I became an Urban Faber fan a long time ago, based essentially on two things:
- Urban Faber was a great ballplayer
- Urban Faber had a great name
Between them, that was pretty much enough.
He also had the nickname, “Red,” to which he is often referred, on the off-chance that he is referred to at all anymore. But frankly, “Urban” is much cooler than “Red” today, and I’m guessing it probably was back in his day, too, even among other guys with names like “Honus.” “Urban Faber” sounds like a character in a Dickens novel, or the secret identity of a Golden Age comics hero.
But for American League batters in the early decades of the last century, Faber’s identity was no secret. Nor were his heroics. Urban Faber was a badass on the mound, and everybody knew it.
The big picture stuff is pretty well known, to the extent Faber is still known:
- Faber spent his entire career, from 1914-33, with the Chicago White Sox.
- He finished his career with a W-L record of 254-213, and a career ERA of 3.15.
- He threw 273 complete games, and struck out 1,471 batters while walking 1,213.
- He won three games in the 1917 World Series, with an ERA of 2.33. (see: Flags, flying)
- He avoided any implication in the 1919 Black Sox scandal by being injured and unable to pitch, which is likely a big factor in his career lasting until 1933.
- He was the last legal spitballer to spend his entire career in the AL, which is also likely a big factor in his career lasting until 1933.
- He is still in the Top 40 all-time for pitchers, with a 68.5 career WAR.
- He is still in the Top 50 all-time in wins.
- He is still in the Top 40 all-time in IP.
- As a Mark Buehrle predecessor: He is 16th all-time in assists for a pitcher.
- Sadly, it took until 1964 for Faber to be elected to the Hall of Fame, by the Veterans’ Committee. Thankfully, he was still alive to enjoy it, living until the age of 88 and dying in 1976.
In 1921, Faber had one of the greatest ever years for a Sox pitcher:
- 25-15, with a 2.48 ERA
- 330 2⁄3 IP (yes, three hundred thirty-two and change)
- 10 HRs allowed (yes, 10)
- 32 complete games out of 39 starts (and actually pitched in relief four times)
- 170 ERA+
- 11.3 bWAR (see Brett’s article on greatest individual WAR seasons, where Faber finished 11th and 12th, with his 1921 and 1922 seasons.
- In 1922, his WAR fell to 9.4. Heh.
Urban Faber was a badass on the mound.
Here’s some stuff about Faber that I find interesting, and you might, too:
- His nickname was “Red,” which makes him the rare individual whose real name is more fun and interesting than his nickname.
- Even his middle name, Clarence, is arguably more fun and interesting than “Red.”
- A man named Urban was born on a farm.
- He was bilingual, speaking primarily German at home and school. (For those unfamiliar, a lot of the Midwest had bilingual German-English schools prior to 1917, when it became patriotically troublesome.)
- Faber enlisted in 1918, apparently fluent enough in English that nobody questioned his patriotism. He served in the Navy, but never left the states, serving his stint at the Great Lakes Naval Base, conveniently located near his home ballpark.
- Returning to fun names, he was “discovered,” while pitching for prep and semi-pro teams in Iowa, by Pants Rowland (also a “Clarence”). This is before Pants managed the White Sox himself.
- Faber was originally signed by the Pittsburg Pirates and made their opening day roster in 1911, but never pitched for them.
- The Pirates sent him to Minneapolis, where he proceeded to injure himself showing off in a distance throwing contest, get himself released, and learn how to throw a spitball
- Faber signed with the White Sox just in time to go on the 1913-14 world tour the Sox and Giants took.
- Faber actually pitched, though — for the Giants. When Christy Mathewson backed out of the tour at the last minute, Chuck Comiskey graciously suggested Faber to take his place.
- Faber beat the White Sox four times during the tour.
- Speaking of Chuck, he became so fond of Faber that he named a moose after him. (Chuck owned a game preserve in Wisconsin, you see.)
- What’s more, Red Faber the moose was shot in 1916, leading to a very confusing newspaper headline in the Chicago Tribune clarifying that the gunshot victim was the moose, not the pitcher.
After Faber’s 1920s high points, where he singlehandedly kept a horrible, Black Sox-ruined team from being a complete waste of a terrific ballpark, Faber went into a slow decline. He was still a good pitcher for quite a while, but never again a truly great one. He was a positive WAR pitcher to the very end, but never came close to his previous heights, peaking at 3.8 WAR in 1929. He still managed, though, to compile 1.8 WAR while pitching in 36 games, 34 of them out of the bullpen, in 1933. He was 45 at the time.
Upon retirement, like most ballplayers of his day, Faber still had to go find work, and Faber sold cars and real estate for a few years before newly appointed White Sox manager, still kinda, sorta active pitcher, and fellow great Ted Lyons hired Faber as the team’s pitching coach in 1946. His staff’s performance wasn’t half bad, though the team as a whole was not much to write home about, going 74-80. His 1947 staff was about the same, even with Lyons fully retired, but the team as a whole remained exactly the same, with an identical 74-80 record. In his final season as pitching coach, 1948, the staff cratered, along with the rest of the team. (Perhaps you might remember their 51–101 record from Brett’s Race to the Bottom articles earlier this year, and perhaps you might want to show the 2018 Sox a little more love?)
Once out of baseball for good, Faber lived a fairly quiet life.
- In 1920, at the age of 32, he married 22 year-old Margaret Walsh, who he initially met coming to her rescue after she had been hit by car on the streets of Chicago (can’t find which one). Margaret provided some challenges, having chronic health problems that seem to have led to her addiction to painkillers (the more things change …), and there were rumors of dalliances with a couple of Urban’s teammates. Regardless of all, they stayed married until her death in 1943.
- Faber married again in 1947, when he was 58 and his lovely bride, Frances Knudtzon was a tender 29.*
- Faber’s only child, little Urban Clarence II was born the following year.
In the mid-1950s, Faber went to work with the Cook County (Chicago) Highway Department. He stayed there for the rest of his (long) working life, serving on surveying crews until he was nearly 80.
After he retired, Faber became one of the founders of Baseball Anonymous, an organization set up to aid former ballplayers who were down on their luck. Adding nearly 700 members in its first year, Baseball Anonymous provided a number of useful services and came to the rescue of a good many former players.
In 1958, with Faber as its general chairman, Baseball Anonymous held a ceremony in Comiskey Park ceremony to honor and benefit his fellow former White Sox pitching great Ed Walsh, who was 77 at the time, and struggling physically and financially.
Faber suffered mutitple heart attacks in the mid-1960s, and had increasing heart and respiratory issues thereafter, for the rest of his life. He died at home on Sept. 25, 1976, at the age of 88. Young, vivacious wife Frances died in 1992.
Interestingly, Faber’s grave marker in Acacia Park Cemetery in Chicago lists his Navy service, but it makes no mention of his baseball career.
It appears that Faber is one of those lucky sorts who lived a fascinating life while being a perfectly happy, boring, ordinary person. I’ve recently ordered myself a copy of his biography, written by Brian Cooper, who wrote the SABR article that was one of the sources of this thumbnail. Once I get it read, I’ll let you all know if it turns out he was secretly an ass or something.
- Red Faber, Society of American Baseball Research (Brian Cooper). https://sabr.org/bioproj/person/a6dff769
- Red Faber pages at Baseball Reference. https://www.baseball-reference.com/players/f/faberre01.shtml
- Red Faber page at the National Baseball Hall of Fame https://baseballhall.org/hall-of-famers/faber-red
- Red Faber at Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Red_Faber
Yes, every damned one of these list him as “Red,” not Urban. Screw ‘em. Urban is still a much cooler name than f-ing “Red.”
*Curious Google search note:
According to the Urban Dictionary, a “Faber” is a self-proclaimed a “good girl.” Likes to have a good time with older gentlemen. The kind of girl you stay up at night thinking about. Extremely beautiful and smart. Ticklish all over. (No mention of red hair, though that’d be nice, too.)