Thursday, December 25, 2008

Pud Galvin - Pittsburgh's Christmas Kid

James Francis "Pud" Galvin was born in St. Louis on Christmas Day, 1856, in the Irish neighborhood of Kerry Patch. It was a baseball hotbed during the post Civil War period, and he absorbed the sport like a sponge in the streets and fields of the Patch. He would grow up to become MLB's first 300-game winner.

The nickname "Pud" was hung on him because he made the hitters "look like pudding." Galvin was also nicknamed "The Little Steam Engine," a tribute to his durability. Some folks also knew him as "Gentleman Jeems," an acknowledgement of his laid-back manner delivered with a bit of the Ould Sod's brogue.

Standing 5'8" and weighing 190 pounds, he depended on a hellacious heater to tame opposing bats. He also sported a nasty changeup, but never bothered throwing the curve. He didn't think he needed it. The record seems to agree with him.

Galvin saw the mound go from 45' away from the plate when he started pro ball to 50' in 1880 before reaching its current 60'-6" in 1893, a year after he retired. He started in the era when pitchers had to throw underhand, until finally allowed to pitch overhand in 1884. That probably added a couple of feet to his fastball.

Despite his smoke, he was never a big strikeout guy, but rather a control pitcher. He was always around the dish, so the batters generally put the ball in play, though usually not very solidly. Pud gave up better than a hit per inning, struck out about a batter every three innings and walked one every eight frames.

Galvin played in the day where two-man pitching rotations were the rule. That helps explain his career 6,003 innings pitched and 646 complete games, second only to Cy Young. Pud compiled a 364-310 record and 2.85 ERA during his days in the show, twice won over 40 games in a season, and threw a pair of no-hitters.

He pitched over 70 complete games in both 1883 and 1884 and 65 in 1879. Galvin is the only player in baseball history to win 20 or more games in 10 different years without winning a pennant (he never was on a team that finished higher than third), starting 689 outings and finishing 646 of them, an astounding 94% rate.

The short, stocky right hander with the handlebar mustache was also known for having the best pickoff move in baseball, bordering on but never quite becoming a balk. As competitor and brother Hall of Famer C Buck Ewing said "If I had Galvin to catch, no one would ever steal a base on me. That fellow keeps them glued to the bag.”

He also played some outfield on his rare days off (he had a reputation as a great glove man), but with a lifetime batting average of .201, it didn't take a Solomon to figure out his rightful place was on the hill.

Galvin was the first baseball player to be widely known for using performance enhancing drugs. In 1889, over 100 years before 'roids became a hot MLB topic, Galvin openly used a concoction known as the Brown-Séquard elixir, which contained monkey testosterone extracted from the chimp's...well, testosterone maker. Not exactly HgH, but hey, monkey juice is monkey juice.

He was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1965 by the Veterans Committee, who corrected an obvious oversight of the regular selectors. If baseball's first 300 game winner can't get voted in on his merits, well, who can? (The question of his HoF credentials is debated by This Day In Baseball.)

Galvin debuted for the hometown St. Louis Browns of the National Association in 1875, the franchise's inaugural season. He spent the next 6½ seasons with Buffalo in the International Association and later of the National League, where he would be at his most productive.

Besides winning 218 games for the New York club, Galvin also forged a friendship that would last a lifetime. He hung out with Buffalo sheriff Grover Cleveland, who later would become mayor and eventually reach the White House. When a group of touring ballplayers visited the prez, the first thing he asked was "How's my old friend Jimmy Galvin?"

On August 20, 1880, Galvin became the first major league pitcher to throw a no-hitter on the road, leading the Buffalo Bisons to a 1-0 victory over the Worcester Ruby Legs.

He was sold to the Pittsburgh Alleghenys in midseason of 1885, and pitched for the locals from 1885 to 1889. The Buffalo nine got the magnificent sum, for the times, of $2,500 for him, and gave Galvin $700 of the fee.

He was then inked to a $3,000 contract by the Alleghenys, making him the highest paid player in baseball. And as far as GW knows, there is no truth to the rumor that he was represented by Scott Boras' great-grandfather.

On October 5, 1888, Galvin spun a four hitter as the Alleghenys beat the Washington Nats 5-1 at Swampoodle Grounds to notch his 300th victory and set the benchmark for greatness for future MLB pitchers.

Pud jumped to the Pittsburgh Burghers before the 1890 season to join the rebel Player's, aka Brotherhood, League, but returned to his old club, now known as the Pirates, after one season.

On June 14, 1892, Galvin was sold to the St. Louis Browns (he was pitching on one leg, after being injured in a collision with Cap Anson), and retired after the season. He umped for a year, but found it easier to throw strikes than call them. Pud tried to stage a last hurrah with Buffalo in 1894. The magic was gone - or maybe it was that new 60' 6" distance - and the come-back trail led to a dead end.

Galvin came home to roost in Pittsburgh, earning his daily bread as a construction worker and barkeeper before opening what was called the biggest saloon in Allegheny. But he pitched better than he ran a business, and the watering hole went under.

It's said that he had nine bartenders on his payroll, and everyone of them opened their own joint from the money they took home from Galvin's gin palace. It's pretty easy to figure out where the profits went.

Pud Galvin died of pneumonia at age 45 on March 7, 1902 in a North Side boarding house and is buried in Hazelwood's Calvary Cemetery.

He shuffled off this mortal coil penniless, and his former teammates, fans, and friends had to pony up to pay for his burial and give his wife and six kids a couple of bucks to get by. Not all Christmas stories end with a ho-ho-ho.

1 comment:

WilliamJPellas said...

Not everyone who went into business in those days succeeded. I'll bet that for every Vanderbilt there were at least a hundred if not a thousand Pud Galvins. What a sad ending to his story. Great history, though, Ron. I honestly believe you have one of the best sports blogs I've ever seen. Thanks for the excellent read.