Frank Corridon has been credited—perhaps apocryphally—with discovering the spitball. Dubbed “Fiddler,” he spent off seasons playing violin for the Providence Orchestra. He almost died of pneumonia the year before making his Major League debut but recovered, and eventually set an unbreakable pitching record. Shortly after his death, a street was named after him in Newport, Rhode Island. Regardless, most baseball fans have probably never heard of him.
At the time the Fisher Building was completed in 1896, the 18-story skyscraper was one of the tallest buildings on Earth. The Chicago National League Ball Club’s new club president James Hart had his offices on the 14th floor of the building, roughly two miles (as the crow flies) from the West Side Grounds (II) where the Cubs played their home games. Hart could likely look down on the ballpark from the southwest corner of the tower. Hart’s perch was lofty, but his 1902 Cubs place in the standings was not—the team finished in fifth place, 34 games behind the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Frank Corridon had pitched for the Eastern League Providence Grays in 1902 and parlayed a prudently used spitball into a sparkling 28-15 record in 44 games. Following the season, Hart purchased Corridon from Grays manager Billy Murray for $1500 (approximately $45,000 today). The initial installment of $750 was paid right away, with Hart having agreed to remit the remaining $750 once Corridon reported for the 1903 season. Pirates owner Barney Dreyfuss was right on Hart’s heels, having offered Providence $1500 cash on the spot for Corridon, shortly after the deal had been struck with Chicago.
Corridon was the first player to report to Chicago for the team’s 1903 spring training trip to Los Angeles, anxious to begin his Major League career but admitting to the Chicago Tribune that he would “sooner play any other position than that of pitcher.” Unfortunately, Corridon contracted pneumonia on the tour and ended up at a St. Louis hospital in critical condition.
Hart wrote Providence president, George Cressy, on May 7, 1903 refusing to send the $750 balance for Corridon because the bargain was made with “the intention that we would get something for it, and while we cannot hold Providence responsible for sickness neither can you expect us to pay for something that we have not received.” Providence responded on June 25, indicating that it intended to sue the Chicago club upon its arrival of Boston, but offered to accept $500 to satisfy the remaining balance.
On June 26, Hart wrote back, “the Chicago Club has received absolutely nothing for the $2000 it is thus far invested in Corridon” for medical expenses when “there was not one chance a hundred that he would ever leave his bed alive.” Regardless, Hart agreed to pay the $500 to settle the matter, but insisted “upon making that sum payable on the day that Corridon plays a first game as a member of our team.”
Frustrated with Hart’s lack of payment, the Providence Base Ball and Exhibition Co. filed a $1000 lawsuit in Chicago on March 28, 1904.
A fully recovered Corridon made his Major League debut for the Cubs on April 15, 1904, pitching ten innings in a 5-5 tie at Cincinnati. He won his second start on April 30 and collected his first career hit in a ten-inning outing at Pittsburgh, despite having made three starts at first base in the interim.
With the lawsuit and associated legal fees hanging over his head, Hart finally paid the $500 balance to Cressy. The Providence club dismissed the lawsuit on July 8.
Corridon ran his record to 5-5 before being dealt to the Philadelphia Phillies for infielder Shad Barry on July 20, 1904, Hart seemingly looking to liberate the specter of Frank Corridon from the club.
As a Phillies hurler, Corridon surrendered an inside-the-park home run to Cardinals centerfielder Josh Clark on June 10, 1905. Corridon did not gave up another home run until May 26, 1910, having tossed a staggering 720 innings in the interim. This streak of 104 straight games without allowing a home run, with at least one inning pitched, is a major league record for all pitchers since 1904. Corridon’s streak of 720 consecutive innings pitched without allowing a home run—the equivalent of 80 straight complete games!
Hart sold the Cubs in 1905, a team on the precipice of an historic 116-win season in 1906 and back-to-back World Series championships in 1907 and 1908. James Hart deserves to be remembered, perhaps, for his unfortunate timing.
Frank “Fiddler” Corridon is a player who deserves to be remembered for setting an astonishing record that will likely never be broken, if not for discovering the spitball.
The Chicago National League Ballclub has been referred to as the “Cubs” throughout for sake of continuity, although the team was also known as the “Orphans” or “Colts” during parts of the timeframe discussed.
http://www.baseball-reference.com (Play Index data available back to 1904.)
Providence Base Ball and Exhibition Co. v. Chicago National League Base Ball Club, No. 250040 (Cook County Cir. Court, 1904).
Lamb, Bill. “Frank Corridon,” SABR Baseball Biography Project, https://sabr.org/bioproj/person/0218c3e1, accessed April 11, 2020.
“First of Colts to Report,” Chicago Tribune, March 6, 1903, 8.
“Corridon Critically Ill,” The Boston Globe, April 23, 1903, 5
“The Grist Mill,” Newport Mercury (Newport, Rhode Island), November 29, 1946, 4. (Note: Frank Corridon Street has since been incorporated into America’s Cup Avenue.)