This article was published in the 1989 Baseball Research Journal
It’s tough enough to throw a shutout in your final season – fewer than 300 pitchers did – and almost impossible to zip the opposition in your final game.
In 1901, Bill Cristall, a rookie left-handed pitcher and a native of Odessa, Russia, started six games for the Cleveland Blues of the new American League. He lost five, but his one win was a shutout. Although he was only twenty-two years old, Cristall never appeared in another major-league game. With fellow American Leaguers Jerry Nops of Baltimore, Ted Lewis of Boston, Dale Gear of Washington, Cleveland teammate Pete Dowling, and National Leaguer Roger Denzer of the Giants, he shares the distinction of being the first major leaguer to throw a shutout in his final year. Of the thousands of big league pitchers who have retired since 1901 fewer than 300 have earned a place on this select list.
Injuries caused Sandy Koufax to retire following the 1966 season, a season in which five of his 27 wins for the Dodgers were shutouts. Koufax was only thirty years old and on his way to being perhaps the greatest pitcher ever when his career prematurely ended. Certainly no pitcher ever ended his career in more spectacular fashion. He led the league in wins (27), earned run average (1.73), games started (41), complete games (27), innings pitched (323), strikeouts (317), and shutouts (5). Yet the five shutouts he had only tied the record for the most in a final year. Four other pitchers had done so previously.
In 1903, Henry Schmidt, a thirty-year-old right-hander spent his one and only year in the big leagues. Pitching for fifth-place Brooklyn, he won 21 games while losing 13, and became the first pitcher to end his big-league stay with five shutouts.
In 1905 a right-handed pitcher named Herbert Briggs, whom everyone in the National League called Buttons, duplicated Schmidt’s accomplishment. Briggs, who like Koufax and Schmidt was thirty in his final year, had pitched for Chicago in 1896, 1897, 1989, and 1904. In 1904 he had won 19 games and pitched his first three shutouts. The five shutouts he threw in his final year of 1905 were the only bright spots in a season in which his record was a mediocre 8-8.
Hall of Famer Joe McGinnity, at age thirty-seven, ended his brilliant ten-year career by winning 11 and losing 7 for the 1908 New York Giants. McGinnity also had five shutouts in a year best remembered for the Fred Merkle incident.
In 1915 George Kaiserling pitched five shutouts while compiling a 13-14 record for the Newark Peps of the Federal League. Kaiserling was a twenty-two-year-old right-hander whose only other year in the majors was in 1914 with the Indianapolis Hoosiers of the Federal League. When the Federal league folded following the 1915 season, Kaiserling was gone from the major leagues. He died in 1918 at the age of twenty-four.
Since 1915 only Koufax, in 1966, has pitched five shutouts in the last year of a career. Larry French had four as a member of the 1942 Dodgers before he left to enter the Navy. When the war ended he chose to retire. The five-shutout feat has yet to be turned in the American League. Among AL pitchers with four are Ed Cicotte of the 1920 White Sox, banned following that season for his part in the Black Sox Scandal; Allie Reynolds, who was thirty-nine when he did it for the 1954 Yankees; and most recently, Britt Burns of the 1985 White Sox. Traded to the Yankees, Burns was hampered by a bad hip and was never able to pitch again.
Only five pitchers threw shutouts in their final game. On Oct. 5, 1929, the next-to-last day of the season, Rube Ehrhardt, age thirty-four, won his only start by allowing five hits and issuing one walk in blanking the league champion Chicago Cubs 9-0.
Lew Krausse Sr. made his final appearance in the big leagues a memorable one. Pitching for the Philadelphia Athletics, he shut out the Red Sox 15-0 on Sept. 2, 1932. Five days later he pitched in an exhibition game against Stroudsberg. Although he was only twenty years old, his major-league career was over. Twenty-nine years later his son, Lew Krausse Jr. of the then-Kansas City Athletics, made his major-league debut. Eighteen years old and just graduated from high school, he shut out the Los Angeles Angels 4-0, limiting them to three singles. This gave Lew Krausse Sr. and Jr. back-to-back shutouts twenty-nine years apart.
In the first game of a season-ending doubleheader at Boston, on Sept. 30, 1945, Don Fisher of the Giants shut out the Braves 1-0. Fisher pitched the entire 13 innings, scattering 10 hits and three walks. Nap Reyes’ homer in the top of the 13th was the game-winner. Fisher, who was twenty-nine, had been recently picked up from a semipro league in Cleveland. As was the case with Ehrhardt, this was his only start of the season. In Fisher’s case it was also his only start in the major leagues. He was replaced by the servicemen returning to the majors the next season.
Don Wilson was a first-rate pitcher for the lackluster Houston Astros from 1966 through 1974. In `74 he had an 11-13 record with four shutouts, including one in his last appearance. On September 28 he defeated Atlanta 5-0, allowing only two hits. A strikeout pitcher, Wilson oddly had none that day. On January 5, 1974, Wilson, not yet thirty, died in a tragic accident in his Houston home.
The most recent pitcher to throw a shutout in his last major league game was Brian Denman of the 1982 Red Sox. At Yapkee Stadium, on October 2, he defeated Dave Righetti by shutting out New York 5-0 on six hits. Denman was back at Pawtucket the next year, spent several more seasons in the minor leagues, and never again pitched in the majors.
It’s sad to think that with the possible exception of Ehrhardt, none of these men knew that the shutout they had just pitched would be their last major league appearance. But it was.