Tuesday, September 23, 2008

First in War, First in Peace, Last in the American League

The 1944 Washington Senators exemplified the refrain of first in war, first in peace, and last in the standings of the American League. They finished eighth, also known as last.

About the only interesting thing about the team was their cadre of five knuckleball pitchers:

Dutch Leonard (14-14, 3.06 ERA, 31 GS, 229-1/3 IP),
Mickey Haefner (12-15, 3.04, 25, 228),
Johnny Niggeling (10-8, 2.32, 24, 206),
Roger Wolff (4-15, 4.99, 21, 155), and
Bill Lefebvre (2-4, 4.52, 4, 69-2/3).

But the 1945 Senators are #2 in the chronological list of best major-league knuckleball seasons.

Lefebvre was out of major league baseball in 1945, but each of the other four had good seasons. Haefner set a career high for wins. Leonard posted the best ERA of his career. Wolff had an amazing season. And even though Niggeling did worse in 1945 than 1944, his won-loss record was worse than the rest of his numbers would suggest (32 unearned runs did not help his cause).

Leonard: 17-7, 29 GS, 2.12 ERA, 12 CG, 216 IP
Wolff: 20-10, 29 GS, 2.12 ERA, 21 CG, 250 IP
Haefner: 16-14, 28 GS, 3.47 ERA, 19 CG, 238-1/3 IP
Niggeling: 7-12, 25 GS, 3.16 ERA, 14 CG 176-2/3 IP

Leonard made the All-Star team (for a game that was cancelled due to war); Wolff was fifth in the league in strikeouts, and third in complete games; and Leonard and Wolff tied for third in ERA in the League. In the league MVP voting, Wolff placed 7th, and Leonard 18th. The four horsemen of the butterfly ball started 111 of the team's 156 games, finished 66 of them, and posted a 60-43 record.

Due largely to their heroics, Washington led the league in ERA and finished second in the league, 1-1/2 games behind the Tigers, who won the World Series that year. Who knows what would have happened had Clark Griffith scheduled fewer doubleheaders and allowed any of his starters to log even 30 starts?

And who was their catcher that year and played in 99 games and ended up in the Baseball Hall of Fame? None other than Rick Ferrell.

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