Tag Archives: Jimmy Jones

“The Speed of Rusie”

30 May

Hall of Famer Amos Rusie “The Hoosier Thunderbolt,” was famous for his fastball; it’s been estimated that he threw in the high 90s.  In only nine full seasons he led National League pitchers in strikeouts five times.

Amos Rusie

Amos Rusie

Sports writer William A. Phelon contended that Rusie was the fastest pitcher he had seen, and in 1913 he told a story by James Tilford Jones who played for the Louisville Colonels in 1897, and was still a fairly well-known minor league player.

The likely apocryphal story (Jones only had one at bat as a pinch hitter that season, and did not strike out)  appeared in The Cincinnati Times Star, and according to Phelon, Jones said:

“ Don’t tell me that Walter Johnson, or any other pitcher of the present time, is faster than Rusie, or even that any man has the speed that Rusie used to throw…That man was unique and individual –there was never one like him before his time, and none since.  I don’t think there ever will be.

“My first experience with Rusie happened a long, long time ago, when he was in full swing and I was playing with Louisville, then a member of the big circuit.  I was warming the bench that particular afternoon, and wasn’t specially noticing the work of the other side, when our manager (Fred Clarke) beckoned me.  ‘Joensey’ said he, ‘you go up and bat for the pitcher.  Two on, two down—we just gotta have this game.  Go up there and lay the bat against the leather.’

“’All right sir’ I assented.  I’ll pickle one outside the lot if he puts it over.’  And up I strode, with a fat bat in my hands.  I saw a very large, red-faced man standing out there on the pitching line and I saw him raise his right arm.  I was wondering why on earth he didn’t throw it, when heard something go POW, just like that, behind me.  I looked around.  It was the thud of the ball ramming into the big mitt, and the umpire said, ‘One strike.’

“I watched the big man keenly, and again he raised his arm while I set myself to annihilate the ball.  An instant later I saw a ball going by me, and swung at it.  It was the ball being returned by the catcher, and I thought it was coming up instead of going away.

“By this time I was furious, also desperately determined.  So I set myself almost upon the plate, with the bat jutting out, and watched the big man very closely.  Then something crashed into my bat, ripped it from my hands, and drove it round against the back of my neck—and I knew no more.

“Two or three days later, the situation was exactly the same—Rusie pitching, our pitcher up, and dire need of a pinch hitter.  Again the manager beckoned me. ‘Go up and hit him, Jonesey’ growled he.

“I marched up to the plate, but went up empty-handed— didn’t even pick up my bat—and calmly stood there in the batter’s box, with nothing but my bare hands.  ‘Hey you,’ yelled the manager, ‘where’s your bat.’

“’Don’t need it,’ I shouted back.  ‘I can’t see them anyway, and it is a whole lot safer with nothing in my hands than be up here with a chunk of timber that he might drive clear through my head!’

“Oh, yes, yes.  Rusie had some speed when he wanted to use it, and I never remember seeing him any time when he wasn’t inclined to use it, either.”

Jones only appeared in two games during the 1897 season; in his first game he pitched 6 2/3 innings in relief in a 36-7 loss to the Chicago Colts, giving up 22 runs, 14 earned—the Colts’ 36 runs are still the Major League record.

Jimmy Jones

Jimmy Jones

Jones became a full-time outfielder in 1900 and returned to the National league with the New York Giants in 1901; he appeared in 88 games for the 1901-02 Giants, hitting .209 and .237.

He returned to the minor leagues and continued playing until 1914, and finished his career managing the Maysville (KY) Burley Cubs in the Ohio State League in 1916.  He served as Laurel County Clerk for twenty years, and died in London, Kentucky in 1953.

Rusie retired with a 245-174 record, striking out 1,934 and walking 1.704.  He died in 1942 and was elected to the Hall of Fame by the Veterans Committee in 1977.