Tuesday, April 19, 2011

A Magical Elixir

John and I have both written about the impact of steroids on baseball and its hallowed records and I would like to add a post script on the history of drug use.

It turns out Jose Canseco, Mark McGwire, and company were not the first players to try some enhancements. Pitcher Tom House admitted to using steroids 'they wouldn't give to horses' during the 1970s. House claimed steroid use was widespread at the time. Dale Berra testified to getting amphetamines from Bill Madlock and Willie Stargell. 'Greenies' were very popular in the '80s.

Three of baseball's elite may even have experimented with drugs, though none stuck with them. John Milner said he once spotted Willie Mays with 'red juice' in his locker. Mickey Mantle's slump at the end of 1961 was induced by an injection from a quack doctor, though it was to cure a rash, and Babe Ruth once injected an extract from sheep's testicles – which did him no good and made him ill.

In his book The Darker Side of Baseball, Roger Abrams tells of baseball's first user. Jim "the Little Steam Engine" Galvin was short and stocky and had a handlebar mustache. He was called Pud because he turned batters to pudding. Known for his fastball and pinpoint control, Galvin won 46 games for the Buffalo Bisons in 1883 and another 46 the next year. But when his skills began to deteriorate at age 32 Pud became a user of and spokesman for Brown-Sequard Elixir, a testosterone supplement from the testicles of dogs and guinea pigs. (There may be more to the name baseBALLS than we thought.)

Doctor Brown-Seqard was a respected member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences as well as the Royal Society. In 1889 he developed the extract and after injecting himself found his constipation gone and his intellectual vigor restored. He told a startled audience of fellow scientists (lucky none were women in those days) that he had lengthened the arc of his urine stream by 25 percent and could blast cockroaches off the walls of la toilette.

Within weeks The New Haven Register wrote, "The discovery of a true elixir of youth by which the aged can renew their bodily vigor would be a great thing for baseball nines."

Producers of the concoction tried to persuade John L. Sullivan to be their spokesman, but the heavyweight champion declined. Soon after though Galvin was injected at a Pittsburgh medical college just blocks from where Galvin shortly thereafter threw a 9-0 shutout for the Alleghenys and even got two hits. The Washington Post was ecstatic with the results. "If there still be doubting Thomases who concede no virtue in the elixir they are respectfully referred to Galvin's record in yesterday's game," which they claimed was one of the best of his career.

But the elixir didn't help Pud for long. By the next year he was washed up and The Chicago Tribune wryly remarked, "Jimmy Calvin says he is only 33 years old. Jimmy must have gone to 40 and started back in the count." The Alleghenys cut his salary in half and then sent him to the crosstown Burgers of the short-lived Players League. Galvin went 37–39 before giving up. His 361 career wins were enough to get him elected by the Veterans Committee to the Hall of Fame but not until 1965.


Rick Blechta said...

It really gives me comfort to know that our current times didn't invent cheating.

John the Tomahawk Trembath said...

Where there is an advantage to be gained, someone will take it. It will ever be thus. When will baseball be clean? What will be the newest form of enhancement? Hope Bug Selig can at least react quicker. Oh right. He is leaving soon. Good riddance!