Card thoughts: Why is the camera so far away from Hough? You can barely make him out against that Mondrian background.
The player: This post is appropriate as Hough, like today’s Cy Young Award winner R.A. Dickey, used the knuckleball as his out pitch. His greatest success came after the age of 34 when (like Dickey) he was converted to a starting pitcher by the Rangers.
The knuckleball was learned by Hough as a matter of necessity as he hurt his shoulder in the minors, but didn’t want to tell the Dodgers for fear they would release him. Tommy Lasorda taught him the pitch, and the first year he used it in AAA, he would have won the ERA title had he had enough innings. However, he had difficulty controlling it, while caused the team’s catchers to allow 52 passed balls when Hough pitched.
Hough finally learned to control the pitch when legendary pitcher Hoyt Wilhelm was signed, and taught him how to control the pitch while pitching beside him in the minors.
Hough spent almost a decade as a middle reliever/long man for the Dodgers, becoming the closer in 1976 (12-6, 18 saves) and 1977 (6-12, 22 saves). Unlike relievers today, Hough often pitched over 100 innings in relief, with the knuckleball, a pitch that does not contribute to much wear on the arm, allowing him to bounce back with more minimal rest than other pitchers.
After the 1977 season, Hough’s ERA climbed each season before a 5.57 mark to start 1980 convinced the Dodgers to sell him to the Rangers. After a slow start to his Rangers career, he was converted to a full-time starter in 1982, and immediately responded, going 16-13 and completing 12 games.
For the rest of his Rangers career, Hough would win, and lose, in double digits, his record generally being just above or below .500. What he did do was provide the Rangers with an innings eater on a staff that turned over a lot every year. His two best seasons with the Rangers would be 1984, when Hough would lead the league in games started and complete games while going 16-14, and 1987, when he would start a league leading 40 games, pitch a league high 285 1/3 innings, and win a career high 18 games.
At age 43, still a league average pitcher, Hough signed with the White Sox, where he found middling success as age began to catch up to him. At one point in 1991, he found himself pitching to another 43-year old, Carlton Fisk, behind the plate.
In the expansion draft in 1993, Hough was chosen by the Florida Marlins. He pitched the first inning in Marlins history, but the season was not a happy one for Hough as he went 9-16 with a 4.27 ERA. He finally retired at age 46 after 25 years in the bigs following the 1994 season.
Hough is the all-time Rangers leader in wins, losses, complete games, and strikeouts. Lots of “lasts”: He was the last player born in the 1940s to play in the majors and was the oldest in the league in 1993 and 1994. Hough has an even .500 record in his career, 218-218, and was the last pitcher to start 40 games and pitch 13 innings in a game. Hough is also the last pitcher to start over 400 and relieve over 400 games.
Two great quotes from Hough:
"A good knuckleball is one the catcher successfully blocks"
"I throw ninety percent knuckleballs. The other ten percent are prayers. I probably could throw other pitches. The only reason I don't is that I love pitching in the major leagues."
Since retirement, Hough has been the pitching coach for the Dodgers (1998-1999) and the Mets (2001-2002). He is currently working in the Dodgers front office as an adviser.
Rear guard: Here's Hough's rookie card. He was an old, young man. As for the other rookies on the card, Bob O'Brien pitched 14 games (4 starts) in 1971, his only season, and went 2-2 with a 3.00 ERA. Mike Strahler actually pitched 53 games over 4 seasons with the Dodgers and Tigers. His career record was 6-8.