Monday, December 9, 2013
Nashville coach Lucas pinch-hit .444 in '45
Uncommon commons: In more than 30 years in sportscards publishing I have thrown hundreds of notes into files about the players – usually non-star players – who made up the majority of the baseball and football cards I collected as a kid. Today, I keep adding to those files as I peruse microfilms of The Sporting News from the 1880s through the 1960s. I found these tidbits brought some life to the player pictures on those cards. I figure that if I enjoyed them, you might too.
From the time he retired after the 1938 season until 1966, National League pitcher Charles "Red" Lucas held the major league career record for pinch-hits.
In 16 major league seasons (1923-38) the left-hand hitting Lucas collected 114 pinch hits in 437 at-bats for a .261 average. That record stood until 1966 when Jerry Lynch ended his career with 116 pinch-hits. (Today the record is held by Lenny Harris, with 212.)
In 1945, Lucas again made pinch-hit news when, at age 43, he hit .444 (16-for-36) as a pinch-hitter for the Nashville Volunteers of the Southern Association, a team which he served as a coach. Along with 13 singles he had a double and two triples, had drawn 10 walks and driven in nine runs. The previous season he had hit .333 pinch-hitting for the Vols.
Over the course of his big league career (1923 Giants, 1924-25 Braves, 1926-33 Reds, 1934-38 Pirates), Lucas had a .281 batting average. Pitching mostly for second-division teams, he had a lifetime 157-135 record with 3.72 ERA.
He was a durable, control-conscious pitcher whose mark of 1.6 walks per nine innings is still in baseball's top 20.
Partly because he was such a successful hitter, Lucas once pitched what The Sporting News described as a major league record of 250.1 innings without being lifted for a reliever. In doing my due diligence, however, I found that Jack Taylor of the Cubs and Cardinals pitched in 202 consecutive games without relief between 1902-07.
Two more notes about Lucas as a pitcher . . .
In 1921 he threw a no-hitter for Greenwood against Clarksdale in the Mississippi State League playoffs.
After he was traded by the Reds to the Pirates, Lucas never lost a game to Cincinnati; he was 14-0 against them 1934-38.
In a 1945 interview, Lucas credited his pinch-hitting ability to being "blessed with good eyesight." He said night ball didn't bother him. He also noted that he closely studied the delivery of opposing pitchers and that he seldom swung at the first pitch, preferring to get a feel for the pitcher's "stuff."
Lucas can be found in many of the baseball card issues of his era, most notably the 1933 Goudey and 1934-36 Diamond Star sets.