Pud Galvin

Reflecting on the life and career of Pud Galvin, a writer commented that a proper accounting of Galvin’s achievements “would be a task of time and would … require a volume in size almost equal to the dictionary.”1 Galvin pitched for 16 years during a career that spanned three decades, four major leagues, and countless changes to the rules governing pitchers. He threw the first perfect game on record and was the first pitcher to reach 300 career wins in the major leagues; but his accomplishments came before the existence of the term “perfect game,” and in an age that had no sense of the meaning of 300 career victories.

Galvin’s longevity and durability also set him apart, as no other pitcher of his era matched his 6,003 1/3  innings pitched, 705 pitching appearances, 646 complete games, 365 wins, and 310 losses.2 An early practitioner of a highly effective pickoff move that baffled baserunners and left opposing captains and managers contesting its legality, Galvin was also arguably the best defender at the position.

Galvin was a star and a fan favorite for his combination of athletic prowess and kind temperament. He was admired for being consistently “cool, collected,” and “self-reliant” on the field,3 as well as humorous and quick to smile. His three frequently-used nicknames reflect these characteristics. He may have been called Pud because of his ability to turn batters into pudding, or from, his pudgy physique.4 He was presumably called “The Little Steam Engine” because he was small but powerful, and he was called “Gentle James” or “Gentle Jeems” for his kind demeanor.

Despite his historic statistics and traits, as well as numerous exceptional single-game performances, Galvin was largely forgotten after his death in 1902. He spent his best years in Buffalo and his salad days in Pittsburg,5 small markets with poor teams. Unlike several other prominent players, Galvin did not win championships in the major leagues or play in big markets like New York, Boston, and Chicago, so his achievements were not as well remembered as those of his peers. One of Galvin’s best seasons came in the lesser-known International Association, and his other two strongest showings, in 1883 and 1884, fell under the long shadow of Charles “Old Hoss” Radbourn’s dominant two-year run of pitching, the best of the century. Perhaps the greatest consequence of Galvin’s relative obscurity was an unduly late induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame. While a few of his equals and many worthy but less accomplished players were elected to the Hall soon after its establishment in 1936, Gentle Jeems was not inducted until 1965.

James Francis Galvin was born on Christmas Day in 1855 or 1856 in St. Louis, Missouri. He was born to Irish immigrants who lived in the Kerry Patch, a section of the city so named because many of its initial settlers hailed from County Kerry in southwestern Ireland, an area devastated by the Great Irish Famine of 1845-1849. Galvin’s parents were likely part of this large emigration. Inhabitants of the Kerry Patch, located in the northern part of St. Louis, settled the area as squatters since they did not have rights to the land. The district was essentially a concentration of shacks, and was known for particularly tough living conditions and frequent violence. Its inhabitants consisted primarily of laborers, and young James, in preparation for a blue-collar life, received training as a steamfitter. However, his life went in a different direction as a result of his ability to play baseball.

By the time of his first known appearance in baseball, in 1874, the right-handed James would have grown into his short, stocky, and strong body. Standing approximately 5-feet-8, weighing in at about 190 pounds in his prime, and wearing size 9 shoes, he had a compact and solid frame, broad shoulders, and strong core and lower body that befitted the power pitcher he would become. He gained weight as he aged, apparently weighing as much as 250 pounds by 1894. Contemporary accounts were unkind about his appearance: he was often described as “short” and “fat.” Some reports also pointed out his broad shoulders and small neck. Sam Crane, the player-manager of the Buffalo Bisons in 1880, recalled that “Jimmy’s bull neck sunk into his wide spread of shoulders like the head of a mud-turtle into its shell.”6 Galvin kept his dark hair short and sported a full mustache.

In contrast to his substantial body, Pud had small hands, which did not allow him to throw a curveball. Instead, he featured a speedy fastball, the occasional offspeed pitch, and pinpoint control. During a gathering with friends in 1890, attended by a sports reporter, a member of the group showed his hands, damaged playing baseball as a young man. Galvin responded: “Why, if I was worth $10,000 to-day, and could spare it, I would give that amount for your hands if an exchange were possible. From the time I went into base ball I have always been handicapped by my hands, which are too small. I never saw the day yet when I was able to span an ordinary base ball. My fingers are too short to enable me to get grip enough on the ball to pitch a deep curve, so that I have been compelled to depend more on drops, straight balls and the different artifices known to pitchers to deceive the batter.”7

Galvin’s inability to throw a curveball may have been a blessing in disguise, as he perfected a simple approach to pitching that yielded consistent results. Watching Tony Mullane struggle while throwing breaking pitches one day in 1886, Galvin remarked, “Just watch them slug Tony with his ups and downs, while I keep right on winning with my little old straight-ball delivery.”8 Additionally, Galvin’s limited repertoire may have been a factor in his longevity during an era in which pitchers had very short careers, because his arm did not sustain the stress of throwing hard breaking pitches.

Galvin also relied on good defense and a devastating pickoff move. He was one of the premier fielding pitchers of the era, consistently recognized for his fielding prowess in the press. His pickoff move was extraordinarily effective and incontrovertibly the most successful of the 19th century. Incorporating a shift of weight and a deceptive movement of the head and shoulders, Galvin had almost complete control over a baserunner’s fate. His move was described as “a jumping-jack movement” in which “he always looks as if he were just ready to deliver the ball. He starts with a half-drop of his legs and forward movement of his body without removing one foot from the box. The runner takes a good lead off first. Then, with a smile that is childlike and blank, the veteran shoots the ball over to first and catches his man.”9 Another account noted that Galvin’s pickoff move “consists of bringing his arm to the rear as if about to pitch and bending his head as though ready to deliver the ball; then, instead of giving the ball an inshoot over the plate, he fires it to first, apparently without looking.”10 This deceptive body movement was followed by an accurate throw to the base. Sam Barkley, first baseman and Galvin’s teammate in Pittsburg in 1886 and 1887, said that Galvin never threw a ball “out of my reach on either side, too low to scoop or any higher than my knee.”11

The success of the move prompted frequent arguments from the opposing teams. Some players complained that the move was a balk, most prominently John Montgomery Ward and Cap Anson. The latter, a sometime victim of the move, was particularly vocal on several occasions, taking particular issue with Galvin’s shoulder movements. During the summer of 1888, Anson said that Galvin’s “delivery is plainly illegal under the existing rules.” Galvin’s manager that season, Horace Phillips, responded that his star pitcher “always has his shoulders squarely planted and the ball in sight. It’s the peculiarity of the movement that deceives you. Why nearly every prominent pitcher in the country has tried to copy that little nod of his before he throws the ball.”12 Buck Ewing concurred: “You notice that funny, false motion of his that can’t really be called a balk. He fooled me so badly one day that I never even attempted to get back to first base.”13 Galvin’s pickoff move was only seldom called a balk by umpires, with the exception of the 1890 Players League season, when Frank Brunell, the league’s secretary-treasurer, apparently instructed umpires to outlaw his move and others like it.

Galvin was so good at catching runners napping on the basepaths that he picked off three Brooklyn players in one inning on September 23, 1886. In the third, he walked Bill McClellan, Jim McTammany, and George Smith to load the bases. He proceeded to pick off Smith at first base, followed by McClellan at third, who was caught “with his trousers at half mast.” Finally, he picked off McTammany at second to end the inning. Thanks to his pickoff move, Galvin got himself out of a tough inning and led his team to an 8-2 victory.14

In another instance, the highly skilled Galvin seemed able to successfully pick off a runner at will. While jawing with Cap Anson in a game against Chicago in late August 1887, Galvin apparently asked Anson, “Do you want to see me catch a man?” Anson dared him to do it, so Galvin strutted to the pitcher’s box and walked Jimmy Ryan on purpose. After Ryan arrived at first base, Galvin picked him off almost immediately. Anson was furious, while “Galvin almost split his side laughing” after his successful demonstration.15

Pickoffs were not quantified then as they are now, so a precise count of Galvin’s successes is impossible to recover. His reputation and the surviving accounts, however, indicate that he had no equal when it came to holding and picking off runners. Galvin’s move was the envy of the league. Pitchers tried in vain to duplicate it, and every catcher desired this skill in his pitcher. 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.”16

Galvin’s playing career was characterized by a steady rise in achievement that peaked in 1883 and 1884, followed by an unusually long, very gradual decline. His period of decline was longer than that of most 19th-century careers. His career included many notable moments, colorful stories, and dominant seasons. Galvin was first recorded playing baseball in 1874 at the age of 17 as a member of the Turner Club of St. Louis. He also appeared as a member of other clubs in St. Louis, including the Empire Club in 1875 and the Niagara club in 1874 and 1875. Galvin made his major-league debut for the St. Louis Brown Stockings of the National Association on May 22, 1875, to fill in for primary starting pitcher George Bradley, who hadn’t pitched since May 8, possibly due to illness. After Galvin pitched three games and won two between May 22 and May 27, Bradley regained his health and returned to the pitcher’s box on May 29. Galvin made only four more starts during the year and one relief appearance. Altogether he played in 13 games, pitched in eight games (seven starts, all complete games), and played all three outfield positions when not pitching.

The Brown Stockings joined the new National League for the 1876 season, but Galvin did not stay with the team. Instead, he spent the year with the St. Louis Red Stockings (Reds), a club that was in the National Association in 1875, but unaffiliated in 1876. Its 1876 roster had several holdovers from 1875, including Frank Sylvester “Silver” Flint, who would go on to become one of the 19th century’s prominent catchers. While the complete record of Galvin’s play that season is hard to recover, he turned in three exceptional performances. The first was a no-hitter against the National League’s Philadelphia club on July 4 in an exhibition game. The other two happened on the same day, August 17, 1876, during a tournament held in Ionia, Michigan. Galvin threw the first recorded perfect game in baseball history, against the Cass Club of Detroit in an 11-0 victory. This feat was accomplished before the term “perfect game” was in the baseball lexicon, but the Ionia Sentinel clearly spelled out the performance, leaving no doubt about the achievement: “The Cass boys did not make a base hit or reach first base during the game. Each man of the club batted three times and each was put out three times.”17 Galvin’s feat was all the more impressive because he threw a no-hitter earlier that day against the Mutuals of Jackson, Michigan, in which the defense behind him committed three errors. Galvin’s accomplishments should not be taken lightly because they were not recorded in the major leagues, as the Cass Club and the Mutuals of Jackson were competitive and talented professional teams.

In 1877, Galvin joined the Allegheny Club of Pittsburg in the new International Association. Not considered a major league by baseball historians, the International Association is sometimes seen as the first minor league in baseball history, but the idea of a minor league is a later conceit. At the time it was simply a second professional league in cities not represented by teams in the National League. In 1877 teams were based in Guelph, Ontario; London, Ontario; Pittsburg; Rochester; Manchester, New Hampshire; Columbus; and Lynn, Massachusetts. Candy Cummings was the president of the league, and many other notables played in the league during its brief history (1877 until 1880), including Mike “King” Kelly, John Montgomery Ward, Mickey Welch, and Ned Hanlon. On April 30 Galvin recorded the league’s first shutout, against Columbus. He threw another shutout in an exhibition victory against the Boston Red Stockings on May 2 in Pittsburg. He gave up one hit and hit a home run, possibly the first ball hit out of Pittsburg’s Union Park, to score the game’s only run.18 By all accounts, Galvin’s 1877 season was a success, but his statistics are difficult to recover.

Galvin’s 1878 season, the first full year of his career for which a nearly complete record is readily available, proved to be historic. Now pitching for the Buffalo Bisons, a new team in the International Association, he dominated the league, winning an astounding 72 games. After a subpar season as members of the League Alliance in 1877, the Bisons fielded an entirely different roster, cutting ties with John Montgomery Ward, Larry Corcoran, Jack Glasscock, Doc Bushong, and others. In 1878, the Bisons played 116 games, and went 81-32 with three ties. Galvin pitched in 101 games, completing 96 of them and compiling a 72-25 record with three ties. He threw 17 shutouts, and went 10-5 against National League teams. He pitched every inning of the team’s first 23 games and went the distance in 22 consecutive contests between September 2 and October 4. The last three games of this stretch included a 12-inning victory over the Boston Red Stockings on October 2, and a 13-inning victory over Providence of the National League the next day. It is estimated that Galvin threw at least 895 innings. Although never a consistent hitter, he did have some power throughout his career, hitting one of the team’s two home runs in 1878. Aside from Galvin’s superior pitching, he and four teammates, Davy Force, Joe Hornung, Steve Libby, and Bill McGunnigle, were awarded medals by the New York Clipper for the best fielding averages in the league. The 1878 Bisons were the International Association champions, finishing one game ahead of the Syracuse Stars.

Galvin’s trickery and excellent pickoff move were already well-developed in 1878. On July 27 he and Libby executed the hidden-ball trick to perfection to fool Candy Cummings of the Cleveland Forest Citys in a 3-0 victory. In the third inning, Cummings was on base after hitting a single when his teammate Salisbury hit a popup to Libby at first. After Libby caught the ball, he faked a throw back to Galvin and kept the ball. Galvin then got in the box and readied himself to pitch. When Cummings started his lead, Libby tagged him for the third out of the inning. On August 19, behind Galvin, the Bisons defeated the Chicago White Stockings 4-2 in 13 innings. Galvin picked off five runners. Galvin’s historic 1878 season demonstrated that he was an ace capable of pitching almost every day.

After its championship season in the International Association, Buffalo joined the National League for the 1879 season, Galvin found himself back in the “major leagues” for the first time since 1875. He picked up where he left off in 1878, continuing his workhorse ways by pitching in 66 of the team’s 78 games, amassing 593 innings and winning 37 games with six shutouts. Despite this strong effort, the team finished in third place.

In October 1879, after the season was over, Galvin joined a “picked nine” consisting primarily of players from the Cincinnati Red Stockings, including King Kelly, on a tour to California that also included John Clapp, Cal McVey, Davy Force, Pete Hotaling, and Jack Rowe. The team toured California with the Chicago White Stockings and played against California clubs as well as each other. The San Francisco Chronicle reported that both the picked nine and the White Stockings beat the California clubs with ease, with fans being most interested in seeing the two visiting teams play each other. The teams toured California for 12 weeks, with the players arriving on October 5 and leaving on December 19. By the end of the tour, King Kelly was a member of the Chicago White Stockings and Pud Galvin’s future was uncertain.

Galvin likely remained in California after his fellow players left in order to try to negotiate a raise with the Bisons by threatening to play the 1880 season in California. When the Bisons called his bluff, Pud signed with the Athletic Club of San Francisco, of the California League (formerly called the Pacific Coast League), in which each team was set to play 30 League Games. In February, the California League adopted its constitution, which included clauses to make players honor their team commitments. In the words of the San Francisco Bulletin, “the player is bound by such iron-bound and copper-fastened rules as will make it exceedingly difficult for him to break his contract.”19 Galvin’s teammates with the Athletics included future major leaguers Cliff Carroll and Jerry Denny, and the team was captained by former major leaguer Tom Carey. Galvin began the season with the team, but after the Buffalo club got off to a poor start behind pitchers Tom Poorman and Bill McGunnigle, it reached out to Galvin in the second week of May and he accepted it contract offer to come back to Buffalo, along with an advance of $300.

Galvin left San Francisco, apparently under an assumed name, to head for Cincinnati to meet up with the Buffalo club. He did not get very far before he was apprehended because the Athletic Club made it known that he was breaking his contract after receiving his next month’s pay. The Athletic Club’s owners requested that Galvin be brought back to San Francisco. However, according to reports issued on May 15, Gentle Jeems had escaped without a trace—the San Francisco papers suggested that he used some of the money from his two paychecks to bribe the authorities. Galvin made it to Cincinnati successfully and was the winning pitcher for the Bisons on May 22. It was Buffalo’s fourth win against seven losses. By July the California League officially expelled Galvin from the League, a purely symbolic gesture.

Charley Foley (likely Curry Foley, future Galvin teammate and the first player on record to hit for the cycle) shared an exciting and certainly overblown version of Galvin’s departure from San Francisco with the New York Clipper: “The directors [of the Buffalo Club] induced Galvin’s wife to use her influence toward bringing him back. Galvin was telegraphed for, but the manager of the San Francisco team would not let him go, and they even threatened to have him arrested should he attempt to leave San Francisco. Galvin asked for his release, and, when refused it, he left for the East. He took a train out of the city some little distance and then left it and walked about twenty-three miles, which brought him into the State of Nevada. In walking across the desert Galvin’s shoes were nearly burned off his feet. He joined the Buffalo Club in Cincinnati where he related to his old comrades his thrilling adventures.”20 After Galvin returned to the Bisons, the Buffalo Express celebrated his return with a poem:

Could we let our pitcher stay

In the Golden City?

Could our boys without him play?

No, ’twould be a pity.

So we pressed our rightful claims

And we won back our Gentle


Unfortunately, there was not much to celebrate after Galvin’s return. He went 20-35, primarily because of his team’s lack of offense. The team finished in seventh place, going 24-58. They lost consistently; their longest winning streak reached only three games. One notable low point in Galvin’s season came on June 17, when he was on the losing end of John Montgomery Ward’s perfect game for the Providence Grays. Galvin also made the last out in the game. Another disappointment for the team came in the form of the struggles of a young position player who performed so poorly that he was released after appearing in only six games that season—Charles Radbourn. One can only imagine how the team’s fortunes would have changed if it had retained Radbourn and seen him develop into the pitcher that he became. In the days of two-man pitching staffs, the Galvin-Radbourn combination would have been a dominant force.

One highlight came on July 16, 1880, when Galvin beat the Providence Grays and pitcher John Montgomery Ward 1-0 in 14 innings. In completing the shutout, Galvin stranded a runner on third base to end the game. Later in the season, Galvin threw the first major-league no-hitter by a road pitcher on August 20 against Worcester. This was the sixth no-hitter in major-league history. The Buffalos won 1-0 on a very rainy day in front of only 91 spectators. The rainy conditions made the game ball—one ball was used for the entire game—mushy and difficult to hit hard. One record of the game stated that the ball became “a leather bag filled with jelly.”22 This was certainly a factor in the Worcester batters’ failure to hit Galvin’s pitches with any authority. While some may feel that the foul weather detracts from Galvin’s feat, this point of view ignores the difficulties of pitching and fielding a mushy, possibly lopsided ball in difficult weather. Not only was Galvin able to throw a no-hitter, but he did not allow any runs despite his team’s six errors. He was also able to maintain his usual good control, not giving up a single base on balls.

Before the 1881 season, the Buffalo ownership significantly improved the team with the addition of Dan Brouthers, Jim O’Rourke, and Deacon White. However, it was still only able to finish in third place, a disappointment for the star-studded roster. Galvin went 28-24, throwing five shutouts and completing 48 of his 53 starts, continuing to be a workhorse for his team. After the regular season ended, the Bisons played exhibition games, including a three-game series against the Philadelphia Athletics in Philadelphia. Galvin no-hit the Athletics in the final game of the exhibition series, on October 11, giving up two walks and having two men reach base on errors.

Buffalo cranks saw their club finish in third place again in 1882. Continuing as the team’s primary starter, Galvin went 28-23, starting 51 games and throwing three shutouts, both lows for him as a Bison up to that point. He accomplished a notable feat on July 4, when he won two games in one day for the second time in his career. During the season, Galvin agreed to what Harold Seymour and Dorothy Seymour Mills called an “optional” contract with the Pittsburg Alleghenys of the American Association that seemingly secured his services for the 1883 season. Charlie Bennett and Ned Williamson agreed to similar contracts with the Alleghenys, and all three men ended up deciding to remain in the National League. The Alleghenys took Bennett to court to try to force him to play for them in 1883, but the court ruled in favor of Bennett, determining that such “optional” contracts were only preliminary agreements. Thus, Galvin was allowed to stay with Buffalo in 1883.23 By December, Galvin had been banned from the American Association, his second blacklisting since 1880.

The Bisons were fortunate that Galvin did not go to Pittsburg, for he began his two-year peak in 1883. He started 75 games, completing 72 of them and pitching 656 1/3 innings. He won 46 games and had an ERA of 2.72. These four statistics were all career highs, or tied with career highs. Despite this Herculean effort, the team finished in fifth place, in part because their change pitcher, George Derby, started 13 games and lost 10 of them. In 1883 Galvin faced three other Hall of Fame pitchers, and went 3-3 against Mickey Welch, 1-1 against John Montgomery Ward, and 3-2 against Hoss Radbourn, including a defeat of the Providence pitcher in the final game of the season. At the plate, Galvin hit his first major-league home run in 1883.

Galvin had the best season of his career in 1884, but the year did not have an auspicious beginning. He started 1-4, and then injured himself on May 10 in Providence after losing a game to Radbourn on May 9. Galvin hurt himself picking up his suitcase at Providence’s Narragansett Hotel, possibly the result of pitching in the cold without his sweatshirt the day before. The strain or muscle pull jeopardized his season. He returned to Buffalo and missed the next eight games, hoping that the rest would allow him to start the home opener in Buffalo on May 21.

Galvin returned to top form after the time off. All in all, he ended up starting 72 games, completing 71 of them. He went 46-22 with three ties, and threw 12 shutouts, with a 1.99 ERA. He topped 600 innings for the second consecutive year. He started the team’s home opener, and the Bisons defeated the visiting Detroit Wolverines, 12-3. Galvin was especially tough on the Wolverines during an August series in Detroit August 2 to 8. On August 2 Galvin pitched a shutout, allowing one hit (a single), with seven strikeouts and no walks. On the 4th he no-hit the Wolverines while striking out nine and not surrendering any bases on balls. After two days of rainouts, Galvin pitched another shutout on August 7, giving up only three hits. The following day the teams played a doubleheader, with Galvin getting the start in the second game. He proved more hittable in this game, giving up eight hits. However, he pitched 12 innings without surrendering an earned run and striking out 16 Wolverines without any walks. Detroit scored an unearned run in the 12th inning to win the game. In the series Galvin pitched in four games, throwing 39 innings without giving up an earned run. He surrendered 12 hits and struck out 36 without any walks. After this historic run, the Detroit Free Press called Galvin the “ ‘Maud S’ of the diamond,” after the record-setting racehorse who was the first to run a mile in under 2 minutes, 10 seconds, on August 2, 1884.24

September 9, 1884, saw Galvin turn in another significant performance, when he ended Radbourn’s personal 18-game winning streak, and Providence’s 20-game streak. Galvin led his team to a 2-0 victory that ended with an exciting double play in the bottom of the ninth inning. Jim Lillie, Buffalo’s right fielder, caught a difficult fly ball hit by Radbourn and threw the ball to second base to double off Cliff Carroll, who thought the ball would drop. One newspaper later wrote that “the whole country had been looking … to accomplish the defeat of Radbourn and the Grays,”25 and it was Galvin who finally accomplished this feat. “Base ball enthusiasts are indebted to James Galvin,” wrote another paper after he ended the winning streak, which some had grown tired of.26 At season’s end, Providence won the championship and Buffalo finished in third place.

Galvin’s magnificent seasons in 1883 and 1884 were two of the best seasons of the 19th century, but they were overshadowed by the accomplishments of Radbourn, who won 48 and 59 games in 1883 and 1884, respectively, for the Providence Grays. In 1884, Radbourn also led the Grays to the National League championship and the unofficial championship of professional baseball after a postseason series victory over the American Association champion New York Metropolitans. In 1884, Radbourn’s ERA was a minuscule 1.38, and his 18-game winning streak was an extraordinary feat. Thus, Galvin had the bad luck of peaking at the same time as Radbourn, who played on a better team than the Buffalo Bisons.

Galvin’s 1883 and 1884 seasons took their physical toll. He would never pitch more than 450 innings or win more than 29 games for the rest of his career. His career began its long, steady decline in 1885, when he turned in a subpar season. His decline is remarkable because it lasted eight seasons, indicating that he remained a competitive pitcher and valuable player. In 1885, Galvin injured himself in a collision with Cap Anson on June 19. During a stretch of 24 games, he briefly managed the team, but the team went 7-17. By the middle of July, with his pitching record 13-19, he was sold to the Pittsburgh Alleghenys of the American Association. One of Buffalo’s directors said, “The public demanded a change. Both the press and the audiences were growing irritable. We couldn’t lose any more games if a pitcher were taken from the grand stand.”27 This was quite an insult to Galvin, who had pitched very well for the team since 1878 and had two of the best pitching seasons of the century in 1883 and 1884. The notion of cutting a star pitcher at the first sign of decline reflects the 19th-century reality of the unsustainable workloads given to ace pitchers as well as the inclination to part ways with star players at the first sign of trouble in order to make money from their sale.

Although different amounts were cited, it seems that Pittsburgh paid $1,500 or $2,000 for “The Little Steam Engine.” His replacements in Buffalo pitched poorly, and fans stopped coming to the park. On September 17 team Josiah Jewett sold the Bisons franchise to the Detroit Wolverines for $7,000. Detroit wanted only Brouthers, Richardson, White, and Rowe, but Jewett insisted that they take the entire franchise. The Bisons finished the season with amateurs and players that Detroit didn’t want to keep on its roster. Thus ended the presence of the Bisons in the National League. Buffalo would be a major-league city for only one more season, when it hosted the 1890 Buffalo Bisons in the ill-fated Players League.

Pittsburg hoped that Galvin would lead them to the American Association championship, although St. Louis had a considerable lead over them at the time. The Alleghenys surely disappointed by Galvin’s performance. He appeared in only 11 games, going 3-7 before an arm injury ended his season in the second inning of a game against Louisville on August 26. He told a sportswriter that he thought his career was over and went to Buffalo to be treated by his doctor. Galvin made one more appearance that year, on September 18, and lost to New York in a terrible outing in which he could not complete four innings. The Alleghenys finished in third place.

Galvin returned from the injury and remained with Pittsburg in 1886, and stayed with the club after it joined the National League in 1887. His career in Pittsburg was unspectacular from 1885 to 1889, except that he continued to pitch while most of the pitchers he came up with in the 1870s had retired or switched positions long ago. In 1887, on a very bad team, he won 28 games, just over half of the team’s 55 victories, which was a rare feat after teams began playing more than 120 games each year. In 1889 he logged over 300 innings for the final time and had an ERA above 4.00 for the first time in his career. The statistics indicate that this was Galvin’s worst season, but he played the role of spoiler on the last day of the season when he beat Boston to deprive the Beaneaters of a first-place finish and preventing John Clarkson from winning his 50th game of the season.

Galvin joined the new Players League for the 1890 season, thus aligning himself with the large contingent of players unhappy with the treatment they received from National League and American Association magnates. He was not the most fervent supporter of the Brotherhood of Professional Ball Players, noting to reporters that he had never felt particularly ill-treated by ownership during his career. However, he showed his solidarity to the new league when he refused lucrative offers to jump back to the National League. At the end of his career, he did not have much to lose by siding with the Brotherhood. He played for the Pittsburg Burghers under player-manager Ned Hanlon and turned in another unspectacular season in 1890, going 12-13 in 217 innings pitched with a 4.35 ERA. He played relatively sparingly and not particularly well in 1890, his second-worst year by the numbers.

Galvin spent the 1891 season back in the National League with the Pittsburg club, pitching effectively in 246 2/3 innings with a 2.88 ERA. At 35, he began the 1892 season in Pittsburg, but was sold to the St. Louis Browns after appearing in 12 games. He was headed back to the city of his birth. Shortly after his sale, he pitched a home game against Pittsburg and won. According to a report from Pittsburg, the local fans following the game from Pittsburg rooted for him even though he was pitching on the other team:

“Pittsburgers are intensely loyal to the home club and want to see them win every game if possible, but on this occasion, no sooner was it announced that Galvin was pitching than the people, with scarcely an exception, began to ‘pull’ for him,” a reporter wrote. “Our representatives were not in such a position that they could well afford to lose games, but that seemed to concern the crowd little as long as Galvin won the games. The incident is really unique. It shows how much more popular the man is than the club, and what a vast mistake it was to release him.”28

Galvin appeared in 12 games for St. Louis before the season ended. He had a respectable season, with a 2.92 ERA., but logged only 188 innings. It was his final season as a player, with the exception of brief comeback attempts.

Midway through the 1892 season, fans and members of the media offered assessments of Galvin’s career, properly guessing that it would be his final season. Galvin’s longevity, practically unheard of in the era of two-man pitching staffs, impressed followers of the game. Sporting Life summarized a letter from a fan from Louisville:

“A Louisville crank … figures that the veteran pitcher, Galvin, has pleased and displeased 800,000 people in his 17 years pitching, has traveled 112,000 miles or about four and a half times the circumference of the earth, has taken part in about 500 games in which on average 35 men went to the bat per game, and that four balls were pitched to each. That will make a total of 70,000 throws and balls pitched by Galvin. But during a large part of Galvin’s career seven balls instead of four sent a man to first base. That runs the total up to, perhaps an even 100,000, and these balls have traveled 2000 miles, and in pitching these 100,000 balls Galvin expended sufficient strength to carry them 30,000,000 feet, or about 6000 miles.”29

After the 1892 season Galvin attempted to extend his career. Potential comebacks were mentioned in newspapers as late as 1899, the last earnest attempt apparently came in 1894, when he played for the Buffalo Bisons of the Eastern League. At this point, Galvin was quite out of shape, weighing around 250 pounds. He pitched poorly in three games for the Bisons and was released. In his final at-bat he hit a home run, an appropriate way to cap off an extraordinary career. There were rumblings of later attempts to come back to the game, but whether he actually played in any more games is not known.

Before his brief stint in the Eastern League, on the evening of January 2, 1894, and into the early hours of January 3, Galvin and two friends encountered unexpected trouble with the law in Cleveland, where they were visiting a sick friend. After seeing their friend, they went to a bar, where a tailor named H.W. Hubbard introduced himself to the group. Shortly after leaving Hubbard’s company, the group was arrested for stealing a $250 diamond pin and $125 gold watch from the tailor. Galvin and friends were jailed overnight, where they shared cells with miscreants and pestilent insects. The men went before a judge the next day expecting to have to plead their case, but the judge dropped the charges because there was no evidence against them. The angry group sought out Hubbard to demand an explanation for his false accusation, but Hubbard’s friends and police protected him. Galvin and his friends vowed to sue Hubbard, but it is unclear if they ever pursued litigation.

Galvin filled his post-playing days with a variety of jobs. He was a National League umpire for the 1895 season, received mixed reviews, and did not enjoy the job. His experience resembled that of most other umpires in the 19th century—it was unpleasant and thankless work. Galvin, like most umpires, did not last very long, and did not return the next season. He is also recorded as a pipe-layer, contractor, and saloon owner in Pittsburg after his playing days ended. His saloon was unsuccessful because he did not have great business acumen. One anecdote says he had the largest bar in the Pittsburg and employed nine bartenders at one point. Subsequently, each of the nine bartenders opened his own business, while Galvin’s saloon failed. His status as a saloon owner allowed him to pitch in an exhibition game between bartenders on October 1, 1896. By that time his skills had diminished so much that he pitched poorly, giving up 20 hits.

By the turn of the century, Galvin and his family were living in poverty. He had married Bridget Griffin in 1878 and had 11 children. Newspapers joked that he had enough children to field his own baseball team. His health declined sharply beginning in late 1901, and on March 7, 1902, at the age of 45, Galvin died in Pittsburgh of “catarrh of the stomach,” also known as chronic stomach inflammation or chronic gastritis. His wife and six of his children survived him. Because of the family’s limited finances, an event, including boxing and music, was held to raise money for his wife and children. A 1908 article quoted Dave F. Kerr, who claimed an instrumental role in Galvin’s sale to Pittsburg in 1885, as bemoaning Galvin’s inability to save money: “Pity the old man wouldn’t heed. He drew a big salary and was one of the most popular players of his age, but his fame finally fled. You can talk about your pitchers, but to me Galvin looked one of the best men of his period. Change of pace, etc., made him a corker. The Little Steam Engine made a fortune for the ball clubs, but his bit frittered away despite the efforts of his good wife, who tried hard to induce her good-natured husband to lay up some cash for stormy times.”30 Galvin’s family neither saw long-term financial support from his baseball career nor did they see him play the game very often. His daughter Marie said, “We had nine boys and two girls in the family, and there was so much to be done at home that we didn’t get very many chances to see my father pitch.”31

Galvin’s death at a young age, tragic in its own right, was also a factor in his relatively quick fade from the consciousness of baseball fans and historians. Another factor was the greater star power of other pitchers in his era due to impressive single-season achievements, play on winning teams, or play in bigger cities. Galvin was outshined in his era by pitchers who were more dominant for short stretches of time, like Hoss Radbourn, or who played on winning teams or in bigger cities, like John Clarkson and Tim Keefe. After his death Galvin was increasingly forgotten as Americans became enamored with pitchers in the Deadball Era like Cy Young, Christy Mathewson, and Walter Johnson. However, at least one fan, M.G. Nowak of Milwaukee, who lived during Galvin’s era, reminded the readers of Sporting Life about Galvin’s accomplishments. In January 1906, while the country was captivated by Christy Mathewson’s three shutouts in the 1905 World Series, Nowak pointed out that Galvin was able to reach similarly legendary heights during that historic series against Detroit in August 1884.32

As the 20th century progressed, Galvin continued to fade from the consciousness of baseball fans and historians. After the establishment of the Baseball Hall of Fame, the Old-Timers Committee, which was formed in 1939 to elect 19th- and early 20th-century baseball figures into the Hall of Fame, ignored Galvin. In 1939 five players were elected by the committee, but not Galvin. In 1945 ten players were elected, but Galvin was not one of them. Eleven players were elected in 1946, including many with achievements far less impressive than Galvin’s, while Gentle James was ignored. The Old-Timers Committee voted sporadically until its name was changed to the Committee on Baseball Veterans in 1953. The new name produced the same results: It continued to ignore Galvin for more than a decade.

A cause for optimism appeared in the late 1940s in the form of Joseph M. Overfield, a Buffalo baseball historian who took a special interest in Galvin. A title researcher and later vice president at the Monroe Abstract Corporation (later Monroe Abstract and Title), he discovered his passion for baseball history in the late 1940s when he discovered a financial report about the 1878 Buffalo Bisons while conducting records research. This began a lifetime of research, writing, and service related to Buffalo baseball and its biggest star in the 19th century, Pud Galvin. Overfield wrote several articles beginning in 1953, as well as a small book of records and statistics called Buffalo Bison Sketch Book, also published that year. He was an early member of SABR, joining in 1972, and was recognized with a “SABR Salute” in 1986. He published his magnum opus, The 100 Years of Buffalo Baseball, in 1985 and continued working with SABR and the Buffalo Baseball Hall of Fame until his death in 2000.

Overfield recognized the significance of Galvin as he discovered documents and images of early Buffalo baseball clubs and read 19th-century newspapers. He contacted Galvin’s descendants and started a campaign to get him inducted into the Hall of Fame, which was successful in 1965. Overfield took great pride in leading the successful effort, and Galvin’s two living children, Walter and Marie, were grateful to see their father recognized. Three generations of relatives attended the ceremony. Walter, 78 years old at the time of the induction ceremony, spoke at the event and said, “I thank you for remembering him. You waited a long time to catch up with the old gent.”33

With the publication of Roger I. Abrams’ The Dark Side of the Diamond: Gambling, Violence, Drugs and Alcoholism in the National Pastime, in 2007, Galvin became 21st-century news. He was given the title of baseball’s first user of performance-enhancing drugs. Abrams found an article in the Washington Post from August 14, 1889, that said:

“Galvin was one of the subjects at a test of the Brown-Séquard elixir at a medical college in Pittsburgh on Monday. If there still be doubting Thomases who concede no virtue in the elixir, they are respectfully referred to Galvin’s record in yesterday’s Boston-Pittsburg game. It is the best proof yet furnished of the value of the discovery.”34

In that game Galvin pitched a two-hit shutout and was uncharacteristically successful at the plate. Abrams takes the article at face value, connecting Galvin’s participation in the trial with his success in the following game, in the process defying the long-held and correct notion that correlation does not imply causation.

The Brown-Séquard elixir was invented in 1889 by Charles Brown-Séquard, a French-American doctor. The elixir, which was injected, was based around extracts from guinea-pig and dog testicles and was apparently the first known modern treatment that contained testosterone. Abrams thus relates the elixir to the anabolic steroids that we know of today and ties Galvin to cheating and performance-enhancing drugs.

Abrams, however, fails to take into account the primitive nature of the Brown-Séquard elixir, which made it biologically ineffective according to scientific research published in 2002. The only possible benefit for Galvin, therefore, would have been a placebo effect. Moreover, the instance cited by Abrams appears to have been isolated. Abrams’ association of Galvin’s one-time use of the Brown-Séquard elixir in 1889 with modern-day steroid use is further undermined because the elixir was not banned by professional baseball. It is anachronistic to look back at Galvin’s one-time use of this elixir and consider it performance enhancement, cheating, or unethical behavior. Still, national news outlets and websites publicized and excerpted Abrams’ work, thus helping to slightly tarnish Galvin’s reputation and legacy.

James “Pud” Galvin was one of the most important pitchers in the history of early baseball, performing significant single-game feats and recording major career milestones. His longevity in an era of two-man pitching staffs is remarkable, and his 1878, 1883, and 1884 seasons are among the most dominant seasons in 19th-century pitching. His career is also defined by his status as a fan favorite in Buffalo and Pittsburg. His posthumous reputation has taken several turns: He was initially forgotten, then recognized with induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1965, and most recently associated with performance-enhancing drugs in 2007. Galvin led an eventful and historic career, and he continues to be significant figure more than a century years after his death. The continuing expansion of the baseball research community and increasing access to unmined 19th-century newspapers should continue to sharpen the perception of Galvin and will bring to light untold dimensions and chapters of his baseball legacy that will eventually fill a dictionary-length biography of one of the 19th century’s greatest pitchers.


An updated version of this biography appears in “20-Game Losers” (SABR, 2017), edited by Bill Nowlin and Emmet R. Nowlin.



Special thanks to James Overfield, Freddy Berowski, Howard Henry, and Tim Wiles.




Pud Galvin player file, Baseball Hall of Fame.

Pud Galvin scrapbook, Baseball Hall of Fame.

Baltimore Morning Herald

Baltimore Sunday Herald

The Bee [Washington, DC]

Buffalo News

Binghamton Press

Boston Evening Transcript

Brooklyn Eagle

Chicago Tribune 

Cincinnati Enquirer

Cleveland Herald

Daily Inter Ocean [Chicago]

Daily Mail and Empire [Toronto]

Daily True American [Trenton, New Jersey]

Dubuque Sunday Herald

Ionia (Michigan) Sentinel

Jackson (Michigan) Citizen Patriot

Ludington (Michigan) Daily News

Mansfield (Ohio) Daily Shield

New York Clipper

New York Times 

New York World

Philadelphia Inquirer

Pittsburg Dispatch

Pittsburg Gazette

Pittsburg Press

Providence Evening Press

Providence Evening Telegraph

Providence Morning Star

Sporting Life

The Sporting News

Toronto Daily Mail

Washington Post


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St. Louis Irish History – The Kerry Patch. http://home.earthlink.net/~lilirish/KerryPatch.htm

This Game of Games. http://thisgameofgames.blogspot.com



1 Pittsburg Gazette, March 8, 1902

2 The numbers cited are Galvin’s “major-league” statistics. He pitched at least 1,000 innings in leagues not recognized as “major leagues.” Galvin’s career innings mark ranks second all-time behind that of Cy Young.

3 Sporting Life, September 8, 1886.

4 Ed Koszarek, The Players League, 130.

5 The city’s name was spelled “Pittsburg” in the 19th century.

6 New York Journal, January 12, 1912.

7 Pittsburg Press, Jan 12, 1890.

8 Sporting Life, September 8, 1886.

9 Williamsport (Pennsylvania) Sunday Grit, June 14, 1891.

10 Ludington Daily News, May 24, 1888.

11 Sporting Life, August 31, 1895.

12 Pittsburg Press, August 21, 1888.

13 Article in Galvin Hall of Fame file

14 Brooklyn Eagle, March 8, 1942

15 Sporting Life, August 31, 1887.

16 Article in Galvin Hall of Fame File

17 Ionia Sentinel, August 25, 1876.

18 William A. Cook notes that the game may have actually been a no-hitter.

19 San Francisco Bulletin, February 11, 1880.

20 New York Clipper, February 9, 1889.

21 Poem in the Buffalo Express, date unknown. Quoted in Joseph M. Overfield, “ ‘Gentle Jeems’ Jim Galvin: Buffalo’s First Superstar,” Bisongram, February/March 1993, 27.

22 Buffalo Commercial Advertiser, August 21, 1880.

23 Baseball: The Early Years, 142-143

24 Quoted in Sporting Life, January 6, 1906.

25 Providence Evening Bulletin, July 12, 1928

26 Evening Telegram, Providence Rhode Island, September 10, 1884

27 New York Times, July 14, 1885.

28 Weekly Herald [Baltimore], July 3, 1892.

29 Sporting Life, August 13, 1892.

30 Sporting Life, September 26, 1908.

31 Article from 1965 in unknown newspaper in Galvin Hall of Fame file.

32 Sporting Life, January 6, 1906.

33 Article, presumably from 1965, in unknown newspaper. Galvin Hall of Fame File.

34 Quoted in Abrams, 107.

Full Name

James Francis Galvin


December 25, 1856 at St. Louis, MO (USA)


March 7, 1902 at Pittsburgh, PA (USA)

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