No American League pitcher ever worked as many innings as Big Ed Walsh did in 1908. The 6’1″ spitballer maintained that his main pitch was easy on his arm, allowing him to hurl 464 innings on his way to a 40-win season. No major league pitcher has won as many games since.
Before playing pro baseball, Walsh worked in a Plains, Pennsylvania, coal mine, driving a mule team. He played two minor league seasons before being drafted from Newark (Eastern League) by Chicago’s Charles Comiskey, who acted on a tip from the Red Sox. Walsh joined the White Sox in 1904. Manager Fielder Jones had him room with Elmer Stricklett, who was instructed to teach Walsh the intricacies of the spitter. With the new pitch added to his repertoire, Walsh shut out Washington on two hits that May 19.
It took time for Walsh to master the spitter; he won just six games in 1904, and eight in 1905. But in 1906, he went 17-13 (1.88) for the World Champion Hitless Wonders, leading the league with ten shutouts. In the World Series, he blanked the Cubs on two hits while striking out 12 in Game Three and was the winner in Game Five.
Walsh led the AL with a 1.60 ERA in 1907, going 24-18. In his great, 1908 season, the Iron Man pitched virtually every other day, appearing 17 times in relief and working a total of 66 games. He went 40-15, winning 45.5% of the White Sox’ 88 games – the highest percentage of an AL team’s wins in history. For the second straight year, he led the league in games, starts, complete games, innings pitched, and saves. He also led in hits allowed and strikeouts. On October 2, during the last days of a pressure-packed, three-way pennant race, he gave up only four Cleveland hits, only to lose 1-0 to Addie Joss and his perfect game.
Walsh’s arm began to suffer from overwork. He threw only half as many innings in 1909 as he had in 1908. Yet he retained his effectiveness, shutting out his opponents in 8 of his 15 wins and recording a 1.41 ERA. He rebounded to again lead the AL in appearances in 1910-12, and in innings pitched in 1911-12. His 1.27 ERA in 1910 was the league’s and his best. On August 27, 1911, he threw his only nine-inning no-hitter, defeating Boston 5-0. (On May 26, 1907 he had no-hit the Highlanders in a five-inning game.)
After winning 27 games in both 1911 and 1912, Walsh pitched less than 100 innings in 1913. By 1916 his arm was dead. He asked Comiskey for a year off but was released. He made a comeback attempt with the Braves in 1917 but was let go after 18 innings. He managed and pitched some in the Eastern League in 1920 and spent 1922 as an American League umpire. Umpiring was clearly not his forte; he returned to the White Sox as a coach for much of the remainder of the decade. He was coaching when his son, Ed Walsh, also a pitcher, broke in with Chicago. Walsh was elected to the Hall of Fame by the Committee on Baseball Veterans in 1946.