Eppa Rixey

Rixey was a man of contrasts. Playing his entire 21-year career in the National League, he was its winningest lefthander prior to Warren Spahn, and also its outstanding loser, ranking seventh all-time among all pitchers.

Contemporary accounts describe him as a Virginia gentleman of easy charm and boyish humor. In teammates’ memories, he was a fierce competitor, crafty on the mound, but hot-tempered after a loss and destructive to clubhouse furniture.

Despite his height (6’5″) and pretzel windup, he was a fielder of agility and precision. His 1195 assists are tenth on the lifetime list; in 1917 he handled 108 chances without an error.

He starred in basketball as well as baseball while earning a degree in chemistry at the University of Virginia, and he was encouraged to become a professional by Cy Rigler, a NL umpire who coached the University of Virginia Cavaliers. Signed by the Phillies in 1912 on Rigler’s recommendation, Rixey became one of the few major leaguers to never play a minor league game.

He was 10-10 (2.50) in 1912, but after four seasons had an under-.500 record. He finally blossomed under the patient and expert handling of Pat Moran, the former catcher who managed the Phillies to a pennant in 1915, their only one between 1883 and 1950. Rixey had a good but not overpowering fastball, a swift curve, and a change of pace he used when he got behind in the count. He had only a brief losing appearance in the 1915 World Series, as Moran preferred to use righthanders against the Red Sox’ lefthanded power.

Eppa also acquired a middle name: Jephtha. It was invented by a sportswriter inspired by the resonance it had when spoken between “Eppa” and “Rixey.” In time, the pitcher accepted it as his own.

In 1916 Rixey went 22-10 (1.85), but despite a 2.27 ERA the following year, lost a league-high 21. He missed the 1918 season, serving overseas with an army chemical-warfare division. In 1920 he finished 11-22, again leading the NL in losses.

In 1921 Manager Moran, now at Cincinnati, gave up outfielder Greasy Neale (better known in his later years as a football coach) and pitcher Jimmy Ring to get Rixey again. Eppa had eight fine years with the Reds, three with 20 or more wins, including 1922 when he led the league with 25. He was a member of two second-place Reds teams, but never another pennant-winner. In 1932, at age 42, he pitched a string of 27 scoreless innings. A year later, he retired to run his insurance agency. He was elected to the Hall of Fame by the Veterans Committee in 1963, the year of his death.