Bob Feller, Cliff Lee and their pals

The Phillies’ signing of Cliff Lee has produced “greatest rotation ever” conversations, mostly using the 1990s Braves starters as a yardstick.

But we’re reminded today, with the death of Bob Feller, to dig a few decades more deeply.

In 1954, Hall of Famer-to-be Feller was the No. 5 starter for a Cleveland Indians team that won 111 games in a 154-game season. All he could do—at age 35—was throw nine complete games in 19 starts and compile a 13-3 record with a 3.09 earned run average.

But no wonder he was the last option in the starting bin. Manager Al Lopez also had:

Early Wynn: 23-11, 2.73 ERA, future Hall of Famer
Bob Lemon: 23-7, 2.72, future Hall of Famer
Mike Garcia: 19-8, 2.64, five shutouts
Art Houtteman: 15-7, 3.35
– And, as an afterthought in relief (he started just one game), Hal Newhouser, future Hall of Famer

Lee, Cole Hamels, Roy Halladay and Roy Oswalt looks like a splendid staff. Hall of Fame members-to-be Greg Maddux, John Smoltz, Tom Glavine and their various 1990s Braves sidekicks were remarkably, consistently good. But dominant pitching goes back further than the SportsCenter era.

Oh, and one other note to optimistic Phillies fans:

The ’54 Indians, with all that great pitching, were swept in the World Series.


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Joe Distelheim is a retired newspaper editor whose career included stints as sports editor of The Charlotte Observer and Detroit Free Press. He co-authored Cubs: From Tinker to Banks to Sandberg to Today.
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Dan in Philly
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Dan in Philly

If the Phils win 111 games this year, I’ll takes my chances in the postseason.

Bruce Markusen
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Bruce Markusen

Good point, Joe. I think I’ll take the ‘54 Indians staff.

The best rotation of my lifetime would probably be the ‘71 Orioles, with the four 20-game winners in Palmer, Dobson, Cuellar, and McNally. Perfectly balanced, with two lefties and righties. All very good pitchers (including one great one) pitching at or near their peaks. That was basically a four-man rotation, too, regularly working on three days rest. When they needed a fifth starter (for doubleheaders and the like), they could turn to Grant Jackson, a very good reliever.

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