I’m not going to try and lie and act like I was acutely aware of who Juan Pizarro was prior to his passing a couple of weeks back. In all my various baseball research I had never stumbled across his name as more than a passing oddity. Even then I can’t say with one hundred percent accuracy that I recall glimpsing his name in any of my research. I’m simply not sure if I did see his name but I do know that I never saw his name and dug deeper into his history. Thankfully a Puerto Rican baseball enthusiast on Twitter, Edwin Hernández Jr., did bring his passing to my attention and I instantly knew my mistake in never having dug deep into his career, to begin with.
Right off the bat, Pizarro has a good Major League Baseball career. He spent 18 years in MLB. In that time he accumulated 19.6 rWAR and an ERA of 3.43. He was a major part of the Milwaukee National League Ballclub’s 1957 World Series title as well as their runner-up status the following season. For 18 years Pizarro was consistently very good in the MLB ranks. He never truly stood out, but he also never looked awful and was comfortable swinging back and forth from a starting role to a relief role. He was just as good out of the bullpen as he was as a starter, and up until his last season, an ERA of 1.88 at the age of 37, he was a valued member of every one of his ballclubs.
If that were all Pizarro’s career consisted of he would go down in the annals of history as a good player, but not more than that. Seeing as how this series is about baseball beyond MLB’s walls I imagine you know where this is going. Pizarro had an amazing career in Puerto Rico as well as in Serie del Caribe and Serie Interamericana. He was one of the best pitchers that Puerto Rico ever produced and by the time his career had finished he had put up some numbers that should make people take notice. Keep in mind, these aren’t complete numbers, much of the stats from the early days of Serie del Caribe and Serie Interamericana have never been put together in an easily accessible way.
For his career, all 21 years of it, Pizarra has recorded known numbers of 4,261 strikeouts, an ERA of 2.84, and 5,775.1 innings pitched. He also threw at least 209 complete games, of which 49 were shutouts. He also contributed 28 saves and a known win-loss record of 395-262, but in actuality, he probably won over 400 games. Those are big numbers, those are best of all-time numbers. That’s even without taking into account the numerous Serie Interamericana, Serie del Caribe, and Liga de Béisbol Profesional de Puerto Rico titles that he won.
Pizarro is, for good reason, a hero in his native Puerto Rico. His death resulted in numerous articles highlighting the amazing breadth, accomplishments, and results of his career. Just think for a second, we know so much about the man, but we also know so very little in the way of concrete facts. That has allowed him to occupy a place in baseball mythology right alongside Negro Leagues greats. For those who understand the game of baseball, there is little question that Pizarro is one of the best to ever play the game. He’s someone I should have known about long ago, and now, hopefully, those reading can get a better handle on one of baseball’s best pitchers and a truly amazing career.
Lead photo courtesy of Unknown – El Nuevo Dia