“Everybody in baseball has their own story about ‘Scrap Iron’ Courtney, a squat, bespectacled catcher who was known to like a beer now and then”
Perhaps you’ve noticed that your Baltimore Orioles have a tendency to strike out rather often. This week’s Flashback Friday focuses on a guy who wouldn’t have fit in well with this year’s team because he did not strike out much at all.
Meet Clint Courtney. A member of the 1954 Orioles who returned to the team at the end of his career, Courtney holds the team record for fewest strikeouts in a season. He struck out seven times in 437 plate appearances in 1954.
For context, Renato Nunez has already struck out seven times in five games. (If you listened to this week’s Bird’s Eye View podcast, you know that I have absolutely zero beef with Nunez and am in fact a fan of his for non-performance-related reasons.) As catchers go, Chance Cisco tallied seven strikeouts in 10 games and 22 plate appearances last season.
Adam Jones has 415 plate appearances thus far in 2018, the most of any Baltimore player and 22 shy of Courtney’s total in ’54 . Jones has struck out 65 times to Courtney’s seven.
So Clint Courtney provided some unique distinction on a 100-loss Orioles team that played only 154 games. Overall, Courtney slashed .270/.323./.360 that season. He hit only four home runs but holds the distinction of being the first player to hit a big league homer in Memorial Stadium. He did so on Opening Day 1954, April 15, 1954.
Courtney’s homer helped power the O’s to a 3-1 victory and gave them a winning record for the first time in Baltimore. The Orioles wouldn’t have a winning record again after that day until the start of the 1957 season.
Courtney returned to the O’s in 1960 and debuted the “big mitt” that manager Paul Richards developed to help catch Hoyt Wilhelm’s knuckleball. As detailed humorously on “The Wire,” Gus Triandos wasn’t as lucky.
Courtney was a colorful character who is worth learning more about. One source I’ll recommend is Courtney’s SABR bio. Here’s one quote from minor league owner Miles Wolff that helps make his case: “Everybody in baseball has their own story about ‘Scrap Iron’ Courtney, a squat, bespectacled catcher who was known to like a beer now and then.”
- Collectively, the Orioles struck out an average of 8.72 times per game in 2017, which was the ninth-worst total in the majors.
- The O’s are currently tied with the San Francisco Giants for the eighth-worst total this season at 8.77 strikeouts per game.
- Chris Davis’ 195 strikeouts thus far in 2018 lead the team followed by Tim Beckham, who has whiffed 167 times.