Through the first month and a half of the Major League Baseball season, Cardinals’ pitcher Jack Flaherty is on his way to joining one of the rarest fraternities in baseball: Black Aces.
The title of ace is given to a very select few in the game of baseball. It comes with high expectations. When an ace is on the mound, it is win day; period. They stem the tide and stop losing streaks while also being able to be called on to perform in the biggest moments of the season and take down the best hitter on the planet.
The Black pitcher, in general, is a rare sight to see in our game. We see many of our MLB Bros showcase their athleticism while roaming in the outfield and even more recently have seen them anchoring defenses throughout the infield, most notably Gold Glove shortstop J.P. Crawford.
The term “Black Aces” derived from a book, “Baseball’s Only African-American Twenty Game Winners” written by former pitcher Jim “Mudcat” Grant, who was the first 20-game winner in the American League when he did it for the Minnesota Twins in 1965.
To qualify for the fraternity of Black Aces, you must win 20 games in a season. Looking at the current landscape of the game, there is one pitcher who looks like he will be on his way to having his own Probate this season, and it’s Flaherty.
The former 34th overall pick in the 2014 draft currently sits alone on the top of the throne for the Major League lead in wins. His record stands undefeated at 7-0 this season with a 2.47 ERA. He recently became the first Cardinals pitcher since Bob Gibson in 1965 to record a win in seven of his first eight games while having an ERA under three.
Flaherty will be compared to the late Gibson – who passed away last year at the age of 84 to cancer – throughout his entire career.
Gibson pitched for the Cardinals during his entire 17-year career and is one of the original Black Aces in the game of baseball. He recorded five 20 win seasons during his time in St. Louis, which is second most all-time only trailing Ferguson Jenkins who had seven such seasons.
Flaherty is trying to be the newest member of the Black Ace fraternity since David Price joined the group in 2012.
Recently retired future Hall of Famer C.C. Sabathia joined the group in 2010 and former pitcher Dontrelle Willis did so as well in 2005. Before then, the feat had not been reached since 1990 when it was accomplished by Dave Stewart who remarkably completed four straight 20 win seasons from 1987-1990.
Early this year, Sabathia presented Price with a custom sweatshirt and joggers. The logo has an Ace of spade between the two C’s with a B hovering over the Ace of Spade.
The numbers Flaherty is putting up this season have put him in the category of potential starters for the National League All-Star team in Colorado this summer, which won’t be easy in a National League that has the best pitcher in baseball – Mets’ Jacob Degrom – and the Padres’ Yu Darvish who has one of the deepest bags of pitches and the Brewers’ Brandon Woodruff whose strikeout-to-walk ratio is incredible. Hence, winning and continued quality starts will be key for Flaherty to give himself the starting nod.
After a shaky start on Opening Day, Flaherty has responded with a 1.47 ERA in his last 43 innings pitched. He has only allowed one home run in the past seven games and has currently registered six quality starts in a row.
He is yet to walk more than two batters in a start this year and in his last four starts, he has at least six strikeouts. Also this year, he joined the “Pitchers Who Rake” club when he hit his first career home run while pitching seven scoreless innings against the Rockies earlier in May.
The Black Ace Fraternity is ready to welcome Flaherty with open arms. He is closing in on the halfway point to be allowed in the club, and there’s a possibility that he’ll break past the bouncer before seasons end.
His next chance to start comes today as he will be on the mound in front of the St. Louis faithful taking on the Pittsburgh Pirates. Last time he faced them, he notched a season-high nine strikeouts on May 1st.
Last season’s American League Gold Glove shortstop made his bat come alive in 2021. He was the biggest All-Star snub this season as he posted a first half statline including 92 hits, 31 RBI, 46 runs a .279 average and a 1.4 Defensive WAR which is the highest in all of baseball.
Tim Anderson had a lot to say this week after being left off of the American League All-Star roster.
But instead of words, the White Sox shortstop used his bat to campaign for why he should be in Denver.
And Anderson’s bat spoke volumes. He batted over .430 this week, including going 4-for-4 in Wednesday’s game against Minnesota.
For that, he claims the top spot for Week 14 on our #HighFive list.
T.A. is one of the anointed faces of the game of baseball, and the sport will be missing out on something special by not having the R.B.I. Baseball cover boy at this year’s All-Star game.
He has the second-highest batting average for all American League shortstops at .307 and has added 29 RBI, 14 steals and a .768 OPS on a first-place White Sox team that has been riddled with injuries since spring training.
Over his last seven games, he has a .433 batting average with seven runs and a .485 OBP. Anderson also has recorded multiple hits in three of his last four games and is riding a nine-game hitting streak.
He’s reached base safely in his last eight plate appearances, including three walks, four singles, and a double.
Even legendary Hall of Famer Frank Robinson had a lot to say about Anderson missing out on the 2021 All-Star game. His batting average is currently the ninth highest in all of baseball and hopefully, he will use his snubbing as fuel to the fire during his quest for a second batting championship.
Frank Thomas fighting for Tim Anderson's life out here
We have pleaded his case this entire season, and last Sunday we finally got what we wanted; Mullins is a Major League All-Star.
The 5-foot-8, multi-faceted phenom started celebrating his achievement mid-game during a matchup against the Los Angeles Angels Sunday by hitting a game-tying, pinch-hit single then following that with a go-ahead home run.
This week, Mullins hit three home runs while batting .321 with six RBI, five runs and a stolen base. He is leading all American League outfielders in hits, total bases, OPS, and his 3.9 WAR is the highest for all outfielders and sixth-highest in the Majors.
Mets’ outfielder Dominic Smith is making his first appearance on our #HighFive list this season. His year has been up and down, but lately, he has become one of the most consistent players in New York’s lineup.
Smith had the first two-homer game of his career last Thursday against the Braves. Then followed that with a home run off Yankees ace Gerrit Cole a few games later.
Dominic Smith stays hot with a classic Yankee Stadium homer off Gerrit Cole to the short porch in right.
That's Smith's third homer in his last 13 innings.
This weekend, his Mets welcome MLBBro Ke’Bryan Hayes and the Pittsburgh Pirates to CitiField for a four-game series.
4. Aaron Judge
This season for the Yankees has been disappointing, but the Tower of Power Aaron Judge has responded to the bright lights and been one of the best players in baseball this entire season.
Last Thursday night, he was named an All-Star starter for the American League outfield and also became just the fifth Yankee ever to hit 20 home runs before the All-Star break in three straight seasons.
Judge is one of baseball’s top sluggers so it is a little disappointing he is not participating in one of the most anticipated Home Run Derby’s in recent memory, but he needs his rest as a big second half by him is a must if the Yankees, who currently sit just two games above .500, want to get back into contention for the American League East pennant.
This season has been a resurgence for Andrew McCutchen and after what he’s done to Chicago Cubs’ staff during this series, he may want to get a permanent residency in their batter’s box and on our #HighFive list.
MLBbro.com is always celebrating the exclusive Black Ace fraternity and educating people on exactly what a Black Ace is.
Those conversations — about Black excellence in pitching and the pioneers of the game — always lead back to former Major League Baseball all-star pitcher Jim “Mudcat” Grant, who made it his business to chronicle how incredible an accomplishment it is for a Black pitcher to win 20 games.
Grant is the first African-American 20-game winner in the American League (Minnesota Twins, 1965) and the first African-American to win a World Series Game in the American League (1965).
Mudcat passed away on Saturday at the age of 85, leaving MLB with another lost icon.
The entire Minnesota Twins organization is saddened by the death of former pitcher Jim “Mudcat” Grant, who passed away at the age of 85. RIP Mudcat. pic.twitter.com/C5I9Bap9Yo
Via thewrap.com,“Grant spent seven seasons with the Cleveland Indians at the start of his pitching career, then got traded to the Minnesota twins in 1964 where he would go on to blossom into an ace pitcher the following season. Grant went 21-7 with a 3.30 ERA. Grant played for the Twins for four seasons and also played for the Oakland A’s, St. Louis Cardinals, Los Angeles Dodgers, Montreal Expos and Pittsburgh Pirates.
Grant retired in 1971 with a record of 145-119 and 54 saves.
Grant was born in 1935 in Lacoochee, Florida where he went on to become a two-sport athlete in baseball and football, at Florida A&M.”
What’s A Black Ace?
Mudcat is the leader of an exclusive fraternity that hasn’t had a member enter since 2012, when Price went 20-5 for the Toronto Blue Jays.
The book is a historically accurate description of the lives of the thirteen African-American 20-game winners in the Majors that existed when the book was released in 2007.
The 15 Black Aces
Canadian-born Ferguson Jenkins won 20-games or more a remarkable seven times (1967, 1968, 1969, 1970, 1971, 1972, 1974)
Bullet Bob Gibson did it five times (1965, 1966, 1968, 1969, 1970)
Dave Stewart did it four times (1987, 1988, 1989, 1990)
Don Newcombe (1951, 1955 and 1956), and Vida Blue (1971, 1973, 1975) both won 20 or more games three times.
Dontrelle Willis (2005), CC Sabathia (2010), David Price (2012), Al Downing (1971), Dwight Gooden (1985), Sam Jones (1959), Mike Norris (1980), J.R. Richard (1976), Earl Wilson (1967) and of course, Mudcat Grant (1965) all did it once.
Respect Dave Stewart
Dave Stewart is the last Black pitcher to post multiple 20-win seasons. To put this into perspective, in the history of Major League Baseball only five black pitchers have eclipsed the 20 wins mark multiple times in a career.
Two of the five are in the Baseball Hall of Fame: Jenkins, who won more than 250 games in a 14-year career, and Gibson, who did it five times in a span of only six years. Gibson was so unhittable in 1968, that MLB lowered the mound to make it easier for hitters to deal with such Black dominance
Newcombe of the Brooklyn Dodgers, who was the first black pitcher to ever win 20 (1951), and Vida Blue of the Oakland Athletics during the 1970s, each reached the achievement three times.
Price and CC are the last of MLB’s Black Aces.
Sabathia went 21-7 with the Yankees in 2010 after signing a huge free agent deal and then leading the Yankees to their first World Series in almost a decade in 2009. Price went 20-5 as the ace workhorse for the Toronto Blue Jays in 2012.
With the way pitching philosophy and culture have changed in the past decade, we may never see another Black or Brown 20-game winner again. So we must hold all Black Aces in the highest esteem because it’s one of the rarest achievements in baseball.
We also must remember and cherish the memory of Mudcat Grant, a pioneer who endured and defeated way more than just prolific hitters, in order to secure his legacy.
We can never overlook the racism and the excruciatingly volatile circumstances that these pitchers had to perform under.
Never performing on an even playing field. Always having to be superhuman almost, just to do the simple things that their white counterparts took for granted.
Lighters, glasses, hands up in the air for a true sports icon. RIP Mudcat.
The Mets are still holding on to first place in the National League East, 3.5 games up on the second-place Braves, and the only team in the division with a winning record. They’ve done this despite having more people on the injured list than in the dugout at times, and an offense that sits near the bottom of the NL in home runs, and ranks dead last in runs batted in.
But on the mound, New York has dominated. Their 3.19 staff ERA trails only the San Diego Padres. No one has had a bigger impact on those impressive pitching numbers than Stroman and Walker, two of the three Mets hurlers who have made at least 10 starts this season.
They are tied with Jacob deGrom for the team lead in wins (4), and their names can be found across the pitching leaderboards.
Both rank in the National League’s Top 20 in earned run average and innings pitched. They carry matching 1.06 WHIP ratings and between them, batters are hitting a combined .221.
Another rising Black star, Jack Flaherty, is probably the early front-runner for Cy Young honors, but no pair of pitchers have had to shoulder a bigger burden than Stroman and Walker.
The timing of their mutual ascensions couldn’t be better.
Marcus Stroman Gambles On Himself
Stroman faced doubts after opting out of the 2020 season. During his time away from the daily grind of the season, he made himself a better pitcher, adding a split changeup to his repertoire. Utilizing his splitter in tandem with his sinker, he’s been able to keep batters from squaring up and off the bases, even without the high strikeout numbers that have permeated all of baseball.
Stro has matured as well; something he spoke about before the season began.
“I’m the kind of person who is always working on myself as well,” he told Metsmerized Online. “Whether it be my self-care, whether it be my mind, whether it be my breathing, I’m always trying to improve. Not only in the field, but in life.”
That improved mental toughness showed when deGrom went down with an injury. Stroman picked up the slack and then some. In 11 starts, he’s given up more than three runs only twice.
One of baseball’s smallest pitchers in stature, he’s also been able to eat innings and protect the New York bullpen, going at least six innings nine times.
Tai-Walking On These Haters
Walker has been a much bigger surprise. He’s already won as many games this season as he had in the last three seasons combined. Injuries robbed him of some precious development time just when he appeared to be tapping into his potential.
The curve of his career was bending towards success, with an earned run average that has decreased from 4.56 in 2015 to 2.17 this year.
But, after a 2017 campaign that saw him go 9-9 in 28 starts for the Arizona Diamondbacks, he tore the UCL in his right elbow and, after Tommy John surgery, was only able to make four starts over the next two years.
After starting the year with the Seattle Mariners, Walker rounded into shape during the second half of last season. He was able to give the Toronto Blue Jays some solid outings and finished with a 2-1 record and 1.37 ERA in six appearances.
There wasn’t much of a market for him though, as teams were worried if he could be counted on as a rotation regular.
Before his own trip to the injured list, he was erasing all doubts.
Top-3 lowest wOBAs against a pitcher's 4-seam fastball this season (min. 50 PAs ending with a 4-seamer):
In his nine prior starts, he allowed more than three runs one time.
Over five starts in May, Walker went 3-0 with a 1.61 ERA. Opposing hitters were left flailing, batting .156 against him. His WHIP was an obscene 0.71.
Walker, like Stroman, doesn’t rely on overpowering stuff. He pitches. He changes locations and speeds and makes quick work of each lineup he faces.
History In The Making
Two unlikely heroes in Gotham have made the Mets exciting again.
If New York can regain its health, and find its offense, a division title could be forthcoming for the first time since 2015, when the Mets advanced to the World Series. Then, whoever the Mets face could have to deal with deGrom, Stroman, and Walker twice in a seven-game series.
Good luck with that. Marcus Stroman and Taijuan Walker are on the verge of something special, and quite possibly, historic.