In an age when baseball had its’ share of rowdy characters, Charlie Buffinton was a gentleman, who The Sporting News called “the Christy Mathewson of the 1880s.” In 11 years spent pitching for five teams in three professional leagues, Buffinton threw his “drop ball” past opposing hitters, winning 233 games. Though it’s impossible to prove, some historians believe that it was Buffinton, and not Candy Cummings, who invented the curveball.
Charles G. Buffinton was born in the mining community of Fall River, Massachussets, on June 14, 1861. By the time he was 17 years old, he was the best “base ball player” in the region. He played as a catcher for the local nine, until a blow to the eye ended his career behind the plate. Late in the summer of 1882, the 21-year old was recruited by the Boston Red Caps of the National League as a pitcher. In five games, Buffinton gave little indication of his future success, winning twice anjd surrendering 67 baserunners via hit or walk in 42 innings pitched.
In 1883, Buffinton took advantage of the new rule which allowed hurlers to toss with an overhand delivery. Soon, he was using his “drop ball,” which was an early form of the curveball, to baffle enemy batters. In his first full pro campaign, Buffinton went 25-14 for Boston, combining with “Grasshopper” Whitney to pitch the team to the NL pennant. The next season, Buffinton enjoyed his best year, winning 48 and pitching 63 complete games. Only “Old Hoss” Radbourn’s 60 wins eclipsed Buffinton’s efforts. That year, Buffinton strung together a 13-game winning streak, pitched a no-hitter (which he lost!), and fanned 17 batters in one game. In one contest, where he was matched against Radbourn, Buffinton twirled 16 innings before the game was called a 1-1 tie.
After two more stellar seasons, Buffinton suffered an arm injury sometime in 1886, which limited him to 17 starts and a 7-10 record. Released by Boston, he caught on with Philadelphia, where he rebounded to win 20 games or more in three straight seasons (1887-1889). In 1887, Buffinton pitched back-to-back one-hitters for the Quakers.
In 1890, Buffinton won a suit against his employers and secured his release from his contract, freeing him to play for the rebel Players League. As a player/manager for the Philadelphia entry, Charlie won 19 games but found himself unemployed when the league folded after one season. In 1891, Buffinton, like others who had dared played in the Players League, was blackballed from the NL. Still wishing to make a living throwing his curveballs, he caught on with the Reds of the American Association, winning 29 games and leading them to the pennant. Unfortunately, the American Association folded after that season, and Buffinton was without a team again. In 1892 Buffinton started the season with the Orioles of the NL, apparently forgiven for his Players League revolt, but he didn’t last long. With a 4-8 record for the worst team in the league, Buffinton retired after 13 starts, apparently for several reasons that included a dispute over his salary.
His days a ballplayer over, Buffinton returned to Fall River, where along with the rest of the community, he was shocked when Lizzie Borden killed both of her parents at their residence on Second Street, in early August. The ensuing trial grabbed the nation’s attention, but Buffinton’s final years in the small town were far less noteworthy. Taking some of the money he had earned as a ballplayer, Buffinton invested in coal and cotton, and became a respected businessman in Fall River. On September 23, 1907, at the relatively young age of 46, he died suddenly from heart failure one day before he was to undergo surgery on his gall bladder.