What’s fun about turning over baseball’s rocks is that it often turns out that beneath them there are…other rocks.
Two of the Giants
made the telling plays in the Temple Cup games, just as they did two weeks ago
in Chicago. … “You wish to know why these two particular men, and
how they did it? This is the solution.” The speaker held between his
finger and thumb a diminutive three-cornered blue phial. He continued:
“May be, you all do not know that R—- … is a pretty good doctor.
… When we got to Washington he asked W—- and myself to go with him one morning
to call on a doctor who is supposed to be thoroughly up in Isopathy. The visit
was most interesting, and when we left, R—- and W—- had promised to test the
virtue of the elixir contained in these little bottles. The opportunity
occurred in Chicago September 18th. The score was 1 to 1, each team having
tallied in the sixth. R—- was now up, but before taking the bat I saw him pass
something to his mouth and then look up for quite two minutes. His eyes
brightened and the veins across his temples and the arteries down his neck
knotted like cords as he stood at the plate. … R—- met the ball … and he put
his 230 pounds in the lunge he made; … the ball was bound for the outer world,
and would not have stopped if the fence had been twice as high. Three runs were
tallied, and, as it proved, they were just about the number needed…They used
the Washington physician’s elixir in every Temple Cup game, and I tell you that
is the secret of the Giants holding that trophy to-day. R—- and W—- will both
tell you so.”
Shieber goes on to source what the miracle “Isopathy” elixir was supposed to do (provide accelerated heartbeats and thus an instantaneous surge of strength), what it was supposed to be made of (mashed up ox brains), what it actually was (nitroglycerine), and who apparently used it (Amos Rusie and John Montgomery Ward).
A cardiac specialist friend of mine says it must’ve been 100% placebo, or, maybe even pure luck that it didn’t kill either of the 1894 Giants. Patients given nitroglycerine for heart-related chest pain are urged to lie down immediately because blood pressure drops.
Still, psychology tells us that placebos often work – and in the 1880’s and 1890’s when “glandular extracts” from animals were supposedly the cutting age of medicine, this might’ve been more true than at other times. Ironically, while Rusie and Ward were very-forward thinking in terms of supplements, they should’ve looked backwards. In 1889, future Hall of Famer Pud Galvin openly enrolled in “medical experiments” in Pittsburgh testing the efficacy of testosterone drawn from monkeys.