He was a fierce competitor and a hard loser. When he pitched, you didn't have to ask who won the game, all you had to do was look at the clubhouse later. If he'd lost, the place would look like a tornado had gone through it.
- Clyde Sukeforth, Rixey's teammate from 1926-1931
Eppa Rixey was the best left-handed pitcher ever to pitch for the Cincinnati Reds and among the most beloved players in Reds history. Once in Cincinnati, he never left, having played the last 13 seasons in his 21-year career with the Reds (1912-33). He also remained in the city, managing a successful insurance business.
He was among the few "giant" pitchers in baseball, standing 6-foot-5, and his 266 career victories were the most ever for a left-hander until Warren Spahn won his 267th in 1959. Rixey remarked on the Spahn story, "Nobody even knew I had a record ... When I retired, Cincinnati Post sports writer Tom Swope gave me a copy of my record. He wrote it was the best ever in the league by a left-hander. It didn't rate national headlines."
During his career, Rixey won at least 20 games four times and 19 games twice. In 1922, his 25 wins were the most in the National League. His 21-year career set a longevity record among National League left-handers until Steve Carlton broke it in 1986.
After high school in Charlottesville, Va., Rixey enrolled at the University of Virginia, where he played baseball. He never played an inning of Minor League ball when he was signed by the Philadelphia Phillies in 1912 on the recommendation of NL umpire Cy Rigler, who was coaching baseball at the university.
When approached by Rigler, Eppa said, "I plan to be a chemist." Rigler countered with a deal in which he would arrange for the Phillies to give Rixey a $2,000 bonus that he would split with Rigler. Rixey did sign with the Phillies, but the bonus was never paid. The NL had just adopted a rule barring umpires from serving as scouts.
The Phils gave Rixey permission to finish his degree work at the university, and he reported for duty in June and finished his rookie year with a 10-10 record with a 2.50 ERA. Philadelphia won the 1915 NL championship behind the league-leading 31 wins by Grover Alexander and the 11 wins of Rixey. The following season, Eppa had his first of four 20-win seasons with a career-low 1.85 ERA. The following three years were a major turnaround: He would have losing seasons and lost more than 20 games in two of them.
On Feb. 22, 1921, the Phils traded Rixey to Cincinnati for Jimmy Ring and Greasy Neale. The trade resulted in a renewed Rixey who delivered winning seasons his first eight years with the Reds. In 1922, he won a league-leading 25 games and won at least 20 in 1923 and 1925. In the final days of 1923, as the Reds were fighting the New York Giants for first place, Rixey beat the Phillies, 1-0, on Sept. 19. With just one day of rest, he pitched a complete game for his 20th win in an 11-inning victory over the Brooklyn Dodgers. In 1924, he was within four outs of a perfect game but tired and lost the game in the ninth inning. In his final years, he worked often in relief roles and in his final four seasons (1930-34), he compiled a 24-28 record.
A career .191 hitter, he once collected a home run, two doubles and two singles in the same game against Jesse Haines of the Cardinals. When he called his fiancee with the good news, she exclaimed, "Goodness, something dreadful is about to happen in St. Louis if you hit a home run." The next day, a tornado touched down in St. Louis.
Rixey spent a decade in the Majors before stealing his first base. Three years later, he stole his second as catcher Gabby Hartnett, the best thrower in the game, failed to make a throw. Rixey chortled "He just stood there open-mouthed and forgot to throw."
He was the best left-hander ever to pitch for the Reds with a 179-148 record, 180 complete games, 23 shutouts and a 3.33 ERA in his 13 seasons.
Eppa was also known as "Jephtha," a nickname created by Cincinnati sportswriter Bill Phelon. Rixey mused, "It sounds like a cross between a Greek letter fraternity and a college yell."
Rixey died suddenly with a heart attack in January 1963, one month after he was elected into the Baseball Hall of Fame. He joked about his election, "They're really scraping the bottom of the battle, aren't they?"
He was elected in the Cincinnati Reds Hall of Fame in 1959 and in 1969, he was named the greatest left-handed pitcher in Reds history.