Toothbrush Terrigan

Toothbrush Terrigan

by William Bowen


Pat “Toothbrush” Terrigan was a study in persistence. The stocky starter’s body tried to fail him time and time again through his career, but he kept coming back and mowing hitters down. With 19 documented injuries to his left arm alone, mixed in with injuries to his legs and back, Toothbrush truly loved the game and had to have the proverbial jersey ripped off of him in the end. Despite it all, he managed to fashion one of the greatest careers the game has ever seen.

In addition to his unflinching dedication to the game, Terrigan was a true New Yorker. Born on Long Island in Lake Grove, New York, his home stadium was in New York City for his entire career.

Terrigan debuted at the age of 18 for the Brooklyn Bluebirds in 1924. After a breakout campaign in 1927, Terrigan was the Bluebirds’ ace when he was on the field. He spent 16 years in Brooklyn. He made four All-Star teams, and he helped the team win the 1929 World Series, getting two complete-game victories in their five-game win over the St. Louis Explorers.

Terrigan posted his best season in 1931, winning 22 games, leading the league in innings pitched, and posting a 1.89 ERA. Like all the other great pitchers of his era, Terrigan had the misfortune of being overshadowed by Brock Rutherford, so he rarely led the league in anything, but his Bluebirds career wound up with almost 70 WAR to his name, posting a 145 ERA+ in 380 games for Brooklyn.

On June 12, 1935, Terrigan pitched the second perfect game in league history. (The first and to that point only perfect game was thrown by Cincinnati’s John Smith in 1880.) Facing the Gene Metcalf-led St. Louis Explorers, he struck out eight batters and threw just 98 pitches.

After a midseason trade to the New York Knickerbockers in 1940, he cemented his Hall of Fame case, winning the Royal Ricketts Award at the age of 36 in 1941 and helping the Knicks win a championship in five games. Though he continued to battle injuries, Toothbrush was part of the Knicks’ remarkable three-peat from 1943 to 1945, adding three World Series rings to his collection. Terrigan made four more All-Star appearances as a Knick, finishing with nearly 30 WAR for the team with a 158 ERA+.

A torn flexor tendon ended his 1945 campaign after only three starts. Terrigan turned 40 in August and contemplated retirement. He had been in the league for 22 years, and despite only 10 complete seasons, he had a remarkable career. Toothbrush elected to give it one last go-round, and he was drafted to play in the AABC by the upstart New York Empires in the fourth round of the free-agent draft of 1946. Terrigan would remain in New York and help the newest team in the city open their ballpark. He made six starts for the Empires, going 3-1 with a 2.36 ERA, but the injury bug caught him once more. The end came on May 30th, 1946 for Toothbrush Terrigan, when he tore his UCL. His body had given out once more, and this time he would not attempt a comeback.

For his career, Terrigan won 130 more games than he lost, finishing with a 282-152 career record. Pitching in a hitters’ era, he posted a 2.79 ERA (good for a 148 ERA+), struck out over 2,137 batters, and accumulated just under 100.0 WAR (99.3). He won Player of the Week once and Pitcher of the Month four times. He made eight All-Star teams (1934-36, 1938, 1940-43), and he won the 1941 Royal Ricketts Award. He pitched the second perfect game in league history, and he played on five Championship teams (Brooklyn 1929, New York 1941 and 1943-45).

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