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January 25, 2001
I'm a Loser, Baby
Introducing the DeLeon Award
Talk of records that ought to be set in 2001 revolve around topics we know well. Rickey Henderson ought to set the records for walks and runs scored, barring some sort of blackballing scheme. Barry Bonds is basically a lock to hit his 500th home run (six to go), and Sammy Sosa his 400th (14 to go). On more trivial notes, a healthy season for the first time in three years would get Cal Ripken Jr. to 3,000 games played; Jesse Orosco will probably get into the 1,100th game of his career.
All of those things are well and good, but breaking records belonging to the dead Ty Cobb or the equally dead Babe Ruth aren't exactly drama. It isn't like we'll get a break from the action back to the cemetery to see if either man is spinning in his grave. But there are records in danger that feature live victims and able candidates.
Now keep in mind that I've always been fascinated by the unfortunate Terry Felton, who pitched for the Twins from 1979 to 1982. Felton owns an 0-16 career record, capped by an 0-13 run in his final season. The New York media, in their infinite parochialism, got more caught up with Anthony Young in the 1990s, but connoisseurs of the art of the loss should never forget Felton. Young, after all, won a game or two, and has a career record of 15-48 in the big leagues. (He also converted 20 of 28 save opportunities, which tells you about all you need to know about the save.)
So with the memory of Omar Daal fresh in our minds, there are accomplishments in the offing that need to be considered. We're talking about the same serious stuff that gets Brian Kingman frightened every couple of years: pitchers who know how to lose. Consider the all-time net loss leaders in baseball history:
Most net losses (L-W), all pitchers:
Name Net Losses Years Starts
Okay, that's basically a bunch of guys of whom most of us haven't heard, although I remember trading for Milt Gaston about 14 years ago in a 1930 Strat-O-Matic replay league. Gaston was a good pitcher who came up with the Yankees in 1924, then had the misfortune of being traded for Urban Shocker. He bounced from the Browns to the Senators to the Red Sox and lastly the White Sox.
Si Johnson was occasionally pretty good too, but invariably for some of the worst teams of the National League of the 1930s; after getting nabbed as a stretch-drive pickup from the perennially sad-sack Reds, he got to help the last flickering embers of the Gas House Gang recede from a 90-win level to fifth place. As soon as the Cardinals dumped him (and manager Frankie Frisch), they won 92 games. Of course, in neither Gaston's case nor Johnson's was it entirely the one guy's fault, but you might say these are the kinds of guys who can help make their own luck.
My sympathies for Gaston and Johnson aside, I'll confess a flat-out bias: I don't hold a lot of faith in these pitchers' ability to lose in the major leagues, because other than Jack Fisher, all of them pitched before the game was integrated. So what if we set the bar for pitchers who hurled since 1947?
Most net losses (L-W), pitchers who pitched the bulk of their careers since 1947:
Name Net Losses Years Starts
This is a little more interesting. "Fat Jack" Fisher reigns supreme, as you might expect given his role as a Mets' rotation regular in the low-scoring 1960s.
We also find another reason to remember how special Mike Morgan has been. While some people are claiming the 300-game winner is going to go the way of the dodo (even as Roger Clemens is 40 wins away, and Greg Maddux 60), even today in the notional era of "dilution through expansion," we just don't have a generation of talented losers like those of years gone by. Pitching in middle relief for the Snakes could get Morgan that 0-7 record to match Jack Fisher in the modern era. It won't be easy, but I'm sure fans of the Giants, Dodgers, and Rockies will be pulling for him. I don't know if Fisher is still alive, but he probably is considering he'd only be 61 years old. Nevertheless, I doubt that Jerry Colangelo will fly him to games to potentially witness the moment.
That calls to mind the drama that we see in only a few Augusts these days: the hunt for the baseball's next 20-game loser. It's Brian Kingman's claim to fame, and we can only imagine the tension as Kingman roots for a great last month for guys like Omar Daal or Jose Lima. We're now into the 21st year since Kingman's 1980 pinnacle of defeatitude, which is a long time.
That sort of brings me back to Terry Felton's blip of historical significance as the pitcher with the most losses without a career win. Happily or sadly, Felton's 0-13 season in 1982 doesn't even rank on the list of 20th-century single-season net loss leaders:
Pitcher Year W L L-W
The all-time champion is John Coleman in 1883 with a 12-48 record.
For all of the hoopla about Brian Kingman's claim to fame, it's been 15 years since Jose DeLeon notched the last season to make this list. Considering only the guys who have pitched since integration, only Don Larsen is ahead of DeLeon. Just as Terry Felton has his little corner of history, it seems we ought to name each season's net loss-leader the winner of the DeLeon Award. After all, Larsen is famous for something else he did on the mound, while Roger Craig has the cachet of being an Amazin' Met or the Humm Baby loser of the 1989 World Series going for him. DeLeon only has a brief rash of beating Roger Clemens head-to-head a couple of times while he was pitching for the White Sox; even then, he probably takes a back seat to Dave Stewart for that fringe category.
Clearly, we don't see people losing like they used to, and that's a shame. Since a brief high-water mark in the early 1980s, when we were treated to the stylings of Mike Morgan and Terry Felton and Jose DeLeon, we only have the brief career of Anthony Young to cheer us up. Young had 33 net losses in his career and holds a single-season low-water mark of 15 net losses in 1993. But until somebody else lowers his game so that he can get to 17 net losses and enter this single-season pantheon, I'm happy with giving Jose DeLeon some claim to fame and inventing the DeLeon Award for Major League Baseball's single-season loss leader.
(Data courtesy of Michael Wolverton and Keith Woolner.)
Chris Kahrl can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.