Friday, December 12, 2008

#165 Dick Ellsworth

Dick Ellsworth by you.
It seems to me that Dick Ellsworth had an itch that he just had to scratch, right between his eyes. He scratched so hard and so long that he took the bridge of his own nose clean off! Despite this customized oddity, this is not the strangest card of this player by a longshot. His 1966 Topps issue features his name, biography, and stats, but the photo is of second baseman Ken Hubbs, who had died in a plane crash in 1964. Eerie.

Like his contemporary Jim Maloney, lefthander Dick Ellsworth played high school ball at Fresno High School. Unlike Maloney, Ellsworth did not go on to college, signing with the Cubs at age eighteen. He debuted with Chicago right away, getting chased in the third inning in a loss to the Reds on June 22, 1958. The southpaw would be back for good in 1960, and despite losing 13 of his 20 decisions, his league-average 3.72 ERA was a sign that he was well on the way to becoming one of the best Cubbie pitchers of the decade. A 10-11, 3.86 effort in 1961 was followed by a disastrous 20 losses and 5.09 ERA in Dick's third season, but he would turn it around in a big way the very next year.

Just 23 years old, Ellsworth won 22 games and lost only 10 while completing a whopping 19 of his starts in 1963. His ERA and WHIP were a miniscule 2.11 (second in the NL to that Koufax guy) and 1.02, respectively. His 185 strikeouts were a career high, as he led the team for the second of third straight years in whiffs. Unfortunately, the lefty came back down to earth in the three subsequent seasons. Stuck on lousy Cubs teams, he posted three more losing records (including a whopping 22 losses in 1966) despite earned run averages that stayed consistently below 4.00. At least he made an All-Star team in 1964! At this point the baseball gods took mercy on Dick, and he was traded to the Phillies for Ray Culp. Despite only being with the club for the first seven years of the decade, Ellsworth led all 1960s Cub pitchers in wins, complete games, and innings pitched.

After a forgettable year in Philly, Dick went to the American League and had one more great season. He went 16-7 with the 1968 Red Sox with a 3.03 ERA. Boston thanked him by trading him two weeks into the following season, sending him to the Indians in a six-player deal. The Tribe began transitioning him to the bullpen, as he was showing signs of wearing down (he barely averaged three strikeouts per nine innings). Splitting 1970 between the Indians and Brewers, Ellsworth came out of the 'pen for all but one of his 43 games. He struggled for 11 games the following year with the Brew Crew, and his late June release brought an end to his career at age 31.

In 1988, Dick's son Steve started seven games for the Red Sox, but lost six of seven decisions. It was the entirety of his major league exposure.

Fun fact: Just how bad were the Cubs during Dick's time in the Windy City? If you neutralize his stats (converting to a generic team that scores an average of 4.42 runs per game), his career won-lost record jumps from 115-137 (.456 win percentage) to 119-113 (.513)! He would never have lost more than 16 games in a season under those circumstances.

Dick Ellsworth (Back) by you.

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