Galvin holds another distinction – he may be the first star player – almost certainly the first enshrined in the Baseball Hall of Fame – to use what we now call "Performance Enhancing Drugs" (PEDs). Brian Martin's new book, Pud Galvin: Baseball's First 300-Game Winner, is the first comprehensive biography of Galvin and his use of a testosterone-based concoction.
In the August 13 game, Galvin played like a man possessed. “Old Jeems once more was a youngster full of fun, power and tricks,” the Pittsburgh Dispatch reported in its story headlined: “Galvin, the Great.” Aside from his shut out, with only five hits allowed the powerful Boston batters, he belted a double and a triple. The New York Times led off its account of the game with: “Galvin pitched one of the best games of his life today . . .” The Pittsburgh Commercial Gazette reported that a smiling Galvin doffed his cap to the crowd that cheered his work with the bat that day. The Washington Post, which had written extensively about the elixir and claims surrounding it, also took note of Galvin’s performance in its “Base Ball Notes.”
Galvin was one of the subjects at a test of the Brown-Sequard elixir at a medical college in Pittsburgh on Monday. If there still be doubting Thomases who concede no virtue to the elixir, they are respectfully referred to Galvin’s record in yesterday’s Boston-Pittsburgh game. It is the best proof yet furnished of the value of the discovery.
Galvin continued to play well for several weeks, but took no further injections of the testosterone-based potion, as far as can be determined. His next outing came August 17 at home against New York. He scored one run on two hits and, although he allowed 13 hits, he led Allegheny to a 15-10 win. Galvin won his next four starts (rotating with Ed Morris, Harry Staley and Bill Sowders), against Cleveland, Chicago, Indianapolis and then Chicago again. In a 6-2 win over Chicago on August 28, the Pittsburgh Dispatch said Galvin was particularly effective silencing the White Stockings bats. “Galvin, who is usually rather good eating on the home grounds, at this time of year, was surprisingly effective today. He swung his big fat arms with much vehemence, and laughed merrily as the sweat rolled off his globular face, and, dropping into the box, rose above the tops of his shoes.” On August 31, Galvin came in to relieve a struggling Staley against Chicago, but the game was tied and called on account of darkness after 13 innings. He came back to earth on September 2, his next start, when New York beat Allegheny 9-5. Galvin had enjoyed an unusually productive three weeks in what had been a sometimes-difficult season.
Had the Dispatch hinted at one point at what would later be dubbed “’roid rage” in the hurler, along with his excessive sweating? Was Pud Galvin the first “juicer” in baseball? It has been argued he was.
Not nearly as well known as Abrams’ book, was a 2002 article in the Medical Journal of Australia by scientists who decided to test the Brown-Sequard elixir, using modern scientific techniques. Abrams didn’t mention their work. Australian researchers carefully replicated the elixir as prepared by the eighteenth-century doctor in a bid to test its effectiveness. “In recent years,” they noted, “the hypothesis that the aging process in men arises from testicular insufficiency has re-emerged.” Testes were obtained from five healthy dogs of various breeds which were undergoing castration surgery, the tissues were stored and then crushed according to Brown-Sequard’s formula. The liquid was filtered and then carefully analyzed for testosterone concentration. The scientists found the “canine testicular extract” with which Brown-Sequard injected himself was four times less than the amount that would be needed simply to replace the testosterone in men suffering from inadequate testosterone production, a condition known as hypogonadism. “The favorable response he reported was therefore clearly a placebo effect,” they concluded, referring to Brown-Sequard’s observations. In other words, there was too little testosterone in the concoction to have any biological effect on a subject. They did note the potential feel-good effect of taking something that a subject thinks has value. “Brown-Sequard’s experience demonstrates that the placebo effect can be powerful, even in a highly education physician who was well aware of its existence,” they said. Modern science had debunked all those claims about an injectable fountain of youth made more than a century ago.
So it was all in Brown-Sequard’s head. And in Galvin’s, too. The pitcher believed the potion helped him perform. And because he did, it did. The performance enhancement came from his mind, not from an injection. The elixir of life faded from public consciousness after about two years, the fad having burnt itself out, in a veritable hula-hoop of experimental medicine. For his part, the free-thinking and colorful Brown-Sequard died in 1894. He has been lauded for his pioneering experiments that led to hormonal replacement therapy and organ transplants, but, as one of his biographers noted, “his ideas sometimes superseded reasoned judgment, leading to unrealistic expectations by the general public and chilling disenchantment by the scientific and academic communities, which suspected that much of his work was based on the shifting sands of self-delusion.”
It’s not known if other baseball players heeded the advice from the New Haven Register and other papers that promoted the elixir as a “great thing” for baseball and tried it themselves. But given the rage it became and the number of doses administered, it seems likely other players tried it, especially those looking to combat the decline that comes with age. To date, however, the only documented user has been Pud Galvin. And it appears he used it only once.