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Smallthoughts: Old School Tuesday …Ken Holtzman

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He was the only pitcher since the 1880s to throw two no-hitters for the Cubs, and was one of the principal pitchers on Oakland’s championship teams from 1972 to 1975. Through 2010, his 174 career victories are the most in the major leagues by a Jewish pitcher (ahead of Sandy Koufax). His 1,601 strikeouts are second (behind Koufax) and his 451 games are second (behind Scott Schoeneweis). His 3.49 ERA is fifth (behind Scott Radinsky).[1] He held the record for most pitching appearances by a Jewish pitcher until 1998.

On August 19, 1969, he pitched his first no-hitter at Wrigley Field against the eventual Western Division champion Atlanta Braves, winning 3–0 on Ron Santo‘s 3-run home run and outdueling the Braves’ Phil Niekro. Holtzman had no strikeouts in the game. This was the first no-hitter by a Cub left-hander at Wrigley Field[2] and the second no-hitter ever thrown without a strikeout (Sad Sam Jones on September 4, 1923 [7]), a feat that has not been equaled since.[8] In the 7th inning, Hank Aaron hit a drive to center field but the wind held up the ball enabling Billy Williams to catch the long fly ball at the wall. Holtzman faced Aaron again in the 9th, and got him to ground out to complete the no-hitter. The Cubs led the Eastern Division for much of the season before finishing in 2nd place, 8 games behind the New York Mets.

In 1970 Holtzman had his best year with the Cubs, with a 17–11 record and a 3.38 ERA, and finished 3rd in the NL in starts (38), 5th in both strikeouts (202) and innings pitched (287⅔), 6th in complete games (15), and 9th in wins.

On June 3, 1971, Holtzman pitched a no-hitter—the first ever at Riverfront Stadium — against the defending league champion Cincinnati Reds, winning the game 1–0 during what would prove to be his final year with the Cubs. In doing so, he became the first Cubs pitcher since Larry Corcoran (who had three from 1880 to 1884) to have two no-hitters for the team.

Holtzman asked to be traded at the end of the 1971 season, so he was dealt to the Oakland Athletics in November in exchange for outfielder Rick Monday. This was just as Oakland began its run of three consecutive World Series championships.[6]

Joining a staff that featured Vida Blue and Catfish Hunter, he won 19 games in 1972 (7th in the AL) and was named to the All-Star team for the first time.[3] He lost Game 3 of the 1972 American League Championship Series against the Detroit Tigers as opposing pitcher Joe Coleman set an ALCS record with 14 strikeouts. After Oakland won the ALCS in five games, Holtzman won Game 1 of the World Series against the Reds. He started Game 4, but left in the eighth inning with a 1–0 lead and a runner on third base. The Reds scored twice to take the lead, but Oakland scored twice in the ninth inning to win 3–2. He relieved Hunter in the eighth inning of Game 7 with a 3–1 lead, but after surrendering a double to Joe Morgan he was replaced by Rollie Fingers. The A’s hung on for a 3–2 win, taking their first Series title since 1930 (when the team was located in Philadelphia).

In 1973 Holtzman led the A’s with a 2.97 ERA (6th best in the league) as each of their three top starters won 20 or more games. He was again an All-Star, going 21–13 in 40 starts (his 21 wins 4th-best in the AL) with 157 strikeouts. Over the next 33 years only two other left-handers had as many starts in a season. In the 1973 ALCS against the Baltimore Orioles, he won an 11-inning 2–1 duel against Mike Cuellar in Game 3 when Bert Campaneris homered to lead off the last inning. He started three times in the 1973 World Series against the Mets, winning Game 1 by a 2–1 score. He lasted only ⅓ of an inning in Game 4, departing after a 3-run homer by Rusty Staub, which was followed by two more base runners. He recovered to win Game 7, leaving in the 6th inning with a 5–1 lead as the A’s took the game 5–2 and their second straight title. In both his victories, he also scored the first run for the A’s.[4]

Despite posting better or equal numbers with Catfish Hunter in 1973, Holtzman was not among the ten AL pitchers that year to receive votes in Cy Young Award considerations, while Hunter finished third. Holtzman would never earn so much as a single Cy Young or MVP vote in his entire career.

He again won 19 games in 1974, but this time endured 17 losses despite his 3.07 ERA, which ranked 11th in the League. Facing the Orioles in the 1974 ALCS, he pitched a 5–0 shutout in Game 2, taking a one-hitter into the eighth inning and allowing only five singles. Against the Los Angeles Dodgers in the World Series, he started Game 1 but was pulled in the fifth inning with a 2–1 lead; the A’s went on to win 3–2. He won Game 4 by a 5–2 score, hitting a home run off Andy Messersmith (the designated hitter was not yet in use in World Series play) in the third inning for a 1–0 lead. During the nine years in which he batted regularly during the season, he had only 2 home runs. Oakland went on to win Game 5, becoming the first team since the 1949–53 Yankees to win three consecutive World Series.

Holtzman had an 18–14 record for the 1975 A’s as they won the American League‘s Western Division. On June 8 of that year, against the Detroit Tigers, he had what would have been his third career no-hitter broken up with two out in the ninth by a Tom Veryzer double. He would have become the third pitcher (after Cy Young and Jim Bunning) to pitch no-hitters in both leagues. Holtzman lost Games 1 and 3 of the ALCS to the Boston Red Sox as the A’s were swept. He was 4th in the AL in games started (38), 6th in hits allowed per 9 innings pitched (7.33), and 7th in wins.

Holtzman was traded to the Orioles along with Reggie Jackson and Bill Van Bommell in April 1976 for Don Baylor, Mike Torrez, and Paul Mitchell. In June 1976 he was traded by the Orioles with Doyle Alexander, Jimmy Freeman, Ellie Hendricks, and Grant Jackson to the New York Yankees for Rudy May, Tippy Martinez, Dave Pagan, Scott McGregor, and Rick Dempsey.

He posted a 12–10 record for the Yankees over three years, but his playing time was increasingly limited. He did not appear in the 1976 or 1977 postseasons with New York.

In June 1978, after making 5 appearances, he was traded by the Yankees to the Chicago Cubs for Ron Davis. He ended his career with Chicago in 1979, going 6–9 with a 4.59 ERA.

Over 15 years he had a record of 174–150 with a 3.49 ERA, 1,601 strikeouts, and 31 shutouts in 451 games and 2,867⅓ innings. He held batters to a .220 batting average with 2 outs and runners in scoring position. His 80 victories with Chicago were the fourth most by a left-hander, behind Hippo Vaughn (151), Larry French (95), and Dick Ellsworth (84). He received four votes in Baseball Hall of Fame voting in 1985, and 5 in 1986.

Smallthoughts: Old School Tuesday salutes …Ken Holtzman

MLB debut
September 4, 1965 for the Chicago Cubs
Last MLB appearance
September 19, 1979 for the Chicago Cubs
Career statistics
Win–loss record 174–150
Earned run average 3.49
Strikeouts 1,601
Teams
Career highlights and awards
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