Jack Taylor holds two major-league pitching records that could only have been set at the turn of the last century or before. Even within the context of their time, they are astounding feats. He completed 278 of his 286 career starts, a .972 percentage. From June 20, 1901, to August 9, 1906, he finished all his 187 starting assignments. Included within this streak was a doubleheader and a nineteen-inning game, as well as fifteen games finished in relief. However, his significance in the game's history lies more in dishonesty and suspicion than accomplishment.
John W. Taylor was born January 14, 1874, in New Straitsville, OH, and raised in the southeast area of the state. He rose to local fame playing with semipro teams in Ohio and West Virginia. During an exhibition tour in 1896, Connie Mack's Milwaukee Brewers, a member of the Western League, the minor-league precursor of the American League, made appearances against local nines. Taylor convincingly defeated the Brewers in one of these matches, and became a Brewer himself the following season. His rights were eventually acquired by the Orphans (Cubs), and he made his major-league debut September 25, 1898, a complete-game victory. He was 5-0 in his first truncated season, all complete games.
Taylor, a right-hander, was considered a finesse pitcher, relying on location and changes of speed. His best pitch, a "fast sidearm ball", was typical of the times. The deadball era style of pitching was conducive to performances impossible today. Pitchers could allow more hits, and winning strategies relied on "pitching in a pinch", bearing down only when absolutely necessary. The deadball era was a fascinating, and to modern eyes incongruous, combination of high batting averages and low earned run averages.
After the impressive start, Taylor's first few full seasons were seen as a disappointment, as was the play of the team generally. However, his ironman reputation was established early. In 1899, a season in which the Orphans set the all-time major-league record with 147 staff complete games, Taylor completed all 39 of his starting assignments (a consecutive CG record for one season), and threw 355 innings overall.
1902 was Taylor's breakout year, 23-11 for a losing team, with a league-leading 1.33 ERA (retroactively compiled, not an official stat at the time). 1903 was nearly as good, 21-14, 2.45, for a team on the rise. His performances in postseason exhibition games that year were the first indications of personal dishonesty on the diamond.
A peace brokered between the American and National Leagues produced the first modern World Series in 1903. It also provided opportunity for postseason intracity series between the two leagues, and many of these became institutions in their own right. The first Cubs-White Sox City Series was played in 1903, a fourteen-game monster that was as anticipated and competitive as any games of the regular season.
Taylor won his first Series start, but lost his next three, in such a manner as to convince Cubs team president John Hart that Taylor was "laying down". Hart fined Taylor for "misconduct", but did not publicly accuse him. In one of the great Cub trades of all time, Taylor and catcher Larry McLean were sent to the Cardinals, December 12, 1903, in exchange for Mordecai Brown and Jack O'Neill.
Taylor's first appearance in Chicago as a Cardinal provoked a famous incident. In reponse to hecklers belaboring his poor City Series performances, he allegedly shouted, in full hearing of hundreds: "Why should I have won? I got $100 from Hart for winning, and $500 for losing." The remark was widely reported, and Hart, at this point, went public with charges of dishonesty. &nIn the first of many mishandled opportunities, no action was taken during the season by baseball governing authorities.
There were formal complaints of dishonest play against Taylor in a game during the 1904 season, and two hearings were held the following offseason by the National League to decide the outstanding charges. Both hearings ended with acquittals on the dishonesty allegations, on grounds of lack of evidence. Fines were levied for "misconduct", all of which Taylor refused to pay.
A hearing before the National Commission early in 1905 regarding the charges by Hart stemming from the `03 City Series had identical results. Affidavits confirming Taylor's remarks during the heckling incident wre the basis of the case against him, not sufficient evidence for the Commission. The ineptness and ineffectiveness displayed by the governing bodies in these incidents is often cited as fostering the steady increase in dishonest play that characterized the following decade and a half; a direct link to the ultimate scandals of 1919.
Taylor, for all practical purposes unpunished, pitched for the Cardinals into 1906, when he was traded back to the Cubs on July 1, Hart having left the club meantime. Pitching for his first pennant winner, Taylor had one of his finest years, 12-3, 1.83 for the Cubs (20-12 overall). His monumental complete-game streak ended against Brooklyn on August 13, when he was relieved in the third inning of a game the Cubs eventually won. He was not used in the World Series that year, perhaps a reflection of lingering suspicion.
Taylor was released after a 7-5 start in 1907, completing a major-league career 152-139 record, with a 2.66 ERA. His record in eight seasons for the Cubs was 109-90. He pitched in the minors a further six years, and returned to Ohio, where he worked as a coal miner. He died in Columbus, OH, of cancer, March 4, 1938, aged 64.