Monday, December 29, 2014

He Threw Games for Gamblers Yet He Still Holds Record for Most Innings Pitched Without Allowing a Home Run

We present now for your amusement, the curious case of one Joe Blong.  St. Louis Brown Stockings right-handed pitcher, St. Louis native, son of Irish immigrants, and University of Notre Dame alumnus.

He holds the major league record for most innings pitched without allowing a home run in a career (320.1 innings). But it also seems he had a nasty habit of throwing games, "hippodroming" as the newspapers of the day colorfully called it, and was kicked out of baseball for it not once but twice.

When Joe and two other Browns teammates were kicked out of baseball and blacklisted from all respectable leagues in November 1877, it was curtains for repeat-offender Blong.   How do you develop a reputation for throwing games and still hold a positive record that lasts forever?  Perhaps he had so much pitching control that he was able to serve up only singles and doubles so that it did not look too obvious that he was throwing a game.?? In that case, still remarkable control for a pitcher.

The modern record is quite a ways off from Blong's mark: (269.1 Greg Minton, San Francisco Giants reliever - June 1, 1979 through May 1, 1982), symptomatic of home runs that happen about 8 times as often as they did in the eighteen seventies.  But nonetheless even if someday someone surpasses 320.1 innings, it is not likely to represent the entire career of that pitcher.  Organized baseball did not know what a favor they were doing for Joe when they expelled him in 1877:  bestowing him with an almost impossible record of pitching an entire career, consisting of more than 300 innings, without giving up a home run.

Blong is buried in Calvary Cemetery in north St. Louis.

p.s. for Notre Dame fans, one of Blong's partners in crime was the unfortunately named ballplayer Trick McSorley, his classmate at Notre Dame. 

Here is the account from This Game of Games blog:

The St. Louis Globe Democrat ... chastised the Browns for signing Blong. While it’s possible that this sense of outrage was simply a result of Blong’s disregard for a contract, the Globe Democrat’s article from October 31st, that stated that Blong was expelled from both the Reds and the Stars for “hippodroming, must be taken seriously. The contemporary sources paint Blong as a scoundrel at best and, at worst, as a man lacking honesty and character. The red flags were certainly up.

Playing mostly in the outfield, Blong had an uneventful 1876 season for the Brown Stockings while enjoying his best year statistically. In 1877, he was named team captain. Captain Blong was not having a good year at the plate that year when the Brown Stockings went to Chicago in late August to take on the White Stockings. On August 24, 1877, Chicago beat St. Louis 4-3 in just another game in the dog days of the season. However, later that month, Blong and teammate Joe Battin were named by a group of Chicago and St. Louis gamblers as “willing partners” in the fix of the August 24th game. “Crooked play has been discovered in the St. Louis nine,” said an article in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, “and a dispatch from St. Louis says that (Davey) Force, Battin, and Blong have been expelled with forfeited pay.” The scandal would lead to the blacklisting of Blong, Battin, Force, and teammate Mike McGeary in November of 1877.

Joe Blong’s big league career was over. Even though he was able to catch on with “the Springfield nine” in 1878 and was playing baseball with the Union Club of St. Louis as late as 1884, Blong would never again be allowed to play baseball in the major leagues. While the incidents with the Reds and Stars are open to interpretation, Blong was specifically named, by gamblers, in a fixing incident while with the Brown Stockings and would be persona non grata in Organized Baseball for the rest of his life.