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The Whip That Cracked For A Season:



    For one season, Ewell Blackwell was baseball's best pitcher. His pitching accomplishments were hailed in 72-point type in newspaper headlines and were analyzed in in-depth magazine articles. He was the toast of the baseball world.


The year was 1947. This Cincinnati Reds right-hander looked like a sure Hall-of-Famer. He won 22 games, pitched one no-hitter and came within a whisker of duplicating Johnny Vander Meer's feat of two consecutive no-hit gems.


Blackwell was being compared to all the great pitchers. He won 16 consecutive games, a string topped only by Rube Marquard's 19 in a row for the New York Giants in 1912. He nearly dethroned Bob Feller as the major league strikeout king. He was being called the National League's "new Carl Hubbell, right-handed version."


The Reds had been waiting for such a season since the gangly, 6-foot-5-inch youngster had signed a small bonus contract with the club before the 1942 season. He was a phenomenon on the California sandlots, where he also played basketball and football. He starred on the same high school team as did Glenn Davis, the famous collegian who teamed with Doc Blanchard in the backfield at the United States Military Academy.


Blackwell had a buggy-whip motion; hence the nickname "The Whip." When he delivered a pitch to the plate, the ball was hard to follow. His big feet; his long, slender arms; his pretzel windup; his serpentine delivery and classic follow-through made Blackwell's sizzling fastball even harder to hit.


The Reds had to wait quite a while for his emergence as a star. Blackwell went straight to the major leagues in 1942 as a 21-year-old tookie. Bur he pitched in only two games before he was farmed to the Reds Class AAA team in Syracuse, New York. He burned that league up and certainly would have been a mainstay on the Reds staff in 1943, except that he went into the military service.


He returned from the service in 1946 and won only nine games, but manager Bill McKechnie had been eagerly anticipating his return. McKechnie, an astute observer of pitchers, told newspaper reporters that Blackwell would be "one of the truly great pitchers, one of the all-time greats."


The following season bore out McKechnie's prediction. Pulitzer-Prize-winning sports columnist Red Smith once described Blackwell as looking "like a fly rod with ears." Well, that "fly rod" posted a 22-8 record. During his marathon, 16-game winning streak, Blackwell pitched his no-hitter, a two-hitter and four three-hitters. He was removed for a pinch hitter only once during the streak.


The piece de resistance was the no-hitter on June 18 against the Braves. Four days later, he nearly duplicated Vander Meer's double no-hit feat. Blackwell held Brooklyn hitless for 8 1/3 innings before Eddie Stanky singled up the middle, right between the pitcher's legs. Blackwell eventually settled for a two-hitter when Jackie Robinson also singled.


Waite Hoyt, a Hall-of-Fame pitcher for the Yankees and a radio broadcaster in Cincinnati who watched Blackwell pitch, was awed by Blackwell's ability.


"There was a time," Hoyt said, "when Blackie was as close to unbeatable as a pitcher can get. Yes, he could knock the bats out of their hands - and he did. I've seen him do it .... The right-handed hitters today can thank their lucky stars they don't have to hit against that string bean."


Unfortunately for Blackwell and the Reds, The Whip never came close to matching his 1947 record. He had arm problems in 1948 and his record dipped to 7-9. He had a kidney removed before the 1949 season and he was 5-5 that year.


By the mid-1950s, the pitcher, once compared to all the great ones of the past, was finished. The Reds sold him to the New York Yankees in 1952 and he finished up his career with the Yanks the next season.

Nevertheless, Ewell Blackwell will always be remembered for that one great season in 1947.





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