An Overview of the Career of Urban Shocker
After a successful minor-league career in Canada, the Yankees acquire Urban late in 1915 for $750. But he hardly has a chance to show them what he can do for them. New Yankee manager Miller Huggins trades him to a baseball wilderness called St. Louis, to the St. Louis Browns, after the 1917 season.
While Urban is not yet a star, the trade is a rare oversight for a team that is about to become a powerhouse. Urban is destined to work in the obscurity of a weak team in a small market. But how he works! He is cocky, fearless, and colorful. He is smart, making a study of batters, to learn their weaknesses and gain an edge in his match-ups with them.
As baseball enters the Lively Ball Era in 1920, the age of slugging and the dominance of Babe Ruth, Urban emerges as a star. He wins twenty or more games four years in a row, and there is no better pitcher in all of baseball. He is a spitball pitcher, someone who creates movement on his pitches by applying moisture to part of the ball. He is one of a select group of pitchers who are allowed to continue to throw this pitch, which will no longer be allowed for upcoming pitchers.
Early in his career, Urban is satisfied with personal accomplishments, and none are more special than beating the Yankees and fooling their slugger Babe Ruth. The two have some memorable match-ups with no clear winner. But as the Yankees begin to win pennants and his St. Louis Browns fall short, he realizes there's something more important, namely team championships.
After the 1924 season, Urban is traded back to the Yankees, the team he never wanted to leave. But at this very special point in his career, both he and the Yankees are about to unravel. Babe Ruth almost dies from a serious illness just before the start of the '25 season, and he is fined the unheard of sum of $5,000 for 'misbehaving' soon after he returns. The team tumbles to seventh place. Urban, in the meantime, begins to suffer the effects of a heart ailment.
The turnaround of 1926 is remarkable, and Urban's nineteen wins are a key reason that the Yankees win the pennant. He finally has his chance to pitch in the World Series. But, as fate would have it, he runs into a legend in the making, pitcher Grover Cleveland Alexander.
In 1927, as his illness is progressing, Urban has one of his finest seasons, with a record of 18-6, despite the erosion of many of his physical skills. He keeps the secret of his illness from virtually everyone. Babe Ruth hits sixty home runs, and the Yankees win 110 games, putting together one of the greatest seasons ever.
But a few months later, during the 1928 season, the Yankees have no choice but to release their very sick pitcher. As the summer progresses, the Yankee's large lead melts away, along with Urban's health. He dies in September of that year, on the very day that the Yankees re-take the lead in an epic showdown with the Philadelphia Athletics. His wife says it was a broken heart that killed him, because he couldn't be a part of his Yankees. "His love of the game was more powerful than the words of a score of physicians," she cries to the press when he dies.