John Dwight Chesbro
born John Dwight Chesebrough
- Bats Right, Throws Right
- Height 5' 9", Weight 180 lb.
- Debut July 12, 1899
- Final Game October 2, 1909
- Born June 5, 1874 in North Adams, MA USA
- Died November 6, 1931 in Conway, MA USA
Nicknamed "Happy Jack", Chesbro began his minor league career in 1895. He broke into the majors in 1899 with the Pittsburgh Pirates, going 6-9 with a pedestrian 4.11 ERA in 19 games. After going 15-13 in 1900, he won 21 games the next summer while leading the National League with 6 shutouts. He began throwing a spitball the next season (spitballs were legal until 1920) and went an astonishing 28-6 with a 2.17 ERA, leading the circuit in wins and shutouts (8). In 1903, Chesbro jumped to the upstart American League, joining the newly formed New York Highlanders (later to be known as the New York Yankees). He pitched the franchise's first game and went on to record 21 victories with a 2.77 ERA that season.
In 1904, Jack had one of the finest years in the history of pitching. He picked up a trifecta with a league leading 55 appearances, 51 starts and 48 complete games, tossing an astonishing 454 2/3 innings. Even with all the work, he posted a slim 1.82 ERA, struck out 239 batters, and finished 41-12 with 6 shutouts in a year no other pitcher in the league won more than 26 games. On the last day of the season, in a game against the Boston Pilgrims, he threw a wild pitch in the top of the 9th inning, allowing the winning run to score from third base and causing the Highlanders to lose the pennant to Boston.
He was less successful in the following seasons, as his overuse in 1904 took its toll on his arm. He was 19-15 in 1905 and 23-17 in 1906, then faded rapidly after that while putting on weight. Still, his success in 1904 had popularized the spitball, and it was now the rage in all the ballparks, remaining so until banned in 1920. In an interesting side-note, on August 30, 1905, he faced the Detroit Tigers in Ty Cobb's major league debut and allowed the first hit of his illustrious career. Chesbro retired in 1909, having accumulated a 198-132 record, 2.65 ERA and 1,265 strikeouts while being part of two pennant-winning teams (in 1901 and 1902 in Pittsburgh). His first baseball card appearance was in the 1903-1904 E107 Breisch Williams set.
Chesbro served as a Washington Senators coach in 1924 before being let go in May for cost-cutting reasons. He died of a myocardial infarction in 1931. Posthumously, he was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1946 by the Veterans Committee after doing poorly in balloting by the BBWAA. He gained election after Old Hoss Radbourn was elected on the strength of setting the National League mark for wins in a season; he got in largely because he was the holder of the equivalent mark in the American League, even though a number of better qualified pitchers, including a number of 300-game winners, were not in yet. In fact, his career record of 198-132 with an ERA of 2.64 is very similar to that of three of his teammates with the great 1902 Pittsburgh Pirates: Deacon Phillippe went 189-109, 2.59; Sam Leever was 194-100, 2.47; and Jesse Tannehill was 197-116, 2.79. None of the three are in the Hall of Fame, a sign that Chesbro's election was entirely due to his one record-breaking season.
His 1904 record for games won in a season (41) has stood for over a century, which is one of the oldest major records in baseball or in any other sport. Under current playing practices, his record is just about unbreakable. Chesbro started 51 games that season (plus 4 relief appearances) and pitched 48 complete games, for a record of 41-12. Today, it is uncommon for a pitcher to start even 35 games in a season and complete games are a rarity. The only other 40-win season since 1900 was 40 by Ed Walsh in 1908 (Walsh was also a spitballer). To put Chesbro's performance in perspective, in the 1880s it was common for league-leading pitchers to win 40+ games. It was last done, prior to Chesbro, in 1891, by Bill Hutchison.
- 2-time League Wins Leader (1902/NL & 1904/AL)
- 2-time League Winning Percentage Leader (1902/NL & 1904/AL)
- 2-time AL Games Pitched Leader (1904 & 1906)
- AL Innings Pitched Leader (1904)
- AL Complete Games Leader (1904)
- 2-time NL Shutouts Leader (1901 & 1902)
- 15 Wins Seasons: 7 (1900-1906)
- 20 Wins Seasons: 5 (1901-1904 & 1906)
- 25 Wins Seasons: 2 (1902 & 1904)
- 30 Wins Seasons: 1 (1904)
- 35 Wins Seasons: 1 (1904)
- 40 Wins Seasons: 1 (1904)
- 200 Innings Pitched Seasons: 9 (1900-1908)
- 300 Innings Pitched Seasons: 4 (1903-1906)
- 400 Innings Pitched Seasons: 1 (1904)
- 200 Strikeouts Seasons: 1 (1904)
- Baseball Hall of Fame: Class of 1946
- Wins, season (since 1893), 41, 1904
- Wins, right-hander, season (since 1893), 41, 1904
- David L. Fleitz: "Jack Chesbro", in Ghosts in the Gallery at Cooperstown: Sixteen Little-Known Members of the Hall of Fame, McFarland, Jefferson, NC, 2004, pp. 47-63. ISBN 978-0-7864-1749-0