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  • Mike Whiteman

Red Ruffing - Change of Fortune

By Mike Whiteman February 4, 2024 *** Among the best pitchers in Yankees history was a stocky, hard throwing righthander named Charles Ruffing, known commonly as “Red” due the color of his hair. His 231 wins in Pinstripes trails only Whitey Ford’s 236 victories. He’s also only a couple of innings pitched behind Whitey for the most in team history. His 261 career complete games leads the franchise – by a lot!



Ruffing won 20 games four times in a row in the late 1930s, and had a 7-2, 2.52 World Series line, leading the Yanks to six Series titles. He was such a trusted presence that manager Joe McCarthy turned to Ruffing six times to start Game One of the Fall Classic. He won five of those games.


For his efforts, Red Ruffing was inducted to the Hall of Fame in 1967.

A great career. A great career that almost didn’t happen. Ruffing’s playing days started in Boston at the age of nineteen, when he pitched in eight games for the seventh place Red Sox in 1924. The next year he joined the starting rotation and posted a brutal 9-18, 5.01 ERA. Perhaps the only thing more brutal was the team around him. By 1925, multiple trades with the Yankees drained the Red Sox of most of their respectable players, and left behind was youngsters, past their prime players, and "never will bes". The 1925 Red Sox lost 105 games and proceeded to finish in last place every remaining year of the decade. Ruffing's ability was recognized despite his stats. In an August 1925 columnist Burt Whitman of The Sporting News wrote that Ruffing was "the real deal" and had "a great fastball, though uncontrolled". Still, he struggled to establish himself despite the obvious talent. His best season in Boston was 1928, in which he had a ghastly 10-25 record but with a respectable 3.89 ERA and a league-leading 25 complete games. Unfortunately, for an “encore”, he went 9-22, 4.86 in 1929, and there was even discussion in Boston of making him an outfielder as he was among the best hitting pitchers in the game, batting over .300 in 1928 and 1929. He started off April 1930 with a 0-3, 6.38 start. That’s when everything changed. In 1930 the Yankees were also struggling. As April turned to May, the team was under .500 and already seven games out of first place. In need of or reinforcements, Ed Barrow pulled off yet another deal with the Bosox, sending backup outfielder Cedric Durst (batting .158 at the time) and $50,000 in exchange for Ruffing. The need for the big righty looked desperate, as The Sporting News cited the low bar of the Yanks needing “a pitcher physically able to start and finish a game”. Which is exactly what Ruffing did, hurling a not so impressive complete game win over Detroit in his Yankee debut, allowing six runs and ten hits. Unlike in Boston, he had the benefit of a potent office behind him, as Babe Ruth homered and Lou Gehrig and Bill Dickey drove in two runs apiece. Ruffing also helped himself with two RBI of his own. It wasn’t just urgency that compelled the Yanks to acquire Ruffing. It also seemed that manager Bob Shawkey saw something in the pitcher, and encouraged his acquisition. A longtime Yankee pitcher himself, Shawkey noted a flaw in Ruffing’s delivery that he thought he could fix, and make him a better pitcher. Specifically, he reflected "I worked with him for about ten days to get him to throw more with his body - the same way Chief Bender had worked with me when I was a rookie with the Athletics. Ruffing became a big winner after that, one of the biggest winners the Yankees ever had. All it took was a very slight changeover." Shawkey lasted only one season as Yankee manager, but this contribution would endure for years. Ruffing’s presence provided a boost to the staff as he won his first six decisions, and eight of his first nine. He was 15-5 with a 4.14 ERA for the year for the Yanks. The ERA and 105 ERA+ doesn’t look much different from his Boston numbers, but a lineup with five Hall of Famers backing him provided much more margin for error than his Boston days. Ruffing by himself didn’t push the Yanks back into contention though, as they finished the 1930 season in third place, 16 games behind Connie Mack’s Philadelphia A’s. Ruffing’s 1931 wasn’t much different, and his 16-14, 4.41 record didn’t scream “future ace”.  He did get a raise, increasing his annual salary from $6750 to $9000. Not too bad during a time when the average American made less than $2000 annually and was dealing with the horrors of the Great Depression. In 1932, he started slow and had 6.06 ERA at the end of April. Things turned around through, and as the weather got warmer Ruffing got much better. From May on, Ruffing was 17-6 with a 2.82 ERA. His season culminated at Game One of the World Series, when he threw a complete game victory over the Chicago Cubs, and after sweeping the series, the Yanks were back on top of the baseball world again. Ruffing had turned his career around and kept it going. The difference was dramatic. In Boston, Ruffing had a 39-96, 4.61 record and 92 ERA+. In New York, he was 231-124 with a 3.47 ERA. His ERA+ for the Yankees was 119. From his point of view, he bluntly asserted the upgrade in performance was from "pitching for a real ball club". Lefty Gomez joined Ruffing in the rotation in 1931, and the two ace hurlers served at the top of their staff throughout the 1930s. Like Ruffing, Gomez won 20 games four times, was selected to the All-Star game multiple times, and was at his best (6-0, 2.86) in the World Series. Combined, the duo won 388 games from 1930-1941, leading the Yankees to six World Series titles during that time.



In addition to the Hall of Fame induction, Ruffing had a plaque dedicated at Monument Park in Yankee Stadium in 2004. A well deserved honor for a Yankee great, and a long way from his 20-loss seasons in Boston. ******* Some of the sources I consulted for this article were: The Sporting News archive through Paper of Record (from SABR membership) The Man in the Dugout by Donald Honig A Legend in the Making: The New York Yankeed in 1939 by Richard Tofel

7件のコメント


Mike Whiteman
2月05日

Thanks!

いいね!

Andy Polizzi
Andy Polizzi
2月04日

I believe it was Ruffing who said, when asked about his pitching style, "I throw fastballs for the first three innings, curveballs for the next three, and fastballs again for the last three."


Baseball sure was a simpler game 90 years ago.


Gomez and Ruffing are the Yankees' greatest 1-2 pitching punch ever and yet neither has had his number retired.

いいね!
Alan B.
Alan B.
2月04日
返信先

re you saying he succeeded by having a pitching plan not based on pitch usage, but instead of times certain pitches got used or not used? Just Incredible! 😃

いいね!

Robert Malchman
Robert Malchman
2月04日

“a pitcher physically able to start and finish a game”


In part, I expect, because you didn't need to pinch-hit for him. He batted over .300 seven times. If there had been a DH, he could have been Ohtani. I mentioned the other day that Paul Waner is my go-to Yankee for career numbers on Immaculate Grid. Ruffing is my Yankee and Red Sox guy for .300 season batting.

いいね!
Robert Malchman
Robert Malchman
2月05日
返信先

I have to credit my middle school battery mate and friend of 50 years for that insight that with no minimum at-bats, some good hitting pitchers would be low-scoring answers. It's a little harder using position players for sub-3.00 ERAs because they tend to get lit up.

いいね!

autmorsautlibertas
2月04日

Great read. Ruffing is one of my favorite Yankees of the 1930's.

いいね!
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