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Mudville: April 13, 2024 6:16 pm PDT


This story originally set out to honor a baseball player of Irish heritage for St. Patrick’s Day. It’s all about timing.

I wanted to pick someone from deep in baseball’s past and shine a light on that player so people can once again recognize his greatness. Everything is not just about the modern ballplayers, and history is a big part of what Chris Vitali wants BallNine to be about.

Big Ed Walsh of the Chicago White Sox was the perfect choice.

Did you know that the spitballing right-handed pitcher owns the game’s best lifetime ERA at 1.82? He compiled 195 wins with 168 of those victories coming over a seven-year period from 1906-12. He was elected to the Hall of Fame by the Old Timers Committee in 1946.

You never know, though, where The Story will lead you until you start putting the pieces of the puzzle together. The best thing about this MLB player from more than 100 years ago is that it led to someone I consider baseball’s premier modern-day painter, a visual historian of the game, artist Graig Kreindler and his soulful portrait of Big Ed Walsh.

Look into his Irish eyes and you see determination.

Kreindler, 43, is a time traveler who brings long ago ballplayers to life. He has done two paintings of Walsh, the first 10 years ago, is a closeup of Walsh’s wrist and hand holding the baseball, showing his spitball grip. It’s a painting from a photo by famous baseball photographer Charles Conlon. It tells a story from a time when photographers did not usually isolate their shots on specific parts of the ballplayer’s body.

Kreindler later painted a portrait of Walsh that tells a life story, not just a baseball story, and you could see it in Ed Walsh’s Irish eyes.

Portrait of Ed Walsh by Graig Kreindler

Portrait of Ed Walsh by Graig Kreindler

The Big Ed Walsh painting led to a relative of Ed Walsh purchasing the painting, to honor her baseball family history. Haley Walsh is now the proud owner of the painting.

So while I wanted to honor Ed Walsh and his Glory of Their Times baseball history, I found an artist from today who honored him through his gift of baseball art. Ed Walsh was then honored by a relative, a person that I never dreamed I would be communicating with in 2024 when I first thought of writing about Big Ed Walsh.

All this is just one more example of what makes baseball great; and for those who are too short-sighted and only look at today’s game through that narrow lens, they don’t understand the power of the game and its history.

I asked Haley Walsh what inspired her to bring this painting into her family.

“Long story short,’’ she told BallNine, “I thought the painting was amazing, and would be great to pass down to generations.’’

Then came a wee bit of Irish humor.

“And I really wanted to ensure none of my brothers got it,’’ she said.

Ahh, the luck of the Irish.

“The painting originally caught my eye when one of my brothers liked a photo Graig had posted on Instagram,’’ Haley explained. “I was impressed by the attention to detail, not even realizing the painting wasn’t complete yet.

“I decided I wanted to invest in something related to Ed Walsh and tried to find the buyer of the art piece,’’ she said. “When I failed, I messaged Graig asking if he could put me in contact with the buyer and he told me there was no buyer yet and it was not finished.’’

A match made in baseball art heaven. The Big Ed Walsh painting was soon to be home.

“I believe Ed Walsh is my grandfather’s uncle,’’ she said of the family lineage.

Graig finished the painting and shipped it to Haley.

“I was unexpectedly on the East Coast for a year so I had to wait to open it,’’ she told me. “I was not disappointed – it’s even more amazing in person!’’

Artist Graig Kreindler in his studio. (Photo by Ben Hoste)

With Kreindler’s art leading the way, you can jump from 1910 to 2024 in an instant.

In the 1906 World Series, Walsh won two games for the White Sox against the crosstown rival Chicago Cubs. He pitched a 3-0 shutout in Game 3, striking out a record (at the time) 12 batters and was the winner in Game 5 as the White Sox shocked the baseball world and won the World Series in six games. Walsh’s ERA was 0.60 against the Tinker to Evers to Chance Cubs, who won 116 games that season, a .763 winning percentage.

This was only the third World Series ever played and the White Sox were known as the “Hitless Wonders’’ because they were dead last in batting average in the American League with a .230 mark. For some modern-day perspective, consider the Yankees hit .227 last season – 29th in baseball.

This World Series was so long ago it was eight years before Wrigley Field was built.

Kreindler brings all his subjects to life. He studies them in depth and also the location where photos from that time he uses were taken, the ballpark, the team colors, even the outfits of the fans in the stands, that day’s weather. He makes it all real in the painting.

“The picture of Ed Walsh’s pitching grip was most likely taken at the Polo Grounds,’’ Kreindler told me of the work of art that shows the veins in Walsh’s right hand as he grips the smudge covered baseball with blue and red stitching.

“The portrait shot I think was at Hilltop Park in New York,’’ Kreindler added.

Through it all, Kreindler tries to get a sense of the player.

“I feel the best way for me to do that is by reading quotes about them and, this is weird, I usually try to make up, not stories, but make up a little bit about their background from the way they look, so with Walsh, he is kind of pretty pale and freckly and had really dark hair, and for whatever reason, I’m thinking, ‘Oh, this guy looks like an Irish guy.’ It doesn’t get too much more complicated than that for me.’’

Keep it simple. That’s always been the model for success for baseball.

Kreindler nailed it.

Take one look at Kreindler’s portrait and those Irish eyes and you know there is no messing around with Big Ed Walsh.

Big Ed Walsh’s father Michael, a shoemaker, was an immigrant from Ireland, who settled in America in 1866. His mother Jane was Welsh and sang in the local Catholic Church choir. Edward Augustine Walsh was born in Plains, Pennsylvania in 1881, one of 13 children. According to the SABR bio of Walsh written by Stuart Schimler, he signed his first pro contract in 1902 and was paid $150 a month. A year later, Newark of the Eastern League signed him and that is the team the White Sox purchased his contract from for a mere $750 after that season, a tremendous signing for the White Sox.

In 1908 Walsh won 40 games; he pitched an astounding 464 innings. The super competitive Walsh was a great fielder too. From 1907-12, he accumulated 963 assists, 344 more than any other pitcher over that span. Jim Kaat would be impressed. Schimler wrote that once when a new third baseman botched a play by going after the baseball and not staying at third for the throw from Walsh, the pitcher told the third baseman, “If you do that again, I’ll kill you. On bunts on that side of the field you stay where you belong.’’

Take one look at Kreindler’s portrait and those Irish eyes and you know there is no messing around with Big Ed Walsh.

Kreindler’s painting is from the 1910 season when Walsh was in his prime. Two years earlier Walsh had won those 40 games and put up a 1.42 ERA. In 1910 he won 18 games but lost 20. He figured in 38 decisions. That’s a workhorse. And while he was a 20-game loser that season, he posted the lowest ERA of his career at 1.27. Imagine that. Walsh “bounced back’’ the next two seasons to win 27 games each year. His baseball career came to an end after the 1917 season when he appeared in only four games for the Boston Braves. He was 36.

Painting of Ed Walsh's spitball grip, by Graig Kreindler

As for the success of his spitball, according to Alfred Spink, who founded The Sporting News, Walsh moistened a spot on the ball between the seams an inch square. He would swing his arm directly over his head, driving the ball forward with terrific force and the spitball would eventually dart two feet downward, all depending on the arm swing.

Now that’s a ghost ball.

The spitball was banned after the 1920 season. Ray Chapman was killed by a pitch from Carl Mays that year in a late afternoon game at the Polo Grounds on a dreary day. Baseball wanted more sanitary conditions and wanted to use baseballs that were not as dark as the one that killed Chapman. It was also said that owners wanted more offense – yes, some things never change – and the spitball was such a difficult pitch to hit.

By the way, Big Ed Walsh was all of 6-1, 193 pounds. He died on May 26, 1959 in Pompano Beach, Florida at the age of 78.

Many decades years later Haley Walsh spotted a not yet finished painting on Instagram.

“Haley totally messaged me out of the blue, saying she was a relative and she wanted to buy the painting,’’ Kreindler said. “She didn’t balk at the price, which is not usually what happens. She was very nice.’’

Having the painting go to a relative made it even more special. When contacted, Kreindler told her that was an unfinished work of art, so he finished it knowing it was going to a member of the Walsh family and how special that is for the artist.

He then told me a story about being at the Negro League Museum in Kansas City years earlier and meeting a relative of one of his paintings’ subjects.

“I met the grandson of Bullet Rogan,’’ Kreindler said of one of his many Negro League paintings. “I met him and I shook his hand and it was like ‘Oh my God, I feel like I am shaking hands with royalty here.’ This was the same kind of thing. You are from this bloodline of Baseball Royalty. That’s what it felt like to me.’’

Baseball Royalty deserves the best.

(Original Caption) ``Big Ed`` Walsh, a mound ace in the American League for 16 years, and now coach of the Chicago White Sox hurling staff, is giving personal attention to his sons, Ed,, Jr., and Bob, pitchers on the Notre Dame baseball team. Walsh will spend another week helping Coach Tommy Mills get the staff of Irish flingers in shape for their season of 39 games, the first of which will be played April 3rd. Ed, Jr., matches his father in height, which is 6 ft 1 inch, while Bob stands 6 ft 3 1/2 inches. Left to right here is ``Big Ed`` Walsh, Ed, Jr., and Bob having a little chat on the baseball question. (Photo by George Rinhart/Corbis via Getty Images)

“Thankfully I’m very busy,’’ said Kreindler, who lives in Brooklyn. “Currently, as I’m talking to you, I am trying to finish up this Roberto Clemente painting that is giving me a lot of agita. It’s not even that it’s a super complicated painting but there are portions of it that are driving me mad because there is a fence, a chain-link fence behind him and I can’t fudge it, not that I would really fudge it anyway, but it is something that has to be as perfect as can be and it’s all like straight lines and parallel lines, it’s giving me a lot of problems.’’

Such is the life of the perfectionist baseball artist.

Pirates superstar Roberto Clemente was one of my favorite players.

This is not Candlestick Park’s chain-link fence, this is the chain-link fence from County Stadium in Milwaukee.

Clemente is leaping and reaching out in mid-air, extending his glove to make a spectacular catch. Getting everything right is what this is all about.

“It’s pissing me off,’’ Kreindler added with a laugh. “The painting is for a client whose father was a big collector of Clemente stuff. She came to me and commissioned this painting as a way of kind of remembering him. It’s really cool.’’

It really is cool. Such is the power of baseball and art and the connections they make.

Baseball brings generations together and a painting of a game played long ago in a ballpark that no longer exists, a painting of the Great Clemente who died making a mercy flight on December 31, 1972, becomes a family painting.

I am old enough to remember how Clemente gracefully and forcefully moved. When you were watching Clemente you wanted to see the baseball hit into the right field corner to see Clemente make a great catch or a great throw by moving fast, but not hurrying, tracking the baseball down, pivoting and firing a strike to second base or third or home.

The client will soon have her Clemente painting to honor her father once Kreindler figures it all out with the chain-link fence.

Haley Walsh has her Big Ed Walsh painting to honor a relative from long ago and to honor the family name.

And now, you are all caught up on The Story of Big Ed Walsh, a pitcher from more than 100 years ago, who owns the best career ERA in Major League history.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

45+ years, columnist at NY Post for the last 23 years prior to joining BallNine. Elected to the NY Baseball Hall of Fame. Former SportsTalk Host (KFMB), ESPN’s First Take and Cold Pizza contributor. Frequent guest on radio shows and podcasts nationwide. Author of seven books. Seen in episode 10 of ESPN’s “The Last Dance” (the one with Dennis Rodman). First baseball interview he conducted was with Thurman Munson. Now you know why he is America’s Most Beloved Sportswriter.

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