When one thinks about the pioneers of professional baseball, a few names quickly come to mind. The myth of Abner Doubleday in Cooperstown; Alexander Cartwright and Knickerbocker Base Ball Club; Albert Spalding and his global baseball tour; and many others. One name that has mostly been forgotten to history was Jim Creighton.
Jim Creighton was baseball’s first superstar,possibly its first professional; its first controversey, and its first martyr. Details on his life are pretty sketchy, but here’s some info I found out via Baseball-Fever.com.
Born in 1841, little is known about Creighton’s early life. He spent much time in his youth playing cricket, becoming an expert by age 16. In 1857, he joined the amateur baseball club the Brooklyn Niagras, and played second base. The Niagras were losing badly to the Brooklyn Stars in a game in 1859 when Creighton came in to pitch.
At this point, it should be noted that the art of pitching in 1859 was drastically different from today. First, pitchers had to throw the ball underhand and stiff-armed, and the ball had to placed where the batter wished.
Everything changed forever when Creighton came in to pitch.
Using a deceptive “wrist-snap” delivery, Creighton was unlike anything batters had ever seen before. The ball was considerbly faster than a normal delivery, and rose as it got near the batter. When some batters learned to time the pitch, Creighton changed speeds, basically inventing the change-up.
Creighton was soon playing for the Brooklyn Excelsiors, who were considered the champions of base ball at the time. He was apparently paid a fee by the club, thereby becoming baseball’s first professional.
In 1860, the Excelsiors went on a national tour down the eastern coast of the United States, with Creighton as their star attraction. He became so popular that many youth teams in the areas they played called themselves the Creighton’s in his honor.
Not only was Creighton a pitching sensation, he was a tremendous hitter as well. In 1862, he was said to never have made an out at the plate, and only four times overall. (It should be noted that, at the time, the runners on the basepaths were charged with the out, not the batter as it is today.)
During a game in October 1862, after a particularly hard swing by Creighton at the plate, he suffered an internal injury, a ruptured inguinal hernia, and died four days later.
A remarkable life, even more remarkable when you think that Creighton died when he was only 21 years old.
Till next time!