THE FIRST LINK
In the final year of baseball's first major league, the National Association, the St Louis Brown Stockings signed local sandlot star Jim Galvin as a "change pitcher" to spell staff ace George Washington Bradley. The Chicago White Stockings were the first NA team to test the young righthander. The date was May 22, 1875. Galvin was 18 years old.
Galvin's mound opponent was George Zettlein, a grizzled veteran of 30. Zettlein was a native New Yorker who, as a teenager, had pitched for Army and Navy teams during the Civil War. After hostilities ended in the spring of 1865, he joined the Brooklyn Eckfords, one of the nation's foremost amateur ballclubs. (There were no openly professional baseball teams until 1869.) Zettlein, nicknamed "The Charmer" for his ingratiating manner, had been an NA mainstay since the league was organized in 1871.
Unfortunately for the fastballing Galvin and his Brown Stockings, "The Charmer" had the Mound City crew eating out of his hand the whole afternoon, with Chicago winning 6-2 on their home grounds at 23rd and Clark. It was just one game among tens of thousands in major league history, little noted or remembered, and yet…
This contest was the first link in a chain of just 8 players that connects Civil War-era baseball to the game of 2012.
Zettlein's professional pitching career ended after an 1876 season in which he posted a 4-20 record for the Philadelphia Athletics of the fledgling National League. Galvin, of all the pitchers who toiled in the National Association, lasted the longest. After lengthy stints in Buffalo and Pittsburgh, he returned to St Louis midway through the 1892 season, and, wearing the uniform of the Browns once more, threw his last major league pitch on August 2, 1892. Galvin retired just before the pitching distance was lengthened prior to the 1893 season, an event that altered the game forever.
THE SECOND LINK
Starting for the Pirates at home on April 27, 1891, long after his fastball had deserted him and he, like George Zettlein in 1875, was getting by on guile, Galvin drew Cleveland's sensational young fireballer Cy Young as his mound opponent. Young was 24 and less than a year into his big league career. Both pitchers went the full nine innings, but the veteran Galvin prevailed, with Pittsburgh winning 7-1.
Young waited eight weeks for his revenge. In Cleveland on June 23 he faced Galvin again, and the result was a rout. The Spiders won 14-5 and literally batted Galvin out of the box, forcing the veteran to leave the playing field after the last of a barrage of line drives struck his body with force sufficient to render him hors de combat for almost three weeks. Interestingly, Galvin's batterymate in both 1891 encounters was Connie Mack (born 1862), who would one day set his own unique records for baseball longevity.
THE THIRD LINK
Galvin had passed the torch to a pitcher who would have an exceptionally long career. Young was still pitching in the major leagues 20 years after his matchups with Galvin, and in starting 815 games he forged a record of durability that has never been equaled. The 7,356 innings Young pitched, another all-time record, are over 1400 more than the man in second place amassed. (That man was Galvin.) In twenty-two stellar seasons Young started, completed, won, and lost more big league games than any pitcher in history.
Late in his career Young faced a man who, in the fullness of time, would challenge his reputation as the greatest pitcher who ever lived. In the September of his years, two decades after his epic battles with Jim Galvin, Young ascended the mound in Boston to challenge the Philadelphia Phillies. At 44 Young was twenty years older than his mound opponent, righthanded rookie Grover Cleveland Alexander. For six innings the two moundsmen traded goose eggs. The Phillies pushed across a single run in the top of the seventh, and that was all the offense Alexander needed as he tossed a one-hit masterpiece. The date was September 7, 1911. Young would pitch just six more games before hanging up his spikes.
THE FOURTH LINK
Alexander soon succeeded Christy Mathewson as the National League's greatest pitching star. Before bowing out in 1930 he would tie Matty's career record of 373 victories in the senior circuit. Among the thousands of hitters he faced was catcher Ralston Burdett "Rollie" Hemsley, who broke into the league at age 20 with Pittsburgh in 1928. Alexander pitched to Hemsley in three games (September 9, 1928; April 28, 1929; and August 8, 1929) and was unable to defeat the Pirates in any of them.
Hemsley enjoyed a long career although he never stuck with one team for very long. In succession he caught for the Pirates, Cubs, Reds, Browns, Indians, Reds (again), Yankees, and Phillies. His total of 1,482 games caught ranks thirty-first on the all-time list. He started two All-Star games (in 1935 and 1944) and was named to three other All-Star squads as a substitute. He was not a robust hitter and never clouted more than four home runs in any of his nineteen big league seasons. In his only World Series appearance he struck out in each of three pinch-hitting plate appearances for the Cubs in 1932.
THE FIFTH LINK
On August 31, 1946, Hemsley caught Philadelphia's game against the Boston Braves at Shibe Park. Pitching for Boston was 25-year-old rookie southpaw Warren Spahn. Hemsley batted once against Spahn, who was lifted for a pinch hitter after 3 innings and was not the pitcher of record in Boston's 10-6 loss.
Hemsley would catch just 10 more big league games, while Spahn was beginning a career that would net him 363 victories and World Series starts in 1948, 1957, and 1958. Some said he hung around too long. Pitching at age 43 in 1964, Spahn started 25 games for the Braves although he had trouble getting through an opponent's lineup twice. The Braves cast him adrift after that, and even the lowly Mets had no use for him beyond 19 starts in 1965. The Giants offered the elder statesman a final opportunity in midseason, but the old magic was gone.
THE SIXTH LINK
Perhaps on some subconscious level Spahn was waiting to challenge an upcoming star worthy and capable of carrying the chain another generation forward. Finally he met such a man in Cincinnati's rookie first baseman Atanasio "Tony" Perez. Perez batted 12 times against Spahn in five 1965 contests (April 30, May 16, June 15, July 22, and September 22), four of which Cincinnati won. The graybearded Spahn struck the youngster out the first time he saw him, but Perez adjusted with a single and a two-run homer in subsequent plate appearances. These were the only safe hits Perez delivered against Spahn, although he did coax a walk on July 22.
THE SEVENTH LINK
Perez became a run-producing machine who led several teams to championships. He played until 1986, when he was 44 years old and platooning for Cincinnati at first base against lefthanded pitching. Nearing the end of the line on August 22, he started at first against 23-year-old southpaw Jamie Moyer, whom the Cubs had called up in June. Moyer beat the Reds 3-2 while retiring Perez thrice on soft fly balls to the outfield.
THE EIGHTH LINK
This link may have already been forged. If it has not, it will be forged in 2012. Jamie Moyer has never been a star, but this baseball Methuselah keeps rolling along while others fall by the wayside. Some young player he faces this year will still be playing in the 2030s. Who will it be?
BASEBALL'S GREAT CHAIN
When in Grodno, stay at the Hotel Semashko.