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The Nuke LaLoosh

Since so many baseball stats have labels, why not this one?

It has been over 30 years since Bull Durham graced the big screens. A baseball romantic comedy, starring Tim Robbins, Susan Sarandon, and Kevin Costner in the first of his many, many, many baseball-type roles, this movie focused on the exploits of a hotshot minor-league prospect (Robbins), a grizzled veteran on his last hurrah (Costner) and a baseball groupie who just so happens to be an English professor (Sarandon). The movie proved a financial and critical success, along with adding quite a few famous lines to the American lexicon. It also subjected the world to a series of ESPN Baseball Tonight parody ads that still scar the souls of those who remember them.

You’re welcome.

For all of the lines of Bull Durham and events, there is a scene/dialogue during the course of the movie, when Robbins’ Nuke LaLoosh (loosely based on the inconsistent minor-league pitcher Steve Dalkowski) is on the mound and struggling mightily. In a road start, he cannot find the range with any of his pitches, including his vaunted “Heat/Deuce”. Not surprisingly, the manager (helpfully named Skip) goes out to the mound and pulls him from the game. As LaLoosh angrily moves towards the showers, the team play-by-play man recounts his stat line (in his glorious deep Carolina accent)

“ …5 earned runs, 5 hits, 5 strikeouts, 5 walks, 5 wild pitches…”

Quite a stat line there. Certainly, a bit of creative license from the screenwriters. While baseball as of yet has not officially designated this as such (that I could find), I am calling this sort of line a “Nuke LaLoosh”. [NOTE: The movie does not indicate how many innings Nuke Laloosh pitched in what would be a loss, but I always figured it was 5, given that it fit in the numbering scheme, so for the sake of argument, we can add a 5 inning stint to the rest of the “Nuke Laloosh” stat line]. Granted, this movie is set in the minor leagues. At that level, you could likely find all sorts of crazy stat lines. Yet, the highest levels of baseball are not immune to such an action. Not too long ago, this was the box score line from Astros starter Famber Valdez back on Sept 10 in a win over the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim:

5 IP, 4 ERs, 6 H, 6 K, 5 BB, 0 HBPs/WPs

Not quite a pure “Nuke LaLoosh”, but he was certainly on the right track, even if that was not the intended goal. Still, it begged the question, has anyone actually recorded a “Nuke LaLoosh?” While it is Hollywood, those types of numbers are not quite alien to pitchers. Seeing pitcher deal 5 earned runs, 5 strikeouts, 5 BBs…those are not entirely uncommon numbers, even if they are not desired from a starter of any sort.

Has there ever been a recorded “Nuke LaLoosh?” A simple Google search does not yield an immediate answer. With that in mind, time to dig through some statistical box score-type things. Starting at the MLB level, the best bet to get right to the answer is to look for what might be the statistic with the fewest entries and cut to the chase. For the Nuke LaLoosh, that involved searching for most Wild Pitches in a single baseball game by one pitcher. The record is 6 (achieved 3 times in the modern era, including once by the late great J.R. Richards). All of them were in the National League. For the American League, the record is 5.

The lucky trio to set that mark:

Baseball Almanac does not have a link to the box score, but Baseball-Reference does: The line for Charlie Wheatley that day (a 16-5 loss to the Cleveland Naps):

8 IP, 16 ER, 21 H, 2 SO, 5 BB

Of the other two, Freedy Garcia didn’t miss the Nuke LaLoosh by much in a 5-4 win over Baltimore in a 10-inning tilt on April 10:

4.2IP, 3 ERs, 4 H, 3 SO, 3 BB

Jack Morris might have had the 5 wild pitches, but the rest of his stat-line in a extra-innings 4-2 loss against Kansas City:

10.0 IP, 4 ERs, 8 H, 4 SO, 4 BB

[Note: He was the only pitcher for Detroit that day. Times have changed]:

Based on these stat lines, we don’t have a Nuke LaLoosh for the MLB, at least in the modern era. People and players will come close, but it would appear the hardest stat to achieve would be the 5 Wild Pitches. However, this is the game of baseball, and stranger things can and will happen in the game. Maybe Valdez, who can have periodic control issues, might be the Astro closest to getting the vaunted Nuke LaLoosh. Or perhaps there is another, yet to take the mound, but ready to make it happen when the time comes.

There is a corollary for the Nuke LaLoosh. In Nuke’s first game in the minors, he proceeded to walk 18 batters and strike out 18 batters (both records as noted by the underrated role of bench coach Robert Wuhl). With that in mind, could there be another type of Nuke LaLoosh out there?

For the strikeouts in a game, there are multiple instances of that happening. Counting extra innings, a single pitcher has fanned 18 batters 17 times. Some of the biggest names in pitching history logged those numbers (Ryan, Koufax, Feller, etc). In some cases, multiple times. However, the most walks ever issued by a pitcher in a single game is 16, so this Super Nuke (or should we say Thermo-Nuke) LaLoosh is a non-starter. In this age of the modern bullpen, with emphasis on strike and pitch counts, a pitcher might get 18 Ks, but they are long out of the game and in the showers if they even come close to 18 BB.

Thus, the first iteration of the Nuke LaLoosh is most likely to happen of the two. Will it actually happen? We will need to stay tuned.