difficult enough to have to face a couple of aces in a short series. Koufax and
Drysdale. Spahn and Sain. Mathewson and McGinnity. Caruthers and Foutz (there's
a pair most people won't know). Walters and Derringer. Seaver and Koosman.
Roberts and Simmons. The Dean Brothers (at least for a couple of years).
Marichal and Perry. Johnson and Schilling. You get the picture. All of those
combinations led their teams to World Series, and most of them won a World
what do you do if you have to face three (or more) aces in a series? Head to
least eight times in the past, a major league team has put together a three or
four man rotation of aces that stayed together for five or more seasons.
(Admittedly, the definition of "ace" is indefinite. For these
purposes, let's say a pitcher who would be the number one starter on an average
team -- not a definitive accounting, but not bad.) Collectively, they
accounted for 47 seasons worth of aces around. The final results included 23
World Series appearances and 12 titles.
they only faced each other in the World Series once, and then after one team's
ace corps was broken up, the Chicago Cubs and the Philadelphia Athletics
dominated their respective leagues for much of the first decade of the 20th
Century, thanks to two dominating rotations -- a four man group on the west side
of Chicago (this was before Wrigley Field was built) and three man group in
Philadelphia's Brewerytown neighborhood (this was before Shibe Park was built.)
knows the ace of the early Cubs rotation -- it was Mordecai Peter Centennial (he
was born in 1876) Brown, better known as Miner or Three Finger. In the five
seasons from 1906 to 1910, he went 127-43 (including a 29-9 year), or better
than 25-9 every year. So great was Brown that his three compatriots, fine
pitchers all for more than just a couple of years, are largely forgotten. That's
too bad, because Ed Reulbach (91-33), Orval Overall (82-39, and maybe a better
name than Mordecai Peter Centennial Brown) and Jack "The Giant Killer"
Pfiester (70-36... guess which team he was tough on) each would have been the
ace of just about any other team. Pfiester, the least of the four aces, had an
average record of 14-7 for those five years, and single years of 20-8 and 17-6.
Together, they went 370-151 between 1906 and 1910, a winning percentage of .710. Is
it any wonder these five Cubs teams won an astounding 530 games? (Even though
they only split four appearances in the World Series.)
Overall and Pfiester would have been the ace of just about any other team in
their era, except the A's. That's because, between 1903 and 1907, they had Eddie
Plank, Rube Waddell and Charles Albert Bender, and these three worthies won
exactly 300 games in those five seasons, losing 194, a .607 winning percentage.
All three of these guys are in the Hall of Fame (only Brown made it among the
Cub Quartet), although Plank and Waddell were far more dominant during this five
year stretch than was Bender, who was a 20 year-old rookie in 1903. The two
lefties, one so sedate, the other a wild man who was probably mentally
handicapped, went 226-139 from 1903 to 1907. Although they only made one Series
(which they lost in 1905), they were in the race every other year and were, in
fact, jobbed out of the 1907 American League title by an umpire's decision in a
key game with the Tigers.
story of the 1928 to 1932 version of the Athletics parallels the early Cubs
rotation better than the early A's rotation, in that Hall of Famer Lefty Grove
was so good (128-33, a better record than Brown put up) that George Earnshaw
(93-48) and Rube Walberg (85-57) tended to get overlooked. Although Walberg was
the lesser of these three, he still averaged a 17-11 mark for those five
seasons, including a 20-12 year in 1931. Altogether, these three A's Aces had
a much better composite record than Mack's three earlier Hall of Famers. They
went 306-138, a .689 winning percentage.
1940s and 1950s saw three great rotations that all stayed together for at least
five years. The first was the Yankees three man staff that won five straight
World Series from 1949 to 1953, and just missed the Series in their first year,
1948. Vic Raschi, Allie Reynolds and Eddie Lopat. Although, outside of Raschi,
they weren't generally 20 game winners (Raschi won 20 three times in this span,
Reynolds and Lopat once each), they were very hard to beat. Raschi went 111-48
(.698), and Lopat and Reynolds a practically identical 97-47 (.674) and 99-48
(.673) marks. Because they all had relatively short careers, none of them made
the Hall of Fame.
year after Raschi/Reynolds/Lopat came together, the Indians had three other
superb pitchers to complement their fading ace, Bob Feller. Although Feller had
pretty well thrown his arm out by pitching 371 innings worth of fast balls in
1946 after missing most of the previous four seasons, he was still BOB FELLER,
and Cleveland wasn't about to get rid of him. He was a good 85-56 (.603) between
1949 and 1954 (including his last 20-win season in 1951), an average mark of
14-9. However, Bob Lemon (128-68), Early Wynn (112-63) and Mike Garcia (104-57)
were a lot better. All together, they rolled up a collective .647 winning
percentage, 10 more 20-win seasons, and an average yearly record of 19-10. The
reason they only appeared in one World Series (which they lost in an upset in
1954) was, of course, the Yankees, who had as equally as good a rotation (even
though Feller, Wynn and Lemon all made the Hall), and a better team behind them.
next year, Feller was through, but another pretty good three man rotation came
along, this time in
it's hard to measure fame, the Baltimore Orioles rotation from 1969 to 1974 was
(and still is) famous. Although only Jim Palmer made the Hall of Fame,
he and Dave McNally and Mike Cuellar made the O's very tough in a short series
(especially the 1970 World Series), even though they did choke away the 1969 and
1971 World Series and then couldn't stop the Oakland A's in 1972, 1973 and 1974.
Between the three of them, they went 343-182 (.653) with 11 20-win seasons,
including two years back-to-back (1970 and 1971) when all three of them won 20.
(1971 being the fluky year when Pat Dobson was a one-hit wonder, and also won
20.) Only the Indians group were able to match that feat, in 1951 (Feller,
Garcia, Wynn) and 1952 (Lemon, Garcia, Wynn).
recently, there's the Braves three man, all-Cy Young rotation of 1993 to 1999.
While you may think that Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz were together
longer than that, the Braves didn't sign Maddux away from the Cubs until 1993,
and Smoltz was hurt in 2000, eventually going to the bullpen up until the time
Glavine left for
rank these eight rotations by winning percentage, they look like this... For
whatever it may be worth, the only group with all members in the Hall of Fame
had the lowest winning percentage (although Smoltz may get in to join sure
things Maddux and Glavine).
Athletics II .689
Braves II .672
Braves I .627
Athletics I .607
Despite the justly-deserved praise on behalf of the 2010 Phillies three aces -- Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt, and Cole Hamels -- it is unlikely that they will ring up a record anywhere near that of these eight historical rotations, mainly because Halladay and Oswalt are probably too old to likely both be aces for another four years each, at which point Halladay and Oswalt would both be 37. (Hamels won't turn 27 until the very end -- Dec. 27 to be exact -- of 2010.) Still, it's not out of the question, and, if the Phillies can find the money to keep this threesome together, it's at least possible they'll make life miserable for the rest of the National League long enough to join the select company already mentioned.