The late-blooming Vance was the dominant strikeout pitcher of the 1920s, leading the National League a record seven consecutive times (1922-28). His nickname was fitting; a charter member of the carousing “Daffiness Boys,” he led his Dodger teammates virtually everywhere but to a pennant. Vance was one of the three Dodger runners to wind up on third base at the same time when Babe Herman “tripled” into a double play (it was actually scored a double). Vance, starting from second base, ran much more cautiously than the runners behind him expected, returning to third base after rounding the bag.
A 6’2″ 200-lb fireballer, Vance burned out his arm pitching ten years in the minors. He would break in impressively with one club after another, only to have his arm tire by mid-season. His great starts earned him one game with the Pirates in 1915, and trials with the Yankees in 1915 and 1918. He pitched poorly each time and was returned to the minors. An arm operation, and a manager in New Orleans who allowed him to start on four days’ rest instead of three, proved the cure. Vance went 21-11 in the Southern League in 1921 and was bought by the Dodgers at the insistence of scout Larry Sutton. Owner Charlie Ebbets actually wanted Vance’s New Orleans batterymate, defensive catcher Hank DeBerry, and had to take Vance as part of a package.
Vance, starting every fifth day, won the first of his seven strikeout titles as a 31-year-old rookie in 1922. He often led by wide margins; in 1924, he fanned nearly twice as many as his nearest competitor. His style was unique and fearsome. He would rear back – the ball tiny in his huge, red-flecked hand – kick his leg high, waggle his foot, and catapult the ball toward the intimidated hitter. After living and dying by the fastball for a decade in the minors, he added an outstanding curveball. In a flamboyant touch of distracting showmanship, he wore a red undershirt with the sleeves sliced into twirling ribbons, making his delivery even more disconcerting. The tatters were subsequently outlawed.
In 1924, Vance topped the league with a 2.16 ERA and career highs of 28 wins, 262 strikeouts, and 30 complete games. He had only six losses. The Dodgers fell one win short of the first-place Giants, the closest Vance ever came to a pennant in Brooklyn. He was named NL MVP over Rogers Hornsby, who batted .424.
Vance led the league in wins a second time in 1925, with 22. That September 13, he no-hit Philadelphia 10-1, walking one and striking out nine. The Dodgers committed three errors. He won 22 again in 1928 with a league-best 2.09 ERA, and he earned a final ERA title in 1930 (2.61). After going 12-11 at age forty-one, he was traded to the Cardinals in 1933, where Dazzy joined Dizzy and Daffy Dean. Though sold to the Reds in 1934, Vance was waived back to St. Louis in time to earn a World Series ring. He finished up with Brooklyn as a reliever in 1935.
During his career, Vance tied for the NL lead in shutouts four times, compiling a total of 30. He struck out 2,045 batters and walked only 840. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1955 by the BBWAA.