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The Pitching "Virginia Gentleman":

 EPPA RIXEY

         

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 pitcher.

 

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 The Cincinnati Post, 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 headlines."

 

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 best pitchers.

 

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 The Cincinnati Times Star, 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 Jeptha Rixey.'

 

"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.

"I 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 Cincinnati.

 

Today Eppa Rixey is remembered as one of baseball's great left-handers and he remains the winningest pitcher in Cincinnati Reds history.

         
       

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