By: Brian Frank
Throwing complete games in both games of a doubleheader is something that would never happen in today’s game with the emphasis on pitch counts and limiting pitcher’s innings. However, probably to the surprise of many modern-day fans, what was once known as an Iron Man used to actually occur.
Pud Galvin, the Hall of Fame pitcher from Buffalo’s National League days, accomplished the Iron Man while pitching for the Bisons during the 1880s. The Iron Man even occurred during the twentieth century. For example, between 1900 and 1927 a pitcher threw complete games in both games of a major-league doubleheader on no fewer than 38 occasions. In fact, as recently as 1950, Brooklyn Dodgers legend Don Newcombe started both games of a doubleheader against the New York Giants – however, he was pulled for a pinch-hitter in the eighth inning of the second game, so he didn’t record a complete game in both games.
On August 8, 1919, Bisons pitcher Rosy Ryan, a 21-year-old Holy Cross grad, joined the Iron Man club. Although the second game of Ryan’s Iron Man doubleheader was a scheduled seven-inning game, his feat was even more amazing than most, because Ryan fired a no-hitter in the nightcap.
Ryan’s incredible performance took place when the Bisons played the Reading Marines (also referred to as the Minors and Coal Barons) in a doubleheader in Reading, Pennsylvania. Buffalo was having a good season, sitting in third place in the International League with a 58-46 record. Reading, on the other hand, was in the midst of a horrendous summer. The Marines sat dead last in the league standings with a dismal 32-67 record. The day before Ryan took the mound, the Bisons added to Reading’s woes by sweeping them in a doubleheader.
Buffalo's Iron Man, Rosy Ryan. Buffalo Times, August 9, 1919.
Ryan’s historic day didn’t look all that amazing at the outset. He walked Joseph Burns with two outs in the first inning of the first game – but he was erased when catcher Benny Bengough gunned him out trying to steal second. In the second inning, Ryan again walked a batter – this time it was John Hummel with one out. Hummel stole second and scored on Frank Brower’s double to give Reading a 1-0 lead. The Marines increased their lead in the third inning when Jesse Altenberg drove a Ryan pitch into the right-field stands for a solo home run.
Reading starter Frank Brower got off to a better start than Ryan and “looked like a million dollars” through the first four innings. He didn’t allow a hit until future Baseball Hall of Famer Bucky Harris singled with two outs in the fourth. However, the Herd broke through in the fifth. Chick Keating led off the inning with a double, advanced to third on a groundout, and scored on a wild pitch. Later in the inning, Donald Donelson tied the game with an RBI single.
Player-manager George “Hooks” Wiltse put the Herd in the lead with an RBI single in the sixth inning, before the Bisons used a “heavy barrage of hits” to take control of the game in the eighth. Catcher Benny Bengough started the rally by walking with one out. Chick Keating struck out swinging, but Reading catcher Mike Konnick couldn’t hold on to strike three and Keating reached first safely. Wiltse then stroked his second RBI single of the game. Run-scoring singles by Bill McCarren, Donelson, and Ed Barney helped increase Buffalo’s lead. Lee Strait capped Buffalo’s big inning with an RBI double that brought home the sixth run of the frame and gave the Bisons a commanding 9-2 lead.
Ryan gave up a run in the eighth inning on a groundout to second. He allowed another run in the ninth on Sam Fishburn’s two-out RBI double, before he was able to get Cook to fly out to centerfield to end the game. Ryan ended up giving up four runs on seven hits and three walks, while striking out three, in his nine-inning outing.
According to the Buffalo Express, Bisons player-manager Hooks Wiltse told Ryan before the first game that if he won, he’d send him back out for the second. It’s likely Wiltse was a bit short on pitching since the two teams were playing four games in two days. After Ryan won the first game, “Wiltse proved as good as his word and returned him to the hill.”
In the nightcap, Ryan faced off against Reading hurler Dave Keefe, who “was unable to hold the enemy from the very start of hostilities.” Donelson drew a walk to leadoff the game for the Herd. After Barney flied out, Harris reached on an error by the second baseman. Strait then drilled the ball into the right-field stands for a three-run home run to give Buffalo the early lead.
After losing the first three games of the series, the Reading faithful were not pleased with the team’s slow start in the game and began yelling at manager Pop Kelchner to take Keefe out. He didn't heed their warnings. However, even if Kelchner had taken the fans’ advice, it was already too late with the performance Ryan was about to put on.
Ryan walked leadoff batter Jesse Altenburg, but then induced three groundouts to retire the side. Altenburg reached base again in the third on a “hot one” grounded to third baseman Bill McCarren, “who failed to recover the ball fast enough to catch the runner after it had bounded off his glove.” That would be it for Reading, as Ryan set down 13 batters in a row to end the game. His astonishing performance was not lost on the Reading crowd. The Reading Times reported "the youngster received a good hand from the local fans throughout the game.”
Buffalo tacked on three more runs in the fourth inning, highlighted by Barney’s RBI double and Harris’s two-run home run. Donelson added a solo home run to right in the sixth to put the Herd in front 7-0.
Ryan with the New York Giants. Wikimedia, Public Domain.
In the seventh and final inning, Ryan got all three Reading batters to ground out to first base to secure both his Iron Man feat and his seven-inning no-hitter. “Dust off a place in the hall of fame for pitcher W.D. Ryan,” the Buffalo Express raved. “He has a double claim to distinction as a result of his performance against the Reading club here today. Not only did he pull the iron man stunt successfully by turning back the Marines in both ends of a doubleheader, but he held them hitless and runless in the second game.” The Buffalo Evening News described the second game a bit more colorfully, writing: “Ryan not only held the locals helpless but hitless and runless as well.”
Numerous newspapers commented on the solid defense played behind Ryan in both games, particularly during the no-hitter. The Buffalo Courier noted that Altenburg was the only batter to reach on a walk and an error, but “[w]ith magnificent support back of him, Ryan bowled the other Reading batters over as fast as they stepped to the plate.” The Reading Times said, “The Bisons fielded like fiends in the last few innings and cut down a few which looked as if they might have been labeled.” The Buffalo Express reported: “The Bisons put up a dazzling display in the field in both games and Ryan owes much to the championship style displayed by his teammates particularly the combination around second, Keating and Harris.”
Buffalo newspapers took to calling their team's star pitcher "Iron Man" Ryan for the rest of the summer. The 21-year-old hurler joined the New York Giants in September, before Buffalo's season had concluded, and pitched in four games for John McGraw's squad, including three starts. Despite not finishing the season with the Herd, Ryan went 15-8 for Buffalo, which tied him with Rip Jordan (15-10) and Tommy Thomas (15-13) for the team lead in wins.
Ryan went on to enjoy a major-league career that spanned 10 seasons, mostly for the Giants, but also with the Boston Braves, New York Yankees, and Brooklyn Dodgers. He led the National League with a 3.01 ERA and went 17-12 for the 1922 World Series Champion Giants. The next season, he went 16-5 and led the N.L. in games pitched (45), helping lead the Giants to another N.L. Pennant. He pitched in three consecutive World Series for the Giants from 1922 to 1924 and has the distinction of earning the win in two consecutive World Series Game 1s – in 1922 and 1923.
Ryan had a long, distinguished career that all began with his first professional season in Buffalo. He had many highlights in his major-league career, but never again achieved what he did with the Herd on an overcast day in 1919 in Reading, Pennsylvania – accomplishing the Iron Man feat and punctuating it with a no-hitter.
 “No Hit Game Marks End of Double Bill With Bisons,” Reading Times, August 9, 2019.  “Ryan ‘Iron Man’ of Wiltse’s Boys’; Won Two Games,” Buffalo Enquirer, August 9, 1919.  “Iron Man Stunt for the Bisons,” Buffalo Express, August 9, 2019.  “No Hit Game Marks End of Double Bill With Bisons”.  “Iron Man Stunt for the Bisons”.  “Ryan ‘Iron Man’ of Wiltse’s Boys’; Won Two Games”.  “Iron Man Stunt for the Bisons”.  “Bill Ryan Wins Two Games in an Afternoon,” Buffalo Evening News, August 9, 1919.  “Ryan Wins a Double Victory, Second a No-Hit No-Run Game,” Buffalo Courier, August 9, 1919.  “No Hit Game Marks End of Double Bill With Bisons”.  “Iron Man Stunt for the Bisons”.