Saturday, February 27, 2016

TOT - Jack Quinn is One of Baseball's Strangest Stories

Transaction of Today...February 27, 1914 - Jack Quinn jumped from the Boston Braves to the Baltimore Terrapins.

Jack Quinn
Transcendental Graphics/Getty Images
If you have never heard of Jack Quinn before today, you're missing out considerably. We know for sure that wasn't his real name, though it's difficult to say what exactly was. We know he was born sometime in the 1880's, though his baseball-reference accepted birth date of July 1, 1883 might be the earliest I've seen (7/5/1883 is often cited). Where he was born...well, many would say he was born somewhere southwest of Wilkes-Barre, though B-R stands true with Stefurov, Slovakia (then part of Austria-Hungary). If that were true, which it probably isn't, he'd be the only player born from what is now Slovakia to play in the majors. Hard to say how Stefurov looked back in the 1880's, but today, it's a village with slightly more than 100 total people - which would make Quinn's arrival in the majors all the more amazing if he was born there. He probably wasn't. Maybe?

His name is probably John Quinn Picus, by the way. Possibly. He was of Welsh descent. Probably not. Or Polish, Irish, and Native American.  Maybe Greek? I've also read his name as Joannes Pajkos or Janos Pajkos, but John Quinn Picus is probably our closest bet. His father, Michael, and mother came to America either shortly before his birth or shortly after depending on what birthdate you believe. At some point, his mother passed and Michael remarried in 1887.

Quinn, or Picus, originally became, like his father, a coal worker at around the age of 12. He worked early shifts so that he could play baseball in the afternoon. Later in his teens, he joined a semipro league in Pennslyvania and incorporated the spitball into his repertoire. That spitball would be his ticket to baseball longevity as the ban on the spitball came with a grandfather clause, allowing Picus/Quinn to throw the pitch throughout his career. His travels in baseball brought him down to Virginia, where he was seen playing in a game between Richmond and Lynchburg, which both became minor league squads for the Braves in the future. The Yankees (then known as the Highlanders) signed Quinn, who made his major league debut at the age of 25 in 1909. He might have been younger, though.

He got off to a great start with a 2.74 ERA in his first three years, but struggled badly in 1912. Not only was he struggling on the mound, his troubles spilled out into confrontations. During a game in May, Quinn replaced Hippo Vaughn, who had walked four consecutive batters (much to the chagrin of New York fans). Quinn uncorked a wild pitch before getting a strikeout to end the inning. In the next inning, after striking out the first batter, he became so incensed with the umpire's strikezone while facing the next Tigers hitter that he threw his glove at the umpire. He was immediately ejected and bedlam took over Hilltop Park. Quinn's battery mate and manager were both tossed while fans threw bottles at the umpire.

Quinn was suspended indefinitely, but he pitched the next day. His numbers continue to tumble and he was sent packing to the minors. He would remain in the minors until his contract was purchased in August of 1913 by the Braves. He was excellent over 56.1 innings to finish the season and the Braves had plans for Quinn to become a figure for their 1914 team.

The righty from God knows where had other plans. On this date in 1914, he jumped to the Baltimore Terrapins of the new Federal League for a salary of $3500. Boston sued Baltimore, Quinn, and the Federal League for illegally tampering, seeking $25K in damages. Ultimately, the effort was unsuccessful and Quinn became a star for the Terrapins in 1914.

Of course, had he not left the Braves like he did, he would have been around for the 1914 Miracle Braves and maybe played a role for the team that would surprise baseball by becoming World Champs that fall. But that wasn't to be for Quinn, who had an excellent year for Baltimore before a less-than-excellent follow-up campaign in 1915 in which he led the Federal League in loses. Major league clubs passed on bringing back Quinn after the two-year Federal League folded so he languished with Vernon out in the Pacific Coast League, which at the time was a AA-league. He did quite well there until the league suspended operations because of World War I.

The shutdown brought him back to major league baseball as he joined the 1918 White Sox under the ownership of Charles Comiskey. Quinn would have stayed with them and became a member of the 1919 Black Sox, but avoided a second brush with one of the era's most notable teams because of a technicality. When the PCL shut down in 1918, players were free to sign with other teams during the emergency, but the original holding team had first rights. In the American League, that team for Quinn was the Yankees and Ben Johnson, the AL Commissioner, who was already at odds with Comiskey, sided with the Yankees.

Quinn spent 1919-21 with the Yankees and appeared in the 1921 World Series, which the Yankees lost. He was then traded to the Red Sox, returning to the city he spent a little more than a month with as a member of the Braves. His run with the Red Sox lasted 3.5 years before the Philadelphia Athletics claimed him on waivers during the summer of 1925. Playing for Connie Mack, Quinn found a second home. He remained a productive member of the club into 1929 when he returned to the World Series. At the age of 45 (maybe), Quinn finally tasted the glory of being a World Champion as the A's downed the Cubs in the World Series. Philly would repeat in 1930 and Quinn got a second title.

Franco broke Quinn's HR record
Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images
Released after the 1930 season, Quinn continued his career with Brooklyn. Used as one of the few relief specialists of his time, Quinn led the NL in saves in both 1931 and 1932 with 22 total. The stat didn't exist at the time, but a study of box scores has retroactively awarded saves to pitchers. His 13 saves in '31 was a NL record until 1947. Released in 1933, Quinn briefly played for the Reds and added one more save, giving him 57 total. Again, the stat wasn't official back then, but at the time of his release by the Reds, Quinn only trailed Firpo Marberry. When he threw his last pitch with the Reds on July 7, 1933, Quinn was 50 years and six days old. He remained the oldest pitcher to ever throw a pitch in a major league game until Satchel Paige shattered the record. He still remains the oldest player to play in the postseason for both the 1929 and 1930 series.

Though he never pitched with another major league team, Quinn kept pitching until he was 52 (again, that's what we are told). Quinn returned to Pennslyvania after his retirement and took up the old sport of drinking until succumbing to a liver infection in 1946. He died a few months before what would have been his 63rd birthday.

One last interest stat regarding Quinn. He set the record as the oldest player to hit a homerun after smacking one on June 27, 1930. Julio Franco broke that record in 2006 as a member of the Mets. Regardless of the name you call him, Jack Quinn's career is the kind of stuff an entire episode of Ken Burns Baseball should have focused on. It's the true American (or Slovak?) Dream. Quinn was a very good player who took care of himself, loved baseball, and did everything he could to stay with the game.

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