When I was writing yesterday about Mike Marshall passing away, and talking about his extraordinary workload he was able to handle out of the pen for a few years with the Montreal Expos and Los Angeles Dodgers, I went to look at the list of the all time single season leaders for pitchers in games. I thought he may have had the top two or three seasons in number of games pitched.
Marshall did not, in fact, have the top two or three, but he did have three of the top nine all time. Here are the top nine, which are also the only pitchers to ever appear in at least ninety games in a season:
1 — Mike Marshall, 1974, 106 games
T2 — Kent Tekulve, 1979, 94 games
T2 — Salomon Torres, 2006, 94 games
T4 — Pedro Feliciano, 2010, 92 games
T4 — Mike Marshall, 1973, 92 games
6 — Kent Tekulve, 1978, 91 games
T7 — Wayne Granger, 1969, 90 games
T7 — Mike Marshall, 1979, 90 games
T7 — Kent Tekulve, 1987, 90 games
The list after that is a lot of guys from the 20-aughts that you’ve probably forgotten about — Steve Kline! Ray King! Paul Quantrill! Bob Howry! — along with a few guys from the 70s and 80s.
There have been 132 pitcher seasons where a pitcher has appeared in at least 80 games, and in looking at those seasons, you can see a clear split in usage patterns. Pitchers with at least 80 games in a season and at least 100 innings are all from 1993* and earlier**, except for Scott Proctor, who appeared in 83 games for the New York Yankees in 2006, threw 102.1 IP, then threw 86.1 IP in 83 games in 2007, then was broken and was never the same after that.***
* Former Ranger Greg Harris threw 112.1 IP in 80 games for the Boston Red Sox in 1993. He was the last guy to do that.
** The 1992 Houston Astros had two pitchers — Doug Jones and Joe Boever — who threw over 100 innings and appeared in at least 80 games. Xavier Hernandez had 111 innings in 77 games in relief that season. Art Howe liked to ride his relievers hard, it would appear.
*** Speaking of guys who were broken after being ridden hard in a bullpen role, Duane Ward threw at least 100 innings in relief for the Toronto Blue Jays every year from 1988 through 1992. In 1993 he threw “only” 71.2 innings in “only” 71 relief appearances, but that was because he was made the closer. Ward was 29 in 1993, and only appeared in 4 major league games after that season.
In any case, two-thirds of all the 90 game seasons for pitchers in the history of MLB were done by Mike Marshall and Kent Tekulve. And seeing Tekulve’s name on the list made me start thinking about Kent Tekulve, and how weird I thought he was when I was a young ‘un, and how weird he kind of still seems in retrospect.
As you can see from the photo, Kent Tekulve was weird looking on the mound. The 70s and 80s were the salad days for baseball players who looked kind of goofy and odd and like they were middle-aged programmers or something rather than professional athletes. Go do a Google Image Search with the terms “baseball card glasses” (no quotes) and you’ll see what I mean. Or look at Productive Outs’ “Hello I Am Doing A Sports” tweets.
Kent Tekulve was fascinating to me as a kid. He started his career in 1974, ended it in 1989, and until April, 1985, when he was traded to the Philadelphia Phillies, he was with the Pirates the entire time. His stint with the Pirates almost exactly overlapped with the period of time when I was collecting baseball cards — and I was huge into baseball cards.
Almost everything I knew about Kent Tekulve, other than his stats, came from seeing the pictures on his baseball cards or from periodicals. You have to understand — back in the 1970s and 1980s, you didn’t have a lot of televised baseball games. Most games growing up I experienced by listening on the radio. You’d have an occasional Saturday game televised on Channel 5 or Channel 11, and that was a huge deal — the Rangers playing a game on TV! But only road games were televised, and even then, it was just a few road games, not all of them or even a lot of them.
And you certainly didn’t have what we have now, where you can, if you choose, opt for some sort of package that allows you to watch pretty much any game by any team. You didn’t have MLB.com with video highlights, you didn’t have Twitter with people tweeting videos or gifs, and in my household we didn’t even have ESPN for most of Tekulve’s career. NBC would have a Game of the Week, but that was rarely the Pirates, and it would often conflict with soccer or baseball games or practices anyway, so it wasn’t like I had a lot of opportunities to see him that way. He had some appearances in the playoffs in 1979, but I was quite young then, and I don’t recall whether I watched those games or not.
And of course, Tekulve played for the Pirates, which were a National League team, in the era before interleague play. Even after the Pirates traded him he played for the Cincinnati Reds and the Philadelphia Phillies. He never played in the American League, and never faced the Rangers, which meant I didn’t see him as an opponent. That’s probably the difference between him and Dan Quisenberry, in my mind...Quisenberry was also a goofy looking submarining reliever who had a lot of success back then, but he pitched for the Kansas City Royals, who were in the same division as the Rangers, who I would see pitch against the Rangers on television or in person. I was familiar with Dan Quisenberry.
Kent Tekulve, though? I had baseball cards, like this one, or this one, or this one, and the occasional photo I might stumble across in Sports Illustrated or Baseball Digest or the Sporting News, all of which I read religiously as a kid, or the various season preview books that would come out. And he was this mysterious figure, this guy who didn’t look like a pitcher, who didn’t throw like most other pitchers, who had the big dark glasses and the bumblebee Pirates uniform with the weird shaped pillbox hats the Pirates wore in the late 70s and the early 80s. When I would get my baseball cards out and sort through them and flip them over and read the stats and the little factoids or trivia questions that would be on the back, when I’d come to Tekulve, I’d be baffled. He didn’t make any sense as a baseball player. It was fascinating, one of the myriad of bits of minutiae that would fascinate me about baseball as a kid.
And he had a great career. He finished fifth in the Cy Young balloting twice, put up a career bWAR of 26.2, and had a career 2.85 ERA in 1050 games. You can check out his stats here.
So there you go. My random thoughts about Kent Tekulve.