Toad Ramsey was a tad before my time or, in this case, two years after my maternal great grandmother was born. In 1886, Ramsey struck out 497 batters in a single season while playing for Louisville in the American Association. It passed for the big leagues until Major League Baseball was founded in 1901.
It remains the second-highest total in history, but with the pitcher comes the catch: His total was second-most K’s that season. Ramsey, a 5-foot-9, 180-pound left-hander, led the league with 66 complete games and 588 2/3 innings pitched, but Matt Kilroy fanned 513 batters for Baltimore the same year.
Ramsey remains in elite company. He’s one of five pitchers who had 385 strikeouts in one season and did not lead the league. The other four came in 1884 behind Hugh Daily league-leading 483: Dupee Shaw (451), Old Hoss Radbourn (441), Charlie Buffinton (417) and Guy Hecker.
Chris Sale and Clayton Kershaw could reach 300 strikeouts this season, a milestone not reached since Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling hit the mark in 2002. It would be a major accomplishment, but it’s mind-boggling to know they would still be 213 strikeouts shy of Kilroy’s single-season mark.
Fifty-two pitchers in history have struck out 300 batters in a season. Fourteen came in 1884 alone, when either pitchers were terrific or hitters were blindfolded. Daily was 36 years old when he led the league. Incidentally, two years earlier, he started his professional career with the Buffalo Bisons.
Kilroy (5-9, 175) also threw 66 complete games in 1886. In 1887, he ate up 589 1/3 innings and had a 46-19 record and a 3.07 ERA. According to baseball-reference.com, his reward for pitching 66 complete games in back-to-back seasons was a $2,600 salary for 1888. Converted into today’s dollars, it amounts to $68,000.
All the K’s turned into decay, of course. After he turned 25, he pitched more than 46 innings only once in a season. He took a four-year sabbatical (arm-replacement surgery?) and threw 100 innings in 1898 before he retired. His single-season strikeout record is among several that never will be broken.
Since 1970, only two pitchers had more than 350 strikeouts in a season. Nolan Ryan and Randy Johnson each did it twice. It’s hard to fathom any pitcher in today’s game approaching that figure because they don’t log enough innings. They also don’t stay in games long enough to pile up wins.
Cy Young had a 511-316 record over his 22 seasons, giving him records for wins and losses that nobody will approach. A pitcher would need to average nearly 26 victories per season for 20 years to reach his win total. It also would mean averaging nearly 16 losses over the same span.
Bob Welch, who was 27-6 for Oakland in 1990, was the last pitcher to win 25 games in a season. He joined Steve Stone, who won 25 games for the Orioles in 1980, and Ron Guidry, who won 25 games for the Yankees in 1978, as the only 25-game winners in the past 40 years.
Charlie Hough in 1987 was the last pitcher to throw more than 280 innings. Will White has held the record for innings pitched in a season since 1879, when he had a 43-31 record with a 2.14 ERA over 680 innings.