On Tuesday, Jamie Moyer became the oldest pitcher to win a game in the major leagues, holding the San Diego Padres to six hits and two unearned runs in seven innings in Colorado. He was then 49 years, 4 months, and 30 days old.
You may have heard something about it.
You probably haven’t heard much about the man whose mark he eclipsed.
John Picus Quinn began his major-league career more than a hundred years ago, in 1909, pitching for the New York Highlanders (later Yankees). Twenty-three years later, wearing a Brooklyn uniform, he worked five innings in relief, getting credit for the win when the Dodgers scored off Jesse Haines of St. Louis in the bottom of the 10th. It was the first game of a doubleheader; in the nightcap, Sloppy Thurston outdueled Dizzy Dean. (Modern baseball needs more nicknames.)
Quinn was 49 years, 2 months, and 12 days old when he got the win. Unless he was 49, 2, and 8. Or 48, 2, and 8.
And he wasn’t Quinn, at least not at first.
When Quinn was inducted into the National Polish-American Sports Hall of Fame, the program article stated that he was born July 5, 1883 in Janesville, Pa. Baseball historian Lee Allen, writing in The Sporting News in 1967, reported finding a baptismal certificate claiming he was born July 5, 1884, in Jeansville, Pa. This latter fact was noted in an email to Bill Carle, Chairman of the Society for American Baseball Research’s Biographical Research Committee, sent by E. Michael D. Scott of Upper Makefield Township, Pa. Mr. Scott notes that he is married to the pitcher’s half-great-niece, and that he is the family’s genealogist.
Based on fuller information provided by Mr. Scott, Mr. Carle’s committee decided to recognize Quinn’s actual birthdate as July 1, 1883, and his birthplace as Stefurov, Saros County, in the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The location is part of Slovakia today. His name at birth was Joannes Pajkos; Jan Pajkos was later anglicized to John Picus. His family was Rusyn, a Central European ethnicity, not Polish. Quinn was most likely added when he went into baseball; there were loads of players of Irish descent in the game early in the 20th century, and the name made it easier for him to fit in.
In his lifetime, Quinn was often vague about his exact age, which hardly makes him unique among baseball players. It is possible, however, that he did not precisely know. His mother died not long after coming to America. He left home in his early teens, eager to avoid joining his father in the Pennsylvania coal mines. He listed the 1884 date on passport and Social Security applications. Asked on those forms for his mother’s name, he wrote, “Do not know.” (The information in this paragraph comes from Mr. Scott’s 2008 article in Nine: A Journal of Baseball History and Culture, published by University of Nebraska Press.)
Quinn was a spitballer, practitioner of the downward-breaking pitch before it was banned in 1920. Each team was permitted to designate one or two pitchers who would be allowed to keep throwing the spitter for the remainder of his career. Quinn was New York’s choice; when he threw his last major-league pitch in 1933, there were only two spitballers left: Red Faber and Burleigh Grimes.
In his 23 seasons, he won 247 games, lost 218. His best year was 1914, when he jumped to the Federal League and went 26-14 in 342.2 innings for the Baltimore Terrapins. He appeared in three World Series, with the 1921 Yankees, and the 1929 and 1930 Philadelphia Athletics. He is still the oldest pitcher to start a World Series game, allowing six runs in five innings in the fourth game of the 1929 Series. (The A’s got him off the hook by rallying for 10 runs in the bottom of the seventh for the win.)
He was considered something of a fitness freak for his time, staying in shape through the offseason by taking long hikes in the hills of eastern Pennsylvania. He died in April 1946 in Pottsville, Pa. His gravestone lists his year of birth as 1884, and his name as John Quinn Picus.
Until 2006, Quinn was also the oldest batter to hit a home run. He connected off Chad Kimsey of the St. Louis Browns on June 27, 1930. He was 46 years, 11 months, and 26 days old – unless he was … oh, never mind. Julio Franco was older. We’re sure about that.