This article was published in 1973 Baseball Research Journal
Editor’s note: All statistics presented below were believed to be correct and up-to-date at the time.
Last year’s Journal presented material on batters hit by pitch dating back to 1909. This year we present the other side of the picture, the hurlers who have hit the most batters since 1900. Much of this information is available from official league records since 1908 in the American League and 1903 in the National League. For the earlier years it has been necessary to compile the material from newspaper accounts and other sources. We have compiled all the season leaders since 1900 and have tabulated the lifetime totals for the all-time leaders although some started their careers prior to the turn of the century.
Much work still needs to be done on hit basemen in the early years because that was the period when hit-by-pitch was most common. In fact, the NL record was established in 1900 when Joe McGinnity hit 41 batters, and the AL mark was set at 32 in its initial season of 1901 by Charles “Chick” Fraser. The figures since then have gone done somewhat, although fluctuating over the years. The low mark was 6 in the AL in 1940 and 6 in the NL in three different seasons.
Three pitchers led their leagues five times in hit batsmen. They were Howard Ehmke and Tommy Byrne in the American, and Don Drysdale in the National. Ray Culp was the only pitcher since 1900 to lead in each league. The season totals of these pitchers were not high enough to give them the lifetime record, however. For many years it was assumed that Walter Johnson held the mark. He hit 207 batters, which is the AL record. While he had no particular propensity for pelting the batters, he had 21 active seasons for his steady totals to add up.
The all-time leader was Chick Fraser, who hit 215 batters in 13 full seasons between 1896 and 1909. He threw his fast ball, change of pace, and sweeping curve with the same side-arm delivery. In addition, Fraser was wild. In his rookie season of 1986, he hit 28 batters, had 28 wild pitches, and led the league in walks.
Unusual delivery probably can be related more to hit batsmen than wildness. For example, Jack Warhop, who had a higher HB frequency rate than Fraser, had a submarine delivery. Joe McGinnity was a side-armer with not much speed and batters were not afraid to get in front of his stray tosses. Don Drysdale had a big sweeping motion, and Jim Bunning appeared to be falling off the mound when he delivered the ball.
The two pitchers involved in the most famous beanings were Carl Mays, who fatally injured Ray Chapman with a pitch in 1920, and Bump Hadley, who ended the career of Mickey Cochrane with a pitch in 1937. Neither was notorious for hitting batters, although Mays was a submariner and somewhat difficult to follow. He led the league in 1917 with 14 HB and had a lifetime total of 89 in 3020 innings pitched. Hadley led in 1932 with 8 and had a career total of 66 in 2945 frames.
Of course, there are pitchers who hit fewer batters than that. Among the current hurlers, for example, Juan Marichal has hit only 37 batters in 3236 innings. And Lindy McDaniel, pitching mostly in relief, has hit only 14 hitters in 1795 innings. It is interesting to speculate about the extremely low figure for McDaniel, who happens to be a very religious and moral individual. Is he reluctant to apply the brush-back pitch? Or is it some other aspect of his particular situation?
Only two hurlers of recent years have hit more than 100 batters in their careers. They are Drysdale with 154, which is the modern NL records, and Bunning with 160. Don Cardwell got up to 98 before he retired. Among the active hurlers, Jim Kaat leads with 91. However, among the seasoned hurlers, Jim Lonborg ranks highest in frequency with 72 HB in 1322 IP.
At least 15 pitchers have hit 100 or more batters in their careers since 1900. We say at least 15 because some of the oldtimers who lapped over from the 1890s, like Cy Young, probably attained the century mark as well.