July 30, 1952: Journeyman hurler Lou Kretlow fashions his second consecutive two-hitter, as the White Sox down the Yankees 7-0.
Lou Kretlow, a teammate once said, "could throw a ball through a brick wall."
Lou Kretlow spent six full seasons in the major leagues, and parts of four more.
In 10 seasons, Lou Kretlow won 27 games. Among those 27 wins were three shutouts, and two of those shutouts came within one magnificent July week in 1952.
* * * * *
Like so many of his contemporaries, Lou Kretlow got a late start in baseball. Born in Edmond, Oklahoma, he attended the University of Oklahoma in 1941, but left school in 1942 and spent the next three years in the service.
Upon Kretlow's discharge, he was a hot commodity, and signed with the Tigers in January 1946 for a $35,000 bonus, a considerable sum in those days. He pitched well enough in the minor leagues to earn a September call-up. And on September 26, he made his major-league debut with a complete-game victory over the St. Louis Browns.
Kretlow suffered an arm injury in 1947, though. Pitching for Buffalo in the International League, he posted a 7.01 ERA in 18 games before the Tigers sent him home. But the next year, Kretlow came back with a vengeance. Dropped two levels to the Eastern League, he topped the loop with 268 innings, 21 wins, and 219 strikeouts.
That got Kretlow back to the majors in 1948, and he wouldn't pitch in the minor leagues again until 1955. The only problem was, Kretlow had a hard time harnessing his amazing right arm. Pitching for the Tigers in 1949, he walked 69 batters in 76 innings. Pitching for the Browns and the White Sox in 1950, he walked 45 batters in 36 innings. And that looked like it would be the story of Lou Kretlow's career.
And then, for one glorious week in late July of 1952, everything came together for Lou Kretlow. On July 24 at Fenway Park, he shut out the Red Sox, 3-0. And six days later in the Bronx, he shut out the Yankees, 7-0. Though Kretlow had opened the season with the White Sox, those were his first two victories. He would start five more games that season, and win twice. He finished 1952 with a brilliant 2.96 ERA ... but only four wins, having started only 11 games and pitched 79 innings.
After Kretlow got off to a poor start in 1953, the White Sox traded him back to the Browns. When the Browns moved to Baltimore in 1954, Kretlow moved with him, and that season he got a real chance to pitch: 32 games, including 20 starts. He tied his career high with six victories, and walked "only " 82 batters in 167 innings. He was 33, but it was something to build on. But Kretlow got off to a poor start in 1955 and soon found himself back in the minor leagues for the first time since 1948. He responded with a 14-3 record for Seattle, earning himself a trip back to the majors in 1956, this time with the Kansas City Athletics.
The victories with his new club were few and far between. Kretlow beat the Red Sox on May 1, the Tigers on May 25, and the Yankees on June 5. After two more starts, he got hurt. As Kretlow later recalled, "... I was pitching good and I hurt my arm. I hurt it like Dizzy Dean; underneath it hemorrhaged and the blood clotted and I was out for about a month."
He came back, started one game, then missed another two weeks. On August 1, Kretlow beat the Orioles 9-4. It was his last major-league victory. Even then, Kretlow could still throw the hell out of the ball. That summer, an article in The Sporting News listed his fastball as one of the best in the game. But when Kretlow went to spring training in 1957, he could hardly throw at all. He went back to Seattle, struggled, was sold to Little Rock, and quit baseball for good. Kretlow became a pro at a golf club, once qualified for the U.S. Open, and reportedly scored a 427-yard hole-in-one to set a new record.
Page 193 of the 1956 Baseball Register depicts two pitchers with lightning bolts in their pitching arms. Sanford Koufax was 20 years old, and would win 163 more games in the major leagues. Louis Henry Kretlow was 34 years old, and would win four more games in the major leagues. One of them is in the Hall of Fame and the other one isn't, but one can't help but wonder just how much really separated them.
The primary background source for this article was an interview with Kretlow published in The Pastime in Turbulence (Brent Kelley, 2001).