Had a brief hiatus, but here's the next installment:
The story of Joe Horlen, often known as Joel, is perhaps most about why he isn’t much of a story. He’s not really a part of baseball lore, or even an immediately recognizable name for many White Sox fans. Yet he is one of only six pitchers to start at least 15 games in ten consecutive years for the 112-year-old franchise, from 1962-71. The others are Doc White (ten seasons, 1903-12), Red Faber (13 seasons, 1919-31), Ted Lyons (11 seasons, 1932-42), Billy Pierce (13 seasons, 1949-61), and Mark Buerhle (11 seasons, 2001-2011).
Why isn’t Horlen a bigger part of White Sox history? For one thing, Horlen didn’t win all that many games. His 113 wins are good for 9th on the White Sox all-time list, but he also lost 113 games for the team. The numbers are a little mind-boggling by modern standards. Over the course of his career he posted a 3.11 ERA and finished one game under .500 (he went 3-4 for the Athletics in 1972, the only season he pitched for a team other than the White Sox). For five straight seasons (1964-68) he posted sub-3.00 ERAs, yet only won more than 13 games once (19, in 1967).
Horlen’s won-loss record earned him a nickname of Joe “Hard Luck” Horlen, and there is actually empirical data that would arguably make him unluckiest pitcher ever to play the game. Horlen’s career ERA places him at 92nd on the all-time list for pitches who pitched more than 2,000 innings. Of the 91 players above him on the list, only 8 had non-winning records (one, Nap Rucker, had an even mark at 134-134). Of those 8 pitchers, each one pitched exclusively in the dead-ball era. The careers of five started before 1900 and the last, Bob Groom’s, ended in 1918. Thus, no pitcher since the end of World War I has pitched as effectively as Joe Horlen and still lost more games than he won.
The 1965 season was the first season that Horlen was used exclusively as a starter, and he was up to the task, although it was one of the seasons that earned him his nickname. He led the team’s starters with a 2.88 ERA, seven complete games, four shutouts, 219 IP, and a 3.21 K/BB ratio. Despite his dominance, he finished with an even 13-13 mark on a team that ended the season well above .500. Only Gary Peters, who finished the season with a 3.62 ERA (the highest of any White Sox starter) had a worse win-loss record.
Although not his most dominant pitching performance of the season, Horlen’s overall performance on June 8th may have been his best of the season. Facing the Red Sox on the road, Horlen gave up two early runs, in the second and third innings, on a home run by Lee Thomas and then a sacrifice fly. The Sox tied the game in the fifth and (since this was before the designated hitter was adopted in 1973) Horlen came up to bat in the sixth with Ron Hansen on third, J.C. Martin on first, and two outs. Horlen singled, his second of three singles that day, driving in the go-ahead run. When Horlen took the mound in the bottom of the sixth, he proceeded to retire the next 12 Red Sox batters in order, finishing his complete game and securing the victory to stay 2.5 games behind the Twins.
A child looking at Horlen’s 1965 baseball card would have noticed the 1.88 ERA he posted the year earlier. Although out-done in 1964 by Dean Chance’s 1.65 ERA and Sandy Koufax's 1.74 ERA, Horlen’s mark that year would have led the Major Leagues in each of the previous 18 seasons. By any measure Horlen probably did turn out to be one of the 10 best pitchers in White Sox history, but a child in 1965 might have seen even a much greater potential.
Last edited by BRDSR; 08-28-2012 at 10:03 PM.