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Iron Man McGinnity

This is Roald Tweet on Rock Island.

Had the weather been a bit more cooperative during the 1904 baseball season, today's annual award for the best professional pitcher might well be name for "Iron Man" McGinnity rather than Cy Young. Iron Man McGinnity of Rock Island, Illinois.

Joe McGinnity was born in Rock Island in 1865. He became a pitcher in the minor leagues for Montgomery, Alabama, in 1892. The following year, he pitched 21 games without a loss. From 1895 to 97, Joe pitched for the Springfield, Illinois team while working during the day in an iron mill. Hence his nickname and his ability to hang in there. During the 1903 season, pitching for the Baltimore Orioles, he won a record three double headers in a single season.

Iron Man McGinnity's only competition was another pitcher over in the American League, Cy Young. Young was fast, "a bruising speed merchant," the St. Louis paper said, "who could send a ball across the pan so fast it resembled a peewee when it reached the batter." But if Cy Young was faster, McGinnity had more craft. If necessary, he could pitch without signals. And his unusual underhand "raise" ball fooled every batter in the opposite league.

Add it all up, and Iron Man and Cy were equals that summer of 1904. There was only one small difference between the two pitchers: on dark, cloudy days, Cy Young was invincible, but he slacked off a little when the sun was out. Iron Man McGinnity was just the opposite. His spirits and his pitching arm drooped with the sun gone; on bright days he could fan out any two of the greatest hitters in the league, one after the other.

That must have been what happened that summer. By mid-season, McGinnity had pitched more winning games than anyone else in the National league. But it got cloudy, and Cy Young pulled ahead, and ended up with his name on a prestigious award.

As for Iron Man McGinnity, don't worry about him. Anticipating the possibility of clouds, he had saved up his salaries and invested them in an iron foundry.

Rock Island Lines is underwritten by the Illinois Arts Council, a state agency, and Augustana College, Rock Island.

Beginning 1995, historian and folklorist Dr. Roald Tweet spun his stories of the Mississippi Valley to a devoted audience on WVIK. Dr. Tweet published three books as well as numerous literary articles and recorded segments of "Rock Island Lines." His inspiration was that "kidney-shaped limestone island plunked down in the middle of the Mississippi River," a logical site for a storyteller like Dr. Tweet.