We have reached number 12 in our “By the Numbers” series, where we take a look at one current or former Tiger that wore each uniform number. For more information on this list, and to catch up on numbers 1-11, click the “By the Numbers” tag at the top of this page.
Finding an interesting player who wore No. 12 in Detroit was a lot harder than I thought it would be. For a short while, I considered profiling current hitting instructor Lloyd McClendon. I also considered two-time former Tiger Brad Ausmus. Then I stumbled upon Bobo Newsom, who is in a select group of pitchers in the annuls of baseball history.
Louis Norman Newsom was born in Hartsville, South Carolina in 1907. He was a strange bird, even at an early age, often referring to everyone, including himself, as “Bobo”. He made his major league debut at age 21 with the Brooklyn Robins in 1929. He wasn’t good, going 0-3 with a 10.61 ERA in three games. The following year, he appeared in just two games with the Robins before being sold to Kansas City of the American Association.
Newsom returned to the big leagues with the Cubs in 1932, but played in just one game. It would be another full year in the minors before he arrived to stay in the majors in 1934, this time with the St. Louis Browns, who had selected him in the rule 5 draft.
Newsom appeared in 47 games as a rookie in 1934, starting 32 of them. He managed to lead the league in three different categories that season, though none of them necessarily good ones. He faced more batters than any other pitcher, but in “only” 262.1 innings (the league leader was at 281.1). He also lead in walks issued with 149 and losses with 20.
To say Newsom was well traveled would be a severe understatement. This guy made Gary Sheffield look like Cal Ripken. Over the course of his career, Newsom played for nine different teams, which isn’t that remarkable until you consider that he had five different stints with the Senators and three different stops with the Browns. He also played for all three New York teams, including Brooklyn twice. By the time Newsom came to the Tigers in a May, 1939 trade with St. Louis, he already been a part of five big league organizations.
Up until the time he joined Detroit, Newsom had never had a season with an ERA below 4.00. He had made improvements to be sure, he had won 20 games in 1938, but was still wild and logged a ton of innings. It was in Detroit that Newsom enjoyed the best seasons of his career. After a 3-1 start for the Browns, Newsom went 17-10 following the trade and kept his ERA to 3.37, by far the best of his career to that point.
1940 was Bobo’s best season in Detroit and the best of his career. Newom was named to his third consecutive all-star game, this time earning the start for the American League. He posted a career best 2.83 ERA for the season to go along with a 21-5 record. His ERA+ of 167 was the best in baseball that season and he garnered a fourth place finish in MVP balloting.
Newsom was the ace of the 1940 pennant winning Tigers’ staff when the team faced off with the Cincinnati Reds in the World Series. The Tigers took Game One behind a complete game by Newsom as he held the Reds to just two runs on eight hits and a walk. The Reds roughed up Schoolboy Rowe in Game Two, but Detroit regained the series lead with a come-from-behind win back in Detroit. The Tigers gave the ball to a young Dizzy Trout in Game Four, but he was chased after just two frames and the Reds had evened the series.
Mourning the loss of his father just days earlier, Newsom vowed to “win this one for my daddy” and once again gave the Tigers an edge in Game Five, tossing a three-hit shutout in an 8-0 Tiger win. Detroit needed to capture just one of the final two games in Cincinnati to secure the championship. When Rowe failed to survive the first inning in Game Six, the series was set for a Game Seven.
By-passing Tommy Bridges, manager Del Baker turned to Newsom for the deciding game on just one day of rest. When asked by reporters about winning another game for his father, Newom said “No, I think I’ll win this one for old Bobo”. The Tigers scored first on an unearned run in the third and the score stayed 1-0 until the bottom of the seventh. Back-to-back doubles by Frank McCormick and Jimmy Ripple tied the game at one and Newsom yielded the lead on a sacrifice fly later in the inning. The Tigers could not rally against Paul Derringer and the Reds took home the title. For the series, Newsom had completed all three starts for a 2-1 record and a 1.38 ERA, he fanned 17 batters in his 26 innings, walking just four.
Unfortunately for Newsom and the Tigers, 1941 was not kind to old Bobo. For the second time in his career, Newsom lost 20 games posting just 12 wins. He saw his ERA balloon to 4.60. After the season, Newsom was asked to take a pay-cut. He responded by insulting Tigers GM Jack Zeller. Zeller responded by selling Newsom’s rights to the Senators.
Though Newsom had a few more solid seasons, he never again matched the success he had in Detroit. He continued to bounce around a great deal, even playing for three different clubs in 1943 alone. Newsom had his third career 20-loss season while pitching for the Athletics in 1945. His career ended at age 45 when he was released by Philadelphia following the 1953 season.
In 20 big league seasons, Newsom posted a 211-222 record, 50-35 as a Tiger. He is one of only two pitchers in history with at least 200 wins and a career losing record, the other being Jack Powell, whose career ended in 1912.
In addition to that feat, Newsom lost 20 games in a season three times in his career. He also won 20 three times, though never in the same year. Since 1934, when Newsom first “accomplished” a 20-loss season, only 66 pitchers have ever lost 20 games in one year.
In baseball’s modern era (since 1900), only four pitchers have ever lost 20 games in a season three times. Of those, only Newsom, George Mullin, and Vic Willis also had at least three seasons of 20 or more wins. In fact, since 1900, Newsom is the only pitcher to have three 20-loss season and three 20-win seasons and never have had done it in the same season. Willis did it once in 1902 when he went 27-20, Mullins did it twice, going 21-21 in 1905 and 20-20 in 1907. Clearly, Newsom is in a class all by himself.