A Memorable Year: 1884; A Memorable Player: Jim Galvin

This article was written by Joseph Overfield

This article was published in 1982 Baseball Research Journal

SABR member Gordon H. Fleming has written a highly praised book about the 1908 National League pennant race called THE UNFORGETTABLE SEASON. The book is excellent and the season he wrote about, hinging as it does on the unfortunate Fred Merkle base-running blunder, was certainly unforgettable. In 1884, 24 years earlier, there had been another unforgettable season, this one not noteworthy for the drama of its pennant races but for the individual pitching and batting feats that marked the play.

This was the year of “The Onion,” the Union Association, brainchild of Henry V. Lucas who envisioned a league in which the players would have complete freedom both on and off the field.

The UA, which included the most unlikely city ever to be represented in the major leagues, Altoona, Pa., was fated to last just one season, but in that short life span it managed to disrupt the existing National League and American Association and to dilute the talent, no doubt contributing to some of the startling performances that marked the year.

This was also the year of “The Hoss,” Charles Gardner Radbourn of the Providence Grays who set pitching records which, it can be safely said, will last forever. He started 75 games, completed 73, while winning 60 and losing only 12. His 411 (according to the Sporting News) or 441 (according to Macmillan) strikeouts have never been eclipsed in the National or American Leagues, and were topped only twice in all baseball history — first by Hugh (One Arm) Daily, who fanned 583 that same 1884 season while pitching for three teams in the Union Association, and by Matt Kilroy who struck out 505 (per Sporting News) or 513 (per Macmillan) for Baltimore of the American Association in 1886. Radbourn, whose earned run average that year was an incredible 1.38, then went on to pitch his Grays to three straight wins over the New York Metropolitans of the American Association in the first World Series ever played.

But Radbourn’s awesome 60 was just part of the 1884 story. The year saw seven no-hit games in the three leagues, a total that has never been matched in any other season. In addition, there were four other no-hitters that did not go nine innings. Among other pitching exploits of note were the 18 consecutive games won by the ubiquitous Mr. Radbourn, the 19 strikeouts in one game by Charles Sweeney on June 7 against Boston, just before he jumped the Grays to join St. Louis of the UA; the 19 strikeouts by One Arm Daily (Chicago, UA), just one month later, also against Boston; the 18 strikeouts by Fred Shaw (Boston, UA) on July 19, followed by 16 and 14 whiffs in games played July 19 and July 21. Shaw’s two-game (34) and three game (48) totals are still on the books. And finally, Mickey Welch (New York, NL) struck out the first nine hitters to face him on August 28, 1884, to set a record that stood until April 22, 1970, when Tom Seaver of another New York team fanned the last 10 batters in a game against San Diego.

What the late Lee Allen called the greatest season for pitching the game has ever known, curiously, also saw hitting of record breaking proportions. Fred Dunlap (St. Louis, UA) batted .412 on 185 hits and scored 160 runs, all three figures being records at the time. In the National League the Chicago White Stockings, benefiting from a new “over the fence is a home run” rule in cozy Lake Park, walloped an unheard of 142 fourbaggers. Previously, balls hit over the fence within certain boundaries had been ground rule doubles. Ed Williamson, White Stockings third sacker, hit 27 home runs (25 at home) a major league high that was to stand until 1919 when Babe Ruth hit 29. On May 30 Williamson became the first to hit three home runs in one game, an effort that was matched by his manager, Cap Anson, on August 6, and then duplicated by outfielder John Manning (Philadelphia, NL) on October 9. Another unusual 1884 record, since broken, was set by Dan Brouthers of Buffalo who tripled in four consecutive games, July 23, 24, 25 and 26.

But all of these rare achievements of bat and arm (Radbourn’s 60 wins excepted) perhaps pale when measured against the pitching heroics of Jim Galvin of Buffalo in a series played at Detroit, August 2 to August 8. Disregarding what he did in the Detroit series, it is suggested that Galvin’s 1884 record, were it not overshadowed by Radbourn’s phenomenal 60 wins, would have gone down as one of the great pitching performances in the game’s history. He started 72 games, completed 71, worked 636 innings, struck out 369, walked just 63 (six balls for a walk that season), pitched a league-leading 12 shutouts, pitched a no-hit, no-run game, had an earned run average of 1.99, and won 46 games, while losing 22 and tying four. All of this after missing eight games early in the year with an injury. Also, it was Galvin who stopped Radbourn on September 9, 2-0, after the Hoss had won 18 in a row and his Grays had won 20 straight.

On Saturday, August 2, at Detroit, Galvin faced former teammate George (Stump) Weidman in the first game of a series which, for pure pitching excellence by one man, has not been matched in baseball history. Game one was a victory for the Bisons, as Galvin allowed but one hit, a single by Charley Bennett in the fifth. He struck out seven and walked none.

No Sunday games were played in the National League in those days, but Galvin was in the box again on Monday, this time blanking the Wolverines, 18-0, allowing no hits, striking out nine and again not giving up a walk. It was the second no-hitter of his National League career, his first having been against Worcester on August 20, 1880. Galvin’s no-hitter was hardly a sensation back in Buffalo, judging from the brief account that appeared in the Buffalo Express.

On Saturday Galvin allowed one hit upon the Detroits and two bases were run for the game. Today he was even more penuri- ous. Not a man who went to bat earned a base, and only one reached base and he died there. The batting of Buffalos was of the cleanest possible description.

The games of Tuesday and Wednesday were rained out. Thursday’s game was a third straight shutout for Galvin. This time the score was 9-0, with Detroit able to garner just three hits, two by Ned Hanlon and one by Bennett. Galvin struck out six and again did not issue a pass.

On Friday, August 8, the teams played a morning-afternoon doubleheader. In the A.M. game it was Buffalo 14, Detroit 2, with the Bisons’ other pitcher, Bill Serad in the box. The afternoon game was the most exciting of the series, remaining scoreless until the 12th when Detroit finally broke through against Galvin, scoring an unearned run on an error by outfielder Jim Lillie to defeat the Bisons, 1-0. In this long game Detroit managed to touch Galvin for eight hits, but the stocky Buffalo righthander struck out 16 and again did not issue a walk. The winning pitcher was Frank Meinke.

Following is a statistical summary of Galvin’s super series:

  • Innings pitched 39
  • Strikeouts 36
  • Runs allowed 1
  • Bases on balls 0
  • Earned runs allowed 0
  • Earned run average 0.0
  • Hits allowed 12
  • Detroit average .092

When Galvin died in Pittsburgh, March 7, 1902, at the age of 45, the Pittsburgh Gazette ran a long story on page one, complete with a two-column wide picture of Gentle James, not in pitching position, but with bat in hand, which was strange, to say the least, since he was not known as a hitter (lifetime average — .202). Next to his pitching, he was rated highest for his fielding, and in an article in the 1981 SABR Baseball Research Journal by William E. Akin, he was chosen as the National League pitcher on the all-star fielding team for the 1880-89 era.

Galvin was short (5’8″) and barrel chested. His best playing weight was 190 pounds, but be became much heavier after his playing days were over. Bob Ripley featured him in one of his “Believe It or Not” cartoons as “The first 300-pounder to win 300 games.”

His death came in a rooming house on Lacock St. on the north side of Pittsburgh. His illness had been long and there was no money, not even enough to pay for the funeral. His impecunious state was attributed to the size of his family (there had been 11 children of whom five died before their father), his illness and to failures in business. At one time Jim owned one of the largest bars in Allegheny with nine bartenders serving them up. The business seemed to be thriving and it was a surprise to everyone when it went on the rocks. The story is told, probably apocryphal but with a germ of truth, that soon after Jim went broke all nine of his bartenders opened up places of their own.

When word of the Galvin family’s plight got around, Pittsburghers and baseball people from all over the country rallied around with financial support. Among those contributing was A. G. Spalding who wired $100 to the editor of the Gazette.

When Galvin was belatedly inducted into the Hall of Fame on July 26, 1966, two of his children, Walter of Geneva, Ohio, who died shortly thereafter, and Mrs. Mary (Maria) Wentzel of Amarillo, Texas, were still alive to savor the long overdue recognition of their father. He not only won 361 major league games, but also, in August of 1884, performed a memorable pitching feat in what was a truly memorable season.