Although he’s been mostly lost to history, Pud Galvin was one of the most accomplished pitchers in the dead-ball era. A Hall of Fame pitcher, his 364 wins are the fifth most in history, and the 75 starts he had in 1883 are still the single-season record. He earned the nickname "The Little Steam Engine" for his incredible endurance, which produced the second most innings pitched and complete games in history, behind only to Cy Young. He also openly consumed an elixir that was made of dog testosterone.
Guess which portion of his life gets focused on the most?
As interesting a career as Galvin may have had, retiring as the game's all-time wins leader and its first 300-game winner, there's only so much you can say about a man before you have to bring up the part where canine anatomy got into his body.
It’s still a better conversation to have than what some people thought Pud had taken. In fact, this article's working title was "The 300-Win Pitcher who took Monkey Testosterone." Because of pieces like this ESPN.com story, which state that the liquid Galvin took in 1889 was, well, filled with it;; if you do a Google search for "monkey testosterone," (though it’s hard to imagine that many people do), Galvin's name dominates the front page.
However, as sensational as it would be to write that Galvin used monkey testosterone, there's a strong possibility that this isn't true. In reality, Galvin started taking an elixir concocted by medical practitioner Charles Brown-Sequard. It's important to note that Brown-Sequard was not considered a snake oil salesmen, with a list of supporters included Charles Darwin and Louis Pasteur.
But his methods of conducting animal research were controversial, enough so that when he died in 1894, one London newspaper wrote that he "had earned the infamous fame of being the greatest torturer of animals next to Pasteur himself." Brown-Sequard had come to the conclusion that the reproductive organs in animals could rejuvenate the human body and impede the aging process. It was for that reason that his "Elixir of Life" ultimately consisted of testicles from creatures such as dogs, guinea pigs, rams, rabbits and sheep.
While it's impossible to know for sure whether monkey testosterone made it into the injection Galvin received, we have a pretty good idea there wasn't any. In no newspaper archives -- or notes on the elixir from Brown-Sequard himself -- was there evidence that monkeys were used for the product.
Roger Abrams, a law professor at Northeastern University, who brought the once-common knowledge of Galvin's drug-use to light in his book, The Dark Side of the Diamond isn't sure where the idea came from, and never specifically wrote that Galvin had used monkey testosterone while researching his book. In an email he said that the newspaper article he used as research for his book "did not specify the origin of the testosterone."
The elixir’s constitution, and debates regarding what's in it, looks like it can stop with the good doctor, however. "I have made use,"Brown-Sequard would write, "in subcutaneous injections, of a liquid containing a very small quantity of water mixed with the three following parts: First, blood of the testicular veins; secondly, semen; and thirdly, juice extracted from a testicle, crushed immediately after it has been taken from a dog or a guinea-pig." (And you thought your health shake was disgusting.)
The debates about Galvin’s constitution, though? Those could probably go on forever.
Some may blindly see Galvin as a cheater, but the rules that govern what's tolerated and why are complex. Shots of cortisone, for instance, can produce an infinitely higher physical boost than animal testosterone and are widely accepted throughout sports. If someone uses a commonly accepted substance that has very little measurable effectiveness but would be considered at the time a performance-enhancing drug can it really be considered cheating? If it can be, it certainly stretches the defintion.
Galvin's use was not hidden, or met with much outrage. The Washington Post praised him for it after a strong performance, stating, "If there still be doubting Thomases who concede no virtue of the elixir, they are respectfully referred to Galvin's record in yesterday's Boston-Pittsburgh game. It is the best proof yet furnished of the value of the discovery."
We don't see Kobe Bryant squirting bovine semen into his mouth during timeouts, though, so what gives? Of course, The Post was wrong, and the effectiveness of the liquid injections was disputed even back then, and has since been more or less debunked by scientists. The sentiment, however, seems right. While what Galvin was taking was indeed testosterone, it probably wasn't "performance-enhancing," and definitely wasn't illegal. That this is even remembered has gone on to be recognized as the first juicer in major league history is largely thanks to Mr. Abrams.
"It is very old news," he wrote on the Huffington Post in 2008. "In researching my new book ... I found clear evidence that a Hall of Fame pitcher, Jimmy "Pud" Galvin, took testosterone injections in 1889. It did not have much of an impact on his performance as he neared the end of his career, at best a placebo effect. For our purposes it is useful to note that no one said a peep about the event. At a time when cocaine was legal and could be ordered by mail or purchased at your local store, steroid-like injections for ballplayers were just matter-of-fact."
Galvin's use of the Brown-Sequard elixir has relevance beyond the oddball factor that the dude was inserting crushed testicles into his skin. It's actually quite telling that as far back as 1889, an athlete was willing to put a questionable substance into his body to try to gain a competitive advantage -- one that wasn’t just legal at that time, but publicly praised.
There are places to go with tales like this, and things that can be said about what’s fair and isn’t, but stories like simply serve to show exactly how far players and teams are willing to gain a competitive edge. Besides, using a product made of crushed dog testicles that promised to give people eternal youth is still a cool anecdote.
Illustration courtesy of Jacob Greif.