A Baseball History Lesson as a Warning to the Angels

Back in the 1960s when stating pitchers started every four days, when they were expected to pitch eight or nine innings in every start, and when a closer would only enter a game when the starter, holding on to a narrow lead, got into a ninth-inning jam, the Los Angeles Dodgers had a formidable group of starters that included Sandy Koufax, Don Drysdale, Johnny Podres and Stan Williams. Koufax had established himself as baseball’s best pitcher by midseason of 1962, and the Dodgers looked to all the world that they would win the National League pennant, and go on to the World Series. Remember, in those days, there were no regularly scheduled “Playoffs”, but rather the winner of the single-division, ten-team NL, like their counterpart in the single-division, ten-team American League, went directly to the World Series, unless two (or more) teams ended the season in a tie for first place. Then, there would be a best-of-three playoff series.

Only July 12, 1962, Koufax was 14-4 with a 2.06 ERA. However, he was then developing a numbness on the tip of the index finger of his pitching hand, and was unable to sufficiently grip a baseball. He started on July 17, was hit hard, and did not pitch again until

September 21. Eventually, the condition was diagnosed as Raynaud's Phenomenon, which put his career in considerable jeopardy. Koufax tried coming back in September, and made four appearances, giving up 10 runs in ten innings. The Dodgers had great front-line pitching, but not a lot of quality pitching depth, and the other three starters, Drysdale, Podres, and Williams, all volunteered to pitch, in Koufax' absence, every three days, with only two days rest between starts.
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The result was not pretty.

While Drysdale had one of his finest seasons, the other two struggled with the extra work, though none of them developed any pains, strains, or tears, from an amount of overuse that is unheard of today. Drysdale started 41 games that season (and appeared in relief in two more), threw 19 complete games, pitched 314 innings, and won 25 games. Those numbers were not so unusual for top pitchers then, and especially not for him. Drysdale started 40 or more times in each of the next four seasons as well, twice completing 20 or more games in a season.

Podres also started 40 games, the most of his career, and also had career highs in innings pitched and most other categories. He won 15 games, three less than he had won the prior season, despite starting eight more games. Williams had been pitching both as a starter and in relief, and ended up stating 28 games, winning 14, also less than he had won the season before.

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On July 12th, the Dodgers were in first place, and they remained there until the final day of the season, when a loss and a San Francisco Giants' win meant the two teams ended tied, and would have a tie-breaking best-of-three playoff series. Koufax started the first playoff game, and was again hit hard. The teams were tied 1-1 going into the third playoff game, and that game ended with a
Giants victory when Williams, pitching in relief in the ninth inning of a tie game, walked Giants’ third baseman Jim Davenport to force in Felipe Alou with the winning run. Another run then scored on an error by Dodgers’ third baseman Jim Gilliam, for a final score of 6-4. The Giants went on the lose the World Series to the yankees.

So, why describe all this?

Because, the Angels find themselves in a vary similar position as did the 1962 Dodgers, after the loss of Koufax. The Angels began the season with a revamped five-man rotation, featuring veterans Jered Weaver and C.J. Wilson, and youngsters Garret Richards, Tyler Skaggs, and Hector Santiago. Richards was finally able to harness his tremendous talent, and became one of the leagues’ best. Skaggs showed considerable potential, and appeared to be on the verge of a breakthrough. Injuries sidelined Skaggs, Wilson, and Santiago at

times, and Matt Shoemaker joined the rotation, and has put together a sensational rookie season. But, now Skaggs and Richards are both gone for the year, and efforts to find a fifth starter have been unproductive. Wade LeBlank was so bad in his one start this week, that he was sent packing without a second chance.

So, what do the Angels do? Do they work through the last five weeks of the regular season using to
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the greatest extent possible only four starters? Would they risk Weaver, Wilson, Shoemaker or Santiago pitching on short rest? The lesson of 1962 is a resounding no – they need another body in the rotation. Somewhere in the majors there is pitcher who can fit the bill. It could be former Angels’ star Bartolo Colon, who at 41 is having a solid comeback, but who is signed through next season and at $11 million for 2015. It cold be Scott Feldman, A.J. Burnett, or heaven forbid, Trevor Cahill.

With the uncertainly surrounding the when of the return of both Richards and Skaggs, it may be a few more bucks than Arte Moreno would want to spend, but if they can make a deal for Colon, he would be the perfect guy for the rest of this regular season, this year’s playoffs, and the start of next season as well.

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