by Janice Johnson
When Jesse Barnes was at the top of his game, the right-handed pitcher from Circleville, Kansas, held his own with the elite of his day. Named to Baseball Magazine’s All-American team following the 1919 season, Barnes shared the honor with such luminaries as Rogers Hornsby, Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth, George Sisler, Joe Jackson and Walter Johnson, charter member of the Kansas Sports Hall of Fame . His career accomplishments did not lodge him forever in that exclusive company, but his twelve year career, 1915-27, was stocked with an impressive array of highlights.
In 1919, he led the National League in wins. In the abbreviated 140-game major league schedule in that postwar year, Barnes crafted a 25-9 record, leading all National League pitchers in wins. He compiled an enviable pitching record, including an ERA of 2.40 and four shutouts.
On September 28, 1919, Barnes won his 25th game in a record-setting 6-1 contest between the Giants and the Phillies. Barnes was the winning pitcher of the fastest nine-inning game ever played in the major leagues, a game clocked at 51 minutes. Barnes delivered only 64 pitches in the game, which the New York American reported to be a record for the fewest pitches in a nine-inning game.
The 1921 championship was decided in one city, in one stadium. The Giants and the Yankees met in a best-of-nine format at the Polo Grounds, traditional home of the Giants and leased home of the Yankees. It pitted the established order ruled by John McGraw against the new, upstart challengers led by the sport’s first megastar, Babe Ruth. Barnes appeared in Games 1 and 3, but it was his performance in Game 6 that baffled and confounded the Yankees. Barnes reeled off 10 strikeouts, setting a Series record for a relief pitcher which held until 1966.
In the 16 1/3 World Series innings that he worked in 1921, Barnes faced 63 batters, struck out 18, and had an ERA of 1.65. He also went 4-for-9 at the plate, for an average of .444, and scored three runs. In an article proclaiming Barnes as “The Hero of the 1921 World’s Series,” Baseball Magazine described his curves as having “a break as sharp as a razor…with wonderful control,” and estimated that up to 90 percent of the pitches he threw were curves.
On May 7, 1922, he pitched his finest major league game, a 6-0 no-hitter against the Philadelphia Phillies. Barnes chased perfection into the fifth inning, but then walked the Phillies’ center fielder, who was later eliminated in a double play. Barnes faced only the minimum number of 27 batters in the game.
In 1924, playing for the Braves, Barnes had an ERA of 3.23 and led the team in wins (15), complete games (21), shutouts (4), and innings pitched (267 2/3) without a wild pitch or a hit batsman.
Straddling the “Deadball” and “Liveball” eras, Barnes played for the Boston Braves (twice), New York Giants, and Brooklyn Robins (Dodgers), and compiled a major league record of 152-150 with an ERA of 3.22. His record with the Giants was 82-43, which at .656 still ranks fourth in winning percentage among all Giants franchise pitchers with 100 or more decisions. His ERA of 3.07 with the Braves is still seventh best among modern era Braves franchise pitchers who worked 1,000 or more innings.
At 6’0” and 170 pounds, Barnes was lean, lanky, and fit. According to Ernie Quigley, long-time National League umpire and fellow Kansas Sports Hall of Famer, Barnes pitched “like pitchers are supposed to pitch,” and had mastered what Quigley considered to be the three pitching essentials: fastball, curve, and control. Barnes regarded himself primarily as a fastball pitcher—“I could pitch fast balls all day.” His pitching arm would later develop something of a mind of its own, but during his prime, control was a Barnes hallmark.
Barnes was a two time World Series champion with the Giants, 1921 and ’22. He pitched in a total of four games. His overall record was 2-0 with 26 innings pitched. In 26 innings pitched, Barnes maintained a 1.71 ERA. In 1922, he pitched a full 10 innings in game two, which was called because of darkness with the score tied at 3-3.
On June 26, 1924, Barnes started for the Braves in a game against his brother Virgil, who was pitching for the Giants, making them the first pair of brothers to face each other as starting pitchers in a major league game.
At the age of 20, Barnes was drafted by Davenport Blue Sox to pitch in the 1913 season at a salary of $120/month. Fifteen years later, ended his professional career playing for Casey Stengel’s Toledo Mud Hens. Along the way, he played checkers with Mathewson, struck out Ruth, and dueled with Alexander.