Every team has their pet jinx: that one pitcher who constantly stands the batters on their heads. The mighty Yankees of Babe Ruth had such a jinx and its name was Urban Shocker. An amusing yarn circulated about the lengths the Yankees went to disrupt Shocker. It was known that Urban liked a good time as much as the next fellow, and the night before a pivotal game between the Bronx Bombers and Shocker’s St. Louis Browns, many Yankee players phoned Shocker’s hotel room in an effort to take him out on the town. Browns skipper Lee Fohl got wind of the Yankees partying plans and intercepted the phone calls. He then organized a friendly game of poker in his room – with Shocker and some teammates in attendance – thus letting the numerous rings of Shocker’s phone fall on deaf ears. The next day, Shocker went out and stood the Bombers on their heads.
Shocker may have been the Yankees pet jinx but he got his start at the Major League level with them and even closed out his Major League career in pinstripes. Urban was acquired by the Yankees via the Canadian League for the 1916 season and he posted a solid 2.61 ERA for the Yankees. The following year, his ERA was nearly identical – raising a single point to 2.62. He was enjoying a breakout 1918 season – a 1.81 ERA in 14 games – until it was interrupted by World War I. Shocker went overseas and saw heavy combat action. Upon his stateside return, the spitballer informed his family that he nearly died on the battle field. He was engaged in close-quartered combat with the enemy and suffered a head wound courtesy of a bayonet. The horror of killing a man with a bayonet haunted Urban but he found solace on the ball diamond.
As a member of 1919 Browns – months removed from his battle field heroics – Shocker tied for second in the American League in the shutouts department. The following year, the spitball was outlawed but he and a select few established hurlers were allowed to throw the pitch. Shocker used the spitball to post four straight 20-win seasons for the hapless St. Louis Browns. He finished third in the AL in ERA and led the junior circuit in saves (this was a time before relief specialists, as Urban, a starter, was called on to put out fires created by his fellow moundsmen).
Urban led the AL with 27 wins for the Browns in 1921 – almost single-handedly pitching the team to a third place finish. Shocker finished second in the league in strikeouts and third in innings pitched. The Browns knew they had a hot property on their hands and called on Urban to toss 348 innings in 1922. A 24-game winner in ’22, Urban paced the AL with 149 strikeouts. His 1923 season signaled his fourth and final 20-win season. Of all the 20 game winners in the AL, Urban owned the greatest control. His strikeout-to-walk ratio was 2.22 to 1. His 20-game winnings peers included Sad Sam Jones (0.99 to 1), Hooks Dauss (1.35 to 1), George Uhle (1.07 to 1) and Howard Ehmke (1.02 to 1). Hall of Fame peer Walter Johnson wasn’t as brilliant as Shocker either, posting a 1.88 to 1 strikeout-to-walk ratio.
In 1924, Urban finished fifth in the AL in the strikeout department, but he only notched 16 wins for the fourth place Browns. After the season, the Browns packaged Shocker in a deal to the Yankees for a trio of pitchers: Milt Gaston, Bullet Joe Bush and Joe Giard. Bush was at the end of his rope and Giard never amounted to anything, but the Browns did get three 200+ inning seasons out of Gaston. But, the trade looked one-sided. Shocker went to the Yankees and went 19-11 in 1926 – pitching the Bombers to the World Series. He followed up that year with another solid campaign, posting an 18-6 record with a trim 2.84 ERA.
During the 1928 season, when Urban was near the end of his career, he died of a stomach ailment in September of that year. Urban Shocker was an excellent pitcher who had four straight 20-win seasons for the lowly Browns. His career wasn’t very long, but not many pitchers of his day enjoyed long careers. He makes for a fringe Hall of Fame selection, but I’d be inclined to put him in there because he flourished when most pitchers struggled mightily – during the beginning of The Lively Ball Era.
Urban Shocker’s career stats: W 188/L 117/PCT .616/G 412/CG 202/IP 2,681/H 2,