George Washington Bradley1 of the St. Louis Brown Stockings shut out (or, in the baseball parlance of the time, “Chicagoed”) the Hartford Dark Blues by a score of 2-0 on July 15, 1876. Aside from their being Chicagoed, the Blues also failed to get any hits in the process (although Bradley did walk two) establishing this game as the first no-hitter in the history of the recently formed National League. Bradley’s nickname, “Grin,” came from the constant smile he showed to batters as he pitched. It apparently made a striking impression. Years after he retired, an article in The Sporting News mentioned that “no one before ever had such a tantalizing smirk.”2
While being the architect of the National League’s inaugural no-hitter is Bradley’s most noted accomplishment, during that same 1876 season besides shutting out the Dark Blues, he did the same to 15 other teams – a total of 16 shutouts in the season: a record that was matched only by Grover Cleveland Alexander in 1916 (it must be those presidential names). Referring to Bradley as the “Chicago King,” baseball historian David Nemec suggested that the term may have arisen because Bradley’s first shutout victim that season was the Chicago White Stockings, who succumbed 1-0 on May 5.3 The unlikelihood that this record will ever be surpassed is underscored by the fact that since Juan Marichal threw 10 shutouts in 1965, only three pitchers have reached double figures: Bob Gibson with 13 in 1968, Jim Palmer with 10 in 1975, and John Tudor with 10 in 1985.
Bradley’s professional career extended over 15 years, including 11 seasons with nine different teams in four different major leagues – in many ways mirroring Organized Baseball’s state of flux at the time. Appearing in 347 games as a pitcher, Bradley compiled 171 victories. He played in 269 other games as a position player – mostly at third base, where his fielding skills were quite accomplished. In addition to his major-league travels, Bradley played for eight minor-league teams.
Born in Reading, Pennsylvania, on July 13, 1852, to George and Margaret Bradley,4 George was the first native of the city to play in the major leagues. Although references to Bradley in Reading newspapers during his career occasionally mentioned his having been “born and raised in Reading,” there is otherwise little information available about his life before he started playing in Philadelphia in 1872, the same year in which he married Philadelphia native Charlotte Heavener.
Early in the 1874 season, while playing for Philadelphia’s Modoc club (described as a “third-rate amateur club”5) against an independent team from Easton, Pennsylvania, Bradley showed skills that caught the eye of Easton’s manager, Jack Smith, who signed him as an infielder who would also pitch batting practice. When Smith observed that Bradley’s new teammates couldn’t handle his pitches during batting practice, he tried him out as a starting pitcher. That experiment went so well that that Smith, who had been the starting pitcher, benched himself in favor of Bradley. Bradley and catcher Tom Miller developed a fine relationship, which would lead to their both playing for the St. Louis Brown Stockings the next season. The chemistry between the two was noted by the Easton Daily Express after a 14-0 Easton victory over the Collins Club of Philadelphia in August. “Bradley and Miller worked together like a charm, many people remarking that it was their best game this year,” the paper said, also describing Bradley’s pitches in the game as “lightning bolts.”6
Later that month Bradley returned to his hometown of Reading when Easton came to play the semipro Reading Actives. Before a crowd of about 4,000, Easton won the game, 11-6, in what the Reading Eagle described as “one of the most closely contested (games) that either club has ever played.” With the score tied, 4-4, Easton broke the game open with five runs in the eighth inning. (The Reading Times account attributed the rally to Easton “doing some heavy batting,”7 while the Eagle found Easton’s runs to be the product of “bad luck, overthrows and a general demoralization”8 on the part of the home team.) Although no statistics on the 1874 Actives or its players can be found, must have been a good one; the game account in the Eagle was headlined “Actives’ First Defeat.”9 The account related that Bradley’s “balls came in very swiftly and during the first part of the game were not hit.”10
The Eagle said the Easton club was “regarded by knowing professional players to be the very best club in the country not on the professional lists,”11 and said Easton clearly came to town as “enemy” in the eyes of the Reading locals. The Easton Daily Express complained that followers of the Actives “were in danger of life and limb from the blackguards and roughs of Reading, (unable) to praise the Eastons without being insulted and threatened.”12
In a return match a few weeks later, Easton again won, 34-18, with the Express declaring that Reading did not appear “to get the hang of Bradley until the ninth inning.”13
In early August Easton lost at home in front of a crowd of 2,000 to the National Association Brooklyn Atlantics by 30-11 in a game in which Bradley gave up 19 hits but was victimized by 16 Easton errors that resulted in only 4 of the Atlantics’ 30 runs counting as earned runs.14 At the end of the season Easton achieved consecutive exhibition victories over three National Association teams: the Atlantics in a rematch, then the Philadelphia Whites and finally the Philadelphia Athletics. As a result, Bradley was invited to pitch for the Athletics in an October exhibition against the Boston Red Stockings. In the game he impressed enough that St. Louis signed him after the season.
The 1875 Brown Stockings were managed by 39-year-old shortstop Dickey Pearce, and its roster included a number of players besides Bradley with Easton connections, starting with his batterymate Tom Miller, who had played four games with the Athletics near the end of the 1874 season. Also signed from the 1874 Easton team were third baseman Bill Hague, a light hitter known for his strong throwing arm and light-hitting outfielder Charlie Waitt. Browns second baseman Joe Battin played for Easton in 1873 before signing with the Philadelphia Athletics, where he spent the 1874 season.
Bradley’s major-league debut was as the Opening Day pitcher on May 4, 1875, pitching the team to a 15-9 victory over the St. Louis Red Stockings. Two days later, on May 6, Bradley became an instant St. Louis fan favorite, shutting out the hated Chicago White Stockings, 10-0, in front of 8,000 fans at Grand Avenue Park in St. Louis, with another 2,000 peeking through knotholes or perched in trees outside the park.15
On June 2 Bradley suffered his first loss of the season, 10-3 to a Boston Red Stockings team that went an amazing 71-8 that season. Boston’s lineup featured future Hall of Famers Harry and George Wright, Al Spalding, Orator Jim O’Rourke, and Deacon White, who would hit a league-leading.367. Also in the Boston lineup were White’s closest competitors in the batting race, Ross Barnes (.364) and Cal McVey (.355). The Red Stockings’ victory boosted their record so far to 25-0.
Three days later Bradley avenged the loss by handing the Red Stockings their first defeat as he pitched St. Louis to a 5-4 win. The Boston Globe said that Bradley and “the ‘Brown Sox’ were carried off the field on the shoulders of their friends.”16
On June 7, with St. Louis in a frenzy over “Brown Stocking fever,” a crowd described by the Globe as “the largest ever seen on a ball field in this city, about 8,000” 17 saw the Red Stockings pound Bradley for 24 hits (he was said to be suffering from an attack of vertigo), with Spalding holding the home team to six hits as the visitors won, 15-2.
Just as was the case during their season in Easton, Bradley worked well with Miller, the duo being credited for much of the Browns’ success. A contemporary commentator wrote that the two constituted “the main strength of the club,” adding, “They are not supported by a first class field but, if their work of to-day is a criterion, they do not need one. The field(ers) were called upon to do but the easiest kind of play… and scarcely a ball was struck that would bother an ordinary player.”18 The leading hitter on the team was outfielder Lip Pike, while outfielder Jack Chapman exhibited such skill in the field that he earned the nickname of “Death To Flying Things.”
A number of factors contributed to Bradley’s success on the mound. At 5-feet-10 and 175 pounds, he was a big man for the times (in 1876 he was the fourth-tallest pitcher in the National League) and he used his size to power his delivery. Equally imposing from a psychological
standpoint was the “smile” Bradley showed batters. In his analysis of Bradley’s pitching technique, baseball historian Neil MacDonald declared the rather innocuous moniker of “Grin” to be a nickname that “belied a serious, savagely determined … man who wanted to play and win as much as any man alive.”19
MacDonald wrote that Bradley combined the abilities of a “straight pitcher like Al Spalding, considered to be the best in the game, with the ingenuity of a breaking ball specialist like Candy Cummings, the consummate chucker of curves.”20 An additional factor contributing to Bradley’s success during the 1876 season involved a new tactic learned from Browns teammate Mike McGeary: crushing game balls in a vise.
On October 26, 1875, Bradley returned to Reading with the Browns for an exhibition game against the semipro Reading Actives. Bradley and catcher Tom Miller were featured in ads in the Times and the Eagle referring to him as “The famous Bradley” and proclaiming, “The old foes are coming. Bradley and Miller – St. Louis professionals versus Actives.” 21 Upon Bradley’s arrival in Reading the day before the game, the Eagle described him as “the best looking ballplayer in the profession.”22
The next day the Browns defeated the Actives 18-11 in a sloppy game in which the Actives committed 20 errors and the Browns 12. Bradley entered the game in relief of the Browns backup pitcher, Pud Galvin, who surrendered eight runs in five innings, allowing the Actives to pull ahead at one point, 8-7. Bradley quieted the Actives’ bats and the Browns erupted for 11 runs in the final four innings. (The Eagle headlined its game story “One of the Worst Games Yet,”23 but failed to provide the score. Without the Reading Times’s game account, posterity would never have known the score.)
The 18-year-old Galvin had been signed at the start of the season to back up Bradley after he had pitched impressively for the Niagara amateur team of St. Louis in a preseason game against the Browns.24 Galvin pitched in three games in a row in late May, winning two, when Bradley was sidelined with health problems. Bradley returned the lineup on May 29, after which Galvin made only four more pitching starts. On his way to becoming baseball’s first 300-game winner, over the next 17 years Galvin won another 361 games en route to his induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame.
The National Association of 1875 suffered from a great disparity between the haves and have-nots, The Browns finished in fourth place with a record of 39-29, a distant 26½ games behind the Red Stockings. As the winning pitcher in all but six of the Browns’ victories, Bradley finished his rookie season with a record of 33-26, starting 60 games and finishing 57, with 5 shutouts. In 535⅔ innings pitched, Bradley struck out 60 and gave up a remarkably low 17 walks.
During the tumultuous offseason that followed, the National League was created, the National Association dissolved, a number of former National Association teams (the Browns among them) joining the new league, and a multitude of players moving to new teams. Although Bradley remained with the Browns, his surrounding cast underwent changes, the most dramatic being catcher Tommy Miller contracting a disabling illness over the winter from which he died on May 29, 1876.25 Miller’s replacement, Honest John Clapp, was signed away from the Philadelphia Athletics in the offseason and is viewed as one of the most talented catchers in baseball at the time. Despite the success Bradley enjoyed over the two seasons Miller was his batterymate, at least one commentator credited Clapp for helping Bradley go from very good in 1875 to superlative in 1876.26
Other changes to the Browns lineup included Bill Hague and “Death To Flying Things” Chapman both signing with Louisville, and 40-year-old Dicky Pearce being replaced as shortstop by Denny Mack. Pearce and as manager by Mase Graffen. (With superior fielding skills, Pearce returned as the starting shortstop later in the season even though he was 14 years older than Mack.)
Also moving on was Pud Galvin, leaving his role as Bradley’s understudy to become the primary pitcher with the St. Louis Red Stockings, an unaffiliated team made up mostly of members of the team’s 1875 National Association entry. Galvin was not replaced as Bradley’s backup, or change pitcher; during the 1876 season Bradley threw every inning for the Browns except for four innings of relief pitched by Joe Blong.
On April 25, 1876, just before the start of the season, the Louisville Courier-Journal declared that Bradley was the hardest man in the profession to bat against.27 This did not appear to be the case at the season’s outset, as the Browns and Bradley lost the first two games of the season to a bad Cincinnati Reds club that won only seven more games that season. As the season progressed, Bradley did his best to confirm the Courier-Journal’s analysis. During a series in late May against the New York Mutuals, he threw only 24 balls in 27 innings.28 A 17-0 shutout of the Athletics on June 1 was his sixth of the year. He pitched two more shutouts in June, four in July, three in August, and one in September on his way to setting the record of 16 in a season.
In early July Bradley signed a contract with the Philadelphia Athletics for the following year. When word of this came out, the St. Louis press criticized him for “treachery,” and the Chicago Tribune speculated that he would not try to win games in a coming series against the Hartford Blues. Bradley’s response to this was to shut out Hartford three times in five days, culminating with the 2-0 victory on July 15 in which the Dark Blues failed to get a hit. The Tribune ran a retraction.29
Appreciation of no-hitters was in its nascent state at the time, and most accounts of the game focused on Hartford’s poor hitting, with little attention given to the fact that Bradley had not allowed a hit, with some accounts not even mentioning that it was a no-hitter.30
On May 23 Boston’s Joe Borden had shut out the Cincinnati Reds, giving up only two walks, which were recorded as hits consistent with scoring rules at that time. Bradley’s gem has been considered the first no-hitter in the National League. (The previous season Borden, pitching for the Philadelphia Pearls in the National Association, threw the first major-league no-hitter, 4-0 against the Chicago White Stockings. As for his 1876 shutout of Cincinnati, sportswriters and league officials disagreed over categorizing as walks as hits, but, as Neil W. McDonald wrote, “Enough doubt has been cast on Borden’s efforts against Cincinnati to erase his honor of tossing the first National League no-hitter. Only God and the ghosts of ’76 know if Borden was sinned against.”31
Along with Bradley’s range of pitches, pinpoint control, having the best catcher in the league, and having a withering grin, an unseemly side to his success in 1876 involved gamesmanship (or cheating, depending upon one’s view). According to Bradley’s former manager Frank Bancroft, the pitcher learned from teammate Mike McGeary how to steam open the sealed box containing the new ball to be used for the game, put the ball in a vise to crush it, and then reseal the box, creating a new mushy ball.32Aside from the process enhancing Bradley’s curve, the ball usually lost its shape over the course of the game, allowing a crafty pitcher like Bradley to alter its plateward course with more trickery.33
With the Browns in third place for much of the season behind Chicago and Hartford, on August 17 Bradley shut out the visiting White Stockings, 3-0, culminating a stretch in which the team went 14-3 and moved past Hartford into second place, six games behind Chicago. The Browns took another game from Chicago and moved within five games of first, the closest they would get that season. (They finished in second place also with a record of 45-19, six games behind the White Stockings. Bradley pitched 573 innings, all but four innings of the St. Louis season, and every decision was his. In addition to his record-setting 16 shutouts, he had a league- low 1.23 earned-run average. He also led the league with 34 wild pitches.
Although Bradley had signed with Philadelphia for the 1877 season, the A’s were expelled from the National League for failing to complete their full schedule, and Bradley was able to nullify the contract. Instead he signed with Chicago, but tried to avoid burning bridges in St. Louis, sending the following letter to the St. Louis Globe-Democrat (published October 18, 1876), expressing his sentiments to St. Louis fans:
To the Editor of the Globe-Democrat:
Dear Sir: In leaving St. Louis I think it due to myself to make a few remarks in explanation of contracting in Chicago when I did so. I had a private misunderstanding with some of the officers of the St. Louis Club, this being the prime cause of my signing in Chicago.
I desire to say that my relations in St. Louis have been of the most pleasant character and to the hosts of warm friends I have acquired I desire to leave the most sincere expression of gratitude for the kind appreciation of my poor services. I shall always remember St. Louis with the liveliest feelings of respect and can never readily forget the generous treatment I have received in this city, where my professional reputation has to a great extent been made
Yours, etc. G.W. Bradley34
The plan with the White Stockings was that Bradley would succeed Al Spalding as the pitcher, with Spalding moving to first base. The plan didn’t work out well. Bradley finished the season with a disappointing 18-23 record, with Chicago making no attempt to keep him for the next season. Reasons advanced for the falloff in Bradley’s performance were that his former teammate McGeary, who had taught him the crushed-ball ploy, warned other teams of the trick,35 and that the White Stockings made the mistake of not signing John Clapp to catch Bradley.36
After his season with the White Stockings, Bradley set out on an odyssey that would see him switch teams 16 times over the next 12 seasons, playing in 16 cities in various major and minor leagues. Bradley began the 1878 season with New Bedford of the fledgling International Association (which was meant to rival the National League but never did), signed by its manager, Frank Bancroft. When things didn’t work out with the league to Bancroft’s satisfaction, after just three games he pulled the club from the league and instead played an independent schedule for the season.37 The team played 130 games against teams on the East Coast, with Bradley logging in more than 760 innings.38
The next season (1879) Bradley pitched for the last-place Troy Trojans of the National League, posting 13 wins to go with a league-leading 40 losses. In 1880 he moved to the Providence Grays of the National League, where he alternated playing third base and pitching with John Montgomery Ward. After signing with the Detroit Wolverines of the National League for 1880, he was released because of health issues after playing one game at shortstop. He then signed with the Cleveland Blues, but negotiated a release that resulted in his being sold for $50039 to the Philadelphia Athletics of the American Association (Bradley’s third major league) in June of 1883. 40
With the A’s Bradley won 16 games as the team’s primary backup pitcher to Bobby Mathews; when not pitching he played third base. In September, when Mathews was out with arm problems, Bradley and Jumping Jack Jones put together a string of pitching performances that enabled the A’s to win seven in a row on their way to the pennant. Despite his heroics, Bradley was released after the season, telling one interviewer, “They sent me adrift, just as you would a broken down horse. But that was strictly business, you know.41
The next year Bradley signed with the Cincinnati Outlaw Reds of the ill-fated Union Association, which existed only in 1884 (Bradley’s fourth and final major league). His record was 25-15 as the team’s primary pitcher. After the dissolution of the UA, for his playing in that league and jumping his contract with the Philadelphia, Bradley found himself blacklisted from other major-league teams for the 1885 season. Adding financial insult to career injury, Bradley never received what the Cincinnati team agreed to pay him, leading him to sue the defunct team. He eventually settled for $1,500 in cash, considerably less than what he was owed, since the team had gone bankrupt.
In 1886 Bradley signed with the Philadelphia Athletics again, as a shortstop, but was released after 13 games with an average of .083. Despite letting him go, Athletics manager Bill Sharsig called him “the hardest working and most conscientious player for his club that we ever had.”42 Despite these fine intangibles, Sharsig said, Bradley’s hitting was too weak to keep him on the team.
Over the remainder of 1886 and the next four seasons Bradley played for seven minor-league teams, beginning with Nashville of the Southern League. At the outset of the next season he not only played for Nashville, but managed the team as well, where he played third base, and also envisioned making a pitching comeback.43 Replaced as manager at the end of May,44 he moved on to play with the New Orleans Pelicans of the same league, then appeared briefly with the Baltimore Orioles of the American Association before finishing the season with Danville in a league in Illinois.45 In 1888 he played third base and first base for the New Orleans Pelicans of the Southern League. When the league disbanded in July, New Orleans joined the independent Texas League. Bradley moved north for the 1889 season, playing third base (and pitching one inning) for the Sioux City Corn Huskers of the Western Association. In 1890 he went full circle and finished his career in Easton of the Eastern Interstate League, playing 21 games at third base and batting .299.
With his baseball career over, Bradley first worked as a night watchman and then joined the Philadelphia police force. His son George W. Jr. apparently showed some baseball talent, and in 1907 Bradley talked of his son’s growing abilities, referring to him as a, “keeper” (who) …will make good either at third-base or behind the bat.46 No records could be found relating to a baseball career for George Jr.
In 1915 Bradley made an appearance at a revival in Philadelphia conducted by the former major leaguer Billy Sunday, whose career overlapped Bradley’s. Seeing Bradley, on duty and in uniform, Sunday encouraged him to come forward, calling out to him, “Brad, God bless you, old scout.”47 An account of the event described how Bradley “gulped hard as he transferred his mace to his left hand and reached up to grip the reaching hand of his former rival. Then … said simply, ‘Bill, I feel better now. Thanks.’” 48
Bradley retired from the police in 1930.49 He died of liver cancer on October 2, 1931, and was buried in Northwood Cemetery in Philadelphia. He was survived by his wife, Charlotte; his daughter, Lottie Crouse; and three sons, George W. Jr., John, and Morris. His obituary in the Philadelphia Inquirer called him “a close friend of many prominent men connected with big-league baseball today.”50 His hometown Reading Eagle ran a brief item noting that he pitched the first no-hitter in the National League, with no mention of his local connection.51
An updated version of this biography appears in SABR's No-Hitters book (2017), edited by Bill Nowlin.
In addition to the sources cited in Notes, the author accessed Bradley’s player file from the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
Some of the material in this article was also used were used in “Days of Grin and Heck: Berks County’s First Two Major Leaguers,” which appeared in The Historical Review of Berks County, Summer, 2014, Volume 79, Number 5.
Thanks to David Nemec for information and guidance in correspondence with the author, April 21, 2014.
1 Not to be confused with George H. “Foghorn” Bradley, a former umpire who won nine games for the 1876 Boston Red Stockings, who, like the subject of this article, is buried in Philadelphia.
2 The Sporting News, April 23, 1892, quoted in David Nemec, Major League Baseball Profiles 1871-1900, Vol. 1, (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2009), 18.
3 David Nemec, The Great Encyclopedia of 19th Century Baseball (New York: Donald I. Fine Books, 1997), 86.
4 “The Boys Stock Up Again,” Reading Eagle, September 2, 1876: 1.
5 John David Cash, Before They Were Cardinals (Columbia, Missouri: University of Missouri Press, 2002), 26-35.
6 “Baseball – Eastons Again Victorious – Reading Disgraced,” Easton Daily Express, August 1, 1874.
7 “An Exciting Game Yesterday Between the Eastons, of Easton, Pa., and the Actives of Reading,” Reading Times, August 4, 1874: 1
8 “Actives First Defeat,” Reading Eagle, August 4, 1874: 1.
11 “An Exciting Game.”
12 “Baseball,” Easton Daily Express, August 4, 1874.
13 “Baseball – Easton – Reading,” Easton Daily Express, August 14, 1874.
14 “Baseball,” Easton Daily Express, August 19, 1874.
15 Cash, 35.
16 “Summer Sports: The Bostons Defeated by St. Louis Club,” Boston Globe, June 7, 1875: 5.
17 “Bat and Ball: The Bostons Slaughter the Brown Stockings,” St. Louis Daily Globe-Democrat, June 8, 1875: 8.
18 Quoted in David Nemec, Major League Baseball Profiles 1871-1900, Vol. 2 (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2009), 295.
19 Neil W. McDonald, The League That Lasted: 1876 and the Founding of the National League of Professional Baseball Clubs (Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland and Co., 2004), 143.
20 McDonald, 149.
21 “St. Louis Team in This City,” Reading Eagle, October 26, 1875: 1.
23 “One of Worst Games Yet,” Reading Eagle, October 27, 1875: 1.
24 Jeffrey Kittel, “This Game of Games, Bradley vs. Galvin, October 3, 2009. thisgameofgames.blogspot.com/search/label/Pud%20Galvin.
25 Nemec, Vol. 2, 296.
26 Section on Clapp written by Peter Morris in Nemec, Vol. 1, 222.
27 McDonald, 105.
29 Jeffrey Kittel, “This Game of Games, Bradley’s Gratitude,” April 27, 2010. thisgameofgames.blogspot.com/search/label/George%20Bradley.
30 McDonald, 152.
32 Nemec, Vol. 1, 18.
33 Nemec, Vol. 1, 15.
34 Jeffrey Kittel, “This Game of Games, the 1876 Brown Stockings: The Clubs Might Have Played Until the Resurrection, January 20, 2010. thisgameofgames.blogspot.com/search/label/George%20Bradley.
35 Nemec, Vol. 1, 18.
36 Nemec, Vol. 1, 222.
37 Nemec, Vol. 2, 117.
39 John Shiffert, Baseball in Philadelphia (Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland, 2006), 108.
40 “Bradley Obtains His Release,” Cleveland Leader, May 19, 1883.
41 Ivor-Campbell, Tiemann, and Rucker, 9.
43 “The Smiling Nashville Manager Talks About His Club,” March 9, 1887, Article in unidentified newspaper in Bradley’s file at the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
44 “Baseball Notes,” Philadelphia Times, May 23, 1887: page 1.
45 “Baseball Club Disbanded,” Decatur Herald, September 13, 1887: 3.
46 “Brad the Second,” Sporting Life, May 25 1907: 6.
47 “Sunday Converts Another Player,” Pittsburgh Press, February 4, 1915: 24.
49 “Old Time Hurler Is Retired as Officer,” Lewiston Evening Journal, October 2, 1930: 7.
50 “First No Hit Pitcher Struck Out by Death,” Philadelphia Inquirer, October 3, 1931.
51 “First No Hit No Run Pitcher Passes Away,” Reading Eagle, October 4, 1931: 13.