January 18, 2003

Who were the Lively Arms of the Lively Ball Era?
by Steve Lombardi

The overwhelming majority of baseball historians consider the period of 1920 through 1941 as baseball’s “Lively Ball Era.”  In this time, a cork-and-rubber-center ball replaced a rubber-core ball and was consistently used by both the National and American Leagues.  Pitchers, sans a handful of grandfathered cases, were no longer permitted to alter baseballs or use trick pitches.  A fresh ball was used in play at all times.  During this period, on average, nearly ten runs were scored per game.  Batting average and homerun records were shattered.  In 1930, the National League's batting average was over .300. 

This was not exactly the best time in the history of baseball to be a pitcher.  Still, who were the best pitchers during this era?

When discussing pitchers, it is always best to have a minimum Innings Pitched (IP) requirement.  Otherwise, some fluky and fast fading comet of a hurler may sneak into the debate.

Looking at pitchers who toiled during the Lively Ball Era, in this review, the minimum of 1,000 IP will be used.  Seems fair enough – 158 pitchers each amassed over 1,000 IP during the period 1920 through and including 1941.

In terms of who was hardest to “hit” (or, in other words, who gave up the fewest hits per nine innings pitched) the top of the list would contain the following pitchers:  Bob Feller, Lefty Gomez, Van Lingle Mungo, Johnny Allen, Dazzy Vance, Tommy Bridges, Carl Hubbell, Roy Parmelee, Walter Johnson, Whit Wyatt, Monte Pearson, Bucky Walters, Dizzy Dean, Lefty Grove, Hal Schumacher, Lon Warneke, Bob Shawkey, Firpo Marberry, Red Ruffing, and Dixie Davis.

Using a pitcher’s strikeout to walk ratio to determine “command,” the following would be considered the crème of the crop during the Lively Ball Era:  Dizzy Dean, Dazzy Vance, Carl Hubbell, Paul Derringer, Lefty Grove, Syl Johnson, Bill Swift, Grover C Alexander, Cy Blanton, Cliff Melton, Watty Clark, Walter Johnson, Charlie Root, Schoolboy Rowe, Claude Passeau, Luke Hamlin, Urban Shocker, Lon Warneke, Bob Feller, and Dutch Leonard.

Dominance, in the form of strikeouts per nine innings pitched, was best illustrated by the following:  Bob Feller, Dazzy Vance, Van Lingle Mungo, Dizzy Dean, Bobo Newsom, Lefty Gomez, Tommy Bridges, Lefty Grove, Johnny Allen, Pat Malone, Hank Johnson, Whit Wyatt, Jack Wilson, George Earnshaw, Tex Carleton, Jakie May, Cliff Melton, Cy Blanton, Wild Bill Hallahan, Monte Pearson and Walter Johnson.

What about durability and consistency?  Using 162 innings pitched in a season as a yardstick, here are the pitchers with the most seasons reaching that mark during the period 1920 through 1941:  Ted Lyons, Red Ruffing, Lefty Grove, Waite Hoyt, Earl Whitehill, Sad Sam Jones, Carl Hubbell, Bump Hadley, Burleigh Grimes, Charlie Root, Guy Bush, Tom Zachary, Eppa Rixey, Jesse Haines, Larry French, Dolf Luque, Dazzy Vance, Mel Harder, Paul Derringer, Lon Warneke, Herb Pennock, Bill Sherdel, Red Faber, George Uhle, Wes Ferrell, Freddie Fitzsimmons and Danny MacFayden.

The next question is obvious – which pitchers appeared on each and every of the aforementioned lists?  Do not strain your brain, here is the tally:

Just two.  Lefty Grove, who must people would have “guessed” on to the list (had hey been asked); and, Dazzy Vance.  Yes, Dazzy Vance.  That is it.  Two.

Many came close – making three of the four lists.  But, only Grove and Vance made each of the “top of the charts.”

The three other pitchers, whom most experts may pick as part of the Top Five of the Lively Ball Era (besides Grove and Vance) would be Carl Hubbell, Tommy Bridges, and Ted Lyons.  Of those three, only Hubbell came close to making the four lists (with him missing from the strikeouts per nine innings group).  This is interesting, as Carl Hubbell may be most commonly known for his strikeout streak in the 1934 All-Star Game.

Now, be ready should there come a day when you are asked “Who were the best pitchers during the Lively Ball Era?”  Offer first “Lefty Grove!” and be sure to stick your chest out proudly upon this declaration.  Upon receipt of the requisite and sarcastic “Duh!” from your examiner, quickly come back with “And, right behind him, would be Dazzy Vance!”  (For drama, perhaps you should consider waggling an index finger in the air when you say “Vance”?  Just a suggestion.  Not a “must do” gesture.)

When the inquisitor looks at your “Vance” offering a tad surprised, tell him to go visit this essay at NetShrine.com.  <wink>

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