortstop Luis Aparicio, to the Baltimore Orioles for Ron Hansen, Dave Nicholson, Pete Ward and Hoyt Wilhelm. He batted .272 for the Orioles in 1963, but with only 10 home runs and 39 RBIs. He was involved in one more trade, returning to Cleveland in exchange for outfielder Willie Kirkland. He split the 1964 season between the Indians and the Boston Red Sox, batting a combined .176. He retired in 1964 at age 36.

Smith finished with a career batting average of .272 on 1,458 hits. He scored 843 runs with 258 doubles, 164 home runs and 676 RBIs. He was a member of the American League All-Star team twice.

Learning to Trust the Knuckler

 

Glancing Back, and Remembering Wilbur Wood

Hall of Fame reliever Hoyt Wilhelm was not only the master of the knuckleball, but also its greatest evangelist. His promoting the pitch to bullpen teammates inspired at least two successful careers: one was the career of reliever Eddie Fisher, the other was the career of reliever-turned-starter Wilbur Wood.

Wilbur Wood had two successful major league careers – one as a reliever, the other as a starter. As a relief pitcher for the Chicago White Sox, Wood led the American League in appearances from 1968-1970, averaging 11 victories and 17 saves per season.

Wilbur Wood had two successful major league careers – one as a reliever, the other as a starter. As a relief pitcher for the Chicago White Sox, Wood led the American League in appearances from 1968-1970, averaging 11 victories and 17 saves per season.

Wood’s career was going nowhere when Wilhelm advised him to rely on his knuckleball and not simply treat it as an occasional trick pitch. Wood was signed by the Boston Red Sox in 1960 and pitched in the Bosox’s minor league system for five years with only occasional stops in Beantown.

He was purchased by the Pittsburgh Pirates in September of 1964 and finally won his first major league decision in 1965. He spent the 1966 season at the Pirates AAA affiliate in Columbus, going 15-8 before being traded to the Chicago White Sox for Juan Pizarro.

It was a trade that would change Wood’s career. He met Wilhelm, and listened.

He went 4-2 for the White Sox in 1967 with a 2.42 ERA. That was four times as many major league games as he had previously won in his career. In 1968 he set a major league record by appearing in 88 games, going 13-12 with a 1.87 ERA and 16 saves. In 1969 he made 76 appearances – all in relief – and went 10-11 with 15 saves. In 1970, his 77 relief appearances and 2.81 ERA produced a 9-13 record with 21 saves.

Then Wood made the last major transition of his career. He moved to the starting rotation, where the low physical stress of throwing the knuckleball allowed Wood to pitch more innings than any other starter in baseball – in fact more innings than any major league starter since the “Dead Ball” era prior to 1920. Wood went 22-13 in 1971 with a 1.91 ERA over 334 innings pitched. He averaged 21-16 with 45 starts and 348 innings per season from 1971 to 1975. And his earned run average over that period was 3.08.

As a starter, Wilbur Wood’s best season came in 1971, when he was 22-13 with a 1.91 ERA for the White Sox. He then won 24 games in each of the next two seasons.

As a starter, Wilbur Wood’s best season came in 1971, when he was 22-13 with a 1.91 ERA for the White Sox. He then won 24 games in each of the next two seasons.

 

Injury finally slowed Wood down, but it wasn’t his arm that gave out. In May of 1976, Tigers center fielder Ron LeFlore hit a vicious line drive back at Wood, shattering his knee cap. He made a valiant effort to come back, but was never the same pitcher, going 17-18 over his final two seasons and retiring after the 1978 campaign.

Wood finished with a career record of 164-156 and a 3.24 ERA. He was an All-Star selection three times.

 

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Welcome to the Homer Ward

 

Glancing Back, and Remembering Pete Ward

While it’s no overstatement to say that pitching dominated the 1960s, it’s just as safe to say that, in the 1960s, pitching dominated the Chicago White Sox, especially in that team’s contending seasons.

Pete Ward was the American League Rookie of the Year in 1963 with a .295 batting average, 22 home runs and 84 RBIs.

Pete Ward was the runner-up for American League Rookie of the Year in 1963 with a .295 batting average, 22 home runs and 84 RBIs.

With solid starting arms such as Gary Peters, Joe Horlen and Juan Pizarro, and relievers such as Hoyt Wilhelm and Eddie Fisher, the White Sox featured the league’s deepest staff. And they needed it, with also one of the weakest hitting lineups in the American League.

The one “power” spot in the White Sox lineup came from a left-handed batter named Pete Ward.

Ward was signed by the Baltimore Orioles in 1958 and appeared in eight games with the Orioles at the end of 1962. That winter he was a throw-in in the blockbuster trade that brought Ron Hansen, Dave Nicholson and Wilhelm to the White Sox for Luis Aparicio and Al Smith.

Ward replaced Smith at third for the White Sox and made an immediate impact, beating the Detroit Tigers on Opening Day with a seventh-inning home run, the start of an 18-game hitting streak. For the season Ward hit .295, fifth in the American League, with 22 home runs, 84 RBIs, and 80 runs. He finished second in the league in total bases (289), hits (177), and doubles (34), and was named American League Rookie of the Year.

Ward followed up in 1964 by hitting .282 with 23 home runs and 94 RBIs. An off-season auto accident led to back and neck problems that would plague him, and cut his offensive productivity, for the rest of his career. He slipped to 10 home runs in 1965 and only three in 1966.

Ward made something of a comeback in 1967 with 18 home runs and 62 RBIs, but the weak Chicago lineup meant fewer good pitches to hit. His 18 home runs led the team, with only two other White Sox hitting as many as 10 home runs that season. His walks increased to 61 in 1967, and then to 76 in 1968, when Ward hit .216 with 15 home runs and 50 RBIs.

Lingering injuries forced Ward into a part-time role in 1969, and he spent one year as a reserve player for the New York Yankees in 1970 before retiring.

Ward finished his nine-year career with a .254 batting average and 98 home runs.

Lasting Relief

 

Oh, What a Relief: Lindy McDaniel

The 1960s were the baseball decade that witnessed the emergence of the relief specialist. And among the outstanding relief pitchers who toiled during the 1960s, few could claim a more brilliantly consistent career than that of Lindy McDaniel.

Lindy McDaniel led the National League in saves in 1959, 1960 and 1963.

Lindy McDaniel led the National League in saves in 1959, 1960 and 1963.

He pitched for 21 seasons, from 1955 to 1975. Among relievers, only Hoyt Wilhelm could match his record for longevity.

The St. Louis Cardinals signed McDaniel as a free agent in 1955. His minor league career lasted only six games (4-1 with a 3.64 ERA) as he joined the big league club at the end of 1955. He took turns as both a starter and reliever for the Cardinals in 1957, going 15-9 with a 3.49 ERA.

Gradually, McDaniel did less starting and more relieving for the Cards. In 1959 he went 14-12 and led the major leagues with 15 saves (in the days when starters were expected to pitch complete games). McDaniel had an outstanding season in 1960, with a 12-4 record and a 2.09 ERA. His 26 saves that season were again best in the majors, and earned McDaniel the first Fireman of the Year award as baseball’s best reliever. (He would win that award again in 1963.)

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Following the 1962 season, McDaniel was traded with pitcher Larry Jackson and catcher Jimmie Schaffer to the Chicago Cubs for outfielder George Altman, pitcher Don Cardwell and catcher Moe Thacker. For the Cubs in 1963, he won 13 games (all in relief) and saved 22 more (NL best). In his three seasons in Chicago, McDaniel averaged 64 relief appearances per season with a 3.06 ERA.

McDaniel spent two seasons with the San Francisco Giants, and then was traded to the New York Yankees in 1968 for pitcher Bill Monbouquette. In six seasons with the Yankees, McDaniel appeared in 265 games with a combined ERA of 2.89. His best season in New York was 1970, when his record was 9-5 in 62 appearances, with 29 saves and an ERA of 2.01. He closed out his career with the Kansas City Royals, retiring after the 1975 season.

In 21 major league seasons, McDaniel won 141 games and saved 174 with a 3.45 career earned run average. He was an All-Star in 1960.

 

 

 

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Brave Slugger

 

Glancing Back, and Remembering Eddie Mathews

For more than a decade, Eddie Mathews was the slugger’s slugger. From 1953 through 1960, he averaged 39 home runs per season, leading the National League in that category twice with 47 in 1953 and 46 in 1959.

Eddie Mathews led the National League twice in home runs, with 47 in 1953 and 46 in 1959.

Eddie Mathews led the National League twice in home runs, with 47 in 1953 and 46 in 1959.

Mathews signed with the Boston Braves in 1949 and made the big league club in 1952, hitting 25 home runs and finishing third in the Rookie of the Year voting behind Joe Black and Hoyt Wilhelm. In his sophomore season, Mathews pounded 47 home runs (with 135 RBIs), a team record that was matched by Hank Aaron in 1971 and finally eclipsed in 2005 when Andruw Jones hit 51.

During the next two seasons, Mathews topped 40 homers and 100 RBIs each year. By the close of the 1950s, Mathews was the Braves’ all-time home run leader with 299 (Aaron had hit only 179 at that point).

During the 1960s, his power production gradually declined, but his numbers would still be envied by most hitters. From 1960 through 1965, Mathews averaged 30 home runs and 93 RBIs per season. A career .271 hitter, Mathews hit for a career-best .306 in 1961.

Eddie Mathews’ best season during the 1960s came at the opening of the decade. He batted .277 in 1960 with 39 home runs (third in the National League) and 124 RBIs (second in the league to teammate Hank Aaron).

Eddie Mathews’ best season during the 1960s came at the opening of the decade. He batted .277 in 1960 with 39 home runs (third in the National League) and 124 RBIs (second in the league to teammate Hank Aaron).

A shoulder injury in 1962 seriously hampered his swing for the rest of his career, which included stops in Houston and Detroit. He retired after the 1968 season with 512 home runs and 1,453 runs batted in.

A nine-time All-Star, Mathews was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1978.

The Man Who Put the Knuckleball into the Hall of Fame

 

Glancing Back, and Remembering Hoyt Wilhelm

It’s probably the most unhittable pitch in baseball (with apologies to any pitch ever thrown by Sandy Koufax). And it may be the most unpitchable.

During the 1960s, Hoyt Wilhelm won 75 games and saved 152 more, with an ERA of 2.19 for the decade.

During the 1960s, Hoyt Wilhelm won 75 games and saved 152 more, with an ERA of 2.19 for the decade.

The knuckleball is slow, it doesn’t rotate, and it doesn’t offer many clues as to where it will end up.  But one pitcher, more than any, is associated with the knuckleball, and was such a master of its unpredictability that it floated him all the way to Cooperstown.

Hoyt Wilhelm broke into the major leagues with the New York Giants in 1952 – as a 29-year-old rookie. That year he led the National League in winning percentage (.833 on a 15-3 record), in games pitched (71, all in relief) and in earned run average (2.43). In his first major league at-bat, he hit a home run (the only one of his career).

For more than two decades thereafter, Wilhelm remained one of the game’s most durable and productive relievers. He entered the 1960s in the middle of a five-year stretch with the Baltimore Orioles. After a brief stint as a starter for the Orioles (in his fourth major league start, he pitched a no-hitter), Wilhelm recorded 33 saves over the next two years, second best in the American League to Luis Arroyo’s 36. Then he was traded to the Chicago White Sox in the deal that brought Luis Aparicio to the Orioles. In six years with Chicago, Wilhelm appeared in 361 games for the White Sox, all but three as a reliever. He saved 98 games, with an ERA of 1.92 for the six years combined. Wilhelm closed out the 1960s by splitting the 1969 season between the California Angels and the Atlanta Braves, with a total of 14 saves and a combined ERA of 2.19.

Throughout the 1960s, no relief pitcher was as consistently effective as Wilhelm. During those 10 years, he won 75 games and saved 152 more, with an ERA of 2.19 for the decade. His career lasted two years beyond the 1960s, with his retirement after the 1971 season at age 48. His 1,070 career appearances were the major league record at the time Wilhelm called it quits.

Today Wilhelm still ranks fifth in most career games by a pitcher. He remains the all-time major league leader in career wins in relief (124) and career innings pitched in relief (1,871). Opponents’ career batting average against Wilhelm was only .216, lower than batters’ career averages against fellow Hall-of-Famers Tom Seaver (.226), Catfish Hunter (.231) and Rollie Fingers (.235).

 

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How Luis Arroyo Opened the Door for Closers

 

Oh, What a Relief: Luis Arroyo

During the 1961 season, Roger Maris broke Babe Ruth’s hallowed home run record. But it was a left-handed reliever named Luis Arroyo who changed the game forever.

Luis Arroyo elevated the role of the closer thanks to his spectacular 1961 season with the New York Yankees.

Luis Arroyo elevated the role of the closer thanks to his spectacular 1961 season with the New York Yankees.

Arroyo didn’t invent the save. And he didn’t invent the role of closer. What he did – through his spectacular season of 1961 – was demonstrate what a dedicated closer could be for a pennant contender: indispensable.

Elevating the Role of Reliever

At the beginning of the 1960s, the measure of a pitcher was how effective he was as a starter: how many wins, how many innings, how many complete games. Aces pitched complete games, and occasionally relieved. And while baseball in the early 1960s had its share of successful relief specialists such as Hoyt Wilhelm, Roy Face, Stu Miller and Lindy McDaniel, any reliever could be used at practically any point in the game for as many innings or outs as needed.

The closer just happened to be guy who got the last out.

Arroyo more than any other pitcher changed that, and set baseball on the course where single-inning set-up pitchers and single-batter specialists became as integral as they are in today’s game. Arroyo’s spectacular dominance during the 1961 season established the prototype for the “closer,” the relief pitcher whose job was to get the critical final outs that preserved victory. The closer became a strategic pitching weapon rather than a late-inning after-thought.

Out of the Bullpen, Out of Nowhere …

Arroyo won 11 games as a St. Louis Cardinals rookie in 1955. He won only seven more games over the next four seasons.

Arroyo won 11 games as a St. Louis Cardinals rookie in 1955. He won only seven more games over the next four seasons.

Little in Arroyo’s career prior to 1961 suggested that his pitching in that season would be so effective and game-changing. He toiled in the minor leagues for 6 seasons. In his first 4 major league seasons – pitching for the St. Louis Cardinals, Pittsburgh Pirates and Cincinnati Reds – Arroyo posted a combined record of 18-22 with a 4.42 ERA and only one save in 117 appearances. Eleven of those victories came as a Cardinals rookie in 1955.

On July 20 of 1960, Arroyo was purchased by the New York Yankees. Both his effectiveness as a reliever, and his career, improved dramatically with that change of franchise. Over the second half of the 1960 season, Arroyo appeared in 29 games for the Yankees – all in relief – going 5-1 with a 2.88 ERA and seven saves.

In 1961, Arroyo was 15-5 with a 2.14 ERA and set a major league record with 29 saves.

In 1961, Arroyo was 15-5 with a 2.14 ERA and set a major league record with 29 saves.

The 1961 season was when Arroyo showed the baseball world what the role and value of a closer could be. Arroyo pitched in 65 games and finished 54 of them, the most in the major leagues in both categories. Arroyo also set a major league record with 29 saves, while compiling a 15-5 record with a 2.19 ERA. He finished sixth in the balloting for Most Valuable Player.

Arroyo’s Legacy

Arroyo’s stay in excellence would be short-lived. He developed a sore arm during the next spring and was limited to only 27 appearances in 1962 and six in 1963 before retiring. He finished with a career record of 40-32 with a 3.93 ERA.

Prior to 1960, the major league record for saves in a season was 27, shared by Joe Page (1949) and Ellis Kinder (1953). Major league pitchers had posted 20 or more saves in a season only nine times, with McDaniel (26) and Face (24) both accomplishing the feat in 1960. After Arroyo, the floodgates were opened. Through the rest of the 1960s, 39 times pitchers recorded seasons of 20 or more saves. Ted Abernathy cracked the 30-save barrier in 1965 when he notched 31.

Arroyo’s record lasted only four seasons. His impact remains greater than ever.

 

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Blockbuster Deal Sends Wilhelm to White Sox

 

Swap Shop – Chicago and Baltimore Trade Future Hall of Famers

It was a trade that saw the exchange of two future Hall of Famers.

In 5 seasons with the Orioles, Wilhelm was a combined 43-39 with a 2.42 ERA.

In 5 seasons with the Orioles, Wilhelm was a combined 43-39 with a 2.42 ERA.

On January 14, 1963, the Baltimore Orioles acquired All-Star shortstop Luis Aparcio and outfielder Al Smith from the Chicago White Sox for four players, including reliever Hoyt Wilhelm,

The White Sox also received shortstop and 1960 Rookie of the Year Ron Hansen, outfielder Dave Nicholson and infielder Pete Ward as part of the deal. Ward would have an outstanding years for the White Sox, hitting 22 home runs and driving in 84 runs to win the Rookie of the Year award for the 1963 season.

Aparicio played for five seasons with the Orioles, batting .251 and stealing 166 bases. He won two more Gold Gloves with the Orioles, and claimed nine Gold Gloves during his 18-year career. In 1967, he was traded back to the White Sox in the deal that brought Don Buford to the Orioles.

Aparicio played for 5 seasons with the Orioles, batting .251 and stealing 166 bases.

Aparicio played for 5 seasons with the Orioles, batting .251 and stealing 166 bases.

In five seasons with the Orioles, Wilhelm was a combined 43-39 with a 2.42 ERA. He appeared in 185 games – 43 as a starter – saving 40 games while pitching five shutouts, the only shutouts of his career. He also pitched his only no-hitter with the Orioles, and led the American League with a 2.19 ERA in 1959, when he recorded a career-high 15 victories. Wilhelm would spend six seasons with the White Sox, appearing in 361 games and saving 98 with a combined 1.92 ERA.

Both Aparicio and Wilhelm were destined for future Hall of Fame induction. Speed and defense made Aparicio the American League’ premier shortstop from the mid-1950s to the mid-1960s. An 11-time All-Star, he collected 2,677 hits (more than any shortstop until he was passed by Derek Jeter). Aparicio played more games at shortstop than any other player in major league history (2,581). He was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1984.

Throughout the 1960s, no relief pitcher was as consistently effective as Wilhelm. His 1,070 career appearances were the major league record at the time Wilhelm called it quits. He remains the all-time major league leader in career wins in relief (124) and career innings pitched in relief (1,871).

An eight-time All-Star, Wilhelm was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1985.

Great Hands, Amazing Feet

 

Glancing Back, and Remembering Luis Aparicio

In the six years before Maury Wills “resurrected” the stolen base as an offensive weapon, another shortstop was using the stolen base – and two of the surest hands in baseball – in launching a career that led straight to Cooperstown.

Luis Aparicio won 9 Gold Gloves at shortstop, 7 with the Chicago White Sox and 2 with the Baltimore Orioles.

Speed and defense made Luis Aparicio the American League’s premier shortstop from the mid-1950s to the mid-1960s. His impact on the league was almost immediate. A native of Venezuela, Aparicio was signed by the Chicago White Sox as an amateur free agent in 1954 and was Chicago’s starting shortstop in his rookie season two years later.  The 1956 season marked the first of nine consecutive years when Aparicio led the American League in steals (with a career high of 57 in 1964). He was selected as Rookie of the Year for the 1956 season.

As the team’s lead-off hitter, Aparicio was the spark plug for the White Sox offense until he was traded to the Baltimore Orioles prior to the 1963 season (in a deal that included Ron Hansen and future Hall of Fame reliever Hoyt Wilhelm). He played for the Orioles for five years, leading the league twice in stolen bases and winning two of his nine Gold Gloves during his tenure in Baltimore. Aparicio was traded back to the White Sox before the 1968 season, closing out the 1960s with the Pale Hose. Aparicio retired after the 1973 season, his third with the Boston Red Sox.

An 11-time All-Star, Aparicio collected 2,677 hits on a career batting average of .262, with a total of 506 stolen bases. The 342 bases Luis Aparicio stole during the 1960s rank him first among American League base stealers during that decade.

Aparicio played more games at shortstop than any other player in major league history (2,581) and retired with more assists (8,016) than any other shortstop in history. (Today he still ranks second in this category behind Ozzie Smith.) He was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1984, the first native of Venezuela to be so honored.

Mc-Durable

 

Oh, What a Relief: Don McMahon

Relief pitcher may be the most expendable position on a major league ball club. With a few exceptions (such as Hoyt Wilhelm, Roy Face and Lindy McDaniel), most relievers cannot extend top performance season after season.

Don McMahon was an effective relief pitcher for 7 tea,s over an 18-year career.

Don McMahon was an effective relief pitcher for 7 teams over an 18-year career.

Don McMahon was one of those exceptions – a standout reliever for seven different clubs over an 18- year career. Only once did he lead the league in any pitching category, but you could count on his durable arm and pitching savvy for a full season of putting out fires.

McMahon was signed by the Boston Braves in 1950. His major league debut was delayed by military service and five years of minor league seasoning. But when he finally made it to the Braves, he did it in a big way: Appearing in 32 games for the 1957 World Series champions, McMahon went 2-3 with a 1.54 ERA and nine saves. In 1958, he was selected for the National League All-Star team on the way to a 7-2 season with eight saves. In 1959, he led the league in games finished (49) and saves (15) with a 5-3 record and 2.57 ERA.

McMahon spent six seasons with the Braves, appearing in 233 games and tallying 50 saves with a combined ERA of 3.34. In May of 1962, he was purchased by the Houston Colt .45s, wher he toiled for two seasons (6-10 with 13 saves and a 2.81 ERA) before begin purchased by the Cleveland Indians. In three years with the Tribe, McMahon appeared in 140 games, posting a combined record of 10-8 with 28 saves and a 2.81 ERA.

In June of 1966, the Indians traded McMahon and pitcher Lee Stange to the Boston Red Sox for Dick Radatz. Again he was effective (11 saves and a 2.82 ERA in 60 appearances) and again he was traded – this time to the Chicago White Sox for infielder Jerry Adair. McMahon spent a “split” season with the White Sox in 1967-1968, going a combined 7-1 with a 1.77 ERA in 77 appearances.

He was then traded to the Detroit Tigers (for pitcher Dennis Ribant) where he appeared in 54 games over parts of two seasons, going 6-6 with 12 saves and a 2.97 ERA.

In August of 1969, McMahon was dealt to the San Francisco Giants. He followed with two of the best seasons of his career. He appeared in 61 games both seasons, going 9-5 with 19 saves in 1970 (2.96 ERA) and 10-6 in 1971 with 4 saves. But the juice finally began to fade from his arm. McMahon appeared in only 44 games in 1972 and only 22 in 1973. He was released by the Giants during the 1974 season.

McMahon finished his career at 90-68 with a 2.96 ERA. At the time he retired, his 874 career appearances (all but two in relief) were the fourth most all-time after Wilhelm, McDaniel and Cy Young.

 

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