This weekend, the Cincinnati Reds will be inducting three former players to the Reds Hall of Fame—Pedro Borbon, Chris Sabo, and Tony Mullane. I am familiar with both Borbon and Sabo, and enjoyed watching them play.
But the player that is most intriguing to me is 19th century legend Tony Mullane. Mullane was known for a few things in his career. First, he was able to pitch with both hands. He was probably the most successful ambidextrous pitcher of his time. Sometimes he would throw with both hands in the same inning, making the batter guess which way it was coming!
Mullane pitched for a few different teams. He started with Detroit, then went to Louisville, and thirdly signed with the St. Louis Browns. In 1882, his second year in a majors, Mullane began a series of seasons where he won 30 games.
After his first year in St. Louis, he wanted to change teams, but was blocked by the Browns because of the reserve clause. The reserve clause in those days was so strong, that the players were virtually the property of the teams they signed with unless they were traded or sold.
After much threatening by the Browns and the league Mullane relented from signing with another team, expecting to pitch for St. Louis the next year, but the Browns decided to ship him off to Toledo, and expansion team. He again was a 30 game winner.
After his season in Toledo, the team folded and he determined to sign with the Reds in Cincinnati. This time when the Browns , still claiming him, blocked this, he didn't back down.
The league decided to force him to sit out one full season before he could play for Cincinnati—he did, and started pitching for the Reds in 1886. He won 30 games two more years after the hiatus, making five seasons in a row where he won 30 games or more.
Mullane and Cincinnati hit it off. He pitched there from 1886-1892, gaining quite a reputation as their lead pitcher. In 1890 when the team transferred to the National League, he went with them.
Tony Mullane ended up with 284 wins in his career.
In 1890, the players, who were fed up with the reserve clause, made their own league. Many of the best players stood against the National League and instead, played in the Player's league.
In a way, Mullane was ahead of the time, standing up against the oppressive reserve clause and its applications. He most surely would have won a good amount of games if he had played the year he was forced to sit out. (He very probably could have added a 30 win season to his resume, the suspension coming in the midst of five consecutive 30 win campaigns.) But he did what made him happy, signing in Cincinnati, where he wanted to play.
I applaud the Cincinnati Reds for finding the story about Tony Mullane and now adding him to their Hall of Fame. He is truly a Cincinnati legend.
Scores of women fans would flock to the games when he pitched because of his good looks! He gained the nickname, "the Apollo of the Box," (pitchers pitched from a marked area, called the box, instead of the mound we have today). He became a very popular figure in Cincinnati.
Recently, the 19th century committee of SABR held their election for the overlooked legend from the 19th century for this year. There were several candidates, including Mullane. We were to list them in order of priority #1-#5. He got my #1 vote. The winner will be announced at the 40th Society for the Advancement of Baseball Research conference in Atlanta August 5-8.
To me, I don't understand why the man is not already in the baseball HOF. Every pitcher who has won 300 games is in the hall. The founder of the Player's League, John Montgomery Ward, who never won 300 games is in the HOF. Mullane is not in because he did not win 300 games. But he should have. He stood up against an oppressive system, and has been punished for it?
I think it is time the Veteran's Committee righted this wrong, and voted him into the baseball HOF, as he should be.