You could make a strong argument that Stan Coveleski is the most unappreciated Hall of Fame pitcher. Few fans have ever heard of him, unless they are hard core baseball nuts. It would be hard to say he’s underrated, because no one really remembers him much. Occasionally his name will pop up in Cleveland. But “Covey” was a fantastic pitcher, and the numbers bear that out.
His statistics match up well against many of the bigger name pitchers of his era. Even though he was born less than two years after Walter Johnson and Pete Alexander, by the time Coveleski won his 20th game in the majors, the two of them had well over 100. Coveleski didn’t start pitching regularly in the big leagues until he was 26 years old. There were several reasons for that:
- Even for his era, Coveleski was small – 5’10 or 5’11 but just 160 pounds in his early 20s. His small build kept many scouts away.†On at least two occasions, Coveleski’s brothers (two of whom played pro ball, one in the majors) were more highly scouted than Stan.
- The right-hander didn’t throw particularly hard in an era where Johnson and Smoky Joe Wood were drawing lots of attention for tossing the fastball.
- Connie Mack had tried him out briefly in 1912 and determined the young righty needed more seasoning. He was sent (sort of hidden by the Athletics manager) to the west coast to learn how to pitch. Mack retained his rights, but with him way out west, other clubs didn’t pay him much attention. Eventually, even Mack forgot about him and his rights were forfeited.
- Stan didn’t learn his best pitch – the spitball – until about 1914 and he didn’t perfect it right away.
- Once he started to pitch well for Portland in the Pacific Coast League, he got comfortable earning a pretty good salary, making more than what he would have as a rookie in the majors.
At any rate, in 1916 the Cleveland Indians purchased Coveleski from Portland and the rest is history. Armed with his spitter, which he doctored with alum, a substance famously used in that era to help shrink cucumbers into pickles, Coveleski immediately made an impact in the major leagues. He won 15 games his rookie season and the next year his 1.81 ERA was third in the American League. He won 20 games in four straight seasons, and in 1920 he was – along with Tris Speaker – the primary reason the Tribe won their first World Series. That year the spitballer won 24 games, completed 26 of his starts, saved two games, pitched 315 innings, led the league in fewest hits and baserunners per game, and the non-strikeout pitcher even led the league in K’s. In the Fall Classic he was a monster – he pitched three complete game victories, allowing just two runs, 15 hits, and two walks.
Like many spitball pitchers, Coveleski got better with age, mastering the pitch even more. He led the AL twice in ERA after the age of 32. He helped the Senators to the pennant in 1925, winning 20 games. All the while, Coveleski pitched well above league average – keeping his ERA 40-50% below the AL norm in several seasons. In all, his career ERA+ is a shining 127 – one of the best marks for pitchers who had their primes in the 1920s. Waite Hoyt and Red Ruffing, two Hall of Famers far more famous because they pitched for the Yankees, had marks of 112 and 109, for example.
Despite not getting his break in the majors until he was 26, Covey won 215 games. He was a winner – posting a .602 percentage – a mark about 10 points better than the team’s he pitched for. He had brilliant control – he once pitched into the 7th inning of a game without throwing a ball.
He was finally elected to the Hall of Fame in 1969, when he was 80 years old. That same season he was chosen for the Indians 100th anniversary all-time team.
Did you know?
In just his seventh game in the big leagues, Stan Coveleski hit a home run. He would pitch 443 more games in the majors, completing more than half of his starts, but he would never hit another homer.