August 30, 2011
One of our followers on facebook, Frank Trimborn, made me aware of Hugh Mulcahy, a Phillie with the saddest (and perhaps most unfair) nickname ever. Thanks, Frank. If any of our readers have anything you’d like to see us write about, please just let us know on our facebook page. We are always looking for interesting local sports history stories. I’m glad Frank pointed me in the direction of this one. It made me aware of a man who at first glance seemed to be little more than a hard luck pitcher with a funny nickname. But like most stories, it was a bit more complex than that. He turned out to be a class act and an American hero.
It is quite easy for me to name the hardest luck pitcher of my lifetime. His name was Anthony Young, and despite a very respectable 3.89 career ERA (to put that into perspective, Cliff Lee’s career ERA is a slightly better 3.72), he could not win a game to save his life. He racked up 27 straight losses for the New York Mets in the early 1990s. If you think the Phils won’t score for Cole Hamels, you should have seen the inept Mets rack up zeroes on the scoreboard for Anthony Young. In 1993, they averaged a pathetic 2.09 runs per game that Young started. He was sent to the Cubs, but couldn’t shake the loser tag, and despite a solid ERA he was out of baseball in 1996, finishing with a record of 15-48.
But Phillie fans in their 70s and 80s remember a pitcher who was every bit as snakebit as poor Mr. Young. His name was Hugh Mulcahy, and he was the losing pitcher in so many starts that he acquired that awful, unfair nickname: “Losing Pitcher” Mulcahy. Never mind that he played with a group of misfits better suited for Keystone Cops than for a baseball diamond, a team that lost over 100 games every year for the 3 straight years that Mulcahy started every 4th day. Never mind that the Phils owner, Gerry Nugent, sold off all the talent the Phils had in the late 1930s, leaving them with a shell of a team that really, honestly, shouldn’t have played in the Major Leagues. And never mind that, as sabermetrics have made us aware, the Win is a fairly useless statistic to determine a player’s value. Nope, Hugh Mulcahy couldn’t win for losing, a fact that was driven home with that brutally unfair nickname.
Of course, it shouldn’t have taken a sabermetrician to tell you that wins were useless after Mulcahy’s 1940 season. He went 13-22, despite a 3.60 ERA (compare that to Zach Greinke of the Brewers, who this year has a 13-5 record and a 4.05 ERA). Despite the 22 losses, in his final game of the 1940 season he threw a 4-hit shutout, and it was obvious that this was a pitcher entering his prime. There is little doubt that he was poised to shed that awful nickname.
He never got the chance. Still snakebit, he was the very first major leaguer drafted by the Army, costing him the 1941 season. He was discharged on December 5th, 1941, then was back in fatigues 48 hours later. By the time the war ended and he returned to the majors in 1945, dysentery had cost him 35 pounds and the zip on his fastball, and he was out of the majors by 1947. He ended his career with a 45-89 record. After retiring from baseball, he became a coach and scout for the White Sox, working in baseball for another 30 years. And despite his cruel nickname, he had no regrets, and a remarkable sense of perspective. This from a baseball prospectus piece from John Perrotto:
Mulcahy had an easy laugh and could joke about his nickname. “You know, in sports, somebody’s gotta win and somebody’s gotta lose,” he said. “Well, I was the guy who always lost.”
And as far as the war taking away his prime?
“I don’t look back on it with any anger or bitterness,” Mulcahy said. “Our country was at war, and that was more important than baseball. There were a lot of guys who had their career interrupted because of the war. You didn’t think twice about it, though, because you doing your duty by serving your country. A lot of guys went to the war and didn’t come back. I came back and had a long career in baseball. I feel I was fortunate, not cheated.
Hugh Mulcahy was not blessed with much run support, but he was blessed with a long life. He died in Aliquippa, PA in 2001 at age 88.