Chicago Cubs: Diminutive Larry Corcoran left a mammoth legacy

(Photo by Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)
(Photo by Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images) /

Back in the 1880s, professional baseball was very a different game. The plate was only twelve inches across, pitchers stood 45’ (in 1881 it was changed to 50 feet) from the plate and they threw underhand. It took seven balls to earn a walk and home runs were uncommon even though some fences were only two hundred feet from home. Bunting and steals ruled the day, as did several talented pitchers.

The Chicago Cubs, then known as the White Stockings, were the first team to create an official ‘starting rotation’ with two pitchers alternating games. The hurlers were Fred Goldsmith and Larry Corcoran. Both were to be highly successful pitchers that helped Chicago dominate the league for several years.

Goldsmith had good size for the day, standing 6’ 1” and weighing about 195, but Corcoran stood only 5’3” and weighed 127 pounds. Yet it was the diminutive Corcoran that led the team as its top pitcher.

In 1880 Cap Anson started his two aces in 84 of 86 games but Corcoran, the harder thrower, shouldered the greater part of the workload throwing 536 1/3 innings to Goldsmith’s 210 1/3. The White Stockings finished in first place with a 67-17 record. Under their rotation they led the league in 1881 and ’82 also.

Corcoran’s secret weapon was a deadly curveball. His career WAR for 277 games played was 25.3 with four years with a WAR of 6.0 or better, highlighted by a 7.2 WAR in 63 games in 1880. His career W/L percentage was .665 over his eight years in the pros, but in his six years with Chicago it was .673 with a 2.26 ERA. In 1880 Corcoran went 43-14 and Goldsmith 21-3.

In 1884, after developing a sore right arm, Corcoran tried to alternate throwing with his left and right. The technique didn’t prove successful. At the start of 1885 Anson had released Goldsmith and brought in a new number one starter, John Clarkson, a future HOF pitcher. Worn out from having pitched 2279 innings in five years (he went 170-83), Corcoran’s last start for the White Stockings was on May 26th, twelve days after he recorded his final shutout for the team.

Chicago Cubs: Larry Corcoran paid a steep price for his insane workload

Released by the Chicago team in July of 1885, Corcoran lasted three more years with a variety of teams but was dogged by accusations of alcohol abuse and constant fatigue. He retired and died six years later at the age of thirty-two. The cause of death was stated as Bright’s disease, but it was undoubtedly exacerbated by alcohol.

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Corcoran was the first pitcher to record three no-hitters in his career. A little man who stood tall on the mound for several years, Larry Corcoran was an enigmatic and tragic star for the nascent Cub’s teams in the early days of Major League baseball.