Howie Camnitz, known popularly as Red, was a 5’9 pitcher from Covington, Kentucky. Born on August 22, 1881, the tough right hander started his professional baseball career with the Vicksburg Hill Billies, in the “D” level Cotton States League. Over 37 games in 1903, he amassed a sparkling 26-7 record. 1904 would see him spend most of the season with the Class “B” Springfield Hustlers in the Illinois-Indiana-Iowa League, going 14-5. He also made his first Major League appearance, pitching in 10 games for the Pirates with a 1-4 record and a 4.22 ERA. His control left something to be desired, as he walked 20 while striking out 21 in 49 total innings.
Red returned to the minors in 1905, appearing for the entire season with the “A” level Toledo Mud Hens in the American Association. He pitched 300 innings, racking up a 17-17 record with a 3.27 ERA in the process. He stuck with Toledo through 1906, going 22-17 with a 3.11 ERA over 342 innings. Near the end of the season, the Pirates gave him another look. He posted a 1-0 record with a 2.00 ERA over nine innings in the majors.
In 1907, Camnitz was finally in the major leagues for good. Despite starting only 19 games and pitching 180 total innings to go 13-8, he ranked amongst the NL leaders in several categories, including a .619 win percentage (eighth), a 1.078 WHIP (10th), 6.75 hits allowed per nine innings (fourth), 4.25 strikeouts per nine innings (eighth), and four shutouts (10th). His 2.15 ERA wasn’t half bad either. As Pittsburgh’s number five starter, he was part of a unique group that all finished the season with a winning record: Vic Willis (21-11), Lefty Leifield (20-16), Deacon Phillipe (14-11), and Sam Leever (14-9) rounded out the rotation. Pittsburgh posted a stellar 91-63 record, but missed the pennant by 17 games behind the Chicago Cubs.
1908 would see Camnitz post a 16-9 record, with an NL fourth best 1.56 ERA. He started 26 games for the Bucs, tossing three shutouts and 17 complete games. He again was in the NL’s top ten with a .640 win percentage (seventh), a 1.061 WHIP (ninth), a 6.921 H/9 (ninth), a 4.487 K/9 (fourth), and 118 strikeouts (seventh). All five in the rotation again finished above .500: Willis (23-11), Nick Maddox (23-8), Leifield (15-14), and Leever (15-7). The Pirates again finished out of the top spot with a 98-56 record, only one game back of the Cubs.
1909 would be regarded as Camnitz’s best Major League season. His 25-6 record gave him an NL leading .806 win percentage. He had an NL fourth best 1.62 ERA, completing 20 of his 30 starts with six shutouts (out of 41 total appearances). His career best 0.972 WHIP ranked him third in the NL, and he again ranked with the best in the league with 25 wins (second), 6.583 H/9 (fifth), 2.163 BB/9 (seventh), 4.23 K/9 (eighth), 133 strikeouts (seventh), and six shutouts (fourth). Pittsburgh topped the second place Cubs by 6.5 games with a 110-42 record. Pittsburgh defeated the Detroit Tigers in seven games in the World Series. Camnitz appeared in two games, allowing five earned runs in only 3.1 innings for an 0-1 record. It would be the only time he would get a chance to play in the Fall Classic. As the top man in the rotation, Camnitz explained his success to a reporter (courtesy of sabr.org):
"I always inspect very closely the box score of the club we are about to meet next. My object is to ascertain what players are doing the hitting. Every student of baseball knows that players hit in streaks. If a pitcher has men on bases, and a batsman facing him who has been having a slump in his hitting, he can take a chance on letting him line it out. On the contrary, if a player comes up who has been clouting the ball, it may be the safest plan to let him walk."
Camnitz returned to earth in 1910, at 12-13 for his first losing record since 1904. He had an ERA of 3.22, and an NL tenth best 1.181 WHIP. He also ranked seventh with 120 strikeouts, eighth with 283 innings pitched, sixth with 2.112 BB/9, and sixth with a K/BB rate of 1.967. At 86-67, Pittsburgh was still pretty good, but not quite good enough. They finished 17.5 games behind the pennant winning Cubs.
1911 would see Camnitz return to form with a 20-15 record. His ERA was 3.13 as he completed 18 of his 33 rotation starts. The Pirates 85-69 record was not good enough to merit a ticket to the dance, 14.5 games behind the New York Giants.
In 1912, Camnitz again broke the 20 win barrier, going 22-12 with a 2.83 ERA. His win total was fifth in the NL, and his .647 winning percentage was ninth. He also rejoined the league leaders with a 1.222 WHIP (sixth), 8.328 H/9 (ninth), and 121 strikeouts (10th). Pittsburgh finished second in the NL with a 93-58 record, 10 games behind the New York Giants.
1913 would see Camnitz post a 6-17 record through the first 2/3rd of the season with a 3.74 ERA. The Bucs sent him off to the Philadelphia Phillies with Bobby Byrne for Cozy Dolan and cash. He went 3-3 for the Phillies.
Camnitz played for parts of two seasons with the new Federal League’s Pittsburgh Rebels, posting a 14-19 record before retiring as a player. He later managed a season of “D” ball for the Winchester Dodgers in the Blue Grass League, going 28-36.
All-Time Statline: Nine seasons, 116-84, 2.63 ERA, 277 games, 196 starts, 116 CG, 19 shutouts, 13 saves, 1754.1 innings pitched, 1528 hits allowed, walked 532, struck out 806, 1.174 WHIP, 13.9 wins above replacement.