Recently while I was playing Out of The Park Baseball something caught my eye. Anyone that knows the game is familiar with the quotes, curiosities and rankings of all-time records that the game provides during loading screens and in the virtual mailbox.
I received a message with the top 5 ranking of walks by a pitcher in a single season in the history of the sport, interestingly enough one name completely dominates the list.
His name is Amos Rusie.
Rusie, a Hall of Fame pitcher for the New York Giants during the late 1800’s had the most fascinating career I have ever seen.
After a year with his hometown team, the Indianapolis Hoosiers, Rusie went on to join the New York Giants as his former team was disbanded and he played with New York for the majority of the rest of his career.
Considered by many the original power pitcher, Amos Rusie quickly started to make a name for himself with a fastball that had velocity rumoured to be around the upper 90’s, although there’s obviously no official record of that. His productivity led to a big workload, in fact before his 21st birthday his right arm had logged well over 1000 Innings in the big leagues.
A blazing path to stardom earned him the nickname “The Hoosier Thunderbolt”.
This early success came despite a rather startling lack of control that resulted in four of the five biggest single season walk totals in the history of Major League Baseball.
From 1890 to 1893, the New York Giants’ right hander accumulated 1036 walks, while still remaining quite effective with a 37.5 RA9-WAR over that same period, leading the NL in strikeouts in 3 of those 4 seasons.
Then came the 1894 season
They tried to stop this hard-throwing ace by moving the pitching mound back in 1893, in the hopes of giving hitters throughout the league a better chance of getting to his pitches. Little did they know what was going to happen during that 1894 season.
I’m obviously exaggerating the impact on this rule change that can be attributed to Amos Rusie. However, it bears noting that later on in 1897 Rusie hit Hughie Jennings, a future Hall of Famer as well that played for the Baltimore Orioles, with a fastball in the head. Jennings became comatose for four days, fortunately Jennings was able to recover and resume his Major League career.
The strikeouts came down for Rusie but he had by far his best season in terms of ERA-, boasting a 53 number far better than 78, his career total.
The Hoosier Thunderbolt joined the Triple Crown club, winning it in the NL but he even took another step further.
Amos Rusie won the MLB Quadruple Crown, leading not just the NL but the entire MLB in:
Think about that for a second, a pitcher with a 0.98 K/BB ratio won the Triple Crown, you can’t make that stuff up. Just for good measure, Rusie also led the majors in Opp Avg. (.254) and ERA- (53).
Recollection from his peers
Here’s what Hank O’Day, a Hall of Fame umpire for 30 years in the late 1900’s had to say about Amos Rusie:
“Amos is the greatest pitcher the country ever saw. Why, Rusie had more speed in his curve ball than any pitcher I ever saw before, or have ever since seen, has in his straight fast ones. Rusie was a wonder—that’s all there is to it. I was behind the plate one day when one of Rusie’s fast incurves hit Hughie Jennings…the ball hit Jennings squarely in the temple, and he fell as though shot by a ball from a Winchester rifle. I caught him in my arms as he toppled backwards—and he was out of his head for three days.” (Contemporary reports of the incident said Jennings actually finished the game, but later lost consciousness for four days).”
The twilight years
After the 1894 season, The Hoosier Thunderbolt began to slowly decline while still remaining quite effective over the next three seasons, but there was enough gas left for another great year in 1897. Even after a lot of dispute with new owner, Andrew Freedman over his contract, Rusie balled out with a 2.54 ERA over 322.1 Innings pitched.
That 2.54 Earned Run Average represented his career best and it came in spite of his highest Opp. Avg (.257) since joining the Giants, mainly because of a significant improvement in control. 1897 was the only year where Rusie managed to keep his walk total in the double digits (87).
In the following year, Rusie remained effective but would later blow out his arm in a “successful” attempt to deploy his newly developed pickoff against Bill Lange, a notorious base-stealing outfielder from the Chicago Orphans. After that Rusie had to sit out the following season.
Oh! Just one last thing before his retirement
Following a trade to the Cincinnati Reds, the former Triple Crown winner attempted a comeback that ultimately lasted only 22 innings, he quit after 3 starts with the Reds and a 8.59 ERA.
Without context that doesn’t carry much meaning, players often go for one last try and it just doesn’t work out. However, to get Amos Rusie in town, Cincinnati traded away a young pitcher named CHRISTY MATTHEWSON. You might’ve heard of him. Truly one of the all-time greats that amongst a long list of accomplishments holds the unbreakable record of three shutouts in a single World Series
Amos Rusie was voted into the Hall of Fame in 1977 a full 35 years after his death in Seattle, Washington in the year of 1942.