Oct 22

The Great Grasshopper

In 1887 Sporting Life lists an All Star line-up from a noted Boston crank. Here is the list,
Jim Whitney, P; Charlie Bennett, C; Cap Anson, lb; Hardy Richardson, 2b; Buck Ewing, 3b.; John Ward, SS; Jim O’Rourke. Lf; Paul Hines, Cf; Sam Thompson, Rf.

Pretty good nine! But Jim Whitney?

You may well ask. For two seasons (1887 and 1888) James Evans Whitney was one of the best pitchers in Washington’s long baseball history. Jim O’Rourke who played against him said this in 1915, “”There were no restrictions placed on (pitchers) as to delivery, and they could double up like a jack-knife and deliver the ball. That was the way Jim Whitney used to do, and he would let the ball go at terrific speed. It was a wonder that anyone was able to hit him at all. He was the swiftest pitcher I ever saw.” He was one of the fastest pre-1901 pitchers for Washington, with a nod to Jouett Meekin. Whitney was also an accomplished batter and able to play the outfield and first base.

All but Bennett and Richardson made it to the Hall of Fame. Both players merit consideration, especially Bennett.

In 1887 Whitney was 29 year old. He pitched for the Kansas City Club in 1886 and when that team folded was picked up by Washington. Whitney broke in with Boston (NL) in 1881. A Boston writer said he had, “a head the size of a wart, with a forehead slanting at an angle of 45 degrees.” Whitney was known for his temper, baiting the umpire whether batting or pitching; During his glory days in Boston he won thirty games twice, winning a total of 133 games in five years. The reaction in the press to his acquisition was positive, “Whitney has long been regarded as one of the great pitchers, has plenty of speed, is accurate in his delivery, and, it is thought, under the new rules will be high up in the averages.” A rule change had been made that required the twirler to keep the rear foot on the ground at the back of the box.

He placed Whitney above pitchers like John Clarkson, Tim Keefe, Pud Galvin and Mickey Welch, but maybe the crank was on to something. How good was Jim Whitney in 1887. His record was 24-21, pretty good for such a horrible club. And the 1887 version was awful.

Look at the numbers; Whitney led the league in BB/9 (0.9) and S0/BB (3.48). He was 4th in WAR (8.5), 3rd in WAR for pitchers (7.6), 6th in ERA (3.22) and 4th in Walks and Hits per IP (1.166). His 24 wins look pretty good against the total team of 46, 52% of the total. In 1972 Steve Carlton won 46% of the Phillies total wins. Whitney’s 404.2 innings pitched was 35% of total innings pitched for Washington that year. He batted .264, fourth best on the roster, often batting up in the line-up. On a good team, and Detroit tried to acquire him he would have easily won 35 games.

Whitney had another good year in 1888 but his arm went lame. He pitched two more years in the majors but with little effectiveness. He died in 1891, he was 32 years old.