News item, via the Los Angeles Times, about new baseball sensation Shohei Ohtani:

Ohtani became the first player in 99 years to win two games and hit three home runs within the first 10 games of a season. The last: Jim Shaw, he of the “Grunting Jim” nickname, for the 1919 Washington Senators.

Shaw seems noted by the history books primarily as someone with a good nickname, because “Grunting” Jim is definitely a good nickname. See, for example, the 1993 Sporting News compendium of great baseball nicknames, which also unearthed Vernon “Goofy” Gomez, “Voiceless” Tim O’Rourke, Frank “Pig” House, “Bucketfoot” Al Simmons, George “Foghorn” Miller, Bill “Goober” Zuber, “Grasshopper” Jim Whitney, Benny “Earache” Meyer and “Bloody” Jake Evans. Wikipedia informs that Shaw’s nickname resulted from “the distinct grunting noise he made every time he threw a pitch off the mound,” although contemporaneous Washington Post coverage neglected to provide further insight into the exact nature of said noise.

Which isn’t to say his grunting never came up in Post coverage.

“Jim Shaw did more grinning than grunting at American League Park yesterday,” The Post’s J.V. Fitz Gerald wrote in September 1918. The author liked that turn of phrase so much that he returned to it later in his piece, writing that Shaw “has been doing much more grinning than grunting when he has been on the hill lately and he was in winning form against the Yanks” in a 6-3 victory.

Shaw had been introduced to Washington Post readers four years previously, when he struck out 14 and allowed just two hits in a 1-0 victory over those same Yankees. The New Yorkers, according to The Post’s unbylined story, had never heard of Shaw, but discovered him “with a shock that made them suspect that he might be a Krupp field gun in disguise.”

His 14 strikeouts that day were within two of the AL record at the time, and his showing “was one of the finest club swinging exhibitions ever seen at the Polo Grounds,” The Post asserted. The pitcher was “a nineteen-year-old schoolboy,” The Post wrote, whom Manager Clark Griffith had “picked up somewhere in the vicinity of Harrisburg, Penn.”

That’s good, but not as good as this 1915 passage in his SABR biography, written by Bill Lamb:

An inexperienced outdoorsman, Shaw had accompanied friends on a mid-November rabbit-hunting expedition in fields outside Pittsburgh. As he investigated a rock pile with the stock-end of a 12-gauge shotgun, the weapon discharged from point-blank range, its load striking Shaw in the jaw and throat. Miraculously, Shaw survived the blast but was in dire condition by the time he arrived at St. Francis Hospital. At first, doctors were not optimistic about Shaw’s chances, but were heartened when X-rays showed that their patient’s windpipe and spinal column were undamaged. His youth and excellent physical condition also worked in Shaw’s favor. Against the odds, Shaw’s condition responded to treatment and he slowly recovered. But he would carry shotgun pellets in his neck for the remainder of his life.

Lamb, in his SABR piece, mentions the frequent comparisons between the 6-foot Shaw and the established Walter Johnson, quoting veteran sportswriter J. Ed Grillo’s 1915 observation that “the day is not far off when there will be little to choose between Walter Johnson and Jim Shaw.”

And if that seems interesting, just wait until the spring of 1919. That’s when Shaw set a mark that Ohtani equaled. The writing was equal to the ball playing. Both were inspired.

April 20: “The Nationals are starting these days the way the Germans did back in 1914,” Fitz Gerald wrote, “and finishing the same way the kaiser’s club did last November.”


Shaw left that game after the fourth inning with a 9-1 lead, but the bullpen did its thing and the Nats lost, 11-9. So the whole spring, clearly, was not a success.

Also, remember when the Post’s beat writer used an 11-9 game story to take a swipe at the kaiser’s club? Trashy clickbait or emotive community engagement? We need a panel discussion featuring some journalism PhDs.

April 26: No game. Too cold. The managers “decided in the morning that they didn’t want to start an epidemic of colds among the fans,” Fitz Gerald wrote. That pushed back a Shaw start.

April 28: The news wasn’t much better when Shaw surfaced next: “The Nationals did everything that a big league ball club shouldn’t do yesterday,” Fitz Gerald wrote, noting that “they couldn’t hit and they didn’t field” in front of the second-biggest crowd in Washington baseball history.

“They had about as much punch as Bill Hohenzollern packed early last November,” he wrote, a reference to Germany’s vanquished Kaiser, and my goodness has any Nats beat writer ever talked as much hardcore international geopolitical trash as J.V. Fitz Gerald did in the spring of 1919?

Anyhow, Shaw was wobbly in an 8-0 loss to Boston. His star turn had still not arrived.

May 2: Now for the good stuff.

“Jim Shaw broke into the Babe Ruth class today,” Fitz Gerald wrote from Philadelphia. “The big Pittsburgher gathered two homeruns in his first two times at bat, against the Athletics this afternoon. And his pitching performance was on a par with his stick work, until the sixth inning. Then he fanned when at bat, and before the Macks finished their turn facing him he had to be yanked from the box.”

Shaw was relieved by Walter Johnson, and the Nats won, 7-2. He had knocked a homer into the center field bleachers in the third and put over another run with a homer in the fifth. That was twice his home run output from his first five seasons, combined.

May 5: Another game, another Shaw star turn, another Babe Ruth lede:

“Jim Shaw doubled in a a Babe Ruth role today,” Fitz Gerald again wrote from Philadelphia. “He slugged and pitched the Nationals to their fourth straight victory over the Athletics. Jamming a home run into the left field bleachers in the second inning with the bases full, his third round-trip clout to this sector in four times at bat at Shibe Park, the four runs he smashed home were just enough to let the Griffs down in front by a count of 10 to 6.
“It was a good thing his batting was somewhat better than his pitching. Otherwise there might have been a different story to tell. As it was Shaw crashed himself into the race for 1919 home-run honors and equaled George Burns’s record for four-ply blows in the Philadelphia park. George got three in one series when with the Tigers. Shaw helped himself to two on Friday and another this afternoon to tie the record. A matter of the fraction of an inch prevented him from getting a second home run in the fourth inning this afternoon.”

Shaw allowed a dozen hits, but Washington still won. And as Fitz Gerald noted, “he could have passed out a few more clouts and still won his game through that mighty home-base smack.”

A man who entered that season with one homer in 358 plate appearances now had three in one May series. Proto-analytical-bloggers must have been ticketing him for the not-yet-established baseball hall of fame.

May 7: Fitz Gerald was now feeling this Shaw story. A lot. So much so, in fact, that following a rainout in Boston, he managed to take swipes at both the deposed Kaiser AND Babe Ruth, in the same story. Just read this brilliance:

“Walter Johnson would not have been ready to do the flinging, but he will be in shape tomorrow. He caught cold in his arm when he opened the season with an extra inning game, and that high-priced wing is only now rounding into something like its real form. So there is hope that the Griffs will quit the bailiwick of the sacred code with honors, even since today’s affray was put over for another visit. Maybe that will let us bust right into the first flight of the league. We would have been second for a spell anyway, if Harper could have beaten the Sox yesterday.
“However, that is in a class with the Hohenzollern lament that if the United States hadn’t entered the late war Bill would be empiring that diplomatic game in Paris now. Johnson may get the Griffs within striking distance of the leaders tomorrow, even if he is pitted against Babe Ruth. Babe has something on Johnson as a hitter, even if he can’t brag when Jim Shaw is around — but it is something else when it comes to slinging the pellet.”

Again, Babe Ruth “can’t brag when Jim Shaw is around.”


Look, it’s just not going to get any better than that. And it didn’t. By that September, Fitz Gerald was writing things like this, after a doubleheader sweep against Ruth’s Red Sox:

Big Babe Ruth essayed the role of chief villain for the Red Sox today and the Griffmen can lay their double defeat at his door. Not content with pitching the opener and nosing out the Nationals by the tally of 2 to 1, the Boston batter came to time with one of his famous home run clouts in the seventh round of the second when both teams were tied at one all, and his 24th home run of the season that buried itself in the right field bleachers … just about broke the heart of poor Jim Shaw.”

Shaw finished that season with just the three home runs. Ruth had 29. Shaw finished that campaign 17-17 slinging the pellet, while Johnson was 20-14 and Ruth 9-5.

Shaw played two more seasons after 1919, but he never again homered after that series in Philadelphia and drove in just three more runs in his final two seasons. He won 12 games and lost 18 over the next two seasons.

“His promising career came to an abrupt end in 1921 when he underwent an operation for an old hip ailment,” The Post reported in 1962, when Shaw died at Georgetown Hospital at 68.

His obituary noted that he had spent just one year in the minors before joining the Nats, and that his 14-strikeout game shared the team’s single-game record with Johnson before Camilo Pascual fanned 15 in 1960.

He lived in Arlington before his death and had served as an Internal Revenue agent, being stationed at the Sunset Hills Distillery in Herndon for many years.

So, maybe don’t put Ohtani in the Hall of Fame just yet. Just remember “Grunting” Jim Shaw.

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