Who is Wisconsin’s Best April-Born Player?

Wikipedia

Friend of the site and baseball historian Chris Jensen has the fourth of a 12-part series on players born in Wisconsin.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Frequent BCB readers may recall that a few months ago I reviewed one of my favorite new baseball books, Chris Jensen’s Baseball State by State. After reading the book I've asked Chris to join us for a 12-part series in 2013 on the best players born in Wisconsin. What follows is part four of that series. - KL

Addie Joss, who was one of the greatest pitchers of the Deadball Era, is Wisconsin’s best April-born player. Joss, who was born April 12, 1880, in Woodland, strung together one of the greatest nine-year stretches of pitching in the history of baseball. He won 160 games, 45 by shutout, and posted four consecutive 20-win seasons for the Cleveland Naps between 1902 and 1910. He threw two no-hitters including the second perfect game in American League history when he outdueled Ed Walsh and the White Sox on October 2, 1908, in the middle of a pennant race.

Nicknamed "The Human Hairpin" for his lanky build, Joss burst onto the scene in 1902, pitching a one-hitter during his debut on April 26 on the way to 17 wins and an American League high with 5 shutouts his rookie year. He would go on to win two ERA titles and allowed only 1,888 hits in 2,327 career innings, relying on a deceptive corkscrew delivery that befuddled batters. His 0.968 career WHIP is the best in major league history and his 1.89 career ERA trails only Ed Walsh on the all-time list.

Although he had been struggling with fatigue throughout 1909 and into the 1910 season, Joss managed to throw a no-hitter on April 20, 1910. It would be his last great pitching feat. He would later suffer an elbow injury that cut short his season, and he continued to experience health problems the next spring including a time where he fainted on the field. Joss had his brilliant career cut tragically short when he died of tubercular meningitis two days after his 31 st birthday in 1911, news that shocked the baseball world. "In Joss’s death, baseball loses one of the best pitchers and men that has ever been identified with the game," stated his teammate and former manager Napoleon Lajoie.

Although he had been struggling with fatigue throughout 1909 and into the 1910 season, Joss managed to throw a no-hitter on April 20, 1910. It would be his last great pitching feat. He would later suffer an elbow injury that cut short his season, and he continued to experience health problems the next spring including a time where he fainted on the field. Joss had his brilliant career cut tragically short when he died of tubercular meningitis two days after his 31 st birthday in 1911, news that shocked the baseball world. "In Joss’s death, baseball loses one of the best pitchers and men that has ever been identified with the game," stated his teammate and former manager Napoleon Lajoie.

He was gone but not forgotten by the baseball world. Three months after his death, Joss's peers paid tribute to him with a special team of American League all-stars facing off against the Naps in an exhibition game that raised nearly $13,000 for his widow and two children.

Since Joss only completed nine seasons in the majors that meant he did not meet the Hall of Fame’s 10-year eligibility rule. A group of sportswriters campaigned to gain a special exemption for Joss for many years, and he was finally elected to the Hall of Fame in 1978. In my book I have Joss listed as the third-best right handed starter in Wisconsin history behind Kid Nichols and Burleigh Grimes.

Other April birthdays include Charlie Chech, a Madison native with an April 14 birthday who went 11-7 with a 1.74 ERA as a teammate of Joss on the 1908 Naps and also played at the University of Wisconsin at Madison the same time as Joss. Chech only won 33 games during his four-year career but posted a sparkling 2.52 career ERA. Milwaukee native Chet Laabs, who was born on April 30 in 1947, made the honorable mention list of outfielders for Wisconsin’s all-time team. Laabs recorded 813 hits over an 11-season career for three teams. He made the All-Star team with the St. Louis Browns in 1943 but his best season was 1942, when he slugged 27 homers and drove in 99 runs.

Chris Jensen is the author of Baseball State by State: Major League and Negro League Players, Ballparks, Museums and Historical Sites, which was published in July 2012 by McFarland. It features a chapter on each state covering state baseball history, an all-time team, stats leaders, historic baseball places to see, future stars, player nicknames and the state’s all-time best player.

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