Monday, April 25, 2005
April 25th, 1944
Tony Mullane Dies
I've not written much on nineteenth century players here, in part because I don't know too much about and in part because no one knows too much about them. Even when you do know something about them, the differences between the game then and the game now make it something of an occasionally absurd comparison. Tony Mullane's 1886 season, for the Cincinnati Red Stockings of the American Association (they would join the National League in 1890 and still exist today as the Reds) is a pretty good example of this. Mullane threw five hundred twenty-nine innings for his team that year, with a 3.70 ERA.
Both those numbers are wholly deceiving. The innings total is huge, but a product of the era. For one thing, the mound was still at just fifty feet from home plate (it would not be moved until 1893) and Mullane was unlikely to exert much effort on many of the hitters. Even the league’s best team, the St. Louis Browns (they’re the Cardinals today) had three players in their everyday line-up with sub .300 OBPs. Pitching from a shorter distance and having a line up that was made up with nearly half pitcher-quality hitters, Mullane could conserve his strength and pitch the huge inning totals. Mullane’s total, huge as it was, wasn’t even the highest in the league, three pitchers threw more innings, including league leader “Toad” Ramsey who threw five hundred eighty-eight innings. His ERA is also deceptive, although 3.70 sounds good to modern ears, it would have ranked 18th if put up in the National League last year, the league ERA during Mullane’s time was such that his performance in 1886 was actually five percent worse than league average.
The game prior to the turn of the (last) century was an interesting one (as the essay in The Neyer/James Guide to Pitchers on Mullane demonstrates), but the factors of my own ignorance, the difficulties in fixing that ignorance and the only distant relation between the game then and the game now combine to relegate it to a minor role in my view of the history of baseball.