Bob Shawkey

For eight years Bob Shawkey was about as good a pitcher as the Yankees had. He was another Connie Mack giveaway, a fine 16-8 sophomore season going for naught after the Braves’ 4-0 sweep of the World Series. In mid-1915 he was sold to New York for $18,000. Next year he was the team’s workhorse, winning 24 games and achieving a 2.21 ERA in 53 appearances. He had one more win than Boston’s phenomenal young Babe Ruth, one less than league-leading Walter Johnson. Seven of his victories (and four losses) were in relief. As was often the case in those days, the staff strong man could be called on to mop up, if he was not pitching his own complete games. Shawkey was credited with eight saves, tops in both leagues.

Most of 1918 was spent in the Navy as a yeoman petty officer aboard the battleship Arkansas, whence came his nautical nicknames. The Yankees he returned to were Miller Huggins‘s team, shortly to begin its habitual winning ways. Shawkey contributed 20 victories each in 1919, 1920, and 1922, helped along by 10- and 11-game winning streaks the first two of those seasons. He struck out 15 Athletics in 1919, which was a Yankee record for 59 years, and among his 37 career shutouts were seven 1-0 games, also a Yankee mark.

In 1923 he pitched the first game played at Yankee Stadium, beating the Red Sox 3-1; appropriately, Ruth walloped the first Stadium homer, but Shawkey got the second.

The tall, slender Shawkey was a slow, deliberate worker on the mound. He was a gentle, unassuming fellow, yet with all the self-confidence essential to pitching. He constantly studied the great hitters of his era to analyze their success against him and vary his pitches accordingly. He showed Red Ruffing how to get less arm and more body into his motion, even as Chief Bender helped him as a rookie with the Athletics. His only touch of color was a red-sleeved undershirt; he was always a bit overshadowed by the Yanks’ array of topnotch pitchers: Mays, Hoyt, Bush, Shocker, Pennock.

His last active season was 1927. He was a coach in 1929 when Huggins died, and Shawkey guided the team to a third-place finish as manager in 1930. Supplanted by Joe McCarthy in 1931, he began a long career of minor league managing, coaching in the Pittsburgh and Detroit farm systems, and instructing pitchers for several clubs. He was baseball coach at Dartmouth College in the 1950s, and, as an old man, threw out the first ball at refurbished Yankee Stadium in 1976.