John Wyatt: 81 in ‘64

John Wyatt had the best season of his career while pitching for the Kansas City Athletics in Municipal Stadium. (via Missouri State Archives)

What can you say about a team that finishes in last (10th) place with a record of 57-105?  I speak of the Kansas City Athletics of 1964. Believe it or not, the news wasn’t all bad.

At age 30, Rocky Colavito (34 HR, 102 RBIs) and Jim Gentile (28 HR, 71 RBIs) both were still productive hitters.  The rest of the roster was lackluster – but with an asterisk, as a number of young players (e.g., Dick Green, Ed Charles, Bert Campaneris, Ken Harrelson, Dave Duncan, Diego Segui, Ken Sanders, Blue Moon Odom, Jack Aker) eventually fashioned respectable careers.

Since the A’s starting pitching staff left something to be desired (4.71 composite ERA, last in the AL), it’s no surprise the bullpen was a busy place.  The A’s best option was Wes Stock, who pitched 93 innings in 50 games (no starts) with a 1.94 ERA.

As good as Stock was, he only saved five games.  Admittedly, saves were hard to come by, as the A’s did not often take leads into the ninth inning.  Yet another A’s pitcher managed to garner 20 saves, which placed him fourth in the AL.  That would be John Wyatt, who finished the season at 9-8 with a 3.59 ERA in 128 innings.  Like Stock, all of his appearances were as a reliever.

Wyatt’s record might not sound overly impressive, but he was good enough during the first half of the season to be named to the All-Star team for the only time in his career. (Unfortunately, his one-inning stint was marred by solo home runs by Billy Williams and Ken Boyer.)  During the regular season, however, Wyatt was no one-inning-and-done reliever.  In fact, he pitched three innings or more 10 times.

Wyatt, who started his pro career as a member of the Indianapolis Clowns of the Negro American League, was a 27-year-old rookie in 1962 when he appeared in 59 games, nine of which he started.  As it turned out, they were the only starting appearances of his career.  His rookie season was a winning one (10-7), albeit with a 4.46 ERA in 125 innings.  In 1963, he dropped his ERA to 3.13, and by 1964 he had attained some security in his profession.  (The Kansas City A’s traded him away during the 1966 season, but at age 34 he returned for a brief curtain call with the Oakland A’s in 1969.)

In 1964, as in every season, someone has to lead the league in appearances.  When all was said and done, Wyatt led the way with 81 (right behind him with 79 was the Red Sox’ Dick Radatz, who led the league in saves with 29).

As lousy as the A’s were in 1964, it’s understandable that Wyatt’s appearance at the top of the leader board passed under the radar.  Most appearances by a pitcher in a season is not one of the sexier stats out there, but Wyatt didn’t just the league in appearances — it was the first time in MLB history a pitcher appeared in half of his team’s games. So of course it was also the record for most appearances by a pitcher in a season.

Of course, relievers were becoming more and more prominent in MLB, so it was just a matter of time before someone hit the halfway mark.  In fact, Wyatt’s record was eclipsed the following season when Ted Abernathy of the Cubs appeared in 84 games.  Just four years later (1969), Wayne Granger of the Reds was the first pitcher to hit 90.

Well, much like Roger Bannister breaking the four-minute mile, once Wyatt broached the barrier, numerous others followed in his wake.  In fact, Wyatt’s 81 appearances in 1964 tie him with numerous others for 76th place on the career leader board for appearances.  In fact, the 81-game mark now has been reached 101 times.

Since Wyatt’s breakthrough, a number of pitchers have eclipsed the 81-game benchmark more than once.  The leader in this regard is another late bloomer, Kent Tekulve, a 27-year-old rookie in 1974.  Tekulve did it four times, three seasons with the Pirates (91 in 1978, 94 in 1979, 85 in 1982) and one season with the Phillies (90 in 1987).

Tekulve surpassed the 90-game mark three times, but he has company in that regard.  Mike Marshall appeared in 90 games with the Twins in 1999, and 92 games with the Expos in 1973.  His all-world year was with the Dodgers in 1974 when he appeared in 106 games.  He remains the only pitcher in MLB history to appear in 100 or more games in one season.  His record of 15-12 in 208.1 innings might lead one to believe he was a starter, yet he did not start one game in 1974.  In fact, Marshall was the first reliever to be awarded a Cy Young Award.  Out of his 724 career appearances, only 24 were starting assignments.

To date, four other pitchers pitched in 81 or more games per season three times.  All are left-handers.  Mike Stanton is one of them (81 in 1996 with the Red Sox and Rangers, 83 with the Mets in 2004, and 82 with the Nationals and Giants in 2006), which should be no surprise, as he is No. 2 on the all-time list with 1,178 appearances.  What is surprising is that not once during his long career (1989-2007) did he ever lead the league in appearances.

Southpaw Pedro Feliciano surpassed 81 three years in a row from 2008-2010.  Coming out of the bullpen for the Mets, he led the league each season (86, 88, 92, respectively).  In each of those seasons, however, he averaged less than one inning pitched per game (53.1, 59.1, and 62.2, respectively).  Altogether, he appeared in 459 games for the Mets.  For his efforts, he was rewarded with the nickname “Perpetual Pedro.”  Only John Franco pitched in more games (695) for the Mets.

A Hardball Times Update
Goodbye for now.

Steve Kline also scored a threepeat (82 in 1999 and 83 in 2000 with the Expos, and 89 in 2001 with the Cardinals).  Like Feliciano, his IP totals each season were fewer than his appearances, but he came close in 2000 when he tossed 82.1 frames.

The fourth left-hander to hit the trifecta is Paul Quantrill, who came within one appearance of doing it four times.  In 2001, he made 80 appearances to lead the league.  He soared past 81 the next three seasons (86 and 89 for the Dodgers in 2002 and 20003, and 86 for the Yankees in 2004).  Unlike his cohorts above, he had more innings than appearances.  In 2004 he logged 95.1 IP while accruing those 86 appearances.

Without going into more detail, let’s also mention in passing pitchers who hit 81 or more appearances twice: Salomon Torres, Mike Myers, Peter Moylan, Scott Eyre, Ray King, Scott Proctor, Luis Ayala, and J.C. Romero.

Marshall’s record number of appearances may be unbreakable.  Even though crossing the 81-game threshold has become more common, his appearance total seems safe thanks to pitch counts and “overworked” pitchers being shut down (so-and-so is “not available” for tonight’s game) periodically.

At any rate, it’s no longer news when a pitcher appears in half or more of his team’s games.  After 1964, Wyatt never led the league in appearances or came close to 81 games again, but there’s nothing magical about that number.  Obviously, no manager would bring a pitcher in from the bullpen 81-plus times if he was incompetent, but appearing in that many games doesn’t automatically indicate an outstanding season.  Wyatt’s best season was 1967 when he came out of the bullpen “only” 60 times for the pennant-winning Red Sox and garnered 10 victories and 20 saves.  His ERA was almost one full run (2.60 vs. 3.59) better than in 1964.

Understandably, after more than half a century, Wyatt’s 1964 breakthrough has gone down the memory hole.  Lest we forget: No matter how many pitchers land on the 81-plus list, Johnny Wyatt got there first.

The rest are Johnny-come-latelies.  Or is it Johnnies-come-lately?

References & Resources

  • 1001 Fascinating Baseball Facts, by David Nemec and Pete Palmer, Longmeadow Press (Stamford, CT, 1994)
  • John Wyatt SABR  Biography by Andrew Blume

Frank Jackson writes about baseball, film and history, sometimes all at once. He has has visited 54 major league parks, many of which are still in existence.
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4 years ago

Quantrill was a righty.

Dennis Bedard
4 years ago

Nice article Frank. Wyatt not only was a member of the ’67 Red Sox, he won game 6 of the WS against St. Louis even though he gave up 2 runs in 1 2/3 innings. I am just guessing but I think he was the 4th black pitcher to win a WS game, behind Joe Black, Gibson, and Mudcat Grant. And speaking of the ’64 A’s, if anyone wants a funny quick history of how zany it was playing for them, Ken Harrelson does a nice job of it in his autobiography, Hawk.

4 years ago

Great article,
was a 12 year old Dodger fan in 74′ seemed like Iron Mike was in every game. Only TV games other than NBC/post season were Sunday Road games/road games in SF. For that record setting Cy Young season Mike earned $87,500.
Any experts know the date of the Muni Stadium photo? with the banners has to be an Allstar Game(1960) or opening day. Saw first MLB game there 6-11-72, Royals/Yankees, a Sunday “Cap Day” game, Royals won 1-0 in 2 Hours(when was last 2 hour 9 inning game?) Dick Drago went the distance, Yankee pitcher went 7 with Sparky Lyle finishing. Neither team was very good in 72′, but foundations of later success for both
played that day…


4 years ago

“A history of the first hurler to appear in half his team’s games.” Er, you mean in the modern era, right? In the old days, *everybody’s* main pitcher pitched at least half of his team’s games!