Urban Shocker

Shocker is a dim figure, an unappreciated, almost-forgotten great pitcher. In a 13-year career, he never had a losing season and compiled a .617 winning percentage. He was well-enough known in his time, yet he labored in relative obscurity. His best years were spent with the Sisler-era Browns, a so-so team that had the bad luck to be good when the Yankees were fantastic. His final years were spent as a Yankee, but as perhaps the least flamboyant of that vivid ensemble. And he died at the untimely age of 38, much too early to have become a legend.

Shocker came late to the big leagues and did not even become a pitcher until 1913, his first professional season. Originally a catcher, he demonstrated such speed and accuracy in his throws that he was switched to the mound. He acquired a spitter, which he threw infrequently and as a breaking slow ball, and a variety of curves. His delivery was aided by a permanent crook in the end joint of his ring finger, suffered when he speared a ball while still a catcher. He always said the crooked finger improved his grip and thus the effectiveness of his pitches.

Two fine seasons with Ottawa, of the Canada League, brought him to the Yankees in 1916 for $750. In one of Miller Huggins‘s rare misjudgments, however, he was traded to the Browns in 1918, with Les Nunamaker, Fritz Maisel, Nick Cullop, and Joe Gedeon, for Del Pratt, Eddie Plank, and $15,000.

Thereafter, Shocker hit his stride, stringing together four 20-win seasons and proving a particular nemesis of the Yankees. In 1924 the Yanks stole him back for Joe Bush, Milt Gaston, and Joe Giard. Shocker had his only .500 season in 1925, the year of the great Yankee slump, but pitched marvelously well in 1926 and 1927.

After the 1927 season he voluntarily retired (he did pitch three innings in 1928). He had a successful radio shop in St. Louis, but evidently was too ill to run it. His death was attributed to an overstrained “athlete’s heart.”

Shocker was an intense, unsmiling fellow, a studious pitcher widely admired for an artful delivery and a profound knowledge of hitters. He allowed almost exactly a hit per inning, yet, as his ERA shows, not many runs. He was stingy with walks, averaging one every four innings. A serious professional, he was known as an excellent fielder and capable hitter, perhaps too serious to have a nickname.