Thursday, May 6, 2010

Tommy Bond

Bond, Thomas Henry "Tommy" 74AtlNA 75HarNA 76HarN 77-81BosN 82WorN 84BosU 84IndA
Debut: 5/5/74 at Brooklyn; caught by John Farrow in a 24-3 win over Baltimore’s Asa Brainard
Finale: 8/11/84 at Columbus; caught by Charlie Robinson and lost 11-3 to Columbus’s Dummy Dundon
Bond is the only pitcher since the inception of the NL in 1876 to win 40 or more games three years in a row. At age 23 he was the highest-paid player in the game, receiving $2,500. A year later, still short of his 25th birthday, he owned 221 career wins (although his salary had been cut to $1,500). From that point forward he never won another game in the NL. Were it not for the creation of the jerrybuilt UA in 1884, he probably never would have won another major league game, period.
Bond first tried out for the Brooklyn Atlantics in 1873 when he was only 17. However, he had not yet mastered control of his patented “rise ball,” which he delivered with his right hand about six inches above the ground. Returning to the Atlantics the following spring, he helped them achieve semi-respectability in the NA for the first time by winning 22 games. But he also led the loop in losses (32), runs (440), and home runs allowed (16). The latter total was astronomical for its time, representing a full 40% of the home runs surrendered in 1874. Bond’s rookie highpoint came on September 30 when he was the last pitcher on a visiting NA team to beat Boston in its home park. (The following year, the four-time NA champs set an all-time record when they went undefeated at home for the entire season.) Just a day later, however, the titleholders wreaked gleeful revenge, trouncing Bond and the Atlantics, 29–0.
In 1875, Atlantics captain Bob Ferguson persuaded Bond to accompany him to Hartford, where he would share the pitching with Candy Cummings and play RF on days when he was not in the box. Bond’s home runs allowed shrank from 16 to three after Cummings tutored him in how to add a curve to his rise balls. By the end of the season some observers believed that Bond’s curve was even better than that of his mentor, the putative inventor of the pitch. Bond remained in Hartford when it joined the fledgling NL in 1876 and replaced Cummings as the Dark Blues ace. Nevertheless, at the close of the 1876 season, unhappy with Ferguson, who had suspended him in the late going after he questioned Ferguson’s commitment to winning, the 20-year-old righthander switched to Boston as soon as his Hartford contract expired. In his first three years with Harry Wright’s Hub entry, Bond won 123 games and carried Boston to two pennants. A third was missed in 1879 largely because his arm woes near the end of the season forced Wright to use rookie Jim Tyng in key games against Providence, the eventual pennant winner.
After Bond slipped to just 26 wins on a dissension-ridden club in 1880, he opened 1881 by dropping his first three starts at the new 50-foot pitching distance. Wright elevated rookie Jim Whitney to the team’s ace and released his longtime stalwart, giving his roster spot to journeyman flinger John Fox. Still just 25, Bond returned to the Brooklyn Atlantics, now an independent team, and spent the summer trying to pamper his arm by playing the outfield. That winter the Worcester NL club signed him as a pitcher/captain solely on his reputation and against the wishes of manager Freeman Brown. When Bond’s arm gave out on Opening Day in 1882 and then again in his second start, Brown released him as unfit to play. However, the pitcher surprised Brown by appearing in Cleveland before a game with a doctor’s note clearing him to play. Later he even replaced Brown briefly as manager, although he knew better than to try to pitch again.
Two years later, when Boston was granted a franchise in the rebel UA, Bond was coaxed into trying out for the team, and seemed at first to have undergone a miraculous renaissance. In April 1884 the Boston Globe reported: “Bond has changed his style of pitching, and now delivers the ball well up to the shoulder and with great speed.” The former NL great won his Opening Day start against Philadelphia, and five weeks later dealt the St. Louis Maroons their first loss after they had won a record 20 straight games to open the season. On June 20, Bond topped Washington to lift his mark to 13–7, but it would be his last ML win. After he lost his next two starts, he was released, partly as a cost-cutting measure since his salary was the highest on a team that was losing money. But Boston’s judgment proved right when he signed with Indianapolis AA and was thrashed in his final five big league starts. Still short of his 30th birthday, Bond umpired in a New England minor league in 1885 while trying (unsuccessfully) to learn the leather business. The following spring he made a brief comeback with Brockton of the New England League, winning his first three starts, but was soon out of the game again. Beginning in 1891, he worked in the Boston City Assessor’s office until his retirement 35 years later. Bond also umpired college games and coached the Harvard team on occasion, a role he had first undertaken on a volunteer basis in 1879. He died of natural causes at his daughter’s Boston home in 1941.

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