The Oldest Veteran in the Major Leagues
BASEBALL Magazine September 1930
What is the application? Merely this. If Cleveland is as strong next season as Stanley Coveleskie, she will win the American League pennant beyond a doubt.
John Quinn Picus, who has shortened his name to Jack Quinn. A powerful physique, an iron endurance, an easy delivery, and a placid mind are the four cardinal causes of his prolonged activities in the big show.
Jack Quinn is the patriarch of major league pitchers. His age is something of a problem for he loves to surround himself with mystery. No prima donna is more secretive on this touchy theme than he. The record books say that he was forty?five on July 5th. Quinn greets this intelligence with a skeptical raising of the eyebrows. "I'm not so old as they try to make out," he says. But not many years ago he was at odds with the same record books because they didn't make him out so old as he should have been.
At one stage of a ballplayer's career, it is no disadvantage for him to add a year or more to his lawful age. But when you are well past forty, and Quinn is certainly that, a big league pitcher would prefer to forget an occasional birthday.
The facts are that Quinn donned a major league uniform twenty?two years ago. Nor did he step at once from a sandlot's diamond to the majors. He spent upwards of six years in the minors. The man who has played professional baseball for twenty?eight seasons is no rookie.
Quinn regards these episodes of his past life with seeming indifference, however.
"I was getting thirty dollars a month for pitching ball when I was fourteen years old," he says. That sounds like a contribution to Ripley's "Believe it or not" column. But at least the dean of major league hurlers is entitled to a hearing.
"Some of these newspaper fellows," says Quinn, "had me forty years old ten years ago. I'd be wearing long white whiskers like Santa Claus if I had kept pace with all the dope that's been written about my age. I'm old enough and there's no argument on that point. But why consign me to the boneyard before my time?" A pertinent query, this, so let's dismiss the theme by accepting Quinn's own words, "I'm old enough."
There was a time when Battling Nelson was known as the durable Dane of the boxing ring. Jack Quinn is certainly the durable Pole of the pitching mound. What is the cause for his surprising longevity in the hot pace of the major leagues? Quinn answers this question simply.
"Nothing bothers me," he says. "Why should it? The undertaker will get us all soon enough. There's no need to meet him more than halfway. A lot of pitchers worry themselves out of the game. They cut their span of successful work by whole seasons. What a foolish thing to do?
"Pitching, with me, is a serious profession. I realize its importance and I like to pitch. Above all, I want to feel that I can do good work. Naturally I want to win. So far so good. All that's mere horse sense. But much as I like to win, I'm not crazy about it. I realize the other fellow wants to win, too. If I'm lucky enough to get the breaks, well and good. If he outlucks me, I may get my turn next time.
"Doing his best is no more than a pitcher is paid for. Bearing down in the pinches is what he is supposed to do. But that isn't worry and it isn't physical strain.
"I get tired after a hard ball game just as other pitchers do, but I don't get sick and hang around half the night unable to eat my supper. And I don't lie awake till morning wondering what might have happened if I'd pitched a little inside instead of outside to a certain batter.
"Overdoing a thing is half doing it. There's only one right way to pitch a ball game. Do your best and let it go at that. Fussing and stewing and fretting is like throwing grit into the machinery."
Sensible advice and worthy to be followed by all impatient rookies. But is this alone the secret of Quinn's elongated career? Mental attitude is important, true enough. But Quinn has other factors in his favor. He is, in truth, of a deceptive build. He doesn't impress the observer as being tall, but he stands a good six feet. He doesn't impress one as being bulky, but be weighs a strong 200 pounds. And that 200 pounds is solid bone and muscle, or rather "gristle," as he calls it.
The truth is, Quinn has a phenomenally powerful build. Nature endowed him with much more than average strength. And with that strength goes an even more pronounced endurance.
Quinn worked, in his early days, in the coal mines. He was also a blacksmith. No type of work is more conducive of seasoned muscles than mining and blacksmithing.
"Coal miners that have reached the major leagues, have all been stars except me," says Quinn. "I'm just mediocre. But I wouldn't consider that mining was a healthy job. You breathe too much dust and coal gas. Barring accidents, which are liable to cost you a leg, to say nothing of your neck, a coal miner develops asthma. In a blacksmith shop you breathe sulphur and charcoal fumes. A doctor wouldn't call that a healthy atmosphere. Baseball is healthy."
Quinn is one of the last of the spitball pitchers, a dying breed, and like others of the craft, he deplores the passing of a famous delivery. "The spitball ought to be restored in the professional leagues," says Quinn. "Properly pitched, there's no objection to it. The spitter got a bad name years ago because a lot of fellows misused it. With all this free hitting that is going on, a few more spitball pitchers would tend to restore the game to a more even balance.
"I can remember when the spitter was condemned because it was hard on the arm. It couldn't have been so hard on mine. In fact, these arguments always were silly. A spitter is thrown with exactly the same motion as a fast ball, and fast ball pitching is the easiest pitching there is.
"I didn't take up the spitter because I specially like it, although I learned to like it later. My fingers were so short I couldn't grip a ball well enough to throw an effective curve. With a fast ball and a spitter, however, I have developed a control that I think will rank as good as anybody's in this circuit. If you bother to look up the records, you'll find I give fewer bases on balls, year after year, in proportion to the amount of work I do, than almost any hurler in the league, "And that's another reason why I can pitch when I'm past forty. Control is also easy on your arm. If you can put the ball where you want to, you don't need so much stuff. Some of the best pitchers we've had in recent years could show only moderate speed. Herb Pennock is one example. Sam Jones is another.
"A good head and good control will make up for an inferior soupbone. But a great soupbone without at least fair control, is just nothing at all. I think a pitcher can learn control, to some extent. But it's more in his head than his arm.
"Keeping cool is the secret. When things go wrong for me in a ball game, I look over the batter very carefully. I note just how he stands and how he moves his feet and how he holds his bat. Whatever happens, they can't rush me. I'll take my time. I'll make up my mind just what to pitch to him. He may hit me, but no matter what happens, I'm not going to develop a brainstorm and blow?up. Being hit is bad enough, but blowing up is merely making a bad matter worse.
"Some pitchers like to burn the ball over the plate when they're in a hole. I prefer to fall back on change of pace. Slow stuff will stop a slugger more effectively than speed, but you must mix even slow balls with brains. If you pitched nothing but slow ones, the batters would soon knock you out of the box.
"They say that pitchers are not so good as they were years ago. There's a reason. Pitching is harder work than it was years ago. With so many new balls, so many sluggers and a livelier ball to handle, you must bear down harder. Pitching is a steady strain. In the old days you could let up, except when the sluggers faced you. Now everybody you face, even the pitcher, may drive the ball into the bleachers, if he meets it right. They're all possible sluggers.
"Young pitchers, however, are not so smart as they used to be. They have fewer tricks up their sleeve. When I broke in, a successful pitcher needed a fairly wide assortment of stuff. Now pitching is more a case of putting everything you have on the ball and trusting to luck.
"No doubt pitchers are just as rugged now as they ever were. They don't pitch fifty or sixty games in a season like some of the oldtimers. There are two reasons for this. In the first place, pitching now, as I've already said, is a good deal harder work. In the second place, there are many more pitchers. The individual isn't called upon so often.
"Pitching is mainly experience, but young fellows, in particular, can learn much from the veterans. Any old player, even an outfielder, can teach a youngster a good deal about pitching. A catcher is particularly good as a teacher. Lou Criger taught me a lot when I was young. He was the first one who pointed out to me the advantage of making my head save my arm.
"Some days I find pitching easy, other days, when things go wrong, it's pretty hard work. In general I'd say that pitching is like everything else. The more experience you have and the more you know about it, the easier it is. If I could keep on pitching until I was sixty, it ought to be nothing but routine.
"Well, I can't last forever. Though I still think I'm good for many more victories.
"I've had a rather interesting career. All my life I've kept notes and some time I may get them together and make them public. There's a lot I can say when I get around to it. And that's some satisfaction, even if I never did make the big money."
A THUMB NAIL SKETCH OF JACK QUINN
He was born at Hazelton, Penn.
He is six feet tall and weighs 200 pounds.
He began playing semi?pro ball twenty?eight years ago.
His first professional engagement was with the Yankees in 1909.
He was relegated to the minors eighteen years ago.
He is still wearing a major league uniform on a powerful ball club? the oldest man in the big show.
Quinn was with the Yankees twice, with the Red Sox twice and has been with the Athletics six years.
He has appeared in two World's Series? in 1921 with the Yankees, in 1929 with the Athletics.