This article was written by Bill Nowlin
An Irish cop from Boston – but that’s not really the full story. James Joseph Galvin was born in Somerville, Massachusetts, on August 11, 1907, to James J. and Hannah Walsh Galvin and grew up in the area, attending Somerville public schools all the way through high school. His father was a conductor on the elevated railway, who became a letter carrier for the post office by the time Jim was in his early teens. The Galvins had roots in Ireland, and Hannah Walsh was born there. James and Hannah raised nine children; Jim was the second.
He grew to 5-feet-11, a sturdy playing weight ranging between 180 and 198 pounds by the time he reached the major leagues. Like many boys of his generation – possibly most of them – that was something they dreamed of, at least for a while. In Galvin’s case, it became a reality – albeit briefly.
Jim’s first stop in professional baseball was with the Eastern League’s Providence Grays in 1929, but he appeared in only 17 games. He collected three hits in 29 at-bats (.103). What was there that made the Boston Red Sox sit up and take notice? One of the hits was a home run hit on August 1 against visiting Pittsfield, and another was a double. Galvin was a catcher, though, and as such not expected to produce quite the offense in those days that would be looked for later in the 20th century. Nonetheless, the question must be asked, particularly since it wasn’t until the last two games of the 1930 season – more than a full year later – that he next saw action in organized ball.
And then his playing career lasted maybe 26 hours.
Carl Fischer, a rookie southpaw, was pitching for the visiting Washington Senators on September 27. The right-handed Galvin pinch-hit for pitcher Ed “Bull” Durham in the eighth inning. He was retired, and the Senators won, 8-3, running their record against the Red Sox to 17-5 for the season as Fischer (though it was his eighth appearance) collected his first major-league win in what became a career that saw him through the first half of the 1937 campaign. It was the final game of the year for the Senators.
The Red Sox and New York Yankees had a game to make up, and New York came to town the very next day – the 28th – for the final game of both teams’ 1930 season. Galvin pinch-hit again, for relief pitcher Jack Russell in the bottom of the ninth. He failed to get a hit this time, too, and never did end up putting on a glove in a big-league game. The pitcher who retired Galvin in the game against New York was none other than Babe Ruth, who threw a complete-game 9-3 victory. It was the first game Ruth had pitched since 1921, and he “dealt speed and curves in a manner which utterly bewildered the Red Sox until the arm grew tired in the eighth.” Hod Lisenbee threw the first four innings for the Red Sox and Russell the final five. Ruth was not much on offense – he hit two singles – but the hits that were initially thought to have mattered most might have been during the 3-for-5 day that Lou Gehrig put up, edging him into the American League batting title, a point above Al Simmons. When the official figures were compiled, though, it was Simmons over Gehrig. Lou did collect his league-leading 174th run batted in.
In 1931 Galvin split his time between the Eastern League’s Class A Richmond Byrds (where he hit .272 in 47 games) and the lower-classification Fairmont Black Diamonds in the Class C Middle Atlantic League (in 17 games he hit .196). He started the 1932 season with the Wilmington (North Carolina) Pirates in the Piedmont League, still under some kind of arrangement with the Red Sox, while later in the season he was with the Harrisburg Senators in the New York-Pennsylvania League, affiliated with Boston’s National League Braves. He hit .350 for Wilmington in 63 games but only .216 in 37 at-bats for Harrisburg. In 1933, he hit an even .300 for the Richmond Colts, Richmond now being a Piedmont League franchise. Wilmington and Harrisburg had been Class B teams, too.
In line with the fluid nature of working agreements in that era, Richmond had some sort of deal with the Baltimore Orioles of the International League but a Sporting News article in December 1933 reported that “the gentleman’s agreement between the Birds [the Orioles] and the Colts anent Charlie (Croaker) Wade, outfielder, and Jim Galvin, catcher, has been abrogated and both will return [to Richmond] next season.”
Indeed, both did – and Wade even became manager partway into the season. Galvin remained a model of consistency, following up his .300 season in ’33 with a .302 average in 1934 and a .297 mark in 1935. He hit 15 home runs in each one of the three seasons, his career high. On June 19, 1934, Galvin married Veronica F. Doherty.
Galvin had four more years of baseball in him, playing in 1936 and 1937 for the Atlanta Crackers (.264 and .301). In 1938 he started the year on the spring-training roster of the Little Rock Travelers, but was a holdout and was sold on March 29 to the Minneapolis Millers (putting him back in the Red Sox system). He spent the year with three teams – the Millers (American Association), the Ogdensburg Colts (Canadian-American League), and the Chattanooga Lookouts Southern Association), hitting a combined .272. His last year in professional ball was 1939, when he finished up with Chattanooga with an anemic .224 average and very little power – a slugging average of .299.
After baseball Galvin became a police officer, but he went further than just being a cop on a beat. He attended Woodrow Wilson College of Law in Atlanta, receiving a law degree, according to the player questionnaire he completed for the National Baseball Hall of Fame. After he died in Marietta, Georgia, his widow, Veronica, completed a questionnaire as well. She put down that he had graduated from the FBI Police Academy. It’s possible that he did both. At one point he served as assistant manager of the Burns International Detective Agency in charge of uniform guards, perhaps at a branch located in Georgia.
Galvin was a retired police detective from the Atlanta Police Department at the time of his death at the age of 62 on September 30, 1969. There is a difference indicated as to the cause of death. The State of Georgia Certificate of Death indicates a form of cirrhosis as the cause of death, a disease he’d suffered with for 22 months from onset to death. Veronica Galvin put down the cause of death as “heart,” so it was perhaps a form of cardiac cirrhosis rather than that of the liver. The couple had been living in nearby Decatur for about one year before his death, and that is where he is buried.
In addition to the sources noted in this biography, the author also accessed Galvin’s very slim player file from the National Baseball Hall of Fame, Retrosheet.org, and Baseball-Reference.com.