The Greatest Pitcher That Never Was

Will White was a professional baseball player, a right-handed pitcher by trade, during the wildly unorganized first generation of the sport, the 1870s and 1880s. Because of this, he is often overlooked by baseball fans and even baseball historians, despite his superhuman powers on the pitcher's mound. That, coupled with the fact that Cy Young came along a few years later and one-upped him in most statistical categories, left him on professional baseball's backburner.

Though he never made it to the professional baseball Hall of Fame (which didn't exist until some 20 years after his death), Will did post some massively inhuman pitching statistics during his ten seasons in the major leagues. During those ten seasons, he appeared in 403 games, starting 401 of them, and completing 394 of them. Completing 99% of the games you start was a job of work even back then, but compared to modern day stats, it seems positively otherworldly. Will set a few major league records in his storied career, some of which still stand today, over 100 years later. The most impressive of these records is the single-season complete games record of 75, which he compiled for the Cincinnati Reds in 1879. He won 43 games that year, which by itself is highly impressive, but also lost 31 games. That's 74 pitching decisions out of 75 opportunities; unheard of since the end of the dead ball era, and downright impossible by today's standards. By way of comparison, today's starting pitchers seldom start more than 35 games in any given season, and most relief pitchers rarely appear in over 70 games. Yet Will White started and completed 75 games in a single season. The oddest aspect of this is that he was able to maintain arm strength and power for a further seven seasons until his retirement in 1886.

Man of Steel

Over the course of completing 75 games he pitched 680.0 innings, approximately three times the amount of innings an average modern pitcher accumulates. Pitching so many innings also lead to an astronomical total for hits given up (676 -- another major league record), though the rest of his stats for the 1879 season (earned runs, runs, walks and strikeouts) are about average for someone who pitched about 250 innings. I guess he was more of a finesse pitcher than a power pitcher in that respect.

Will White was the first player to wear glasses on the field, in fact he was the only player to do so until the mid-1910s. He also sported a rather boisterous handlebar moustache.

He put up several other impressive stats during his career, though none, perhaps, so astonishing as those detailed above. Here are his complete stats:

 Year Ag Tm  Lg  W   L   G   GS  CG SHO SV   IP     H   ER   HR  BB   SO   ERA *lgERA *ERA+
+--------------+---+---+---+---+---+---+--+------+----+----+---+----+----+-----+-----+----+
 1877 22 BSN NL   2   1   3   3   3   1  0   27.0   27    9   0    2    7  3.00  2.80   93
 1878 23 CIN NL  30  21  52  52  52   5  0  468.0  477   93   1   45  169  1.79  2.12  118
 1879 24 CIN NL  43  31  76  75  75   4  0  680.0  676  150  10   68  232  1.99  2.32  117
 1880 25 CIN NL  18  42  62  62  58   3  0  517.3  550  123   9   56  161  2.14  2.49  117
 1881 26 DTN NL   0   2   2   2   2   0  0   18.0   24   10   0    2    5  5.00  2.90   58
 1882 27 CIN AA  40  12  54  54  52   8  0  480.0  411   82   3   71  122  1.54  2.63  171
 1883 28 CIN AA  43  22  65  64  64   6  0  577.0  473  134  16  104  141  2.09  3.23  155
 1884 29 CIN AA  34  18  52  52  52   7  0  456.0  479  168  16   74  118  3.32  3.34  101
 1885 30 CIN AA  18  15  34  34  33   2  0  293.3  295  115   9   64   80  3.53  3.24   92
 1886 31 CIN AA   1   2   3   3   3   0  0   26.0   28   12   1   10    6  4.15  3.50   84
+--------------+---+---+---+---+---+---+--+------+----+----+---+----+----+-----+-----+----+
 10 Yr WL% .580 229 166 403 401 394  36  0 3542.7 3440  896  65  496 1041  2.28  2.73  120

Note the relatively low ERA throughout his career, despite his high innings totals. Another interesting stat of note is that he lost 42 games in 1880; modern league leaders in losses average about 18. This stat, in particular, perhaps is a reflection of the infantilism inherent in modern pitchers, what with their 5-day rests between starts, and the modern rarity of letting a pitcher start and finish the same game.

Will was a switch-hitter, also a rarity for his day. Seemingly as proof that he wasn't from planet Krypton, he wasn't much of a hitter from the right or left sides of the plate, even by the standards of the day. He finished his career with a .183 batting average.

Vitals:

Born: October 11, 1854 in Caton, New York
Died: August 31, 1911 in Port Carling, Ontario
Height: 5'09"
Weight: 175 lbs.
Major league debut: July 20, 1877

Fun fact: Will had an older brother, Deacon White, who played catcher (reportedly without a glove) for the Cleveland Forest Citys, Boston Red Caps, Chicago Cubs, Cincinnati Reds, Buffalo Bisons, Detroit Wolverines, and the Pittsburgh Pirates, from 1871 to 1890, and was elected long after-the-fact to the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame in 2012. He also had a cousin, Elmer White, who was an outfielder for a single season (1871) during baseball's very early days.

Sources:
http://www.baseball-reference.com/w/whitewi01.shtml
http://www.pubdim.net/baseballlibrary/ballplayers/W/White_Will.stm

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