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.

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About John Dreker

John was born in Kearny, NJ, hometown of the 2B for the Pirates 1909 World Championship team, Dots Miller. In fact they have some of the same relatives in common, so it was only natural for him to become a lifelong Pirates fan. Before joining Pirates Prospects in July 2010, John had written numerous articles on the history of baseball while also releasing his own book and co-authoring another on the history of the game. He writes a weekly article on Pirates history for the site, has already interviewed many of the current minor leaguers with many more on the way and follows the foreign minor league teams very closely for the site. John also provides in person game reports of the West Virginia Power and Altoona Curve.
  • http://twitter.com/jlease717 John Lease

    A great pitcher. Even in the deadball era, that many innings in back to back years and only two homers is pretty remarkable. That’s got to be a Pirate record also, if they keep something like that.

  • JohnDreker

    Deacon Phillippe allowed one over 435.2 innings between the 1904-05 seasons. The impressive thing about those stats are that many players hit inside-the-park homers, playing in the bigger stadiums during the deadball era when outfielders played more shallow. The one homer Phillippe allowed was an IPHR to Cy Seymour, one of the better sluggers of the time. Seymour started as a pitcher and actually won 25 games in a year he led the league in walks,hit batters and wild pitches!