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Tom Zachary - October NCSHOF Member of the Month

By Rick Strunk - NCSHOF Associate Director, 10/18/19, 10:45AM EDT

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Zachary, born in Graham in 1896, is often remembered...

“October Baseball” is just different.

When it comes to the major leagues, it means the playoffs, dramatic games and ultimately the World Series, and one of the earliest inductees to the North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame was no stranger to the rarified air of that Fall Classic.  That is why Tom Zachary is the NCSHOF  Member of the Month for October.

Some may not remember this star lefthander too well, because his career spanned 19 seasons in the earlier part of the 20th century.  Zachary, born in Graham in 1896, is often remembered as the pitcher who surrendered Babe Ruth’s epic 60th home run during the Bambino’s record-breaking 1927 season.  But Zachary participated in three World Series, two with the Washington Senators and one with the New York Yankees, and had a perfect 3-0 mark in Series games.

Zachary, an outstanding athlete at Guilford College, was involved in what is arguably one of the greatest pitching duels in college baseball history.  With Zachary on the mound for Guilford against George Murray and N.C. State, the two pitchers battled through 16 innings— that’s right, 16 innings—of scoreless baseball, with Zachary striking out 14 and Murray 20.  The game was called on account of darkness, although the Raleigh News and Observer of April 7, 1918 reported in the game story that many thought the umpire called the game too early; it appeared “his appetite had run away with him and he was no longer interested in baseball.”

The North Carolina native never spent a day in the minor leagues.  During World War I, Zachary signed up for service in the Red Cross and went to Philadelphia for training, and it was there he met Connie Mack of the Philadelphia Athletics and got a tryout.  Mack must have liked what he saw and signed the Guilford star, although baseball historian Matthew Silverman quoted Zachary’s explanation, “Reckon I bragged on myself a lot, and pitchers were scarce that year.”

Zachary was aware enough to know that it could cost him eligibility if he went back to Guilford afterwards. So to play it safe, the two games he pitched that year with the A’s were under the name “Zack Walton,” and he won them both, the first two of 186 major league pitching victories with seven teams, before he was shipped overseas.

He picked up two wins in the 1924 World Series for the Senators, including game 2 against the New York Giants after Baseball Hall of Famer Walter Johnson lost the opener. Then Zachary, with his team down three games to two, took game six with a tight 2-1 victory and Johnson then followed in the decisive game to give Washington the World Series crown.

His other October win was in the ‘28 Series for the Yankees, as he overcame a shaky start and went on to a 7-3 win over the St. Louis Cardinals in Game 3 of a series the Yanks swept.

Zachary was confident on the mound. “All batters look alike to me,” he once told a newspaper reporter. “I don’t get scared in the pinch. When there’s men on base and the going gets tough, that’s when I get good.”

There are a couple of other fascinating items in the Zachary resume.  He was an outstanding hitter for a pitcher, batting .226 for his career and hitting over .300 several times. And his 1929 season with the Yankees was one for the record books, as he posted a 12-0 mark with a 2.48 earned run average and was declared The Sporting News American League Pitcher of the Year.  It still stands as the most wins against no losses in a single season by a major league pitcher.

After his baseball career, Zachary came back to North Carolina to live. He was inducted into the NCSHOF in 1966, just the fourth baseball player to join the Hall, and passed away in Burlington three years after his induction.  For more information on Tom Zachary, click here: https://www.ncshof.org/tomzachary.