Al “The Curveless Wonder” Orth was one of the top control pitchers of his time and one of the best marksmen in baseball history. His stingy walks issued per nine innings of 1.773 ranks 48th on the all-time list. Orth, noted for his exceptional control, also carried a formidable stick. Used in over 50 games as an outfielder, Al hit .273 over the course of his career.
A minor league pitching sensation in the 1890s, Orth was bought by the Phillies in 1895 and he promptly reeled off eight consecutive wins for the Phils. The 1890s was noted for his heavy hitting but Orth seemed to fail to receive the memo that pitchers were supposed to struggle during the decade. He won 15 games for the Phillies in 1896 and in 1898 he posted a low 3.02 ERA. For skipper Bill Shettsline’s 1899 Phillies, Al posted a terrific 2.49 ERA and led the league in winning percentage with an .824 mark.
When the American League began play in 1901–as a Major League circuit–they raided the rosters of the established National League but the Curveless Wonder stayed on with the Phillies. Al had his first 20-win season in 1901 and he tied for the league lead in shutouts. His 2.27 ERA was the best mark of his career and the strike-thrower issued just 32 walks in 282 innings of work. However, after the season, the siren’s song that was the American League soothed Al’s ears and he jumped the Phillies to join the Senators.
Things were less than rosy for Orth in Washington. Although he won 19 games for the Senators, his ERA jumped from 2.27 in 1901 to 3.97 in ’02. Despite the rise in ERA, Orth still hit the bull’s-eye more often than not with his offerings. His 0.123 walks allowed per inning was superior to Hall of Fame peers Cy Young (0.138), Rube Waddell (0.231) and Christy Mathewson (0.264).
After a dismal 10-22 season with the Senators in 1903, Orth was traded to the Yankees (then called the Highlanders) for Long Tom Hughes and Barney Wolfe. The trade helped revive Orth’s career as he learned the spitball from Hall of Fame teammate Jack Chesbro. With the 41-game-winner Chesbro and pack mule Jack Powell, Orth gave the New Yorkers three solid starters and they came in at second place in 1904.
Orth won 18 games in 1905 before his monster campaign in 1906. That year he led the league in complete games and innings pitched, won 27 contests (some sources list this as a league leading stat) and posted a tidy 2.34 ERA. Skipper Clark Griffith brought New York in at second place again in ’06. But the wheels came off the bus in 1907. Wee Willie Keeler and Hal Chase’s offense fell off from the previous season and Jack Chesbro was no longer the workhorse he had been in the past. New York had a losing record and Al posted an unflattering 14-21 record despite adequate peripheral stats.
But 1907 was Al’s last decent year. After eight years of 210+ innings pitched, Orth only logged 139 frames in 1908 and had a poor 2-13 record. He made one start for New York in 1909 before leaving the club to work as player/manager of the Lynchburg Shoemakers.
W 204/L 189/PCT .519/ERA 3.37/G 440/CG 324/SHO 31/IP 3,355/H 3,564/BB 661/SO 948