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NINE: A Journal of Baseball History and Culture 16.2 (2008) 93-106

John "Jack Quinn" Picus
Not Polish, Not Welsh, and Not Born in America at All
E. Michael D. Scott

John "Jack Quinn" Picus is now a near-to-mythical baseball player from another era.

He became a Major League baseball player with the New York Highlanders in 1909, and, based on the information to be presented in this article, he was definitely twenty-five years of age at the start of that season. In 1908 he had had an astonishing year with Richmond in the Virginia League; he won 14 of 17 games pitched, without a loss, including 92 strikeouts. From 1909 until he played his last game in the Majors for the Cincinnati Reds in 1933, he pitched in 756 Major League games, winning 247 with an ERA of 3.29. In 1929, playing for Connie Mack's world champion Philadelphia Athletics, when he started the season at the age of forty-five and ended it aged forty-six, he was a starting pitcher in more than half the 35 games in which he played, winning 11 and losing 9 games.

Almost the last of the "spitball" pitchers, and one of just seventeen Major League pitchers permitted to go on using this pitch long after it was banned in 1920 because he had been pitching that way all his life, Jack Quinn is one of the "400 Greatest" players listed by Holway and Carroll in Total Baseball.1 He set Major League baseball records, some that were broken long ago but four of which live on today, more than seventy years since he set them. He is still

  • the oldest pitcher to have started a World Series game (for the Philadelphia Athletics on October 12, 1929)
  • the oldest pitcher to have relieved in a World Series game (for the Philadelphia Athletics on October 4, 1930)
  • the oldest pitcher to have won a Major League game (for the Brooklyn Robins on August 14, 1932), and
  • the oldest pitcher to have lead in a major pitching category (for the Brooklyn Robins with six saves in 1932) [End Page 93]

Jack has long been believed to have been born somewhere in Pennsylvania, on July 5, 1883, which is his date of birth listed in most of the "authoritative" baseball record books. On that basis, all the above-mentioned records were set after he had achieved at least his forty-sixth birthday, and he was more than forty-nine when he won his last Major League game as a pitcher.

Until 2006 he was also the oldest Major League player to hit a home run. (Julio Franco was certainly older when he hit a home run for the New York Mets in San Diego on April 21, 2006.) Jack, however, will likely remain the oldest pitcher to hit a home run for many, many years (if not forever), having done this on June 27, 1930. After all, only four men have ever hit homers after they passed the age of forty-five, and the other three (Julio Franco, Cap Anson, and Carlton Fisk) were all recognized hitters.

In Jack's obituary, the New York Times wrote:

Quinn's age was a popular topic of conversation among jokesters. Many were of the opinion that he was at least three or four years older than the age given in the record books.

But Quinn refused even to discuss his age when questioned. "I'll tell my age when I quit," he was once quoted as saying. "Nobody's going to know before that."2

However, he never did tell, and the probable truth is that Jack Quinn never knew his real date of birth. Only now, after several years of careful genealogical research, has his family been able to come to some reasonably firm conclusions about when, where, and to whom Jack Quinn was actually born.

Jack's family has long known that...