Bobo Newsom's career was as odd as his nickname. In an era where the reserve clause kept many players with one team throughout their entire career, Newsom played for nine different major league clubs. He had five different stints with the Washington Senators alone, and never spent more than three consecutive years with a team. He was traded five times and purchased another six. He even signed as a free agent on four occasions, well before the reserve clause's demise in the 1970s.
Then there are the numbers. Newsom is the only pitcher in MLB history to win more than 200 games and finish his career with a losing record. He is one of 21 MLB pitchers to log at least 3,500 career innings and not be elected to the Hall of Fame. He is one of 16 pitchers to play in an MLB game at age 45 or older. Newsom only spent three years with the Tigers, but put up some impressive numbers. He won 50 games, pitched 760 1/3 innings, and accumulated 18.3 WAR, the 22nd highest total in team history.
Louis Norman Newsom was born on August 11th, 1907 in Hartsville, South Carolina. Nicknamed "Buck" during his childhood, the young Newsom was a shortstop in high school. His pitching career began when he was called upon in relief. With a career .189 average and .195 wOBA, it's safe to say that the move paid off. He started his professional career with the Raleigh Capitals of the Piedmont League in 1928, but was soon sent to Class D Greenville after a few rocky starts. He went 15-6 for the Tobacconists, but allowed a 4.08 ERA in 172 innings.
Newsom made his MLB debut for the Brooklyn Robins in 1929, but only after he threw 298 innings for the Macon Peaches of the South Atlantic League. He lost all three of his starts with the Robins, who sent him back to the minors in 1930. He only made three MLB appearances in the next four seasons, one of which came with the Chicago Cubs in 1932. He got back on track in 1933, pitching for the Los Angeles Angels of the Pacific Coast League. Newsom won 30 games that season, allowing a 3.18 ERA in 320 innings.
The St. Louis Browns selected Newsom in the Rule 5 draft after the 1933 season and gave him a starting job in 1934. His numbers do not look great at first glance -- he lost 20 games, allowed a 4.01 ERA and led the league in walks -- but Newsom was actually one of the better pitchers in the American League that year. Offenses were exploding in the 1930s, and AL teams averaged 5.13 runs per game in 1934. Newsom's 4.01 ERA was 11th in the AL, earning him a 123 ERA+. He started off the 1935 season with an 0-6 record, but this did not stop the Washington Senators from paying $40,000 for him in May. Newsom finished the year with an 11-18 record and 4.52 ERA.
Now an established big leaguer, Newsom earned the nickname "Bobo" because of his inability to remember others' names. He often referred to others as "Bobo," and they started calling him the same. He embraced the nickname, referring to himself in the third person as "Ol' Bobo" in the media. Prior to Game 7 of the 1940 World Series, reporters asked him if he was going to win the game for his late father. Newsom, who had already dedicated his Game 5 victory to his dad, responded with "I think I'll win this one for Ol' Bobo."
Newsom was a workhorse in the Senators' rotation, starting a league-high 75 games from 1936 to 1937. He allowed a 4.56 ERA for the Senators and Boston Red Sox during this stretch, which was still better than league average. The Browns reacquired Bobo prior to the 1938 season, which turned out to be one of the best of his career. He won 20 games and pitched a league-high 329 2/3 innings. He allowed a 5.08 ERA (98 ERA+), but made his first career All-Star appearance and finished fifth in the MVP voting.
This caught the attention of the Tigers. They acquired Newsom in early May of 1939, trading six players to the Browns for him, Beau Bell, Red Kress, and Jim Walkup. Newsom was the prize of the deal, and rewarded the Tigers' faith by winning 17 games with a 3.37 ERA in 246 innings. He earned a second consecutive All-Star appearance, and his 7.1 WAR (6.4 with the Tigers) was second in the AL behind Cleveland Indians starter Bob Feller.
Newsom would top his performance in 1940, winning 21 games with a 2.83 ERA. His 168 ERA+ was the best in the American League, and he made a third straight AL All-Star team. The Tigers, coming off a fifth place finish in 1939, won 90 games and faced the Cincinnati Reds in the World Series. Newsom held the Reds to two runs in a Game 1 victory, but suffered a much bigger loss after the game. Bobo's father, Quilline, who was in attendance, had a heart attack and passed away in a Cincinnati hospital the next morning. Newsom rejoined the team for Game 5 and pitched a three-hit shutout, putting the Reds on the brink of elimination. After a Cincinnati victory in Game 6, Newsom was outdueled by Paul Derringer in Game 7, giving the Reds their second World Series title.
Newsom wasn't quite as good in 1941, allowing a 4.68 ERA. However, his 12-20 record was not all his fault. The Tigers only won 75 games that season and were one of the worst offensive teams in the American League. Rudy York and Bruce Campbell combined for 42 home runs and 204 RBI, but others -- including an aging Charlie Gehringer -- could not keep pace. Tigers general manager Jack Zeller tried to cut Newsom's salary in half due to his loss count, and when Newsom rebutted, he was sold to the Washington Senators.
While he turned 35 years old during the 1942 season, this was far from the end of Newsom's career. He would go on to pitch nine more seasons in the majors from 1942 to 1953, appearing for the Senators, Brooklyn Dodgers, Browns, Senators (again), Philadelphia Athletics, Senators (again), New York Yankees, New York Giants, Senators (again), and Athletics (again). He helped win a World Series with the Yankees in 1947 and made one more All-Star appearance in 1944 with the Athletics. He even spent three years in the minor leagues after being released in 1948 before returning to the major leagues in 1952.
Mr. Newsom passed away on December 7th, 1962 in Orlando, Florida.