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A long-forgotten Cub: Hal Carlson

On July 29, Alec Mills pitched 6 innings against the Reds. He gave up 4 runs, 3 earned, on 9 hits and took the loss.

But he neither walked nor struck out a batter, becoming the first Cub starter to last at least 6 inning with no walks or strikeouts in nearly 30 years, since Mike Bielecki, in 7 innings against the Phillies, on Aug. 17, 1991. Bielecki lost, too, giving up 3 runs in a 5-2 game.

Using search tools at baseball-reference.com, I quickly learned that Mills' was only the 69th "6-0-0" game by a Cubs starter since 1901.

He became the 37th pitcher to do it once.

Three did it twice, including Hall of Famer Mordecai "Three Finger" Brown.

Sheriff Blake did it 3 times; Milt Pappas and Hank Wyse, 4; and 3 more did it 5 times:

1. Legendary hurler Hippo Vaughn, between 1915 and 1921

2. Hall of Famer Grover Cleveland Alexander, between 1922 and 1925

3. Hal Carlson -- WHO?

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MEET HAL CARLSON

Harold Gust Carlson was a 6-foot, 180-pound right hander who was born in Rockford, about 90 miles west of Chicago, in 1892.

He was 24 when he made his Major League debut, for the Pirates, on April 13, 1917, against the Cubs at Weeghman Park, today's Wrigley Field.

Carlson took over to start the third inning, with the Pirates trailing, 6-1, and went he rest of the way, allowing no runs on 5 hits and walking 2. He did not strike out a batter, a harbinger of games to come. He did strike out twice as a hitter. He also picked off a runner.

...

Over the rest of his rookie season, Carlson relieved in 16 more games, finishing 13, and started 17 games, completing 9. In his first start, at Cincinnati on April 29, he fashioned a complete-game, 4-hit shutout. He walked 3 and struck of 6.

He finished the season 7-11, with a 2.90 earned run average and an ERA+ of 98. Then he appeared in only 3 games in 1918 before entering the military to serve in World War I.

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NO SPIT!

In 1919-22, Carlson went 35-43, 3.80, with an ERA+ of 92. He started 73 of 131 games, completing 32, including 4 more shutouts. In 642.2 innings, he struck out only 212, 3.0 per 9 innings, and walked just 183, 2.6.

But his ERA rose each year, from 2.23 in 1919 to 3.36, 4.27 and 5.70. In the latter 2 years, he had been unable to rely on the spitball that had served him well in previous season.

When the pitch was banned after 1920, each team was allowed to submit the names of its active spitballers and they were allowed keep throwing it. But the Pirates' owner, Barney Dreyfuss, was adamantly opposed to the spitball and did not submit any names from his club.

...

After 4 games in relief to begin 1923, Carlson was demoted to the Pirates' Class A farm team in Wichita Falls, Texas, where he went 20-10, 3.86. In the off season, the Pirates sold him to the Phillies.

From 1924-26, he raised his victory total each season, from 8 to 13 to 17, while lowering his ERA, from 4.86 to 4.23 to 3.23. He completed 50 of 97 starts, including 8 shutouts. His 4 in 1925 led the National League.

In his first start of 1927, Carlson was battered for 8 runs, 7 earned, on 7 hits and 3 walks in just 4.1 innings.

Then he went 8 innings with no walks to earn a victory, followed by a complete-game 9 hitter.

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HAPPY BIRTHDAY

On May 17, Carlson turned 25 years old. He celebrated 3 days later with another 9-hitter, at home against the Reds, in which he allowed 2 runs, 1 earned.

His next start was on the 24th, also at home, against Brooklyn. It did not go nearly as well, as Carlson yielded 6 runs on 14 hits. But he lasted 8 innings, in which he walked 1 and struck out none. It was his 12th career game of at least 6 innings with no strikeouts. He had had 25 such starts with no walks -- but only 1 in which he had BOTH no strikeouts and no walks, and that had been in late August of 1921.

...

May 30 was Memorial Day. Carlson started the morning half of a doubleheader at New York and did not survive the first inning. He faced 8 batters, of whom 5 made hits, 2 walked and 5 eventually scored.

That proved to be his last start for the Phillies.

The next day, in relief, Carlson got only 2 outs while surrendering 4 runs, 3 earned, on 2 hits and 2 walks.

The day after that, June 1, he gave up 1 run on 4 hits to finish at game on Pittsburgh.

He did not pitch again over the 5 days that followed.

On the sixth day, the Phillies traded him to the Cubs, for another veteran pitcher, Tony Kaufmann, and infielder Jimmy Cooney.

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WORTH 'OBSCURED'?

When Carlson arrived in Chicago, his record for the season was 4-5; his ERA, 5.23; and his ERA+, just 75.

Still, the Chicago Tribune described him as "for several years one of the league's star hurlers, but whose real worth has been obscured by his attachment to a tail end team -- the Phillies."

The Cubs wasted no time inserting Carlson into their rotation. He made his debut with them on June 8, the day after the trade was announced. With a large contingent of family and friends from Rockford looking on, he scattered 9 hits in a complete game against the Dodgers. He walked 1 and struck out 3.

Four days later, walked 2 and struck out none in 7.2 innings. He gave up 9 hits again, but 6 runs, 5 earned, but did not get a decision.

..........

Carlson went the distance in each of his next 5 starts. And in the first and last of those, he ended the day with no walks and no strikeouts: a 7-hit, 7-2 win over the Phillies at home on June 16 and a 4-hit win at Pittsburgh on July 7.

The score of the latter game reverted to 2-1 when a prolonged rainstorm prevented completion of the ninth inning. The Cubs had scored twice in the top of the inning and the Pirates had a run in and a man on third with 1 out when the players were ordered off the field.

The victory lifted the Cubs into first place by half a game over the Pirates. They were just 9-9 in their next 18 games, but led or tied for the lead after each contest. Carlson made 3 starts, last just 4 innings in a loss, winning in 10 and getting no-decision in 9. He allowed 6, 4 and 2 runs in those game, walking 2, 2 and 1 while striking out 0, 3 and 2.

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OUT OF PENTHOUSE

The Cubs slipped to second place on July 27, when they lost the opener of a 17-game home stand. Two days later, Carlson pitched into the 10th inning and left with the bases loaded and nobody out. A run scored on a sacrifice fly, but the 2 other runners were stranded and the Cubs rallied for 2 runs in the bottom half to win the game, 5-4.

...

After a loss the next day, the Cubs closed out the month with by beating the Phillies. That ignited a 9-game winning streak that put them in first place by 3 games.

Carlson contributed 2 complete games to the streak. In the first, against the Braves, he allowed 11 hits but only 1 run and performed his no-walk, no-strikeout magic again. In second, he shut out the Dodgers on 6 hits, 2-0, with 1 walk and 2 strikeouts.

That game, on Aug. 9, left him with a 13-7 record for the season, and with an ERA of 3.70.

He made only 3 more starts during the month and lost them all, as he yielded 6 runs on 13 hits in 8.2 innings, 5 runs on 12 hits in 8 and 5 runs on 3 hits in just 2.1.

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0-0 AGAIN

In the 8-inning defeat, he once more neither walked nor struck out a batter. He almost did it again on Sept. 1, with 1 walk and no strikeouts in a loss at Pittsburgh.

That loss was the Cubs' fourth in a row and 11th in 15 games. It dropped them into a tie for first, just 16 days after they had led by a season-high 6 games.

Three more losses followed, then a win and another 3 losses. The last of those defeats went to Carlson, who gave up 3 runs on 9 hits in 6 innings. He was now 13-12.

...

The Cubs, at 74-57, were now in fourth place, 2.5 games behind. They won 4 of their next 5, including a 5-run, 10-hit complete game by Carlson, who walked 1 and struck out 1.

But 4 more losses came next, after which the Cubs, though still fourth, trailed by 8 games.

On Sept. 17, the Cubs swept a doubleheader at home against the Braves, with Carlson winning Game 2. After a loss the next day, the Cubs reeled off 5 straight wins.

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LAST HURRAH

In the fourth of those 5, Carlson recorded his second shutout as a Cub, blanking the Phillies on 9 hits. He did not walk a batter or strike one out, for the fifth time in his 21 starts since joining the team.

His shutout proved to be the last win of the season for himself or the Cubs, as they ended the year with a 5-game losing streak.

The next-to-last loss, 2-1 to the Pirates, was charged to Carlson, who gave up only 7 hits while completing his 15th game for the team.

...

In his 22 starts, Carlson pitched 178.2 innings, an average of more than 8 per start. He allowed 70 runs, 60 earned, for an ERA of 3.02.

He walked 27 (1.36 per 9 innings).

And he struck out . . . 26 (1.31 per 9)!

He relieved 5 times, for a total of 27 games as a Cub, in which his record was 12-8; his ERA, 3.17; and his ERA+, 124.

For the entire season, he was 16-13, 3.70, 106.

Sadly, Carlson never would pitch as well again.

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BAD YEAR, BAD NEWS

In spring training of 1928, Carlson caught the flu. He also developed pleurisy and did not pitch in a regular-season game until May 20. After 10 relief appearances, his ERA was 9.95. Then he sat out a month.

On Aug. 2, in his first of the year, Carlson pitched a 2-hit complete game, walking none and striking out 2.

But he was hit hard 5 days later (4 runs on 8 hits and 3 walks in 5.1 innings) and made only 2 more starts before the season ended. One was a 5-hitter. He finished the year 3-2, with an ERA of 5.91.

...

During the off season, Carlson was checked by a doctor in California, who told him he had a chronic condition, likely due to begin gassed during World War I, and likely had only months to live. But Carlson kept the diagnosis to himself and returned to Chicago for the 1929 season.

He lasted only 2 innings in his first start, on April 28, then surrendered 4 runs in 1 inning in relief on May 11. But he pitched in 27 more games from June through September, and in those he was 11-4 with a 4.12 ERA.

For the season, he made 13 starts, completing 6, including a pair of shutouts against the Giants.

His efforts helped the Cubs win the National League pennant for the first time since 1918. He pitched twice in relief in the World Series, giving up 3 runs on 5 hits in 3 innings in Game 2, then pitching a scoreless eighth inning in Game 4, a inning after the Athletics had scored 10 times to erase an 8-0 Cubs lead.

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SHAKY WINS

In 1930, Carlson relieved once, then made 4 straight starts. He both completed and won 3 of the 4, the last 2 despite allowing 15 and 14 hits.

Then he earned a victory with 4.1 innings of 2-run relief at home against the Braves on May 13, 2 days after celebrating his 38th birthday.

On the 16th, at St. Louis, he struck out 5, matching his high as a Cub. But he yielded 4 runs on 13 hits and a 1 walk, and was removed after 5.2 innings.

A week later, at Pittsburgh, he gave up 4 runs again, on 4 hits and 2 walks, in just 3 innings. He did not strike out a batter.

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SHOCKING DEATH

The Cubs' game at home against the Reds on Tuesday, May 27, was postponed due to extreme cold. Carlson, due to start the next day, returned to the room he rented in an hotel near Wrigley Field. Feeling under the weather, he went to bed early.

Several hours later, he was awakened by stomach pain. By 2:15 a.m., he hurt so much that he called the Cubs' clubhouse attendant, Ed Froelich, who also lived in the hotel.

When Froelich came to Carlson's room, Carlson said it was probably stomach ulcers and that Froelich could go back to bed. But Froelich stayed with Carlson and when Carlson began to bleed from his mouth, around 3 a.m., Froelich called 3 other Cubs who resided at the hotel.

They summoned the team physician. By the time he arrived, Carlson was unconscious. At 3:30, he died. The cause of death was listed as stomach hemorrhage.

Carlson had married after the 1924 season. His wife, Eva, was 8 months pregnant with their second child. She had returned to their home in Rockford to await the child's birth.

...

The Cubs played their scheduled game on the afternoon on Carlson's death. Kiki Cuyler, one of the players at his bedside when he died, hit a 2-run homer in the first inning of an eventual 6-5 victory.

The next day's game was postponed, as a group of players accompanied his body to Rockford. The burial took place the following day, while the Cubs were taking 2 games from the Cardinals.

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FINAL NUMBERS

During his 14 seasons as a Major League pitcher, Carlson won 114 games and lost 120, with an ERA of 3.97 and an ERA+ of exactly 100, the definition of an average hurler.

As a Cub, he was 30-17, 4.34, and 97, in 4 seasons.

He pitched 404 innings for the Cubs and 2,002 overall.

And in all those innings, he walked only 498 batters, a mere 2.24 per 9 innings, and struck out just 590, 2.65 per 9.

Among all pitchers who threw at least 2,000 innings, his 2.24 BB/9 is tied for 91st with Hall of Famer Don Drysdale. They are tied for 61st among those who pitched 2,000 innings and any of their seasons were in the last 100 years.

...

Only 3 active pitchers with at least 2,000 innings have a lower BB/9 that Carlson: Zack Greinke, at 2.06; Madison Bumgarner, at 2.11; and Clayton Kershaw, at 2.23, or .01 ahead of Carlson.

Greinke has started 486 games, most of any active pitcher. He lasted at least 6 innings in 357. He had no walks or strikeouts in exactly 1 of those: his 355th, on Aug. 18 of this year, a 6-inning outing against the Royals.

Bumgarner has made 316 starts. He worked 6 or more inning in 239. He had no walks or strikeouts in 1, for the Giants, against the Tigers, in 2014.

Kershaw's last start was his 372nd. He has never had a no-walk, no-strikeout game of any length.

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