This page is for Jim Devlin, star pitcher in professional baseball's early days; for the catcher Jim Devlin who played one game in 1944, click here. For the pitcher Jim Devlin from the 1880's, click here.
James Alexander Devlin
- Bats Right, Throws Right
- Height 5' 11", Weight 175 lb.
- Debut April 21, 1873
- Final Game October 6, 1877
- Born June 6, 1849 in Philadelphia, PA USA
- Died October 10, 1883 in Philadelphia, PA USA
Jim Devlin played baseball for six years, one in independent ball (1872); four in the National Association (1872-1875) and two in the National League (1876-1877). He broke into professional baseball at age 22 with Easton, playing third base. He played first base for the Philadelphia White Stockings, National Association (1873) and was a reserve including some pitching for the Chicago White Stockings, National Association (1874-1875). At 26 years of age, he played his first game in the National League on April 25, 1876, with the Louisville Grays, where he played his final MLB game in September 1877 at age 28.
Devlin first gained the attention of the baseball world on June 19, 1875, in a game that Henry Chadwick called "the finest display of baseball playing and the most exciting contest yet recorded in the annals of the national game." The Chicago Whites and the Hartford Dark Blues battled ten scoreless innings before Devlin scored on a fly out by Paul Hines in the 11th to win for Chicago, 1-0.
In 1876, his best year, Jim Devlin was (30-35) with 122 strikeouts, 37 walks and 5 shutouts in 622 innings pitched with an ERA of 1.56 and a WHIP of 0.969 in 68 games. Overall, he was (72-76) with 273 strikeouts, 89 walks and 9 shutouts in 1,405 innings pitched with an ERA of 2,05 and a WHIP of 1.086 in 157 games.
The National League's Inaugural Season
Joining Louisville in 1876, he is said to have invented the "down shoot" delivery (today we would call it a sinker) and there were few men who could hit him, so effective was his peculiar pitching. Pop Snyder caught for him and they were considered a very strong battery.
On June 6, 1876, Manager Harry Wright, 41, made his only appearance of the season for Boston, in the outfield, but Devlin dealt the "Beantowners" their first shutout of the season 3-0. On June 10, George Bechtel, right fielder for Louisville, who had been suspended for "crookedness" in the last previous Louisville-Mutuals game, got into deeper trouble when Devlin showed his manager a telegram from Bechtel saying: "We can win $100 if you lose the game today". On July 10, the New York Mutuals scored one run in the ninth to tie the Grays and then scored four in the 16th to win 8-5. Bobby Mathews prevailed over Devlin in the longest game of the season. In the previous game on July 8, the two hurlers had battled to a 5-5 tie in 15 innings. On October 6, Louisville closed out its season with an 11-2 loss to Hartford. Devlin, injured severely during the previous game, did not pitch for the first time that season. He would still lead the league in Games (68), Complete Games (66), and Innings Pitched (622).
The Infamous 1877 Season
As the 1877 season progressed, Devlin stood on the verge of stardom. He had pitched Louisville into first place in the National League and seemed capable of continuing to bring them the pennant. In so doing, he established a record that will never be approached: he pitched 100% of the Grays' innings. He was the only pitcher on the mound for the team's 559 innings, going 35-25-1 in 61 games. Furthermore, he had pitched all but the final game of the season for Louisville the previous year, logging 1,181 innings over those two years. On August 1, Devlin participated in the first triple play by a pitcher in the National League against the St. Louis Brown Stockings. The play was scored 9*-1-2-3-6-2*-2*.
On August 16, with the Grays in first place, Louisville lost in Boston 6-1, but retained first place. Bill Craver took a called third strike with the tying runs on base, and Devlin fanned four times, raising suspicions of gambling. On September 5, Devlin and George Hall agreed to throw the next day's game in Cincinnati for $25 apiece. Louisville would lose the game 1-0. On September 6, Bobby Mitchell of Cincinnati, the first southpaw to pitch in the National League, won a 1-0 victory over Devlin. Teammate Lip Pike, described as the first Jewish player in the National League, provided the margin with a home run.
After this disastrous late-season road trip in which the seemingly pennant-bound Louisville club lost seven straight games, Jim Devlin was accused by his club of helping to throw games. The losing streak was characterized by unusual "bonehead" plays and poor pitching. The Grays relinquished their lead and eventually finished second, trailing Boston by three games. Meanwhile, certain Grays were seen around town donning fancy new jewelry and ostentatiously dining at exclusively top restaurants. This suspicion increased as the players performed very well in post-season exhibition matches and as the Louisville Courier-Journal discovered that utility infielder Al Nichols had received an abnormally high number of telegrams. Courier-Journal writer John Haldeman, who was the son of the team president and sometimes played second base in the team's exhibition games, was the first to publicly accuse the Grays of throwing games. Team vice president Charles Chase, who had earlier received but disregarded telegrams informing him that gamblers were betting against the Grays in certain games, began an investigation.
As suspicion grew that players were being paid to intentionally lose games, Chase demanded that his players allow him to inspect their papers. Craver, the team's shortstop, was the only player to deny the request, citing lack of pay. The telegrams confirmed that Nichols was coordinating the outcome of games with New York gamblers. Craver, who carried a bad reputation from his days in the National Association, was presumed guilty by association. On October 26, Chase confronted George Hall and Devlin with charges that they had thrown road games in August and September. Both admitted to throwing non-league games and implicated teammates Nichols and Craver. Chase was relentless in his accusations. At first, Devlin denied the charges, then finally broke down and admitted to giving in to gamblers. He blamed the cheap Louisville owners as well as the gamblers for his plight. The Louisville owners were not willing to pay an honest wage according to him, and so, he was driven into the arms of the gamblers by "cheap skate" owners.
Admitting his involvement, he was expelled from the club along with the others. William Hulbert, the president of the National League, decided to make a stand against gambling. He immediately banned Devlin, Hall, Nichols and Craver for life. Craver, against whom no evidence of gambling has ever been found, was outraged and appealed the sentence. Devlin also appealed to the League for reinstatement every year for the rest of his life, even writing his friend, legendary manager Harry Wright, for help. However, Hulbert remained resolute and none of the Louisville Four ever played major league baseball again.
After his playing career, Devlin became a patrolman for the Philadelphia police department in the Second Philadelphia District. On October 10, 1883, he died nearly destitute from gambling debts at age 34, six years after his baseball career had ended, at his home in Philadelphia, PA of typhoid pneumonia (consumption) complicated by acute alcoholism. He is buried at New Cathedral Cemetery in Philadelphia. Surviving him were his widow and a son, left in straightened circumstances. A meeting of the officers of the District produced a resolution honoring him for his good and valued service and "though connected with us but a short time, (he) had endeared himself to us and won the respect and esteem of all by his kind and genial disposition," but provided no cash for the family.
- Led the Louisville Grays in batting at .315 in 1876
- First triple play by a pitcher in the National League 1 August 1877 (9*-1-2-3-6-2*-2*)
- Led National League in Games Pitched (68); Innings Pitched (622.0); Losses(35) and Batters Faced by Pitcher (2,568) in 1876
- Led National League in Games Played (61), Games Pitched (61); Innings Pitched (559.0); Hits Allowed (617); Losses (25); Batters Faced by Pitcher (2,328) and Adjusted ERA+ (147) in 1877
- In 1877, Devlin pitched every inning of his team's games, the only pitcher ever to do so.
- 2-time NL Games Pitched Leader (1876 & 1877)
- 2-time NL Innings Pitched Leader (1876 & 1877)
- NL Strikeouts Leader (1876)
- 2-time NL Complete Games Leader (1876 & 1877)
- 20 Wins Seasons: 2 (1876 & 1877)
- 30 Wins Seasons: 2 (1876 & 1877)
- 200 Innings Pitched Seasons: 3 (1875-1877)
- 300 Innings Pitched Seasons: 2 (1876 & 1877)
- 400 Innings Pitched Seasons: 2 (1876 & 1877)
- 500 Innings Pitched Seasons: 2 (1876 & 1877)
- 600 Innings Pitched Seasons: 1 (1876)
- Holds record for most Complete Games, season, by a rookie (66), 1876
- Holds record for most Innings Pitched, season, by a rookie (622), 1876
- Held record for most Complete Games, season (66), 1876 until broken by Will White in 1879
- Held record for most Innings Pitched, season (622), 1876 until broken by Will White in 1879
- Holds the non-NA record for most seasons where he won all his team's wins, with two such seasons. (New York and St Louis in 1876, and Cincinnati in 1879 were the only other such teams.)
- William A. Cook: The Louisville Grays Scandal of 1877: The Taint of Gambling at the Dawn of the National League, McFarland, Jefferson, NC, 2005.
Principal sources for Jim Devlin include newspaper obituaries (OB), government records (VA,CM,CW), Sporting Life (SL), Baseball Digest, The Sporting News (TSN), The Sports Encyclopedia:Baseball 2006 by David Neft & Richard Cohen (N&C), old Who's Who in Baseballs (none) (WW), old Baseball Registers (none) (BR), TSN's Daguerreotypes (none) (DAG), The Historical Register, The Baseball Necrology by Bill Lee (BN), Pat Doyle's Professional Ballplayer DataBase(PD), The Baseball Library (BL); various Encyclopediae including The Official Encyclopedia of Baseball by Turkin & Thompson (T&T), MacMillan Baseball Encyclopedia (Mac), Total Baseball (TB), The Bill James Historical Abstract (BJ) and The Encyclopedia of Minor League Baseball (LJ); Retrosheet (RS), The Baseball Chronology (BC), Baseball Page (BP), The Baseball Almanac (BA), Baseball Cube (B3), The Biographical Encyclopedia: Baseball by the Editors of Total Baseball and The National Association of Baseball Players (1857-1870) by Marshall D. Wright and obituaries at deadballera.com (DBE) as well as research by Reed Howard (RH), Pat Doyle (PD) and Frank Hamilton (FH).
- For a more complete story of "the fix", see The Taint of Gambling at the Dawn of the National League
- Also see obituary at Jim Devlin's obituary
- and a full Bibliography from SABR's The Baseball Index (TBI)