by Martín Abresch
The Industrials ace from the late 20s through the 30s, Elmer "Birdie" Deaton was a model of consistency who helped Pittsburgh win four Championships.
Originally signed by Philadelphia, a 20-year old Deaton was included as part of a trade for established starter Patrick Monday after the 1925 season. Monday had led the league in wins two years previous, and he would perform well for the Quakers, winning 175 games for them over the next decade. But Deaton would pitch for Pittsburgh for the next two decades, winning 296 games for them.
In his first season with Pittsburgh, 1926, and at only 21 years old, he won 15 games. The young hurler showed early that he could strike out hitters, but his control was a bit wobbly (he walked 112 and struck out 106). Over the next few seasons, he managed to keep his strikeouts at the same level and gain control of his devastating curve.
In 1928, Deaton won 20 games for the first of six times in his career. Young second baseman Mel Hunt emerged as a force and Pittsburgh won 99 games—but still finished two games behind Brock Rutherford and the St. Louis Explorers. In 1929, Deaton went an impressive 22-9 with a 2.90 ERA.
It was in 1929 that Deaton received the nickname "Birdie". Deaton was an avid golfer, and on an off-day he went to the links with teammates Ron Ezzell, Dick Norris, and Ace Rogers. As Ezzell tells it, Norris, who was a bit of a hothead, did well early, but Deaton hit his stride in the back nine, hitting five straight birdies and flying straight past Norris. "We started calling Elmer Birdie just to get under Dick's skin, was all," Ezzel would say later. In any case, the nickname fit.
St. Louis won the western division each year starting in 1923, but the dragon would finally be slain in 1931, and it was Deaton, Hunt, and the Industrials who would do the slaying. Deaton, still only 26, had his best season yet, going 20-10 with a 2.63 ERA and striking out 144 while walking just 73. Pittsburgh beat the New York Knickerbockers in the World Series to give Pittsburgh their first Championship since 1903.
Birdie had missed a few weeks due to injury in 1930, but 1931 also began a remarkable stretch of durability, and he started 35+ games for nine seasons straight. In 1933, he made the inaugural All-Star Game, the first of eight consecutive appearances in the mid-summer classic.
In 1934, Deaton went 20-11 with a 2.08 ERA. In 294 innings, he allowed just two home runs. In 1935, he led the league in wins by going 26-5 with a 2.08 ERA, finishing second in the Most Valuable Player voting behind Brock Rutherford. Here at the peak of his career, Deaton helped Pittsburgh to consecutive 99-win seasons and back-to-back Championships. In the 1934 World Series, facing the Knickerbockers once again, Deaton pitched a pair of complete game victories, with one of the games going 10 innings.
Deaton continued to pitch well for the rest of the 1930s. In 1939 he went 23-6 with a 2.45 ERA. He finished third in the Royal Ricketts voting (an award that had just been introduced in 1937). The ERA crown was won by a young teammate by the name of Chuck Munson. In 1940, Deaton won 16 games, but it was Munson who led the staff and won the Royal Ricketts Award. Pittsburgh defeated their cross-state rivals, the Philadelphia Quakers, in five games to win their fourth World Championship in 10 seasons.
Deaton hung on with the Industrials as a kind of elder statesmen, especially during the war years when young players went off to serve in the military. Injuries finally began to catch up with him. He tried to hang on to win his 300th game, but sometimes the fates are cruel. After going 0-3 with an 11.22 ERA in 1946, Deaton decided to hang them up.
For his career, Deaton went 298-215 with a 3.16 ERA (good for a 134 ERA+). He started over 600 games, pitched over 4,800 innings, and struck out over 2,000 batters. Deaton led the league in wins (1935), games started (1934-36, 1938), HR/9 (1934). He won Player of the Week once and Pitcher of the Month five times. He was selected to eight All-Star teams (1933-40). He was a member of four Championship teams (Pittsburgh 1931, 1934-35, 1940).
In 1954, Elmer Deaton was inducted into the Hall of Fame.