Player: Rixey, Eppa
Card: 1933 Goudey #74
Eppa Rixey Jr. (b. May 3, 1891 in Culpepper, VA – d. February 28, 1963 in Cincinnati, OH), nicknamed “Jephtha”, was a left handed pitcher who played 21 seasons for the Philadelphia Phillies and Cincinnati Reds in Major League Baseball from 1912 to 1933. The Rixeys of Culpeper were Virginia gentility, descended from the Riccias of Italy, who had come to America by way of England, Scotland, and France (SABR). Eppa graduated from the University of Virginia with a degree in chemistry. His uncles were John Franklin Rixey, a former congressman, and Presley Marion Rixey, a former Surgeon General of the United States Navy.
Rixey attended the University of Virginia where he was a star pitcher. He was discovered by umpire Cy Rigler, who convinced him to sign directly with the Phillies, bypassing minor league baseball entirely.
Eppa was best known as the National League’s leader in career victories for a left-hander with 266 wins until Warren Spahn surpassed his total in 1959. He was a star in the deadball era and continued to pitch well in the lively ball era, winning 20+ games in 1916 and three more times in the 1920s. His career ERA was 3.18, and he only issued 1082 walks in 4494 innings.
At 6’5″ , he was the tallest player in the majors for most of his career. He was not known as a speedballer, and relied on a change-up and pitched to contact, striking out relatively few hitters. He was frequently among the league leaders but almost never led the league. six of the ten most similar players to Eppa are in the Hall of Fame, with Tommy John as a strong contender.
Despite his size, Rixey was a finesse pitcher, working deep into the count to set up a hitter, never giving in, striking out few and walking even fewer, making the hitter hit the ball. A smart pitcher, he thought most hitters were dumb. Rube Bressler told Lawrence Ritter in “The Glory of their Times” that Rixey remarked upon his astonishment that on the 2-0 or 3-1 count almost every hitter in the league looked for his fast ball and never got it! He was durable, frequently working 280 or more innings.
While surrendering more than a hit per inning, he didn’t hurt himself with walks or home runs or errors; he fielded his position well, handling 108 chances without an error in 1917. And, like all good pitchers on generally weak teams, he suffered more than his share of losses. Similar southpaw contemporaries include Slim Sallee and Herb Pennock (HoF). Tom Glavine, although he walked and struck out more hitters more than did Rixey, pitched with the same mindset.
Eppa Rixey’s career is a tale of two pitchers. As a Phillie, Rixie was inconsistent. His first two seasons were respectable (10-10 and 9-5), even promising given his youth, but his third (2-11, 4.37) was a disaster. His fourth season, with the Phillies winning their first pennant, was better in terms of ERA, but he was just 11-12 in wins and losses. A key to Rixey’s improvement was new manager Pat Moran‘s confidence in him.
Moran brought him into the third inning of the deciding fifth game of the World Series with Boston in relief of Erskine Mayer. Rixey was stung by home runs by Duffy Lewis and Harry Hooper, the latter bouncing into the center-field bleachers constituting what would be a ground-rule double under today’s rules. He wound up taking the loss. In 1916 the Phillies improved their won-lost record but came in second to Brooklyn. Rixey, though, had perhaps his best season ever, going 22-10 with a microscopic 1.85 ERA and a career-high 134 strikeouts. He fell off in 1917, leading the league in losses with 21, but he had a good ERA (2.27) and threw four shutouts.
Rixey lost the 1918 season to the war, serving with the Chemical Warfare Division in Europe. His return from the military, marked by rustiness and dissatisfaction with Phillie managers Jack Coombs and Gavy Cravath, led to two abysmal seasons (6-12 and 11-22) with last-place teams. On February 22, 1921, he was happy to be traded to Cincinnati in exchange for Jimmy Ring and Greasy Neale. He was back playing for Pat Moran.
The Veterans Committee elected Eppa to the Hall of Fame on January 27, 1963. He was the first Virginian to be so honored. Unfortunately, he was also the first honoree to die between election and induction, suffering a fatal heart attack on February 28. (Coincidentally, the second was fellow Virginian Leon Day in 1995.)
Eppa is part of the Hall of Fame Player Tour – Go to the Next Stop
Eppa is part of the Military Service during Wartime Tour – go to the Next Stop
Eppa is part of the Cincinnati Reds Player Tour – Go to the Next Stop
Eppa is also part of the Philadelphia Phillies Player Tour – Go to the Next Stop
See Eppa’s baseball cards at TCDB
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