SABR

Nate Andrews

This article was written by David E. Skelton.

In a meaningless end-of-the-season contest before fewer than 2,000 spectators at Wrigley Field in Chicago, Boston Braves manager Casey Stengel sent his starting pitcher back to the mound for the home half of inning 12. The Chicago Cubs scored the decisive run, delivering a league-leading 20th loss to Nate Andrews, a dubious distinction that the curveballing right-hander hardly deserved but which was typical of a season in which his decent pitching (a 2.57 earned-run average) was undermined by a dearth of run support. It was hard luck such as this that haunted Andrews – both on and off the field – his entire life.

Lore and legend surrounded the family long before Andrews first opened his eyes to the world. His preacher grandfather is said to have successfully hidden a cow in the woods when General William Tecumseh Sherman’s scorched earth campaign arrived outside Rowland, North Carolina, in 1865, taking everything else they owned. Decades later Dr. Nathan Andrews, Nate’s father, fared slightly better. In the poor rural community 100 miles southeast of Charlotte, the good doctor often dispensed care in exchange for eggs, chicken, ham, or anything else patients could afford. It was in this environment that Nathan Hardy Andrews, Jr. was born on September 30, 1913.

The middle of three surviving children (and the eldest son) born to Dr. Nathan Andrews, Sr. and Leona Prevatte Andrews, Nate often sought the love frequently withheld by a strict and stern mother – years later he compensated by being overly doting to his own family. A former music teacher, Leona passed on her gift of song, and Nate became adept at a variety of musical instruments. But his passion from any early age was always baseball. A capable athlete in all sports, he did not hesitate to forgo other endeavors when his college coaches, fearful of injury that might prevent him from being able to pitch, asked Andrews to focus exclusively on baseball. His pitching prowess was a steady progression from Rowland High School to Presbyterian Junior College and eventually to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Andrews shattered Southern Conference strikeout records. A no-hitter against Wake Forest represented the pinnacle of his collegiate career. He soon attracted major-league attention and was signed to a contract by Frank Rickey (younger brother of Branch). Belatedly approached by another club offering considerably more money, Andrews is said to have been so excited about playing that the money was irrelevant.

If Andrews had sought to advance to the major leagues rapidly, he might have considered signing with a team other than St. Louis in 1934. That year the Gas House Gang made the Cardinals’ fifth World Series appearance in nine years. In the six years during which Andrews toiled in the Cardinals’ organization, the team fell into the second division only once, and much of its success was was due to its pitchers. That left little room for Andrews.

Andrews’ first professional team was close to home, Greensboro in the Class B Piedmont League, where he was 7-10 in 1934. In 1935 the franchise moved to Asheville. After pitching in 14 games there, Andrews got a series of rapid promotions that had him pitching for the Cardinals’ Double-A teams in Columbus and Rochester. Andrews pitched in Double-A ball (the equivalent of today’s Triple-A) for the next seven seasons, with brief stays in St. Louis in 1937 and 1939, but at the end of which he was no longer Cardinals property.

After winning 11 games for last-place Sacramento in 1936, Andrews was mentioned as one of the pitching “candidates worthy of special notice”i the following spring. (Also on that list was Mort Cooper, who would play a significant role in Andrews’ later career.) After some impressive work at spring training in 1937, Andrews was promoted to the Cardinals, but pitched very little and was sent to Rochester in May. A fine 3.13 ERA there placed him among the International League leaders, but still resulted in a pedestrian 9-13 won-lost record – a harbinger of things to come.

Dizzy Dean’s injury-shortened 1938 season contributed to the Cardinals’ uncharacteristic sixth-place showing (they hadn’t finished lower since 1919). While the team experimented with 12 starters during the dismal campaign, at no time does it appear Andrews received any consideration. He was struggling in the American Association with an ERA that mushroomed to 4.91 and an equally morbid 11-19 record (though he did place among the league leaders in complete games with 14). Assigned to the same Columbus Red Birds squad in 1939, he rebounded swimmingly. A 17-9, 2.70 season mark earned Nate the starting honor in the Association’s All-Star Game, resulting in a jump to the parent club less than a month later.

The promotion came at the expense of Paul “Daffy” Dean. Disgruntled by his outright demotion to Columbus, Dean unsuccessfully appealed to Commissioner Kenesaw M. Landis for a reversal. The sad fact was that the Cardinals’ patience with Dizzy’s younger brother had worn thin – he was once described as “a problem child”ii – and his early success had turned unexpectedly sour. Nate took quick advantage of this new opportunity. Two days after joining the team, he secured his first major-league decision, in relief over the Cincinnati Reds, by hurling three shutout innings. Two subsequent outings earned Andrews his first starting assignment, in Boston against the Bees (the once and future Braves). In this performance he fared much worse – six runs surrendered in the first inning – and he struggled thereafter to keep his ERA below 6. A week before the end of the season the Cardinals seemingly did not hesitate when their American League poor sisters, the Browns, offered $7,500 to take Andrews off their hands.

“[Nate] was the best pitcher in the American Association,” said Browns general manager Bill DeWitt. “He came up expecting to be pitched regularly. He didn’t do so well after the first game, then was thrown into the [bullpen as] a relief pitcher. It hurt his pride [and he] became sulky. He quarreled with [Cardinals manager] Ray Blades and broke training. That’s how we happened to get him. He was a swell pickup for the money. Mind you, he’s really not a bad actor, just a victim of circumstances.”iii Notwithstanding the sympathies expressed by DeWitt, Andrews would never throw a pitch for the Browns. In June 1940 he was sold to the Cleveland Indians.

By the start of the 1943 season, Andrews had been shuffled from the Indians to the Cubs to the Braves. Suspensions, descriptions of “too much of a good-time-Charlie” resulting in “a tendency to stray off the training reservation,”iv and an inability to “adjust himself properly to the team”v often served as euphemisms for why Andrews frequently wore out his welcome. Later in his career the loneliness experienced while traveling on the road caused him to occasionally bolt unexpectedly for home, leaving his team in the lurch. But in his early to mid-20s, the lonely feelings produced a different result, and Andrews turned to the bottle. In March 1941 the Indians left him behind in Fort Myers, Florida, for “violation of training rules”vi when the team went to Cuba for an exhibition series. To his credit, Andrews was applauded for having worked himself back into shape when the team returned to the US. Andrews pitched well and appeared poised to return to the major leagues (he’d made only six appearances with the Indians in 1940), but a shaky performance while the team played its way north resulted instead in another minor-league assignment, where he remained until a September call-up.

Four teams inquired about Andrews’ availability over the winter, and before the 1942 season he was sold to Cincinnati. Assigned to the Reds’ Syracuse farm club, he displayed the dominance he had exhibited in Columbus three years earlier, producing a 16-12, 2.93 season record with seven shutouts. The Reds, already well fortified with pitchers, were willing to entertain offers for the 28-year-old Andrews.

The Boston Braves, tired of dealing with shortstop Eddie Miller, their talented but “temperamental star who has been at odds with the Braves several times.”vii On December 4, 1942, the Braves sent Miller to the Reds for shortstop Eddie Joost, Andrews and $25,000. The inclusion of Andrews clinched the deal for the Braves, and skipper Casey Stengel happily declared that “with Andrews added to our pitching staff, we may be able to get out of seventh place.”viii This was undoubtedly high praise for a pitcher whose best seasons had still not exceeded Double-A ball. Still another benefit accrued to the Braves: Two months earlier the team’s prized pitching prospect, Warren Spahn, had enlisted in the Army, and Andrews would be counted on to fill the void.

When the US entered World War II in December 1941, Andrews likely received a hardship exemption as the father of three – a boy and two girls (a second boy did not survive infancy, and two more daughters were born thereafter). He had been married on Valentine’s Day in 1936 to Ellen “Virginia” Andrews, a cousin raised on a farm in the nearby community of Fairmont. According to family lore, they first met at a barn dance outside of Rowland. Virginia filled the void of the loveless home life Nate knew growing up. They remained together until Virginia died 50 years later.

As predicted by Stengel, the Braves escaped seventh place in 1943 – they finished sixth, with a 68-85 record. The pitching staff’s ERA (3.25) was slightly better than the league average of 3.38. But the Braves’ anemic offense managed a major-league low 465 runs. Andrews took the mound 34 times as a starting pitcher, gave up 253 hits in 283 innings, and two of his 20 losses were in relief. Of his 14 victories as a starter, three were shutouts.

In order to make a good first impression in his new surroundings, Andrews reported early to the Choate School in Wallingford, Connecticut, the team’s spring training site in 1943 because of wartime travel restrictions. A strong showing in camp resulted in a sterling start to the new season, and by mid-May his record stood at 4-1, with a 1.90 ERA. Years before the Rookie of the Year award was given, he drew prominent attention “in the freshman sweepstakes.”ix Then the heartbreaking losses began to set in. Perhaps nothing epitomizes Andrews’ season-long struggles more than an outing on May 23, when he pitched nine shutout innings only to surrender a tenth-inning run in a 1-0 loss. In all, the Braves managed two or fewer runs scored in nearly half (16 of 34) of Andrews’ starts, easily explaining his 20-loss season.

Since 1920 there have been 97 seasons of 20 or more losses for a pitcher. (Bobo Newsom did it three times.) Andrews may be the least deserving among this fraternity, as his 2.57 ERA remains by far the lowest such mark. (His closest competitor, Hall of Famer Jesse Haines, was 13-20 in 1920 despite a 2.98 ERA.) As the season drew to a close, one observer acknowledged that “the guy [c]ould have had 20 victories easily. … How could any one man have so much bad luck as Nate has had all year?”x

In training camp the following spring, Andrews barely avoided disciplinary action when he reported in poor condition. He fell further from grace by going absent days before the start of the season. In spite of these difficulties, Andrews had established himself a desired commodity, and Giants manager Mel Ott included Nate among his most-desired list in improving his own team’s fortunes. Andrews’ 16 wins accounted for a quarter of the Braves’ 65 victories. He was one of three Braves pitchers named to the NL squad for the All-Star Game. (The others were Jim Tobin and Al Javery; of the three, only Tobin pitched.)

When the Braves acquired Mort Cooper from the Cardinals in 1945 to bolster their already impressive mound corps – as opposed to improving their perennially anemic offense – the team was instantly put on the short list of National League contenders.

Eight years earlier, both Cooper and Andrews were considered by St. Louis to be the most promising of a cadre of young arms. But Cooper’s salary demands after three consecutive 20-win seasons led the Cardinals to offer him in a trade. Under the direction of new club president Lou Perini the Braves acquired Cooper and his hefty contract in late May, but a sore-armed Cooper pitched only 27 innings after a June 27 outing, and continual losses resulted in “the ‘resignation’ of Manager Bob Coleman.”xi Events soon spiraled out of control with the team waiving disgruntled pitcher Jim Tobin in August, and both Andrews and shortstop Eddie Joost going AWOL. For Andrews it was the third time he had bolted the team that season, and he was shipped to Cincinnati on waivers, though he did not pitch for the Reds until the following season.

It appears that jealousy played a pivotal role in the Braves’ turmoil. Cooper’s salary was $15,000, more than twice that of the average Braves player. In the midst of this explosive environment, Andrews turned again to his addictive crutch. In explaining his third absence, newspapers reported “[t]his time there wasn’t so much silence, because practically everybody knew Nate’s case.”xii

An event in 1944 may help explain the challenges of loneliness that contributed largely to Andrews’ need to seek refuge in the bottle. His family had come to Boston from North Carolina for an extended visit. As the visit came to a close, Andrews had difficulty parting and was caught on the train when it began its journey south – an indication of his need to surround himself with his loved ones, and the challenges he faced when they were apart. The discord on the team ignited an already-volatile situation for Andrews. It wasn’t until the following spring that he would be prepared to take the mound again.

The 1946 season was Andrews’ eighth and final campaign in the major leagues. Whether it was elbow problems stemming from a 1945 injury, intemperance, or competition from returning war veterans, the following apocryphal nugget may best describe Andrews’ struggles:

“While the Cardinals were slapping Nate … in a recent game … [c]atcher Ray Lamanno called time and, walking out to the box, asked: ‘Do you feel all right, Nate?’ Andrews … replied: ‘I’m all right, Ray; I ain’t got no pain; I ain’t got no misery’ – and then after a pause, ‘and I ain’t got nuthin’ on the ball.”xiii

Released by the Reds on June 11, Andrews was quickly snapped up by Mel Ott in New York. Three appearances later – including his final big-league win, against Cincinnati on June 19, 1946 – Andrews walked away from the major leagues. A couple of months later, he offered an explanation: “I came home … of my own accord. I decided I had had enough of the Big Show and the time had come for me to return to North Carolina, where I could be with my family. I had a lot of years up there and too many away from homexiv [emphasis added]. There were rumors about a return to the majors with Pittsburgh in 1947, but Andrews chose minor-league venues close to home (Wilmington, North Carolina, and Florence, South Carolina) to play, coach, and manage through the 1948 season.

Andrews occupied his post-baseball career working in the family drugstore in Rowland, and he later opened a dry-cleaning business. In the 1950s he scouted for the White Sox, and sport was never far from his purview. He refereed amateur football games. He pursued his passions of hunting and fishing. In Andrews’ later years, circulation problems forced the amputation of both legs below the knee, and depression soon followed. Andrews was heartened by the resulting groundswell of support from the public.

Andrews, 77, died on April 26, 1991, in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, to which he had moved for better employment opportunities in 1959. He was brought home to Rowland, where he was buried in the community cemetery. In 2013 he was survived by three of his five children, seven grandchildren, and 11 great-grandchildren.

Nate’s daughters fondly recalled a story their father was prone to tell of striking out Ted Williams twice in an exhibition. Williams, he said, invited Andrews to dinner that evening and pressed the hurler as to how he was pitching to the future Hall of Famer. Whether or not this story is truth mixed with myth, Andrews possessed a unique niche in the game’s history by losing 20 games with an ERA that would make any daughter proud. In fact, with the dearth of 20-loss campaigns occasioned by five-man rotations, Andrews’ mark may never be matched again.

Author's note

The author wishes to thank Nate Andrews’ daughters, Olivia A. Robbins and Judith Andrews Adams, for helping ensure the accuracy of this narrative. Further thanks are extended to Michael Haupert.

 

Sources

Baseball-reference.com

ancestry.com

http://sabr.org/bioproj/person/16b7b87d

 

Notes

i “19 New Birds In The Cardinal Nest,” The Sporting News, March 18, 1937, 8.

ii “Card Recruits Hurl .600 Ball In Minors,” The Sporting News, November 18, 1937, 3.

iii “ ‘No General Shifts On Browns’ – DeWitt,” The Sporting News, November 2, 1939, 3.

iv “Carolinas Splash Big Time With Color,” The Sporting News, February 7, 1946, 5.

v “Haney Has Harmony, Hitting And Hustle,” The Sporting News, May 2, 1940, 6.

vi “Hot Indians Chilled By Sub-Zero Hitting,” The Sporting News, March 20, 1941, 1.

vii “Hub Passive Over Passing Of Miller,” The Sporting News, December 10, 1942, 9.

viii “Hub Passive.”

ix Southpaw Slants Give Yanks Slant On Foes’ Strategy,” The Sporting News, June 3, 1943, 1.

x “Nifty Pitching by Nate Rates a Better Fate,” The Sporting News, September 2, 1943, 14.

xi “Three Wrong Numbers Nix Braves’ Big 4,” The Sporting News, August 30, 1945, 7.

xii “Three Wrong Numbers.”

xiii “Plenty of Nothing,” The Sporting News, June 12, 1946, 7.

xiv “Move From Majors to Class D ‘Own Idea,’ Says Nate Andrews,” The Sporting News, August 21, 1946, 34.

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