Thursday, October 27, 2011

Ned Garvin: Tough-luck ancestor of a fictional character

Today's entry is not particularly notable for having a "great name." Rather, he is best remembered for having a name that is just a couple letters away from one of Dan Akroyd's best, albeit more obscure1, Saturday Night Live characters. Watch the skit here. I'll wait; it's only 7:16 long.

So let's discuss Fred Garvin's great-great grandfather, Virgil Lee "Ned" Garvin. Ned pitched at the turn of the century and is perhaps best known as being the best pitcher on several bad teams. Naturally, the photo above seems to display him making the "OKAY" face at his manager, who insisted on pushing him out to the pitching mound in front a team of staggering ineptitude.

In his career, Garvin earned only 58 wins against 97 losses, but in that time he accrued an earned run average (ERA) 25% better than the league average. His career 3.9 strikeouts per 9 innings is low by today's standards, but it represents an excellent mark for his era. Of his few career victories, Ned had to earn 13 of them by shutting out the opposition and waiting for his terrible teammates to trot a run across the plate.

Ned's 1904 season with the Brooklyn Superbas was a perfect reflection of his career. He put together a putrid 5-15 win-loss record but had a sexy 1.68 ERA, which was second-best in the National League. The culprit for his terrible record was obvious: Unbelievably bad defense behind him and a lineup that was wretched, even for the Deadball Era.

While major-league defense was generally bad in the early years of baseball (fielding gloves were small and harder to flex), fewer than half the runs scored on Garvin in 1904 were earned. And his dynamite performances were also halted by an awful team batting performance of .232/.297/.2952.

The New York Highlanders claimed him toward the end of 1904, and Garvin made his last two big-league starts in the Bronx. Naturally, he didn't win either of them.

Following the 1904 season, Ned Garvin packed up and headed out West to play, dominating the Pacific Coast League with the Portland Beavers and Seattle Siwashes3 in 1905 and 1906. Garvin's luck never got much better; he played his final season in 1907 with the unfortunately named Butte Miners4 of the Northwestern League, though he again dominated.

Sadly, Ned's tale ends in 1908, when he died of bears5.

1 You've probably never seen it; it's really underground. I mean it was on a major network and all, but you probably would like something like the Mel's Hide Heaven skit better.

2 The 1904 Brooklyn Superbas featured three starters who hit batted under .200. In fact, the only bright spot in the wholeoffense was Harry Lumley, who was basically Garvin's position-player counterpart. Lumley led the National League in home runs (9) and triples (18) in 1904, though he also led both leagues in strikeouts (105), too. Garvin, however, escaped Brooklyn, while Lumley was destined to play until 1910 with Dem Bums.

3 A Siwash, by the way, is a disparaging term for an American Indian in the Pacific Northwest. Take that, early 20th Century Cleveland fans! What's that? Cleveland today has a somehow more offensive mascot?

4 Actual team name. Google with care.

5 Not actually true. But Ned Garvin die of consumption the disease.


  1. I am afraid to click on the link in footnote 4.

  2. It's legit and from someone else's blog, I think.

  3. I like how his picture shows a Chicago uniform, but says he plays for Brooklyn on the bottom. I assume it took roughly 3 years at that point in history to process a photograph.