Grave Story: Lynn Lovenguth (1922-2000)


Here lies Lynn Lovenguth, a two-time 20-game winner as a pitcher in the minor leagues He played fewer than 20 games in the major leagues, though. Lovenguth played for the Philadelphia Phillies (1955) and St. Louis Cardinals (1957).

Lynn Richard Lovenguth was born on November 29, 1922 in Camden, N.Y. He attended Camden High School, and before he entered professional baseball, Lovenguth joined the U.S. Navy. He spent 1944 and 1945 as a Navy SeeBee – The Naval Construction Battalion. He played baseball and worked in transportation during World War II.

After his discharge in 1946, Lovenguth pitched for a team out of Americus, Ga. He signed with Utica of the Eastern League after being scouted by Jocko Conlon. He got a $1,000 bonus and was assigned to the Schenectady Blue Jays of the Canadian-American League. Lovenguth’s debut was an auspicious one – he game into the game with the bases loaded and struck out the next two batters to get out of the inning. He then struck out the side in the next frame for a total of five straight K’s. The rest of the season didn’t go nearly as well, and he ended with a 4-16 record and 5.59 ERA for the Blue Jays, with 130 walks allowed in 145 innings.

Things improved steadily for the righthander. He moved to the Rome Colonels of the Can-Am League and won 11 games in 1947 and 21 games in ’48. Lovenguth had a fine 3.33 ERA to go with his 21-9 record and finished fourth in the league’s MVP voting. His control was still a problem – 174 walks in 243 innings! – but he was effectively wild. Strikeout totals in the minors are hard to find, but he was known as a fireballer and likely picked up his share of K’s. He struck out 20 batters while throwing a 3-hit, 4-0 shutout against Oneonta on July 8. That shutout extended a scoreless streak that would eventually reach 26-1/3 innings, which set a Can-Am League record.

Lovenguth was promoted to the AAA International League starting in 1949, and he spent most of the next decade pitching for multiple teams there: Buffalo, Syracuse, Toronto, Rochester and Columbus. His walk totals were still quite high, and while he struck out a good number of batters, he wasn’t quite as dominant as he had been at the start of his career. He celebrated his 30th birthday in 1952, still not having reached the major leagues.

After scuffling for a couple years, Lovenguth was invited to the Detroit Tigers’ spring training camp in Florida in 1952. He had a couple of good performances but was ultimately sent to the minors. He won 12 games that year, splitting the season with the Buffalo Bisons and Syracuse Chiefs. He moved to the bullpen in 1954 and turned in an 8-6 record and 3.60 ERA for the Chiefs. He had developed a palmball, which made him an effective reliever. The Phillies bought his contract after the season, giving him a chance to make it in the major leagues the following year.

Lovenguth was a 32-year-old rookie in 1955 when he made the Phillies’ Opening Day roster. His MLB debut came on April 18, with two runners on base after starter Herm Wehmeier gave up five runs to the Brooklyn Dodgers. Lovenguth retired Jim Gilliam on a fly ball to escape the jam. He was sent to the minor leagues after about a month and was called back in September to wrap up the season. All total, he pitched in 14 games and allowed 17 hits and 10 walks in 18 innings. He struck out 14 batters and had an 0-1 record and 4.50 ERA.

After a taste of the major leagues, Lovenguth spent all of 1956 with the Toronto Maple Leafs and had the best season of his professional career. He had a 24-12 record and threw 25 complete games while compiling a 2.68 ERA. One of those wins was a no-hitter against Richmond on June 16. His strikeout totals of 153 in 279 innings were a little low, but he also demonstrated improved control, with 99 walks allowed. He led all IL pitchers in wins, complete games and innings pitched, and he was second in strikeouts. He was voted the league’s most valuable pitcher, just ahead of Montreal’s Fred Kipp (who won 20 games as well) and Miami’s Satchel Paige.

As a matter of fact, Lynn Lovenguth is the last pitcher to ever win 20 games in the International League. Sixty-three seasons later, no other IL pitcher has topped the 20-win mark, and with the way that minor leagues work today, it’s reasonable to think that nobody ever will again. So if nothing else, Lovenguth owns that bit of baseball history.

The Cardinals took the best pitcher in the IL in 1956 and… stuck him right back in the IL in 1957. The pitcher, now 34 years old, had a pretty abysmal spring, and it may have been due to overuse. Lovenguth played in the Cuban Winter League instead of taking the winter off. He did so despite the warnings of teammate Archie Wilson, who joined him in Cuba. “I saw at once he wasn’t the pitcher he had been at Toronto,” Wilson said. “He was too tired. He not only lost his stuff, but every time he pitched, his arm swelled. I told him to quit and take a rest. I told him he was ruining his chances of making the Cardinals. He wouldn’t listen to me.”

Source: The Cumberland News, April 29, 1955.

Lovenguth said that his “big chance” promised by the Cardinals amounted to two innings against the Braves, where he was nervous and gave up a home run to Andy Pafko. He questioned why the Cardinals bought his contract for at least $50,000 and didn’t give him a chance to stick on the big-league roster. “Is it my fault? I’ve got to feel bitter about it. I’ve taken good care of myself. Can’t I prove to someone that I can pitch in the majors?… Sure, I’m 34 years old. But I didn’t start pitching until I was 24.

“The Phillies once paid $17,000 for me, and now the Cardinals $50,000 or more. Somebody made a lot of money out of me. But I haven’t seen it, and I don’t get the chance to pitch.”

Lovenguth went 14-15 in Rochester before being brought back to the majors in September. His first appearance was a 1-2-3 inning against the Reds on September 21. He made his one and only MLB start on September 27 against the Cubs in Chicago. He worked 8 innings, walked 6 and struck out 5 while allowing 6 hits and 3 runs, one of which was unearned. Unfortunately, the Cardinals could only score 2 runs off Cubs starter Dick Drott, and Lovenguth was handed a tough 3-2 loss. He was left with an 0-2 record and 2.00 ERA on the year for St. Louis.

Lovenguth continued to pitch in the minors, but he never reached the major leagues again. In his two trips to the big leagues, he had an 0-2 record and a 3.67 ERA in 16 games. He struck out 20 and walked 16 in 27 innings, leaving him with a 1.444 WHIP. His team, be it the Phillies or Cardinals, lost every single one of the 16 games where he made an appearance.

Source: Democrat and Chronicle, May 2, 1957.

Lovenguth, who once again failed to make the Cardinals out of spring training, spent most of 1958 stewing over his missed opportunities. Things boiled over on August 3, when he gave up a first-inning unearned run to the Miami Marlins after some sloppy defense. The pitcher complained in the dugout about a lack of support, and Rochester manager Cot Deal told him to “shut up or it’ll cost you money.” Lovenguth refused to quiet down, so Deal fined him $100 and threw him out of the dugout. Do you know who replaced Lovenguth for Rochester? Bob Gibson. Do you know who Miami’s starting pitcher was that day? Satchel Paige. Thanks to Lovenguth’s behavior, a crowd of 3,420 got to watch two of the greatest pitchers of the 20th Century match up against each other, with Gibson picking up a 5-1 win. Lovenguth was dealt to Columbus a couple of weeks later.

“I just wasn’t tops today,” Paige said after the game. “Bothered with a little gas on my stomach last night. Just wasn’t sharp at all. But if they’d kept that Lovenguth in there, we mighta caught ‘em. Can you imagine that guy acting up? He should’ve behaved himself.”

Lovenguth left the International League after 1959 and spent two seasons playing in the Pacific Coast League. While pitching for the Portland Beavers in 1960, he gave up a home run to Tacoma’s Matty Alou – the first home run allowed at the brand-new Cheney Stadium in Tacoma. It’s still in use today. Lovenguth retired after 1961, when he was 38 years old and had spent 16 years in the minor leagues. He ended his career with 152 minor-league victories, including two 20-win seasons. He was a decent hitter as well, with 6 career home runs and a lifetime .232 batting average.

Lovenguth kept a low profile after his playing days were done. His name popped up again whenever a minor-league pitcher in the International League came close to 20 wins. It seems like his time pitching for the Portland Beavers of the PCL was an enjoyable experience, because he settled in Oregon. Lynn Lovenguth died on September 29, 2000 in Beaverton, Ore. He was 77 years old. He is interred at Skyline Memorial Gardens in Portland, Ore.

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