Jack Pfiester, the Giant Killer

This article was written by A.D. Suehsdorf

This article was published in 1989 Baseball Research Journal

Jack Pfiester was known as “Jack the Giant Killer” for his successful pitching against John McGraw’s team in the great days of its rivalry with the Cubs. But just how successful was he? How frequently, in fact, were the Giants slain? The answer is not easy to come by. Although Jack and his presumably apt nickname appear in many standard sources, no one undertakes to substantiate this interesting claim.

Actually, Jack’s mastery of the Giants was asserted soon after he joined the Cubs. He had had two minimal seasons at Pittsburgh with no starts against New York. In Chicago, after one no-decision game, he trounced the Giants four straight times in the seasons of 1906-07. Ultimately, his record against them was 15-5 for a winning percentage of .750. Against the rest of the National League his career percentage was .590.

Jack was a capable lefthander with a good move to first that held runners close. He had a 20-win season as a rookie with the Cubs (1906), and in 1907, when he was 14-9, he led the league with a 1.15 earned run average that stands as the fifth best single-season mark ever. Overall, he was 71-44, with a career earned run average of 2.04. He appeared in four World Series, winning one game and losing three.

As can be seen from the seasonal statistics below (developed from National League records and the Tattersall box-score collection at Cooperstown), Jack faced the Giants most frequently during the memorable pennant race of 1908. He was credited with one victory in July for relieving Ed Reulbach, although Orval Overall pitched the ninth when the Cubs scored the winning run. By today’s rule Orvie would be the winner. In August Jack also was credited with a shutout victory, although rain shortened the game to six innings.

In two vitally important games, however, the magic failed to work. On September 23, Jack started against Mathewson in the famous “Merkle game.” If Fred had not failed to touch second, Jack would have been the loser. And facing Mathewson in the resultant playoff on October 8, Jack was shelled in the first inning. He would have suffered a second loss if Three Finger Brown had not pitched superb relief and won.

Even so, Jack went on to enjoy the 1909 and 1910 seasons as a Giant killer. After fifteen triumphs, he lost for the fifth time in May, 1911. it was Jack’s final appearance in the major leagues.


A.D. Suehsdorf, retired editor of Ridge Press, is the author of “The Great American Baseball Scrapbook.”