|The Perfect Pitching Season|
By John F. Pardon
Check a statistical line for a pitcher and you'll see lots of figures. Plenty of strikeouts will be impressive; so will a few base on balls, or a low earned-run average.
However, no matter what you look at, the bottom line will be wins and losses. After all, winning is the name of the game. If a pitcher wins a lot, and loses a few, you know he's happy. What about the pitcher that goes through the entire season and doesn't lose a game? Not one game. He's going to be on cloud nine.
No doubt that's how Tony Napoles felt after compiling an 18-0 regular season record-then capping it with four playoff victories for a final count of 22-0. That's the figure Napoles posted in the record books in 1946 when he pitched for the Peekskill, N. Y. Highlanders of the Class D, North Atlantic League.
In recent times only two other pitchers have come close to recording an unblemished win-loss mark. Ironically, 1946 was the same year Shannon Hardwick did his thing with New River in the Class D, Appalachian League. He roared through most of the season without a defeat, and at one point was 19-0. But the hitters caught up with him and he finished at 23-3.
Eleven years later there was Bob Riesner. He totaled 20-0 with Alexandria of the Class C, Evangeline League in 1957. But, when he was called up to New Orleans of the Southern Association near the end of the season, he lost two decisions.
For Napoles it turned out to be a one-shot year. He had winning years for some of the seasons he was in pro baseball, but never came close to his 1946 performance. He finished hurling in 1955 with Savannah, Ga.
But still, 1946 was Napoles' year. What were the times like? How was it in the year Napoles chalked up 22 triumphs.
World War II was over and Americans across the country wanted to return to a peaceful way of life. One of the things that united them was professional baseball. Leagues sprang up across the land and more than 450 cities and towns had their own team. Peekskill was one of those cities.
The Highlanders played their home games at Peekskill Stadium, now the site of a large supermarket and an even larger parking lot. The Highlanders were to do well in 1946. They had a lot of contributors on the club. But only a youthful Cuban righthanded pitcher would write his name into the record books. "Mucho Rapido" was the nickname early season reports tagged to the 5-foot-l 1, 150-pound player. They also called him "fireball."
Who remembers Napoles? What kind of a pitcher was he?
Tony Ravish remembers. Ravish was player-manager for Peekskill and caught a number of games Napoles pitched.
"He was a heck of a kid, I wish I had a whole team like him," Ravish related. "He had a good fastball and he was able to move it around well. But he needed a curve. If I needed a quick two or three outs I would use him in relief, too," said Ravish, a longtime Boston Red Sox scout and now owner of a liquor store in Hudson, N.Y.
Ten of Napoles' victories were complete games and two of these were registered during the first two weeks of the season as the Highlanders opened very strongly with a 10-game winning streak. The triumphs were the third and 10th games of the skein.
Streaks became a pattern for Napoles. Three appearances in early and mid-June produced two more route-going efforts and by June 18, he was 5-0.
Meantime, the Highlanders, after taking an early lead in the North Atlantic League race, ran into competition from the Stroudsburg "Poconos." The Highlanders dropped to second during June and the early part of July. They finally moved a half-game ahead of the Poconos, July 10, and kept first place for the remainder of the year, finishing the regular season with a record of 82 wins and 32 losses for a spectacular percentage of .7 19.
Napoles was a major contributor, although he did have a stretch of 18 days in July when he was winless. Ironically, the famine struck right after his only complete game shutout of the campaign, a 2-0 win over Nazareth, Pa.
Moving into August, Napoles started his longest streak of the season-six wins in six appearances. From August 4 to 23, the fastballer chalked up four complete games. The other decisions came in relief.
Then came September 2, the final day of the season and a scheduled doubleheader at Walden, N. Y.
"I wanted Tony to add to his record," Ravish related. "As soon as he pitched five innings I took him out." So the righthander picked up win 17 in the opener as Peekskill won, 18-2. Soon after, Napoles was back on the mound tossing his fastball past Hummingbird batters again. And this time the Highlanders won, 13-0. It was another five-inning effort, a doubleheader victory and an outstanding finish to a perfect record, 18-0.
But the best was yet to come for Napoles, his teammates and thousands of Highlander fans.
Two days later Napoles hurled four and one-third innings of relief and was credited with the victory as Peekskill took the playoff opener against Stroudsburg. Four days later Napoles showed his form at Peekskill Stadium again, and in the series finale.
The Highlanders won easily, 10-1, Napoles was 20-0 and it was on to the finals against the Carbondale Pioneers for the North Atlantic League championship. It wasn't the World Series, but it was playoff baseball and the two clubs gave the fans from both cities all the excitement they could handle.
Win 21 for Napoles came September 14, as Peekskill won, 4-1. It gave the Highlanders a 3-games-to-1 edge in the series, but the Pioneers did not die. They won the next two games, 8-4 and 2-1, to set the stage for the seventh game finale at Peekskill, September 17.
Ravish's team kept the crowd of 2,314 on the edge of their seats for the first eight innings-and then really excited them with a rally in the bottom of the ninth that tied the game, 2-2. Again Napoles was called upon to hold the Pioneers at bay until the Highlanders could score. The Cuban was equal to the task. He struck out five, walked none and attered four hits. The effort turned out to be his 22nd win of the season and catcher Hal Leach was the batting hero in the bottom of the 12th inning with a single to score first baseman Al Gardella.
Tue victory capped a phenomenal season for Napoles and a lot of baseball people saw the righthander moving up in the ranks. However, it was not to be. "he had a good fastball, but he needed a curve," Ravish remembered. "Evidently he couldn't quite come up with one."
A year later Napoles pitched for Poughkeepsie, N.Y. in the Class C, Colonial League and compiled a 12-8 record. Then it was on to cities like Martinsville, Va., Tarboro and Fayetteville, N. C. and finally Savannah, Ga. But where is Tony now?
Like Ravish, neither Doug Heady, the public address announcer at the time, or Ray Lapolla, longtime sports editor for the Peekskill Evening Star, know.
"In my opinion he had an unorthodoxed pitching style," said Lapolla. "He stood straight as a statue with both hands in front. What he'd do was a jerk motion, and it was deceptive. You didn't know from where he was going to throw the bail." Heady remembers Napoles as a lean, lanky pitcher who spoke broken English. "He was the team character. He was well-liked by his teammates."
Yes, 1946 was quite a year for the 21-year-old Napoles. A perfect record with a championship team. So, Tony. We still don't know where you are today. But there are many who have memories of 1946. The year you were 18-0 with 4 playoff wins. Here is the summary of his regular season record.
G IP W L PCT. H R ER BB SO ERA
35 163 18 0 1.000 137 74 42 47 119 2.32