White Sox Feats of Strength: Jack Harshman's 16-inning shutout

The lanky lefty went the distance AND the extra mile on Aug. 13, 1954, and baseball hasn't seen another start like it since.

Nineteen days after he set a White Sox record with 16 strikeouts, Jack Harshman was back at making history, this time posting that same number in a different column of the box score.

On Aug. 13, 1954, over the course of three hours, 50 minutes and an estimated 245 pitches, Harshman emerged the victor in a 1-0, 16-inning marathon over the Detroit Tigers. There will likely never be a more deserved victory.

The script could have easily been flipped. Detroit starter Al Aber, who outpitched Harshman for stretches of the game, was tagged with the hard-luck loss after 15 shutout innings of his own. He kept the Sox hitless over a six-inning stretch, and allowed just 12 baserunners (nine hits, three walks) over the course of the afternoon.

Harshman had to work harder than Aber ...

Pitching IP H R ER BB SO HR ERA BF GSc
Jack Harshman, W (10-6) 16 9 0 0 7 12 0 3.02 65 109

... but that only makes it more noteworthy. We'll get to that in a bit.

First, how it ended: Chico Carrasquel started the 16th with a single, but was forced out at second on a unsuccessful bunt attempt by Nellie Fox (what?). The base didn't matter, because Minnie Minoso smoked a triple down the right-field line. Fox beat the relay home, and he might have had some help. From the Chicago Tribune's recap on Aug. 14:

[Minoso's] low liner on Aber's first pitch hit the dust a few feet back of first base, fair by only inches, curved and caromed off the wall in front of the right field box seats.

An usher, seated down the right field line for foul ball patrol duty, started for it, but it sped past him. Al Kaline juggled the ball momentarily and Fox beat the relay to the plate by Reno Peter Bertoia, rookie second baseman.

Fred Hutchinson, Detroit manager, argued with Umpire Ed Runge that the usher had interfered with Kaline fielding the ball. Had he won the debate, it would have been an automatic double restricting Fox to third base.

Three things about this:

  1. Remember how Minoso was a rare hitter with opposite-field power in that day? Well, there you go.
  2. In his previous trip to the plate, Minoso bunted Fox to second after a leadoff single. Never mind that Minoso was the only guy resembling a slugger on the team.
  3. Ed Runge is the grandfather of current MLB umpire Brian Runge.

Minoso's big hit was even more impressive considering he was playing with a bad thumb, which he aggravated earlier in the game with a wallbanger catch in left field.

Minnie's game-winning triple was the only extra-base hit by the White Sox. Aber held Chicago to a single here and a walk there. They did mount a couple threats with Aber's help, but they didn't really square up the ball. In fact, outside of Minoso, the only other White Sox to put a real charge into a ball was Harshman himself:

Until Minoso's finisher, Harshman had given the fans their biggest batting thrill. After Johnny Groth singled with two out in the 10th, first hit since the fourth off Aber, Jack sent Kaline near the wall in right center. A wind blowing toward left field kept the ball from going in.

As cool as that would've been, it would have rendered his gem a "mere" 10-inning shutout. The again, Harshman's toiling is glossed over with surprisingly little detail.

The Tribune and Sporting News had their reasons. For one, Aber went toe-to-toe with Harshman, so it was a pitching duel rather than a one-man show. Likewise, 16 innings had been done before in the decade, and by a White Sox pitcher. Saul Rogovin threw 17 innings in the second game of a doubleheader against Boston on July 12, 1951, and then threw 15 innings on Sept. 14 the following year.

The final month of the 1950s saw one more Harshman-like effort, with Billy Pierce throwing the first 16 innings of a 1-1 tie against Baltimore on Aug. 6, 1959. People certainly noticed the load Harshman carried, but it didn't make an immediate immortal out of him.

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He stands out further when considering that he completed a shutout. He's one of only five men to throw a 16-inning shutout since 1918, and only four in the modern era. He has some bigger names among his peer group:

This was Meal Ticket at his peak. He won the MVP that year by going 23-12 with a 1.66 ERA over 309 innings, and this was his masterpiece. You have to feel bad for St. Louis' Tex Carleton, who matched him over 16 innings before yielding to Jesse Haines, who couldn't keep up.

(While we're talking about 16-inning, non-complete games -- Gaylord Perry threw 16 scoreless innings in a 21-inning game in 1967.

This one doesn't really count, because this is still dead-ball action. After beating the White Sox with an 18-inning shutout, Big Train lowered his ERA to 0.98 ... with a record of 6-4. He finished the year with a league-leading 1.27 ERA, and still lost 13 games. But we're listing it for three reasons:

  1. Lefty Williams, one of the future Eight Men Out, went the distance in defeat, carrying a shutout through 17 himself.
  2. Even though he suffered the loss, Williams' game score (109) matches Harshman's for the franchise's highest.
  3. Any time you can list a Walter Johnson start as a comparable performance, you do it and you make no apologies.

Hubbell's shutout has this one beat, though.

We're barely into the Live Ball Era here, and the Pirates, whom Benton shut out, hadn't made the jump. They combined for only 16 homers as a team, and finished last in the National League with an team OPS+ of 82. Strong pitching kept Pittsburgh afloat, including efforts by Earl Hamilton, who threw 16 shutout innings before collapsing and allowing seven runs in the 17th.

What is it about July 2? Anyway, Marichal allowing just eight hits and four walks while going the distance against the Hank Aaron-led Milwaukee Braves. It was an incredibly long distance, because Warren Spahn threw 15 shutout inning himself.

Walker went 37-44 over eight big-league seasons, but he had a game to remember against the Go-Go Sox, throwing 16 shutout innings for Harshman's old manager, Paul Richards, at Memorial Stadium. Gerry Staley gave up the losing run in his seventh inning of relief.

Look at the names checked off here -- Hubbell, Johnson, Perry, Marichal, Spahn -- and it's evident that Harshman had a game for the ages, regardless of the era.

And Harshman's shutout beats them all in one regard, too.

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Thanks to his seven walks, Harshman ended up facing 65 batters without allowing a run, a feat that hasn't been matched before or since in the live-ball era, and maybe before (Play Index only dates back to 1918).

Lots of guys have faced more than 65 batters in game. Harshman isn't even close to the franchise record, as Ted Lyons holds the White Sox mark with 85 over 21 innings in a 6-5 loss to Detroit in 1929. But Harshman is the only guy to give the opponent that many chances and escaped unscathed, which is incredible.

That 65 batters might be his most enduring feat, because nobody has matched him since. Pittsburgh's Vern Law faced 64 the next year, and only two guys faced even 60 batters since -- Pierce in the aforementioned 18-inning tie, and Washington's Tom Cheney, who threw a 16-inning complete game in 1962.

It's pretty much a certainty that Harshman is baseball's last 65-batter pitcher. In this century/millennium, Chris Carpenter endured the most battles when he went the distance for the Blue Jays in a 6-1 loss to Florida on June 9, 2001.

He faced 42 batters.

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Postscript

You would think a 16-inning shutout would earn a guy a bit of a breather, but the Tigers would see Harshman again ... before the end of the series. Two days later, Harshman pitched the final two innings of a doubleheader. After the Sox lost the first game, they rallied late in the second game to narrow the Tigers' lead to 8-7. The Sox couldn't salvage a split, but it wasn't Harshman's fault. He posted two more zeroes, running his scoreless innings streak to 30, and he stretched it to 34 before the Orioles touched him up for three runs on Aug. 19.

Harshman still won that game, the fourth of seven consecutive victories which finally gave him an established spot int he rotation.

I'm going to hold off saying more, because I'm going to save some stuff for an upcoming Hall of Fame Library Player File piece on him. I went to Cooperstown on Wednesday and came away with a few more fascinating notes about his career, filling in the gaps around the two of the greatest games any White Sox pitcher has twirled.

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