The following is a guest post from Senior Music Specialist Susan Clermont.
“Lots of ev’nings after dinner when I’m cuddled on his knee,
He’ll tell me of the good men gone, that never more we’ll see;
Of Addie Joss and Uncle Cy, it’s a cruel, cruel shame,
That death took Mr. Joss away and Uncle’s quit the game.”
– My Dad’s the Pitcher Man (1913)
by Edris J. Tillinghast and Frederick Morrill
A few years before the baseball song “My Dad’s the Pitcher Man” was composed, one of baseball’s greatest major league pitchers tragically died from tuberculous meningitis on April 14, 1911, two days after his 31st birthday. Adrian “Addie” Joss, nicknamed the “human hairpin,” or “human slat,” pitched for the Cleveland Naps (now the Indians) from the 1902 through 1910 seasons, capturing multiple awards and achieving staggering stats that solidified his legacy as a superstar. In his rookie year, Joss led the American League in shutouts; over his career, he compiled a 160-97 record (a winning percentage of .623 with 45 shutouts, 7 one-hitters and 2 no-hitters and a lifetime ERA of 1.89, second only to Chicago’s Ed Walsh).
Joss’s greatest achievement, however, is that he tossed the second perfect game in modern baseball history (a feat first accomplished in 1904 by Cy Young) – with a record low of 74 pitches, an efficiency that remains unmatched today. Yet, despite his distinguished, albeit curtailed career, his name and story are not nearly as well-known today as others’. As Cleveland prepares to host the upcoming 2019 All-Star Game, now is an appropriate time to revisit Addie Joss’s story.
I first became familiar with Joss through the lyrics of two baseball songs, the piece cited above and “When the Naps Are Playing Baseball,” composed for Joss just days after his death by Joseph Kryza.
The lyrics recall the October 2, 1908 playoff match between Joss (Cleveland) and Hall-of-Fame hurler Ed Walsh (Chicago White Sox), a game that has been described as the greatest pitching duel of all time. “Big Ed” gave a spectacular performance as he fanned fifteen of the Naps’ batters and allowed only one unearned run. Still, he lost. Joss, who reportedly pitched the final innings before a totally silent crowd at League Park, was perfect. “I am glad that Addie took down a record that goes to so few…. Yes, I pitched a good game myself, but Joss pitched better” said Walsh.
Addie Joss had the reputation of being a fierce competitor, but he was best known as a decent man with a magnetic personality, a beloved teammate who fans and competitors alike admired. This made his sudden death even more difficult to fathom. Naps Captain George Stovall threatened to strike if the AL president didn’t postpone a game scheduled with Detroit on the day of Joss’s funeral so the team could attend the service. Reportedly, Stovall and several other players (including Detroit’s Ty Cobb) openly wept that day. Quotes from ball-player-evangelist Billy Sunday’s dramatic eulogy were reprinted in newspapers across the country: “Joss tried hard to strike out death, and it seemed for a time as though he would win…. The bases were full. The score was a tie, with two outs. Thousands, yes, millions in a nation’s grandstands and bleachers sat breathless watching the conflict. The great twirler stood erect in the box. Death walked to the plate….”
The day after the funeral, plans were announced that the Naps would sponsor a benefit game for Joss’s widow and two children. Invitations were extended to baseball’s finest players (including seven future Hall-of-Famers) from the remaining AL teams to create the opposing team. On July 24, 1911, the largest gathering of ‘All-Stars’ in baseball history, including Home Run Baker, Smokey Joe Wood, Walter Johnson, Tris Speaker and Ty Cobb (who played the game in a Cleveland uniform after his luggage was lost in transit, and who made an anonymous $100 donation) faced the Naps at League Park. It was an historic game: Cy Young pitched; rookie Shoeless Joe Jackson manned right field. All participants, workers, and grounds crew volunteered their services for Addie.
The Naps lost 5-3 in front of over 15,000 fans, but the score was meaningless. They had achieved their goal, raising close to $13,000 (over $320,000.00 in today’s dollars) for Joss’s family. Today, many sports writers refer to this event (unofficially) as the first All-Star Game in MLB history. It wasn’t until twenty-two years later that the first official All-Star Game was played at Comiskey Park – with Babe Ruth hammering in the first home run of the day.
A final footnote: It took over sixty years for Joss to be inducted into Baseball’s Hall-of-Fame. The obstacle was a rule requiring players to participate in at least ten seasons in order to be eligible for the award. Although Joss played in 1911 pre-season games, he died days before he could take the mound for his tenth regular season – where only one game would have fulfilled the ten year prerequisite. When a petition was submitted to review his credentials the Hall’s Veteran’s Committee voted in favor of Joss’ election in 1978, making him the only player ever inducted into the Hall with the rule waived.
Addie Joss was on the cusp of greatness when he died. Perhaps part of the commentary for this year’s All-Star Game in Cleveland will include a remembrance of one of their greatest pitchers that most of today’s fans may never have heard of.
For more information about baseball music see Baseball’s Greatest Hits: An Annotated Bibliography of Baseball Music and Songs at the Library of Congress. For images of our pre-1923 baseball hits, visit our digital baseball sheet music collection. A 2017 exhibit, Baseball’s Greatest Hits: The Music of Our National Game, also provides more information. On Addie Joss, see: Addie Joss: King of the Pitchers by Scott H. Longert (SABR, 2016) and Addie Joss on baseball : collected newspaper columns and world series reports, 1907-1909 compiled and annotated by Rich Blevins (McFarland, 2012).