The Original Iron Man
Generally, the term “Iron man” in baseball is reserved for the player who has played in the most consecutive games in major league history. Currently, Cal Ripken holds that title by playing in 2,632 consecutive games. Breaking the record of 2,130 games formally held by Lou “The Iron Horse” Gehrig. Wiley Piatt was the first player to earn the Iron Man moniker due to his accomplishments on the pitching mound. He did that, by pitching two complete games during a double header for the Boston Braves on June 25, 1903. Other players scattered through baseball history that shared the “Iron Man” nickname were Joe McGinnity, Archie Campbell, Ray Mueller, and Ray Starr. And for the majority of the preceding, I am not sure why they were given this nickname.
That is, except for Joe McGinnity. First, I will admit that when I first learned about McGinnity, I thought his nickname was because of his pitching endurance. I remember reading his Hall of Fame plaque in Cooperstown when I made my very visit, and learned about all of his awesome accomplishments. Last year, I was researching him, while working on a writing project concerning submarine pitchers, and learned that he was actually “married into” the nickname!
Before he became “Iron Man,” Joe McGinnity was born on March 20, 1871 in Cromwell Township, Illinois. His dad was killed in a mining accident. He was the third oldest of a family of seven. Joe discovered the game of baseball and began playing on a mining team before turning pro in 1887. He became a member of a Decatur semi-pro team. Joe’s first game was a benefit game for the people that lost their homes during the Johnstown Flood. At the time, he was a minor and required a note from his mother granting him permission to play.
He first developed his underhand motion while he pitched in Springfield. This was also the time that he developed his rising, underhand curve, that he nicknamed “Ol’ Sal.” The pitch sailed as it approached the plate. His motion allowed less wear and tear on this arm. Other players referred to it as the “nickel Rocket.”
On April 18, 1899 he made his debut against the New York Giants and won 8-4. McGinnity married Mary Redpath. Mary’s dad John got out of the mining business and opened the McAlester foundry and machine shop in 1900.
After the season Joe went home and worked in the iron factory that his father in-law had opened two years earlier.
When the 1900 season began, McGinnity reported to the Brooklyn Superbas (eventually the Dodgers). Baseball lore claims that Abe Yager asked McGinnity what he had been doing in the off-season. To which he replied, “I worked in my father in-laws iron foundry back home, I’m an Iron Man.”
So there you have it. Joe “Iron Man” McGinnity got his nickname by marrying into it!
In 1903, McGinnity proved that there was more to his nickname. That season, Joe pitched his only one-hitter. Then in August, McGinnity pitched complete games in three doubleheaders and won all three. He was 6-0 during double headers and 1-5 in the other games during that month. Joe “Iron Man” McGinnity went on to win 31 games that season!
Joe McGinnity earned his popular moniker that season and continued to verify it when he entered the Major Leagues at the age of 28 and continued pitching for ten years. He then went on to pitch an additional 14 seasons in the minors. In his Major League career he won 246 games. Between 1903-06, he averaged 28 wins.
On July 28, 1925 he pitched his final professional game. He was given a one-day contract by the Springfield management and at 54 years old he pitched 4 2/3 gave up 7 hits against Bloomington allowing 5 runs but lost!
McGinnity pitched for the Baltimore Orioles, Brooklyn Superbas and New York Giants. Seven times he won 20 games in a season. Two times he won 30. He won close to 500 professional!
The Veteran’s Committee elected him to the Hall of Fame in 1946; he died at 58 years old on November 14, 1929.
Of his many accomplishments, he is given credit for revolutionizing fielding for the pitching position. Hughie Jennings said he was even a better fielder than pitcher.
John McGraw called him the hardest working pitcher on any of his ball clubs, and Connie Mack felt he was a magician.
Joe McGinnity might have received his nickname through marriage but because of his illustrious career, he EARNED IT!