The concession sales at Crosley Field in Cincinnati were probably lower than usual the night of August 10, 1944. The game between the Reds and Boston Braves took only an hour and 15 minutes to play, so the 7,782 fans in attendance that night didn’t have much time to leave their seats and pick up a hot dog or popcorn or soda. The profits were down that night because Charles “Red” Barrett, the Braves starter, needed only 58 pitches to hurl his complete game shut-out, defeating the home squad 2-0.
His 58 tosses are the lowest number recorded in major league history – although official pitch counts were not conducted until around 2000, when MLB Advanced Media, the company behind MLB.com, started keeping records of pitch counts.
The Boston Globe published an Associated Press story about the game the next day (travel restrictions during WWII might have kept the Globe‘s beat writer in Boston) that mentioned the quickness of the game and the number of pitches, but no mention of a record since pitch counts were not yet an official stat.
According to a biography of Barrett by the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR), his pitching that game included 13 groundouts, five fly balls, three pop ups in fair territory, four foul pop outs, and two line-drive outs. Barrett threw an average of two offerings per batter faced, giving up singles to Gee Walker and Eddie Miller. Known for his fast pace on the mound, he faced only 29 batters without walking or striking out a batter.
According to his son Bob Barrett, when Red was asked how it was that this game went so fast, “He would always answer that the other pitcher was working just as fast, and without him the record would never have been set.”
For Cincinnati, centerfielder Gerald “Gee” Walker singled in the first with two outs, and shortstop Eddie Miller singled to lead off the sixth inning. So, of the nine innings Barrett hurled, seven were 1-2-3 frames. The win gave the Braves a 43-58 record, good for sixth place in the National League, ahead of only the Brooklyn Dodgers and Philadelphia Phillies. It was Barrett’s seventh win of the season against 16 losses. He ended the year at 9-16 with an ERA of 4.05.
Reds starter Bucky Walters took the loss, making his record 16-6. That season he led the league with 23 wins against 8 losses, with a 2.40 ERA. Against the Braves that night he gave up only six hits. The Braves scored their first run in the second inning, and scored an unearned run in the fifth on an error by right fielder Tony Criscola. He struck out one batter and walked one.
At the time. the Reds were in second place, but 18.5 games behind the St. Louis Cardinals, who went on to win 105 games, with Pittsburgh finishing second with 90 wins and the Reds finishing third with 89 victories.
The game story’s headline the next day in the Cincinnati Enquirer read, “Two Red Leg Castoffs Defeat Our Boys, 2-0,” referring to former Red Stockings players Barrett and Damon Phillips, who drove in one of the Braves’ two runs and had three hits.
Covering the game for the Enquirer was Lou Smith, who wrote, “Bucky Walters went the distance for our boys and was charged with his sixth defeat and third at the hands of the lowly Braves. With a little more heads up support, on the part of his mates, Bucky would have matched the eccentric and quick pitching Barrett’s shutout hurling.”
A ground ball that went through the legs of third baseman Williams led to an earned run (no error was charged on the play) and right fielder Tony Criscola let a fly ball plop out of his glove for a three-base error, allowing a run to score,
Four years later in the 1948 World Series, Barrett pitched 3.2 scoreless innings in two games against the Cleveland Indians, giving up one hit and striking out one batter. (He was a member of the World Champion St. Louis Cardinals in 1946, but did not pitch in that year’s World Series against the Boston Red Sox.)
Barrett signed with the Reds when he was 22 and attending Gonzaga University in Washington state.
He pitched well in the minors but did not break into the majors for good until 1943, when he was traded to the Braves. He was 12-18 in 1943, and 9-16 in 1944, but led the league with 23 victories – two with Boston and 21 with the Cardinals after he was traded to St. Louis. He also led the National circuit with 24 complete games, 2 with the Braves and 22 with St. Louis. He pitched sparingly in 1946, and was sold back to the Braves for the 1947 season. By 1948, he was primarily working out of the bullpen, but he did make 13 starts along with 21 relief appearances. He didn’t fare well in 1949, and completed his career in the minors from 1950-52.
Red Barrett , 1938. (Photo by Sporting News and Rogers Photo Archive via Getty Images)
Other hurlers who completed a game in very few pitches include:
Colorado Rockies starter Aaron Cook, who needed only 74 pitches on July 25, 2007 to defeat the San Diego Padres. He faced 31 batters. (He even got three hits and scored a run.)
Greg Maddux, who threw only 77 pitches in an Atlanta Braves victory over the Cubs on July 22, 1997. It was completed in two hours and seven minutes from first pitch.
Bob Tewksbury of the Cardinals, also on the list with 75 pitches in a six-hitter against the Cincinnati Reds on August 29, 1990.
Andy Ashby of the San Diego Padres, who completed a game with 75 pitches against the Colorado Rockies on July 5, 1998.
Accounts vary, but the record for the MOST pitches thrown in a nine-inning game is 180, done by Ralph Branca of the Brooklyn Dodgers in a game against the Pittsburgh Pirates on May 12, 1949, in which the Dodgers won 11-6 at Ebbets Field. In his nine innings, Branca struck out nine, walked three and gave up 13 hits.
The victory made Branca’s record 5-0, the best in the National League to that point. For the season, Branca was 13-5, and his .722 winning percentage was tops in the league. He made 27 starts, with seven relief appearances. He pitched nine complete games with two shutouts and had one save.
In that year’s World Series, he was 0-1, losing game three 4-3. Both teams went into the ninth inning tied 1-1, but Branca had allowed two runs and was taken out after pitching 8.2 innings; he was relieved by Jack Banta, who allowed a allowed a run-scoring single to Yankees second baseman Jerry Coleman for what would be the eventual winning run (but charged to Branca), making it Yankees 4, Brooklyn 1. The Dodgers scored two in the bottom half of the ninth on home runs by Luis Olmo and Roy Campanella, but came up short in the 4-3 loss.
The Dodgers signed Branca before the 1943 season when he was 17. Mid-way through the following year he made his major league debut. He bounced between the Dodgers and minors for the next two seasons, and made the club for good in 1946 when he was 20. He pitched only 67.1 innings that season, appearing in 24 games. In 1947, he made the starting rotation, winning 21 games and leading the league with 38 starts and hurling 15 complete games. He also made seven relief appearances.
He won 27 games in 1948-49. He was primarily a reliever in 1950, and in 1951 Branca alternated between starting and relieving, and we know how that season ended when he came out of the bullpen. He pitched in only 16 games in 1952, and in July of 1953 he was placed on waivers, and claimed by the Detroit Tigers, who waived him a year later. He appeared in the New York Yankees system for a time in 1954.
Two years later, he was signed by Brooklyn and appeared in one game. The transaction was made so Branca could retire as a Dodger. According to a New York Times article, “at the Dodgers’ spring training camp in 1952… A chair he was sitting on tipped over on a newly waxed floor and he fell backward onto a soft-drink bottle. His back was thrown out of alignment, tilting his pelvis and affecting his leg motion. He never regained his form, winning only 12 more games with the Dodgers, the Detroit Tigers, the Yankees and the Dodgers again.”
Branca and Barrett shared another distinction: both sang.
SABR’s biography of Barrett reports, “After the season, Barrett toured with a group of National Leaguers to play before 225,000 troops on a USO tour of islands in the South Pacific. Among the players on the 22-game journey were future 1948 Braves teammates Frank McCormick, Jim Russell, Bill Voiselle, and Ed Wright. Barrett pitched in Honolulu, Guam, and the Philippines, throwing 39 innings and striking out 23 while walking just four. He posted a 3-1 record and batted .285 at the plate, usually playing in the infield or outfield while not pitching. He didn’t hesitate to sing a few songs from the USO stage, either.
“Barrett had continued his singing career while with the Cards, appearing with Dick Slack’s All Star band. They were on the radio at 5:30 a.m., ‘before the birds even got up,’ he commented. For several years during the winter season, (he) earned extra money by singing country music on the radio. Son Bob recalls, ‘Dad used to sing in nightclubs and speak at dinners. He could tell a joke better than most comedians, with a great range of dialects and had a wonderful Irish tenor voice,’” according to the SABR article.
Bob Brady, a member of the Boston Braves Historical Association, said, “I recall seeing Red at the 40th anniversary reunion celebration in Boston of the 48 NL pennant winners. During a Q&A session, he was asked to sing and still was able to carry a tune like during his pitching career.”
Brooklyn Eagle correspondent Harold C. Burr, who covered Branca’s 180-pitch game, wrote “Branca was really on that slow boat to China he sings about so appealingly over the radio.”
In 1952, at a gathering of New York sports writers and a ballroom of attendees, Branca sang a parody of the song, “Because of You” to Bobby Thomson. He also sang the song years later and it was recorded and is available on YouTube.
According to Stathead.com, 12 pitchers threw more than 180 pitches in a game, but all were in extra-inning contests.
Behind Branca, the next nine-inning complete game with the most pitches thrown was pitched by Billy O’Dell of the San Francisco Giants against the Los Angeles Dodgers on April 16, 1962. O’Dell threw 172 pitches in the Giants 19-8 victory.
Tim Wakefield #49 of the Boston Red Sox pitches against the Los Angeles Dodgers during the first inning on June 19, 2010 at Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Michael Ivins/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)
Red Sox knuckleballer Tim Wakefield tossed 169 pitches in 8.2 innings against the Milwaukee Brewers on June 5, 1997. Boston won 2-1. Philadelphia Phillies pitcher Don Carmen left a game against the San Francisco Giants on May 15, 1989 after throwing 166 pitches. The Phillies won in the 12th, 3-2. David Cone of the New York Mets also threw 166 pitches in a nine-inning complete game, a 1-0 victory against the Giants on July 17, 1992
While not official, Leon Cadore of the then Brooklyn Robins was estimated to have thrown 360 pitches in a complete 26-ining game against the Boston Braves on May 1, 1920.
“You can stick a knife in my arm and I can’t even feel it,” Cadore said a few days later. His opponent, Joe Oeschger, also pitched a complete game. After 26 frames, which took 3 hours and 50 minutes to play, the umpires called the game on account of darkness, with the score tied at 1-1.
Even though he allowed only a single run, Cadore gave up 15 hits and five walks while striking out seven. He faced 98 batters. The Braves had runners on base in the first nine innings, but starting with the 10th Cadore had 1-2-3 frames in the 10th, 11th, 16, 17th, 18th 19th, 21st, 22nd, 24th, and 25th innings.
“It was a battle of giants, fought until both were practically exhausted, but neither giving a sign of letting up,” wrote James C. O’Leary of The Boston Globe. He called Cadore’s effort “grand” and gave cheers to both pitchers when they walked off the field or came to bat.
Cadore went 15-14 that year, making 30 starts with five relief appearances. He pitched 16 complete games with four shut-outs, tossing 254 frames. In the World Series that year, Cadore appeared in two games; he pitched a scoreless ninth inning of game one, a Cleveland victory. He started game four and gave up two runs in the first inning, but was replaced after the one frame and was saddled with the loss. The Indians won their first World Series in seven games.
The “modern” record for pitches in an extra-inning game was 235 by Nolan Ryan of the California Angels against the Boston Red Sox on June 14, 1974. In 13 innings, he struck out 19 batters and walked 10, but was relieved in the 14th inning by Barry Raziano, who pitched two scoreless innings for the victory when the Angles scored a run in the bottom of the 15th.
Until maybe the 1960s, it was not uncommon for starters to make relief appearances, which added to their season pitch counts. Today, of course, most starters do not go beyond 100 pitches – even if they’re dominating a game and leading.
Nolan Ryan, 1974. (Getty)
Pitch counts have done a 180-degree turn in the past 100 years.
“Once upon a time, some pitches were more strenuous or fatiguing than others. With men on base in a late innings of a close game, a pitcher might summon up a bit more. Those days are gone,” said John Thorn, the official historian of Major League Baseball. “Guile is not quite gone, but for younger pitchers velocity is all.
“In Pitching in a Pinch, he [Christy Mathewson] explained how he would conserve his energy and make sparing use of his fadeaway, a reverse curve which broke away from a right-hand batter. ‘I have always been against a twirler pitching himself out,’ he wrote, ‘when there is no necessity for it, as so many youngsters do. They burn them through for eight innings and then, when the pinch comes, something is lacking…. A man should always hold something in reserve, a surprise to spring when things get tight.’
“That advice was solid for the period prior to the advent of Babe Ruth, when weak batters were unlikely to drive the ball for distance; today, when nearly every batter swings for the fences and is undaunted by the prospect of striking out, the pinch is likely to be met by three or four relievers,” said Thorn. “Matty could ease up on the seventh- and eighth-place hitters, as National League hitters still ease up on the nine spot.” (This was before the advent of the DH in the National League.)
Now, pitchers hold nothing back.
“It’s the way baseball today is played, like it or not,” said Peter Golenbock, who has written several baseball books. “It’s rare for a pitcher to complete a game, and so teams now are signing and grooming relief pitchers who throw 95 miles an hour or faster. Bob Feller and Nolan Ryan were rare pitchers who threw that hard. Now it’s almost every relief pitcher in baseball. Billy Beane declared that his goal was to change baseball. Clearly he has done that.
“Oakland A’s General Manager Bill Beane is more responsible than anyone for making pitch counts so important. He was schooled by a Yale economist that getting on base is the key to victory. Beane was convinced to sign hitters who take pitches and walk, and Oakland’s success proved the theory to be right,” he said.
“The movie Moneyball showed exactly how Beane and his bean-counter sidekick changed baseball. The goal was to get the opposing pitcher to throw 100 pitches as quickly as possible, guaranteeing his removal from the game as soon as possible. Like Earl Weaver, Beane also determined that there would be no more bunting or stealing, and that too has changed the game to a certain extent,” said Golenbock.
Whether the game is “better” in the age of pitch counts and analytics is up to the fan. A friend, baseball scholar John Rossi, remarked about a game in which Warren Spahn and Juan Marichal each pitched 16 innings in one game. If a scenario happened to recreate such a game, Rossi said, “Today the pitcher’s agent would be on the phone to the team to get him out of there!”