Born on Christmas: Three Baseball Hall of Famers

by Joe Guzzardi
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Of the 42 Major League baseball players born on December 25th, three are enshrined in Cooperstown’s Hall of Fame.

First on the list is fan-favorite Chicago White Sox’ second baseman and defensive specialist Nellie Fox, who played in every game from 1953 to 1959. Because of his excellent bat control, Fox, with his ever-present tobacco chaw bulging out of his cheek, struck out only 216 times in 10,351 plate appearances.

Second comes 25-year career stolen base and runs scored leader Rickey Henderson, who from 1979 to 2003 played for nine teams, most notably the Oakland Athletics.

The third Christmas baby has the most eye-popping statistics but is nearly forgotten: pitcher James Francis Galvin, who broke in with the 1875 St. Louis Brown Stockings but spent most of his career with the National Association Buffalo Bisons and the Pittsburgh Alleghenys, later renamed the Pirates.

In his 15 years as an early Dead Ball era superstar, Galvin’s accomplishments defy chronicling. In his Society for American Baseball Research essay titled “Pud Galvin,” Charles Hausberg cited a Pittsburgh Gazette reporter who wrote that to completely detail Galvin’s life and career “would be a task of time and would … require a volume in size almost equal to the dictionary.”

Galvin was baseball’s first 300 game winner, but also its first 300 game loser. A quick glance at his pitching statistics explains why “Gentle Jeems,” as Galvin was also known, had so many highs and lows. In single seasons, Galvin notched seven 20 game or more wins; he also racked up 46 wins twice, and 30 games once. On the flip side, Galvin lost 20 or more nine times, and 35 games once. To reach those highs and lows, Galvin pitched 6,003 innings, and completed 646 of his 688 starts. Galvin also tossed professional baseball’s first perfect game.

Buffalo cranks, as fans were called in the late 19th century, loved the pitching ace and slick-fielding, 5-feet-8, 190-pound Pud. Galvin's 1883 and 1884 seasons when he won 46 games in each year showed why the fans admired him. But by 1885 Galvin, injured and overworked, lost his magical mound touch. Buffalo’s front office sold Galvin to the Allenghenys, and sent him off with a brutal farewell: “We couldn’t lose any more games if a pitcher were taken from the grand stand.” Galvin then entered into a period of ineffectiveness that, by 1892, ended his career.

After his retirement, a Sporting Life reader summarized Galvin’s monumental career in a letter to the editor. The crank wrote that, by his calculation, Galvin pitched in front of 800,000 fans, traveled 112,000 miles or about four and a half times the earth’s circumference, threw 100,000 pitches that traveled, once struck, 6,000 miles.

More than a century after his death, Galvin was suddenly back in baseball’s news. Researching his 2007 book “The Dark Side of the Diamond: Gambling, Violence, Drugs and Alcoholism in the National Pastime,” Roger I. Abrams discovered that Galvin was baseball’s first performance-enhancing drug user. Abrams found an 1889 Washington Post story which reported that a Pittsburgh medical college included Galvin as one of its subjects who took the Brown-Sequard elixir that contained monkey testosterone. However, modern day medical scientists, who debunked the elixir’s alleged enhancing qualities in 2002, maintained that Galvin’s one-time use of the unproven concoction shouldn’t taint his otherwise spotless reputation.

Galvin was born poor, and after a series of post-baseball failures the included umpiring, laying pipe, construction and tavern ownership, he died penniless in 1902 at age 45 from chronic gastritis. Forgotten for decades, Galvin entered the Hall of Fame in 1965. Galvin’s plaque emphasizes that his durability and strong constitution in the two-man starter era allowed him to take his regular turn, and pitch deep into the game.

At the Hall of Fame ceremony Walter Galvin, one of Pud’s two living children from among the eleven siblings born to Bridget Griffin and the inductee, spoke to the crowd. Walter, then 78, simply said to the assembled guests, “I thank you for remembering him. You waited a long time to catch up with the old gent.”

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Joe Guzzardi is a Society for American Baseball Research and Internet Baseball Writers Association member. Contact him at [email protected]