The most important thing a pitcher can do is win ballgames for his club, and in that regard, Leever was the 17th best pitcher in baseball history. His amazing career winning percentage of .660 has been bested by 16 pitchers in the game’s history as the Goshen Schoolmaster, so nicknamed because he taught high school students before he played with the Pirates and during the offseason, worked for the powerhouse Pirates of Honus Wagner.
Before the mass introduction of the Louisville Colonels stars to the Pirates roster, when Wagner and Fred Clarke joined the club, Leever was toiling for the Bucs. He made his debut in 1898 when Pittsburgh finished eighth. The following year he was the National League’s most overworked pitcher as Sam led the league in games pitched and innings worked. The Pirates were merely a middle-of-the-road team that finished just above .500. Sam had a losing 21-23 record in 1899 but would never again post another losing record.
In 1900, when the Pirates received the greatest single haul of talent in baseball history with Louisville transferring its stars to Pittsburgh, Sam became a member of a winning outfit. The Pirates, managed by new skipper Fred Clarke, jumped to second place in 1900. They captured the NL flag in 1901 as the Goshen Schoolmaster led the National League with a .737 winning percentage.
Always a good strike thrower, Leever posted a nifty 0.140 walks per inning pitched in 1902; superior to Hall of Fame peers Jack Chesbro (0.217), Vic Willis (0.246) and Christy Mathewson (0.264). Although the Pirates won the NL pennant in 1902, animosity between the leagues kept them from participating in a winner-take-all series. When the leagues put their differences aside in 1903, Sam took part in the first modern World Series. The Pirates ace during the season, Leever led the National League in ERA, shutouts and winning percentage. But Sam was tagged with two losses in the World Series as the Red Sox won the first ever modern Fall Classic.
Sam was just as sharp in 1904 when he won 18 games on a 2.17 ERA. For the third time in his career, during the 1905 season, Leever paced the NL in winning percentage when he posted a terrific .800 mark. He followed up that campaign with his fourth 20-win season in 1906. Sam went 22-7 for the Pirates in ’06 with six shutouts.
The 1907 season was Sam’s highwater mark for ERA when he posted a remarkable 1.66 mark for the Bucs. Sam also notched five shutouts for Pittsburgh as he posted his eighth season with 200+ innings of work. By 1908, the Goshen Schoolmaster’s arm had been taken to class a number of times and he was passed by on the Pirates pitching depth chart by younger arms like Howie Camnitz, Lefty Leifield and Nick Maddox. But Sam remained a good model for the young hurlers to pattern themselves after. In their pennant-winning season of 1909, Leever had an astounding .889 winning percentage. After the 1910 season, the Goshen Schoolmaster gave his last class and retired.
W 194/L 100/PCT .660/ERA 2.47/G 388/CG 241/SHO 39/IP 2,661/H 2,449/BB 587/SO 847