One of the top pitchers of the 1930s, Lon “The Arkansas Hummingbird” Warneke finished in the Top Ten in strikeouts every year from 1932 to 1936. A stellar workhorse with a whistling fastball, Warneke was a top flight shutout pitcher who topped his league in that department twice. He posted five seasons in which he tallied four shutouts.
Warneke, born in Mount Ida, Arkansas, had a forgettable debut at the Major League level. In his first game, Lon tossed an inning and a third of wild baseball–The Hummingbird issued five walks. Although Lon’s first two years at the Major League level were marked by wildness, he settled in at the highest level in 1932 and established himself as a star pitcher with solid control.
In his breakout ’32 season, the Arkansas Hummingbird led the National League in wins, winning percentage, shutouts and ERA. He posted the first of three 20-win seasons and finished as masher Chuck Klein’s runner-up in MVP voting. Lon won 22 games–the only NL pitcher to top 20. Although he led the league with a 2.37 ERA in 1932, he trimmed his mark down to 2.00 in 1933. Rewarded for his work, the 24-year-old right-hander was named to the National League All-Star team. Lon’s record was 18-13 and he paced the senior circuit in complete games with 26.
Warneke reached his highwater mark for innings pitched in 1934 when he came within nine innings of working three hundred frames. The innings-eater from Arkansas won 22 games for the ’34 Cubs and finished fourth in the National League in the strikeout department. In his early days, Lon was extremely wild but he harnessed his control by issuing just 66 walks in 291 innings of work. 1935 was another 20-win season for the Arkansas Hummingbird and a campaign that ended with a trip to the World Series. Although Lon had the Detroit Tigers number (he went 2-0 with a 0.56 ERA) his Cubs fell to the Bengals as Lon’s two wins were the Cubs only victories.
Lon posted his fifth straight year of 240 or more innings worked in 1936 when he tied for the league lead in shutouts. But ’36 was Lon’s last year as a Cub. Shortly after the close of the season, he was dealt to the Cardinals for heavy-hitting first baseman Ripper Collins and pitcher Tarzan Parmelee. In his first year in St. Louis, Warneke went 18-11. For the first time since 1931, Lon failed to pitch 200 innings in 1938. Nevertheless, he finished third in the National League in shutouts.
The Arkansas Hummingbird returned to his inning-eating ways in 1940 when he tossed 232 innings for the Redbirds and went 16-10. His 3.14 ERA was tops among St. Louis moundsmen. He posted a nearly identical ERA in 1941 and improved his record to 17-9. With World War II well underway in 1942, the Redbirds sold Lon back to the Cubs midway through the ’42 season where he flourished down the stretch with a 2.27 ERA in a dozen starts.
The war interrupted Lon’s career in 1944 when he was called for duty, but the Arkansas Hummingbird’s fastball had already lost its music. He returned to the Cubs in 1945 to finish out his career.
W 192/L 121/PCT .613/G 445/CG 192/IP 2,781/H 2,726/BB 739/SO 1,140/SHO 31/ERA 3.18