Feb 28, 2012

Wondrous Seasons of the Past: Dean Chance in 1964

There are times when talk of great players gets boiled down to career value, but sometimes there's a time when a good player can rise above the rest of the league for a season or two and become truly great.  Dean Chance in 1964 was that player.   During a time when the Cy Young award was awarded to only one pitcher between both leagues, Chance led in WAR, ERA, shutouts, HR/9, and ERA+ matched up against the likes of Sandy Koufax, Don Drysdale, Jim Bunning,  Whitey Ford, Juan Marichal, and Bob Gibson.

"His name is Wilmer Dean Chance, a country boy out of Wooster, Ohio, who plays pool better than Leo Lippy Durocher and beats the Yankees with more consistency than Frank Lary ever did."

He did only go 20-9, which for that pitcher's decade was not that imposing a W/L record, though he did it over an AL leading 278.1 innings with an amazing 11 complete game shutouts. He had finished 3rd in the ROY vote in 1962 and was realizing the potential in full form.

"On the night before he racked up his 20th win in 1964, Dean, never noticeably a booster for the President's Physical Fitness Program, hit the sack at 7:30.  He slept soundly, like a good boy should."

His durability was never in question as he led the AL in complete games, including five 1-0 victories, becoming the 5th pitcher ever with that many in one season.   He also increased his K/BB ratio above 2 for the first time in his career, demonstrating the most command up to his point (though it would desert him in 1966 and return in 1967).

"Chance probably has the strangest-yet most powerfully effective delivery-since Fat Freddie Fitzsimmons pitched in the thirties.  Like Fitz, Chance violates on the cardinal theories of hurling: before throwing the ball he turns his back on a hitter."

So picture a much sturdier version of Hideo Nomo with a jumping fastball who doesn't always know where it's going because "he doesn't see well out of his left eye anyhow".  Imagine if he ever put on glasses....

Dean Chance, with a season for the ages and a career to reflect upon.

All quoted passages are from the book Baseball Stars of 1965: the Dean Chance section was written by Ray Robinson.

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