Wednesday, March 23, 2005

March 23rd, 1994

Roger Wolff Dies

Perhaps more than anyone else, knuckleball pitchers are the most fragile type. Not physically, of course, but with regards to their career. They can be brilliant one season but if the dancing pitch stops dancing the next, and lacking any other Major League quality pitches, they quickly find themselves on the bench or out of work. If anyone personifies this it would be Roger Wolff.

Wolff, an Illinois native, made his debut in a 1941 cup of coffee for the Philadelphia A's. He pitched well for the team in 1942 and 1943 but suffered losing records playing on teams that lost ninety-nine and one hundred five games respectively. After the 1943 season, he was traded to the Washington Senators for Bobo Newsom (who deserves a day of his own sometime). Wolff evidently lost the feel for his knuckleball the first season in DC, going 4-15 with a 4.99 ERA, which was good for a cringe-worthy thirty-five percent worse than league average. The Senators for their part were an uninspiring lot, going 64-90 and finishing last, twenty-five games behind the St. Louis Browns. In 1945, both Wolff and the Senators had revivals however. Finding the touch on his knuckleball once again Wolff went 20-10 with a 2.16 ERA, forty-six percent better than the league average (and a greater than eighty point swing compared to the league average from the season before. The Senators went 87-67, finishing just a game and a half behind the Tigers for the pennant. For his part, Wolff finished seventh in the MVP voting.

Wolff was again good in 1946 but the Senators were not going just 76-78 and giving Wolff a 5-8 record despite a 2.58 ERA. After that season he was traded to the Indians where he pitched just sixteen innings before being bought by the Pirates, but Wolff had left his knuckleball in DC and finished with an ERA north of seven. He never pitched in the Majors again, the fragile knuckleball having evidently finally abandoned him.

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