Book Review: Pud Galvin: Baseball’s First 300-Game Winner, by Brian “Chip” Martin

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He was Major League Baseball’s first 300-game winner and was later reported to have been the first player to have experimented with performance-enhancing drugs.

Yet despite his accomplished and fascinating career, it took 124 years after his final professional pitch for a book to be published about Hall of Fame hurler Pud Galvin. Fortunately for us, it’s Brian “Chip” Martin, author of the excellent, Baseball’s Creation Myth and The Tecumsehs of the International Association, who took on the challenge, and his superbly crafted, 244-page effort has definitely made it worth the wait.

Armed with his superlative research skills that he honed as an investigative reporter at the The London Free Press for four decades, Martin trekked to Buffalo, Pittsburgh and Cooperstown, among other destinations, in order to paint a colorful and compelling portrait of Galvin, who has been dubbed “baseball’s forgotten man.”

Perhaps it was ignorance that kept other biographers away, but speaking from experience, it’s also next-to-impossible to uncover much more than box scores or game reports when trying to research 19th century players. There was no Internet or 24-hour sports channels in the 1880s and feature articles were rarely written. So for a project of his magnitude, you need a writer with Martin’s talent and strong pedigree as a researcher, not to mention his determination and obvious passion for the subject, for it to be successful.

Through Martin’s digging, we learn that Galvin, whom the author refers to as “the Cy Young of baseball before Cy Young,” was born James Francis Galvin to Irish immigrant parents in a hardscrabble area of St. Louis on December 25, 1856. His nickname, Pud, would come later when his teammates coined him this because his fastball often reduced hitters to pudding.

The first documented game that Martin could find that Galvin participated in was on April 28, 1874, when the future Hall of Famer manned second base for his local team in a matchup against the Chicago White Stockings. Not long after that, the stout, 5-foot-8 right-hander began impressing scouts with his arm.

He was eventually signed as a 20-year-old by the International Association’s Pittsburgh Allegheny club, where he blossomed into the team’s ace in 1877. That season, he pitched against two Canadian clubs, the London Tecumsehs and Guelph Maple Leafs. At the time, teams had one pitcher that toed the rubber for virtually every contest, so Galvin pitched in both Canadian cities on multiple occasions. In fact, Galvin started for Allegheny in the International Association’s championship game that season played in London, Ont., – a contest that was won by the Tecumsehs 5-2.

Following that campaign, Galvin was signed by the Buffalo Bisons, a new International Association club, and it was with that border city team that he’d enjoy his greatest success. He won his only professional championship with the Bisons in 1878, but his best seasons would come after Buffalo had joined the National League. With the Bisons in 1883 and 1884, Galvin won 46 games and hurled more than 70 complete games in each of those campaigns.

In fact, in almost every season in the 1880s, Galvin ranked among the league leaders in wins, innings pitched and complete games. The rubber-armed right-hander, who tossed more than 430 innings in a season nine times, possessed one of the best fastballs of his era and a pickoff move that was so good, Martin reveals, that Hall of Famer Cap Anson frequently complained that it was illegal.

But Galvin’s greatest strength was his adaptability. In a very helpful Appendix included near the end of the book, Martin summarizes the gluttony of rule changes for pitchers that Galvin endured over the course of his career. When Galvin began, he was only permitted to pitch underhand. That changed, however, in 1883, when pitchers were allowed to employ a “shoulder-high pitching delivery” and then finally, the following year, they were allowed to throw overhand. Also, the number of balls for a walk and pitches for a strikeout were altered multiple times, as was the distance from the pitcher to the batter. Through all the changes, Galvin remained one of the league’s best pitchers for more than a decade.

The most ominous challenge for Martin in writing the first biography of Galvin had to be trying to uncover information about the stocky moundsman’s personality. As noted, in the late 1880s, there were no 24-hour sports channels and few feature articles. But thanks to Martin’s tenacity and outstanding research skills, we learn through several instances shared in the book that Galvin was easygoing and carefree except when it came to contract negotiations. Martin also emphasizes that though Galvin suffered some pesky injuries and was often mocked for his less-than-athletic physique, the ace right-hander was not a quitter and often bounced back when his critics believed his days as an effective pitcher were over.

There’s also more than one indication in the book that Galvin enjoyed an active social life, despite having a wife and seven children, but newspaper columnists could be especially cruel about Galvin’s weight when he was struggling. Martin shares a passage about Galvin from the Chicago Times in 1891 that read, “As he appeared yesterday on the grounds, Galvin was the antithesis of the ideal ball player. He is only about five feet nothing in height, but he displaces more cubic feet of air than [Cap] Anson. He is so fat that his cheeks standout like a pair of toy balloons and his calves hang over his shoe tops.”

But Galvin’s plumpness generally endeared him to fans and he seemed to have a sense of humor about his weight. In a game on September 26, 1889, Galvin legged out a triple and then, according to a Pittsburgh Dispatch newspaper report, “cheerfully sat down on the bag to mop his brow.”  Martin also reports that the portly right-hander stole a base in a game on May 2, 1890 and later bowed to the delighted fans for his effort.

Another recurring theme throughout the book was Galvin’s cluelessness about money. Though his salary paid him much more than the average worker at the time, Galvin still managed to squander whatever he made.

As mentioned earlier, Martin shares that Galvin is reputed to be the first major leaguer to try performance-enhancing drugs. In the twilight of his career, a then-33-year-old Galvin elected to be injected with the “elixir of life” – a testosterone-based potion – prior to a start on August 13, 1889. It seemed to work as he proceeded to shut out Boston batters on five hits and contributed a double and a triple at the plate, but his resurgence would be relatively short-lived. Martin reveals that the potion was recreated and tested by Australian researchers in 2002 and it was concluded that it was not strong enough to improve performance. Nevertheless, in recent years, Galvin’s name has resurfaced in Hall of Fame debates when people argue about whether steroid users should be considered for induction.

The saddest section of the book discusses Galvin’s decline and release from the Pittsburgh club in June 1892. He soon landed with the National League’s St. Louis Browns, but shortly thereafter his seven-year-old son, Eugene, was killed when he fell into a hot water vat at the Union Salt Works near Galvin’s home in Allegheny City. The Browns actually docked Galvin pay for the time he took off for his son’s accident and funeral, but the right-hander returned and ultimately made his final 12 professional starts with the Browns before being released.

After his playing career, Galvin’s mismanagement of money continued. He attempted to operate his own bar in Pittsburgh, but ran it into bankruptcy. He later served for one season as a National League umpire and bartended for others, but still managed to save little for his family.

By the time he contracted pneumonia on Thanksgiving in 1901, Galvin was penniless and living in one of the poorest sections of Allegheny. His friends gave him and his family money to pay the bills. His condition worsened when he was diagnosed with a stomach ailment and he died on March 7, 1902 when he was just 45.

Despite winning 365 major league games – still the fifth-most all-time – Galvin was virtually forgotten about for several decades until, as Martin explains, SABR pioneer and Buffalo-based historian Joe Overfield took up Galvin’s case for the National Baseball Hall of Fame. Thanks to Overfield’s tireless efforts, Galvin was elected by the Veterans’ Committee 73 years after his last professional pitch.

And though he now has a plaque in Cooperstown, Galvin is still rarely mentioned among baseball’s elite pitchers. But with this detailed and compelling book, Galvin finally has a fitting and moving eulogy for his baseball career – light has finally been shone on his legacy. Martin’s excellent book also ensures that “baseball’s forgotten man” has a better chance of being remembered in the future.

You can purchase a copy of the book here: http://www.mcfarlandbooks.com/book-2.php?id=978-0-7864-9977-9

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8 thoughts on “Book Review: Pud Galvin: Baseball’s First 300-Game Winner, by Brian “Chip” Martin

  1. This book sounds fantastic.
    I have read both Baseball’s Creation Myth and The Tecumsehs of the International Association and enjoyed them greatly so I assume this one will be just as good.
    Great writeup Kevin and fantastic job Chip!

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