Eddie Plank had never played baseball before entering college. He was signed by the Athletics as an elderly rookie of 25 when he graduated from Gettysburg in the American League‘s first year, 1901. He became the principal lefthander for the first generation of great Athletics teams. Until Warren Spahn, he was the winningest lefthander in ML history. When he jumped to the Federal League‘s St. Louis Terriers (as Connie Mack, dismantling his 1914 losers, sought to deal Plank to the Yankees), he had won 285 games for Philadelphia – 23% of the team’s total victories.
Like many turn-of-the-century pitchers, Plank threw with finesse, mixing a fastball with a sidearm curve (his “cross-fire”) that cut the plate at an angle disconcerting to batters. He had superb control (under two walks per nine innings), low ERA (including 1.79 in his final season, 1917), 69 shutouts (fifth all-time), and 412 complete games.
He was a serious, self-contained man, and annoyingly deliberate on the mound. Although the times of some of his World Series games do not seem slow by today’s standards – 1:55, 1:46, and 2:33 for a seven-run, 10-inning contest – he evidently irritated players, fans, and sportswriters.
He had a hard-luck Series record. In four of his five losses, the A’s were shut out, and in 1910 he was sidelined by a sore arm and did not pitch at all. The arm recovered by the next spring, enabling Plank to post two of his finest seasons: 23-8 in 1911, and 26-6 in 1912, for winning percentages of .742 and .813.
After winning 21 for the St. Louis Terriers in 1915, the Federal League collapsed, and Plank was assigned to the Browns. In 1918 he was packaged with Del Pratt and $15,000 in a trade to the Yankees for Urban Shocker (and four others) but chose to retire rather than report.