The name Bill Macleod is not known to most baseball fans. His major league career consisted of two short relief stints with the Red Sox at the end of the 1962 season. But for one season in the minor leagues he put together a record that was as enviable as it was unlikely.
How does the greatest single season winning percentage by a pitcher in the history of the Eastern League begin?
Well, in his first 9 1/3 innings with the Pittsfield Red Sox in the Eastern League in 1965, our hero allowed 11 hits and had an ERA of 8.69. Each of his four appearances had been in relief and each time he had not been involved in the decision. As late as May 12, it was not certain if he had a future with his club.
On May 20, manager Eddie Popowski gave MacLeod a start. By then, Billy had appeared in seven games, and his ERA still was high (6.92). He responded by yielding two first inning runs before settling down. He struck out 11, despite yielding 10 hits, and his teammates came from behind. When he left after 8 and 2/3 innings, he was in the lead 4-3. Reliever Gary Waslewski registered the final out and MacLeod had his first win of the season.
And so, what was to become an incredibly eventful season was underway – sort of. On May 24, MacLeod became, for three innings, the first base coach. Manager Popowski was a bit under the weather and first base coach Billy Harrell was moved to third base. MacLeod took over at first base. By the fourth inning, Popowski was feeling better and the Pittsfield coaching boxes were back to their regular alignment.
The next day, MacLeod was in vintage form recording his second win of the season. Now, vintage form is different things to different folks. MacLeod had a certain knack for hitting batters and he nailed two in this contest. He also prided himself on his hitting and went 1-for-4 with a pair of RBIs. He struck out nine batters and did not yield a run until the final inning as Pittsfield won 6-2. The hit was his first of the season and a harbinger of things to come.
On May 31, he once again took the slab against Springfield and got out of several jams before his mates put up a three-spot in the bottom of the seventh inning. With one out in the top of the eighth, he walked the bases full and came out of the game. Fred Wenz registered the last five outs to preserve the shutout and keep MacLeod’s winning streak intact.
His next game appearance was on June 6, but he didn’t throw a pitch. He came off the bench as a pinch-hitter and singled in a 7-3 loss to Williamsport. The next day, he started against York and just didn’t have his stuff. He was shelled and cameout of the game in the third inning trailing 4-3. But the bullpen shut down the White Roses and his mates scored a couple of sixth inning runs to take MacLeod off the hook.
And then came the win that got away. On June 25, Pittsfield visited Elmira. The game was a pitchers’ duel for the ages. Macleod was up against Ed Barnowski and the game was tied 1-1 after nine innings. In the top of the tenth inning, Barnowski weakened and came out of the game as Pittsfield pushed across the lead run. Unfortunately, Macleod also was tiring. He retired the first two batters but walked pinch-hitter Eddie Watt on four pitches. Watt advanced to second on a wild pitch and a single by Mark Belanger tied the game. MacLeod came out at that point. Fred Wenz retired Johnny Scruggs for the final out of the inning, and the game went on and on and on. After 21 innings, the game was still tied, 2-2 as pitchers Mario Pagano for Pittsfield and Dave Leonhard for Elmira each worked 11 scoreless innings. At that point, the game was stopped.
On June 29, Pittsfield faced Springfield in another battle for Massachusetts supremacy. In the first game of a doubleheader, MacLeod was nothing short of perfect – for the first 11 batters. He didn’t yield a hit until the fifth inning and left the game after five innings with the lead. Fred Hatter pitched the final two innings and MacLeod had his fifth win of the season and still no losses.
The next two wins were messy affairs, but a win is a win.
On July 3, Springfield gift-wrapped five unearned runs over the first six innings, and MacLeod had just enough in the tank to complete five innings before Springfield mounted a serious rally. When that rally came in the form of a four run sixth inning, Wenz once again came to the rescue, entering the game with two outs and going the rest of the way.
On July 7, it was more a matter of luck and some well-timed hitting that gained MacLeod his seventh win. MacLeod most definitely did not have his stuff and barely survived the first inning. He was pounded for five hits but only gave up two runs, as Reggie Smith gunned down the potential third run with a throw from center field. Two runs was not much against a lineup that included the likes of Smith and George Scott. Smith tied the game with a two run homer and after Pittsfield had taken the lead MacLeod homered leading off the seventh inning to extend the lead to 4-3 and a two-run homer by Scott closed the scoring. Macleod came out of the game after surrendering two hits in the eighth inning and Fred Wenz once again shut down the opposition to earn a save as was credited with a save. And MacLeod’s once stratospheric ERA was down to 3.79.
That ERA would go even lower (to 3.49) in his next start, arguably his best performance of the season. He allowed a first inning run on two hits and then mastered the opposition Reading squad, at one point retiring 20 batters in a row. His complete game win was over in a hurry – two hours and three minutes. He struck out nine and walked not a single batter in recording his eighth win of the season.
Not only was MacLeod on fire but the Pittsfield Red Sox were in a pennant race. His next win on July 16 once again against the Reading Indians, brought Pittsfield to within a game of the league leading Elmira Pioneers. Through eight innings he had scattered three hits, while his mates built up a 6-0 lead. Reading got to MacLeod for three ninth inning runs but it was too little, too late as Macleod who struck out a season’s high 12 batters notched his ninth win of the season without a loss.
He kept things going with his tenth win against York on July 20 and then four days later pitched his fifth complete game of the season to defeat Elmira 4-2. At Elmira, he pitched three perfect innings before surrendering two fourth inning runs on three hits. The key hits in the rally were a single by Mark Belanger and a double by Lou Piniella. After that, it was lights out for Elmira, and rally-time for Pittsfield. MacLeod was a big part of the come-from-behind effort. His second homer of the season plated Pittsfield’s first run of the game in the sixth inning. Pittsfield manufactured three runs in the eighth inning to take the lead for good.
On July 28, he went for his seventh win in July and came up a tad short. He took a 2-1 lead into the ninth inning and got into a jam. Wenz came in to put out the fire, but yielded a hit that put Williamsport in the lead 3-2. MacLeod was in danger of having his streak stopped but his mates tied the score in their half of the ninth. However, Wenz was not able to capitalize on the reprieve and yielded a run in the tenth inning giving Williamsport the win.
MacLeod‘s record for the season as July came to a close was 11-0. His six straight wins in July secured him the Eastern League Player of the Month Honors.
Another month came and so did the wins. On August 1 at Elmira, MacLeod allowed only four hits in a seven inning complete game, beating Elmira 3-1. It was his 12th win of the season, and his sixth complete game. But the best was yet to come.
Pitching on only two days rest Bill was tested at Springfield on August 4, and succeeded mightily. He retired the first 13 men to face him and then was victimized by a double off the bat of Jim McClain. In that fifth frame, he also issued two walks and the bases were loaded with two outs. He got out of the jam by striking out the opposing pitcher Matt Gayeski. Over the last four frames, it was 12 up and 12 down and MacLeod had a one hit shutout, his mates scoring nine runs to give him his 13th win.
By August 8, it was no longer a secret that something special was going on. On that date, Pittsfield hosted Elmira and MacLeod won his fourteen gave of the season without a loss. Somebody did a little checking and discovered that he had won the last four games of the prior campaign when the Red Sox Double-A squad was at Reading. His then 18 wins in a row eclipsed the Eastern League record of 17 that was set by Tommy Fine with Scranton in 1946. But MacLeod had no intention of slowing down, especially as there was a pennant race going on. The win was Pittsfield’s ninth in ten games and put them one-half game ahead of Elmira in the league standings.
Pittsfield let one slip away on August 12, losing to York 4-2. Macleod started the game and was staked to a 2-0 lead which held up until the ninth inning. Going into the frame, the score was 2-1 and MacLeod walked the first batter. At that point, he was removed for the seemingly infallible Wenz, but this time Fred did not come through. Wenz registered two outs, there were runners on first and third, and Fred was on the verge of another safe when York’s Mike Gardiner hit a fly ball in the direction of the right field foul pole. It sailed over the fence for a three run homer. Manager Popowski tried in vain to have the umpire reverse the call but the game was over. Wenz was charged with the loss and MacLeod escaped with his streak intact.
The fans were in a celebrative mood on August 20 when the Reading Indians visited Wahconah Park. It was manager Popowski’s 52nd birthday and in minor league baseball, that’s a cause for issuing invites to the fans, 2,038 strong. After the pre-game festivities which included a cake for the birthday boy, and an appearance by Max Patkin, the Clown Prince of Minor League Baseball,” MacLeod took to the mound in search of his 15th win of the season. A three-run homer by George Scott provided the margin of victory as MacLeod went the distance, winning 5-2.
The next win was one of those “Nobody said this was going to be easy” affairs. The Williamsport Mets were in town on August 24 and, during the first six innings peppered MacLeod for nine hits that yielded three runs. In the early going, MacLeod helped himself out with the bat once again, driving in a run with a single to put Pittsfield up on top 3-2 in the second inning The issue was very much in doubt as the score was tied 3-3 heading into the bottom of the seventh inning. At that point Pittsfield put a five spot on the board and MacLeod sailed on to win number 16 against those ever present zero losses.
Despite his 16 wins, MacLeod had only one shutout. That ended on the evening of September 2. He pitched the first game of a doubleheader against the Williamsport “not ready for prime time” Mets. He went all the way in the seven inning opener and his mates gave him all the run support he would need in the first inning as he allowed only four hits in a 5-0 victory. His nine strikeouts took him to 154 for the season.
So what did MacLeod do between his starts? Well nobody said he was limited to winning games with his arm. Indeed, he appeared in 16 games as a pinch-hitter. The day after his 17th win, he was summoned as a pinch-hitter in a crucial situation. It was that ever mythical scene when you come up with two out in the ninth inning with the winning run standing on third base. This time the opposition was provided by the Springfield Giants. Springfield’s top pitcher, Tommy Arruda, was looking for his 19th win and the score was tied going into the ninth inning. The count went to 1-2 against MacLeod and Arruda was one strike away from sending the game into extra innings. Bill took a swing and his ground ball just snuck past second baseman Tony Eichelberger. Pittsfield’s Al Lehrer raced home from third and the Pittsfield magic number was down to two. That hit brought his record as a pinch-hitter to 3-for-14 with two walks. MacLeod’s hit on September 3 made a winning pitcher at of reliever Fred Wenz who had factored into more than a couple of MacLeod’s wins.
That magic number was reduced to one after Macleod made his next start on Sunday, September 5 against Springfield. MacLeod went out in style. The game was close for the first eight innings, but Pittsfield broke things open with a seven-run ninth inning, and went on to win 9-0. In pitching his second straight shutout and fourth consecutive complete game, MacLeod surrendered only four hits and struck out three.
MacLeod’s miraculous season was over. The next day, in the last game of the season, Pittsfield clinched the Pennant. Nobody in the Eastern League has ever matched MacLeod’s perfect record with as many wins.
Bill was sitting on 22 consecutive Eastern League wins.
It was a streak that began innocently enough on August 25, 1964. On that evening, he tossed a four hitter as Reading defeated Charleston 4-1. Four days later, he defeated Elmira in the first game of a doubleheader 9-3, driving in a run with a sacrifice fly. His third win in succession came on September 2 when he defeated Charleston 10-5. He weakened in the eighth inning, perhaps due to his running out a triple as he went 2-for-4 at the plate. In his final start of the season, he defeated Springfield, 7-2, hurling his third complete game in four starts. Once again he was adept at the plate going 2-for-4. In his last four starts, he had gone 4-0 with a 1.69 ERA. With the bat, over this period, he went a non-too-shabby 6-for-14. He finished the season with a 12-6 record and a 3.11 ERA. The following season, Reading moved to Pittsfield and, for the first month of the season, MacLeod moved to the bullpen.
The 1966 season found him toiling in the International League. His season was not particularly successful. His record was 2-9 and his ERA was 4.68. One note of encouragement was that each of his wins came via shutout.
In 1967, MacLeod returned to Pittsfield. His first decision of the season came on May 14. He was pitching in relief that day and entered the game in the eighth inning with the score tied 5-5. In the tenth inning, his mates push across a run and he had his 23rd consecutive Eastern league win. Three days later, the streak came to an end at Reading. Once again MacLeod entered the game in the eighth inning and the score tied. Reading scored the winning run in the bottom of the ninth inning. He was with them Pittsfield through July 22, posting a 3-2 record, when he was sent to Indianapolis which that season was playing in the Pacific Coast League. Indianapolis was his last stop.
Berkshire Eagle (Pittsfield, Massachusetts)
Springfield (Massachusetts) Republican
The Sporting News
Author Interview with Bill MacLeod, March 8, 2016