Being a team’s Opening Day starting pitcher is a big thing. A new season is a new chance at glory, and the Opening Day starter is a person the team thinks gives them the best chance at opening the season with a win. It’s no small matter.
If you look through the Yankees’ history of Opening Day starters, there’s a lot of notable and important names there. This year, and hopefully for the foreseeable future, it’s Gerrit Cole. For many years it was CC Sabathia, with Masahiro Tanaka having a nice little run after that. The last one that makes you look sideways is Carl Pavano in 2007, which was the result of a nightmare of spring training injuries. For the most part, it’s a who’s-who of Yankees’ pitching history.
However, there’s always a worst.
Marty McHale was born in 1886 in Massachusetts. Years later, he came to the attention of several major league teams when pitching at the University of Maine. While there, he threw three consecutive no-hitters, and would soon sign with the Red Sox over offers from several others teams.
McHale pitched in two games that season, but wasn’t particularly successful. He struggled further in a couple games the next season as well. Around this time, he also developed an interest in vaudeville, and often had to deal with questions on which he liked more. (To which his answer was reportedly “fifty-fifty.”) After that season, he was traded to Jersey City of the International League.
There, he didn’t exactly pitch the lights out, but he did catch the attention of the Yankees, who purchased him in August 1913. McHale was perfectly solid down the stretch for the Yankees that year, putting up a 2.96 ERA (102 ERA+) in 48.2 innings. While that’s nothing to write home about, it did get him the appreciation of a fairly important person.
Frank Chance’s tenure as Yankee manager didn’t go great. His first season was marred by Hal Chase and accusations that the Yankees’ star was both mocking and maybe even deliberately sabotaging his manager. It should maybe come as no surprise then that Chance grew to appreciate that McHale, who was a hustling hard-worker. The manager even gave the pitcher a watch to thank him.
Chance then gave McHale an even bigger honor by giving him the start in the season opener in 1914. Thanks to four first inning runs, the Yankees won handily in their 1914 debut, beating the Athletics 8-2. McHale performed well, allowing two runs (one earned) on five hits in a complete game victory. Based on that game, it seems like McHale wasn’t the worst choice in the world. But a season is longer than one game.
He didn’t appear in another game until a few weeks later, and there, he gave up six runs on 13 hits. In total, he finished the season with a 2.97 ERA (which equates to a below average 93 ERA+) in 191 innings. Chance left as manager towards the end of the season, meaning McHale’s biggest advocate was gone.
The next season, after an offseason vaudeville tour, McHale was used very sparingly. He pitched 78.1 innings through July 6th, and was worse than he was the year before. After July 6th, he spent the rest of the season in the minors.
After the 1914 season, Jacob Ruppert and Tillinghast L’Hommedieu Huston bought the Yankees. They and their managerial choice Bill Donovan didn’t have any use for McHale. In 1916, he ended up back with the Red Sox. He appeared in two games with them before being released and picked up by Cleveland later that season. McHale struggled mightily there and ended up never playing another major league game.
In 1917, McHale joined in the military effort during World War I, and his baseball career was over by the time he returned. He held a series of jobs after his baseball career and passed away in 1979 (42 years ago yesterday, in fact).
For his career, McHale finished with an ERA+ of 81, meaning he was essentially 19 percent below major league average for his career. People who start on Opening Day typically have had some amount of success at some point in their careers. No offense to McHale, but that never really happened for him. Yet, if you go through the list of Yankees’ Opening Day starters, he’ll forever be on that list along side the likes of Whitey Ford, Ron Guidry, and Gerrit Cole.