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Pirates Pitching Great, Howie Camnitz


In 1909, the Pittsburgh Pirates won their first World Series title. While Babe Adams was the hero of the World Series, winning three games, Howie Camnitz helped get them there with one of the best pitching seasons in franchise history.  

Born on August 22,1881, Howie began his pro baseball career in Greenville, Mississippi in 1902, playing in the Cotton States League. The next year he established himself as an up-and-coming pitcher playing for Vicksburg,MS. of the same league. That year, the 21 year old right-hander went 26-7, drawing the attention of the Pittsburgh Pirates, who drafted him in the September Rule V draft.

Camnitz began the 1904 season in the majors, but was soon back in the minors for added experience. He was known for his strong curveball, but he relied heavily on it and batters soon caught on to his style. After going 1-4 4.22 in two starts and eight relief appearances for the Pirates, Howie went to Springfield of the Three-I League, where he won 14 games.

He moved up to Toledo of the American Association in 1905, throwing a combined 642 innings there over two seasons. He briefly came back to Pittsburgh in 1906, making one start, but it was a good one. On September 28th, in the second game of a doubleheader against Brooklyn, he threw a 1-0 shutout. From that point on, Camnitz was a regular on the Pirates pitching staff for the next seven seasons.

In 1907, Howie made 19 starts and 12 relief appearances, going 13-8 2.15 in 180 innings pitched. He threw 15 complete games and recorded shutouts in four of those games, including a shortened five inning no-hitter during the second game of a doubleheader on the day after his 26th birthday. He had an impressive streak of going until May 29, 1908 before he allowed his first home run.

The 1908 Pirates had five pitchers win at least 15 games, with 23 wins apiece from Vic Willis and Nick Maddox. The best pitcher that season was Howie Camnitz, though. His record was 16-9 after 26 starts and 12 relief outings, not a standout record by any means on that team. His ERA came in at just 1.56 in 236.2 innings, easily the lowest ERA on the team. He finished 0.13 behind Christy Mathewson for the National League ERA title.

In 1909, the Pirates finally overtook the Chicago Cubs in the standings, winners of the last three NL pennants. Camnitz had one of the best seasons on the mound in team history. He went 25-6, leading the NL in winning percentage. He threw 283 innings, completing twenty of his starts, six by shutout. His ERA fell just short of the previous season’s total, finishing at 1.62, giving him the second and third best ERA’s in a full season in team history. Only Denny Driscoll in the first season in franchise history(1.21 in 1882) had a better ERA in a season with 150 innings pitched. Howie did not pitch well in his only World Series start, but the Pirates took the title from the Detroit Tigers in seven games.

Howie had his share of troubles in the 1910 season, posting a losing record(12-13) and seeing his ERA(3.22) nearly double. He still managed to make a career high(surpassed the following season), 31 starts and throw 260 innings. Between the 1909-10 seasons, he threw a combined 527.2 innings, allowing just two home runs, one each year. Camnitz continued his workhorse ways the next season, making 33 starts with 267.2 innings pitched. He also won twenty games for the second time and set a career high with 139 strikeouts.  

His 1912 season was another big season, winning 22 games, with 276.2 innings pitched, thanks in part to a career best, 22 complete games. The Pirates really dropped off in 1913, going from second place with 93 wins in 1912, down to 78 wins and a fourth place finish. Part of the reason, was the lack of production from Camnitz, who saw an even bigger drop with his own record. From those 22 wins in 1912, he went to a 6-17 record before he was traded away to the Phillies just before his 32nd birthday.

While in Philadelphia, Howie went 3-3 in five starts and four relief appearances. He returned to Pittsburgh in 1914, but not with the Pirates. The Federal League joined the AL and NL as a third major league, and Camnitz jumped to the Pittsburgh Rebels. The new team was bad, finishing in seventh place with just 64 wins. Howie went 14-19 3.23 in 262 innings, completing twenty games. He returned in 1915, but didn’t last long, pitching his last major league game on May 3,1915.

Howie finished with a 133-106 2.75 career record. With the Pirates he was 116-84 with a 2.63 ERA. His ERA ranks him eighth in team history and he ranks 12th in wins. His 25 wins in 1909 has not been topped since in team history. He had a brother named Harry Camnitz, who pitched for the 1909 Pirates and 1911 Cardinals.

John Dreker
John Dreker
John started working at Pirates Prospects in 2009, but his connection to the Pittsburgh Pirates started exactly 100 years earlier when Dots Miller debuted for the 1909 World Series champions. John was born in Kearny, NJ, two blocks from the house where Dots Miller grew up. From that hometown hero connection came a love of Pirates history, as well as the sport of baseball. When he didn't make it as a lefty pitcher with an 80+ MPH fastball and a slider that needed work, John turned to covering the game, eventually focusing in on the prospects side, where his interest was pushed by the big league team being below .500 for so long. John has covered the minors in some form since the 2002 season, and leads the draft and international coverage on Pirates Prospects. He writes daily on Pittsburgh Baseball History, when he's not covering the entire system daily throughout the entire year on Pirates Prospects.

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