This article was written by Bill Nowlin
Joe Mulligan began to make headlines in the Boston area while pitching for Holy Cross College in Worcester, Massachusetts. Throwing a six-hit shutout against Providence College on June 10, 1933, while striking out 11 and not walking a batter earned some attention. So did being driven off the mound when Boston College scored seven times in the second inning of a game ten days later. But he was the ace of the staff, and his obituary in the Worcester Evening Gazette proclaimed him “one of the best pitchers in the school’s history.”i
Mulligan’s father, John Edward “Eddie” Mulligan, was assistant superintendent of a plant operated by Boston Edison in Quincy, Massachusetts, in 1920. Boston Edison was the supplier of electricity to the Boston area; Mulligan became the superintendent a decade later. John and his wife, Emily, were both Massachusetts natives; Emily’s parents had come from England, and John’s were Bay Staters. They had four children – Joseph Ignatius, Robert, Edith, and John. “Big Joe,” as he was sometimes called, grew to 6-feet-4, with a playing weight of 190-210 pounds.ii He was indeed big for the era. He was born on July 31, 1913, in Weymouth, Massachusetts, and had a Roman Catholic education – Sacred Heart school for eight years, then St. John’s Prep in Danvers, Massachusetts, for high school, and four years at Holy Cross in Worcester. He’d graduated high school in June 1929 and thus was applying to college shortly before he turned 16 years of age. Holy Cross agreed to admit him in the fall of 1930, and Joe’s father was able to arrange a special fifth-year course at St. John’s Prep for him.iii
Mulligan’s aforementioned obituary said, “As a 19-year-old junior, he opened the baseball season for Holy Cross with a 6-0 win over Brown University that included 16 strikeouts.” He won seven games that year, “defeating Boston College, Yale, and Harvard in an eight-day span.”iv
Connie Mack of the Philadelphia Athletics attempted to sign Joe, but Eddie Mulligan – who was said to have been a professional ballplayer in his time – “insisted that his son complete his education.”v
In his senior year, 1934, Joe was fortunate to have escaped more serious injury when he slammed a car door on his pitching hand on March 31. The Boston Globe story reporting the injury said Mulligan was left-handed.vi He was, in fact, right-handed, and he had suffered a fracture in the bone of his right thumb near the joint.vii He was out for the season and Holy Cross coach Jack Barry had to scramble to find someone to try to replace him.
Mulligan got in some work for the Crusaders, however, and on June 4 he held the visiting Brooklyn Dodgers scoreless for four innings in an exhibition game.
A couple of weeks later, on June 19, just after Joe had graduated from college a month before he turned 21, Boston Red Sox business manager Eddie Collins announced that he had signed Mulligan as well as Don “Red” Kellett of the University of Pennsylvania, to report on the 21st.viii The legal age of contract was 21 at the time, and Joe’s father signed the contract on his behalf. Jack Barry, who had played for the Red Sox himself between 1915 and 1919 and managed the team in 1917, came to Fenway Park the day Mulligan reported.
Mulligan’s debut came against the Athletics on June 28 in Philadelphia. Starter Johnny Welch was driven from the game early and Mulligan came on in relief in the third inning. He gave up one hit in 1? innings, then gave way to Herb Pennock.
Joe won the first game he started, a win made easier by the Red Sox scoring nine runs in the top of the first against the Chicago White Sox. After six innings, the score was 13-0. Finally, Mulligan gave up a run in the seventh and a pair in the eighth, but he pitched a complete-game 16-3 victory. The Globe wrote that the “hapless Chicagoans were showing due deference to the youthful Mr. Mulligan.” He was touched for 13 hits, all singles. Irving Vaughan of the Chicago Tribune characterized him as “an ungainly sapling only a few weeks out of Holy Cross.”ix The Sporting News declared, “Mulligan already looks like one of the Red Sox’ finds of the year.x
It was the only win Mulligan ever earned in the major leagues. In fact, it was the only decision he ever recorded. He started one other game, four days later, but lasted just 2? innings, giving up four runs. The ultimate loss was assigned to Johnny Welch, who gave up a tie-breaking run in the bottom of the ninth in Cleveland.
Mulligan appeared in 14 games for manager Bucky Harris, his last relief stint coming on September 30. His record for the year was 1-0, with a 3.63 earned-run average in 44? innings of work. He struck out 13, but walked 27.
As a batter, strikeouts were plentiful. In 12 at-bats, Mulligan struck out ten times. He never did get a base hit, thus batting .000. Here was a man with a 1.000 winning percentage as a pitcher, a .000 batting average at the plate, and a 1.000 fielding average in the 12 chances he handled.
When the Red Sox party left Boston in late February of 1935 for spring training in Sarasota, Florida. Joe Mulligan was the only player from the Boston area. He joined traveling secretary Phil Troy and coach Tom Daly in leaving the Hub for the Southland.
Joe Cronin was the new manager of the Red Sox in 1935. Mulligan saw the full spring training with the team, even coming back to Boston, where he pitched an exhibition game against the Boston College Eagles on April 15 at Fenway Park. He struck out 14, starting with the first five batters he faced. He won the two-hitter, 9-0, though in fairness it should be noted that it was the first outdoor game that BC had played in 1935. Mulligan was no better at the plate against college pitching than he had been in the big leagues in 1934; he was 0-for-4, though perhaps he got a little more wood on the ball. The game accounts lack that detail.
Mulligan was to have pitched against alma mater Holy Cross in an April 22 exhibition game but it was called off because of heavy rain. The next day the Red Sox released Mulligan on option to the Syracuse Chiefs of the International League.
Having completed his career in the major leagues (though he did not know that yet), this was Mulligan’s first foray into minor-league baseball. He was 8-8 for Syracuse with a 3.59 ERA.
There was some thought that the Red Sox would send Mulligan to Memphis in 1936, and at the end of January he was released to the club there. Mulligan later said that he understood Memphis had claimed him after the Red Sox had purchased pitcher Jim Henry. He was later optioned to Little Rock and then to Wilkes-Barre. He actually signed with the Boston Braves before 1936 was out, but pitched only in exhibition games.xi
Mulligan was sold by the Braves to the International League’s Toronto Maple Leafs and played there for three seasons, 1937-39. He recorded a combined 21-28, but with good ERAs. The Braves had first tried to send him to San Diego in partial payment for Vince DiMaggio, but he had declined to go. When Toronto sold Mulligan’s contract to Oakland, however, he accepted the deal and played in the Pacific Coast League in 1940 and 1941, going 10-12 with rising earned-run averages.
Mulligan had married Louise O’Callaghan in October 1938 and the couple had two children. After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, with his career on a downward trend; it not looking as though he’d get back to the big leagues; and his wife and children “unhappy about traveling,” he decided to retire.xii
Looking back on his 1934 season with Boston, Mulligan held that he should have a record of 2-0, because of his pitching in the first game of a doubleheader against the Browns in St. Louis on July 15. Mulligan relieved in both games. In the first game he closed out the fourth inning and pitched the fifth. The score after five innings was St. Louis 6, Boston 3, but the Red Sox scored five runs in the top of the sixth when Mulligan was still the pitcher of record. Red Sox reliever Fritz Ostermueller, who lived in the St. Louis area, came in to pitch in the bottom of the sixth, and the official scorer at Sportsman’s Park awarded the win to Ostermueller. Mulligan acknowledged that he failed to protest that scoring.xiii (Mulligan threw two hitless innings in the second game, a Red Sox loss.)
After retiring, Mulligan began “selling refrigerators” for Westinghouse.xiv He later became an area sales manager for White-Westinghouse, living in the West Roxbury section of Boston. He was elected to the Holy Cross Hall of Fame in 1976. Even his brief time with the Red Sox paid dividends years later, baseball offering the bonds it does in New England. Mulligan’s nephew John E. Mulligan, currently Washington bureau chief for the Providence Journal, tells of a story earlier in his own career. “A few months before Uncle Joe died in 1986, I was in dire need of an interview with the speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, who had no particular need to sit down with the Providence Journal. I appealed on the only grounds that would work with an old fan from North Cambridge: Red Sox fidelity.
“Joe Mulligan’s your uncle?” said Thomas P. ‘Tip’ O’Neill Jr. “C’mon into the office. . . . I’ll give you some time.”xv
John Mulligan quoted political commentator Mark Shields talking about having grown up in the same “ancestral hometown” as Joe Mulligan. Shields wasn’t even born until Uncle Joe was winding down his career in the farm leagues. But for years, he recalled, the kids in Weymouth, Massachusetts, would thrill to any sighting of the ex-pitcher during his Sunday visits home. “It was all in hushed tones, with a sense of awe, like the monsignor was approaching: ‘Joe Mulligan! That’s Joe Mulligan, you know. He played for the Red Sox.’ ”
Ballplayers were gods in those days before television and multimillion-dollar contracts, but they weren’t rock stars yet. “They were outsized but they were our size, too. They still walked among us. They had to work real jobs in the wintertime,” said Shields.
“So to have a Joe Mulligan in our midst – the idea that he was one of us – well, that made all of us better!”xvi
Mulligan died of cancer at his home on June 5, 1986, leaving his wife, three sons, and two daughters.
In addition to the sources noted in this biography, the author also accessed Mulligan’s slim player file from the National Baseball Hall of Fame, the Encyclopedia of Minor League Baseball, Retrosheet.org, and Baseball-Reference.com. Thanks to Len Levin and John E. Mulligan.
i Worcester Evening Gazette, June 7, 1986.
ii On Mulligan’s player questionnaire at the National Baseball Hall of Fame, he said he was 6-feet-5 and 190 pounds. His son Gerry confirmed that he was at least that height and possibly a little taller, in an e-mail to Len Levin on July 23, 2012.
iii Gerry Mulligan e-mail to Len Levin, July 23, 2012.
iv Worcester Evening Gazette, June 7, 1986.
v Ibid. The Boston Globe on June 20, 1934, said that Joe’s father, Eddie, had played baseball with Dan Howley, who played for a number of teams, mainly Indianapolis and Montreal, between 1906 ad 1920, and managed the St. Louis Browns and Cincinnati Reds between 1927 and 1932.
vi Boston Globe, April 3, 1934.
vii Boston Globe, April 4, 1934.
viii Boston Globe, June 20, 1934.
ix Chicago Tribune, July 19, 1934.
x The Sporting News, July 26, 1934.
xi This per notes Mulligan sent to a researcher at the Hall of Fame on March 17, 1979.
xiv E-mail from nephew John E. Mulligan to Len Levin, July 14, 2012.
xv Providence Journal, October 29, 2004.