Answer Man: Complete games have become less common in baseball

News-DemocratJune 5, 2013 

Q. After Adam Wainwright beat the Giants on Saturday, they noted that it was the 14th complete game of his career. How does that number compare with an old Cardinal like Bob Gibson?

-- Ted Franklin, of Glen Carbon

A. I'm sure knowledgeable fans won't find this surprising, but it certainly shows how baseball has changed: Wainwright's career total would have been a bad season for Bob Gibson.

That's right: In 17 years, Gibby started 482 games and completed 255 of them -- or, by today's standards, a dumbfounding 53 percent. He achieved 20 or more complete games in a season seven times and led the majors in 1969 with 28.

In contrast, Wainwright, now in his eighth season, has started 163 games and completed just those 14 or less than 10 percent. His season high was five in 2010 -- just before he underwent Tommy John surgery and sat out the 2011 season. Currently Wainwright and Washington's Jordan Zimmermann top the majors this year with three.

Not terribly earth-shattering numbers, huh? As you know, that's been the trend since the modern baseball era started and has only accelerated as bullpens have become increasingly crucial to a team's prospects.

Just consider this stat: From 1904 to 2004, the percentage of complete games declined in nearly every decade from a top of 87.6 percent in 1904 to 43.4 percent in 1934 to 24.5 percent in 1964 to 15 percent in 1984 and, finally, to a minuscule 3.1 percent in 2004.

Not surprisingly, the Cardinals have followed the trend. Just for fun, I checked out the number of complete games thrown during their 11 World Series championship seasons. Here are a few representative totals: 1926 (90), 1946 (75), 1964 (47), 1982 (25), 2006 (6) and 2011 (7). And of those 13 in 2006 and 2011, Chris Carpenter came through with 9. (Carpenter also shared the Major League lead with Dontrelle Willis in 2005 with seven.)

In the early 20th century, pitchers were expected to go the distance. There were no closers or seventh-inning-two-out relief specialists. That's why in 22 years, the great Cy Young started 815 games -- and finished 749, including 48 of 49 in 1892. During his career, Young finished off 72 games for the St. Louis Perfectos in 1899 and 1900.

More numbers to marvel at: Cincinnati's Will White still holds the iron-man title with 75 complete games in 1879, while Washington's Walter Johnson owns the modern-era career best of 531. And just imagine this: From June 20, 1901, to Aug. 9, 1906, Jack Taylor hurled 187 consecutive complete games, according to the Society for American Baseball Research -- including a National League tops of 39 in 1904 for the St. Louis Cardinals.

Still, the rival St. Louis Browns put up some stellar numbers on occasion as Bobo Newsom led or tied for best in the AL in 1938 and 1939 and Ned Garver did the same in 1950 and 1951. Currently, Philadelphia's Roy Halladay reigns supreme among active pitchers with 67 in his 16 years.

Finally, a game that will never be forgotten: On May 1, 1920, the Brooklyn Robins' Leon Cadore and the Boston Braves' Joe Oeschger went toe to toe for 26 innings in front of 2,000 Boston fans before the game was ruled a 1-1 tie because of darkness. Between them, they allowed just 24 hits during the longest complete game in history.

Q. I really wanted to watch Lifetime movie "Ring of Fire" about June Carter Cash but I missed it. Are they going to repeat it?

-- M.W., of Belleville

A. I can't imagine Lifetime going to all the time and expense of snaring Jewel to play country legend June Carter Cash and showing the movie just once, but right now a rebroadcast has not been scheduled.

So, I can only recommend two things: Check your programming guide or mylifetime.com frequently for updates. Or walk the line to amazon.com and order the DVD for $14.96 and shipping is free if you order $25.

Today's trivia

Who was the only St. Louis Cardinal to be the National League leader in complete games two years in a row?

Answer to Wednesday's trivia: Since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976, 1,329 convicted murderers have been executed in the United States. Of those, 496 -- or more than a third -- were in Texas. Still, Oklahoma leads the country in most executions per capita with 103 or 2.7 per 100,000 residents. (Texas came in at 1.9.) Until Pat Quinn banned them on July 1, 2011, Illinois had executed 12. The vast majority (1,152) were by lethal injection, but there were 158 by electric chair, 11 by gas, and three each by hanging and the firing squad. Twelve were women, according to clarkprosecutor.org, which lists detailed information on every execution.

Send your questions to Roger Schlueter, Belleville News-Democrat, 120 S. Illinois St., P.O. Box 427, Belleville, IL 62222-0427 or rschlueter@bnd.com or call 239-2465.

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