Some days when I review the Hall of Fame candidacies of baseball players who competed in the 19th century I marvel at the information that I see. Clearly, the game was different when Tony Mullane pitched than it is now, but the statistics available at least provide a sense of a career that ended in 1894. It’s remarkable the amount of work that had to go into such research.
Every once in a great while I am stunned when I find something. Looking at a summary of Mullane’s career I was startled to see that not only was he a switch-hitter, but a switch-pitcher. Mullane began as a right-hander, but when he hurt his arm he taught himself to pitch lefty, too. Then, when his original injury healed, he pitched from both sides, sometimes in the same at-bat. This was facilitated by his not wearing a glove. Wow.
Mullane is up for consideration for inclusion in the Hall of Fame and within the next couple of weeks his prospects will be ruled upon by the Pre-Integration Era Committee. It’s not as if Mullane is a ghost. Examining his record indicates he had a first-rate pitching career and some phenomenal seasons. He even had two nicknames, “The Count” and “The Apollo of the Box,” which doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue.
Mullane, who was born in Ireland in 1859, made his Major League debut in 1881 with a Detroit team. He also pitched for the Red Stockings and Reds and several other teams until his career faded out. It is very likely he threw his arm out by tossing zillions of innings during the early stages of a career that concluded with a 284-220 record.
If modern baseball fans wonder why an obscure (to them) pitcher from so long ago merits Hall of Fame consideration, they should take a gander at some of Mullane’s early-career seasonal statistics. My jaw dropped when I read some of them.
Mullane’s first full season was 1882 for Louisville. In that year he finished 30-24 with a 1.88 earned run average. Mullane also led the American Association in starts with 55 and get this, he pitched 51 complete games! His innings total was 460 1/3.
And he was just getting going. Over the next four seasons Mullane won 35, 36, 33, and 31 games, making for five straight 30-victory seasons. Not bad, eh? I can tell you when Mullane was on the mound you didn’t hear any references to six innings being a quality start. Over those next four straight 30-win seasons Mullane’s innings count read like this: 460 2/3; 567; 529 2/3; 416 1/3. Did you notice that 567-inning season in there? Followed by a 529 2/3? Yikes.
Oh, by the way during that 567-inning season Mullane threw 65 complete games and he threw 56 the next year. If that doesn’t make you choke on your cornflakes in amazement, I’m not sure what baseball stat will.
For the most part Mullane’s pace slowed after that. He did go 26-16, but only once more did he approximate those wild innings total. I’m guessing his run support wasn’t as good when Mullane finished 23-26 in 1891 when he threw another 426 1/3 innings. By then Mullane was in his 30s and he was slowing down. He was 35 when he retired in 1894, but lived until 1944.
After he retired from baseball, Mullane had a long career as a Chicago police officer. Maybe he could shoot with either hand, too.