The Pittsburgh Pirates were very bad during the 1951 season. They finished with a 64-90 record. Starting pitcher Murry Dickson had a strong season for them, despite the rest of his teammates. He managed to put up a 20-16 record, while the rest of the pitching staff combined to go 44-74. Here’s the story of how he accomplished a 20-win season during such a poor overall year for the club.
Dickson was a true workhorse pitcher during his career. He pitched over 3,000 big league innings, despite missing two full seasons to service during WWII. He would be described now as a mid-rotation starter, to go along with that workhorse tag. His best career season actually happened in his first year back from the war, which was not a common occurrence at that time. It usually took guys a year or so to get back in the groove.
In 1951, he was coming off of a season with the Pirates in which he went 10-15, 3.80 in 225 innings, making 22 starts and 29 relief appearances. The Pirates had a 57-96 record that season. So they ended up being a little better in 1951, but they were still a far cry from a good team. Dickson managed to win 20 games anyhow, and it all started with a win in his season debut against his former team.
In the second game of the season on April 17th, he allowed four runs (two earned) over six innings in a 5-4 win against the St Louis Cardinals. The Pirates helped him with some offense and three shutout innings from reliever Bill Werle, but their defense cost him two runs, so it all evened out.
Dickson earned his second win with five shutout innings of relief pitching on April 29th, just two days after he made his third start of the season. He got a no-decision in that third start while allowing four runs in 1.1 innings.
On May 2nd, three days after his five shutout innings, Dickson threw a complete game over the Brooklyn Dodgers. He won 4-3 and one of the runs was unearned.
After his first loss on May 6th, Dickson threw a complete game shutout on the road against the Philadelphia Phillies. You would expect a lot to go right to end up with 20 wins on a very poor team, but things didn’t go his way on May 13th when he allowed one earned run over eight innings and took the loss. Four days later he was called on again for long relief and he gave up three runs over the final 5.1 innings, which was good enough for his fifth win.
Dickson got hit hard on May 20th, just three days after going 5.1 innings. The Phillies defeated the Pirates by a 17-0 score and Dickson gave up eight runs (six earned) over 6.1 innings.
Dickson bounced back with a strong performance at Wrigley Field, throwing a complete game in a 10-1 win. On May 30th, he dropped to 6-4, despite a solid performance, giving up three earned runs in eight innings. Dickson pitched eight times in May, went at least 5.1 innings each time, and received a decision in all eight games. He almost did the same thing in June, receiving seven decisions in eight games, though he picked up a save (not a stat at the time) during his June 4th appearance.
Win #7 for Dickson came against the Brooklyn Dodgers on June 9th in a 4-1 victory. This was the year that Bobby Thompson hit the famous home run to give the New York Giants the pennant. That game happened because the Dodgers and Giants finished the season in a tie. Dickson went 3-1 versus Brooklyn and 3-3 against the Giants that year, so he pitched well against the best teams.
Dickson picked up his eighth victory against the Boston Braves on June 14th, despite allowing four runs (three earned) on 11 hits and six walks. He tossed a complete game in the 9-4 win. After two straight losses, one in relief, he got back to the winning ways with a lot of help from his teammates. In a 10-7 win over Brooklyn, Dickson went the entire way and all seven runs were earned. He ended June with another loss, giving him a 9-8, 4.61 record, though that ERA jumped nearly a full run in his final three June outings.
July started off well with a complete game victory at home against the Chicago Cubs. He allowed just two runs. Dickson took the loss four days later while allowing three runs to the St Louis Cardinals. On July 12th, the Phillies jumped all over him again early, scoring eight runs in two innings, all of them earned. He was 10-10, 4.79 at the halfway point.
Dickson’s 11th win was a strong relief appearance, throwing four no-hit innings against the Giants. The Pirates tied that game in the ninth, then won it in the 13th inning. His next two wins came in consecutive starts against the Braves. He threw a complete game each time, giving up a total of six runs.
Dickson allowed seven runs in 2.1 innings on August 1st and still got a no-decision, with the Pirates winning 12-9. He got some payback against the Phillies three days later with a complete game in a 7-3 win. One of those runs was unearned.
His winning streak was extended to five games in another contest where the Pirates both helped and hurt him. He allowed five runs and the Pirates put up ten runs total, but Dickson only surrendered two earned runs. Four days later he moved to 16-10 with a 1-0 complete game shutout at Wrigley Field.
The winning streak was snapped at six games in a poor outing against the Cardinals on August 16th. After a no-decision on the 19th, Dickson had another strong performance against the Phillies, giving up one run in a complete game triumph.
The 18th win was of the vulture variety on August 30th. Dickson came in during the eighth inning and gave up the tying run, then the Pirates won it in the ninth on Ralph Kiner’s 37th home run of the season.
September started off very rough, as the trials and tribulations of pitching for a bad team caught up to him. Dickson allowed six runs over 21 innings, but took the loss in all three outings. On September 19th, with the season winding down, he tossed a complete game in a 7-3 win against Boston. He was saving his best outing for late in the season, as win #20 came in Cincinnati on his third shutout of the season, all on the road. His final start six days later was also against the Reds and ended in a 4-2 loss, with Dickson going the full nine.
That left him at 20-16, 4.02 in 288.2 innings. He made 35 starts and ten relief appearances. Dickson threw 19 complete games. MVP voters recognized his value to the team, as he finished ninth in the voting. The Pirates were slightly better than his win-loss record when he started games. They went 20-15 in his starts, 26-19 in his appearances. He had five losses in which he allowed 2-3 runs, and three of his losses came when he allowed just one earned run. He was 9-10 at home and 11-6 on the road. He had at least two wins against all seven NL opponents.
Dickson actually pitched better in his 1952 season, one that we might look at well down the line. However, the Pirates were even worse that year and he couldn’t work any magic, resulting in a 14-21 record.
Here’s Dickson on his 1951 Bowman card