Everyone in the baseball world stands on the shoulders of the 19th Century pioneers who transformed the game into what it is today. That's why a major part of the mission of the National Baseball Hall of Fame is to honor the game's greats from the past.
Jim McCormick was one of the elite pitchers of all time.
Scottish born McCormick grew up in Paterson, NJ where he was a boyhood friend of future Hall of Famer Mike "King" Kelly. In 1873 McCormick organized a team in Paterson and recruited Kelly, who named the team the Keystones. McCormick and Kelly, along with "The Only" Nolan, dominated local teams until the National League came calling.
In 1878 McCormick joined the NL's Indianapolis Blues team where he was introduced as a relief pitcher until mid season when he began to start games. He quickly outshined the team's ace The Only Nolan and his reputation began to gain steam. McCormick was described as a hard thrower who also threw "twisters" with a "wide, sweeping overhand swing." He was also one of the first pitchers to master the curveball.
The Blues moved to Cleveland in 1879 and McCormick became a star despite his team's perennial losing. From 1879-1884, McCormick's Cleveland Blues won only 233 games for a .465 winning percentage -- McCormick won 174 of those 233 games. In 1880, McCormick won 45 of the team's 47 wins that season. He was the only bright spot on a forgettable team.
As early as 1881, McCormick began to grow weary of his team's lack of run support (The Blues were shutout 33 times when he started) in a time when all of a pitcher's perceived success was tied to their win-loss record. By 1884, McCormick grew frustrated with the National League's "Reserve Clause" that gave team bosses total authority over a player's career. McCormick rebelled against this system and signed mid-season with the Union Association's Cincinnati team. McCormick was blacklisted by National League owners in retaliation for the move.
But that blacklisting didn't last long. McCormick was recruited by Chicago White Stockings owner and de facto National League boss Al Spalding and McCormick joined Spalding's Chicago team in time to lead them to the league championship in 1885. In that year's Championship Series, McCormick led Cap Anson's Chicago White Stockings (later to become the Cubs) with 5 complete games, 3 wins, a .917 WHIP and a 2.00 ERA.
McCormick began the 1886 season 15-0 for the White Stockings, a record that still stands to this day. After Chicago lost to the St. Louis Browns that year in an early version of the "World Series", Spalding sold off all his stars, including McCormick.
He would pitch one more season for the Pittsburgh Alleghenys before retiring after just 10 seasons. Many teams wanted McCormick's services but he not return to baseball in 1887 because McCormick was needed at home to tend to his wife, who was very ill with tuberculosis, and their 2 young children. She died that summer, only months after McCormick's final game.
During McCormick's career he would win 265 games, complete 466 of the 485 games he started, log 4,275 Innings, post a 2.43 ERA, and dominate hitters along with contemporaries like Pud Galvin, Old Hoss Radbourn, Tim Keefe, and John Clarkson.
McCormick wasn't just a workhorse, he was elite. He twice topped 40 wins, had a sub 2.00 ERA four times, twice leading the league in ERA. McCormick finished his career with a 118 ERA+ and 1.13 WHIP.
McCormick's 1.84 ERA in 1883 led the National League and he topped the UA in 1884 with a 1.54 ERA. He led the NL in wins in 1880 with 45 and in 1882 with 36. McCormick pitched more than 500 Innings every year from 1879-1882 and again in 1884. He led the league in Innings Pitched in 1880 with 657 and again in 1882 with 595. McCormick led the NL in Complete Games in 1880 with 72, 1881 with 57, and 1882 with 65.
Jim McCormick held the record for wins by a non-native born pitcher until Hall of Famer Fergie Jenkins broke it over a century later. McCormick is one of only 4 pitchers in baseball history with 4,000 innings and a 2.50 ERA along with Hall of Famers Eddie Plank, Christy Mathewson, and Walter Johnson. If the Cy Young Award existed when McCormick pitched, he likely would have won it multiple times. He was the career leader in WAR and Strikeouts when he retired.
McCormick died in Paterson, New Jersey in 1918 at the age of 61. More than 130 years after throwing his last pitch Jim McCormick still ranks near the top of almost all major categories for pitchers. Yet McCormick has never appeared on a Hall of Fame ballot for consideration by the Baseball Writers Association of America and has not been nominated since the 1950s.
For a more in-depth look at Jim McCormick's career and life read his official bio by the Society for American Baseball Research.
Jay Wiley 512-914-8057 McCormickForTheHall@gmail.com
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