clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

The Top 100 Cubs Of All Time - #17 Ed Reulbach

New, 17 comments

Chicago Daily News negatives collection, SDN-009408. Courtesy of the Chicago Historical Society. Taken in 1911 at West Side Grounds.

Profile by BCB reader Dan

Back in December, Al made a humorous post regarding historical Cub players and what their projected salaries would be in today's market. While somewhat tongue in cheek, it wasn't totally far fetched. For example, how much would you pay today for a 25-year-old right-handed power pitcher who won 24 games last year with a 2.03 ERA? Also consider that same pitcher started 35 games, finished over 70% of his starts, totaled nearly 300 innings, and was a major contributor to a World Series Champion team? Are we talking Zito and Schmidt money? Would you slap down $51 million just to negotiate with a player like that? Oh, and to this point the player we're considering had a career line of 78-29 over 999 innings with an ERA of 1.70? We're talking Zambrano extension money - and then some. That was where Edward Marvin (Big Ed) Reulbach's career stood at the conclusion of the Cubs' 1908 season - the last championship season.

Reulbach was born in Detroit on December 1, 1882 and attended both Notre Dame and the University of Vermont. With the Irish in 1904, Ed was the star outfielder and pitcher, setting Notre Dame's single season record for strikeouts and never allowing more that six hits in a game. Reulbach was pitching with the Montpelier-Barre Hyphens of Vermont's outlaw Northern League in the summer of 1904 when he met and fell in love with his future bride, Mary Ellen Whelan of Montpelier. To be closer to her, Ed decided to forego his senior year at Notre Dame and enroll in medical school at the University of Vermont. In the spring he became the star of the UVM baseball team, batting cleanup and playing left field when he wasn't pitching. Newspapers called Reulbach the "greatest of all college pitchers," and on May 12, after winning his fourth start, 1-0, against Syracuse, he received an offer from the Cubs that "would take the breath away from an average person".

On May 16, 1905, Ed made his major-league debut at the Polo Grounds against the reigning NL-champion New York Giants, tossing a complete game and giving up only five hits in a 4-0 loss. Nine days later he earned his first victory, entering in the second inning and yielding five hits and no runs the rest of the way as the Cubs rallied to beat the Phillies, 9-4. Perhaps Ed's most impressive performance came against the Phillies on August 24, when he went the distance to defeat Tully Sparks, 2-1, in a 20-inning game. Ed concluded his rookie season with an 18-14 record, a 1.42 ERA, and only 208 hits allowed in 290.2 innings (6.42 per nine innings).

Reulbach remained one of the NL's most dominant pitchers through 1909. In 1906 he pitched 12 low-hit games (five hits or fewer), not including the one-hitter he threw against the White Sox in Game Two of that year's World Series, and started a 17-game personal winning streak that didn't end until June 29, 1907, when Deacon Phillippe defeated him, 2-1. It was the post-1900 record for consecutive victories until Rube Marquard broke it in 1911-12, and it remains the fourth-longest streak in history.

Reulbach also set an NL record with 44 consecutive scoreless innings late in the 1908 season and led the league in winning percentage each season from 1906 to 1908, a feat matched only by Hall of Famer Lefty Grove. On May 30, 1909, Reulbach went on a 14-game winning streak, becoming the only 20th-century NL pitcher with two winning streaks as long as 14 games. He defeated every NL team, including five wins over the Brooklyn Superbas, before he lost again on August 14. A November 1913 article in Baseball Magazine judged Reulbach's 1909 streak the most impressive in history; in 14 games he surrendered only 14 runs, giving up three on one occasion, while pitching five shutouts and five one-run games. One of the wins came on June 30, 1909, in the first game ever played at Pittsburgh's Forbes Field.

Out of all of those games and seasons, one day stands out the most when referring to the career of Ed Reulbach: September 26, 1908. With the Cubs just a half game in back of New York, Reulbach set a record that will never be broken (and we can say this with confidence!): he is the only pitcher to throw two shutouts in one day, blanking host Brooklyn 5-0 and 3-0. Ed allowed five hits in the morning game, and was even better in the afternoon, yielding three hits and a walk. He finished the afternoon contest in 1 hour and 12 minutes.

Reulbach's magnificent five-year run finally ended in 1910, when he tailed off to 12-8 with a 3.12 ERA in only 173.1 innings; he and his wife had one child, a son on whom Ed doted, and Ed missed part of the season to be at his son's bedside during an attack of diphtheria. Reulbach improved to 16-9 with a 2.96 ERA in 1911, but the following year his record dipped to 10-6 while his ERA ballooned to 3.78. In July 1913, with his record a mere 1-3 to go along with a 4.42 ERA, the Cubs practically gave him to Brooklyn for cash and a mediocre pitcher named Eddie Stack.

In his first six days with his new team, Reulbach proved that he still could pitch by giving up only two hits in 16 innings. Over the second half he posted a 7-6 record and 2.05 ERA, but the most telling sign that he had returned to form was his ratio of hits per nine innings: a typically Reulbachian 6.30 (77 hits in 110 innings). Reulbach's stellar second half earned him the starting assignment on Opening Day 1914, when he defeated that year's eventual World Series Champions, the Boston Braves. Despite his 11-18 record, the veteran right-hander was Brooklyn's second-best pitcher in 1914, compiling a 2.64 ERA in 256 innings.

With the Federal League's Newark Peppers, Reulbach put together one last outstanding season in 1915, going 21-10 with a 2.23 ERA. Among that year's highlights were his Opening Day triumph over Chief Bender and his 12-inning win over former Cubs teammate Mordecai Brown. Reulbach also pitched and won the final game in Federal League history, defeating the Baltimore Terrapins, 6-0, in the second game of an October 3 doubleheader. The Pittsburgh Pirates acquired the rights to the big right-hander in the Federal League dispersal draft but sold him to the Boston Braves just before the start of the 1916 season. Reulbach pitched mostly in relief for the Braves over next season and a half before ending his career in baseball with Providence of the International League in 1917.

Reulbach's post-baseball years weren't happy ones. Although he earned a Law Degree at Columbia and was one of the Founding Directors of the Baseball Fraternity (which later morphed into the Player's Union), he spent a fortune trying to save the life of his constantly ill son, who ended up dying anyway in 1931. An article in the Chicago Tribune the following year referred to Ed at age 50 as a "sad and lonely man." Considered one of baseball's brainiest during his playing days - Cubs teammate Johnny Evers claimed that Ed was "always five years ahead of his time in baseball thought" - Reulbach still devoted much of his time to thinking about baseball. In 1945 he copyrighted the "Leadership Development Plan," under which the then-important position of captain was rotated among all nine players, one inning at a time, as a means of developing leadership qualities. Reulbach died at age 78 on July 17, 1961, in Glens Falls, New York. Even in death, a Hall of Fame player (who, coincidentally, also made his debut in 1905) overshadowed Reulbach's career accomplishments. Ty Cobb died the same day.

The career of Ed Reulbach should lead all fans - not just Cub fans - to ask: why isn't this man in the Hall of Fame? Many of his contemporaries with very similar records are in the Hall. Chief Bender, Mordecai Brown, Jack Chesbro, Addie Joss and Rube Waddell. Among all of those great pitchers, Brown is the only one with clearly superior stats. It appears Reulbach was under appreciated even during his prime. In 1908, the Reach Guide commented, "Reulbach was effective at times but extremely wild and unreliable." This about a man who was 24-7, 2.03 (with 106 walks in 297 IP)! Back to the salary question posed in the opening paragraph: how much would you pay for this type of "unreliability?" At least this much, right?

Ed Reulbach's career stats at