In just their second year in New York, the 1904 Yankees, then known as the Highlanders, almost captured their first-ever pennant. Their MVP that year was a spit-balling right hander named Happy Jack Chesbro who set a modern day record that season by winning 41 games. But the Clark Griffith managed Highlander squad won a total of 92 times that year which means pitchers besides Chesbro had 51 more wins. Today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant had 23 of those 51 victories.
One of the joys I had as a baseball fan and a father was watching my oldest son Matt pitch when he played youth baseball. He started doing so at the age of ten when he was still playing in the first level of our local youth baseball league. At that level, the mound was just 45 feet from home plate and at that distance Matt’s fastball was pretty intimidating. As he advanced to the next levels of play the distance between the mound and the plate grew and my son quickly realized he couldn’t win games throwing just his fastball. Instead he became one of the youngest junk pitchers in history. He began experimenting with different arm angles, grips and speeds. Watching from the stands, it sometimes looked like he was lobbing the ball to the plate and the coaches of teams facing him would scream at their players who were batting that they should be hitting his pitches all over the park. But more often than not, they’d take off balance swings that resulted in outs instead of base-runners and Mattie-boy won a lot more games than he lost.
That’s why as I researched the career of Jack Powell, I came to the conclusion that his pitching philosophy was a lot like my son Matt’s. His entire objective on the mound was to fool hitters, not overpower them. Throw the ball near the strike zone at various speeds using different arm angles with the objective of keeping opposing hitter off-balance. Powell threw so effortlessly that sportswriters covering his games swore even they could hit him. He was one of the very few MLB hurlers to use no windup when he pitched and because he threw so easy, he could start often and give you lots of innings each time he did.
A native of Bloomington, IL, Jack “Red” Powell began his big league career in 1897 with the National League’s old Cleveland Spiders. He also pitched for the Cardinals and the Browns until he was traded by the latter to the Highlanders in March of 1904 for a guy named Harry Howell.
Unfortunately, Clark Griffith overdid things with his two best pitchers trying to win that 1904 pennant. Powell made 45 starts for the Highlanders that season and pitched a total of 390 innings. Add Chesbro’s unimaginable 454 innings that same year and these two guys pitched over 60% of the innings the Islanders played that season. It was absolutely no coincidence that both men developed sore arms in 1905 and neither ever again approached their win totals of 1904. In fact, Powell’s lifetime record through 1904 was 157-134 and just 88-120 afterwards.
His record was 8-13 in 1905, when the Yankees released him late in the season. He returned to the St. Louis Browns, where he continued to pitch until 1912.
Powell shares his birthday with this former Yankee reliever.
|SLB (10 yrs)||117||143||.450||2.63||294||264||27||210||27||11||2229.2||2083||900||651||43||486||884||49||1.152|
|STL (3 yrs)||59||54||.522||3.79||131||117||14||101||7||3||999.0||1109||559||421||38||212||297||30||1.322|
|CLV (2 yrs)||38||25||.603||3.06||69||67||2||60||8||0||567.0||573||271||193||10||174||154||25||1.317|
|NYY (2 yrs)||31||32||.492||2.81||84||68||14||51||4||1||593.1||554||261||185||19||149||286||16||1.185|
Tex Clevenger’s real first name was Truman. In Maury Allen’s book “Where Have You Gone Yankees?” he told the author that Boston Red Sox second baseman, Johnny Pesky, gave him the nickname “Tex” when Clevenger was a member of the Red Sox organization in the early fifties. He had established himself as a very good relief pitcher during a five-year stretch with the lowly Senators that ended in 1960 when he was left unprotected in the AL expansion draft and selected by the Los Angeles Angels. The Yankees got him and Bob Cerv from LA in a 1961 trade that sent Yankee reliever Ryne Duren out west. That happened to be the first trade ever made by the Angels’ franchise.
Houk then put Tex in Duren’s vacated spot in the Yankee bullpen but Clevenger’s first year in New York was a struggle. At the beginning of the ’62 season he found himself pitching in Richmond. When Houk brought him back up to the parent club that May, a reporter for the New York Times wanted to know why he wasn’t the same pitcher in pinstripes as he was when he was saving games for the Senators. Instead of evading the question, the plain-speaking Clevenger answered it honestly.
“There’s a sort of ease and relaxation when you’re with a second-division club that gets in your blood.” the right-hander explained. “Sure we all try to win but if you lose, well shucks, you’re with a club that isn’t expected to win too often so you just shrug it off. But when you come to a pennant-winner like the Yankees, boy that sure is a big difference. You suddenly find yourself with a club where every game means something and a lot of money can ride on every pitch if the game is close. Its something you have to adjust yourself to. I think things will be different for me this year.”
Clevenger did pitch better in ’62. He appeared in 21 games, won both of his decisions and got his ERA down to under three after it was near five during his first Yankee season. He also got his second World Series ring even though he didn’t pitch in either of those Fall Classics. That would be his last season as a Yankee and his final one in the big leagues. Houk sent him back to Richmond in 1963 and after staying there all year, he was released and decided to retire. He went on to own an auto dealership in California, where he still lives.
Tex shares his birthday with this long-ago starting pitcher.
|WSH (5 yrs)||29||31||.483||4.24||230||32||105||5||2||29||541.1||555||289||255||45||218||282||1.428|
|NYY (2 yrs)||3||1||.750||3.75||42||0||20||0||0||0||69.2||71||34||29||6||38||25||1.565|
|BOS (1 yr)||2||4||.333||4.79||23||8||6||1||0||0||67.2||67||42||36||9||29||43||1.419|
|LAA (1 yr)||2||1||.667||1.69||12||0||7||0||0||1||16.0||13||5||3||1||13||11||1.625|