Ned Garver-Twenty Wins for a One Hundred Loss Team

Ned Garver pitched fourteen seasons in Major League Baseball and won 127 games. He also lost 157, giving Ned Garver a winning percentage of .451 over his career. Ned Garver walked 881 batters and struck out 881 batters. But it is not that strange symmetry that makes Ned Garver noteworthy. In 1951, Ned Garver was pitching for the woeful St. Louis Browns, a team that managed just 52 victories against 102 losses. And Ned Garver won 20 of those contests, making him only the second pitcher to ever record 20 wins with a 100 loss club.

In 1905, Irv Young of the Boston Beaneaters was the first to achieve this incredible feat. Irv, nicknamed “Young Cy” and “Cy the Second”, after his more accomplished contemporary, Cy Young, won exactly 20 games that year, but he also lost 21. Young made 42 starts that season, 12 more than Garver would make nearly half a century later. When Irv went 16-25 and 10-23 in his next two campaigns, he may as well have changed his nickname to Cy-anora, because he was gone from the sport within four years. Garver on the other hand was a highly thought of hurler who simply had the misfortune of toiling for some truly bad squads, none worse than that 1951 Browns’ bunch.

Breaking into the Major Leagues at the age of 22 in 1948, right-handed throwing Ned Garver combined to go 32-46 over his initial three seasons with the Browns. His first contract was for $5,000; to make ends meet Ned Garver “trapped muskrats and worked in a factory’ during the off-season. In 1951, Ned Garver was pitching well enough for Casey Stengal to name him to start the All-Star Game for the American League. Already with 11 victories when he arrived in Detroit for his assignment, Ned Garver was excited but calm. He recalled, “I was really tickled to be selected. I always told my wife ‘If they’ll just ever put me on an All-Star team, I’ll but a ticket and sit in the centerfield bleachers if need be’. I would be so happy to be on an All-Star team. Then Casey (Casey Stengel) saw fit to allow me to be the starting pitcher. I wasn’t scared; I didn’t have any fear; I just expected to do well. And I went out there and did well.

Ned Garver did very well indeed. He would pitch the first three innings and allow but one run on a single hit. When he returned to St. Louis, Ned Garver won two more times in the month of July. August was not so kind, as Ned Garver could muster but a pair of triumphs; 4-2 versus Detroit and 5-3 against the Athletics. When Ned Garver defeated Cleveland 4-2 on September 7th, his record stood at 16-12. Realizing that he would need to be nearly perfect to get to the magical twenty win plateau, Ned Garver bore down. He picked up win number 17 on September 18th against the Senators; Ned Garver would get exactly three more starts and the season would be over.

On September 22nd he handled the White Sox by a 5-1 count. When he made quick work of the Tigers four days later by a 7-1 score, Ned Garver stood on the threshold of an amazing accomplishment. How great of a feat would this be? Consider that the St. Louis Browns leading RBI man had 55 runs batted in total and that their best hitter may have been Ned Garver himself. Garver was a standout in the Ohio State League as a hitter, batting .407; he hit .305 in 95 at-bats for the 1951 Browns and had as many homers as the shortstop and second baseman combined, one. Only one player, Ken Wood with 15, reached double digits in homers. This was the team that was owned by the enterprising Bill Veeck, who earlier that season had trotted the midget, Eddie Gaedel, out to pinch-hit as a promotional stunt. Ned Garver would lead the AL in complete games with 24 in 1951; the next highest Brown’s hurler had 7. Duane Pillette had the second most wins on the club. Duane accumulated six!

At Sportsman Park in St. Louis, on September 30th, Ned Garver toed the rubber against the Chicago White Sox in search of his improbable 20th win. Although he surrendered four runs in the first three frames, the score was knotted at 4-4 when Ned Garver batted in the fourth. He picked an opportune time to blast his first homer of the season, one of seven he would belt lifetime. With the lead, Ned Garver, and his catcher, Sherm Lollar, agreed upon a strategy. Lollar advised Garver, “You’ve got a good sinker. Let’s waste everything else and throw the sinker for strikes.”

Allowing only one more run, Ned Garver completed his 24th game of the season. He gave up 11 hits, but the Browns uncharacteristically provided him with some insurance and he won handily, 9-5. Ned Garver was elated. “There’s not a question that standing on the mound with two out in the ninth inning and I have a lead and I’m pitching for the only chance I’m going to have to win 20 games in a season was my biggest thrill. To see that fly ball go to right field and to see the right fielder catch that ball. I can still remember the feeling of joy and the feeling of relief that I had as I stood there on the mound. It was just something different. Most times when you win a game, or you pitched well, you have a good feeling. But nothing like that, nothing like that!”

Bill Veeck made Ned Garver the highest paid Browns’ player ever the next season when he raised his salary from $17,500 to $25.000. In August he was dealt to the Tigers, where he had modest success, but nothing close to his 20 win season. From Detroit, Ned Garver was sent to the inept Kansas City Athletics, where, oddly enough, he was able to compile the same 32-46 record that he had during his first three seasons with the Browns. He was out of baseball after a dozen games as an Angel in 1961.

The Cy Young Award was not given out until 1956; Ned Garver would have been one of the favorites to win it if it existed in 1951. His season was so impressive that he finished second in the American League’s MVP voting to Yogi Berra. Of Ned Garver’s 20 wins, 18 were complete games. His ERA of 3.73 in 1951, in another coincidence, was the same as that for his entire fourteen years in the pros. Ned Garver threw 2,477 Major League Baseball innings, allowing 2,471 hits.

The two most feared hitters of Ned Garver’s time in the big leagues were Mickey Mantle and Ted Williams. And in just another of the many strange quirks involving Ned Garver’s career in baseball, he was tough on both of them. The “greatest hitter that ever lived”, Ted Williams once asked “Do you remember Ned Garver, that little right-hander for the Browns? He could throw anything up there and get me out.” Certainly, Ned Garver deserves to be remembered.

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