Sunday, December 4, 2011

Sunday School: Phillies History Lesson 98

Right-handed pitcher Claude Willoughby spent six seasons with the Phillies from 1925-1930. During his tenure with Philadelphia, he posted a 38-56 record, which was reflective of the team's troubles of the time, as the team sported the worst ERA in the big leagues for nine consecutive seasons beginning in 1922. With financial woes during this period, the team often relied on young, unproven arms, with Willoughby and his 5.83 career ERA with the Phils among them.

After winning 21 minor league games in 1924, the Kansas native made his Major League debut late in the following season at age 26. Willoughby started three games as a rookie and won two of them.

In 1926, Willoughby confirmed the trouble with handing the ball to an unproven pitcher over a lengthy stretch, when he led the National League in earned runs allowed with 111 in 47 games (19 starts). As a result of winning just 4 of his starts, Willoughby found himself taking on relief duty for much of the next two years.

Nicknamed "Weeping Willie", Willoughby had the best year of his career in 1929, posting a 15-14 record with a 4.99 ERA and 14 complete games, returning as a mainstay in the Phillies starting rotation. That year he won the team's road opener against the Giants at the Polo Grounds by a score of 3-1, stranding 20 runners on base in the process. The win was emblematic of Willoughby's season, as he constantly allowed a considerable number of base runners, leading the league in walks, despite his winning record.

A year later, Willoughby won only 4 of his 24 starts and tallied a 7.59 overall ERA, which seemed to usher him out of town as the Phillies traded him to Pittsburgh along with Tommy Thevenow for infielder Dick Bartell, who went on to become an All-Star shortstop for Philadelphia.

That year proved alarming to the organization, as the pitching staff posted an all-time team worst 6.71 ERA and Major League records for hits allowed (1,993) and runs allowed (1,199). Willoughby was one of three Phils pitchers with ERA's over 7.50 that year.

With the Pirates, Willoughby appeared in just 9 games before his big league career came to an end.

Willoughby returned to his home town of Buffalo, KS, and resided in that area until his death in 1973.


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