Cy Young, Eddie Plank, Rube Waddell, and “Big George” Mullin are legendary names that belong together. Um, hold on a minute there. Sure, the first three are the winningest American League pitchers of the 1901-1909 era. But George Mullin? Who is George Mullin?
Born in Toledo on the Fourth of July, 1880, George Joseph Mullin was a gregarious and handsome man, blessed with a lively fastball and a remarkable curve. His very first professional contact, with Indiana’s Fort Wayne Railroaders of the Western Association in 1901, ranks among the most contentious player agreements in baseball history. By all accounts young George handled his first season very well, toiling for a full 367 innings in the course of compiling a 21-20 record. He pitched so well, in fact, that Railroader owner I. Mautner offered Mullin a $25 advance on his following season’s salary. Unfortunately, the Western Association disbanded over the winter and Mullin, apparently free from obligations to a team that no longer existed, accepted a huge opportunity to sign with Detroit in the big leagues. Not so fast, said Mautner, and filed criminal theft charges for the $25. Soon an arrest warrant was opened against George, making him a fugitive from justice.
Mautner was tenacious and seemed to have spies everywhere. In early July, 1902, he received word that Mullin would be on a train with his Tiger teammates within Indiana territory. The lead proved true; Mullin was taken into custody at 6:30 AM and headlines blared: “Mullin Arrested!” He was released when the prosecution was ten minutes late for court. In late September, however, agents attempted to arrest Mullin in Chicago but teammates assisted in his evading capture. A second attempt to capture the fugitive was planned for Detroit just weeks later. It was delayed after Mullin said that he would travel to Indiana to give himself up but by January the following year the case of the “shifty ballplayer” was still open.
Mullin was forced to flee Columbus, then Toledo, while the headline in the Fort Wayne Daily News struck a serious tone: “In Persuit of Mullin; SherifF Stout Expects to Have Him Here Soon”. Finally, law-abiding citizens could finally rest on February 4 with the appearance of the headline, “Pitcher Mullin Under Arrest; Much Wanted Ballplayer Comes to Fort Wayne and Gives Himself Up”. Tired of being chased throughout the Midwest, Mullin and the Tigers settled the case in March, 1903.
Hijinks aside, George Mullin was ready to buckle down. And buckle down he did, winning 19 games for Detroit that year. Over the rest of the decade he won 20 games four different times, including a high of 29 in 1909. His win totals place him just behind “the big three” for the decade but George Mullin can boast of leading his team to more pennants than either Young, Plank, or Waddell did over that period.
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