From the Wikipedia: Pud Galvin

I’ll never not be entertained by old-timey baseball stuff.

From the Wikipedia: Pud Galvin

James Francis Galvin was born on Christmas day of 1856 in St. Louis, Missouri. He grew up in an Irish neighborhood called Kerry Patch and trained as a steamfitter, but by the age of 18 he was pitching for the St. Louis Brown Stockings in the National Association, playing something similar to modern baseball but featuring almost no offense. No one on the 1875 Brown Stockings sported an OPS over .550 besides Lip Pike, who was utterly awesome for his time.

According to this Wikipedia-endorsed bio (from which I’m getting most of this information), Galvin was “uneducated and unrefined,” and as a teenager he exclusively wore flannel shirts and ate with his hands. That sounds a lot like me as a teenager, but I thought I was pretty refined.

Galvin played independent ball in 1876, then played one year for Buffalo of the International Association in 1877, then surfaced in the Majors for good as a 22-year-old when the Buffalo Bisons joined the National League in 1879. Galvin purportedly earned the nickname “Pud” because he made hitters look like pudding. Known as a gentleman, he was also called “Gentle Jeems.” And for his durability (detailed in the next paragraph), the 5-8, 190-pound Galvin was called “The Little Steam Engine.”

From 1879-1884, Galvin averaged 504 innings a season, starting nearly 70 percent of Buffalo’s games in that stretch and throwing 317 complete games, culminating in back-to-back years of more than 600 innings and 70 complete games in 1883 and 1884. He was pretty good, too, notching a 114 ERA+ and a 4.62 strikeout to walk ratio over his first six seasons as a full-time Major Leaguer. At one point he started 22 straight games and completed all of them. Galvin’s 1884 campaign, in which he went 46-29 with a 1.99 ERA over 636 1/3 innings, produced the highest single-season pitcher WAR in baseball history, though Galvin was so atrocious with the bat that his offense cost his team about 1.9 wins.

In Buffalo, Galvin became lifelong friends with fellow mustache man and future president Grover Cleveland.

A lot of this isn’t from the Wikipedia, by the way. Feel free to add it.

Another thing that’s not on the Wikipedia is that Galvin and most of his teammates probably sucked, at least by contemporary standards. The game was obviously massively different then — there was no pitcher’s mound yet, for one thing, plus the distance from the mound to home plate changed multiple times during Galvin’s career, Galvin never saw the need for a curveball, and he threw underhand. But take a look at the work Patrick Flood put together here. If fielding percentage is a decent indicator of the level of play, the way it increased over 100 points from 1871 to 1901 suggests the game was rapidly (and not surprisingly) developing and improving, presumably due to increased exposure and a broader talent pool, plus more time to figure out what the hell to do on a baseball field.

Which brings me to an important question, and something I think about pretty frequently: At what level could Galvin and his teammates from 1884 reasonably compete today if they could time-travel here and have modern equipment (but not modern training, since that throws everything off)? The league’s .899 fielding percentage, if we’re using that method, suggests the level wasn’t any better than a typical high school league today. Obviously the fielding stats are subject to the whims of subjective scoring and shoddy groundskeeping, but then so is high-school ball.

In other words, if I crewed up with some bros to form a competent but by no means good amateur team of adults in 2012, how far back in time would we have to travel to be able to compete with Major Leaguers? I bet it’s sometime around the 1880s, or maybe a little later if my friend Bill comes. Bill can throw really hard.

Back to Galvin: He was traded to the Pittsburgh Alleghenys in 1885 and ate innings for them until 1889. That season, incidentally, Galvin openly used the Brown-Séquard elixir, a supposed performance-enhancer made by draining monkey testicles. At the time, the Washington Post reported:

If there still be doubting Thomases who concede no virtue of the elixir, they are respectfully referred to Galvin’s record in yesterday’s Boston-Pittsburgh game. It is the best proof yet furnished of the value of the discovery.

In 1890, Galvin left the National League for the uncreatively but somewhat deliciously named Pittsburgh Burghers. The Burghers played in the newly formed Players’ League, which was presumably named after the football pool Lenny Dykstra keeps asking you to join. The Players’ League was formed by the Brotherhood of Professional Base-Ball Players over a spat with the National League owners, but it folded after one season and ultimately hurt the players’ standing, as it led to the demise of the American Association and more leverage for National League owners.

Galvin returned to the NL’s Pittsburgh franchise in 1891, the first year in which it was called the Pirates. He was traded to the Browns midway through the 1892 , but suffered a leg injury in a collision with Cap Anson and retired later that year. He attempted to hang on as an umpire in 1893, but did not take criticism well.

Galvin died broke and fat in Pittsburgh in 1902 after several failed business ventures. To date and for the foreseeable future, he ranks second in innings pitched and complete games in Major League history. He was the first pitcher to win 300 games, the first to throw a no-hitter on the road, and presumably the first to advocate monkey testosterone.

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