Urban Clarence "Red" Faber (September 6, 1888 – September 25, 1976) was an American right-handed pitcher in Major League Baseball from 1914 through 1933, playing his entire career for the Chicago White Sox. He was a member of the 1919 team but was not involved in the Black Sox scandal because he missed the World Series due to injury and illness.
Faber won 254 games over his 20-year career, a total which ranked 17th-highest in history upon his retirement. At the time of his retirement, he was the last legal spitballer in the American League; another legal spitballer, Burleigh Grimes, would later be traded to the AL and appear in 10 games for the Yankees in 1934. He was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1964.
Faber was born on a farm near Cascade, Iowa, on September 6, 1888. He was of Luxembourgish ancestry. While Faber was a child, his father managed a tavern and later ran the Hotel Faber in Cascade. His father became one of the wealthiest citizens in Cascade. As a teenager, Faber attended college prep academies in Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin and Dubuque, Iowa. By the age of 16, Faber was receiving $2 to pitch Sunday games with a local baseball team in Dubuque.
In 1909, Faber pitched a season for St. Joseph's College, later known as Loras College. In a game against St. Ambrose University that year, he set a school record for strikeouts in a nine-inning game (24). Former Dubuque minor league owner Clarence "Pants" Rowland encouraged Faber to sign with the Class B Dubuque Miners of the Illinois–Indiana–Iowa League.
Faber started well in the minor leagues. He pitched 15 games for Dubuque in 1909 and returned to the team in 1910, registering an 18-19 win-loss record and a 2.37 earned run average (ERA) in 44 games. He threw a perfect game for the Dubs against the Davenport Prodigals in September of that season.
He also spent time with minor league clubs in Pueblo and Des Moines. He broke into the major leagues in 1914, starting 19 games and relieving in another 21; he posted a 2.68 ERA while winning 10 games and saving a league-leading four games. Through the 1910s, he would vary between starting and relieving for a team which enjoyed a wealth of pitching talent. In his 1915 season, he won 24 games to tie for second in the American League behind Walter Johnson, and he led the league with 50 appearances. In one game that season, he pitched a three-hitter with only 67 pitches.
In 1917 he had a record of 16–13, and at one point started – and won – three games in two days. He saved his best work for the World Series against the New York Giants. After winning Game 2 in Chicago but losing Game 4 on the road, he came into Game 5 (at home) in relief and picked up the win as the Sox came back from a 5-2 deficit in the seventh inning to win 8-5. Faber came back two days later to go the distance in the clinching Game 6 at the Polo Grounds, picking up his third win of the Series by a 4–2 score. As a consequence, he holds the all-time American League record for pitching decisions in a single World Series with four, a record which stands to this day.
His pitching was better than his baserunning—in one game he tried to steal third base when it was already occupied. Faber said that he saw the lead runner rounding third base on the previous play and he thought that the runner had scored a run. When the pitcher slowly entered his windup, Faber ran toward third base. However, in one game against Boston, he stole home, a rare feat for a pitcher.
After spending most of 1918 in the United States Navy due to World War I, he returned in 1919 only to develop arm trouble. He had lost a significant amount of weight during the war. He finished the year with a 3.83 ERA – the only time in his first nine seasons he posted a mark over 3.00. Those problems, along with a case of the flu possibly related to the Spanish Flu pandemic, prevented him from playing in the scandal-torn World Series against the Cincinnati Reds. Years later, catcher Ray Schalk said that had Faber been available, there probably would never have been a fix (presumably because Faber would have gotten some of the starts that went to Eddie Cicotte and/or Lefty Williams).
Success in the 1920s
Faber enjoyed the greatest success of his career in the early 1920s. The live-ball era was beginning, but he was among the pitchers who made the most successful transition. The spitball was phased out after the 1920 season, with Faber one of the 17 pitchers permitted to use it for the remainder of their careers. He took advantage of Comiskey Park's spacious dimensions, surrendering only 91 home runs—barely one homer per month—from 1920 to 1931. He was one of only six pitchers to win 100 or more games in both the "dead ball" (through 1920) and live ball eras. Faber finished the 1920 season with 23 wins and led the league in games started.
During the summer of 1921, Faber and several other players had to leave a road trip in Washington after receiving subpoenas for the Black Sox trial in Chicago. Faber made the trip but was not asked to testify and he returned to the White Sox without missing a start. In 1921 and 1922, he posted win totals of 25 and 21, respectively, leading the league in ERA (1921–1922), innings (1922) and complete games (1921–1922). He was also among the league leaders in strikeouts each year, while pitching at least 25 complete games and over 300 innings.
In the wake of the Black Sox scandal, winning on a consistent basis became increasingly difficult. After being one of the top teams in the league with a powerful offense in the late 1910s, the White Sox had only two winning seasons in his last 13 years, never finishing above fifth place. In the 1921 season, he earned a 25-15 win-loss record for the post-scandal team that limped to a 62-92 finish; from 1921 to 1929 his record was 126-103. In 1927, Ty Cobb had a 21-game hitting streak which was broken when he faced Faber. Despite the widespread hitting of the era, he did not post an ERA over 3.88 until he was 41. Perhaps his last great performance was a one-hitter at age 40 in 1929.
In his last few seasons, Faber returned to relief pitching, coming out of the bullpen 96 times between 1931 and 1933. Faber announced his retirement before the 1934 season. He had pitched 20 consecutive years for the White Sox. He ended his career at age 45 with a 254-213 career record, a 3.15 ERA and 1471 strikeouts. He holds the White Sox franchise record for most games pitched, and held the team records for career wins, starts, complete games and innings until they were later broken by Ted Lyons. After retiring as a player, Faber entered auto sales and real estate. He returned as a White Sox coach for three seasons.
In 1947, Faber married Frances (Fran) Knudtzon, who was nearly 30 years younger than he was. Faber said that he was too old for Fran, but she insisted that they should get married. The marriage was not popular among Faber's Catholic family; Fran was Lutheran and a divorcee, and the couple had married quickly. However, some of his family members became more accepting of Fran. They had a son the next year, Urban C. Faber II, nicknamed "Pepper". When Pepper was 14, he suffered a broken neck in a near-fatal swimming accident, causing long-term health problems.
Faber helped to found Baseball Anonymous, a charitable organization that assisted former baseball players who had run into financial or physical problems, and he later worked on a Cook County highway surveying team until he was nearly 80. Faber was a longtime smoker and had suffered two heart attacks in the 1960s. He began to suffer from increasing heart and lung issues and died in Chicago in 1976. He was interred in Acacia Park Cemetery, Chicago.