The Apollo of the Box, Tony Mullane might just be the greatest all-round athlete to ever play baseball. Not only was Mullane a gifted pitcher, but he is the career leader for hits by a pitcher. Tony could bat from either side of the plate, and although he threw predominantly with his right hand, he was ambidextrous and threw left-handed in a few games as well.
Mullane is one of the many forgotten names that came out of the American Association. The AA was a Major League in the 1800s but hasn’t been treated as such by Hall of Fame voters. One of the game’s greatest hitters, Pete Browning, was an AA slugger and he, like Mullane, have the stats for the Hall of Fame. Tony was better than most of his Hall of Fame peers. Over the course his career, Mullane surrendered fewer hits on average than hurlers residing in the Plaque Gallery at Cooperstown. Mullane averaged 0.925 hits per inning while Hall of Famers Pud Galvin (1.069), John Clarkson (0.947), Hoss Radbourn (0.956) and Mickey Welch (0.957) were much easier to hit. Also, Mullane has more career wins (286) than Hall of Fame peers Al Spalding, Candy Cummings and Amos Rusie.
Mullane made his debut in 1881 with the Detroit Wolverines but lasted one season in the northern city. For the 1882 season he jumped to the American Association’s Louisville entry and reeled off 30 wins while pacing the circuit in strikeouts and games pitched. Tony jumped to St. Louis after the season and had another 30-win season while pacing the league with a .700 winning percentage. Not content, The Apollo of the Box jumped to a new team in 1883 and won 36 games for Toledo. Tony paced the American Association in shutouts but his roster jumping ways enraged league officials and he was barred from playing with any team in 1885.
Jumping teams wasn’t anything new. In this era, players never suited up for the same team on a lenghty basis. A couple years is most any teams got out of their star players, but Mullane was made an example of 1885 and it hindered his career stats. He assuredly would be a member of the elusive 300-win fraternity had he played that season.
When he was reinstated, Tony still had the magic. He posted another 30 win season for his new club, the Cincinnati Red Stockings while tossing in the excess of 500 innings. For the fifth straight season, in 1887, Tony eclipsed the 30 win barrier (the most consecutive seasons of 30 wins Cy Young strung together were two). Mullane also paced the league in shutouts in ’87.
His win total fell to 26 in 1888 and to 11 in 1889 as the years of constant toil began to take their toll. When it looked like Tony’s career was winding down, he revived it with consecutive 20-win seasons in 1891 and 1892. In the latter campaign, he was the most stingy pitcher in the National League, leading the loop in fewest hits allowed on average.
In the 1893 season he was traded to the old Baltimore Orioles for Piggy Ward. He played one final year, splitting the season between the Orioles and Cleveland Spiders. Mullane currently resides 29th in career wins, 25th in innings pitched and tenth in complete games. He was one of the finest pitchers the 1800s had to offer.
W 286/L 213/PCT .573/G 557/CG 469/IP 4,545/H 4,203/BB 1,409/SO 1,817/ERA 3.46
* Most 1800 era players have varying statistics out there. Some avenues list Mullane’s career ERA at 3.05.