Albert Joseph “Smiling Al” Maul’s best days seemed well behind him by 1898. The 32-year-old Maul had posted a 16-12 record for the Pittsburgh Burghers in the Players League in 1890, but after returning to the National League the following season he had gone 39-44 through 1897.
Baltimore Orioles manager Ned Hanlon signed Maul after he was released by the Washington Senators in 1897. The results were not good; in two games Maul gave up 9 hits and walked 8, posting a 7.04 ERA. Baltimore released him at the end of the season and there were no takers for Maul at the beginning of 1898.
By June of 1898 The Baltimore Morning Herald said:
“For some time (Hanlon) has been hinting to his friends that he had something up his sleeve in the way of twirling talent that would surprise the natives, but when he let fall Al Maul’s name he was met with a chorus of merry ha-has.”
But by June Hanlon’s “surprise” was no longer met with laughter.
On June 5, The Sunday Herald headline said:
“Hanlon springs a surprise on the baseball world.”
Maul had shut out the Saint Louis Browns on three hits in his first start for Baltimore.
The Herald cautioned that “it’s too early to say that Maul is all right,” but all season he successfully filled the gap in Baltimore’s rotation caused by Joe Corbett’s holdout.
The New York World said Maul was:
“The most remarkable case on record of a restored glass arm.”
Maul’s comeback season became a sensation. John Clarkson, who had not appeared in a game since 1894, told The Bay City (MI) Tribune he was serious about making his own comeback:
“I might be a second Al Maul, who can tell?”
Clarkson’s comeback never materialized, but Maul’s success continued all summer.
The Sporting Life credited Hanlon for his pitcher’s success:
“Al Maul’s experience this season is only another confirmation of the claim that Ned Hanlon can take any old thing and get good results from, it for a year or so.”
Maul finished the season with a 20-7 record and a 2.10 ERA, and Hanlon had high hopes for his pitcher the next season. Maul, along with “Wee Willie” Keeler, Hughie Jennings and Joe Kelley moved to the Brooklyn Superbas as part of the stock swap between the Baltimore and Brooklyn franchises that led to Hanlon’s move to Brooklyn.
But the pitcher who won 20 games two years after his career was “over” was out of surprises. After four games with Brooklyn in 1898, Hanlon released Maul. Brief stints with the Philadelphia Phillies and New York Giants failed to rekindle the magic and Maul’s career came to an end after his release by the Giants in September of 1901.
Maul went on to coach baseball at Lehigh University and scouted for several years for the Philadelphia Athletics. He died in 1958 at age 92.