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Larry Jansen

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Lawrence Joseph Jansen

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[edit] Biographical Information

Larry Jansen won exactly 122 games in both the major and minor leagues, including leading the league once at each level. He was the last AAA player to win 30 games in a year and was the winning hurler in the game in which Bobby Thomson hit the Shot Heard 'Round the World. Known for his control, he finished first or second in the National League in fewest walks per 9 innings on four occasions and twice led in strikeout/walk ratio.

[edit] Youth and a Red Sox mistake

Jansen grew up on a farm in the Dutch community of Verboort, OR and played semipro baseball. Boston Red Sox scout Ernie Johnson signed him to a contract in 1939 (that August, he was married) but the team never told him where to go and he didn't get a contract from them the next year. Confused, Larry called a Pacific Coast League umpire he knew, who gave him the address for Kenesaw Mountain Landis. Jansen sent a wire to Landis, who replied that he was a free agent.

[edit] 1940-1942: First years in pro baseball

Jansen signed with the San Francisco Seals, who assigned him to their Salt Lake City Bees. He had a very good year, going 20-7 with a 2.19 ERA and led the Pioneer League in ERA and winning percentage. He was one win behind league leader Bill Caplinger.

In 1941, Larry was brought up to San Francisco, though they were concerned with his size (he weighed around 155 lb. then). He went 16-10 with a 2.80 ERA his first year in San Francisco, though he issued a career-high 75 walks in 238 innings of work. He led the team in wins and tied Syl Johnson for around 5th in the Pacific Coast League in ERA.

Jansen fell to 11-14, 4.32 the next year with 222 hits allowed and only 46 strikeouts in 173 innings of work. That year, coach Larry Woodall taught him the slider. Very few pitchers of the time used it and Jansen would later help bring it into prominence.

[edit] 1943-1944: Early retirement

He was 21 at the time of Pearl Harbor and playing in the minor leagues. Though an asthmatic and married with two dependent children and eligible to be drafted, he was told by his draft board to retire from baseball and operate his farm in Oregon, which he did until the war ended and then returned to organized baseball. Having not used the slider much since he had learned it, he mastered it while playing semipro baseball twice a week in Oregon.

[edit] 1945-1946: San Francisco's star

Jansen rejoined the Seals late in 1945 and went 4-1 with a 4.09 ERA for them. Though he did not join the team in time to make the playoffs, they voted him a full share for his work. The next year, he was the class of the PCL. He went 30-6 with a 1.57 ERA, allowing only 69 walks and 254 hits in 321 innings, fanning 171. He became the last AAA pitcher to win 30 games and led the league in both wins and ERA. The club set a new minor league attendance record. Larry even hit okay in his magical year, batting .279/~.318/.320, good enough that manager Lefty O'Doul used him to pinch-hit a couple games in which he would relieve. Jansen states that his ERA is a PCL recod.

[edit] 1947-1949: First years with the Giants

San Francisco had a working agreement with the New York Giants and traded him after the 1946 season to New York for two players (as per Jansen in Baseball's Forgotten Heroes) or for cash (as per the main B-R page). Jansen said that he was to get a portion of the sale price and as he was traded, he got nothing financially ouf of the deal.

Larry reported late to the Giants in 1947 due to a contract dispute. He arrived to find that he was one of the older pitchers in spring training with them. In his first spring training start, he was hit by a liner from Bob Feller when the sun reflected off a slew of white shirts worn by fans. The same game, Hank Edwards dislocated his shoulder, so two ambulances were sent out. Jansen needed an operation, which turned out well. The doctors told him he could have lost his eye if the ball had been a half-inch higher.

Jansen only pitched about six innings of relief in spring training and did not do well. Larry made the team but was riding the pine early on. Coach Hank Gowdy encouraged manager Mel Ott to use Jansen more. Larry responded with a great year. He went 21-5, completing 20 of 30 starts, with a 3.16 ERA (129 ERA+). Jansen tied Ralph Branca, Warren Spahn and Johnny Sain for second in the NL in wins, one behind Ewell Blackwell; he led in winning percentage, was 9th in ERA, 5th in WHIP, had the fewest walks per 9 innings (2.02), was 5th in innings (248), 8th in strikeouts (104), 4th in complete games, second in K/BB ratio (behind Blackwell), tied for first with teammate Dave Koslo with 23 home runs allowed, 4th in hits allowed (241) and tied for 9th in ERA+. He finished 7th in voting for the 1947 National League Most Valuable Player and second to Jackie Robinson in 1947 Rookie of the Year Award voting, coming close to winning the first Rookie of the Year Award.

In 1948, Jansen was 18-12 with a 3.61 ERA, tying Johnny Schmitz for third in the NL in wins, was second in walks/9 (trailing Preacher Roe, 9th in K/9, fifth in WHIP, second in innings (277, trailing Sain), 4th in strikeouts (126), tied for fifth in complete games (15), tied for second with 4 shutouts and second in homers surrendered (25) and hits given up (283).

The next year, Larry fell to 15-16, 3.84. He still tied for 8th in the 1949 NL in wins, was 9th in WHIP, 4th in BB/9, third in innings (259 2/3) and strikeouts (113), tied for 4th in complete games (17), 6th in K/BB ratio and tied for 8th in shutouts (3). He allowed the most gopher balls, 36, 9 more than runner-up Spahn, was 4th in hits surrendered (271), tied for sixth in losses and tied for second in earned runs given up.

[edit] 1950-1951: Two big years, two famous games

That off-season, the Giants acquired Alvin Dark and Eddie Stanky and gave away Willard Marshall and Sid Gordon to free up space for younger, faster outfielders. Jansen credited the new middle infield and outfield with lowering his ERA; he had a 19-13, 3.01 record for the Giants in 1950 and his 136 ERA+ was the best of his career. He was third in the NL in ERA behind Sal Maglie and Blackwell, tied for 4th in victories, led in WHIP (over .1 ahead of runner-up Robin Roberts), 5th in fewest hits per 9 innings, second to Ken Raffensberger for fewest walks per 9 (just 1.8), 5th in strikeouts per 9, tied for 10th in saves (3), 5th in innings pitched (275), third with 161 batters struck out, tied with Roberts for 4th in complete games (21), part of a four-way tie for the league lead with five shutouts, 4th in homers allowed (31) and 4th in ERA+. His 2.93 K/BB ratio led the NL by a huge margin - Raffensberger was second at 2.17 and Robins third at 1.90.

Jansen also was picked for his first All-Star team that year. In the 1950 All-Star Game, Burt Shotton told Jansen he would pitch the final three innings. Jansen threw hard and struck out a couple of batters; he thought he'd be lifted for a pinch-hitter as his spot was coming up, but Shotton let him bat. In the 8th, Larry fanned a couple more. Ralph Kiner tied the game with a 9th-inning home run. In the bottom of the 9th, Jansen fanned two more. He was left in to pitch the 10th - as he did not know how much longer he would be left in, he stopped throwing as hard as he had been. Overall, Larry pitched five innings in the game, allowing only one hit and no walks to go with his six strikeouts before finally being replaced by Ewell Blackwell in the 12th inning. No pitcher since then (as of 2009) has pitched more than four innings in an All-Star Game.

Larry had another very good year for the Giants in 1951, the year the team surged in the last couple of months of the season to overtake the Brooklyn Dodgers. In the Shot Heard 'Round the World game (the third game of the three-game playoff against the Dodgers, Jansen began warming up in the 1st inning but did not relieve Maglie until the 9th inning; Larry got the win. He made the All-Star team again that year but did not pitch in the 1951 All-Star Game. Overall, Jansen was 23-11 with a 3.04 ERA in his last great season. He tied for fifth in the NL in ERA, tied Maglie for the win lead, was fifth in winning percentage, third behind Raffensberger and Roberts in WHIP, second to Raffensberger in BB/9, 6th in K/9, 5th in innings (278 2/3), 4th in strikeouts (145), tied with Don Newcombe for 6th in complete games (18), tied for 7th in shutouts (3), 5th in homers allowed (26), 4th in hits given up (254), first again in K/BB ratio and second to Maglie in ERA+.

In the 1951 World Series, Larry got rocked, going 0-2 with a 6.30 ERA but he got the chance to become the last pitcher Joe DiMaggio faced in his major league career; Joltin' Joe doubled off him.

[edit] 1952-1954: The last Giants years

Jansen battled back problems over the next couple of years, which in turn led to arm injuries. He barely made a mark on the leader boards after five years there. He was 11-11 with a 4.09 ERA for the Giants in 1952, followed by a 11-16, 4.14 year (the last time his ERA+ was better than 100) in 1953. He was part of a four-way tie for 4th in the NL in defeats. Larry was 2-2 with a 5.98 ERA in 1954 and was on the inactive list for the 1954 World Series, which the Giants won over the Cleveland Indians.

[edit] 1955-1956: Return to the PCL, last major league year

Jansen joined the Seattle Rainiers in 1955 and had a 7-7, 3.34 line, walking only 26 in 137 1/3 innings pitched. He started 1956 for Seattle and had a 11-2, 2.58 record when he got his last crack at the majors, signing with the Cincinnati Redlegs. Jansen had a 2-3, 5.19 line in 7 starts and one relief appearance in 1956 to conclude his big-league career.

[edit] 1957-1960: Player-coach in the PCL

Jansen returned to Seattle in 1957 as a player-coach. He was 10-12 with a 3.16 ERA and just 25 walks in 180 innings pitched. In 1958, he moved on to the Portland Beavers in the same capacity and was 9-10 with a 3.13 ERA and 24 BB in 158 IP. His playing time fell drastically in 1959 as he only threw 24 innings, going 1-0 with a 2.62 ERA. In 1960, he pitched 18 innings and was 3-0 with a 1.50 ERA, allowing only 11 hits and 6 walks.

[edit] 1961-1973: Coaching career

Larry was set to be the Portland manager in 1961 but former teammate Alvin Dark had become the manager of the San Francisco Giants and offered him the role of pitching coach, which he accepted. He was the pitching coach for the Giants for 11 years (1961-1971), getting to work with Hall of Famers Gaylord Perry and Juan Marichal. He said that the best thing he did for Marichal was to leave him alone unless asked for a pointer, as he knew how to pitch.

After San Francisco let Jansen go after 1971, he was offered a job right away by the Chicago Cubs and held the pitching coach role there by his former manager with the Giants, Leo Durocher. He held the job for two years, in 1972 and 1973. He then retired, having over 20 years in the pension system to support his family.

[edit] Final statistics

Jansen was 122-89 in the major leagues with a 3.58 ERA (112 ERA+), walking only 410 in 1,765 2/3 innings pitched. He was 122-69 in the minors with a 2.77 ERA and 369 walks in 1,616 innings.

[edit] Notable Achievements

  • 2-time NL All-Star (1950 & 1951)
  • NL Wins Leader (1951)
  • NL Winning Percentage Leader (1947)
  • NL Shutouts Leader (1950)
  • 15 Wins Seasons: 5 (1947-1951)
  • 20 Wins Seasons: 2 (1947 & 1951)
  • 200 Innings Pitched Seasons: 5 (1947-1951)

[edit] Further Reading and Sources

  • Pat Doyle's Professional Baseball Player Database
  • Tony Salin: Baseball's Forgotten Heroes, Masters Press, Chicago, IL, 1999, pp. 53-66.
  • Larry Stone: "Those were the most wonderful days I believe I ever had", in Mark Armour, ed.: Rain Check: Baseball in the Pacific Northwest, SABR, Cleveland, OH, 2006, pp. 102-103.

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