- P, OF, 1B
- Happy Jack
- June 5, 1874
- 5' 9"
- 180 lbs
- Major League Debut:
- 7-12-1899 with PIT
- Hall of Fame:
Jack Chesbro had a career that was full with one ironic twist after another, but his time in the show was certainly one that was good enough to see Happy Jack, as he was called when he worked at a mental facility in New York because of his pleasant disposition, became not only the modern day single season win record holder for both the Pirates and for major league baseball as a whole, but find his place in Cooperstown in 1948.
Chesbro came up with the club in 1899 where he was a mediocre 6-9 before being the man who was traded to the Louisville Colonels in the infamous Louisville heist when Barney Dreyfuss, former Colonel owner, came to Pittsburgh and brought Honus Wagner, Fred Clarke and a bevy of other players that would help lead the club to three consecutive NL championships. Louisville folded soon after and Chesbro returned to the Steel City where he learned to master the spitball and became one of the preeminent pitchers in the senior circuit.
After a 15-13 mark in 1900, Chesbro won 20 games for the first of five times in his career finishing 21-10 in 1901, good enough for fifth in the league in wins and first in winning percentage with a .677 mark, tossing a league high 6 shutouts.
It was the 1902 campaign that pushed Chesbro into the elite of Pirate history, when he led the circuit with a Pirate modern day record 28 victories (a mark that still has yet to be broken) for a NL high .824 winning percentage with 8 shutouts, topping the circuit in that category too. His spectacular campaign included a 12 game unbeaten streak with 41 consecutive shutout innings.
As with the rest of Chesbro’s career, controversy would follow him as fellow Bucco pitcher Jesse Tannehill implicated Happy Jack along with five other teammates while he was under the influence of anesthesia following a separated shoulder during the 1902 season for taking a bonus to sign with the growing American League following the campaign. While he reportedly was reconsidering his decision to jump to the New York Highlanders (now Yankees) of the young circuit, he refused to take the mound in a post season series the Pirates were playing against AL all-stars and his teammates refused to vote him a share of the series receipts. An infuriated Chesbro did in fact leave the team.
Following a fine 21-15 campaign in 1903, Happy Jack went on to win 41 games the following year for New York, a modern record that no one will ever come close to. Despite achieving perhaps the most spectacular season a pitcher has enjoyed in the 20th century, it was the final game of the season when Chesbro did not win his 42nd contest that he was most remembered for.
The Highlanders needed to win both ends of a double header against Boston in New York to win the American League title. Chesbro was going against the Pilgrims Bill Dinneen in game 1 and went into the 9th inning with the game tied at 2. With Boston’s Lou Criger on third, the pitch that helped make Chesbro famous, proved to be his undoing as a spit ball got away from him for a wild pitch scoring Criger with the winning run and giving Boston the pennant. It is that miscue and not the 41 wins that Chesbro seems most noted for. .
Although he won 23 games in 1906, Jack never saw the kind of success he had in 1904 as he was out of the majors by 1909. Chesbro went on to have a successful career as a businessman, running a lumberyard in his hometown, before becoming a coach for one season with Washington during their 1924 world championship season.
Despite only pitching 11 years, only 9 of which he was a regular in the starting rotation, Chesbro was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1948. Baseball writer and stats king Bill James questions his selection claiming out of the four big Pittsburgh hurlers of the early 1900’s, Tannehill, Chesbro, Deacon Phillippe and Sam Leever, Chesbro actually had the worst career and was noted as one of the big game chokers for his infamous 1904 wild pitch. He further went on to say that the only reason he’s in the hall rather than the other three is he had the big season.
Whether or not that fact is true, one thing is for certain, Jack Chesbro’s big season in 1904 was not only big, but probably the best one in the annuls of the game. On top of that his 1902 campaign, while not as famous as 1904, never the less was probably the best in club history and certainly makes him one of the greatest in long and storied existence of the Pittsburgh Pirates.
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