The Hall of Fame’s Most Under-Appreciated Players: Part 7
Because I am a both a baseball and an American history geek, back in 1994, a few months before the MLB lockout, a couple of friends and I decided to go on a tour of both the Gettysburg Battlefield and the Baseball Hall of Fame (it’s amazing what you can get away with when you don’t yet have kids.)
We had a great time, of course, standing on top of the summit of Little Round Top, then, a couple of days later, viewing Lou Gehrig’s address book (behind a glass case, of course.) Somewhere along the way, between all the beer, baseball, and bullet holes in Gettysburg’s buildings, I happened to notice that the name of one baseball player seemed to pop up from time to time in both venues.
It was “Gettysburg” Eddie Plank. Allow me to tell you a little bit about him.
Eddie Plank was born in Gettysburg, PA, just twelve years after the Battle of Gettysburg. Raised on a family farm just north of the battlefield, it was not unusual in those days for a farmer to uncover the remains of a lost and forgotten soldier who died in a lonely location on the vast battlefield.
Plank didn’t even start playing baseball until he was seventeen. Trying out as a pitcher for the Gettysburg College team, he made the squad as a left-handed pitcher (yes, another one in this series) who threw the ball awkwardly across his body. He never actually attended Gettysburg College, but eventually harnessed his delivery enough to become a decent pitcher for their team.
Having gotten something of a late start, he didn’t make his MLB debut until 1901, when he was already 25-years old. He then went on to pitch in the Majors, primarily for the Philadelphia Athletics, for the next 17 seasons.
In his rookie campaign, he posted a very decent 17-13 record. He then went on to enjoy eight 20-win seasons over the next sixteen years. In fact, only once in the next eight years did he fail to win at least 19 games in a season (he was injured in 1908.)
Plank helped lead Philadelphia to a pair of World Series triumphs over the Giants in 1911 and 1913.
Here are some of the statistics that impress me the most about Eddie Plank:
1) He was the first left-handed pitcher to top 300 wins. No other southpaw reached 300 wins until Warren Spahn and Steve Carlton came along several decades later.
2) His 69 career shutouts are the fifth-highest total of all-time, and the most ever by a lefty. He threw as many shutouts in his career as HOF pitchers Sandy Koufax and Dazzy Vance combined.
3) His career WAR of 82.0 ranks 17th best all-time among pitchers. His career WAR is higher than HOF pitchers John Clarkson, Steve Carlton, Pud Galvin, Bob Gibson, Fergie Jenkins, Nolan Ryan, Robin Roberts, Old Hoss Radbourn, Carl Hubbell, Jim Palmer, Don Sutton, and many others.
4) Over the last 15 seasons of his 17-year career (he also pitched for the Terriers and the Browns), his highest ERA in any season was 2.87, and in his final season, at age 41, he posted a 1.79 ERA in 131 innings pitched.
5) In six World Series starts, he posted a 1.32 ERA across 54.2 innings.
Eddie Plank finished his career in 1917, just as young American Doughboys were being sent overseas to fight the War to End All Wars. He returned to his family farm in Gettysburg, leading tours across the old battlefield. At age 50, just nine years after he retired from baseball, Eddie Plank suffered a stroke and died. He is buried in Evergreen Cemetery in Gettysburg.Eddie Plank posted a career record of 326-194 with an ERA of 2.35. Of the 24 pitchers who have won at least 300 games in their careers, just six pitchers other than Plank avoided also losing 200 games.
Those six pitcher are Christy Mathewson, John Clarkson, Old Hoss Radbourn, Roger Clemens, Randy Johnson, and Lefty Grove. That’s some pretty impressive company to be associated with. And only Johnson and Grove were also left-handed.
About a decade after Plank died, the National Baseball Hall of Fame opened for business up in Cooperstown, NY. After five years on the ballot, Plank never topped 27% of the ballots submitted by the BBWAA. Eventually, it would take the Old Timers Committee to elect Plank in 1946, along with ten other players, some of whom actually belonged in the HOF.
So Eddie Plank joins Kid Nichols and Hal Newhouser as the third pitcher on my all-time, under-appreciated Hall of Fame squad. I will be adding two more pitchers to my rotation. I hope you’ll come back to find out who they are.
- The Hall of Fame’s Most Under-Appreciated Players: Part 1 (ondeckcircle.wordpress.com)
- The Hall of Fame’s Most Under-Appreciated Players: Part 3 (ondeckcircle.wordpress.com)
- The Hall of Fame’s Most Under-Appreciated Players: Part 2 (ondeckcircle.wordpress.com)
- The Hall of Fame’s Most Under-Appreciated Players: Part 6 (ondeckcircle.wordpress.com)
- The Hall of Fame’s Most Under-Appreciated Players: Part 5 (ondeckcircle.wordpress.com)
- Gettysburg Gerry’s Favorite Historic Taverns in Gettysburg, Pa (gettysburggerry.wordpress.com)