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Ken Raffensberger

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Kenneth David Raffensberger

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[edit] Biographical Information

Ken Raffensberger was a good pitcher stuck with bad teams - one of the "unluckiest" pitchers in history. Except for his one-game rookie season, he never played for a winning club during a 15-year major league career, but his earned run average was usually better than average and he was a premier control pitcher.

St. Louis Cardinals scout Pop Kelchner signed him to a professional contract. He made $75 a month as a young rookie with the Cambridge Cardinals, in the Class D Eastern Shore League in 1937. Raffensberger posted an 18-6 record in Cambridge, and in 1938 the Cardinals promoted him to their top-level farm team, the Rochester Red Wings, in the International League.

After he won 15 games for Rochester, the Cardinals invited him to spring training in 1939. On April 25th, he pitched a scoreless inning in relief against the Cincinnati Reds in his big league debut, but was soon sent back to Rochester. He won 15 again, also losing 15.

In December, the Cardinals traded him to the Chicago Cubs for two minor league players and cash. He pitched in 43 games for the Cubs in 1940, mostly in relief, posting a 7-9 record. His 3.37 ERA was half a run below the league average. He pitched just 10 times in 1941 before he was sent down to the Los Angeles Angels of the Pacific Coast League. Raffensberger credited Cubs manager Gabby Hartnett, a Hall of Fame catcher, as an important help to his career.

After his taste of the big leagues, his three seasons in Los Angeles "were tough years". He won 19 games for the Angels' pennant-winning team in 1943 and earned a ticket back to the majors.

He joined the Philadelphia Phillies, longtime doormats of the National League. Philadelphia had finished last every year from 1938 to 1942 and rose to next-to-last in 1943. In 1944, under the name "Philadelphia Blue Jays", they would settle on the bottom again, losing 92 games.

Raffensberger quickly emerged as one of Philadelphia's top pitchers. In July of 1944, his record was 8-3, and he was chosen for the All-Star team. At the showcase in Pittsburgh, he pitched scoreless ball through the 4th and 5th innings and was credited with the win. But by the season's end, he had won 13 games and lost 20.

His first season as a starter set the pattern for his career. His 3.06 ERA was 18 percent better than the league average. He was the NL's best control pitcher, walking only 1.57 batters per nine innings; he would finish in the top five in that category five times in nine full years as a starter.

Raffensberger was inducted into the Navy in May 1945, but served only five months. In 1946 he picked up where he had left off: excellent control, decent ERA, and a losing record, 8-15. He led the league with six saves.

When he started poorly in 1947, Philadelphia swapped him and catcher Hugh Poland to Cincinnati for backup catcher Al Lakeman on June 14th. For years afterward, Phillies owner Bob Carpenter would call that "our worst trade." Lakeman hit .162 for Philadelphia; Raffensberger became a mainstay of the Cincinnati pitching staff for the next seven years. Cincinnati finished fifth in the eight-team league in 1947, but for the rest of Raffensberger's career, the Reds were either sixth or seventh. They never won more than 69 games.

Raffensberger posted winning records only twice: 18-17 in 1949 and 17-13 with a 2.81 ERA in 1952. Both times he led the league in shutouts. He pitched four one-hit shutouts during his career. On May 31, 1948, he carried a no-hitter against the Cardinals into the 8th inning before Nippy Jones singled. He beat the Cardinals again on one hit six weeks later. On May 22, 1949, Brooklyn's Gil Hodges broke up his no-hitter in the 8th. Raffensberger set down the Dodgers on 83 pitches. At Chicago's Wrigley Field on September 2, 1951, Eddie Miksis beat out a dribbler down the third-base line in the 3rd inning for the Chicago Cubs' only hit. Raffensberger walked none, one man reached on an error, and he threw only 69 pitches.

In 1953, Cincinnati finished sixth for the fourth straight year. The 36-year-old Raffensberger registered the worst won-lost record of his career, 7-14, although his 3.93 ERA was better than average. New manager Birdie Tebbetts touted him as one of the team's top pitchers for 1954. That chance never came.

He sprained his right ankle during spring training drills and was seldom used in the early weeks of the season. The Reds released him in June and assigned him to the Havana Sugar Kings of the International League. Finishing the 1954 season in Cuba, he won five games in a row during one stretch. Then he returned home to pitch for the York White Roses, a Class B Baltimore Orioles farm club in the Piedmont League.

In 1956 he served as player-manager at Lafayette, Louisiana, in the Class C Evangeline League, and pitched a shutout one month before his 39th birthday. The next season he managed the Cubs' farm team at Burlington, Iowa, in the Class B Three-I League. That ended his baseball career.

Raffensberger won 119 games and lost 154; his .436 winning percentage was slightly better than the other pitchers on his teams. His 3.60 ERA was 10 percent better than the league average. He gave up more than one hit per inning, but held opposing batters to a .303 on-base percentage because he seldom walked anyone. Only a few more than 100 pitchers in baseball history have recorded an opponents' on-base percentage below .300. He pitched 31 shutouts; when he left the majors, only Warren Spahn had more among active pitchers. He also lost 23 games when his teams were shut out.

In a 1986 interview with his hometown newspaper, he said: "I can't complain. Baseball's been good to me. At my peak I was making top scale wages at the time, was included when the players' pension fund was created, and have been receiving checks regularly since I was 50, with increases every year. And besides, whatever I was paid was much more than I could have earned in any York industry as a high school dropout." He said his highest salary was $16,000.

Ken Raffensberger was 85 when he died on November 10, 2002, at York Memorial Hospital. The cause of his death was not reported.

[edit] Notable Achievements

  • NL All-Star (1944)
  • NL Saves Leader (1946)
  • 2-time NL Shutouts Leader (1949 & 1952)
  • 15 Wins Seasons: 3 (1949, 1951 & 1952)
  • 200 Innings Pitched Seasons: 4 (1944 & 1949-1952)

[edit] Sources

The Encyclopedia of Minor League Baseball: Third Edition
Bioproj.sabr.org
SABR Minor League Database
baseball-reference.com

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