Performance Enhancing Drugs – In 1894?

What’s fun about turning over baseball’s rocks is that it often turns out that beneath them there are…other rocks.

The rediscovery here of photographs of the preparations of the New York Giants before the final game of the 1894 Temple Cup inside the pages of The Illustrated American magazine led the Hall of Fame’s Senior Curator Tom Shieber to an unexpected and startling conclusion: as they swept the Orioles in the closest thing that era had to the World Series, two members of the Giants thought they were using PED’s:

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.

A good moment to pause for illustrations:1895Temple.jpg

That’s the cover of the scorecard from Game Four of the 1895 Series, supposedly the one owned by Orioles’ right fielder Wee Willie Keeler. One thing you’ll notice right away, that helped doom the Series. Baltimore finished first in the regular seasons of 1894 and 1895, but were upended in the Temple Cup by the second-place Giants in ’94 and the second-place Cleveland Spiders in ’95. Yet the Orioles, and their fans, still considered themselves the NL champions – and put it on the front cover of the scorecard for the series that was supposed to determine the champions!
This would be the only game the O’s would win in either the ’94 or the ’95 Series (they would win in ’96 and ’97). Here’s the scorecard itself:1895TempleScorecard.jpg
The hero for Baltimore was their third starter – the equivalent of a fifth starter today – Duke Esper. He threw a no-hitter for four and ended up with a five-hit shutout, winning 5-0 while the faithful Orioles fans pelted the Spiders with projectiles ranging from rocks to eggs. There were no fewer than seven Hall of Famers in this game, including the O’s first four hitters (John McGraw, Keeler, Hughie Jennings, and Joe Kelley, plus catcher Wilbert Robinson, Cleveland left fielder Jesse Burkett, and home plate umpire Tim Keefe). An eighth, Cy Young, had one of his few days off. There were five games in the 1895 Temple Cup, and Young pitched and won three of them!
Much of the program is devoted to very formal, very professional photographs of the Baltimore players. Most pictures of the great McGraw show him as the aged, even pudgy manager of the Giants. He’s only 21 or 22 here…1895TempleMcGraw.jpg

4 Comments

If you enjoy the intersection of 19th century baseball and medicine, take a look at this:
http://books.google.com/books?id=olQWAAAAYAAJ&printsec=frontcover&dq=Smithsonian+Miscellaneous+Collections&hl=en&ei=NAP5TNnXHI-q8AbG9PmiCQ&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=2&ved=0CCoQ6AEwAQ#v=onepage&q=base%20ball&f=false

or, if you prefer, http://preview.tinyurl.com/2wyacwq

This is a collection from 1878 put out by the Smithsonian. Search on “base ball” and you will find a lecture from 1874 by an early cardiologist. He was interested in the possible ill effects of strenuous exercise on the heart. Part of his study was to examine a professional baseball club. His conclusion was that exercise “is only injurious when too steadily persevered in”.

The best part is the case studies of the ball players, with their anonymity thinly protected through the use of initials rather than names. It is immediately obvious to an eccentric 19th century baseball specialist that this is the Philadelphia Athletics. The first player discussed is “A.J.R.”: obviously Alfred J. Reach, with ample biographical data provided to remove any lingering doubt.

My favorite tidbit: “J.V.B” (Joe Battin) “lives largely on bread and molasses.” He suffers neither palpitation nor shortness of breath but he states that “he ‘blows’ if he chews tobacco.”

Then there is the observation that “A.C.A.” is “a splendid speciman of a man.” Two years later he would be signed away by the Chicago club, and we better know Adrian Constantine Anson as “Cap”.

Richard Hershberger

Thank you for the link, Mr. Hershberger – utterly fascinating. Jan in Santa Clarita.

The road sees rough a roar, and the roar and walked on.

Heya just wanted to give you a brief heads up and let you know a few of the pictures aren’t loading correctly. I’m not sure why but I think its a linking issue. I’ve tried it in two different web browsers and both show the same results.

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