Justus Sheffield’s major league debut was up and down. On one hand, he loaded the bases and had some trouble finding the strike zone. On the other hand, he got Mookie Betts to ground into a game-ending double play to close out a win over the Red Sox. No real conclusions can be made about one inning at the very end of a Yankees’ blow out win. The young left-hander was pretty clearly nervous.
Either way, the outing won’t go on a list of best Yankee debuts, no matter how Sheffield’s career ends proceeds from here. Yet the best ever Yankee pitching debut shows that you can’t make any definitive judgments about one game.
After four years in the minors, Vito Tamulis made his major league debut on September 25, 1934. The Yankees had officially been eliminated from AL pennant contention, as they were six back with five games to play.
Before Tamulis even had to step on the mound, he got a run to work with. Tony Lazzeri’s RBI single gave the Yankees an early lead. Tamulis responded with a perfect first inning, striking out the first two major league hitters he faced.
The following inning, the first two Athletics’ hitters reached on singles. After a sacrifice bunt, Tamulis got a strikeout and a groundout to keep Philadelphia off the board. Following that jam, he allowed just four baserunners in the next six innings. Meanwhile, the Yankees’ offense tacked on two more runs.
In the top of the ninth, a Red Rolfe triple scored two more runs to increase the Yankees’ lead to 5-0. In this era, Tamulis probably would not have even made it to the eighth inning in his first ever start, shutout or not. A five-run cushion is borderline on whether starters are allowed to finish things off now a days. This was 1934, so he was still sent out for the ninth.
After getting the first out, Tamulis walked Jimmie Foxx. He then allowed a single to Pinky Higgins, moving Foxx to third. Tamulis quickly bounced back and got two outs to end the game. He threw a complete game shutout in his major league debut.
His final stat line includes seven hits and one walk. Tamulis struck out five over the course of nine innings. Most impressively his winning percentage added was 0.493. That is the highest number for any Yankee pitcher in his debut. Out of all the great players the Yankees have had in their history, Hector Noesi is inexplicably number two on that list.
Tamulis pitched in 30 games for the Yankees the following season, putting up mostly average numbers. He didn’t play in the majors in either 1936 or ‘37, and was traded to the St. Louis Browns after the second of those years.
From 1938-41, Tamulis played for St. Louis, the Dodgers, and the Phillies. He had a good season with the Dodgers in 1940, but would be out of the major leagues for good just a year later. Never judge a player just on their debut. If Tamulis’ was a sign of things to come, he would have been on the way to a hall of fame career.
Data courtesy of Baseball Reference