Walsh, Ed(ward) Augustine

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WALSH, Ed(ward) Augustine

(b. 14 May 1881 in Plains, Pennsylvania; d. 26 May 1959 in Pompano Beach, Florida), Hall of Fame pitcher known for his remarkable physical strength and endurance and for his success with the Chicago White Sox in the early 1900s.

Walsh was the thirteenth child of the Irish immigrants Michael Walsh, a coal miner, and Mary Walsh, a homemaker. After a five-year education at a parochial grade school, he followed his father and brothers into the anthracite fields of eastern Pennsylvania, starting as a mule-team driver at the age of twelve. He developed into an exceptionally powerful six-foot, one-inch, 193-pound miner and enjoyed powering his fastball past batters in local semiprofessional baseball games.

In 1902, on a dare from friends, Walsh walked into a tryout camp, where he won a contract with Wilkes-Barre of the Pennsylvania State League. The Boston Red Sox showed interest in the muscular young right-hander, moving him the following season to their Meriden, Connecticut, club and then up the ladder to the Newark (New Jersey) Bears of the Eastern League. While in Meriden, Walsh met Rosemary Carney, an ice-cream vendor at the ballpark, whom he married in 1904. Charmed by the stark contrast between Meriden's middle-class propriety and the working-class poverty he had known as a child, Walsh gladly moved to his wife's hometown to start a family. The couple raised two sons and lived in the town for most of their lives.

Although Walsh won a total of twenty games during his split season at Meriden and Newark, scouting reports dismissed him as a kid from the boondocks with nothing to offer but a fastball. The Chicago White Sox owner Charles Comiskey had seen Walsh pitch at Newark, however, and drafted him for the bargain price of $750. Walsh reported to spring training in 1904 and won a spot on the White Sox pitching staff.

During his first two seasons in Chicago, "Big Ed" Walsh, as the sportswriters began to call him, was used only sparingly as an extra starter and bullpen short man. While his fastball indeed showed major league hop, he seemed unable to develop any effective breaking balls or off-speed deliveries. Complicating matters further, the brawny rookie did not at first believe that he needed any other pitching tools. The macho Walsh "could strut while sitting down," according to the baseball historians John Holway and Bob Carroll. To remedy the problem, the White Sox manager Fielder Jones brought Walsh under the tutelage of the spitballer Elmer Stricklett. Rooming with Stricklett and taking extra practices with him, Walsh gradually learned the intricacies of the pitch. Realizing that his future in the big leagues depended on it, Walsh put himself to the task until, as he recalled, "I had such control of my spitter that I could hit a tack on a wall with it." And because throwing a spitball required less exertion than his fastball, Walsh found pitching a game to be much less physically taxing.

Walsh was a changed player in 1906, starting 31 games for the White Sox, going the distance in 24 of them, and bringing home a 17–13 record with an earned run average (ERA) of 1.88. His ten shutouts were a major league record that stood until he broke it himself two years later. The White Sox won the American League (AL) pennant that year, and in an all-Chicago World Series, Walsh struck out seventeen batters and collected two of the four victories in a successful effort against the arch-rival Cubs. They would be the only postseason opportunities of his career.

The White Sox's championship season marked the beginning of seven fat years for Walsh. His greatest season—arguably the greatest season ever enjoyed by any big league pitcher—was 1908. Walsh's numbers from that year are capable of dazzling even the most jaded of baseball fans: 40 wins and 15 losses, with a 1.42 ERA and 269 strikeouts, while leading both leagues in appearances (66), starts (49), innings pitched (464), complete games (42), and shutouts (11). He even chalked up 6 saves for Chicago in 17 relief appearances, and all this while on the mound for a team nicknamed "the Hitless Wonders." The 1908 White Sox had a team batting average of just .224, hitting only three home runs the entire season—one of them by Walsh. Despite the Sox's pathetic offense, their ace pitcher almost single-handedly won them the AL pennant.

On the last day of the 1908 season, with the Sox one game out of first place, Walsh went up against the Cleveland Indians, making his third start in as many days. He pitched a brilliant complete-game four-hitter, striking out fifteen and giving up just one (unearned) run. It was not good enough. His opponent, Addie Joss, pitched a perfect game against the Hitless Wonders, ending the White Sox season.

Walsh continued to be one of baseball's dominant pitchers for a succession of hapless Chicago teams in the years that followed. He was named the AL's Most Valuable Player in both 1911 and 1912, racking up 27 wins and almost 400 innings pitched in each campaign. However, the enormous burden of carrying an entire team was becoming too much for a man in his thirties. What seemed like a minor injury to his right arm at spring training in 1913 never fully healed, and after repeated comeback attempts, he was let go by the White Sox in 1916. A year later he joined the Boston Braves of the National League but was let go after just four appearances.

Walsh desperately hoped to remain a part of the game that had lifted him out the coal mines and made him a national celebrity. He played and managed in the minor leagues and even spent a season as an AL umpire before returning to Chicago as a pitching coach, a job for which the great spitballer was well suited. In 1926 he took a leave from the White Sox to coach the baseball team at Indiana's Notre Dame University, where his two sons were both starting pitchers. His older son Edward Arthur Walsh joined the White Sox pitching staff in 1928, but was struck with rheumatic fever after only four seasons and died shortly thereafter.

Walsh left baseball completely in 1930, following the banning of the spitball. He was easily elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1946. In his later years he suffered from chronic arthritis in his right arm and in 1957 was forced to leave Meriden for a warmer climate. He died of cancer in Pompano Beach, Florida, two years later, and is buried in that town's Forest Lawn Memorial Gardens.

Among Walsh's many accomplishments were his forty wins in the 1908 season, a total still unequaled in Major League Baseball in 2001; back-to-back complete-game victories in doubleheaders on two separate occasions; and the pitching of six shutouts in a single month, also done twice. One of the great masters of the spitball before the pitch was banned, Walsh had a career ERA of 1.82, which remains at the top of the all-time list in this most highly respected of pitching statistics.

Considering the wealth of biographies written about lesser baseball players, it is surprising that there has never been a detailed biography written about Walsh. The National Baseball Hall of Fame contains a biographical sketch of Walsh and a statistical breakdown of his career, which can be accessed at the Cooperstown, New York, museum or on its website at www.baseballhalloffame.org. Virtually all baseball reference volumes include articles on Walsh; the most informative of these is by George Hilton in David L. Porter, ed., The Biographical Dictionary of Sports: Baseball (1987). Obituaries are in the New York Times (27 May 1959), and in Sporting News (3 June 1959).

David Marc

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