Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Charlie Devens, 1934 New York Yankees

I have an inkling that Charlie Devens could have written a pretty fabulous autobiography. Born in Milton, Massachusetts in 1910, Devens’ life began on the eve of the Great War and ended in the wake of 9/11. I suppose someone more waggish than myself might claim Devens lived a truly Modern life. Certainly, Devens’ brief baseball career does nothing to diminish the sense of exceptionalism surrounding the man. After graduating from Harvard (pronounced: Hahvad) University in the early ‘30s, Devens signed on with the Yankees as an amateur free agent in 1932. The powerhouse Bombers gave Devens just one shot that year, allowing him to start a game in which he gave up two earned runs, six hits, struck out four and went the distance. The game wasn’t much to speak of, as the green 22 year-old walked seven. Still, he got the ‘W,’ so I’m guessing Joe McCarthy wasn’t too upset. In fact, the next year, the Yankees handed the ball to Devens a few more times, letting him start eight games and relieve six others (Devens finished an unremarkable 3-3, with a 4.35 ERA and 1.758 WHIP). Devens’ unexceptional ’33 season wasn’t reason enough for the Yankees to cut him, apparently. In 1934, Devens returned to the team and lived out what is likely the greatest cup of coffee in baseball history. The team traveled to Shibe Park to face a lousy Athletics team. Joey-Mac handed Devens the ball, nary expecting the remarkable performance to come. Charlie, staring down a surprisingly decent Athletics lineup anchored by Jimmie Foxx, Bob Johnson, and Pinky Higgins, took the mound and threw an 11-inning complete game. Receiving virtually no run support from his Hall of Fame lineup (Gehrig, Ruth, Crosetti, and Lazerri went a combined 3 for 16 with no runs batted in), Devens out-dueled the A’s Sugar Cain and George Caster, giving up two earned runs, nine hits, and five walks. Dominating pitching performance aside, Devens set a record with his bat that day. Accruing five plate appearances, Charlie got one hit and walked three times. Not only did that give him an .800 on-base percentage for the day (and season), but it was the only time in Major League history that someone played just one game in a season and walked three or more times. Devens’ amazing game was just an incredible tease, however, as the 6’1 righty retired from pro ball the following year due to pressure from his father-in-law. Devens had another sixty-nine years on this planet (he was the last surviving member of the ’32 Yankees) to reflect on this decision.

1 GP, 3+ BB

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