From Springfield to the Baseball Hall of Fame
It was the summer of 1896 or 1897 and the Baltimore Orioles were playing an exhibition match in Springfield against a local baseball team. “It wasn’t that unusual for a major league team to stop off for an exhibition game,” says Don Doxsie, sports editor for the Quad-City Times. “Teams traveling from Chicago to St. Louis by train might stop off in Springfield for an exhibition game to pick up a few extra bucks. What was unusual about that game is that (Springfield’s pitcher) Joe McGinnity beat the Orioles, a team he ended up playing for as a rookie in the major leagues a few years later.”
McGinnity, who became known as “Iron Man,” was admitted to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1946. Sports Illustrated named him one of Illinois’ greatest sports figures.
“You could make a case for McGinnity being the most durable pitcher in the history of major league baseball,” says Doxsie, who wrote Iron Man McGinnity: A Baseball Biography (McFarland, 2009). “Three times in one month – August, 1903 – he pitched and won both games of a double-header. It’s been done a handful of times in baseball history by anyone and he did it three times in one month.”
Hall of Fame baseball manager Connie Mack called McGinnity a “magician.” “It was difficult for a batter to get his measure. Sometimes his fingers would almost scrape the ground as he hurled the ball. He knew all the tricks for putting a batter on the spot,” he said in his book, My 66 Years in the Big Leagues.
That “something” was “old Sal,” a special pitch McGinnity developed while playing ball in Springfield. “He perfected that pitch to revive his career because he’d been released from a minor league team at a very young age and went back to play semi-pro in Springfield and Decatur,” Doxsie says. While playing here, he developed “old Sal.”
“It was such a radical sidearm motion that it almost ended up being an underhand throw,” adds Doxsie. “He felt that put less wear and tear on his arm. When he pitched a double header sometimes he would throw one game with an overhand, more conventional motion, and one using that underarm motion.”
According to baseball-reference.com, McGinnity said: “Nothing can hurt my arm. I can throw curves like that all day. Last year, I pitched a 21-inning game for Peoria that took four hours. I never hurt my arm.”
He and his wife lived in Springfield at 724 West Washington, with McGinnity spending his time between here and Decatur from 1894 to 1897. (Joe also lived in Springfield about a year as a kid.) He worked as a coal miner and bartender, and for a while co-owned a saloon on Sixth Street, Doxsie says. But he concentrated on ball.
McGinnity joined a Springfield semipro team that “played them all, from Peoria, Decatur, St. Louis, Bloomington or anywhere else,” according to the Nov. 15, 1929, Illinois State Journal. “And before long, he was tossing them over whenever needed, be it once, twice or eight times a week…Those were the days when a ball player was satisfied with a dollar a game and called it a big day if he collected $2 and $3.”
After 1897, McGinnity left Springfield for Peoria to play in its Three-I League. In 1899 the Baltimore Orioles signed him and he later played for the Brooklyn Superbas and the New York Giants.
The “Iron Man” pitched until he was 54. The last minor league game he ever played was in Springfield for the Springfield Senators on July 28, 1925. Earlier that day he pitched an “old-timers game.”
McGinnity died in 1929. After his death, the Illinois State Journal commemorated him. The Nov. 15, 1929, edition said he was “a fighter with brains” who was a “hard player” and a “hard loser.” Doxsie says: “They took (his body) back to be buried in Oklahoma where his wife was buried, but on the way the train stopped in St. Louis and a lot of people from Decatur and Springfield went down to St. Louis just to see the train as it passed through, because he was so well-thought of.”
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