Red Faber: A Biography of the Hall of Fame Spitball Pitcher (review)
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Reviewed by
Brian E. Cooper. Red Faber: A Biography of the Hall of Fame Spitball Pitcher. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2007. 270 pp. Paper, $29.95.

Red Faber was no Sandy Koufax, but then again Koufax was not Faber. Koufax's meteoric period of absolute dominance in the 1960s was nearly unparalleled and deserving of a spot in the Hall of Fame. If Koufax's career had such a meteoric bent, Faber's moved at the pace of a Chicago streetcar. He pitched effectively for twenty seasons for a team that was rarely in contention. In twenty years of toiling for the White Sox, he appeared in only one postseason, in 1917 when he won three of the games against McGraw's Giants.

A native of Cascade, Iowa, Faber came to the big leagues through Dubuque. He was one of the pitchers allowed to continue to throw the spitball after it had been banned in 1920. The spitball must have been easier on the arm as those grandfathered in continued to pitch through the 1920s and into the 1930s. Faber won more than 20 games in four different seasons, the first time in 1915 and then again in the post–1919 era: in 1920, 1921, and 1922 he had superb years. His lifetime record of 254-213 with a career 3.15 earned run average displayed a determined effort at mastery of hitters, but as late as 1931 he won 10 games and had a 3.82 ERA. Endurance, perseverance, and effectiveness were hallmarks of the man's effort. When he won those 10 games in 1931 he was already forty-three years old. He and Jack Quinn were the pitchers who persevered, remaining in the game for many years beyond the normal retirement age.

Faber was injured in 1919 and pitched only 163 innings for the White Sox that year. He did not pitch in the infamous World Series of 1919. Author Brian Cooper, a newspaper editor from Dubuque, Iowa, conjectures that Faber would have been one of the Clean Sox in that year and that evidence has never pointed at Faber. [End Page 149]

Cooper, who is currently executive editor of the Dubuque Telegraph-Herald, thoroughly researched the newspapers and the scant documents available in Cascade, Dubuque, and Chicago. He found many sources that show a decent man who had a sincere interest in the outdoors and who quietly moved his way through baseball. Faber had been effective in his efforts at containing stars such as Ty Cobb and Babe Ruth.

Faber was awarded his Hall of Fame status in 1964 in a class with the White Sox's Luke Appling and along with Heinie Manush and Burleigh Grimes, another spitballer who pitched for many years at the Major League level. Bill James in his Whatever Happened to the Hall of Fame? lists Faber as one of those undeserving of Hall of Fame designation. In James's mind, he was elected only as a member of the Clean Sox of 1919, similar to Ray Schalk, who had been Faber's catcher with the White Sox.

Cooper feels differently. Faber toiled for years with a team that struggled through the 1920s and 1930s. With a better hitting team behind him, Faber probably would have won three hundred games. His staying power allowed him to be an effective pitcher well into his forties.

This is a nicely done, easy-to-follow book on one of the lesser-known residents of the Cooperstown museum. His is not the story of absolute brilliance or overpowering "stuff"; rather, Faber pitched long and hard to gain an advantage over hitters, and he was successful for a twenty-year period spanning the deadball and the live ball transition. Cooper makes a good case for Faber.

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