Which pitching rotations stayed together the longest?
By Dan Holmes May 1, 2016
Almost as much as any other facet of the game, the usage of starting pitchers has evolved quite a bit throughout the history of baseball. Originally, in the mid-18th century, teams had one regular pitcher and maybe one other player who could fill in if there was an emergency. By the early years of the 20th century, most teams were employing at least a three-man rotation and many were using four starting pitchers.
Throwing a baseball is one of the most unnatural and stressful things you can do in sports. As a result, pitchers frequently suffer injury, and teams often switch out their rotation of pitchers. In the 21st century many teams will use ten or more starting pitchers in one season. The days of a solid, set-in-stone starting rotation appear to be long gone, but actually few teams have been able to keep together four or five starters for very long.
Here’s a look at the seven teams who have kept together a five-man rotation for at least three consecutive seasons.
Longest-Running Five-Man Pitching Staffs in Baseball History
1904-1907 New York Giants (4 years) Christy Mathewson Iron Joe McGinnity Dummy Taylor Red Ames Hooks Wiltse
1979-1982 Oakland A’s (4 years) Rick Langford Matt Keough Mike Norris Steve McCatty Brian Kingman
1909-1911 Philadelphia A’s (3 years) Jack Coombs Eddie Plank Cy Morgan Chief Bender Harry Krause
1967-1969 Giants (3 years) Gaylord Perry Juan Marchal Mike McCormick Ray Sadecki Bobby Bolin
1967-1969 Athletics (3 years) Catfish Hunter Chuck Dobson Jim Nash Blue Moon Odom Lew Krausse
1976-1978 Los Angeles Dodgers (3 years) Don Sutton Burt Hooton Doug Rau Tommy John Rick Rhoden
1979-1981 Baltimore Orioles (3 years) Mike Flanagan Scott McGregor Steve Stone Jim Palmer Dennis Martinez
Of these seven teams, four of them won at least one pennant. The 1909-1911 A’s won two World Series titles, and the 1905 New York Giants also won a title with their solid rotation.
Neither the 1979-1982 A’s, the 1967-69 Giants, nor the 1967-69 A’s won a pennant, though the 1981 A’s did advance to the postseason. The 1977-78 Dodgers and 1979 Orioles each lost the World Series despite the stability of their five-man staffs.
Six of these teams had at least one Hall of Famer in their rotation: Mathewson and McGinnity (1904-1907 Giants); Plank and Bender (1909-1911 A’s); Perry and Marichal (1967-69 Giants); Hunter (1967-1969 A’s); Sutton (1976-1978 Dodgers); and Palmer (1979-1981 Orioles).
Only the 1979-1982 Oakland A’s did not have a Hall of Famer in their stable rotation. That was a young five-man staff that manager Billy Martin overused. Within a few years most of them succumbed to arm injuries and were out of the game.
Dan Holmes is an author and baseball historian. He previously worked for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum and Major League Baseball. He once defeated George Brett in Texas Hold Em poker and faced Phil Niekro's knuckleball. He has two daughters and he writes regularly about baseball and many other topics.