He eats innings.
This is the best Phillies manager Charlie Manuel could offer when asked about the peculiar desirability of Jowly Joe Blanton, a pitcher Philadelphia’s front office coveted so desperately that it gave up three minor leaguers, including one – Adrian Cardenas – generally regarded as the best hitting prospect in an impotent farm system.
He eats innings.
When a guy resembles the end-of-the-line Babe Ruth and is a perennial candidate for baseball’s MCP (Most Corpulent Player) Award, calling him an “innings eater” is nothing more than a cruel straight line.
Eats innings? Hah! I’d rather be in Philadelphia!
In the Orwellian doublespeak of major league executives constrained in their search for talent by penny-pinching owners, an “innings eater” is analagous to the response The Fonz offered when Richie told him about a prospective date, a girl who had a good personality: That means she oughta have a bag over her head.
In the parlance of the times, the euphemism “innings eater” can be loosely translated as “he’ll pitch a good many innings, but he won’t pitch many good innings.”
Is CC Sabathia an innings eater? No. He’s a helluva pitcher, a Cy Young Award winner. Tom Seaver? Steve Carlton? Lefty Grove? Walter Johnson? They all pitched a lot of innings, but nobody ever felt the need to brand them with an unfortunate sobriquet like “innings eater.”
Can you tell the Hall of Fame Pitcher from the Innings Eater?
No, they were just great pitchers. They threw many, many, many innings, but nobody really noticed because it was possible to lose oneself in the elegance of their craft while they were busy swallowing innings. They had other things to hang their hats on, such as wins, strikeouts and championships and Hall of Fame invitations.
By the time he had reached Blanton’s current age of 27, Walter Johnson had distinguished himself as an innings eater of gluttonous magnitude. He devoured 2,442 innings before he turned 27. In three separate seasons, he ate no fewer than 369 innings. But as he’d only given up 1,873 hits during that gustatory flourish, well, it just didn’t seem like a big deal. Along the way, he’d won 179 games and fashioned an ERA of 1.62.
Yes, yes, yes. It was a different time. Babe Ruth had only had 10 at-bats at that point and had yet to hit his first home run. So the dead ball era was still very much alive. And yes, it’s a trifle unseemly comparing a journeyman pitcher such as Blanton with one of the greatest to ever throw a pitch.
But you get the point.
As for the innings eater in question, Blanton’s feasted on 760 2/3 innings in his career to date, given up 810 hits, accrued a 4.25 ERA and assembled a 47-46 record.
At least he’s an innings eater. He’ll be out scuffling about on the mound for some time, but you’ll rarely enjoy watching him go about his work.
It won’t be pretty, and sometimes it will be quite painful.
And as often as not, you’ll end up with another loss when the day’s over.