Remembering the Worst Pitching Performance in Brewers History: Billy Travers’ Historic 1977 Dud
With Chase Anderson’s recent near no-hit gem against the Diamondbacks, I got to thinking about the greatest pitching performances in Brewers history. Using Bill James’ game score metric as a guide (a pitcher starts with 50 points and makes additions or deductions to the score based on strikeouts, earned/unearned runs, walks allowed, hits allowed and outs recorded), Anderson’s outing barely cracks the top 100 games a Brewer has ever pitched. Ben Sheet’s 18-strikeout game against the Braves in 2004 tops the list.
But this exercise also got me thinking about the other end of that list: the worst games a Brewers’ pitcher has ever recorded. According to game score, the Brewers have indeed been a party to one of the ugliest starts ever. On August 14, 1977, young Milwaukee hurler Bill Travers recorded the lowest game score total in team history while suffering through one of the worst starts by a Major League pitcher since the 1930s.
Travers’ dud came at the back end of a doubleheader between the moribund Brewers and the equally inept Cleveland Indians. In the first game, the Indians pounded the Crew 12-4, hanging eight runs on starter Jim Slaton in just 4 1/3 innings. In the nightcap, it seemed like Travers would have just as short an outing when the Indians scored five times in the second inning to run up a 7-0 lead. Travers was in just his fourth start since he returned from an elbow injury that had sidelined him for two months. He had been an All-Star the year before and was putting together another solid season when the elbow issue emerged. The team had eased him back in the rotation and his Sunday start in Cleveland was the first time he had pitched on four days rest since his return. One might have assumed that manager Alex Grammas would treat the talented young pitcher carefully at the tail end of a season that was already lost. One would have been incorrect in that assumption.
After a 1-2-3 third, Travers allowed four more hits and two runs in the fourth to make it 9-1 Cleveland. Then Travers seemed to settle down. He scattered two hits over the next three innings, but no one in the park that night, except for Grammas, quite understood why the 24-year-old kept coming back out to the mound. Nearing 150 pitches on the night, Grammas sent Travers back out for the eighth. “I can’t believe you’re still out here,” Cleveland centerfielder Paul Dade told Travers during the break between innings. All Travers could do is shrug. Grammas hadn’t said a word to him during the game.
The eighth inning was the ugliest. Clearly gassed, Travers allowed two singles to open the frame before striking out Bill Melton. He walked the next two, pushing the score to 10-3 and then gave up a two-run double to Dade. It was only then, after 16 hits and 12 earned runs that Grammas placed a call to the bullpen. When Bob McClure began to throw, Travers felt a weird rush of adrenaline. Despite the beating, he bore down and struck out Charlie Spikes. “As long as I had gone that far, I really wanted to finish the game,” Travers said afterward. “Why not go all the way?”
The next batter, catcher Ray Fosse, laced a single that score two more to the make it 14-3. But it was still not enough for Grammas. It was not until the next batter, Frank Duffy, doubled (with Fosse pulling up at third base as not to run up the score) that Grammas pulled Travers. The sparse crowd in Cleveland booed the Milwaukee manager heartily, partially for his abuse of a young pitcher and partially for ended the novelty of such a brutal outing. As Travers left the mound, however, the crowd broke into a loud ovation, to which the worn-out pitcher responded with a tip of his cap.
After the game, Grammas claimed he had left Travers in so long as a way of preserving his bullpen, but also gave an indication that the outing was some kind of punishment. “He knows why he was out there,” Grammas said. “If he doesn’t, he’s not paying attention.” Grammas later denied the move was payback of any kind.
Travers was the first pitcher in 30 years to allow at least 14 earned runs and the first since 1949 to allow 18 or more hits. He also set Brewers records for hits and runs allowed that still stand to this day. The outing caused his ERA to spike from 3.45 to 4.69.
Although Grammas was roundly criticized for his treatment of Travers, the pitcher was quick to forgive. After a few days of brooding, Travers told the press that it was all in the past and he was ready to make his next start. The lefty struggled through the rest of the 1977 season, but was a steady part of the Brewers rotation during the winning seasons of 1979 and 1980. Travers left as a free agent before the Brewers playoff runs of ’81 and ’82. He signed a four-year pact with California Angels, but managed only 11 starts with his new team because of arm injuries.