Classic Yankees: Red Ruffing

yankees red-ruffingWith the retirement of Andy Pettitte, and the talk of needing a pitcher to replace that rotation spot, what do you suppose the reaction would be this year if, say in midseason, the Yanks would trade for a 25 year old pitcher whose career record is 39-96 with an ERA of 4.61?

I would imagine that the servers to various Yankee blogs, not to mention WFAN’s transmitter, might blow up with the anger and frustrations of Yankee fans who would hate the deal.

But that’s exactly what the Yankees did in 1930 when they traded outfielder Cedric Durst to Boston for Charles H. Red Ruffing.

When Ruffing got to Boston to begin his career, there was nothing left in Beantown. Harry Frazee not only sent Babe Ruth to the Yankees, he also sent Everett Scott, Carl Mays, Herb Pennock, Sad Sam Jones, Wally Schang, Bullet Joe Bush, Waite Hoyt, Ben Paschal, and Joe Dugan from Boston to New York. Ruffing came up to the majors at the age of 19 and had no support; not to mention that he was young and didn’t pitch well himself. He led the majors in losses in 1928 (25) and 1929 (22). 39-96, 4.61, ERA+ 92 wasn’t anything to speak of for the 25 year old.

Ruffing’s motto was run, run, run, but that exercise program wasn’t easy for him. Ruffing pitched his whole career with a handicap and in pain. He lost four toes off his left foot in a mine accident as a youngster.

Once he became a Yankee, things changed. Remember the anger that I stated would happen today if the Yankees traded for a 25 year old who was 39-96, 4.61 for his career? Imagine how much worse it would be if at the time of the trade, that pitcher was 0-3, 6.38, and this after two consecutive 20-loss seasons in which he led the majors in losses?

I shudder at the thought. But after that 0-3, 6.38 start for Boston, Ruffing went 15-5 for the Yankees. The ERA was still a bit high, since he ended the year 15-8, 4.38. After a 16-14, 4.41 1931 season, Ruffing found his groove.

He went 18-7, 3.09 to help lead the Yanks to the 1932 World Series title. After an off-year in 1933, he rebounded to win 19 in 1934.

When the Yankees won four consecutive World Championships from 1936-1939, Ruffing won 20 or more in each year. He led the league with 21 victories in 1938. Six times he was named to the All-Star team, and the All-Star game wasn’t started until 1933. In 1937, 1938 and 1939 he finished 8th, 4th and 5th in MVP voting. There was no Cy Young Award until 1956 (Young died in November, 1955). Ruffing, along with Lefty Gomez, teamed to give the Yanks a 1-2 pitching punch throughout the 1930s.

With all the talk and discussion over Pettitte’s retirement and where Andy stands in Yankees history, the names of Ford and Ruffing come up by way of comparison. Ford leads all Yankee pitchers with 236 wins. After that horrible start to his career, Ruffing went on to finish with 273 wins—231 as a Yankee, second on the Yanks’ all-time list. Pettitte ranks third with 203 Yankees wins out of his 240 total.

After that dismal .289 winning percentage with Boston, Ruffing, with 231 wins and 124 losses as a Yankee, had a .651 winning percentage with the Yanks. Talk about turning a career around! His Yankee ERA was 3.47. From a 92 ERA+ with Boston, Ruffing had a 120 with the Yankees.

Ruffing won 15 in 1941 as the Yankees won another World Series, Ruffing’s sixth. In 1942, Ruffing won 14 but the Yanks lost the World Series to St. Louis. Ruffing then missed all of the 1943 and 1944 seasons due to WWII service. He came back in 1945 at the age of 40 to go 7-3, 2.89. He only pitched in eight games for the Yanks in 1946, going 5-1, 1.77 at age 41 before finishing his career with the 1947 White Sox, going 3-5, 6.11.

Who knows? Had Ruffing not lost about 2 ½ years to WWII service, he may have won 300 games in his career.

His total numbers were 273-225, 3.80. ERA+ 110. His World Series numbers were 7-2, 2.63.

From 1930 to 1942, Ruffing averaged 17-9, 3.54 and an ERA+ of 118. In that era before specialty pitchers, Ruffing completed 261 of his 391 Yankee starts.

Ruffing went from 39-96 to almost winning 300. Imagine that.

But that’s not all.

For Ruffing was one of the best hitting pitchers who ever lived. For his career, Ruffing hit .269, with 36 home runs in 1937 at bats. 34 of those HR came as a pitcher (Ruffing, like Bob Lemon, was a converted OF and played 3 games in the OF in his career. I take it however, that the other two HR came as a PH; Ruffing had over 200 PH at bats in his career). Only Wes Ferrell (38), Bob Lemon (37) and Warren Spahn (35) had more HR as a pitcher. From 1928 to 1932, Ruffing hit .314, .307, .364, .330 and .306. Eight times he hit .300 or better in a season. He hit 4 HR in 1930 and 5 in 1936. In 1930, 1936 and 1941 he drove in 22 runs.

In 1962, Ruffing served as the Mets’ first pitching coach.

In 1964, Ruffing lost a runoff election for the HOF. He barely missed in 1965 and 1966 but in 1967, in his fifteenth year on the ballot, Ruffing won a runoff election and was inducted.

Ruffing has a plaque in Monument Park. The number he wore is retired, but not in honor of him. For you see, Ruffing’s number was #15, retired for Thurman Munson.

Ruffing was 80 when he died in 1986, as probably the greatest Yankee righty starter ever.

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2 Responses to Classic Yankees: Red Ruffing

  1. Matt says:

    Great post, Rob. My Grandfather loved talking about Ruffing

  2. It’s a great post, unfortunately I didn’t write it. The credit should go to Mike Sommer of the Sommer Frieze. I’m just the jerk that keeps on forgetting to give him proper credit for his stuff after he submits it to me.

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