Texas League Bad Boys: The Navasota Tarantula

garvin 001 (2)Virgil Lee Garvin, born New Year’s Day 1876 in Navasota, made his professional baseball debut with the Texas League’s 1895 Sherman Orphans. An outstanding pitcher, “Ned,” as friends called him, seemed plagued by bad luck. He spent a majority of his 13-year career on light-hitting teams scoring few runs to back their pitching. In six minor league seasons, Garvin won barely half his games but posted an incredible 1.85 ERA. In seven major league seasons, the tall Texan ranked near the top of the pitching charts each year, and finished his career with a 2.72 ERA. Unfortunately, as he bounced between Philadelphia, Chicago, New York, and Milwaukee, his teammates generally played poorly, and his 58-97 record earned him the title of “hard luck pitcher of the dead ball era.” Whether or not frustration on the ball field led to Garvin’s general demeanor is unknown, but it likely had little impact. Ned arrived on the baseball scene with a chip on his shoulder, and both teammates and opposing players quickly dubbed him the “Navasota Tarantula.” Outside of Texas, “The Texas Demon” offered a better sense of geography but carried the same meaning. Ned Garvin was one “bad dude.”

When John McCloskey left the Texas League in late 1895, he took a number of the League’s better players to New England and fielded a club he called the New Haven Texas Steers. Described as “clean-cut, gentle, and amiable” under ordinary circumstances, those in Connecticut looked forward to hosting the soft-spoken Texan. Then, of course, they met him. Under “ordinary” circumstances,” Ned Garvin may have been a fine fellow. Unfortunately, the tall pitcher spent a majority of his time in a more extraordinary state of mind—extraordinarily drunk, that is.

Ned Garvin’s misdeeds are too many to go over in detail, but he first gained national attention soon after his big league debut on a road trip to New York. In Garvin’s traditional evening sanctuary, a saloon, rival second baseman Tom Daly of the Brooklyn Superbras made the mistake of informing Ned he wasn’t the great pitcher sportswriters claimed; in fact, he suggested Ned might be better off back on his Texas ranch. The accounts of what occurred next are as much legend as fact, but witnesses stated Garvin knocked Daly out cold with a single punch, then placed a beer glass over his face and began stomping it. The damage to Daly’s face was severe enough to earn Garvin a charge of assault with a deadly weapon. Garvin’s defense? Daly’s suggestion that Ned return to Texas was a “dispersion on his birthplace.” Garvin merely defended Texas’ honor. The court didn’t necessarily disagree, and assessed Garvin a small fine.

Garvin made assault with a deadly weapon, if not attempted murder, as much a part of his persona as his unhittable curve ball. He assaulted a team secretary who informed Garvin his contract was, in fact, binding and later took a pot shot at an African-American shoeshine-man in Milwaukee after being dissatisfied with his work. He also shot a bartender in Chicago during a drunken argument before half-heartedly attempting to kill a policeman who intervened. Though narrowly missing the officer’s head with two shots, the courts only punished Garvin with a $100 fine. The White Sox weren’t nearly as forgiving and a day later presented Ned his release papers. All the release did was offer the Tarantula another chance to create trouble in New York when he signed Brooklyn. After a relatively peaceful two seasons, Garvin reverted to his old form and assaulted an insurance salesman who seemed more interested in the newspaper than entertaining him in conversation as the two sat in a hotel lobby. Although the salesman suffered a broken nose, he accepted an apology and $50 cash from Garvin after he sobered-up. But, the incident and its publicity in the nation’s largest city essentially finished Garvin’s major league career.

In 1905, Ned returned to the minor leagues, this time on the west coast where his reputation was not nearly as well-known. Over three seasons out west, Garvin won a spectacular 65 games. But, his hard-luck continued. Although giving up an average of just two runs a game, Ned also lost 53 starts. As far as baseball historians know, Garvin stayed out of trouble after the incident in New York, but the big leagues never called. Despite his good behavior, in 1908 the Texas Demon met a challenger his fist, a revolver, or a shot of liquor couldn’t whip when he contracted tuberculosis. He died in Fresno, California, in June of the same year. Unfortunately, Ned Garvin never made back to the state he was so quick to defend early in his career. He’s buried in Fresno’s Mountain View Cemetery.


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