Charlie Hough

From BR Bullpen


Charles Oliver Hough

BR page


Charlie Hough was a knuckleballer for the Los Angeles Dodgers, Texas Rangers, Chicago White Sox and Florida Marlins. Hough's career record was 216-216, the most wins ever by an exactly .500 pitcher. [1] He spent the first 12 seasons of his major league career as a reliever and the last 13 as a starter. He made one All-Star team and ranks among the top 100 all-time in wins and the top 50 in strikeouts, and is the all-time Rangers leader in wins and strikeouts. He later was a coach in the minors and the majors and a senior adviser to the Dodgers.

Early career[edit]

Hough was born at Tripler Army Medical Center in Honolulu, HI but he was raised in Florida. He graduated from Hialeah High School in 1966. Hough's father, Dick Hough, was a minor league 3B in 1933. [2]

Out of high school, Hough was taken in the 8th round of the 1966 amateur draft by the L.A. Dodgers. According to Hough, Los Angeles drafted him "because I looked like a good hitter... I had a strange combination of talents - a home run hitter's swing and no power. I was one of those players who would rip a little pop-up over second." [3] Hough began his professional career with the Ogden Dodgers, where manager Tommy Lasorda decided that he should pitch. Hough went 5-7 with a 4.76 ERA that year for Ogden, finishing 10th in the Pioneer League in ERA, tying for the league lead in losses and tying for the lead in most homers allowed (8). He hit .244/~.326/.415, playing five games in the field or as a pinch-hitter when not pitching. [4]

In 1967, Charlie had a big year for the Santa Barbara Dodgers. He went 14-4 with a 2.24 ERA, striking out 138 and walking 43 in 165 innings. He was second to Ken Tatum in ERA in the California League and led in winning percentage. He was less successful with the Albuquerque Dodgers, going 2-1 with a 7.00 ERA, allowing 57 hits in 36 innings. [5]

1968-1969: Stuck in AA[edit]

Charlie hurt his shoulder but did not tell anyone in the Dodger organization for concern that they would let him go. He kept pitching and his arm got steadily worse. [6] Hough went 6-10 with a 3.94 ERA for the Albuquerque team in 1968 and followed with a 10-9, 4.09 campaign in 1969. He allowed 17 homers, the most in the Texas League. [7]

1970-1972: Discovering the knuckler and AAA[edit]

Hough worked with Lasorda and Goldie Holt in the instructional league prior to 1970 and Holt taught him how to throw the knuckleball. He recalls "I couldn't control it at all, but I couldn't control my curveball all that well either." [8] After a fine spring training, he made it to AAA with the Spokane Indians. Spokane's catchers didn't order larger catching mitts and wound up with 51 passed balls. He won nine games the first month and finished the year with a 12-8 record, 18 saves and a 1.95 ERA. He allowed 94 hits in 134 innings. He finished 12 innings shy of qualifying for the ERA title, which he would have won easily. He did lead the 1970 Pacific Coast League in saves and was called up to L.A. that year. [9]

Charlie made his big league debut against the Pittsburgh Pirates on August 12, 1970. With two on and two out in the 9th, Walt Alston brought in Hough. He walked Al Oliver, bringing up Willie Stargell with the bases loaded. Hough worked the count to 3-2. Steve Yeager called a fastball; Charlie recalls "The reason I had started throwing the knuckleball was that I couldn't get A-League players out with my fastball, and here I was throwing it to Willie Stargell with the bases loaded in the 9th inning. I couldn't believe it. Neither could Stargell. He must have been more surprised than I was, because he swung at it and missed." [10] Hough had two saves and a 5.29 ERA in eight games with the Dodgers.

In his second year as a knuckleballer, the Dodgers hired Hoyt Wilhelm to help Hough learn how to master the pitch. While the two had similar records with Spokane (Wilhelm was 2-3, 3.89; Hough 10-8, 12 saves, 3.92), when L.A. needed a pitcher, they called up the 47-year-old veteran. Charlie almost led the PCL in saves again (tying Jim Barr, Danny Morris and John Purdin for second behind Chuck Hartenstein) while missing the top 10 in wins by one. Still, Hough only got into four games with the Dodgers. [11]

That winter, he pitched for the Leones del Caracas, going 1-2 with 4 saves and a 2.50 ERA in 21 games; he went 2 for 8 at the plate. He tied Luis Peñalver for sixth in the Venezuelan League in saves and Rob Gardner for 8th in pitching appearances. [12]

In year three of his knuckler, Charlie had another fine year in the PCL. With the Albuquerque Dukes, he went 14-5 with 14 saves in 58 games, hurling 125 innings and posting a 2.38 ERA. He again would have led the league in ERA (Dick Lange led at 2.97) had he qualified. His 13 intentional walks were the most in the 1972 PCL and he was fourth in saves (between Hartenstein and Cy Acosta) and tied for second in wins (even with Doug Rau, Mike McCormick and George Brunet, two behind Mike Wallace). [13] Despite again getting only a small glance in the majors that year, he would never pitch in the minors again.

1973-1980: Los Angeles[edit]


Hough became a regular member of the bullpen with the 1973 Dodgers and went 4-2 with five saves and a 2.76 ERA. He saved 14 games for the 1973-1974 Tigres del Licey, setting a Dominican League record; as of 2013, it still remained tied for the franchise record [14] His ERA grew to 3.75 in 1974 but he still was 9-4 with a save and allowed only 65 hits in 96 innings - but 12 of them were home runs and he walked 40. The Dodgers played in the 1974 World Series, losing to the Oakland Athletics in 5 games, and he pitched once in the NLCS and once in the World Series, with no decisions. This was the year in which Mike Marshall set all-time records with 106 games and 208 innings as a reliever, but Charlie was the next busiest man for manager Alston. He led the 1975 Caribbean Series with two wins, pitching for the Águilas Cibaeñas. With the Dodgers in 1975, Charlie was 3-7 with four saves and a 2.95 ERA.

Hough became Los Angeles's main reliever in 1976 following Marshall's departure and saved 18, won 12 and lost 8 in 142 2/3 innings spread over 77 games. His 2.21 ERA was a career-best. He was fourth in the 1976 NL in saves and second in games pitched (behind Dale Murray's 81). The league ERA leader was at 2.52 but Charlie was about 20 innings shy of qualifying for the title.

Charlie went 6-12 for the 1977 Dodgers with a career-best 22 saves in 127 1/3 innings of work; his ERA remained good at 3.32. He hit his lone home run in the majors, taking Bob Johnson deep. He was fourth in the 1977 NL in saves, trailing future Hall of Famers Rollie Fingers, Bruce Sutter and Goose Gossage. He led his first-place Dodger team in losses, an odd statistic for a reliever. He allowed two earned runs in seven postseason innings, most notably surrendering the third home run to Reggie Jackson of the New York Yankees in Game 6 of the World Series that allowed Jackson to tie the record held by Babe Ruth for homers in a World Series game. He was on the losing side of the ledger in all three of his trips to the World Series, with a 4.38 ERA and no decisions in 5 games.

Hough saw a somewhat reduced workload in 1978, toiling in 55 games and going 5-5 with 7 saves and a 3.28 ERA. He pitched in the World Series for the last time, again facing the Yankees. He re-injured his shoulder after three years of lots of pitching and was not effective in 1979, going 7-5 but with a 4.76 ERA for a career-worst 76 ERA+. While one could wonder about the effects of a number of years pitching for Tommy Lasorda's 9-man staff, Hough cited the need to pitch regularly to be effective, an opportunity he did not get because he was doing so poorly. [15] He started 14 games that season as the Dodgers struggled to find reliable pitching; he had made only one previous start in the majors until then, in 1977.

Charlie began the next year, 1980, in even worse shape, going 1-3 with one save and a 5.57 ERA. Things would change for the better with a change of scenery, when Los Angeles sold him to the Texas Rangers on July 11th. It was unforeseeable that the same 32-year-old Charlie Hough that left L.A. with 15 career starts and 47 wins would, over the next fourteen and a half years, start 425 games and add 169 wins to his totals.


1980-1990: Toiling in Texas and the conversion back to starting pitcher[edit]

Hough states that Lasorda did a great job convincing Eddie Robinson, the Texas General Manager, to acquire him with the way he was performing. [16] Late in the year, the 32-year-old Hough made just the 16th start of his career, when Ferguson Jenkins was arrested for cocaine possession. Charlie pitched a five-hit shutout on August 26th ("All I could think about was, keep Fergie in jail. Lock him up and throw away the key") but did not get to pitch again for 17 days. He stated later that he said "it was a good thing I didn't throw a no-hitter. I might never have pitched again." [17] He was 2-2 with a 3.96 ERA for the 1980 Rangers, beginning to right the course of his career.

In 1981, Hough was 4-1 with a save and a 2.96 ERA in a good year cut short by the 1981 strike. The next year, 1982, he became a regular member of the starting rotation and went 16-13 with a 3.95 ERA, tying Dennis Martinez and Jim Clancy for 8th in the 1982 AL in victories and Ken Forsch, Geoff Zahn and Mike Caldwell for fifth in complete games (12). For the 1983 Rangers, his record was 15-13, 3.18 and he was 4th in the 1983 AL in ERA (between Dave Stieb and Scott McGregor) and fewest hits per nine innings (between Tim Conroy and Rich Dotson), 7th in strikeouts (152, between Ron Guidry and LaMarr Hoyt) and tied for fourth in shutouts. He set a franchise record with three shutouts in a row [18].

In 1984, the 36-year-old knuckleballer went 16-14 with a 3.76 ERA, one inning behind AL leader Stieb with 266, tied for 10th in wins (with Stieb and Phil Niekro) and 9th in losses, fifth with 164 strikeouts (between Bert Blyleven and Mike Moore), tied Clancy and Mike Smithson for the lead with 36 starts, led with 17 complete games (one ahead of Mike Boddicker), was 4th in walks (94, between Bob Ojeda and Ray Burris), allowed the most hits (260, 11 more than Danny Darwin and Clancy) and faced the most batters (1,133). The veteran remained effective in 1985, posting a 14-16, 3.31 line with a 128 ERA+, his best as a starter. The Rangers went 48-83 when other pitchers got the decision. He was 4th in the 1985 AL in WHIP (1.12, between Jimmy Key and Dan Petry), second to Stieb in fewest hits per 9 and tied Moore for second in complete games (14). He was also 8th in ERA, between Guidry and Jack Morris). In 1986, Charlie made his only All-Star roster and went 17-10 with a 3.79 ERA. He made a famous appearance in the All-Star Game, where his knuckler baffled both National League hitters, who couldn't touch it, and catcher Rich Gedman, who couldn't catch it. He tied Blyleven and Kirk McCaskill for sixth in the 1986 AL in wins, was 8th in WHIP (between Blyleven and Teddy Higuera) and 4th in fewest hits per 9 innings (between Mike Witt and Joe Cowley).

At age 39 in 1987, Hough had a 18-13, 3.79 record to set a career high for wins and strikeouts (223). His catcher Geno Petralli set a 20th Century record with 35 passed balls and tied the modern record of six passed balls in a game on August 22nd. Hough tied for fourth in the 1987 AL in wins (with Bret Saberhagen, Morris and Higuera), two behind the leaders (Roger Clemens and Dave Stewart), 10th in ERA, second to Key in H/9, first in innings (285 1/3), 4th in strikeouts (223, between Higuera and Morris), first in starts (40, 3 more than anyone else), tied for sixth with Morris in complete games (13), tied for 10th in losses, second in walks (126, 14 behind Witt), first in hit batters (19, almost double anyone else) and faced 74 more hitters than anyone else. His 40 starts represent the last time any pitcher has made that many in a major league season. In a year marked by the prevalence of the gopher ball, he set a career high with 36 home runs surrendered (6th in the league). It was also his last winning season: he would be 21 games under .500 the rest of his career after going 21 games over .500 in his first 18 seasons.

In 1988, Hough was 15-16 with his last ERA+ over 100 (123) with a good 3.32 ERA. He was 7th in the 1988 AL in innings (252, between Frank Viola and Witt), fifth in fewest hits/9 (between Witt and Clemens), 9th in strikeouts (174, between Greg Swindell and Saberhagen), first in walks (126, 16 more than Mark Langston and Stewart) and tied for second in losses, one behind leader Blyleven. He also made the 10 oldest players in the league list for the first time. At age 41 in 1989, Charlie went 10-13 and led the 1989 AL in homers allowed (28, tied with Doyle Alexander). His ERA ballooned over a point to 4.35 (a 91 ERA+) and he failed to reach 200 innings for the first time since he had become a starter. He was 12-12 with a 4.07 ERA (around average for a starter that year) for the 1990 Rangers, walking 119 (one less than league leader Randy Johnson), hitting the most batters (11, one ahead of Stieb and Boddicker) and was again among the 10 hardest-to-hit pitchers in the American League.

Hough finished his Texas career as the all-time team leader in wins (139), strikeouts (1,452) and complete games (98) as well as losses (123). He still holds all those marks through 2014 - 6 wins more than Kenny Rogers, 399 IP ahead of Rogers, 47 strikeouts ahead of Bobby Witt, 8 complete games ahead of Jenkins and 19 losses ahead of Bobby Witt. Also, as of that time, he is third to Nolan Ryan and Yu Darvish in team history in fewest hits per nine innings and tied with Claude Osteen and Rogers for 7th in ERA+.

1991-1992: The years in Chicago[edit]

Given his decline over the last few seasons and his advancing age, the Rangers thought that Hough had reached the end of the line and let him go after the 1990 season. Hough did not consider himself done and signed with the Chicago White Sox for 1991. The 43-year-old teamed with a guy about a month older, Carlton Fisk. Hough went 9-10 with a 4.02 ERA (99 ERA+) and was among his league's 10 hardest pitchers to hit for the final time. While his record may not have been spectacular, he was a big contributor on a team starved for pitching; after the season Bill James commented: "Starting pitching [was] the weakest part of the team; the signing of Charlie Hough kept the bottom from dropping out." [19] He was 7-12 in 1992 with a 3.93 ERA (98 ERA+). The White Sox became the top team in the division in 1993 and 1994, but Hough had moved on to another team. By pitching so many innings with a respectable ERA over the previous two years, he helped to create an environment where young talented players like Frank Thomas or Jack McDowell could develop into stars.

1993-1994: Old guy on a new team[edit]


Hough joined the new expansion Florida Marlins in 1993 and started the team's first game ever, beating his old Dodgers club. [20] He was 9-16 as his record showed the effects of pitching for an expansion club; he was still throwing well as his 98 ERA+ (4.27 ERA) indicates. After 13 years away from the National League, he returned to finish in a tie with Anthony Young for fourth in the 1993 NL in losses while serving as the oldest player in the circuit. (On his 45-year-old legs, Hough went 2-for-63, with 1 RBI, at the plate.)

In his final season in 1994, Charlie started off 3-0 with a 2.75 ERA, his first 3-0 start in 17 years (when teammate Dave Weathers was in third grade). He said his arm was fine, but his left knee ached constantly and limited his length into games. He also had three hits to open the year and had four hits to backup catcher Ron Tingley's two at one point; teammate Orestes Destrade said Hough was "maturing as a hitter. By the time he's 55 or 56, he'll have a chance at winning a batting title." [21] He faded, losing 2 of his last 11 decisions and went 5-9 with a 5.15 ERA for the Marlins. He also did not get another hit, finishing the year 4 for 33 for a career batting line of .146/.168/.177 in 250 plate appearances.

He made his usual leaderboard appearance for hit batters and wild pitches but was no longer an effective pitcher and hung up his spikes at age 46. He was the last player born in the 1940s to appear in a big-league game. He got four votes in the 2000 Hall of Fame Election, his lone year on the ballot, and was an inaugural inductee to the Texas Rangers Hall of Fame in 2003.

Major League Career[edit]

Through 2014, Hough ranked tied for 82nd all-time in wins (tied with Wilbur Cooper and Curt Schilling), 63rd in fewest hits per 9 innings (between Jim Brewer and David Cone), 35th in games pitched (858, between Niekro and Billy Wagner), 51st in innings (3,801 1/3, between Morris and Amos Rusie), 44th in strikeouts (2,362, between A.J. Burnett and Robin Roberts), tied with Moore for 87th in starts (440), 16th in gopher balls served up (383, between Morris and Tom Seaver), 8th in walks (1,665, between Rusie and Clemens), 91st in hits (3,283, between Dutch Leonard and Brickyard Kennedy), 30th in losses (between Sam Jones and Jim McCormick), tied fellow knuckleballer Tim Wakefield for 30th in earned runs allowed (1,582), tied with Toad Ramsey for 20th in wild pitches (179), 10th in hit batters (174, between Joe McGinnity and Clark Griffith) and 49th in batters faced (16,170, between Willis and Morris). Through 2022, he is the only pitcher to spend 10+ years with one NL team one AL team. [22]

Coaching Career[edit]

Hough was the pitching coach of the San Bernardino Stampede from 1996 to 1998 and for the Los Angeles Dodgers from the end of 1998 through 1999. He was the pitching coach for the New York Mets in 2001 and 2002. He replaced Gary Lance as pitching coach of the Lake Elsinore Storm in May 2003 when Lance moved up to the Mobile BayBears [1]. Hough spent 2006 as pitching coach of the Fullerton Flyers in the independent Golden Baseball League. For the 2007 season, he was named pitching coach of the Inland Empire 66ers, a position he held until 2010. In 2011-2012, Hough was a Senior Advisor, Player Development for the Dodgers. [23]


Hough is the only pitcher ever to make at least 400 career starts and at least 400 relief appearances; he had 440 and 418 respectively. [24]

He was the last pitcher (through 2014) to pitch at least 13 innings in a game, which he did on June 11, 1986. Since then, no one has pitched even 12 innings. The most recent 12-inning pitcher had been Tommy John, who had a 13-inning game in 1983. [25]

In 1987, he was the last pitcher to start at least 40 games in a season: the most recent one before him had been Jim Clancy in 1982.

After Hough's 216-216, the leading .500 pitchers are Howard Ehmke (166-166) and Nap Rucker (134-134). [26]


"A good knuckleball is one the catcher successfully blocks" [27]

"I throw ninety percent knuckleballs. The other ten percent are prayers. I probably could throw other pitches. The only reason I don't is that I love pitching in the major leagues." [28]

On the 1975 Astros' colorful uniforms: "They look like Hawaiian softball uniforms" [29]

Notable Achievements[edit]

  • AL All-Star (1986)
  • AL Innings Pitched Leader (1987)
  • AL Complete Games Leader (1984)
  • 15 Wins Seasons: 6 (1982-1984 & 1986-1988)
  • 200 Innings Pitched Seasons: 9 (1982-1988, 1990 & 1993)
  • 200 Strikeouts Seasons: 1 (1987)


  1. Dugout Central
  3. The Fall of the Roman Umpire by Ron Luciano, pg. 153
  4. The Fall of The Roman Umpire, pg. 153-154; 1967 Baseball Guide, pg. 451-454
  5. 1968 Baseball Guide, pg. 371, 381-382
  6. The Fall of the Roman Umpire, pg. 154-155
  7. 1970 Baseball Guide, pg. 470
  8. The Fall of the Roman Umpire, pg. 155
  9. The Fall of the Roman Umpire, pg. 156; 1971 Baseball Guide, pg. 440-441
  10. The Fall of the Roman Umpire, pg. 157
  11. The Fall of the Roman Umpire, pg. 158; 1972 Baseball Guide, pg. 443-445
  13. 1973 Baseball Guide, pg. 430-432
  14. Tigres del Licey website
  15. Fall of the Roman Umpire, pg. 161
  16. ibid.
  17. Fall of the Roman Umpire, pg. 162
  18. Topps
  19. The Baseball Book 1992 by Bill James, pg. 14
  20. Box score of that game
  21. From a May 1994 Sporting News clipping; "The Book on Charlie Hough" written by Amy Niedzielka
  22. SABR Horsehide Trivia, 12/18/2022
  23. 2012 Dodgers Media Guide, pg. 373
  24. 1994 Chicago Tribune
  25. ESPN
  26. Peter Gammons' blog
  27. Fall of the Roman Umpire, pg. 160
  28. Fall of the Roman Umpire, pg. 162-163
  29. Baseball's Greatest Quotations by Paul Dickson, pg. 189

Further Reading[edit]

  • Michael Clair: "Charlie Hough's knuckler turned back clock",, January 4, 2022. [2]
  • Rick Sorci: "Baseball Profile: Pitcher Charlie Hough", Baseball Digest, November 1991, p. 39. [3]

Related Sites[edit]

This is a featured article. Click here for more information.