It would be easy to assume that Thomson’s career marks the beginning and end of Scottish involvement in major league baseball. There have, though, been eight Scottish-born top-flight baseball players.

Thomson, a decent player for 15 years and still alive at 86, is undoubtedly the most famous. The best, though, came much earlier in the game’s history, one of six Scots who played during the 19th century, products of the era’s mass migration from Scotland to the United States.

When Chicago clinched the National League title in October 1885, the Boston Globe wrote of Glasgow-born Jim McCormick that he was “ranked once as the best pitcher in the world”. His team manager Cap Anson reckoned him “one of the best men that ever sent a ball whizzing across a plate”.

That autumn, in the play-offs against St Louis – a precursor of the modern world series – he pitched to outfielder Hugh Nichol, born in Campsie. The series, which ended in a tie, was among the highlights of a career some experts reckon should be enshrined in baseball’s Valhalla – the Hall of Fame at Cooperstown, New York.

The reputable Baseball Reference website runs a Hall of Fame Monitor which calculates criteria for admission to the Hall. The average Hall of Famer scores 100 points. Anyone who scores 130 is reckoned a near-certainty.

They calculate McCormick’s score at 194 – the highest for any eligible player not in the Hall. Bill McMahon, a philosophy professor who researched McCormick’s career for the Society for American Baseball Research, says: “He was one of the outstanding pitchers before 1890. There were five ahead of him and they’re all in the Hall.”

The odds are against him. The committee who deal with pre-1942 players make nominations only every five years and will not meet again until 2013. McCormick did not make the ballot in 2008.

Yet it remains a striking career. Born in Glasgow in 1856, McCormick was eight when his family moved from Glasgow to Patterson, New Jersey, the attractions of the new world, and the problems of the old, outweighing the civil war still raging further south.

As a youngster he was as interested in amateur theatricals as sport, at least until narrowly escaping strang-
ulation in a botched exec-ution scene.

In baseball’s infancy – the National League was formed in 1876 – the talented player could ascend rapidly from local sandlot to the big leagues. McCormick made it at 21, his boyhood friend Mike Kelly, destined as “King Kelly” to be the game’s first superstar and inspire the song Slide, Kelly, Slide, got there at 20.

McCormick stayed at the top level for a tough, tumultuous decade, about as long as pitchers lasted. McMahon says: “Teams would play three times a week. The same pitcher would play every game, and generally pitch every innings. Not many lasted more than a few years.”

In those 10 seasons McCormick pitched more than 4200 innings – more than modern star Randy Johnson has pitched in 22 years. He was as memor-able as the giant Johnson. Anson recalled “a great big fellow with a florid complexion and blue eyes … utterly devoid of fear, nothing that came in his direction being too hard for him to handle”.

McCormick, who pitched with the power of a muscular 5ft 10.5in, 14 stone frame, was an early master of the curve ball, often overpowering from the 50ft distance between pitcher and hitter current in the 1880s.

In 1880, when he won a league-best 45 games for a mediocre Cleveland team, he might have claimed to be the best pitcher in the game. Four years later he dominated the rebel Union Assoociation, winning 21 games in less than half a season. After that came two years with Chicago, winning two National League titles and starting one season with 16 consecutive victories.

He wasn’t, though, always easy to manage. The florid complexion reflected a capacity for alcohol that impressed even hard-drinking pros of the era. In 1886 Anson withheld $250 from Kelly and McCormick’s $2000 salary, promising repayment if they stayed sober during the season. They did not. Anson hired a private detective to check on his players, receiving an inch-thick dossier on the drunkenness of seven of his starting nine. Only Anson himself and Billy Sunday, later a famous evangelist, escaped stricture.

McCormick’s absence from the later stages of the 1886 play-offs was attributed to “rheumatism”, quite possibly a euphemism. Another face was superimposed over his in the team photograph. He and Kelly were both traded before the following season – with McCormick among the first players exchanged for another, rather than commanding a fee.

Alcohol and the sheer volume of work took their toll and the 1887 season was his last, finished at 30. He returned to the tavern he ran in Patterson, and lived until 1918.

It is a long time ago, but his career remains a remarkable Scottish sporting story. If Cooperstown is unlikely to welcome him, maybe his own National Hall of Fame, which has already inducted Bobby Thomson, should take a look.