Emil Levsen, the last major league pitcher to throw complete game wins in both games of a doubleheader, was born on this day in 1898.
Levsen was born in Wyoming, Iowa and earned a degree from Iowa State University. After college, he was signed to pitch for the Cedar Rapids Bunnies, a member of the Mississippi Valley League in 1923. There, Levsen – a husky, broad-shouldered righthander – won 19 of 23 decisions and earned notice when he pitched nine innings of relief against Rock Island and faced just 27 batters. A Cleveland Indians scout signed him for Tris Speaker, and Levsen pitched a couple of games in relief at the end of the season.
Speaker liked what he saw – a big fastball and sharp curve, and a smooth side-armed delivery that threw strikes. However, Speaker thought the kid needed some seasoning, so Levsen was dispatched to Terre Haute in the Three-I league for 1924. There, Levsen continued his winning ways, taking 14 of 22 decisions with a listed ERA of 2.02. A similar thing happened during spring training of 1925 – Levsen was sent to Rochester in the International League and again he was solid – 14 – 9 with good control. In 1926, Levsen wouldn’t need seasoning – he’d be in the Indians rotation.
The 1926 Cleveland Indians were a very good team featuring Luke and Joe Sewell, first baseman George Burns, an aging but able Tris Speaker, and ace pitcher George Uhle. Uhle carried the staff on his back – winning 27 games and pitching 318 innings. The number two guy was Dutch Levsen.
Levsen got off to a great start and the Indians were in the playoff hunt. On August 28th, facing the Boston Red Sox, Levsen cruised through 30 batters by inducing easy flies and pop ups. The Sox got but one run on four hits. As the game came to a close, Burns challenged Levsen to throw the second game. “Pitch the second game, Emil, and I’ll buy you the best hat in town.”
Levsen asked Speaker if he could give it a go, and Speaker – knowing that Uhle, who was scheduled to throw the second game, could use a day off – allowed Levsen to pitch. Levsen matched his first game, allowing just four-hits and one run, and cruised to a second victory.
Levsen was given more than a week of rest until his next start, but he was off – he didn’t finish the first inning. In fact, Levsen was hit pretty freely in most of his remaining starts (44 hits in 33 innings), excepting a must-win game against the Yankees, a Ruth and Gehrig-led team that Levsen held to just two hits. The Yankees finished the season more strongly, though, and won the pennant with the Indians finishing second, just a couple of games back.
The next spring, Levsen’s arm came up lame. He struggled to a 3 – 7 record, and was never able to get back on track. A few years later, the Indians gave up on him. Dispatched to New Orleans in 1930, Levsen retired just seven years into a professional baseball career.
While the statistics suggest otherwise, Levsen never blamed his doubleheader victories for his dead arm. “I pitched fine after the doubleheader. I held the Yankees to two hits in one game. Spring training was just too much.”
Levsen never left baseball entirely, becoming involved in youth programs and eventually becoming the president of the Junior Legion in Iowa. He also owned a creamery in Springfield, Iowa, a short drive outside of Cedar Rapids. Later, he got into life insurance sales and worked briefly with the Department of Agriculture in Cincinnati. He died in 1972 while retired near Minneapolis.
“The Middle Man Merits a Salute”, Baseball Digest, August 1986, Pages 23 to 32.
“Early Indians Find Bad Weather at Spa”, The Sporting News, 28 February 1924, Page 2.
“Cedar Rapids Signs Marquardt as Boss”, The Sporting News, 26 January 1939, Page 10.
“Echoes of an Earlier Day”, The Sporting News, 9 September 1926, Page 1.
“Speaker No Doubt Hopes So, At Least”, The Sporting News, 19 March 1925, Page 2.
Also, I used data found at Retrosheet.org and Baseball-Reference.com
The Atlanta Braves activated Tim Hudson from the 15-day DL, which means that Cory Gearrin heads back to AAA Gwinnett.
Others celebrating with cake, cards, and remembrances include:
(1879) Noodles Hahn – a decent pitcher at the beginning of the 20th century
(1933) Ed Charles
(1934) Luis Aparicio
(1947) Tom House
(1951) Rick “The Roostah” Burleson
(1952) Bob McClure
(1966) John Vander Wal
(1971) Sterling Hitchcock
(1978) Tony Armas