Quick-who was the last New York Yankee pitcher to lead the league in strikeouts?
If you guessed today's profiled player, Al Downing, good for you!
Believe it or not, Downing was indeed the last Yankee strikeout leader, way back in 1964 when he led the American League in K's with 217 at the nice young age of 23.
The sky was the limit with Downing then, along with the Yankees' other young guns Jim Bouton and Mel Stottlemyre.
Sadly, as it usually does in professional sports, the best laid plans never seem to work out, as Bouton wore out his welcome, and his arm, in a few short years, while Downing followed with arm troubles by the 1968 season, still only 27.
After finding himself in Oakland and Milwaukee in 1970, he moved on to the Los Angeles Dodgers and had a remarkable comeback year, going 20-9 with a 2.68 earned run average and a league-leading five shutouts.
Those numbers got him a third place finish in Cy Young voting, and some M.V.P. consideration as well.
But after a decent 1972 season where he sported a 9-9 record with a sub-3.00 E.R.A., he could never again stay healthy enough for a full year.
He'd pitch in no more than 22 games in any one season before hanging them up after twelve games in 1977.
Now, it's definitely arguable, but I think he should have had a card in Topps' 1977 set after appearing in 17 games, good for 46.2 innings and a 1-2 record in 1976.
Lord knows there were guys in that set that had much less of a distinguished resume, yet Downing was finishing up his 16th year on the mound, with a very nice 3.22 E.R.A., 123 wins and over 1600 strikeouts.
So allow me to "fix" that here with my own 1977 Al Downing card, using a decent action shot of him during the same period.
Take a look:
One more thing: take a look at his rookie year in 1963.
It was actually quite an underrated freshman year!
All he did was go 13-5 with a 2.56 earned run average, as well as four shutouts and 171 K's. Throw in a league-leading 5.8 hits-allowed-per-nine-innings and 8.8 strikeouts-per-nine-innings, it seems probable that if it wasn't for another great rookie pitcher, Gary Peters of the Chicago White Sox, Downing could very well have taken home the award himself.