New York Giants manager John McGraw considered Bugs Raymond one of the greatest pitchers he ever managed–or tried to manage. “What a terrific spitball pitcher he was,” teammate Rube Marquard later reminisced. “Bugs drank a lot, you know, and sometimes it seemed the more he drank the better he pitched. They used to say he didn’t spit on the ball; he blew his breath on it and the ball came up drunk.” But after only two successful seasons–1908, when he was the ace of the dreadful St. Louis Cardinals, and 1909, when he went 18-12 for the Giants–Raymond drank himself out of the National League in 1911. One year later he was dead at the age of 30.
Arthur Lawrence Raymond was born in Chicago on February 24, 1882. His nickname was short for “bughouse,” another word for insane asylum. Raymond worked as a pressman before beginning his professional baseball career in 1903 with an independent team from Appleton, Wisconsin. The next year he made his debut in Organized Baseball with Waterloo, Iowa, of the Iowa State League, winning nine straight games and compiling a 19-7 record. Ed Barrow, then managing the Detroit Tigers, signed Raymond that fall and pitched him in five games. After the season, which Bugs finished with a 0-1 record, the Tigers sold his contract to the Atlanta Crackers of the Sally League. Barrow reportedly discarded him when he heard rumors that the pitcher had a drinking problem.
Peeved at his demotion, Raymond reported late to Atlanta in 1905 and did little but gain notoriety for his clowning, sometimes walking to and from the pitcher’s mound on his hands. He started well for the Crackers in 1906 but his manager suspended him after accusing him, despite little evidence, of throwing a game. Savannah manager Wilson Mathews signed the out-of-condition Raymond, who promised his new team a pennant. Bugs made good on his promise, contributing 18 victories to Savannah’s championship season, but ended the season penniless. He spent the winter working as a bartender in Atlanta.
The next spring, while toiling for Jackson, Mississippi, of the Cotton States League, Raymond unveiled his spitball. In an exhibition contest against the New York Highlanders he struck out Willie Keeler three times. New York manager Clark Griffith wanted to sign Raymond on the spot, but the deal fell through and Bugs ended up re-joining Wilson Mathews in Charleston later in 1907. He appeared in 51 games, pitching a no-hitter and compiling a 35-11 record in another championship season, but his erratic behavior continued. On one occasion a comatose Bugs was seen being chauffeured by Mathews in a wheelbarrow. Nonetheless, the St. Louis Cardinals purchased his contract and he appeared in eight games at the end of 1907, finishing with six complete games and a 2-4 record.
In his first 1908 appearance Raymond pitched a one-hitter against the Chicago Cubs, the reigning World’s Champions. By then he had mastered another new pitch, an underhand slow ball. Plagued by control problems and bad luck–St. Louis was shut out 11 times in games he started–Raymond lost a league-high 25 games for the last-place Cardinals, but he also threw five shutouts and finished second in the NL in fewest hits per nine innings (6.55), third in appearances (48), and fourth in strikeouts (145). Though manager John McCloskey insisted that his ace stay sober only on days he was scheduled to pitch, Raymond didn’t always oblige. On one occasion he telephoned McCloskey to inform him that he couldn’t make his start that day due to a toothache. Bugs was obviously drunk when he eventually showed up, but he still defeated the Cubs without even warming up.
McGraw acquired Raymond after the 1908 season as part of the three-way trade with St. Louis and Cincinnati that sent catcher Roger Bresnahan to the Cardinals. Confident of his ability to manage strong personalities–he had already tamed rowdy outfielder Mike Donlin–the legendary Giants manager believed he could reform Raymond. Although Bugs arrived penniless at the Giants’ 1909 spring-training camp in Marlin, Texas, McGraw gave him pocket money only and forbade him from purchasing alcohol. Instead, the Giants paid Raymond’s salary and fines directly to his wife, who was obligated by contract not to send money to her husband. (“If she gets paid, let her pitch,” Bugs quipped.)
Even though Raymond enjoyed his best season in 1909, stories abound from his first season in New York. In one famous incident, a waiter in a New York tavern asked Bugs how he threw his spitter. Eager to oblige, Raymond stood up and gripped a glass tumbler. “I wet these two fingers like so,” he reportedly said. Then, after winding up, he threw the glass through the window. “Notice the break,” he said as he sat down. Six weeks before the season ended, Raymond quit the Giants to tend bar on Upper Eighth Avenue, hanging his uniform in the window to advertise his presence. Though he missed out on a chance to become a 20-game winner, he still won 18 and finished with a 2.47 ERA.
Raymond’s career went into rapid decline beginning in 1910. At spring training McGraw insisted on buying Bugs a suit of clothes, rather than trusting him to do it himself. Raymond returned the suit in exchange for a cheaper model and spent the seven dollars he saved on alcohol. McGraw next cut off all funds to Bugs and forbade the other Giants from lending him money. In response, as the team barnstormed north, Raymond wrote out free passes to Giants exhibition games and gave them to bartenders in exchange for drinks. By the time the Giants reached New York, the Giants manager was denying Bugs unopened packs of cigarettes because the alcoholic pitcher was re-selling them for money to buy booze. McGraw also hired former New York City policeman Dick Fuller to keep track of Raymond. Their relationship began well but ended in a street chase and fistfight between the two men on a hot day in St. Louis, with Fuller giving Bugs a black eye. Raymond went to the ballpark to complain to McGraw, who promptly punched him in the other eye. Fuller quit in disgust and Bugs finished the season with a 4-9 record.
Before the 1911 season the Giants arranged for Raymond to receive treatment for his alcoholism at the Keeley Institute in Dwight, Illinois, but Bugs was expelled from the program for excessive horseplay. For a while his behavior and physical appearance improved, despite two lapses during spring training that McGraw tried to hide from the press. By midseason, however, Bugs was off the wagon again and McGraw kicked him off the team. The final straw came in a game against the Pirates. Bugs was sent to the bullpen to warm up in the fifth inning. When McGraw needed him two innings later, he had disappeared, turning up later at a local saloon. Raymond finished the season pitching semipro ball in Chicago.
Bugs Raymond started the 1912 season with the ill-fated United States League, an outlaw predecessor of the Federal League, but by that point he had little left. In one game he hit four men with pitches in less than two innings before getting the hook. None of the batsmen were seriously hurt, a scribe noted, because Bugs could no longer throw the ball hard enough to injure them. When the league collapsed within two months, Raymond received his reinstatement from the National Commission and applied to McGraw for his old job. Mugsy wired back a terse rejection: “I have enough troubles.”
Discarded by the Giants, separated from his wife, and with his five-year-old daughter recently dead from influenza, Bugs drifted back to Chicago where he played semipro baseball and again worked as a pressman. At midday on Saturday, September 7, 1912, a maid entered Raymond’s shabby room in the Hotel Veley and found him dead in his bed. A coroner’s physician found that he had died from a cerebral hemorrhage due to a fractured scull. The police arrested a man, Fred Cigranz, who admitted to beating up Bugs several days earlier during a game at the sandlot field at Lawrence and Elston avenues, where Bugs had played baseball as a youth. Raymond also had been in a brawl three weeks earlier and had been hit several times in the head with a baseball bat. When he received word of Raymond’s passing, McGraw said “that man took seven years off my life.”
Note: A slightly different version of this biography appeared in Tom Simon, ed., Deadball Stars of the National League (Washington, D.C.: Brassey’s, Inc., 2004).
For this biography, the author used a number of contemporary sources, especially those found in the subject’s file at the National Baseball Hall of Fame Library.