Posts Tagged ‘Henry Chadwick’

MIBGs

March 29, 2018

The Judge

A couple of weeks ago my wife and I were watching Ken Burns’ documentary on Jackie Robinson. When we were done she turned to me and the following conversation (more or less) took place:

She: Is he the most important player ever?

Me: Let me think about it.

Ultimately all that led me to thoughts about the Most Important Baseball Guys. And sorry, ladies, but it is all guys, Effa Manley, Helena Robeson, and the All-American Girls baseball ladies not withstanding (not to mention Marge Schott). So I put together, just for my wife, my list of the 10 MIBGs and you know you’re about to be let in on it, don’t you?

First, the usual caveats. This is a list of the MOST IMPORTANT baseball people, not the BEST PLAYERS. There is a difference. I’m looking here for people whose contribution is so important that it cannot be overlooked when detailing the history of the game. Also, I’ve done something like this before years back and I’m cleaning up that list because it included groups (like the Knickerbockers or the Atlantic) and that’s not what I’m looking for. As we really don’t know who “invented” baseball, the origins guy, whoever he is, can’t be on this list and the earliest teams are not a substitute for him.

So here’s my list. I reserve the right to declare, in a week or two, that it is utterly stupid and that this post doesn’t really exist.

Here’s my list of the 10 MIBGs in baseball history. First a list of seven non-playing contributors (in alphabetical order):

1. Ed Barrow invented the Yankees. OK, I know Colonel Ruppert owned the team and coined the name, but when Ruppert brought Barrow to the Yanks, he changed the fortunes of the team. As the team secretary (we’d call him the general manager today), Barrow was a knowledgeable baseball man who’d been instrumental in making the Red Sox a power (he’d managed the 1918 team to World Series title). Barrow went out and collected a number of players like Babe Ruth, Joe Dugan, and added new guys like Lou Gehrig and created a juggernaut that, by the time Barrow retired in 1946 his charges had won 14 pennants and 10 World Series’.

2. Do you like baseball statistics? Do you study them and quote them and use them to bolster your arguments? Then you owe a great debt to Henry Chadwick. A 19th Century sportswriter, Chadwick was the first to systematize baseball statistics. He invented the box score and came up with a number of other statistics that are still in use. New stats may have made some of Chadwick’s work obsolescent, but the guys who came up with them owe a debt to Chadwick.

3. William Hulbert invented the modern league system in 1876 when he founded the National League of Professional Base Ball Clubs (baseball was two words in 1876). The key word here is “Clubs.” Hulbert’s system put the clubs, not the players, in charge of the league. It created labor problems, it gave us owners who were first-rate jerks (including Hulbert himself), but it worked. It stabilized professional baseball and served as the model for all American team sport leagues (whatever sport) created since.

4. Byron Bancroft “Ban” Johnson founded the American League. After a quarter century of leagues coming and going, ultimately destroyed or absorbed by the National League, Johnson created a league that was stable enough to challenge the NL for players and gate receipts. After a short “baseball war,” the American League emerged as the equal and rival of the more established league, an equality and rivalry that remain today.

5. Kennesaw Mountain Landis was the first commissioner of baseball and, arguably the most powerful person in the history of the game. Coming into office with a lifetime contract he was able to clean up the sport in the wake of the Black Sox Scandal and to rule the game with an iron fist. He kept Branch Rickey from cornering the market for new players by opening up the farm system for other teams. That made it possible for teams to be more competitive. At the same time he was a staunch segregationist and almost single-handedly kept baseball from integrating until after his death (I never said these were all nice, enlightened guys).

6. If you are opposed to wage slavery and think people ought to be paid what they’re worth and what the market will bear, you have to tip your ball cap to Marvin Miller. Head of the Player’s Union, Miller revolutionized baseball by destroying the reserve clause (admittedly he had help) and opening up salaries. This led to more movement of players and thus more chances for teams to compete as the best players were no longer locked up forever.

7. Twice Wesley Branch Rickey revolutionized the game. A mediocre catcher and manager, he became team secretary for the St. Louis Browns in 1913, moved to the St. Louis Cardinals in 1919 and invented the farm system. This may have been deadly to a free minor league system, but it bound players to an organization in such a way that the best players were able to hone their skills in a team system, that emphasized working together, melding groups of players into a unit that knew each other and to at least some extent learned how to play together. It assured Major League teams of a constant supply of quality players (provided the scouts, owners, and executives knew what they were doing). In 1942 he moved to Brooklyn where he again revolutionized the game by integrating the Major Leagues in 1947. This action helped truly nationalize the game and was a major step in the civil rights movement of the 1940s through the 1960s.

And now two transcendent players:

8. Jack Roosevelt Robinson was not the first black man to play in the Major Leagues. There is evidence that William Edward White who played one game with Providence in 1879 was black. Moses Fleetwood Walker and his brother Welday, both of which played for Toledo (a big league club) in 1884 certainly were black. But none of them stuck. All were out of the major leagues within a year and the so-call “Gentlemen’s Agreement” re-segregated baseball until 1947, when Jackie Robinson joined the Brooklyn Dodgers. He was an excellent player, a leader, and a person who could not be ignored as either a man or a player. His arrival opened up the game for an entire group of players who had been excluded for 60 years.

9. George Herman “Babe” Ruth revolutionized the game by introducing power as a central element of baseball. His feats were legendary, some were even true, but he became a household name unlike any other in the game and arguably in American sport. “Ruthian” still describes a larger than life feat in sports. He didn’t save baseball in the early 1920s (Landis did), but he made it popular again and became the centerpiece of the Yankees Dynasty that has been at the heart of baseball since 1921.

All of which brings me to the tenth guy. I thought about a lot of people, Al Spalding and Happy Chandler, Harry Wright, John Montgomery Ward, and Vin Scully, William Rufus Wheaton and Duncan Curry, Daniel Adams and Jim Creighton. All are important in American baseball history and I sort of hate to leave any of them off, but I’ve only got one place left and it belongs to

10. Andrew “Rube” Foster. Foster was an excellent pitcher in the rough and tumble black leagues of the early 20th century. By 1904 he was in Philadelphia and moved in 1907 to Chicago. Still a terrific pitcher, he became a manager and team owner of the American Giants. In 1920 he moved to form the first stable black league, the Negro National League. It was later joined by the Eastern Colored League. These leagues, led by Foster’s NNL, gave form and order to much of black baseball and made it possible for players to coalesce around specific teams. There was still a lot of barnstorming and player movement, but order was coming to what had been an essentially disorganized group. It made it possible for the black press to more easily highlight the black players and it popularized the game. Foster was confined to a mental institution in 1926 and died in 1930. The Great Depression killed the NNL, but the idea remained and a new NNL was formed in the 1930s. It joined the Negro American League in creating a stable playing system for black baseball until the Major Leagues were willing to integrate.

So that’s my list and my present to you on opening day. Feel free to disagree (I know many of you will). Now “Play Ball.”

 

 

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Macmillan

August 29, 2017

Macmillan Baseball Encyclopedia

From the beginnings of baseball history people have been obsessed with team and individual statistics. Henry Chadwick invented the box score, others added their own twists until you have what is currently something like a glut of information. There was the Spaulding Guide and the Reach Guide for the early part of the 20th Century. Even magazines like the Sporting News and Baseball Digest could be stat heavy. But for comprehensive stats all in one place you might have to do a lot of research.

In the late 1960s that all changed. the Macmillan Baseball Encyclopedia hit the market and there they were, the statistical information all in one place for every player who’d ever stepped out on a diamond. It was new, it was exhaustive, it was admittedly incomplete, it was occasionally wrong, but it was available for every fan (provided you had the money and the muscle power to lift the thing) to read over to his (or her) heart’s content.

I ran across my first copy in the university library where I was teaching. I checked it out, fell in love with it, and spent more time than I should copying out information. The 1996 version (pictured above) became a household treasure (I still have it) when my wife and son pooled their money and bought it for me for a holiday gift. I always thought it was a gift of love. My son, on the other hand, was a rabid Twins fan and I always thought he went along with purchasing it  in a case of enlightened self-interest (he used to look it over quite a bit). Whatever the motivation, I still have it and still use it sometimes when I just want to browse.

I saw they were still available to purchase. Amazon had one for $12, which surprised me. I hope each of you has occasion to use one, just so you can say you did. When I go, the book goes to my wife. I hope she’ll pass it along to my son so he can continue to enjoy using it sometimes, and maybe think back to a good time he had going over it with the old man.

Now, go get a book on baseball and read it.

My Own Little Hall of Fame: Class of 1904

June 2, 2014

Time for my monthly addition to My Own Little Hall of Fame. This time it’s the Class of 1904. Without further nonsense, here’s the list followed, as usual, by the commentary.

Henry Chadwick

Henry Chadwick

Henry Chadwick

One of the true “Fathers of Baseball.” New York sportswriter who popularized baseball through his columns and coverage in newspapers. He is credited with inventing the box score as well as a number of other statistics.

"Pud" Galvin

“Pud” Galvin

James “Pud” Galvin

Most wins of any pitcher. Most innings pitched of any pitcher. Had a long career with both Buffalo and Pittsburgh while playing in three different Major Leagues. Never pitched from a mound.

Jim O'Rourke

Jim O’Rourke

“Orator” Jim O’Rourke

Hit .310 over a 21 year career extending from 1872 through 1893. Member of three National Association champions and of the 1877 and 1978 Boston National League pennant winners. Won the 1884 National League batting title. Member of the 1888 and 1889 National League pennant winning New York Giants, hitting .306 with two home runs in postseason play.

Mickey Welch

Mickey Welch

Mickey Welch

Won over 300 games, most with the Giants. Had 40 wins once, 30 three times, with 345 strikeouts in 1884. Won pennants with the Giants in both 1888 and 1889.

Deacon White

Deacon White

James “Deacon” White

First great professional catcher. In 1871, he had the first hit in an all professional league. Later in his career he moved to third base. Won batting titles in both the National Association and the National League. His teams won three National Association pennants and an equal number of National League pennants.

And now the commentary.

1. How much did baseball writers know about Henry Chadwick’s work in 1904? I was surprised at how well he was known. Of course he was still alive in 1904, so that helped. But a lot of sports writer’s seemed to know about the box score. About the other stats I’m not as sure.

2. What took so long on Galvin? Well, as I’ve mentioned before, it seems that Galvin’s accomplishments had fallen off the face of the earth. Here’s a guy with more wins and innings pitched than any other 19th Century pitcher and he seems to be overlooked. Much as you find few people today who place Cy Young (who has more wins than any other pitcher) at the top of the pitching pecking order, preferring Walter Johnson or Lefty Grove or Rogers Clemens or someone else, Galvin (who has the most wins of a 19th Century pitcher) seems to find few writers who extolled his greatness. So I’m comfortable with holding him until 1904.

3. Deacon White lived until 1939 and was still active in 1904 as a manager and coach for a variety of minor league teams. I was surprised how much I found about him (although there was a lot more on other players). In various places he’s credited with catching innovations that are also credited to others. I decided to ignore those. Interestingly, the “first hit in an all professional league” honor didn’t seem to be all that well-known. As early as 1904 there seems to have been at least a bit of mixed feeling about calling the National Association a “Major League”.

4. So, who did you agonize over most? Well, I didn’t actually “agonize”, but I thought longest and hardest about O’Rourke and Welch. O’Rourke is one of those players that I’ve always felt was overrated, but when I looked at his hits, games, total bases, doubles, and membership on pennant winning teams, I decided he would probably have made it (possibly even earlier than 1904). He was still active in baseball in 1904 (he was a coach), even playing in a game for the Giants (the last one of the season). He hadn’t played in MLB since 1893 so I decided that if the election occurred in January (as it does presently) O’Rourke would remain retired when the election was held. As mentioned above, he was a coach for the Giants, but also had extensive ties to the minors, and was well enough known and liked that I could see him sliding into a 1904 version of the Hall of Fame. Besides, it gave me a chance to allow a living (as of 1904) member of the Hall of Fame to actually appear in a Big League game.

5. But Welch was different. He was distinctly the weaker of the two great Giants pitchers (Tim Keefe being the other). There were a lot of pitchers from the 19th Century that were probably as good but played for weaker teams. I looked at some of the more modern stats to see if I was just imagining it, but had to dismiss them as they were unavailable for 1904 era voters. Ultimately, I decided that era voters would probably be dazzled enough by the 300 wins that he’d get in without a lot a problem. I just wish I was more comfortable with his inclusion. BTW he was also still alive in 1904.

6. Where’s Delahanty? Ed Delahanty died in 1903 in a fall from the train bridge. Being dead there was no chance of him playing in 1904 (Is that the most obvious statement I ever made or what?) so he could be eligible for election. I thought about it seriously because I knew whatever I decided would impact what I do in 1910 with Addie Joss. The circumstances of Delahanty’s death were such that one could argue that the death was avoidable and thus he shouldn’t be given a waiver. On the other hand it was an era of sports reporting that tended to gloss over a player’s failings so I don’t know if the circumstances were universally known to regular fans. Realizing that most writers (the actual voters) would know the circumstances, I decided to hold him until he is otherwise eligible in 1909. Not sure it’s the right choice, but I have to make one. Without wanting to totally commit to it, my guess is that I’ll let Joss get in early since his death was of natural causes (he had tubercular meningitis), assuming he gets in at all let alone on the first try.

7. The 1905 class is going to be interesting. There are few just “have to” people left to put in and none of them come eligible in 1905. So I’m going to concentrate on the American Association (which doesn’t mean only Association players are getting in). For almost all their post-demise history, the two Associations (National and later American) were ignored by the later writers. To make it worse, the AA was considered much the weaker league so that hitting .320 in the AA didn’t mean quite the same thing to contemporaries as hitting .320 in the NL (this will greatly affect Pete Browning). I’m going to have to try to find out if there’s a way to figure out what the likely voters in 1905 thought of the players in the AA (by today, the only players with significant time in the AA enshrined in Cooperstown are Bid McPhee and Tommy McCarthy). By 1905 it had been over a  decade since the AA had played a game and I don’t know how much the writers who would have voted in 1905 knew about the Association. By something like 1915 it would have been 25 years since the Association played and many of the writers would never have seen an Association game. It seems to me that getting AA players in to a 1901 era Hall of Fame would have to come fairly quickly or time alone would dim the chances of the players. That convoluted enough for you?

 

Baseball’s VIPs

January 16, 2014
Ban Johnson

Ban Johnson

A couple of posts back, the one on Judge Landis, I made the comment that he was one of the most important people ever in MLB. Well, that led some of my friends to send me emails asking who I considered the 10 most important people ever in the sport. As you know, I’m sort of a glutton for sticking my foot squarely into my mouth, so I decided to publicly respond to them.

First, let me be clear that “most important” has nothing to do with “best player”. Almost all of these people listed below and little or no actual playing time in the big leagues. So don’t be asking, “Where’s Gehrig?” or “Where’s Wagner?” or about other players. They may be terrific players but they aren’t as important in the grand scheme of things as the people I’m about to mention. As you read through the list, you’ll realize I’m big into origins.

Here are my 10 most important listed in alphabetical order:

1. Mel Allen–I suppose any announcer could have gone in here except for a couple of  points. Most of us get our games through the filter of someone in a booth at the stadium keeping us up on what’s going on, so a play-by-play man is not an unreasonable choice for a position on this list. I pick Allen for two specific reasons. First, he announced for the Yankees for years and thus became the primary voice many people heard. Second, when TV decided to add a second camera to games, Allen is supposed to be the guy who suggested adding the second camera in center field, thus showing the pitcher throwing to the batter in something like close up (the previous camera angle was high up behind home plate). It’s become the single most common angle from which most people see a game on television.

2. Alexander Cartwright–Cartwright is here to represent an entire group of people, the pioneers who invented the game as we know it. Somebody had to start putting the rules of the game into a form that became acceptable. It is possible that people like Duncan Curry or Daniel Adams, or William Wheaton should be here in his place. Cartwright certainly did not invent baseball, but was apparently prominent in one of the many attempts to codify the game. As the Hall of Fame has placed him in its midst, he’ll do for this spot, but I’m not certain he’s the best candidate.

3. Henry Chadwick–You a stat guy? Care about the statistics of the game? Well, Chadwick invented the box score and a number of the statistics we still use to determine the quality of play on the diamond. As the first prominent sports reporter his articles helped to popularize the game. Put those two things together and you have someone who belongs on this list.

4. William Hulbert–I don’t like Hulbert. As a human being he is crass, bigoted, vain, parsimonious. But he founded the National League and thus came up with a way to make baseball profitable enough for people to want to become owners and thus establish a stable (sort of) league that flourishes today.

5. Ban Johnson–Founder and first President of the American League. Was de facto lord of baseball until the arrival of the man below.

6. Kennesaw M. Landis–First and most powerful Baseball Commissioner. Ran baseball with an iron fist. Cleaned up the game after the Black Sox nearly wrecked it. He opposed integration, but supported the more lively ball and the farm system (and besides isn’t he what a Commissioner ought to look like?)

7. Marvin Miller–the Lincoln of MLB. When he took over the Player’s Association it was a joke. When he left the union it was a co-partner with the clubs. Whether you like free agency or not, Miller figured out how to free the players from baseball slavery and change the economics and the dynamics of the game. Of all the people on this list, he’s the only one not in the Hall of Fame (Allen is on the writers plaque).

8. Branch Rickey–changed the game twice. He invented both the farm system and brought integration to MLB. He is  arguably the most influential baseball man of the 20th Century.

9. Jackie Robinson–In 1884 Toledo had a black ballplayer. That lasted one year. John McGraw and others had tried to integrate the game and had failed. With Robinson baseball truly does become a game for all Americans.

10. Babe Ruth–in a game in trouble, Ruth takes over and changes forever the way it is played. With the emphasis on the home run over bunting and base stealing we get the game as it’s been played (plus or minus a rule or two) since 1920.

And Honorable Mention to people like John Montgomery Ward (first union), Fleet Walker (who was the first black player), Jim Creighton (apparently the first professional), Lip Pike (who made professionalism acceptable), Harry Wright (who made the modern manager’s job what it is today), Bill Veeck (who made the ballpark experience so much fun), and a host of others, some of which you may decide should be in the list of 10.

The Association’s Ace

December 15, 2011

Albert G. Spalding as a Red Stocking

Way back when the 20th Century ended, the SABR people got together and picked the most significant contributors to Baseball in the 19th Century. Henry Chadwick won, there was a tie between Harry Wright and Albert G. Spalding for second. I’m not sure I’d place Chadwick above Wright and Spalding, but it’s a matter of taste. There’s certainly no argument that Spalding was a major contributor to the origins of Major League Baseball. He owned the Chicago White Stockings (now the Cubs), promoted a 19th Century around-the-world tour to tout baseball, founded a major sporting goods company that bore his name, was instrumental in forming and promoting the Abner Doubleday myth (OK, so not everything he did was positive), led the attack that crushed the Brotherhood union (see what I mean about not everything being positive), and finally made the Hall of Fame. But that’s not what I want to dwell on. Spalding was also a heck of a ball player.

Spalding was an early amateur and later professional who caught the eye of Harry Wright. In 1871, the National Association of Professional Base Ball Players was formed and Wright took over as manager of the Boston team. He convinced Spaulding to come on board as the team’s pitcher. It was a great choice, because Spalding became the premier pitcher in the Association and dominated the league in a way that no other pitcher has ever duplicated.

In the five years the Association existed, Spalding pitched in 282 games, starting 264. His record? How about 204-53 for a winning percentage of .794? Now this was an era when there was only one pitcher and he threw from 45 feet away, but those are still astounding numbers. In the five years of the Association Spaulding won, in order, 19, 38, 41, 52, and 54 games. He lost, again in order, 10, 8, 14, 16, and 5. Read that last pair closely. In 1875, Spaulding went 54-5 (.915 winning percentage). There are some caveats here. His team, the Red Stockings, were a lot better than their competitors and the number of games played by the team increased every year. But part of the reason the team was a lot better than everyone else is because they had Spalding and no one else did. His ERA for the five seasons was 2.21 (ERA+ of 131). He struck out only 207 men in the five seasons, topping out at 75 in 1875. But the pitching rules were different then and there simply weren’t a lot of strikeouts.  He has one of my favorite set of numbers that, to me, help illustrate just how different 1870s baseball was from the modern game. For the life of the Association he gave up 1552 runs, only 577 earned (37%). That means a lot of guys were hitting the ball off him, and a lot of his teammates weren’t catching them. As a hitter he averaged .323 with an OPS of .721 (OPS+ of 121).

He pitched one complete season in the newly formed National League (1876). He went 47-12 for the White Stockings (Cubs), had an ERA of 1.75 (ERA+ of 140), completed 53 of 60 starts, plus one relief job (he didn’t get the save), had eight shutouts (which was tough in 1876), and the Cubs won the first NL pennant (wonder if the Cubs could use Spalding today?). The next season he appeared in four games, started one, won it, picked up a save, but spent most of the season as the first baseman. In 1878 he played one game at second base, became club secretary, then he took his money and bought the club and went on to glory (or infamy if you were a Brotherhood fan).

Spalding is  one of those guys that it’s difficult to like. He was cold, aristocratic, tough-minded, and in the minds of many of his players a tough SOB. But he was, despite all that, one great pitcher.

The First Stats Guru

January 28, 2011

For the next three posts, I’m going to step away from the men who play baseball and concentrate on those who do the same thing I do, write about it. Three of them have been hugely important in the history of the sport. One is honored in Cooperstown with a plaque, one is honored with an award named for him, and the other should be in Cooperstown too.

Henry Chadwick

To be a baseball fan is to be at least slightly enamoured of statistics. They permeate baseball from the sublime to the ridiculous. Want to know the fielding percentage of a left-handed, red-headed shortstop in 1892? I’ll bet someone has that stat. For both the good and bad of that, we owe Henry Chadwick.

Chadwick was, like his contemporary Harry Wright,  British. Chadwick was born in 1824 and moved to New York, along with his family, in 1836. He loved cricket and by 1850 he was working for the Long Island Star newspaper as their cricket reporter. Somewhere around this time he discovered baseball, fell in love with it, and began writing about it for his newspaper. By 1857 he was providing sports reporting for several New York newspapers. He covered the baseball scene in New York and Brooklyn and became known as an authoritative voice of the sport. By the civil War he was editing The Beadle Dime Baseball Player, published by Beadle and Company, the first baseball guide published for public sale. And before anybody asks, I don’t know if Beadle was related to Michelle Beadle of ESPN. Chadwick would, at various points edit both the Spaulding Guide and Reach Guide, the other two major baseball publications of the 19th Century. He died in 1908, is buried in Greenwood Cemetery under a headstone noting him as “Father of Base Ball” (which, considering his impact in spreading it may not be far from the truth), and was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1938.

If what’s mentioned above is all Chadwick had done, he’d be important enough, but he became the great-grandfather of SABR. He began to fiddle with the info available and more or less invented modern baseball stats. He invented the box score, which he adopted from cricket. It was very different from the modern sheet. Here’s an 1876 example from Chadwick’s Wikipedia page:

Box Score, 1876

 Note it doesn’t show any pitching info and has more fielding info than is usual on modern box scores.

He’s also credited with inventing the batting average statistic, the earned run average statistic, being the first to use K to denote a strikeout (K being the last letter of “struck”). He also apparently began using a D for walks (D being the last letter of “walked”), but it didn’t catch on.

So far, Chadwick is the only writer actually in the Hall of Fame (the other writers are put in differently). I wish that wasn’t true (and will post my candidate later), but if you’re only going to have one, Chadwick certainly works. So do me a favor. The next time you get into a heated stat fight with someone, or use a stat to prove that one player is better than another, make sure you give a nod toward Brooklyn and Henry Chadwick. He deserves it.

The First Professional

January 12, 2011

Jim CreightonFor his day he was Walter Johnson and Christy Mathewson rolled into one. He was Sandy Koufax and Bob Gibson come to earth as one player. He was Roger Clemens and Randy Johnson from 45 feet away. He was Jim Creighton and baseball had never seen his like. At 19 he was the biggest star in the game, maybe in its history to that time. He’s been called the first professional player (but probably wasn’t) and the first great pitcher. By 22 he was dead.

Creighton was from Brooklyn, born in 1841. He played street ball, joined a neighborhood team, and by 1858 was an infielder for the Niagaras. He pitched a little, including a game against the Brooklyn Stars. They were impressed and in 1859 brought him onboard as their star pitcher. He was an immediate success and in 1860 jumped teams once again; this time going to the more respected Excelsiors. With the Excelsiors he became the biggest star in fledgling baseball. The team won a lot of games, made a lot of money, and rumors abounded that much of it went into Creighton’s pockets. No one could prove it, so he continued to pitch in the strictly amateur league.

Creighton in Excelsior uniform

The Excelsiors participated in a “national” tour (they went to upstate New York, then down the East Coast) in 1860, during which Creighton is credited, in November 1860, with throwing the first ever shutout in baseball history. In an era where 35-25 wasn’t an unreasonable score, the feat was astounding. He wasn’t a bad hitter either. In 1861 he is reputed to have made an out only four  times all season, all on the base paths. There are no available box scores to either prove or disprove this.

In 1862 he was having another great year when, on 14 October, he took an exceptionally fierce swing with his bat that apparently caused some sort of internal injury. In great pain he completed the game, then went home. He died four days later. There seems to be no official doctor’s account of what happened, so speculation centers around rupturing an appendix, bladder, or spleen, or lacerating something in such a way as to create great internal bleeding. Whatever happened he was not yet 22. His funeral was a major event in Brooklyn, and in dying young Creighton became an almost mythic figure in early baseball.

It’s possible that Creighton invented something akin to a fastball. In the era, pitchers were required to throw underhanded with a stiff elbow and wrist. Creighton apparently began practicing with a lead ball the size of a baseball to increase arm strength, then developed a motion that sent his arm far backward, then bending at the waist, he brought the ball in low (one source says only about two to three inches off the ground) and slung it forward with such speed and an upward trajectory that it was virtually unhittable. It sounds like a combination of the submarine style of a Jeff Nelson combined with the softball “rise ball” of a Cat Osterman, and it must have been especially difficult to hit in an era when there was almost no arm motion in pitching.

As usual with players of this era, it’s impossible to say how truly good he was. There were few games, the rules were different, and in Creighton’s case the pitching rules make it impossible to compare him with a modern player. Back several months ago on this site someone commented (and I looked and couldn’t find it, so I don’t know who it was, but I thank you) that the Hall of Fame should take a number of current members and move them into a special wing for “Pioneers”. I kind of like that idea. It lets us look at guys like Candy Cummings, Al Spaulding, and Henry Chadwick in the context of the founding of the game rather than looking at them the same way we look at Babe Ruth or Joe DiMaggio. Not sure how you’d determine who goes where, but it’s worth a thought. I can’t imagine they’d ever really do it, but if  they did, I’d like to nominate Creighton for one of the first slots.

Creighton's grave in Greenwood Cemetery, Brooklyn