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Johnny Schmitz

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John Albert Schmitz
(Bear Tracks)

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[edit] Biographical Information

Johnny "Bear Tracks" Schmitz is a former pitcher who played 13 seasons between 1941 and 1956, missing 1943 to 1945 due to serving time overseas in World War II. His nickname was inspired by the way he shuffled around on the mound.

At 6'0", 170 pounds, Schmitz batted right-handed but threw lefty. Originally signed by the Cleveland Indians in 1938, he was obtained by the Chicago Cubs from the Milwaukee Brewers of the American Association as part of a minor league working agreement.

He made his big-league debut with the Cubs on September 6, 1941 at the age of 20. He was the fourth youngest player that year. In his debut, he threw only one pitch!

He pitched marvelously in the short stint that would be his first major league season: in 5 games - 3 started - he went 2 and 0 with a 1.31 ERA, with one of his starts being a complete game. That season was a foreshadowing of the success he would witness in the next few years of his career.

In 1942, he posted a solid 3.43 ERA despite a mediocre 3 and 7 record with the Cubs (who as a team went 68 and 86 that year). He then missed the next few years due to military service, but in 1946, he came back better than ever. An All-Star that year, he posted a 2.61 ERA in 41 games, 31 started. He went 11 and 11, with 135 strikeouts in 224 1/3 innings, allowing just six home runs in that time. He led the National League in strikeouts and was second in hits allowed/9 innings that year (he allowed just 7.38 H/9 IP). He was fourth in the league in games started, fifth in innings, sixth in ERA and complete games (14) and seventh in game appearances. This performance put him at 30th place in the MVP voting that year.

His 1947 season was fairly disappointing - he posted a record of 13-18, leading the NL in walks. His 3.22 ERA was still good for tenth in the league, as were his 97 strikeouts. His four saves were ninth in the league, and his three shutouts were sixth.

In 1948, he went 18- 13 with a 2.64 ERA. He made the All-Star team for the second time of his career that year. 12th overall in MVP voting, he was third in the NL in wins and complete games (18), fifth in ERA, sixth in games started (30). He also led the league in fewest hits allowed/9 innings, giving up an average of only 6.92 hits per nine innings of work.

His next two and a half seasons with the Cubs were not stellar. In that time, he went a combined 23-35, posting a cumulative ERA of 4.80. Still, he finished 23rd in MVP voting in 1949.

It was his recent poor performance that prompted a trade by the Cubs to the Brooklyn Dodgers (a team he'd won 18 games against) on June 15, 1951. He was sent from the Cubs along with Andy Pafko, Wayne Terwilliger and Rube Walker to the Dodgers for Bruce Edwards, Joe Hatten, Eddie Miksis and Gene Hermanski.

He never played a full season with the Dodgers. In parts of the 1951 and 1952, Schmitz went 2-5 with a 4.96 ERA in 26 games, 10 of them started. On August 1, 1952, he was selected off waivers from the Dodgers by the New York Yankees. He ended up posting a 3.60 ERA in 5 games with them before being traded with Jim Greengrass, Bob Marquis and Ernie Nevel to the Cincinnati Reds for Ewell Blackwell. He gave up no runs in 5 innings of work (in three games total) for the Reds that year. Shoulder and arm problems resulted in him playing less and less.

The following off-season, he was purchased by the Yankees. He only appeared in three regular season games with them in 1953 before being picked up by the Washington Senators off waivers on May 12th. His time with the Sens was quite similar to the last few seasons - he posted a 2-7 record.

1954 was quite a career revitalization for Schmitz, however. In 29 games with Washington, 23 of them started, he posted an 11-8 record to complement a 2.91 ERA, which was 9th best in the American League. That success did not carry over to 1955, though. He posted a 7-10 record that year with a 3.71 ERA.

In the 1955 offseason, he was traded by the Senators with Bob Porterfield, Tom Umphlett and Mickey Vernon to the Boston Red Sox for Karl Olson, Dick Brodowski, Tex Clevenger, [Neil Chrisley]] and Al Curtis, a minor leaguer. He ended up appearing in only two games with the Red Sox in 1956 before being purchased by the Baltimore Orioles. He ended his career with them, playing his final game on September 7th that year. He was released by the Orioles on October 18th. Overall, he went 93-114 in his career, posting an ERA of 3.55. He walked 757 batters and struck out only 746. He was a poor hitter overall with a .141 career batting average, although he did hit two home runs. As a fielder, he committed 23 errors for a .963 fielding percentage. He was involved in 43 double plays in his career. According to Baseball Reference, his career pitching statistics were most similar to those of Dave Koslo. The teammate he spent the most seasons with was Phil Cavarretta. He was his teammate for eight seasons total.

He died in 2011 in Wausau, Wisconsin, where he had been born 90 years earlier.

"Three inches in front of home plate it (Johnny Schmitz's curve ball) was up around your head; the catcher wound up catching it by your feet. He could drop it in a coffee cup." - Rex Barney in "Old Dodgers Were 'Patsies' for Him" (Baseball Digest : September 1996)

[edit] Notable Achievements

  • 2-time NL All-Star (1946 & 1948)
  • NL Strikeouts Leader (1946)
  • 15 Wins Seasons: 1 (1948)
  • 200 Innings Pitched Seasons: 4 (1946-1949)

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