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Bob Caruthers

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Bob Caruthers

A photo of Bob Caruthers.

Robert Lee Caruthers (January 5 1864 - August 5 1911), nicknamed "Parisian Bob," was an American right-handed pitcher and right fielder in Major League Baseball who played primarily for the St. Louis Browns and Brooklyn Bridegrooms. The star pitcher on five league champions in a ten-year career, he was the top pitcher in the American Association, leading that league in wins and shutouts twice each, winning percentage three times, and earned run average once. His 175 wins in the Association were the second most of any pitcher, and his league ERA of 2.62 was the lowest of any pitcher with at least 2000 innings in the league; he was also the only pitcher to have 40-win seasons for two different Association teams. His career winning percentage was the highest of any pitcher prior to 1950 with at least 250 decisions; some sources recognize him as having compiled the highest winning percentage of any pitcher with at least 200 decisions (and retired as of 2006) in major league history.

Born in Memphis, Tennessee, Caruthers debuted with a 4-hitter for the Browns in late 1884, and the following year led the team to its first pennant. He led the league in wins (40), ERA (2.07), shutouts (6) and winning percentage (.755) in 1885, and was 30-14 for the 1886 champions after a lengthy contract dispute which he conducted from Paris, earning him his nickname. In 1886 he also played right field when not pitching, batting .334 to place him among the league's top five hitters, and leading the league in on base percentage. On August 16 of that year, he became the fourth pitcher to hit two home runs in a game, while also getting a double and a triple; after the last he was thrown out at the plate, ending the game, in trying for a third home run. In 1887, despite battling malaria, he again led the league in winning percentage with a 29-9 record as the Browns won their third consecutive title; he also batted .357 with 73 runs batted in, while finishing second in the league in slugging average for the second consecutive year.

After the team's 1887 postseason loss, during which the team was criticized for its recreational activities, his contract was sold to Brooklyn by team owner Chris von der Ahe, who largely blamed Caruthers, an expert billiards and poker player, for the failure. He posted a record of 29-15 in 1888, though his batting average dropped to .230; in 1889 he again led the league in wins (40), shutouts (7) and winning percentage (.784) as the team captured its first title, but rarely played in the field when not pitching. Brooklyn changed leagues following the 1889 season, joining the National League. Caruthers' 175 wins during six Association seasons would stand as the second-best total in the league's ten-year existence, behind Tony Mullane's 203 wins in seven seasons; Caruthers' league ERA of 2.62 was the best of any pitcher with at least 2000 innings, and put him behind only Ed Morris and Will White among those with 1500 innings.

In 1890, Caruthers posted a record of 23-11 as Brooklyn won the NL title in their first season in the league; he also saw considerable playing time in left field and batted .265. In 1891 his record slipped to 18-14, and he played only occasionally in right field though he hit .281. In 1892 he returned to the Browns, who had joined the NL that season in a league merger; it marked his last season as a pitcher as he earned only two victories, though he played regularly in right field, hitting .277 with 69 RBI. He also managed the team for the final third of the season, compiling a 16-32 record. In 1893 the pitching distance was increased from 50 feet to 60 feet 6 inches, and after playing one game in center field with the Chicago Colts, he ended his Major League career with several games in right field for the Cincinnati Reds. He continued to play in the minor leagues until 1898, and later became an American League umpire in 1902 and 1903. During his career he threw 298 career complete games among his 310 starts, including 24 shutouts, and had a career ERA of 2.83 in 2828 2/3 innings pitched. He also batted .282 lifetime with 29 home runs and 259 RBI. He was the only 19th-century pitcher to lead the league in winning percentage three times.

Caruthers is often considered one of the most deserving candidates for the Baseball Hall of Fame. Many sources recognize him as having compiled 218 wins and 99 losses, making his .688 winning percentage 5th all-time behind Pedro Martínez, Whitey Ford, Dave Foutz (his teammate for eight seasons) and Tim Hudson among pitchers with at least 200 major league decisions. However, that is based on a total of 10 losses in the 1892 season (his last as a pitcher), a total revised from the contemporary record; the official league records for that year, which are recognized by Major League Baseball, charged him with only 8 losses, a figure which some other sources also recognize. The reduction of two losses would increase his career winning percentage to .691, which would place him behind only Martínez (through the 2005 season).

Caruthers died in Peoria, Illinois at age 47.

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Preceded by:

Henry Porter
Mickey Hughes
Brooklyn Bridegrooms
Opening Day
Starting pitcher

Succeeded by:

Mickey Hughes
George Hemming
Preceded by:
George Gore
St. Louis Browns Manager
Succeeded by:
Bill Watkins

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