The Top 100 Cubs Of All Time - #40 Jack Pfiester


Chicago Daily News negatives collection, SDN-056435. Courtesy of the Chicago Historical Society.

Profile by BCB reader Kegler

Pfreaky! Call him Beowulf!

Are you tired of worrying your days away with the glass menagerie of Cubs' pitching? Have Prior's towel drills resurrected long-suppressed memories of you and your father tossing the old towel around the yard? Has Woods' endless battle with the Mysterious Shoulder Gnome Rothschild caused you to reflect upon your own promising youth and talent and the subsequent success that eluded you?

Well, my friend, worry no more. Now you and the Cubs pitching staff can throw through anything with "Pfiester's Pfast-acting, Pfabulous, and Really Quite Pfascincating Pfills!" (That last "f" is silent, by the way). Just look at the life of the man behind the pill's namesake, the Cub pitcher of yore, Jack Pfiester:

Old Jack Pfiester is known as the Giant Killer, literally, because he used to slay Giants out West during the off season. Of course, that's nonsense, but he could've if there were any to slay, because Jack was not like the pitchers you and I know. Jack was a Pitcher, back when Pitchers did the unthinkable: Pitched! To note: the last Pitcher the Cubs have had, really, was Fergie Jenkins. Zambrano might be one, but the jury's still out.

Jack Pfiester won a lot of games (and threw a lot of shutouts, seven to be exact) against the New York Giants back in the first decade of the 20th Century, thus the nickname. But he also was the winning pitcher of record in 1906 when the Cubs recorded their still-record 116th win. Further, that win gave the Cubs a 60-15 road record, an .800 winning percentage that still stands as best ever (far better than the second-best such record, .740 by the 1909 Cubs). Of course, we lost the Series that year to....Pressing onward.

I have to apologize for something here: Jack Pfiester may not have been the Pitcher I made him out to be. I mean don't get me wrong, he was very good. But honestly, his career didn't last too long. He really only pitched four full seasons. Four. So maybe he wasn't quite The Man I made him out to be. Like a lot of pitchers, his career puttered out as his arm shriveled into a moist, useless string dangling from his left shoulder. But man, was he good when he pitched! And there's a toughness about him that maybe qualifies him for Man status, and the likes of which we know not, fellow 21st Century fans.

Pfiester finished with a 1.51 ERA in '06 (one of the best rookie seasons by any pitcher since), and then a 1.15 ERA in '07. Even by deadball standards, that's pretty darn good. His career ERA is 2.02, 3rd lowest among pitchers with 1,000+ innings thrown, and he had a .617 win percentage. Unfortunately, even given his HOF numbers, Jack just needed to pitch a few more years to gain true recognition as one of the game's greats. But when he was on the mound against the Giants on September 23, 1908 - yes, the famous "Merkle" game - the insanity surrounding Merkle's miscue overshadowed a much more harrowing reality: that Pfiester had pitched the whole game, the full nine innings, allowing only five hits, all with a dislocated tendon in his pitching forearm. He had to be assisted off the field a few times after throwing curve balls. And as soon as the game ended he went to Ohio to be treated, his tendon snapped back into place by the able-fingered and appropriately named Bonesetter Reese. If I ever have another son, I will name him Bonesetter. Scouts honor.

Alas, while Bonesetter got Jack throwing again, it would prove to be only a matter of time before the wear and tear got to the lefty. In 1909 Pfiester had a solid year, posting 17 wins and a 2.43 ERA. But that would be his last full season. Over the next two years he would only make 20 more appearances as a major league pitcher, and by the age of 33 he was done. Like Beowulf's final battle versus the dragon, Jack Pfiester, our Giant Killer, succumbed to their wrath and was defeated handily in his last appearance. The Killer was no more.

After Jack's playing career ended, he and his wife settled in Ohio with their son, Jack Jr. But the funny thing was this: Jack Pfiester and son were still, officially, John Albert Hagenbush and son. John Hagenbush's parents died when he was only three years old. Young John was sent to be raised by relatives and was given their family name: Pfiester. Jack Sr. never got around to the whole name-changing thing as he grew up, played baseball, became a kind of local legend, and then retired and lived his life. It wasn't until 1950 when Jack/John Sr. finally (and legally) had he and his son's names changed to Pfiester. By then he was 72 years old. He died only three years later, but he died Jack Pfiester, Cub Pitcher and Giant Killer.

[Note from Al: this ranking, given Pfiester's short career, may seem too high. I ranked him this high because although his career was indeed quite short, he had four very good to great seasons (his 1.15 ERA in 1907 is seventh-best all-time for a single season), and was a key part of several Cub championship teams -- appearing in four World Series -- and as the "Giant Killer" produced a very important part of Cub lore, which has been nearly forgotten, and I think worth remembering.]

Jack Pfiester's career stats at baseball-reference.com

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