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Charlie Hough

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Charles Oliver Hough

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[edit] Introduction

Charlie Hough was a knuckleballer for the Los Angeles Dodgers, Texas Rangers, Chicago White Sox and Florida Marlins. Hough's career record was 216-216, the most wins ever by an exactly .500 pitcher. He spent the first 12 seasons of his major league career as a reliever and the last 13 as a starter.

[edit] Early career

Hough was born at Tripler Army Medical Center in Honolulu, HI but he was raised in Florida. He graduated from Hialeah High School in 1966. Hough's father, Dick Hough, was a minor league 3B in 1933.

Out of high school, Hough was taken in the 8th round of the 1966 amateur draft by the LA Dodgers. According to Hough, Los Angeles drafted him "because I looked like a good hitter... I had a strange combination of talents - a home run hitter's swing and no power. I was one of those players who would rip a little pop-up over second." Hough began his professional career with the Ogden Dodgers, where manager Tommy Lasorda decided that he should pitch. Hough went 5-7 with a 4.76 ERA that year for Ogden, finishing 10th in the Pioneer League in ERA, tying for the league lead in losses and tying for the lead in most homers allowed (8). He hit .244/~.326/.415, playing five games in the field or as a pinch-hitter when not pitching.

In 1967, Charlie had a big year for the Santa Barbara Dodgers. He went 14-4 with a 2.24 ERA, striking out 138 and walking 43 in 165 innings. He was second to Ken Tatum in ERA in the California League and led in winning percentage. He was less successful with the Albuquerque Dodgers, going 2-1 with a 7.00 ERA, allowing 57 hits in 36 innings.

[edit] 1968-1969: Stuck in AA

Charlie hurt his shoulder but did not tell anyone in the Dodger organization for concern that they would let him go. He kept pitching and his arm got steadily worse. Hough went 6-10 with a 3.94 ERA for the Albuquerque team in 1968 and followed with a 10-9, 4.09 campaign. He allowed 17 homers, the most in the Texas League.

[edit] 1970-1972: Discovering the knuckler and AAA

Hough worked with Lasorda and Goldie Holt in the instructional league prior to 1970 and Holt taught him how to throw the knuckleball. He recalls "I couldn't control it at all, but I couldn't control my curveball all that well either." After a fine spring training, he made it to AAA with the Spokane Indians. Spokane's catchers didn't order larger catching mitts and wound up with 51 passed balls. He won nine games the first month and finished the year with a 12-8 record, 18 saves and a 1.95 ERA. He allowed 94 hits in 134 innings. He finished 12 innings shy of qualifying for the ERA title, which he would have won easily. He did lead the Pacific Coast League in saves and was called up to LA that year.

Charlie made his big league debut against the Pittsburgh Pirates. With two on and two out in the ninth, Walt Alston brought in Hough. He walked Al Oliver, bringing up Willie Stargell with the bases loaded. Hough worked the count to 3-2. Steve Yeager called a fastball; Charlie recalls "The reason I had started throwing the knuckleball was that I couldn't get A-League players out with my fastball, and here I was throwing it to Willie Stargell with the bases loaded in the ninth inning. I couldn't believe it. Neither could Stargell. He must have been more surprised than I was, because he swung at it and missed." Hough had two saves and a 5.29 ERA in eight games with the 1970 Dodgers.

In his second year as a knuckleballer, the Dodgers hired Hoyt Wilhelm to help Hough learn how to master the pitch. While the two had similar records with Spokane (Wilhelm was 2-3, 3.89; Hough 10-8, 12 Sv, 3.92), when LA needed a pitcher, they called up the 47-year-old veteran. Charlie almost led the PCL in saves again but only got into four games with the Dodgers.

In year three of the knuckler, Charlie had another fine year in the PCL. With the Albuquerque Dukes, he went 14-5 with 14 saves in 58 games, hurling 125 innings and posting a 2.38 ERA. He again would have led the league in ERA had he qualified. His 13 intentional walks were the most in the league and he was fourth in saves and tied for second in wins. Despite again getting only a small glance in the majors, he would never pitch in the minors again.

[edit] 1973-1980: Los Angeles

Hough became a regular member of the bullpen with the 1973 Dodgers and went 4-2 with five saves and a 2.76 ERA. His ERA fell to 3.75 the next year but he still was 9-4 with a save and allowed only 65 hits in 96 innings - but 12 of them were home runs and he walked 40. With the 1975 Dodgers, Charlie was 3-7 with four saves and a 2.95 ERA.

Hough became Los Angeles's main reliever in 1976 and saved 18, won 12 and lost 8 in 142 2/3 innings spread over 77 games. His 2.21 ERA was a career-best. He was fourth in the 1976 NL in saves and second in games pitched (behind Dale Murray). The league ERA leader was at 2.52 but Charlie was about 20 innings shy of qualifying for the title.

Charlie went 6-12 for the 1977 Dodgers with a career-best 22 saves in 127 1/3 innings of work; his ERA remained good at 3.32. He was fourth in the 1977 NL in saves, trailing future Hall of Famers Rollie Fingers, Bruce Sutter and Goose Gossage. He led his first-place Dodger team in losses, an odd statistic for a reliever. He allowed two earned runs in seven post-season innings, most notably the third home run to Reggie Jackson in Game 6 of the 1977 World Series that allowed Jackson to tie the record held by Babe Ruth for homers in a World Series game.

Hough saw a somewhat reduced workload in 1978, toiling in 55 games and going 5-5 with 7 saves and a 3.28 ERA. He reinjured his shoulder after three years of lots of pitching (thanks in part to Lasorda's 9-man pitching staff) and was not effective in 1979, going 7-5 but with a 4.76 ERA for a career-worst 76 ERA+. Hough cited the need to pitch regularly to be effective, an opportunity he did not get because he was doing so poorly.

Charlie began the next year in even worse shape, going 1-3 with one save and a 5.57 ERA. Things would change for the better with a change of scenery when Los Angeles sold the 32-year-old to the Texas Rangers.

[edit] 1980-1990: Toiling in Texas and the conversion back to starting pitcher

Hough states that Lasorda did a great job convincing Eddie Robinson, the Texas GM, to acquire him with the way he was performing. Hough got an opportunity to start late in the year when Ferguson Jenkins was arrested for cocaine possession. Charlie pitched a five-hit shutout on August 26 ("All I could think about was, keep Fergie in jail. Lock him up and throw away the key") but did not get to pitch again for 17 days. He stated later that he said "it was a good thing I didn't throw a no-hitter. I might never have pitched again." He was 2-2 with a 3.96 ERA for the 1980 Rangers, beginning to right the course of his career.

In 1981, Hough was 4-1 with a save and a 2.96 ERA in a good year cut short by the 1981 strike. The next year, 1982, he became a regular member of the rotation and went 16-13 with a 3.95 ERA and tied for 8th in the 1982 AL in victories and tied for fifth in complete games. For the 1983 Rangers, his record was 15-13, 3.18 and he was 4th in the 1983 AL in ERA and fewest hits per nine innings and tied for fourth in shutouts. He set a franchise record with three shutouts in a row.

In 1984, the 36-year-old knuckleballer went 16-14 with a 3.76 ERA, was one inning behind AL leader Dave Stieb with 266, tied for 10th in both wins and losses, was fifth with 164 strikeouts, tied for the lead with 36 starts, led with 17 complete games, was 4th in walks (94), allowed the most hits (260) and faced the most batters (1,133).

The veteran remained effective in 1985, posting a 14-16, 3.31 line with a 128 ERA+, his best as a starter. The bad team went 48-83 when other pitchers got the decision. He was 4th in the 1985 AL in WHIP (1.12), second in fewest hits per 9 and second in complete games. He was also 8th in ERA. In 1986, Charlie made his only All-Star roster and went 17-10 with a 3.79 ERA. He made a famous appearance in the All-Star Game, where his knuckler baffled both National League hitters, who couldn't touch it, and catcher Rich Gedman, who couldn't catch it. He tied for sixth in the 1986 AL in wins, was 8th in WHIP, 4th in fewest hits per 9 innings and tied for fourth in whitewashes.

At age 39 in 1987, Hough had a 18-13, 3.79 record to set a career high for wins and strikeouts (223). His catcher Geno Petralli set a 20th Century record with 35 passed balls and tied the modern record of six passed balls in a game on August 22. Hough was tied for fourth in the 1987 AL in wins, two behind the leaders, 10th in ERA, second to Jimmy Key in H/9, first in innings (285 1/3), 4th in strikeouts (223), first in starts (40), tied for sixth in complete games (13) tied for 10th in losses, sixth in walks (126), first in hit batters (19) and faced 74 more hitters than anyone else. In a year marked by the prevalence of the gopher ball, he set a career high with 36 home runs surrendered. It was also his last winning season and he would be 21 games under .500 the rest of his career after going 21 games over .500 in his first 18 seasons.

In 1988, Hough was 15-16 with his last ERA+ over 100 (123) with a good 3.32 ERA. He was 7th in the 1988 AL in innings (252), fifth in fewest hits/9, 4th in strikeouts (174), first in walks (126) and tied for second in losses, one behind leader Bert Blyleven. He also made the "10 oldest players in the league" list for the first time.

At age 41 in 1989, Charlie went 10-13 and led the 1989 AL in homers given up (28). His ERA ballooned over a point to 4.35 (a 91 ERA+) and he failed to reach 200 innings for the first time since he had become a starter. He was 12-12 with a 4.07 ERA (around average for a starter that year) for the 1990 Rangers, walked 119 (one less than league leader Randy Johnson), hit the most batters (11) and was again among the 10 hardest-to-hit pitchers in the American League.

Hough finished his Texas career as the all-time team leader in wins (139), strikeouts (1,452) and complete games (98) as well as losses (123). He still holds all those marks through 2007 and as of that time is second to Nolan Ryan in team history in fewest hits per nine innings and fifth in ERA+.

[edit] 1991-1992: The years in Chicago

Charlie signed with the Chicago White Sox for 1991 and the 43-year-old teamed with a guy about a month older, Carlton Fisk. Hough went 9-10 with a 4.02 ERA (99 ERA+) and was among his league's 10 hardest pitchers to hit for the final time. He was 7-12 in 1992 with a 3.93 ERA (98 ERA+). The White Sox became the top team in the division in 1993 and 1994, but Hough had moved on to another team.

[edit] 1993-1994: Old guy on a new team

Hough joined the new expansion Florida Marlins in 1993 and started the team's first game ever. He was 9-16 as his record showed the effects of pitching for an expansion club; he was still throwing well as his 98 ERA+ (4.27 ERA) indicates. After 13 years away from the National League, he returned to finish in a tie for fourth in losses while serving as the oldest player in the circuit.

In his final season in 1994, Charlie went 5-9 with a 5.15 ERA for the Marlins. He made his usual leaderboard appearance for hit batters and wild pitches but was no longer an effective pitcher and hung up his spikes at age 46. He was the last player born in the 1940s to appear in a big-league game.

[edit] Major League Career

Through 2006, Hough ranked 78th all-time in wins, 59th in fewest hits per 9 innings, 25th in games pitched (858), 49th in innings (3,801 1/3), 39th in strikeouts (2,362), 78th in starts (440), 14th in gopher balls served up (383), 8th in walks (1,665), 86th in hits (3,283), 29th in losses, 29th in earned runs allowed (1,582), 13th in wild pitches (179), 6th in hit batters (174) and 40th in batters faced (16,170).

[edit] Coaching Career

Hough was the pitching coach of the San Bernardino Stampede from 1996 to 1998 and for the Los Angeles Dodgers from the end of 1998 through 1999. He was the pitching coach for the New York Mets in 2001-2002. Hough spent 2006 as pitching coach of the Fullerton Flyers in the independent Golden Baseball League. For the 2007 season, he was named pitching coach of the Inland Empire 66ers, a position he still held in 2010.

In 2011-2012 Hough was a Senior Advisor, Player Development for the Dodgers.

[edit] Miscellaneous

Hough is the only pitcher ever to make at least 400 career starts, and at least 400 relief appearances. He had 440 and 418 respectively.

He was the last pitcher (through 2008) to pitch at least 13 innings in a game, which he did on June 11, 1986. Since then, no-one has pitched even 12 innings. The most recent 12-inning pitcher had been Tommy John, who had a 13-inning game in 1983.

In 1987, he was the last pitcher to start at least 40 games in a season: the most recent one had been Jim Clancy in 1982.

After Hough's 216-216, the leading .500 pitchers are Howard Ehmke (166-166) and Nap Rucker (134-134).

[edit] Quotes

"A good knuckleball is one the catcher successfully blocks"

"I throw ninety percent knuckleballs. The other ten percent are prayers. I probably could throw other pitches. The only reason I don't is that I love pitching in the major leagues."

[edit] Notable Achievements

  • AL All-Star (1986)
  • AL Innings Pitched Leader (1987)
  • AL Complete Games Leader (1984)
  • 15 Wins Seasons: 6 (1982-1984 & 1986-1988)
  • 200 Innings Pitched Seasons: 9 (1982-1988, 1990 & 1993)
  • 200 Strikeouts Seasons: 1 (1987)

[edit] Sources

1967-1973 Baseball Guides, Fall of the Roman Umpire by Ron Luciano

[edit] Further Reading

  • Rick Sorci: "Baseball Profile: Pitcher Charlie Hough", Baseball Digest, November 1991, p. 39. [1]

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