Thursday, June 7, 2018

Mr. 500 - He Pitched for the Giants

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TRIVIA QUESTION:  How many home runs did Mike McCormick hit in his major league career?  

The four pinch-hitters who we asked about in last week's column all had one thing in commong. Jerry Lynch, Manny Mota, Vic Davalillo and Smokey Burgess all played for the Pittsburgh Pirates. It could added each one of them was acquired from another team as well. Congratulations to reader Dan Taguchi for being the first one to come up with the correct answers; kudo's.

 It's not rare for a player to start with one team, move to another and then come back and retire from his original squad. It is rare for a player to have three different stints with the team which originally signed him. Such is the case of Giants pitcher Mike McCormick. As it turns out after a good start, his second time with the Giants was his best.

After arriving with the New York Giants as a 17 year old $20,000 Bonus Baby in 1956 fresh out of high school, he moved into the 1960's having already won 26 games. He was on his way to becoming a legitimate big league starter. In 1960 he completed 15 of his 34 starts for the "then" San Francisco Giants and led the league with a 2.70 ERA, adding a 15-12 record. He followed that up in 1961 by facing the same number of batters, and still averaging 250 innings despite seeing his record drop to 13-16 and his ERA rise to 3.20. Still, all in all, very respectable numbers.  
For those two seasons his consistency was remarkable. The only major difference was he allowed 15 homers in 1960 and a league leading 33 the following year! No wonder his numbers changed when it came to wins and ERA. 1962 was a disaster however. Starting 28 games he dropped to 5-5 and pitched only 98 innings wherein he gave up a whopping 18 homers. His ERA ballooned to 5.38. 

The Giants had enough. That off season they shipped him off to the American League in a major trade. On December 15, 1962: they sent him along with Stu Miller and John Orsino to the Baltimore Orioles for Jimmie Coker, Jack Fisher and Billy Hoeft

He didn't fare much better. After two lackluster seasons he was sent to Washington in a minor league deal where he seemed to regain some of his old stuff. After the 1966 season with the Senators in need of outfield help and the Giants in need of a starting pitcher, San Francisco reacquired McCormick for Cap Petersen and Bob Priddy. This time the Giants trade paid big dividends.

McCormick responded with a career year. He notched 22 wins to lead the NL, against 10 losses, with a 2.85 ERA on his way to becoming the first Giant to ever win the NL Cy Young Award. He completed 14 of 35 starts, pitched five shutouts and beat every team in the league at least once. His control was pinpoint, his homers allowed was solid and in a throwback to his previous best seasons, he faced about the same number of batters. In those three top years he faced over 1000 batters, which he never accomplished outside of those seasons. He also had a great hits-to-innings ratio. He allowed only 220 hits in 262 innings. 

One of the consistent keys to McCormick's success was his brilliant fielding. He was catlike off the mound and helped himself many times with the glove. In 1967 he was perfect in the field.
In the following two seasons his numbers fell off quite a bit but amazingly his numbers during those two seasons were again remarkably consistent right down to the games started and completed. Now the aging McCormick was sold to the Yankees, and eventually wound up with Kansas City before coming back to the Giants in 1972 where he never got the chance to pitch again. He retired in June of that year having been signed by the Giants three times.

He ended his career 134-128 and a 3.73 lifetime ERA.  Perhaps just as important was his ability to field. Four times he led the league in fielding as a pitcher; 1961, 1966, 1967 and 1969. In those four years he did NOT commit an error.

It should be noted in 1959 he pitched a five inning, rain shortened no hitter against the Phillies but due to rule changes he's not credited with a no-no. He did allow a hit in the sixth but since the game was called due to rain, that inning was removed from the books.  

The "Mr. 500" tag is because he was the player who hit the 500th home run by a pitcher in major league baseball history, and he gave up no. 500 to Henry Aaron. Now that is a feat of obscurity but I hope you were intrigued enough to stick around to read it.

Thank you to those of you who purchased my book after reading this column. It has been appreciated. 

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