Max Butcher was a 6’2”, 220 lb right handed pitcher from Holden, WV. Born September 21st, 1910, he made his first minor league appearances in 1931 with the Clarksburg Generals in the “C” level Middle Atlantic League and the “B” level York White Roses in the New York Penn League, going a combined 3-3 over 10 games. He spent the following season with the Beckley Black Knights in the Middle Atlantic League, going 16-12 with a 3.29 ERA. 1933 would see him join the “A” level Atlanta Crackers in the Southern Association, earning a 10-13 record and a 4.67 ERA.
In 1934, Butcher caught on with the New York Yankees minor league system, posting a 7-10 record at two levels (with the Binghampton Triplets and the Baltimore Orioles). He posted a combined 6.19 ERA. He seemed to turn a corner in 1935, posting a 24-11 record with a sparkling 2.21 ERA with the Galveston Buccaneers in the Texas League, an “A” level organization.
1936 would see Butcher join the Brooklyn Dodgers for his first major league look. In parts of three seasons with the club, he would post a 22-25 record with a 4.57 ERA. The Dodgers sent him to the Philadelphia Phillies on August 8th, 1938 for lefty Wayne LaMaster.
Butcher played in parts of two seasons for the Phillies, leading the NL with 17 losses in 1939 while racking up a disastrous 6-21 record to go with a 4.31 ERA. Just under a year after acquiring him, the Phillies traded him to the Pirates for first baseman Gus Suhr. After losing his first two decisions with the Pirates (bringing his seasons’ total to 2-15), he reeled off four straight wins in ultimately going 4-4 with the Bucs. In the first game of a doubleheader on August 31st, he pitched a complete game, 1-0 shutout of his former club in Philadelphia, allowing five hits and one walk to win, 1-0. Pittsburgh was no great shakes that season, posting a 68-85 record to finish up in sixth in the NL, 28.5 games behind the Cincinnati Reds.
In 1940, Butcher pitched two shutouts, completing six of his 24 starts (of 35 overall appearances). He totaled an 8-9 record with an exorbitant 6.01 ERA. On June 16th, in game one of a double header, he allowed a walk and two hits while striking out three to defeat the New York Giants, 5-0. Two weeks later, in game two of a doubleheader on June 30th, he allowed just four hits and struck out four in a 2-0 Pirates win over the St. Louis Cardinals. Pittsburgh was marginally better, clocking in at 78-76, fourth in the NL 22.5 games behind the pennant winning Reds.
1941 would be regarded as Butcher’s finest Major League season. He posted a 17-12 record (NL fifth in wins) with an NL eighth best 3.05 ERA while completing 19 (NL fifth) of his 32 starts. On September 25th, he pitched a complete game 3-1 victory over the Cardinals, allowing five hits and striking out a season high six. The Pirates ended the season at 81-73, in fourth place 19 games behind the Brooklyn Dodgers.
In 1942, Butcher was limited to 18 starts, of which he finished nine. He posted a 5-8 record with a 2.93 ERA. His best performance of the season was probably on May 3rd, when he earned a 6-2 complete game victory over the Boston Braves, allowing seven hits and striking out seven. At 66-81, Pittsburgh found themselves mired firmly in the second division, 36.5 games behind the pennant winning Cardinals.
1943 would see Butcher finish 10 of his 21 starts, including two shutouts. He went 10-8 with an NL seventh best 2.60 ERA. He also ranked highly by allowing only four home runs over 193.2 total innings. On June 18th, he took a 1-0 complete game 14-inning loss to Cincinnati, allowing 10 hits in a heartbreaker. On June 26th, he earned a complete game victory over the same Reds, 9-0, by allowing only three hits. While better at 80-74, the Pirates still ended the season 25 games out of the money behind the pennant winning Cardinals.
Butcher went 13-11 with a 3.12 ERA in 1944. He completed 13 of 27 starts, including an NL third best five shutouts. The best one was in the second game of a doubleheader on July 16th, in a 1-0 shutout over the Chicago Cubs. He allowed two hits and a walk, facing two over the minimum and striking out three. 90-63 gave Pittsburgh full control over second place, but wasn’t even close to the first place Cardinals, who finished 105-49.
1945 would be Butcher’s last season in the Major Leagues. He went 10-8 for the Pirates with two shutouts, completing 12 of his 20 starts. He posted an NL 10th best 3.03 ERA. In Pittsburgh’s third game, and his first start of the season, he pitched a 5-1 complete game victory over the Reds, allowing four hits and one unearned run. Later on August 1st, he pitched a complete game four-hitter, winning a 1-0 decision over the Cubs. The Pirates were 82-72, 16 games out of first and holding down the fourth position in the NL.
Butcher would sign a minor league contract with the Boston Braves the following season, compiling a combined 6-5 record between the “C” level Raliegh Capitals of the Carolina League, and the “D” level Welch Miners, of the Appalachian League
There may be some out there who question a seven year and slightly above average Pirates pitcher's inclusion at this point of the list. It's important to understand that the WAR statistic is largely based on relative level of competition, and a lot of the best talent were serving in the second World War during most of Butcher's tenure. He was pretty good against mostly "AAAA" level competition.
All-Time Statline: Seven seasons, 67-60, 3.34 ERA, 202 games, 154 starts, 74 CG, 13 shutouts, five saves, 1171.2 innings pitched, 1249 hits allowed, walked 328, struck out 296, 1.346 WHIP, 14.7 wins above replacement.