When Warren Spahn, the great Milwaukee Braves pitcher, won his 267th
game in 1959, he set a record for most career victories by a left-handed
The record was ballyhooed far and wide, and rightly so. But 26 years
earlier when Eppa Rixey concluded his career with the Cincinnati Reds,
retiring with 266 victories, this achievement virtually went unnoticed.
"Nobody even knew I had a record," Rixey said in a 1959 interview with
the Newspaper Enterprise Association. "There wasn't so much emphasis in
those days. Tom Swope, the baseball writer for
gave me a copy of my record when I quit. He wrote that it was the best
ever made in the league by a left-hander. It didn't rate national
Rixey was the kind of pitcher who didn't get many headlines, but in a
2l-year career, 13 with the Reds, he certainly was one of baseball's
Four times he won at least 20 games, and in 1922 he had the most
victories in the National League: 25.
Rixey never pitched an inning of minor
league baseball, coming straight from the University of
Virginia to the Philadelphia Phillies in 1912.
He might be the only
player ever scouted and signed by an umpire. Cy Rigler, coaching at
Virginia at the time, was a Phillies scout and a National League umpire
as well. He saw the 6-foot-5-inch left-hander's potential and got his
signature on a Phillies contract.
Pitching until he was 43 years old, Rixey was well-known for being one
of baseball's "best gentlemen." He always stayed in top physical
condition and his delightful sense of humor made him a big favorite
among his teammates.
Rixey's given name was Eppa Rixey Jr., but not long after he began
playing with the Phillies, he acquired the middle name of Jeptha.
"The third game I won in the National League was in 1912 in Cincinnati.
Bill Phelon, sports editor of
had a flair for poems. He wrote one about me. My name didn't fill out
the last line the way he wanted it, so he added to it. He called me 'Eppa
"That isn't my name," Rixey emphasized, "my name is Eppa Rixey Jr. and
that's all. But the Jeptha was picked up. People assumed it was right.
I've got cousins in Virginia who write me that way. They believe it's my
real name. Some of the record books carry it that way."
After Rixey retired, he waited for years for induction into baseball's
Hall of Fame. Often mentioned as a
possible Hall-of-Famer, the honor eluded him year after year. One
summer, while on vacation, Rixey visited the Hall of Fame in
Cooperstown, New York, and sent post cards to friends and business
associates in Cincinnati.
finally made it to Cooperstown - for one day," he wrote.
Finally, however, his call came. On
January 27, 1968, the Old-Timers Committee recognized Rixey for his
great pitching and voted him into the Hall of Fame.
Unfortunately, though, he never lived to see his Hall of Fame plaque.
One month after election, he died suddenly of a heart attack in
Today Eppa Rixey is remembered as one of baseball's great left-handers
and he remains the winningest pitcher in Cincinnati Reds history.