He lost more games than he won. He had trouble getting the ball over the plate, leading the National League in wild pitches five times and in bases on balls four years in a row. He was a minor figure in the most reviled trade in baseball history. Yet Jimmy Ring has been compared to Hall of Fame pitcher Steve Carlton.
James Joseph Ring was born in Brooklyn on February 15, 1895, the son of Mary and John H. Ring, a longshoreman. Born in Ireland in 1866, Jimmy’s mother, Mary J. McDermott, came to the United States in 1872, became a naturalized citizen, married Albert B. Major in 1884, and bore him five children, three of whom died in early childhood. She divorced Major in 1891 and married John Ring in 1892. Jimmy grew up in Brooklyn with his mother, father, and two stepbrothers, Albert and Henry Major.
After completing eight years of elementary school, Jimmy discontinued his formal education. As a teenager he started playing semiprofessional baseball in Brooklyn. The Sporting News reported that in 1914 he “was given a trial by the Dodgers, but was released to Albany and then was sent to Lowell…. The Yankees acquired the young right-hander, but sent him back to the minors…. When he posted a 26-15 record at Utica in 1916, the Reds brought him up.”1
Baseball records show that Ring was with the Lowell Grays of the Class B New England League in 1914; the Jersey City Skeeters of the Class AA International League in 1915; and the Utica Utes of the Class B New York State League and the Louisville Colonels of the International League in 1916. He was obtained by Cincinnati in the Rule Five draft on November 15, 1916.
In 1915 Ring married Elizabeth, the 18-year-old daughter of Italian immigrants. They had three sons: James, born in 1916; John, born in 1918; and William, born in 1920. At a time when few Americans were taller than six feet, Ring stood out at 6-foot-1, 170. Sportswriter Tom Meany described him as “a giant of a pitcher with a lot of heart and little hair.”2 The New York Times said he was “a quiet, conservative man.”3 Suffice it to say he was not one of the game’s more colorful characters, but he was involved with some who were colorful, to say the least.
At the age of 22, Ring made his major league debut for the Cincinnati Reds at Redland Field on April 13, 1917. He pitched the ninth inning of a 3-2 loss to the St. Louis Cardinals, giving up two hits, but no runs, and striking out one. He won three games while losing seven for the Reds that summer. After one of his losses, his teammate Hal Chase gave Ring $25. Chase had long been suspected of occasionally betting against his own team. Naturally, the incident raised suspicions, but Chase explained that the money was just a gift. Apparently, Chase was charming and charismatic as well as crooked, and people tended to believe that it was just a generous gesture on the part of the veteran to the rookie. No formal investigation was held at the time, and the event did not besmirch Ring’s reputation.
However, in 1918 Cincinnati manager Christy Mathewson suspended Chase for attempting to fix games. Chase filed a civil suit demanding pay for the salary he lost due to the suspension. On January 30, 1919, a closed hearing was held in the New York office of National League president John Heydler to investigate the charges against Chase. By this time Mathewson was serving with the United States Army in France and was unable to attend the hearing. Chase brought three lawyers, a clerk, and a stenographer to the session. The Cincinnati club sent no one. An attorney from New York represented the league and cross-examined the witnesses, who were probably Mike Regan, Greasy Neale, and Jimmy Ring. As the hearing was secret, no record of what Ring said is available. As writer Robert Smith put it: “What actually went on at the meeting, no one alive can tell.”4 The charges against Chase were dropped, and he was soon traded to the New York Giants for catcher Bill Rariden.
A different version of Chase’s gift to Ring was presented years later by Dan Gutman in the book Baseball Babylon. According to Gutman, Chase told the pitcher, “I’ve got some money bet on this game, kid. There’s something in it for you if you lose.”5 Ring ignored the offer, but he wound up losing the game anyway. Gutman wrote that Ring reported the matter to Mathewson, which is the reason the manager suspended Chase, leading to Chase’s suit.
Gutman’s account may well be accurate, but as he is known chiefly as a writer of children’s fiction, some readers might think he invented the quote. He explained, “I didn’t make this stuff up. I wasn’t there when it happened, and it didn’t come from personal interviews….The information was gathered by combing new and old newspaper articles, magazines, and books.”6
Ring was unable to stick with the big league club and spent 1917 and 1918 shuffling back and forth between Cincinnati, Buffalo (the International League Bisons in 1917), and Chattanooga (the Southern Association Lookouts in 1918.) By 1919 he was back in the majors for an eleven-year run.
In 1919 Ring had his first full season in the major leagues, and it couldn’t have come at a better time. Ring was one of six Cincinnati pitchers to win ten or more games in 1919, as the Reds won their first-ever National League pennant and their first-ever World Series title. The championship crown was tarnished by evidence that some members of the Chicago White Sox had conspired with gamblers to throw the Series. But as far as the Reds were concerned, they won the title, fair and square. To a man, they believed they would have won, fix or no fix.7
A great deal has been written about the 1919 World Series, much of it inaccurate. Some have said Chicago had been a heavy favorite.8 Some have called the Reds’ win an “upset.”9 Others have recognized the reality that the White Sox were not favored, but assert they should have been. Sportswriter Lee Allen wrote, “By any logical analysis the White Sox should have been the favorites.”10 Tom Meany agreed: “The odds favored the Reds when they should have favored Chicago.”11 These assertions were based on American League clubs having won the World Series four times in a row, including the 1917 triumph of the Chicago White Sox over the New York Giants. Overlooked in this analysis were two important facts: the 1919 Reds, with a .686 winning percentage in the regular season, were a much stronger team than the Giants, whose winning percentage in 1917 was .636; and the 1919 White Sox were not at full strength. Red Faber, who had won three games for the Sox in the 1917 Fall Classic, was ill and unavailable for the 1919 Series. Hall of Fame catcher Ray Schalk said that if Faber had been able to pitch in the 1919 World Series there would have been no Black Sox scandal.12 Author James Farrell wrote that it has often been said that if Faber had been in good health he might have won the Series for the Sox.13
Faber was not in good health, and the Sox lost two of the first three games.
With the Reds leading the Series two games to one, manager Pat Moran selected Ring to start Game Four against Eddie Cicotte, the White Sox ace. Both pitchers hurled scoreless ball for four innings. In the fifth frame, Cicotte committed two errors, leading to two runs. With one out, Pat Duncan grounded to the mound, Cicotte’s throw to first base was wild and Duncan reached second on the error. Larry Kopf hit a single to left, sending Duncan to third. When left fielder Joe Jackson threw toward the plate, Cicotte ran over and deflected the ball out of the catcher’s reach, with Duncan scoring and Kopf reaching second. Greasy Neale then doubled to left, plating Kopf with the second run of the inning. Cicotte’s errors, perhaps made intentionally, cost him the game. Ring continued to pitch brilliantly, holding the Sox to three hitsto win the game, 2-0.
The Reds won Game Five to take a four games to one lead in the Series.
In Game Six Ring relieved Dutch Ruether and gave up the winning runs, as the Reds lost in ten innings, 5-4. They also lost Game Seven, but won Game Eight to take the Series 5 games to 3. A year later eight members of the White Sox were banned from baseball for life by Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis for allegedly throwing the Series.
In 1920 Ring had his best year as a Red, winning 17 games. However, it was not enough to bring the Reds another pennant. On November 22, 1920, the Reds traded Ring and outfielder Greasy Neale to the Philadelphia Phillies for pitcher Eppa Rixey. In Philadelphia Ring may have been the best pitcher on the league’s worst team. In his five seasons with the Phillies, the club finished sixth once, seventh twice, and eighth twice. Ring had a losing record in four of the five years, but his winning percentage was better than the club’s every year. His losses were mainly due to the ineptness of his supporting cast, but his inability to get the ball over the plate was a contributing factor. In four of his first five seasons with the Phils, Ring led the league in bases on balls. Likewise, he led the circuit in wild pitches four of the five years.
In one season – 1923 – Ring overcame all adversity to post a winning record. He won 18 and lost 16 for the last place Phillies, a club that won only 50 games while losing 104. That performance led blogger Ian Riccaboni to call Ring a “poor man’s Steve Carlton.”14 (Carlton went 27-10 for a last-place Phillies club in 1972.)
After five years in Philadelphia, Ring was thrilled to escape the dungeon. On December 30, 1925, he was traded to the New York Giants for pitchers Jack Bentley and Wayland Dean. One reason the Giants wanted him was that he was particularly effective against the Pittsburgh Pirates, the Giants’ chief rival for National League supremacy in the early years of the Twentieth Century. “He had only to walk to the pitcher’s box, assume a haughty pose, and just by his mere presence make the Pirates quake in their shoes.”15
As it turned out, Ring had only one year to make the Pirates quake. On December 12, 1926, he was a minor figure in a blockbuster trade – Rogers Hornsby from the St. Louis Cardinals for Jimmy Ring and Frankie Frisch.
The Cardinals traded away the manager of their first World Series champions, who had hit over .400 in three of the last five seasons. The baseball world was stunned. Why had the Cardinals committed this seeming folly?
Sam Breadon, principal owner of the Cardinals, wanted to rid himself of a man who, talented as though he undoubtedly was, was rude, insulting, and unpleasant to deal with. Breadon told Hornsby that he must never again bet on horse races, go to the tracks, or associate with horseracing people. Hornsby replied that his betting on horses was “nobody’s damn business” and Breadon could take his ball club and “perform an utterly impossible act.”16
St. Louis was not just stunned. It was wild with rage and indignation, wrote baseball historian Fred Lieb. Breadon’s name was anathema in the Mound City. Boiling him in oil would have been light punishment. Fan groups had indignation meetings and threatened to boycott the club; bitter fans hung crepe on the doors of his private residence and his automobile business. He had to disconnect his telephone to protect his ears from vitriolic abuse.17
The trade was all about Frisch and Hornsby. Few people noticed that Ring was involved. He did little to attract their attention during the 1927 season. In 13 games he had no wins and 4 losses. On December 13, he was packaged with catcher Johnny Schulte and shipped to Philadelphia in exchange for outfielder Johnny Mokan, shortstop Jimmy Cooney, and catcher Bubba Jonnard.
This version of the Phillies was even more woefully weak than the editions of the early 1920s. The 1928 Phillies lost 109 games, the most losses in a season by any National League club between 1899 and 1935. Ring suffered his share of the defeats, losing 17 games while winning only four. In his final major-league game he entered the game in the eighth inning as a relief pitcher against the Chicago Cubs at Baker Bowl. He faced five batters and retired only one of them, giving up two hits, two bases on balls, and four runs in his one-third of an inning, as the futile Phillies went down to their 107th defeat of the year, 8-3.
His major-league career over at the age of 33, Ring returned to the minors for his last hurrah. In 1929 he appeared in a few games for the Toledo Mud Hens of the Class AA American Association and the Newark Bears of the Class AA International League. He failed to win a game for either club, going 0-2 for the Mud Hens and losing his only decision with the Bears.
Ring did not give up baseball easily. On April 8, 1930, he reported to a census taker that his occupation was ball player. At the time he was living in Queens with Elizabeth, their three sons, and his widowed mother. In 1940 he reported that he was a clerk in the office of the Queens County Clerk and drawing a salary of $1,600 per year. He retained that position for several years.
James Joseph Ring died of a heart attack at his summer home on Breezy Point, Queens, on July 6, 1965, at the age of 70. He was buried in St. John Cemetery in Middle Village, a neighborhood in central Queens, not far from the Maspeth area where he had lived in retirement.
In addition to the sources cited in the endnotes, the author found valuable information on ancestry.com.
1 # The Sporting News, July 17, 1965.
2 Tom Meany, Baseball’s Greatest Teams. New York: A. S. Barnes, 1949, 156.
3 New York Times, July 7, 1965,
4 Robert Smith, Baseball in the Afternoon. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1993, 166.
5 Dan Gutman, Baseball Babylon, New York: Penguin Books, 1992, 183.
6 Ibid., 360.
7 Meany, op. cit., 162
8 John Thorn, et. al., eds. Total Baseball,8th ed, Wilmington, DE: Sports Media, 2004, 96.
9 Mike Shatzkin, The Ballplayers, New York: Arbor House, 1990, 186.
10 Lee Allen, The Cincinnati Reds, New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1948, 141.
11 Meany, op. cit., 158.
12 Washington Post, February 5, 1964.
13 James T. Farrell, My Baseball Diary: A Famed American Author Recalls the Wonderful World of Baseball, Yesterday and Today. New York; Barnes, 1957, 201.
15 New York Times, July 7, 1965.
16 Fred Stein, And the Skipper Bats Cleanup, Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2002, 173.
17 Frederick G. Lieb, The St. Louis Cardinals, New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1947, 127-28..