by Steve McCarthy
Duster Mundy pitched just 11 seasons in the National Baseball League but he won 311 games and is widely regarded as one of the best pitchers of the 19th century. Mundy was born in 1858 in a tiny town called Belfast, Iowa that actually no longer exists. As a teen he would make the trek north to play baseball for the town team of Donnelson, which had a population of roughly 500 people. Gifted with impeccable control and a seemingly effortless delivery Mundy would often pitch both ends of a doubleheader and the team enjoyed great success but scouting was nothing like it is today so Mundy went unnoticed by the clubs of the American Circuits. By the time he was twenty-six, the Chicago Haymakers (now Traders) had got word of a righthanded phenom dominating the town leagues in rural Iowa and quickly signed Mundy to a contract.
He would make his Chicago debut in 1886 at the age of 27 and immediately become the Haymakers ace. He won 30 games in that first season and followed it up with a 29-17 campaign that saw him lead the NBBL in earned run average. Mundy would be a fixture in the Haymaker rotation for the next 11 seasons, leading the league in wins twice, ERA 4 times, games pitched 5 times and strikeouts once. It worked out as a perfect transition for the Haymakers as Mundy emerged just as another Hall of Famer, George Stonge, ended a very similar career arc to the one Mundy would enjoy in Chicago.
Stonge was the player Mundy was most often compared to in the Windy City. Each joined the Haymakers well into their twenties, with both coming from small towns that pretty much no longer exist (Albany, Maine in Stonge's case). Stonge's career mark in 11 seasons is 349-225 while Mundy was 311-223 in his 11 year career. Stonge did lead Chicago to four championships while Mundy only won a single title but Mundy pitched in the World Series era so he did help the Haymakers to a second pennant. Stonge would proceed Mundy into the Hall of Fame by two years.
It was after an 11 year title drought and six years after replacing Stonge at the top of the Chicago rotation that Mundy led the Haymakers to a championship. It came in 1891 with Mundy compiling a 34-16 record as the Haymakers led the National League by 3 games over Cleveland. Mundy would start four games in the World Series against the ABL champion Baltimore Crabbers, going 2-2 as Chicago won the series five games to three. It would be Mundy's only World Series as Chicago also qualified in 1893 but Mundy, who won a career high 35 games that year, missed the Series, a four games to three loss to Philadelphia, with shoulder troubles. He would pitch for three more years but his final season would be marred by back woes forcing Mundy to retire following the 1896 campaign at the age of 37. His record was 311-223 with a 3.02 career earned run average.
Mundy was not hamed on a single Hall of Fame ballot in the first two classes but he did slowly gain some support in the 1948 election. He appeared on 58% of the ballots in 1949 and finally made it the following season when he was named on 75% of the ballots, exactly the minimum required for enshrinement. Certainly the late start and relative briefness of his career worked against him, but he clearly was a dominant pitcher in his era. Had he started his big league career three or four seasons earlier Mundy could have easily topped 400 wins. Of the current members of 300-win club, only one appeared in less games than Mundy's 574 career appearances: Chuck Munson 549. Mundy is one of four Chicago pitchers to make the Hall of Fame and certainly belongs in that elite company that also includes Stonge and turn of the century aces Jacob Norwood and Matthew Sullivan.