The story of Henry Rowengartner and his magical journey to the Cubs in 1993 is a tale as old as time. A young kid breaks his arm, and when it heals, he can magically throw a baseball over 100 mph.
He discovers this talent when he’s at a game at Wrigley Field when he throws a home run ball to home plate without the ball hitting the ground. And then the Cubs organization signs him as a publicity stunt, but he goes on to become a star player.
One of the more nostalgic baseball movies of the last 30 years, I make sure to watch it every time it’s on. And so, there’s a question to be answered. If Henry Rowengartner was a real pitcher, could he be successful at closing games in the World Series?
The skillset of Henry Rowengartner is pretty simple. He strikes out most guys that he faces with his overpowering fastball. When that isn’t there, and his control waivers, he tends to issue a lot of walks. You need to make sure that Henry is having a good day, or he could sink your team’s chances of winning pretty fast.
There are no official statistics from the movie, but Rowangartner seemed to have a strikeout rate of over 85 to 90%. In essence, he had the ability to record 23-25 strikeouts per nine innings pitched. He did not blow many games, though he did put the team in peril a few times.
Think of Aroldis Chapman, Joel Hanrahan, Joe Kelly, and Raisel Iglesias as examples of real-life versions of the 12-year-old. None of them, save for Chapman in 2016, found great success in the playoffs. Aroldis has blown multiple playoff games in his career. He throws about as hard as Rowangartner did.
Would His Arm Hold Up?
In Rookie of the Year, Rowengartner is going out to pitch in the ninth inning of the potential pennant-clinching game. He trips on a baseball that was erroneously left near the mound. He turns out to be okay, but his ability to fire the heater was now gone.
Just like that, his talent disappeared. He found a way to record three impressive outs against the Mets, but this wouldn’t work in real life. The hidden ball trick would not work in today’s game. You can’t just bait a runner into stealing by tossing the ball in the air and calling them a chicken.
In this hypothetical, Henry would not actually lose his ability. We would assume that he grew up and continue to throw 100+ miles per hour. The one-hitter that was able to launch a home run against him, served as the victim of his only strikeout after not being able to throw fast. The mustached-man from the Mets, who was just hitting dingers at a crazy pace. He is like what prime Stan Ross was for the Brewers in Mr. 3000.
If he was only used as a closer, and not in a role that most modern-day managers use their relievers, Henry would probably make it through a postseason with a very low ERA. If you watched the 2020 MLB playoffs, the Tampa Bay Rays basically shuffled their bullpen around every single game. Henry is best as the ninth-inning guy. Not the fourth inning pitcher that needs to relieve a starter.
He Deserves A Ring, After All
Henry Rowengartner made his final appearance in the regular season. He never appeared in the playoffs, his arm giving out on him in game #162.
At the end of the day, having a pitcher like Rowengartner in your bullpen makes you a much better team. He brings the heat, he puts cheeks in seats, and he has one of the best names in sports history.
If Rowengartner appeared as a free agent right now, I’d be begging my team’s general manager to make a move for him. He is electric, and a great locker-room presence. He single-handedly cured Rocket of his lack of confidence and got him out of his own head. Imagine what he could do for other players.
Let’s hear it for the kid. The most talented 12-year-old ever.