Joe McGinnity may be the most durable pitcher in baseball history.

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Nicknamed the “Iron Man” McGinnity didn’t reach the majors until 28 but once he got there he dominated.  In each of his first eight seasons, the right-hander won at least 20 games and twice won more than 30.  He led the majors in wins four times and averaged better than 344 innings a season, twice hurling more than 400 frames.  Iron Man won 28 games in each of his first two seasons, leading the National League both times.

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McGinnity joined the Giants midway through 1902, where he and Christy Mathewson formed one of the most dominant 1-2 punches in baseball history.  From 1903 to 1908, either he or Mathewson led the NL in victories.  McGinnity enjoyed his best season in 1904, when he led the league in wins [35], ERA [1.61], innings pitched [408] and WHIP [0.963].

Giants manager John McGraw said McGinnity was “the hardest working pitcher I ever had on my ballclub.”

In just ten major league seasons, McGinnity worked 3,441 innings and won 246 games.  In August 1903, he pitched and won both ends of a doubleheader three times.  He duplicated that feat three times in his career.

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Although a big man for his day at 5’11” and 205 pounds, McGinnity was hardly a power pitcher.  He featured a baffling, rising curve he nicknamed “Old Sal,” and threw from several arm angles.  McGinnity showcased a sidearm delivery but also threw a devastating sinker from a conventional overhand motion.  Iron Man threw underhand at times and kept hitters off balance with the occasional quick pitch or spitball.

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McGinnity loved to get inside the head and under the skin of opponents.  A fiery competitor, he never hesitated to brush back a hitter who dared crowd his plate.  McGinnity was aggressive.  He fought for his team and never gave in to opposing hitters.  The Irishman’s simmering temper often got him in trouble.  In 1901, he was suspended for 12 days for assaulting umpire Tommy Connolly.  After a scrap with Pittsburgh’s Heinie Peitz in 1906, McGinnity was briefly jailed and later suspended for ten days.

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Nolan Ryan would have loved Joe McGinnity.  In his day, the tireless right-hander lamented that major league teams felt the need to carry as many as ten pitchers on their rosters.  McGinnity thought four or five was sufficient.  “This policy has had a psychological effect upon the pitchers,” Joe said.  “They have been influenced into the belief that they should not have to work without a long rest and that they can’t be effective without that rest.”

A respectable hitter, Joe McGinnity was considered the best fielding pitcher of his era.

Born March 10, 1871, Joseph Jerome McGinnity grew up in rural Illinois, 30 miles east of Rock Island in the rural farm town of Cornwall.  His father, an Irish immigrant and nomadic coal miner who moved the family often, died in a mining accident when Joe was four.  At eight, Joe and his older brothers went to work in the mines to support their family.  While living in Decatur, Illinois, McGinnity began playing baseball with other miners in their leisure time.  While pitching in a semi-professional league, he was discovered and signed by the Baltimore Orioles.

McGinnity made his major league debut in April 1899 and went 28-16 as a rookie.  The O’s folded after the season, and McGinnity was moved to the Brooklyn Superbas [renamed Dodgers in 1913].  He landed with the New York Giants in 1902 and enjoyed his greatest success under manager John McGraw, winning 31 games in his first season and 35 the following year.  The Giants released McGinnity after the 1908 season but the workhorse continued pitching in the minor leagues, where he also served as a manager and team owner in a career that continued for 20 more years.

Despite little formal education, McGinnity was a cerebral player.  He was the first pitcher to keep a book on opposing hitters, charting the strengths and weaknesses of each.  “I ascribe a great deal of my success to my ability to judge players as they come to bat,” said McGinnity.  “The first principle of a successful pitcher is to give his opponent what they don’t want.”

The legendary Connie Mack said Joe McGinnity was a “magician” who “knew all the tricks for putting a batter on the spot.”

Iron Man Joe McGinnity still holds several records.  A fierce battler who believed he owned the inside part of the plate, McGinnity plunked 40 batters in 1900, still the single-season mark.  The Iron Man also recorded the most complete games [48] and innings pitched [434] in a single season.  To put that into perspective, Max Schurzer in 2018 led MLB with 220.2 innings pitched, while Noah Syndergaard topped baseball with two complete games.

McGinnity went 246-142 with a 2.66 ERA during a decade-long big-league career in which he struck out 1,068 and amassed a 1.188 WHIP.  He played his last major league game October 5, 1908, at 37.  The Iron Man returned to the minors, where he pitched until he was 54, retiring in 1928.  In addition to his major league workload, the most durable pitcher in baseball history threw another 3,821 innings and won another 235 games in a minor league career that totaled 15 seasons.  In three decades of professional baseball, Iron Man Joe McGinnity went 478-352.

In the spring of 1929, Mr. McGinnity was diagnosed with bladder cancer.  He died in Brooklyn that November, at the home of his daughter.  Iron Joe was 58.  McGinnity was posthumously inducted in the Baseball Hall of Fame by the Old Timer’s Committee in 1946.

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On this date in 1908, Joe McGinnity blanked the St. Louis Cardinals 11-0.  Iron Man scattered nine hits and went the distance to go 8-5 on the season.  He also went 4-4 at the plate while driving in two runs to help his cause.

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  1. They certainly don’t make them like Joe McGinnity any more. 48 complete games in a single season is simply unheard of – an Iron Man’s Iron Man.

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