One of the best pitchers in baseball history, Eddie Plank won 326 games, lost only 194,
tossed 69 shutouts and compiled a resounding 2.35 earned run average.
The following from Microsoft Baseball:
Born in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, in 1875, Plank was nicknamed “Gettysburg
Eddie.” He attended Gettysburg Academy, worked part-time as a tour guide of
the battlefield, and enrolled in Gettysburg College, where the baseball coach was
former major league lefthander Frank Foreman. Plank had played little baseball
up to that time, but Foreman convinced him to come out and pitch for the college
team. When Plank graduated in 1901, Foreman recommended him to Connie
Mack, who was about to launch the Philadelphia Athletics in the first year of
the American League.
Plank never played in the minor leagues. He made his first appearance for the
A’s in May 1901 and gave up three runs in four innings of relief. Five days
later he won his first major league game. Plank improved as the season
progressed, and finished at 17-13 with a 3.31 earned run average. His 28
complete games are among the most ever compiled by a rookie in major
league baseball history.
The A’s won their first pennant in 1902 as Plank collected the first of his
eight 20-win seasons. His 3.30 ERA that year was his last over 3.00.
A control pitcher, Plank nibbled at the plate and lured hitters into swinging at
pitches just outside the strike zone.
The deliberate Plank would stand on the mound and rub up the baseball, adjust
his belt, step off the mound, knock dirt from his spikes, go back onto the
mound and ask for a new sign, reposition his cap, pull up a sock, and finally
throw a pitch low and outside. Then the show would start again.
He’d fiddle with his glove, re-button his shirt, ask for a new ball, and on and
on. Umpires often had to order him to pitch. The games he pitched lasted
hours, and many fans refused to come to them because they knew they’d miss
the last train home. His strategy was primarily psychological. If his fidgeting
upset fans, it drove batters up the wall, driving them to distraction until they
swung at a bad pitch.
There was no World Series in 1902, but when the Athletics won their second
pennant in 1905, they faced John McGraw’s New York Giants. During the
regular season Plank, Rube Waddell, and Andy Coakley had each won at
least 20 games. But Waddell was unavailable in the Series because of a sore
shoulder, so Plank pitched the opening game and lost a 3-0 duel to Christy
Chief Bender evened the Series with a 3-0 win over New York’s Joe McGinnity in Game 2, but Mathewson pitched another shutout in Game 3. Plank opposed McGinnity in Game 4 and threw a four-hitter, but McGinnity tossed the Series’ fourth shutout to win, 1-0. Mathewson wrapped it up the next day with his third shutout, the fifth of the Series.
Plank was consistently superb during the regular season and consistently
unlucky in World Series play. In 1910 Plank sat out the Fall Classic when Mack
decided to use only right handers in defeating the Chicago Cubs. Plank won
Game 2 of the 1911 Series against the Giants with a five-hitter, 3-1, but lost
Game 5 in relief when he gave up a run in the tenth inning. In 1913
Mathewson beat him, 3-0, in Game 2, but Plank came back to win the final game, 3-1, over Mathewson on a brilliant two-hitter. The Braves swept the A’s in four games in 1914, and Plank lost Game 2, 1-0. Despite an outstanding 1.38 ERA in seven World Series appearances, Plank’s record in the Fall Classic was only 2-5.
After the Athletics lost the 1914 World Series, Mack let most of his veterans go and decided to rebuild with younger players. His decision was based on economics. With a war breaking out in Europe, baseball’s future was uncertain. Of more immediate importance was a “war” at home against the upstart Federal League. Mack knew the Feds had offered generous contracts to Plank and Bender. Rather than make them choose between loyalty and their bank accounts, Mack released them.
Plank won 21 games for the St. Louis Feds in 1915, but the league collapsed.
He stayed in St. Louis to pitch for the Browns for two seasons, going 16-15 in 1916 and 5-6, with a 1.79 ERA, in 1917. He then was traded to New York, but at age 42 he opted to retire instead of suit up for the Yankees.
In 17 major league seasons, including his year in the Federal League, Plank won
327 games and lost 193 for an outstanding .629 winning percentage. He held the
record for career victories by a lefthander until it was surpassed by Warren Spahn in 1961; he still ranks third in the category behind Spahn and Steve Carlton. His 69 career shutouts are fifth all-time. He struck out 2,246 batters and finished with a 2.34 earned run average.
Plank was no slouch with a bat either. Although his lifetime average is only .206, he recorded 331 hits to rank among the top 20 pitchers of all time. In addition, during a game on August 30, 1909, Plank became one of the few pitchers in the big leagues ever to steal home.
After he retired Plank returned to Gettysburg, where he farmed and operated an automobile agency. He was named to the Hall of Fame in 1946, the same year Waddell was enshrined. In 1926, at age 50, he died of a stroke.
© 1994 Microsoft Corporation. All Rights Reserved.