Creighton started in the game in 1857 at the age of sixteen and was used primarily as an infielder for a couple of years. There is some speculation that he was the first player ever paid to play, but this is not confirmed. His mark on the game of baseball came in 1859 while playing for the Niagras where he was brought into a game as a relief pitcher and proceeded to throw the ball at unthinkable speeds for the time. Back then the job of the pitcher was to help the batter so that the fielders decided the outcome of the game. Under the rules of the time pitchers delivered the ball underhand with straight wrists and elbows to the location that the batter wanted. Creighton generated extra velocity on his “speedball” by using an all but undetectable wrist snap and slight bend of the arm. As such he changed the pitcher-hitter dynamic forever from them being a cohesive unit designed so that the hitter could put the ball in play to being complete enemies at war with every pitch. This change was not met kindly by those in the game, but the fans absolutely loved Creighton for it.
Creighton’s success made him a hot commodity in the baseball world and he eventually ended up with the Brooklyn Excelciors as their star pitcher. To go along with is speedball Creighton created baseball’s first known changeup, a pitch that he called his “dew-drop” which he used to deceive and confuse the hitters. This unprecedented display of cunning and ability made him easily the most dominant pitcher of his era. While his numbers would seem ridiculous by today’s standards, his team keeping opponents to just 7.2 runs per game was far and away the best in baseball for the time. Creighton is also known to be the first pitcher in history to throw a complete game shutout on November 8, 1860.
Pitching was not where Creighton’s talents ended. He was also among the best offensive players of the day, scoring 47 runs in 20 games in 1860. It is rumored the throughout the entire 1862 season he was only retired 4 times. Creighton was a master of the “homerun swing” which has nothing in common with the way sluggers of today swing the bat but instead he kept his hands apart on a very heavy bat and relied on a hard upper body twist and almost no leg involvement. This method of hitting would also prove to be his downfall.
On October 8, 1862 Creighton took such a swing and John Chapman, the man on deck, heard something snap. Creighton upon reaching home plate on the homerun assured Chapman that it had just been his belt breaking when in fact it was far more serious; Creighton had actually caused internal injuries during the swing. What the injuries were is up for debate, some saying a ruptured bladder, others a spleen and others an inguinal hernia. Whatever the injuries were, they caused Creighton to lay in agony for four days after the game, at the end of which he was dead at the age of 21. He was buried at Greenwood Cemetery in Brooklyn New York with a 12 foot tall obelisk adorned with a granite baseball as his tombstone.
James Creighton was the first true superstar in baseball and despite having such a short career has forever left his mark on the game in the duel that we see between the pitcher and hitter in every at bat.
Thanks again to TheeDogg. Part 2, probably on the late Bob Feller, should be coming in the next couple of days.