By Curtis L. Englebright
On a hot and humid July Sunday in 1950 Harley Tilley of the Union City Greyhounds and Ben Roy of the Madisonville Miners engaged in a magnificent pitching marathon. The game is significant in and of itself but also provides segue for comments on pitching practices then and now. Neither pitcher was sensational but both were incredibly courageous. They held their respective opponents scoreless for thirteen innings. In the top half of the fourteenth the Miners scored one run off Tilley, and the Greyhounds countered with two off Roy in the bottom half to give Tilley a 2-1 victory. Each pitcher gave up eleven hits and each walked five batters. Tilley struck out six hitters and Roy two. His Greyhound team-mates backed Tilley with six double plays, probably a Kitty League record.
Both pitchers were totally exhausted at the end. The concept of a pitch count did not exist at that time. They each must have made 200 or more pitches on an extremely hot day. Neither made a quality start for well over a month afterwards.
In those days pitchers took great pride in completed games. Rarely was a pitcher removed from a game in which his team was leading and seldom when a game was tied. Moreover, he never wanted to leave a game, no matter the score. With the team roster of sixteen players a manager had a pitching staff of only six or seven and he wanted all the innings he could possibly get from his starter.
As designated infield captain for four years, the writer was a party to countless conferences on the pitching mound. Invariably, with some editing, the conversations were as follows:
Manager to pitcher: "How you feeling?"
Pitcher: "Fine, I'm okay."
Manager to catcher: "How's his stuff?"
Catcher: "He can go a little longer."
Manager: "0kay, go get'em!"
Parenthetically, in other conferences regarding a dangerous hitter the manager's parting instructions always were, "Don't give him anything good to hit, but don't walk him either." A most difficult assignment!
Pitching staffs operated on a four-man rotation. A starting pitcher's four-day work schedule was as follows: (1) Start a game and go as long as possible, (2) Pitch batting practice, (3) Be in the bullpen for possible relief duty, (4) Rest for start next day. Of course, pitchers also ran between starts to keep their legs conditioned.
Today's starting pitchers work on a five-man rotation and a pitch count. Every team has one or two relief specialists on their significantly expanded team rosters. So, starting pitchers don't relieve. Complete games by starting pitchers are rarities.
While recognizing the changing nature of how the game is played today, and the advantages of modern pitching practices, the writer, nevertheless, regrets that never again will one witness epic performances such as Harley Tilley and Ben Roy gave in July 1950.