George Sisler the Pitcher

This article was written by Ron Liebman

This article was published in the 1977 Baseball Research Journal


      George Sisler is widely known as one of baseball’s greatest hitters.  He batted .340 lifetime with 2812 hits in 15 seasons, playing mostly with the St. Louis Browns, but also with the Washington Senators and the Boston Braves. In the three seasons of 1920, 1921, and 1922 alone, Sisler made a grand total of 719 hits and he had batting averages of .407, .37 1, and .420-the latter being 14 points higher than any subsequent mark in the American League (Ted Williams batted .406 in 1941). Sisler had an all-time record of 257 hits in 1920, and his41-game hitting streak in 1922 (one more than Ty Cobb’s 1911 high) is the second longest in this century.

      Sisler was a great base stealer, leading the American League four years. He also was in the very top rank of the defensive first-basemen, a master of speed, skill, grace, and mobility. Yet many baseball followers do not know that Sisler was a star pitcher in his high school and college days, and consideration was given early in his major league career to his becoming a regular pitcher. Sisler was a superb all-around player.

     Sisler pitched in 24 major league games, with 15 of the games coming in his rookie season of 1915 and the other 9 scattered among 6 other seasons. Sisler started 12 of the 24 games, with 9 complete games and a sparkling 2.35 Earned Run Average. His won-lost mark was 5-6; however, he lost one 1-0 game and two 2-0 contests. Sisler’s five major league victories included 2-1 and 1-0 complete game victories over the great Walter Johnson of Washington, his pitching idol. He had two other complete game victories by scores of 3-1 and 5-2, and a relief win (score was 10-7) in which he yielded one run in 5 innings.

     Sisler made his major league debut on June 28, 1915, when he entered the game as a pinch-hitter for the St. Louis Browns, and then pitched scoreless ball for the final three innings of a 4-2 loss at Chicago.  He divided his time for the remainder of the season among pitching, first base, the outfield, and pinch-hitting. Branch Rickey, who was Sisler’s coach at the University of Michigan, was also Sisler’s manager during his first major league season of 1915. Rickey recalled that Sisler could have become a capable major league pitcher, but (as with Babe Ruth a few years later) he was considered too valuable a hitter to be kept out of the daily lineup. Most of his nine mound appearances subsequent to 1915 were in games in the final week of the season to please the fans. His 24th and final pitching appearance (which was his only one for a team other than the St. Louis Browns) occurred on July 3, 1928 when he pitched the scoreless final inning of a 15-0 loss by the Boston Braves at home vs. the Phillies.

     Sisler’s batting was not particularly distinguished in the games in which he was a pitcher. In his first 9 pitching starts, he batted 9th in the batting order, but in his final 3 major league starts he was left in his regular #3 spot. In the 17 games where Sisler’s primary role was that of pitcher, he had 13 hits in 45 at-bats for a .289 batting average.  Sisler hit 2 home runs as a pitcher, one in 1915, and one in his final major league start in 1918. Walter. Johnson, a relatively good hitting pitcher, had 2 hits in 9 at-bats in the 3 games he faced Sisler.

    As an added footnote, there were two season-sending games between the Browns and the Detroit Tigers where both George Sisler and Ty Cobb made brief pitching appearances in the same game! On September 1, 1918 (2nd game), St. Louis beat Detroit 6-2, with Sisler pitching one scoreless inning and Cobb yielding one run in a 2-inning stint on the mound. Sisler doubled against Cobb and scored the run.  On October 4, 1925 (2nd game), Detroit beat St. Louis 11-6 with Sisler hurling 2 scoreless innings and Cobb hurling one perfect inning in their respective pitching assignments. Neither batted against the other in this game.

    While Sisler had a pitching relationship with both Johnson and Cobb, he never dueled with Babe Ruth, his long contemporary. The closest he came was to pitch in the second game of a twinbill with the Red Sox after Ruth had pitched in the first game for Boston. In Sisler’s one brief appearance against the Yankees in 1925, Ruth was not in the lineup.

    George Sisler’s two most familiar nicknames were “Gorgeous George” and “The Picture Player.” He played in the majors from 1915 through 1930, but missed the entire 1923 season because of a sinus infection which seriously impaired his vision. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1939 and died at the age of 80 in 1973. Two of his sons, Dave and Dick, played in the major leagues-Dave was a pitcher and Dick was an outfielder-first baseman whose 10th inning home run on the last day of the 1950 season nailed down the pennant for the Phillies. Dick later managed the Reds for two seasons, making father and son the first such managerial combination in the majors. George had managed the Browns 1924-36.

    Here is a game-by-game rundown of George Sisler’s 24 pitching appearances in the major leagues, showing the dates and giving brief description of his pitching work in each of the games:

 

Date of Game

Comment

June

28

1915

Debut, pitched last 3 innings of scoreless ball in 4-2 loss to

 

 

 

White Sox. Entered game as PH

July

3

1915 (1)

Start, CG win, 3-1 over Indians; walked 9

July

15

1915 (1)

Start, CG win, 5-2 over Senators; gave 8 hits

July

19

1915 (2)

Relief 1/3, lost 4-1 to Yanks on 3 walks

July

20

1915

Start, 1/3 inning; allowed 3 walks; no decision

July

22

1915

Relief, 1/3 in 7-3 Browns loss to Red Sox; gave 1 hit, opposing

 

 

 

Joe Wood in 9th

July

25

1915 (2)

Relief, last 2 innings in 1-1 tie with Red Sox

Aug.

2

1915

Start, CG loss to Walter Johnson and Senators 5-1; Had one

 

 

 

hit off Johnson

Aug.

7

1915 (2)

Relief, failed to retire 2 batters (hit and BB) in sixth in 4-4

 

 

 

10-inning tie with Yanks

Aug.

15

1915

Start, CG loss, 1-0 to Guy Morton of Indians

Aug.

24

1915

Relief, 5 innings, won. He gave up I run and beat A’s and

 

 

 

Rube Bressler 10-7

Aug.

29

1915

Start, CG win 2-1 over Johnson and Senators

Sep.

5

1915 (1)

Start, CG loss 6-5 to Tigers; hit homer

Sep.

23

1915 (1)

Relief, 1 perfect inning in 7-0 loss to Yanks

Sep.

27

1915

Start, 7 innings, no decision in 8-4 loss to Red Sox; gave up

 

 

 

4 runs

June

22

1916

Start, CG loss 2-0 to White Sox and Reb Russell

Sep.

17

1916

Start, CG win 1-0 over Johnson and Senators; gave up six

 

 

 

hits to four for Johnson

Sep.

24

1916 (1)

Start, CG loss 2-0 to Harry Siebold of A’s

Aug.

27

1918 (2)

Start, 7 innings, no decision in 7-6 10-inning loss to Yanks.

 

 

 

Final start of career; hit homer

Sep.

1

1918 (2)

Relief, I scoreless inning in 6-2 win over Tigers; hit double

 

 

 

off Cobb, who hurled 2 innings

Oct.

3

1920

Relief, I perfect inning in 16-7 win over W. Sox

Oct.

4

1925 (2)

Relief, 2 scoreless innings in 11-6 loss to Tigers

Sep.

26

1926 (2)

Relief, 2 scoreless innings in 6-2 win over Yanks

July

3

1928 (2)

Relief, 1 final scoreless inning for Braves in 15-0 loss to Phils

                          

Career Pitching Record

G

IP

W-L

GS

CG

H

RB

SO

ShO

ERA

24

111

5-6

12

9

91

52

63

1

2.35

 

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