By In Stuff

A Bill James Addendum

Bill James (the writer — not Seattle Bill James) writes in with an addendum to the young pitchers injury post:

I know you weren’t trying to do an encyclopedia of these guys, but … two of the greatest sensational-young-pitcher-burns-out stories of all time:

1)  Bobby Shantz. It is difficult to describe how much the press loved Bobby Shantz. He was a little bitty guy, 5-foot-6 and slightly built, but he was an outstanding pitcher in 1951 and the MVP in 1952, when he went 24-7. The press just adored him, because he had so much heart and courage. Got hurt in ’53. . .never the same.

2) JR Richard. The right-handed Randy Johnson.  

That’s the long and short of it. . .the tallest great young pitcher who burned out, and the shortest one.

10 Responses to A Bill James Addendum

  1. As a guy who also claims to be 5’6″, and an admirer of Fred Patek, it is nice to hear of another short guy who made in in the major leagues (my major league dreams went bust around age 9)…

  2. Todd Goren says:

    I don’t count JR Richard in the same category. I mean stroke / cocaine use is a bit different from injury.

    • clashfan says:

      Looks like he was complaining of a dead arm in the weeks leading up to the stroke. In fact, it’s not impossible that a minor injury to his arm caused the clot to form that later caused the stroke.

      And I don’t know how his cocaine use enters into it.

    • He certainly threw enough pitches over the previous five or six years to deaden his arm. Lots of innings, lots of walks, lots of Ks. Those have to be some bittersweet memories for Astros fans: having signed Nolan Ryan the previous winter and falling just short in the playoffs, left to wonder how things would’ve turned out with a healthy (heck, an available) J. R. Richard.

      Interesting fact that tickled me: that season, a 33-year-old Nolan Ryan was only at the halfway point of his career.

  3. invitro says:

    I was at a family reunion one summer day in 1980 when I was eight years old. A great-uncle found out that I loved baseball, and asked me who my favorite player was. When I said J.R. Richard, he said “Boy, you better find a new favorite player.”

  4. cd1515 says:

    Richard was 30 when he got hurt and had 5 very good years in the books already.
    I’d hardly call him a “young pitcher who burned out.”

  5. Herb Smith says:

    Bill james is…well shoot, he’s the Babe Ruth of scholarly baseball history. However, I think he’s a little off on the JR Richard/Bobby Shantz examples; neither guy really fits into the Matt Harvey/Fidrych/Mark Prior category (ie, a spectacular phenom who immediately burns out and is never heard from again.)

    At age 30, and in his 10th season (his 5th straight year as a CY-candidate type SP), JR Richard was the STARTING pitcher for the All-Star game, shortly before his stroke. (he pitched 2 scoreless innings, striking out 3).

    And Shantz pitched for 12 more years after he blew his arm out; won 4 pennants with the Mantle-era Yankees, pitched multiple World Series, even won an ERA title.

    • Tracy Mohr says:

      All true, but I think the point about Shantz can be summed up as follows; in his MVP season, he threw 27 compete games in 33 starts (which, for a 139-lb pitcher, is the very definition of overwork).

      In his remaining 12 seasons, he would throw 28 complete games.

  6. Wilbur says:

    JR Richard was one of the few pitchers from that era who looked hard to hit … on TV from the centerfield camera. Roger Moret, somewhat oddly, comes to mind as another.

    On a bit of a tangent, I find it fascinating to watch full games from the 50’s and 60’s, like a game from the 1952 World Series. I watched both with a friend who played minor league ball in the 80’s and we were struck by two things: how the pitchers threw noticably less harder than the pitchers of today, and how nearly every hitter seemingly stepped in the bucket against a pitcher throwing from the same side. We’re so used to seeing modern hitters dive into the pitch, that when these (righthanded) hitters didn’t it looked like they were stepping toward third base. Then we realized that none of the ’52 players were wearing helmets or cap liners, and that had to be part of it.

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