Two-Handed Approach

Ambidextrous pitching star Tony Mullane to be considered by Pre-Integration Era Committee

November 20, 2012
2013 Pre-Integration Committee candidate Tony Mullane. (NBHOF Library)

Tony Mullane, one of the most famous pitchers of his time, was a bright star in the baseball world before the turn of the century.

During a 13-year big league career spent during the 1880s and 1890s, Mullane compiled a 284-220 record with Detroit, Cincinnati, Baltimore and Cleveland of the National League and Louisville, St. Louis, Toledo and Cincinnati of the American Association (then considered a major league). Ultimately, though, it was with Cincinnati where Mullane enjoyed his greatest success, winning 163 games during his eight years in The Queen City.

Mullane, who won 30 or more games in each of his first five full big league seasons, is one of 10 finalists on this year’s Pre-Integration Committee ballot at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. The Pre-Integration Committee will vote on Dec. 2 at baseball’s Winter Meetings in Nashville, Tenn., and the results of the vote will be announced Dec. 3.

The 10 candidates on the Pre-Integration Committee ballot are: Sam Breadon, Bill Dahlen, Wes Ferrell, Marty Marion, Hank O’Day, Alfred Reach, Jacob Ruppert, Bucky Walters, Deacon White and Mullane. Any candidate who receives at least 75 percent of all ballots cast will be enshrined in the Hall of Fame as part of the Class of 2013.

Born Jan. 30, 1859, in Cork, Ireland, Mullane came to the United States with his parents when he was five years old. It was in Erie, Pa., where his family took up their residence, where he first learned to play baseball. After proving successful for an independent team in Akron, Ohio, in 1881, he would sign with Detroit.

It was soon after joining Detroit that Mullane, after suffering a sore right arm, became an ambidextrous pitcher. With a possible career-ending injury curtailing his future, Mullane worked hard at becoming a southpaw hurler until he became proficient. Eventually, he returned to throwing right-handed when his right arm became healthy. 

“I simply put on two heavy sweaters, and although it hurt me even to raise my arm, I went to work and pitched ball after ball,” is how Mullane explained his method of recovery. “Great streams of perspiration poured off me, and it hurt me so badly that I had to grit my teeth. It was a case of grin and bear it. I was bound to work it out and I succeeded. The sweat did me good. Although the pain was intense I persevered and the soreness left me. The arm was a little weak at first, but now it’s as good as ever. Had I sat around nursing my sore arm, I am confident that I would not now be solid as a pitcher.”

It was said of Mullane, nicknamed “Count” by fellow players because of his distinguished appearance, that in his later years he enjoyed talking of his ambidextrous ability, especially as to how it helped him pick off base-runners by throwing with either hand, which was aided by the fact that he didn’t wear a glove during most of his career.

According to Hall of Fame shortstop Hughie Jennings, a mid-1890s Baltimore teammate of Mullane’s, he was once told by the pitcher that is was easy to throw with either arm.

“The next day we were playing Chicago and late in the game our pitcher was knocked out,” Jennings said. “Manager (Ned) Hanlon told Mullane to relieve him and before he started for the box Mullane told us that he was about to give a demonstration of pitching with the left.

“Mullane picked a bad spot for his demonstration. The batter was Bill Lange and Bill was by no means a slouch. The catcher signed for a curveball and Mullane wound up and delivered the curve with is left, but Lange made a fast one out of it. I don’t think I ever saw a ball travel faster over the centerfield fence than the one Lange hit off Mullane’s left-handed curve. Mullane ceased being an ambidextrous pitcher then and there.”

Among Mullane’s other notable pitching achievements was tossing a no-hitter for Louisville against Cincinnati on Sept. 11, 1882, and going all 20 innings, the record at the time for a big league contest, for Cincinnati against Chicago’s Ad Gumbert, who also went the distance, in a 7-7 tie on June 30, 1892.

The esteemed Hugh Fullerton, who won the 1964 J.G. Taylor Spink Award for writers, once referred to Mullane as a “scientific” pitcher.

“He had the art of wasting a ball down long before the other pitchers thought of it,” wrote Fullerton in 1906, “and, aside from his speed, Tony’s greatest success was in making batters hit bad balls.

“Another point on which the Count insisted was that no player ever should crowd the plate on him. It interfered with his plans of making them hit bad balls. To keep them a proper distance from the plate Tony tried a system which modern pitchers would do well to follow. When a batter got up on the edge of the plate, Tony hit him with the ball. After he had wounded half a dozen, there was no more crowding the plate.”

Strong and durable, Mullane, sometimes referred to as the Adonis of baseball pitchers and a favorite with female fans because of his handsome looks, would toss more than 400 innings six times in his major league career. And besides his pitching prowess, Mullane was a good batsman, finishing with 661 hits and a .243 batting average, as well as someone who played the infield and outfield over his career.

Mullane, a member of the Chicago police department after he retired from the game, died on April 25, 1944, at the age of 85.

Bill Francis is a Library Associate at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum