Last summer, when Rockies righthander Darryl Kile was on pace to become the first pitcher in nearly two decades to lose 20 games in a season, Brian Kingman did a strange thing: He prayed for Kile to win. Kingman, who went 8-20 for the 1980 Athletics, relished his dubious distinction. "So many guys come in and out of this game," he said. "To be remembered for anything is special." (His prayers were answered: Kile finished 13-17.)
By that logic it's not hard to imagine Charles (Togie) Pittinger, dead for 90 years, floating on a cloud somewhere, looking down on Rangers lefthander Jeff Fassero and cheering his lungs out. Pittinger, also known as Horse Face, was a hard-throwing righthander for the Boston Beaneaters and the Philadelphia Phillies in the early 1900s. He may have been a two-time 20-game winner, but for one year he was the worst pitcher in the game.
In 1903, as a member of the National League's Beaneaters, Pittinger became the first pitcher to lead his league in six negative categories-losses (22), runs allowed (196), earned runs allowed (136), hits allowed (396), home runs allowed (12) and walks allowed (143). Fassero could become the second. Through Sunday he was tied for the American League "lead" in losses (14, with the Tigers' Brian Moehler), and led outright in runs allowed (130), earned runs allowed (121), homers allowed (34) and highest ERA (746). He was also tops in highest opponent batting average (.326) and slugging percentage (.569).
It is odd that a pitcher of Fassero's caliber (87-69 with a 3.40 ERA in eight seasons before this one) could challenge for such a dishonor. But as with Pittinger, who went 27-16 in 1902, a good pitcher can break bad records. "Jeff is someone you have faith in," says Texas pitching coach Dick Bosman. "His track record makes you put him out there."
Fassero's troubles began following off-season surgery to remove bone chips from his left elbow. Upon reporting to spring training with Seattle, his fastball was still in the low 90s, but his mechanics were out of whack. He was clobbered in his first two starts and later endured a six-game losing streak. "My body has been way out in front of the ball," says Fassero, who was banished to the bullpen for the second time this year on Aug. 7 by Mariners manager Lou Piniella. "I'm never in the same arm slot. The statistics are terrible because I'm terrible."
On Aug. 27 West Division-leading Texas, desperate for lefthanded pitching, gave Seattle a minor leaguer to be named later for Fassero. Bosman immediately began working with Fassero on his mechanics. In his first start, a five-inning, two-run outing against Chicago on Sept. 6, Fassero won with an effective forkball and slider. "So far," he says, "I like the results."
Pittinger, whose career and life were ended by Bright's disease in 1909, might not be so happy. Texas will give Fassero three or four more chances to earn a spot in the postseason rotation. That's three or four more chances to get hammered into the record book.