Year Inducted: 1977 (Veterans Committee)
Every generation seems to reinvent the meaning of “speed” in terms of pitchers and fastballs. Aroldis Chapman has been the fastest pitcher since his debut, and before him pitchers like Roger Clemens, Randy Johnson and others were renown for their velocity. Going back in history, there are pitchers like Tom Seaver, Bob Gibson, Don Drysdale and Bob Feller that were regarded as the fastest of the era. Who was the fastest from the early game, before even Walter Johnson? Obviously there are no radar measurements from that time period for proof, but it’s very likely that the highest velocity belonged to Amos Rusie.
Rusie pitched for parts of 10 seasons, mostly for the Giants. In that time, he won 245 games against 174 losses and pitched to an ERA of 3.07. Rusie’s claims to speed come from his high strikeout totals. Playing at a time when batters would slap at the ball instead of trying to swing for the fences, Rusie struck out nearly 2000 batters. He also led the league in strikeouts several times, being one of the first pitchers to ever strikeout 300 batters in consecutive years. His ERA- was also a dazzling 78, meaning his ERA was 23% lower than the league average. Rusie was definitely among the best of the early game.
Rusie is not without his faults, however. As fast as he was, he was equally wild with his fastball. He walked more than 1700 batters in his career, walking 200 in a season 5 times in his career. He was also the catalyst for a game changing event. For most of his career, the mound stood roughly 50 feet from the plate. When he hit Hughie Jennings in the head, it spurred the league to take action and move the mound to its current location. Following this, Rusie’s strikeout rate started to drop but he maintained a well below average ERA. Rusie also missed one year due to a contract dispute, then an additional two due to injuries following an injury to his head. Both of these events obviously prevent Rusie from being in the Upper Echelon of the Hall of Fame, but he still is an important piece of Cooperstown.
Stay tuned for the next update.
On deck 9/8/16-This Hall of Fame right fielder is the final step upon the journey to 3000 hits.