Urban Shocker: One of the Great Pitchers of 1920
George Sisler is the Star of the St. Louis Browns. But with Another Pitcher
Like Shocker the Club Might Well Have Won the Pennant
By F. C. LANE
Reprinted from BASEBALL MAGAZINE January 1921
Some seasons back the owners of the New York Yankees decided to make a trade. They particularly wanted Del Pratt of St. Louis. And the Browns were willing to sell Del Pratt for a price. The price was paid in good round measure in the form of numerous stalwart players and with these players went one, Urban J. Shocker, a young gentleman from Detroit, Michigan.
Now, Del Pratt has been a valuable addition to the New York Club, but there are moments when the Yankee owners must feel that they made a questionable bargain in his acquisition. Those moments comprise the time when Urban J. Shocker occupies the mound when the Yankees visit St. Louis or the Browns come to New York. For this same Shocker takes an unholy delight in standing his former team-mates on their heads and making them otherwise comport themselves in a manner unbecoming to pennant contenders.
In 1918, his first season with the Browns, young Mr. Shocker won six games and lost five. The season, it may be remembered, was short and Shocker enlisted for military service. In 1919 he won fourteen games and lost ten. During the season closed he won twenty-one and lost ten. In other words, with a Club which has never been more than an in and outer, Shocker has won a substantial majority of his games year after year. The player who can annex such a record with a mediocre team, would certainly do much better with a winner, and it is a safe bet that the New York Club would much prefer to see Mr. Shocker in a home uniform than garbed in the sad hued raiment of the Browns.
On a recent date, not so long ago, some 40,000 eager fans gathered at the Polo Grounds to see Babe Ruth make his customary home run. The conduct of Urban J. Shocker upon this occasion was most ungenerous. It is no exaggeration to say that he paid not the slightest attention to the obvious wishes of the assembled multitude. At first that multitude was alarmed less Shocker would pass Babe. As the game progressed, that alarm changed to the hope that he might pass Babe for there seemed to be no other way for that direful slugger to reach first. Not that Babe didn't do his best. No slugger ever smote the empty atmosphere with more force or persistence. Unfortunately, he confined his attention pretty largely to the air; when he swung at Mr. Shocker's offerings, the ball was no longer there. It had moved on somewhere else. Some times he came within an inch or so of the elusive sphere. Some times he missed it by a clean foot. Babe sweated and fumed, and it is to be feared used questionable language, but three times in succession he faced the pitcher with great ambitions surging in his soul and three times he returned to the bench after the Umpire had called the third strike. No Bush League batter was ever more thoroughly or hopelessly discomfited than the powerful home run king on that occasion.
Urban Shocker, is one of the best pitchers in the American League. There can be no possible doubt upon that point. If the Browns could dig up one other pitcher like him, a pennant on the banks of the Mississippi might be no longer a mere figment of the fancy. Pitchers like Shocker are not easy to find.
Shocker was born in Cleveland, Ohio, September 22, 1892. He stands 5 feet 11 inches in height and weighs in condition 175 pounds. Back in 1913 he began to pitch ball with the Windsor Club in Canada. The following year he went to Ottawa, the Canadian Capitol where he remained for two seasons. In 1916 he went to New York, spending part of the season in the Greater City and part at Toronto. In 1917 he was at New York winning eight games and losing five. In fact, from the first year he went to Ottawa, Shocker has never failed to win more games than he has lost.
It is not generally known that Shocker used to be a catcher. In fact, at Windsor he alternated behind the bat and on the slab, playing both ends of the battery, a most curious combination. His catching made him a better pitcher. But that is a curious story and happened thus.
One day behind the bat, Shocker stopped the baseball with the end of the third finger of his pitching hand. Such stops are common in the catcher's life, not so common to a pitcher. When Shocker's damaged finger healed, it remained permanently misshapen with a decided hook at the final joint. "That broken finger may not be pretty to look at," says Shocker, "but it has been very useful to me. It hooks over a baseball just right so that I can get a fine break on my slow ball and that's one of the best balls I throw. If the finger was perfectly straight, I couldn't do this. As it is, I can get a slow ball to drop just like a spitter and as I occasionally use a true spitter, you will find players all over the League talking about my slow spitter, which isn't a spitter at all, but a slow ball with a freak break, thanks to that crooked finger. Perhaps if I broke some of my other fingers I could get the ball to roll over sideways or maybe jump up in the air, but I am too easy going to make the experiment. Yes, I think it is just as well to let well enough alone.
"They call me a spitball pitcher and I guess l am one by courtesy. Some times I throw half a dozen spit balls in a regulation game; some times less. When they abolish the spit ball for good, if they ever do, I shan't shed as many tears as some. It is a good delivery and I like to use it once in a while, but most of the time I bluff. That's no secret to anyone. The batter doesn't know when I'm going to bluff so what good will the knowledge do him. I like my slow ball very well. This year, with an eye to the future, I have experimented a lot with curves. But my main stock in trade is my fast ball.
"The spit ball is a little hard on your wrist. The curve is tough on your elbow. But I never had the least difficulty with either the fast or the slow ball and they're a good combination, "The secret of Ty Cobb's success as a batter is the fact that he always establishes a mental hazard. He was always on the offensive and you never knew exactly what he would do. Some times he would choke up on the bat and punch hit through the infield. Some times he would slug. Some times he would bunt, Some times he would wait them out. But you never could tell what he was going to do or how he was going to do it.
"To my mind, the successful pitcher does the same thing. He also establishes a mental hazard. He has the batter guessing, and to the extent that he can get the batter guessing, he has him at a disadvantage for he can give the batter any kind of a ball he chooses. The batter has to take what comes and if you can contrive to give him something he isn't looking for, you have him.
"You can tell very often what is in a batter's mind by the way he shifts his feet or hitches his belt or wiggles his bat. Keep him guessing. That's the point, and if possible get him to bite at bad balls. Once you have him swinging you have his number. And still, as long as your control holds good, there is really nothing else for him to do. Some times I wonder why pitchers ever lose a game and then I reflect that there's a fellow also pitching for the other side.
"Confidence is a great thing for a pitcher, but not over-confidence. There is a screen around the bleachers at St. Louis, I suppose to keep some of the rabid bugs from beaning somebody with a pop bottle. Every time I look at that screen I recover from any possible attack of over-confidence. For I was pitching against Babe Ruth once in St. Louis and had him puffing and blowing and swinging in wide circles. Twice I had his number on a little teasing slow ball that came floating up to him, grinned in his face and then dove head first under his bat. I felt a world of confidence in that slow ball, so I fed him one more. I have read considerable about a slow ball. It seems that when you hit a slow ball it won't travel as fast as a fast ball. Perhaps it won't. But if so, I wonder what Babe would have done that day to a fast ball. For he got that slow ball somewhere and somehow drove it on a line to the far bleachers and right through that wire screen without stopping.
"Another time Ruth hit one right past the pitcher's box. I reached out my hand to stop it, not thinking that I ran a risk of having my hand taken off. But the ball came so fast it broke at least a foot and whistled past my ear like a bullet. Some day one of those hot liners off Babe Ruth's bat is going to hit a pitcher in the ribs and then you will need a pick axe to take it out. They ought to let you wear chain armor when you have to face Babe Ruth."