You’ve probably never heard of Jim Austin or, if you have, he’s a memory deep in the back of your mind, a name you vaguely recall but are not sure where from.
That’s reasonable. He spent just three seasons in the majors in the early 1990s, playing for the Brewers—a team bouncing between mediocrity, excellence, and being downright awful—from 1991 to 1993.
His first season, he pitched just five games, walking 11 batters in 8 2/3 innings. His last, he threw just 33 frames, posting a 3.82 ERA. A fair mark, but not one to turn any heads.
In the minors, back when he was a Padres farmhand, he was a decent pitcher, but gave San Diego no reason to expedite him to the majors. In his first professional season, 1986, he had a 2.26 ERA. The next year, he threw 20 wild pitches.
Traded to Milwaukee in February 1989, he flubbed his first year in their system, but tore up Double A in 1990, going 11-3 with a 2.44 ERA. At Triple A in 1991, his mark was 2.45 in 44 innings. On Independence Day he made his debut; a couple weeks later, he was back in the minors.
The 1992 Brewers featured a few excellent performances by relievers who otherwise underwhelmed in their careers. Mike Fetters had a 1.87 ERA in 50 games; he had a career mark of 3.86. Darren Holmes had a 2.55 mark in 41 games; for his career, he had a 4.25 ERA.
Austin did his part, too. In 58 1/3 innings over 47 games, he went 5-2 with a 1.85 ERA, allowing just 38 hits. Behind Cal Eldred’s 1.79, his ERA was the best on the team. He rarely surrendered the longball, just 0.3 per nine innings.
It was the type of season that any team hoping to compete would ask for. Every cog who could perform to that level, no matter how unknown, would be fostered and utilized, because individual success breeds a successful whole.
Austin helped the Brewers win 92 games that year.
But his WHIP, that’s walks and hits allowed per inning pitched, was alarmingly high at 1.200. Though he allowed just 5.9 hits per nine innings, he also walked about that many. In fact, he had more walks than strikeouts, 32 to 30.
An issue though that might’ve been, the Brewers put him in their bullpen for 1993 and, after a rough patch early on, he finished the season with a 2.45 ERA over his final 29 games. The baseball encyclopedias, nevertheless, show his mark rose nearly two points over the year before.
But whatever momentum Austin had, it was forced to a halt by that killer of so many major league careers, an arm injury. He pitched his final game for the Brewers on July 20, 1993.
And didn’t play at all in 1994. He pitched three innings in the Indians system in 1995, allowing four earned runs. He made 10 appearances in the Red Sox system in 1996 and had a 9.00 ERA.
After spending 1997 in Mexico and Taiwan—where he did well, with a 3.04 mark in 77 innings—his professional career was over.
He’s an interesting bit of trivia, Jim Austin is. Who owns the shortest career of any pitcher with an ERA below 2 in his second season, minimum 40 games pitched?
Someone might guess 1870s star Jim Devlin, who won 72 games in three seasons before being banned for gambling. But he spent a few years as a first baseman before taking the mound.
Jim Austin, that’s the answer.
Maybe you’ll remember him now.