Addie Joss: Standard of Excellence
Addie Joss starred for the American League’s Cleveland franchise in the earlier part of the 20th century (1902-1910). Cleveland’s team name eventually became the Indians, and featured great players such as second baseman Nap Lajoie, left fielder “Shoeless Joe” Jackson and center fielder Tris Speaker. At about the dawn of the 1900s, a young man from Wisconsin was signed to Cleveland, and he was destined to become one of the most remarkable pitchers in baseball history.
He was arguably the best moundsman in the American League during that era. Most pundits touted Cy Young, the great Boston pitcher, as the best, and among the baseball insiders the argument for AL pitching supremacy was limited to Young and Joss. Of course, in the National League, that same discussion revolved around the New York Giants’ incomparable Christy Mathewson and the Chicago Cubs’ Mordecai “Three Finger” Brown. In the AL, there were others, to be sure, such as the Philadelphia Athletics’ Eddie Plank, “Chief” Bender and “Rube” Waddell, and the Chicago White Sox’ “Big Ed” Walsh. Yet, Joss’ achievements were especially noteworthy.
To this day, Joss’ career record of a 0.97 WHIP (walks and hits per innings pitched) is the best in baseball history. He pitched 2 no-hitters, including the 2nd perfect game of the 20th century. Joss also has a career ERA of 1.89, 2nd best in history to Walsh.
Joss was born on April 12th, 1880, to a cheesemaker of Swiss ancestry, in Woodland, Wisconsin. Joss grew up in the nearby town of Juneau, where he was a good student and played sandlot baseball. His father was successful and his mother’s family was well-off financially. As a result, he attended Wayland Academy, a private school, with a goal of becoming a teacher.
Of course, like most other boys, he played baseball, and it became evident that he had some real talent at pitching. In 1901, he was pursuing his studies and pitching for the minor league team in Racine, Wisconsin, hoping for a chance to play in the Majors. That year, the great left-hander, Rube Waddell, of the Philadelphia Athletics, was taking a self-imposed vacation from Major League ball because his team wouldn’t let him take days off to go fishing. Waddell, who would later be elected to baseball’s Hall of Fame, was well known as a generally unmanageable “free spirit”, not constrained by normal social protocols… and not particularly motivated by money. He ended up that year pitching for the minor league team in Kenosha, Wisconsin, with plenty of time off to enjoy fishing. Waddell, whose superior pitching talent was legendary, pitched Kenosha into the unofficial “state championship” game for Wisconsin… where they faced Racine.Well, Joss out-pitched Waddell in a close contest to win the “title”. Waddell, who really looked up to his boss with the Athletics, Connie Mack, cabled Mr. Mack immediately after the game begging him to sign Joss. Waddell could see that Joss was something special. However, the Athletics already had Chief Bender and Eddie Plank, two pitchers who were destined for Cooperstown. And, Mr. Mack knew that Waddell would return to his team, so he couldn’t see the need of adding another pitcher. Also, due to Waddell’s reputation as a “loose cannon”, he probably questioned the Rube’s evaluation of Joss. So, Joss looked elsewhere. He was bright and articulate and looked for a combination arrangement whereby he could pitch for a Major League team and work in the off-season (providing for his future). He found what he was looking for through the Toledo Mud Hens, a minor league team with a direct pipeline to both the Cleveland franchise and a job with the Toledo News-Bee Newspaper. The News-Bee needed a sports reporter/editor, and Joss fit the bill.
Joss quickly signed with Cleveland, and made his Major League debut on April 26th, 1902. He pitched a 1-hit complete game, allowing only a disputed single (some scorekeepers would have ruled the hit as an error) to the great Jesse Burkett (who later became a member of the Hall of Fame).Joss accumulated 5 sub-2.00 ERA seasons, recording 4 20-win campaigns, and merited a .623 win-loss percentage for his career. He also found time to study engineering at the University of Wisconsin, utilizing his learned skills to invent and construct the “Joss Indicator”–a modern-style scoreboard.
On October 2nd, 1908, Joss pitched his perfect game against “Big Ed” Walsh, who would become a fellow Hall of Famer, and the Chicago White Sox. It is the best pitching match-up ever for a perfect game. Joss only needed 74 pitches to accomplish this feat, the lowest known pitch count achieved in a perfect game. It is believed that Joss has the highest percentage of less-than-100 pitches per complete game in history. His goal when pitching was to throw only 3 pitches per inning. He believed that command of the strike zone was the key to pitching success. He always tried to pitch “to contact”.
Joss was 6’3″ and approximately 190 pounds, a good-sized athlete for his day. His three main pitches were a 4-seam fast ball, a straight change-up and a curve ball. He had amazing control of his pitches, changed speeds well and did not “telegraph” his pitch choices. He used a “whirlwind” wind-up, virtually turning his back to the batter, akin to Hideo Nomo or Luis Tiant. Batters commented that Joss’ pitches arrived in “a hurry”, meaning they had difficulty in “picking up” the ball. Also, Joss, unlike several of his contemporaries, did not throw the “spitball” pitch–he felt that it was too unpredictable and difficult to control.
In 1908, Joss twirled 9 complete game shutouts, posted a 1.16 ERA and a 0.81 WHIP. In 1910, he only walked 30 batters in 325 innings and pitched his 2nd no-hitter. For his career, Joss completed 234 games of 260 games started. Twenty-eight percent of his 160 wins were shutouts. Astounding!
For much of Joss’ life, he suffered from precarious health, manifested by more than a few bouts of fever. In the latter part of 1910, he was waylaid by another onset of fever. The fever would sometimes subside, then return. He returned home for treatment, but his condition worsened. Finally, on April 14th, 1911, he succumbed to what we now know was tubercular meningitis. He was only 31 years of age.
Joss was so well-liked that players from all over baseball put together a benefit game to raise money for his family. It has been called “the first All-Star game”. Walter Johnson and Smoky Joe Wood pitched for the All-Star squad that included Ty Cobb, Eddie Collins and Sam Crawford. Tris Speaker also played, and Cy Young pitched for the Cleveland side.
Former standout player Billy Sunday, who had become a well-known evangelist, delivered the eulogy for Joss:
“Joss tried to strike out death, and it seemed for a time as though he could win. The bases were full. The score was a tie with 2 outs. Thousands, yes, millions in a nation’s grandstands and bleachers sat breathless, watching the conflict. The great twirler stood erect on the mound. Death walked to the plate.”
The great baseball chroniclers, Lawrence Ritter and Donald Honig, included Addie Joss in their list of the “100 Greatest Players of All-Time”. Ultimate Baseball The Game lists Joss, in their Player Register, as the Tenth Greatest Pitcher of All-Time.