Jesse “Pop” Haines – Knuckleballer

Jesse Haines spent nearly his entire major league career with the Cardinals. He pitched on three World Series championship teams. Though he had a kind personality off the field, Haines was known as a fiery competitor during games.

“Pop”, as he was known,  became a fixture in the Cardinals starting rotation in 1920. Despite a 13–20 record, he pitched 30123 innings, the highest output of his career, and recorded a 2.98 ERA.

He had no patience for losing games and “became a raging bull when on the mound.” Haines threw a no-hitter on July 17, 1924 against the Boston Braves; more than 50 years passed before a St. Louis pitcher threw another no-hitter.

Haines pitched on three World Series championship teams, winning two games in the 1926 World Series. In game seven of that series, Haines developed a bleeding blister and had to be removed from the game with the bases loaded in the seventh inning. Grover Cleveland Alexander was inserted into the game and struck out Tony Lazzeri.

As his career went on, Haines became known as “Pop” because of the influence he exerted on younger teammates. His use of the knuckleball allowed him to extend his career after his other pitches became ineffective. Unlike other knuckleball pitchers who gripped the pitch with their fingertips, Haines actually held the ball with his knuckles, throwing it as hard as he could.

Haines began to pitch fewer games in 1932. By 1936, manager Frankie Frisch thought that Haines had become too old and held him out of any games until May. However, he got more opportunities that year as the St. Louis pitching staff struggled with injuries. By June, he made relief pitching appearances three days in a row.

He retired in 1937, having pitched to the age of 43. He won 20 games or more three times for the Cardinals and won three World Series championships (in 1926, 1931, and 1934), though he did not pitch in the 1931 series. In the 1926 World Series against the Yankees, he went 2–0 with a 1.08 ERA. He retired with a 210–158 record, 981 strikeouts, 3.64 ERA, and 320823 innings pitched.

“My favorite ball is the knuckler. I hold the ball tight against the knuckles of my pitching hand and throw it with every ounce of speed I can put behind it. When it’s breaking right, it swoops down a good deal like a curve, only faster and with a sharper break than a curve. I don’t believe any batter in uniform likes to face a good knuckle ball when it’s sweeping in with a lot of zip and breaking right.”

– Jesse Haines in Baseball Magazine (May 1928)

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