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Anthony John "Tony" Mullane, who was born in County Cork, Ireland, in 1859, and arrived in the United States three years later when his parents settled in Erie, Pennsylvania. By the time he was a teenager, the good-looking Mullane was hooked on baseball, and seldom home, and began playing the game professionally in northern Ohio when he was 17. When he was dubbed "The Apollo of the Box," I do not know, but there seems no disputing that was one of his nicknames. "The Count" was the other.

Mullane is well-known among baseball historians, but despite 284 career wins, he has never been seriously considered for induction into the Hall of Fame. One reason is that most of his wins came during his seven seasons in the American Association with the Louisville Eclipse, St. Louis Browns Toledo Blue Stockings and the Cincinnati Red Stockings. His American Association record was 202-134, and while it was given major league status, the American Association was regarded as inferior to the National League, where Mullane compiled a losing lifetime record, 82-86.

It was in 1882, with Louisville, that Mullane threw the first no-hitter in American Association history, against Cincinnati. In his next game, he carried a no-hitter into the seventh inning.

He also is credited with being the first ambidextrous pitcher, though tales of him pitching with both arms have been grossly exaggerated, as they have for another pitcher of the era, "Ice Box" Chamberlain (who was a Mullane teammate in 1892).. Apparently there is no truth to the story Mullane taught himself to pitch left-handed during a period he had a store right arm. It was just something he could do, and he did it for the first time in 1882 after he'd unexpectedly been shelled for seven runs in three innings by Baltimore, then the worst team in the league. He finished the game pitching left-handed.

Was he any good as a left-handed pitcher?

In 1917, New York sportswriter Sam Crane, who was a major league player during most of the years Mullane was active, wrote that the pitcher only switched to his left-hand when his team was far ahead (or far behind, it seems). Crane said Mullane was easy to hit when he was pitching left-handed, because he couldn't throw with any velocity.

Mullane was a better-than-average hitter, so like a lot of pitchers in the 1800s, he played other positions as well. But while some sportswriters said Mullane also was a good fielder, an anonymous columnist for the National Police Gazette disagreed, and on October 20, 1888, wrote this:

"Tony Mullane is laboring under the false impression that he is a ball player, and that outside his pitching he can play in almost any position, and that his batting will offset his poor fielding."

His fielding records seem to back up the journalist's opinion. I found a report of a Cincinnati-Brooklyn National League game from May 21, 1890, when Mullane played second base and made three of his team's 11 errors, including one throw to first base that wound up in the right field bleachers.

Mullane's case for admission to the Hall of Fame is further weakened by his reputation. He was suspected of selling out to gamblers. In 1886 newspapers accused him of throwing games, particularly one against Brooklyn when Cincinnati took a 7-0 lead into the seventh inning only to have Mullane give up 12 runs in two innings, and lose. (Which begs the questions: Why didn't the manager take him out of the game?) Mullane talked his way out of that accusation, but in 1893 he was suspended by Cincinnati because the team owner, John T. Brush was convinced Mullane had thrown a game to Pittsburgh.

The pitcher, then playing in the National League for first place Baltimore, made history of a sort on June 18, 1894 against second place Boston when he gave up 11 hits, seven walks and hit one batter in the head, all in the first inning. Boston scored 16 runs, but somehow Mullane was allowed to remain in the game until the seventh inning. Boston won, 24-7. (Apparently the early baseball rules imposed certain conditions on whether a player could leave a game, though a pitcher and another player could switch positions.)

Mullane shopped himself around in his early days, which is how he happened to play for four teams in his first four years. His situation in 1885 was too complicated to explain here, but the end result is he had to sit out an entire season before joining the Cincinnati Red Stockings in 1886.

When Mullane and his wife divorced, he countered her suit by filing his own in which he asked for alimony, claiming that while he might have earned the money, it was his wife who spent it all, often on foolish investments. Mullane had his own investments — he owned a pool hall and a bar.

As that 16-run inning must have indicated, Mullane's major league days ended in 1894. He played a three seasons with St. Paul of the Western League, but wanted to be an umpire. Apparently he wasn't good at it, which prompted him to resume pitching in 1902, at age 43, with Spokane of the Pacific Northwest League. But he retired after winning two games. He sold his Cincinnati bar and pool hall, moved to Chicago and got a job with the police department.

An abscess of the brain had him at death's door in 1911, but he made an amazing recovery, and lived to celebrate his 85th birthday in 1944, before dying a few months later.

Spare us, please
I interrupt this page for something said about Tony Mullane on what baseball-reference.com refers to as his BR Bullpen page. This is where biographical information is presented (and where you'll find endless repetition of that cliché about having a cup of coffee in the majors). What follows is unnecessary, inappropriate, and begs for attribution:

"Mullane is also known for his racism. His catcher in 1884 was sometimes Fleet Walker.  Mullane admitted to purposefully mixing up Walker by throwing pitches the catcher hadn't called for. When he did admit this, Mullane also called Walker the best catcher he ever worked with."

Walker, his brother, Welday, and every other baseball player knew at the end of the 1884 that from then on the major leagues would be all-white. So you could say that anyone who continued to participate in such leagues was, to a certain extent, racist. (Minor leagues remained integrated for a while.)

And that was far from only form of bigotry rampant in the United States at that time. Many Protestant players hated Catholics, and vice versa. Both were prejudiced against Jews. The Irish didn't like the English, players who never finished high school resented those who had attended college, players from rural areas didn't like those from the city. That's the way things were. Why single out Tony Mullane?

The example of racism given for Mullane is bogus. Catchers didn't call for pitches in the early days of baseball. Believe it or not, it was the hitters who let the pitcher know where they wanted the ball thrown. And in those days catchers did not crouch behind the hitter, but stood a few feet behind. To me, that indicates every pitch was an adventure for an 1880s catcher, who probably dug many more pitches out of the dirt than even the next generation of catchers.

There are wildly fanciful stories about Mullane. One has him throwing pitches with his right arm, then his left, to the same batter. Another claims he deliberately hit opposing pitchers when they faced him, plunking them on their pitching arms — which is a good trick when you're facing a right-handed pitcher who also bats right-handed, which means his arm is facing the catcher, not the pitcher.

As for Walker being the best catcher Mullane had, that might be true, though late in the pitcher's career he worked with someone far more famous — Wilbert Robinson. Walker's fielding percentage (.887) was among the lowest for American Association catchers, though his .263 batting average — in 48 games — was second highest on the Toledo team in 1884, but in 1886 and 1888, two seasons for which statistics are available, Walker's batting averages (.210 and .170) were among the worst for Waterbury (CT) of the Eastern League and Syracuse of the International Association (as the International League was called at the time).

The lesson: Take everything you read about these old ball players with a grain of salt, and don't apply today's standards to a much earlier period of history.

In Mullane's day, journalists often made certain assumptions about their subjects. Mullane, for example, first attracted attention playing for a team in Geneva, Ohio, so the New York City-based National Police Gazette, reported in 1888 that Mullane was born in Geneva. A year earlier, the Police Gazette called Mullane "the great Italian pitcher." Both statements came as big surprises to the native of Ireland.

 
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