The Short MLB Career and Life of Elliot Bigelow

“Bigelow’s smacks rank among the hardest hit in Andrews field history and he is feared by every pitcher in the league.”

“Hefty Attack Nicklin’s Aim With Lookouts,” Chattanooga Times, March 24, 1926: 10.

Elliot Bigelow was once listed as a 26 year old prospect (26?) in 1929, one of five players the Boston Red Sox acquired from Washington for Buddy Myer prior to the 1929 season.

Elliot Bigelow - Red SoxElliot Allardice (Gilly) Bigelow was born October 13, 1897 in Tarpon Springs, FL to William Howard Bigelow and Margaret Barclay-Allardice. He was the third of three children born to the horticulturalist and his wife.  William drowned when his sailboat capsized in a storm when Elliot was three and the three children would be raised by Margaret and her second husband, John Hill. Hill was a fruit farmer in the Tampa area.

Elliot spent his high school days playing baseball for Tarpon Springs as a pitcher and outfielder and also spent a short time at a prep school in Mount Herman, Massachusetts (both parents can trace their lineage back several generations to New England).  As with many young athletes, he also played basketball when not playing baseball.  He and his brother John, a pitcher and third baseman, would help form and manage a local town team for Tarpon Springs in 1919.  The next year, he would sign his first pro contract.

For six years, Bigelow was mostly buried in the low minors, despite hitting well over .300 in five straight seasons with St. Petersburg of the Florida State League (and a brief 17-game run with Macon in the South Atlantic League).  He landed in Chattanooga of the Southern Association for the 1925 and 1926 seasons where he would bat .349 and .370 with good numbers of doubles and triples.  He was known as a friendly and “a prince of a fellow,” but infielders generally backed up when Bigelow was a the plate because he was certain to crush a liner or hard grounder their way.

At this point, Washington became interested in Bigelow and gave him a tryout prior to the 1927 season, but instead farmed him back to Birmingham in the Southern Association where Bigelow hit even better than before.

Elliot BigelowBigelow hit .395 in the Southern Association in 1928, following up on a season in which he hit .361 and led the league in homers with 19.  Both seasons were with Birmingham.  The left handed hitter and thrower had developed into a thick (5-11, 185) line drive hitter with fairly good power – and yet was still in the minors ten years after his pro debut.  Despite ten years of gaudy batting statistics, three things were keeping him out of the majors – his actual age (by 1929, he was a 32 year old prospect – not 26), his lack of foot speed (he wasn’t the most mobile of outfielders) and his poor throwing arm, the result of a broken arm as a youngster.  Another story said he injured his arm while pitching in high school.

Regardless, Bigelow wasn’t going to stay in Birmingham or get a second shot with the Senators.  He was moved to Boston as part of the trade that sent Buddy Myer to Washington.  Bigelow’s 1929 season with the Boston Red Sox was his only season in the bigs, appearing in 100 games, batting .284 with little power, but a decent .357 OBP.  However, in those days batting .284 with little power was not quite up to league averages – and his age (and arm and range) being what it was, Bigelow was dispatched back to the minors.  He would spend two years in Chattanooga and a year in Knoxville, most always among the league leaders in batting average and still hitting more than his share of doubles (he led the league in 1931 with 48).  In his twelve year minor league career, he had nearly 2,000 hits and a career batting average of .349; he hit .359 in his seven years in the Southern Assocation.

Elliot Bigelow returned home after the 1932 season, never to play professionally again. Instead he likely went to work for this stepfather’s citrus farm. Bigelow, always good with a sailboat, took up fishing frequently just like his father.  He never married.  Bigelow died August 10, 1933 of cerebral meningitis at his mother’s Tampa home, a few days after surgery had been performed to address an infected ear.

He is buried in Cycadia Cemetery in Tarpon Springs.

Notes:

Baseball-Reference.com
FindaGrave.com – Elliott
FindaGrave.com – William
World War 1 Registration Card

“Tarpon Springs Base Ball Club Was Organized at the Board of Trade Rooms Saturday Night,” Tarpon Springs Evening Leader, March 10, 1919: 1.

George Kirksey, “Bill Carrigan Start Season With Gang of Minor League Stars,” Johnson City Chronicle, February 12, 1929: 4.

Charles H. Miller, “Bigelow Has Best Batting Average in Southern Past 10 Years,” Memphis Commercial Appeal, January 6, 1928: 19.

Lewie Little,”The Sport Crucible,” Nashville Banner, April 5, 1929: 17.

“Ex-Lookout Dead,” Chattanooga Daily Times, August 11, 1933: 12.

“Elliot Bigelow, Former Member of the Saints Ball Club, Will Be Buried At Tarpon Springs This Afternoon,” St. Petersburg Times, August 13, 1933: 9.

“Bigelow Rights Are Attended By Hundreds,” St. Petersburg Times, August 14, 1933: 6.

The First Bill Doran Played for Cleveland

I was looking through players who died on March 9th and stumbled on the name Bill Doran, who passed away in 1978.  I remembered the more recent Bill Doran, who was a talented second baseman with the Astros and Reds in the 1980s and 1990s. So this a the quick story about the first Bill Doran.

Bill Doran 1William James Doran was a California kid, born June 14, 1898 in San Francisco, and went to St. Mary’s College in Oakland where he was a captain from his perch at third base from his sophomore year on.  Prior to that, he had served his time in the US Navy during World War I.  In the spring of 1922, he made a handshake deal with Charley Pick, manager of the Sacramento Solons, after an exhibition spring training game between the Solons and St. Mary’s.  However, a scout for Cleveland saw Doran and convinced the Indians to sign Doran that May when college classes ended.

Spending most of the summer with Cleveland, it wasn’t until July before he got in the game as a pinch runner.  Naturally, the rookie got caught in a rundown after making the turn near third base and he was retired in a run down.  Another month passed before he got to replace Larry Gardner at 3B late in the second game of a double header.  He walked in his only appearance.  Then, he appeared in a third game – got a single and grounded out – so a .667 OBP.  He hadn’t made it, really, but he played in three MLB games.

In the middle of August, he was dispatched to Chattanooga for some seasoning, only Sacramento put in a claim for him based on that handshake deal.  Things never really worked out for Doran, though he had some decent seasons in the minors between 1923 and 1930, including a quick stint managing for Wichita at the end of one season.  In the end, he spent more time playing and later managing locally with semipro teams.

Doran moved to the LA area in his later years, working for the Los Angeles Angels at the ballpark and marrying Phyllida Sahm, a schoolteacher and noted sailor, in 1952. They had no children together.  His Los Angeles Times obituary noted that he wouldn’t have a ceremony; FindaGrave.com says his ashes were not buried.

There was a Bill Doran who was a really, really good handball player in Southern California.  Wonder if it was this Bill Doran.

Notes:

Baseball-Reference.com
FindaGrave.com
World War II Registration Cards
California Marriage Licenses

Los Angeles Times, San Francisco Examiner, and Cleveland Plain Dealer articles (sorry – should be more detailed…  Will do that later.)

Arizona Diamondbacks Season Preview

I haven’t done a season preview in a while – they take a lot of time to assemble and think through. However, I started loading all this data and decided to take a shot at a team that interested me for 2023, and the next thing you know… Here goes.

2022 Season:

Record: 74-88 (4th, NL West)
Runs Scored: 702 (9th in NL)
Runs Allowed: 740 (11th in NL)
Expected W-L: 77-85

Defensive Efficiency: .707 (4th in NL)
DP Efficiency: 6.02% (11th in NL)
Factors: The infield was responsible for 58% of the outs, the lowest ratio of infield vs. outfield outs in the league. That meant they weren’t going to get a lot of double play balls to the infielders and it showed up in the rate of baserunners removed.

100 Run Improvement Goal:

Can they score more runs?

They can if some of the young guys get to play more and produce.

First, they need way more production at SS. Nick Ahmed’s best season won’t cut it. Propsect Jordan Lawlar can’t get here soon enough. Ahmed is better than Geraldo Perdomo, though. There should be a minor improvement here.

Daulton Varsho (RF-C) generated offense – but not necessarily more than Lourdes Gurriel, for whom Varsho was traded. You’d wish that Varsho was a better catcher – he makes more mistakes than Carson Kelly, though is arm appears to be stronger. If Gabriel Moreno works out at catcher, though, the trade of Varsho to Toronto might at least not be a loss (Moreno was also part of the Varsho/Gurriel deal). I think Moreno could generate at least 40 more runs of offense improvement by himself, as Carson Kelly didn’t light it up with his bat.

A full year of Corbin Carroll in the outfield (CF-LF) might be fun, too. Is he that much better than David Peralta? Maybe a few runs. Maybe not. Jake McCarthy (OF) and Josh Rojas (INF) need to play more, Christian Walker (1B) needs to do that again…

If Alek Thomas (CF) could improve, too – bat, say, .260 and draw a few more walks, that would add another 15 runs. His minor league numbers suggest he should be able to bat better than he did last year. If not, Carroll will take his job and Thomas will become a fourth outfielder.

Josh Rojas (INF) might be a better hitter than the league average Ketal Marte (2B), but where does he play? Rojas played both second and third base well, and he’s an above average hitter based on last year’s stats. Adding Evan Longoria is a decent fall back at third, but I’m not sure I’d want to play him at third base unless Rojas was at second. Geraldo Perdomo proved to be competent at shortstop, but you can’t have a SS that bats less than .200 in the lineup.

Can the pitching improve?

Zac Gallen and Merrill Kelly were great and very good (respectively) leading the rotation last year. And, four starters made regular turns, which is good. (Sort of) The biggest problem was with Madison Bumgarner, who cost the team nearly 30 runs. After a fine career, he needs a rebirth to continue in MLB. If Zach Davies is the swing man and not the fourth starter, that would help, too. I’m not totally sold on Humberto Castellanos and Tommy Henry, so finding three starters who could pitch at least league average would help. 20 good starts from rookie Ryne Nelson and 15 good starts from rookie Drey Jameson would benefit Arizona immensely.

They also had a bullpen that was generally below average. Joe Mantiply was pretty good, Kyle Nelson was decent and Caleb Smith would help more if he threw more strikes. But the bulk of their bullpen (heck, about 85% of the pitchers) were below average, including the closer, Mark Melancon. That would need to change. I don’t see where Arizona made moves to address this.

So, there is room to improve if the rookies join the rotation and hang in there, but not more than, say, 20 runs. I don’t see an impact pitching change on the horizon.

(I will say, however, if all these kids put together a solid offense, then it’s on the executive team to go buy some immediate pitching help because that would make Arizona a playoff contender for sure.)

Can the defense improve?

They were pretty awsome in 2022, actually – by my count saving their pitchers more than 60 runs thanks to an outfield of Peralta (when he was there), Thomas, and Varsho. I think McCarthy will play more and Gurriel will play some – and that’s probably a step back. Corbin Carroll is a great outfielder, but not necessarily better than Peralta was.

On the infield, getting Evan Longoria isn’t going to move the needle defensively. Walker (1B) Marte (2B), Rojas (2B-3B), Perdomo (SS), Ahmed (SS) – all good defenders.

Realistically, the defense might fall back some, but not too much. Even if it was 25 runs worse than last year, the pitchers will have no room to complain too much.

Down on the Farm?

A.J. Vukovich might be a hitter. He reached AA Amarillo and wasn’t overmatched as a big (6’5″ 210 lb.) 20 year old. I just don’t know that he has a position. And he strikes out a lot. Thankfully the DH is in the NL now… Drey Jameson was impressive pitching in AA, too. It’s not easy to be a minor league pitcher for the Diamondbacks – Reno and Amarillo are murderous.

Jordan Lawlar is a 20 year old SS with a good reputation but is a year or so away, unless Arizona decides to give things a whirl.

This year we should get to see Druw Jones, son of Andruw Jones, which should be fun for minor league fans. By 2024, he could be a major leaguer.

Prediction:

I think the Diamondbacks should play anywhere between .500 ball (more offense, a shade better pitching offset by slightly worse defense) and .470 ball – which puts them at right about 79 wins. They will be fun to watch – mostly young players with skills – but frustrating when the pitchers don’t keep leads. And, they play in a tough division, so a division title would be tough with the Dodgers and Padres ahead of them. Still, don’t be surprised if they finish a strong third in the NL West.

One alternate possibility exists, though. What if Arizona gets off to a good start – six to eight games above .500 heading into July. The tempation will exist to supplement the pitching staff for the stretch run. Suddenly, Druw Jones is peddled for an arm or two and the Diamondbacks make the playoffs. Conjecture, sure, but that would be a possible scenario.

Happy Birthday, Alonzo Hicks!

Alonzo Hicks was an Indiana, Pennsylvania outfielder who got a tryout with the Homestead Grays in 1947, but failed to stick.

The future slugger was born to Alonzo and Rubie Lee (Vaughns) Hicks in Clarksburg, WV on March 7, 1922. Alonzo and Rubie both hailed from Alabama, but left the south for better work opportunities in the coal mines near Charleston, WV and later Ernest, Pennsylvania. They had one son, Willie, before leaving Alabama around 1920, then two others (George, Alonzo) shortly after landing in West Virginia. Alonzo was the youngest.

Their dad quit school around the age of eight, but the three boys finished an eighth grade education in West Virginia before taking jobs in the mines or, as in the case of Alonzo, as laborers in the groceries and warehouses of the area. When World War II started, Alonzo enlisted, joining the US Navy in January, 1943 and serving through the end of 1945, finishing as a Steward’s Mate, First Class Petty Officer when he finished his tour.

Alonzo Hicks

After the war, the muscular built Hicks started playing regularly for the local semi-pro baseball teams in Ernest and later Indiana, Pennsylvania.  The left handed hitter spent most of his time in left field.  In 1946, he led Ernest to a County League crown, and a year later he was an all-star in the Rochester and Pittsburgh League.  One year, the slugging left fielder received the most all-star votes from area baseball fans.  With two exceptions, Hicks played ball in Indiana through 1955.  In 1947, he appeared in at least one game for the Homestead Grays.  And, in 1950 he played for a team in Ontario, Canada where he batted .380, finishing second in the race for a batting crown.  Along the way, he picked up the nicknames of Sunny and, when he played for Heilwood, “The Heilwood Hurricane.”

Soon after he returned from the war, Hicks married Rose Bud (Jones) Hicks. They had at least four children, including a son that died as a infant.

Hicks passed away on November 10, 1998 in Erie, Pennsylvania and is buried in a veterans cemetery there.

Sources:

1910, 1930, 1940, 1950 US Censuses
PA Veterans Compensation Application, 1950.
WWII Registration Card

Baseball-Reference.com
FindaGrave.com (Alonzo)
FindaGrave.com (Rose Bud Hicks)

“County Fans All-Star Team Selected; Play Lucerne Sun.,” Indiana Gazette, September 26, 1947: 12.

“Iron Horse Hurls Three Hitter Against Ernest,” Indiana Gazette, June 17, 1948: 24.

“R & P Baseball League Lifts Lid Saturday,” Indiana Gazette, May 13, 1948: 20.

Photo: Indiana Gazette, September 9, 1948: 20.

Named after a president, meet Zachary Taylor!

Arriving in Baltimore on February 21, 1850, his parents, Robert and Isabella (Trayne or Train) named their last child after the sitting president, Zachary Taylor, while giving him the middle name of Hamner.  And, it’s a good thing he was born then, a few months later and he might have been named Millard Fillmore Taylor… Taylor’s parents came to the United States in late 1827 from Glasgow, Scotland on the Brig Czar, landing in Charleston, and spent some time in South Carolina where they had their first son.  Then they moved to Maryland and had eight other children.  The last child was Zachary.

Taylor played in thirteen games at first base for the Baltimore Canaries near the end of the 1874 season when Charlie Gould and Pop Snyder went down to injury.  In fact, his only foray into major league baseball was his four or five weeks in the National Association.  He batted .250 with three RBI and three runs scored.  The Baltimore papers of the day didn’t provide the kinds of baseball coverage found in many other cities, so it’s hard to say if Taylor played on specific amateur clubs of the city, though it’s obviously very likely he played semi-professional ball on some of the better clubs since he was signed by the Canaries, Taylor’s local team.

Taylor appears in three US Censuses after his baseball days, all showing him as a clerk or salesman at a different type of store.  He also was living with some combination of brothers and sisters.  When he passed on 21 November 1917, the short obituary in the Baltimore Sun noted his late parents but no spouse or children.  He is buried in Green Mount Cemetery in Baltimore near his parents.

Sources:

https://www.baseball-reference.com/
https://www.findagrave.com/ (Zachary)
https://www.findagrave.com/ (Isabella)

1850, 1860, 1870, 1880, 1900, 1910 US Censuses
Passenger Arrivals at the Port of Charleston, 1820-1829
Obit, Balimore Sun, 22 November 1917, Page 6.
Box scores in the New York Clipper, 1874.

The Brief Career and Long Life of George Winkelman

“Winkelman distingquished himself to-day by his pitching, general all around playing, and a winning hit in the tenth inning, which would the victory for [Minneapolis].”

“Score Minneapolis,” St. Paul Globe, May 9, 1888: 5.

George WinkelmanGeorge Edward Winkelman was born on February 18, 1865 to George and Elizabeth, the first of eight children (seven boys!) born to the baker and homemaker.  As a kid, he sold the Washington Star newspaper – paying a penny and a half for each paper he sold to readers for three cents.  He attended Georgetown University and played amateur ball in the capital city.  His time with the amateur Rifle Base Ball Club helped earn Winkelman some local credit, which landed him a chance to play with the Washington Nationals of the National League in 1886.

Winkelman, a lefty, was given one start on August 2nd against Kansas City at Washington’s Swampoodle Park.  The rookie pitcher was pulled after six innings when he gave up six runs (and the lead) in his final frame.  Winkelman allowed seven earned runs and four unearned runs and took the loss.  He also got a hit in five tries, but committed four errors from his position on the mound and his three innings in right field.

Starting in 1887, he took regular turns on the mound with Minneapolis and Milwaukee in the Western Association.  In addition to being a decent pitcher, Winkelman could also hit.  In the game referenced in the introduction, Winkelman batted sixth in the Minneapolis batting order.  And, when not pitching, he was an able outfielder. In early 1889, he purchased his release from Milwaukee for $200 so he could move east, signing with Hartford and Lebanon in the Atlantic Association in 1889 and 1890. After that, he played in amateur leagues around the Washington DC area – his birthplace, his college home, and his adult home.

After his career ended, Winkelman became a postal carrier, eventually becoming the president of the Washington DC chapter of the National Letter Carriers Association. He would also pitch for the postal carrier team for a few years.  In later years, Winkelman worked at Griffith Stadium, minding the employee gate at the ballpark until his wife passed away.  Winkelman first met Clark Griffith when Griffith was a teenaged pitcher in Milwaukee and they became roommates.  Winkelman and Griffith remained friends for the remainder of their lives.

George married Nellie Hunt and they had two daughters, Marie and Nellie.  The second Nellie got sick in her early twenties and passed away in 1918.   His wife passed in 1947 and for some time he moved to Detroit to live with his oldest daughter.  However, he returned to Washington in the 1950s after Marie passed away.  Winkelman remained an active and vital man until his death at 95 years old on 19 May 1960. He is buried in Mount Olivet Cemetery in Washington.

(To think that a man who was born before the end of the Civil War would live to see the Pioneer 5 spacecraft send signals back to Earth on its way to Venus.  Pretty crazy!)

Sources:

1880, 1900, 1910, 1920, 1930, 1940 US Censuses
https://www.findagrave.com/ (Also source of photo uploaded to that site by Gordon Brett Echols.)
https://www.baseball-reference.com

“The Nationals Defeated,” National Republican, April 11, 1885: 1.

“Terrific Struggle Between the Tailenders,” Detroit Free Press, August 3, 1886: 8.

“Base Ball Matters,” Meriden (CT) Daily Journal, March 23, 1889: 6.

“Milwaukee is Mad,” St. Paul Globe, March 24, 1889: 1.

“City and District,” Washington Evening Star, 22 March 1890, Page 11.

“Department League: City Post Office,” Washington Evening Star, 27 April 1895, Page 13.

“Letter Carriers Enjoy Chesapeake Beach Trip,” Washington Evening Star, 21 June 1912, Page 10.

“Miss Nellie Winkelman Dies,” Washington Evening Star, 29 March 1918, Page 14.

Francis E. Stann, “Ball Park Sentiment,” Evening Star (Magazine), June 22, 1947: 14.

“Remember,” Evening Star, August 19, 1951: C-4.

“Griffith Teammate Feted by Friends on 93d Birthday,” Evening Star, February 22, 1958: 11.

Obit, Evening Star, May 21, 1960: 6.

The Missed Opportunities of Martin Duke

Martin Duke, the well-known pitcher, died in this city on Saturday, Dec. 31, of pneumonia. He had not played ball for several seasons and earned a precarious livelihood by working around a local saloon. He was a strong pitcher in his time and held engagements in the National League, Eastern League and Western League. In late years his work was limited entirely to the latter organization. He possessed great ability as a pitcher, but never lasted long with any club, as he was a hard man to control, and was given to dissipation, which ultimately led to enforced retirement from the profession and untimely death, his illness being brought on by needless exposure.

“Martin Duke Dead,” SPORTING LIFE, January 7, 1899: 4.

The article in Sporting Life at the time of Martin Duke’s death succinctly notes the theme of his life – that Duke had talent but not the discipline to become a star on baseball’s biggest stage.  The details of Duke’s short but noteworthy path from life to death are recited below.

 

Martin DukeThe precise date of Martin F. Duke’s arrival is not readily available – though it is generally believed to be in 1867 based on an 1870 US Census record.  Certainly the event provided a distinct memory to Patrick and Mary (Henney) Duke when the fifth of their six children arrived.  Patrick was a teamster who, like his wife, left Ireland in the 1840s and made his way to the United States.  Their first son was born in Rhode Island, but the other five children were born in Ohio.  The family spent many years in Zanesville, Ohio, the city of Duke’s birth, both in terms of his real life and his baseball life.

Indeed, Duke was a member of the Zanesville entry of the Ohio State League – after a year pitching for the local semi-professional club, Duke signed with Zanesville as a professional in 1887 and was selected to pitch the opening game against Columbus.  His second year with Zanesville, which now was a member of the Tri-State League, contains an intriguing mix of good and bad events – like the day he was firing a perfect game into the fourth inning when he was struck in the hand by a line drive and dislocated his thumb.  In early July, Duke fanned 15 Toledo batters and developed a reputation that now reached out higher level clubs.

The Detroit Wolverines were the first major league team to sign Duke to a contract – but that team was more or less disbanded after the 1888 season ended.  The franchise in Cleveland bought many of Detroit’s assets, including the rights to Martin Duke, whose rights cost Cleveland about $700.  Making perhaps $800 or $900 to pitch in Zanesville, Duke eagerly agreed to a $2000 contract – only to think that he might deserve even more money from Cleveland.  After a period of time, however, he was convinced to sign the contract and head to spring training.

What kind of pitcher did Cleveland sign?  Duke wasn’t very big. The righthanded thrower stood 5′ 5″ and weighed less than 135 pounds until later in his career.  A wire story once noted, “…His pitching arm is so strong and shapely and so well equiped with powerful muscles that it would win admiration from a blacksmith.”  Duke Farrell said his most effective pitch worked like a modern slider.  “Martin Duke’s most effective curve was a downshoot. It wasn’t, literally speaking, a downshoot, but rather on the Jimmy McJames brand of shoot, a sort of slant that whistled up to the plate on a bee-line and broke suddenly, taking a downward and outward course; that is outward for a right-handed batsman.”

Additionally, Duke was especially adept at catching baserunners napping.  Toledo’s manager, Bob Woods, compared Duke with Pud Galvin.  “I see a great deal is being said about Galvin’s cuteness in watching or holding runners to the bag. It is not generally known that he will have a worthy competitor for honors in that respect this season; but such is the fact, and young Martin Duck, of the Cleveland club, will be his contestant. His actions in the box will be equally as puzzling as those of the genteel James, while I am of the opinion that his actions are somewhat quicker.”

Duke’s biggest problem, however, was his control.  There would be many games where he might strike out eight batters, walk six, and throw four wild pitches.  This likely contributed to his failure to make Cleveland’s final roster after spring training, leading to Cleveland selling his rights to Minneapolis of the Western Association.

Maybe you didn’t catch it – maybe you thought it was a typo.  The other change in Martin’s baseball life was his name.  For some reason, Martin Duke was known as Martin Duck in Zanesville.  Not in census records, mind you, but in the box scores.  When he got to Minneapolis, he was now Martin Duke.

“The Kansas City Times is responsible for the following story about the crack Minneapolis pitcher, Martin Duke: “The real name of the Millers’ best pitcher is not Duke, but Duck, and how he came to change his name forms an interesting story. About two years ago Martin was pitching in a game up in Michigan, and in the ninth his club led the opposing team by one run. Two of the latter had reached the two corners nearest the plate when a man up in the grandstand began imitating the ‘quack’ of a duck. Martin didn’t show at first that he was annoyed by it, but as the ‘quack, quack, quack,’ continued his face became lobster-colored. He shouted to his taunter that he would fix him after the game, but the field gave the pitcher the horse laugh and went on with his ‘quack, quack, quack.’ Duke was crazier than the wild man from Borneo, and at least he lost his head and threw the ball with all his might at his tormentor. It didn’t hit the mark, but two runs came in and Martin’s side lost the game. After that, he dropped the name of Duck entirely.”

“Still in Doubt,” The Pittsburgh Press, September 28, 1890: 6.

Duke’s season started cold but warmed up with the weather.  He once lost to St. Paul, 18 – 7, when he gave up 14 runs in the first inning, an inning in which he also hit four batters.  Facing the same team in August, he threw a dominating one-hitter to beat St. Paul.  Then, in the last game of the season, Duke was in his finest form.  St. Paul went home without a single hit.  The St. Paul Globe noted, “Though he made one or two outbursts of temper, and once disturbed the Sabbath serenity with a fierce oath, he was less wild than usual, hit nobody and gave but three bases on balls.”

One runner, John Carroll, reached on a two out walk. Duke had the runner picked off at first but Duke’s throw to John Ryn was dropped. A wild pitch and an error later, the only Apostles run scored.

It was a fine season – he went 24 – 16 in 47 appearances, striking out 347 batters in 355 innings.  To counter his high strikeout totals, Duke also walked 210 batters, hit 42 others, and fired 65 (!) wild pitches.  Still just 22 years old, Duke earned further notice from any number of major league teams in the National League, American Association, and the new Players League that formed for the 1890 season.  He was chased by Chicago’s NL and PL entries, nearly signed with Philadelpha in the PL (he turned down $3500, of which $1000 would have been paid up front) but decided that the Players League wasn’t guaranteed to finish a full season and used these offers as leverage to get a better contract with Minneapolis in 1890.

Duke had an even more remarkable season in 1890 than he had in 1889.  His ERA, just 1.72 in 1889, fell to 0.80 in 1890.  He fanned 308 batters, but was “frightfully wild,” walking 155 men, beaning 17, and throwing 73 wild pitches.   Still, Duke singlehandedly kept Minneapolis in the pennant race – a contest between Minneapolis and Kansas City came down to a series in Kansas City in late September.  Kansas City, leading by a half-game in the standings, swept Minneapolis, beating Duke twice.  In the first game, Kansas City worked on Duke’s nerves directly – first by relating the story of Duke’s first baseball name being “Duck” and then by encouraging fans to get under his skin.  The Minneapolis Tribune reported “Five hundred fish horns and a dozen duck calls were scattered through the audience, and while the Millers were in the field, an unearthly din was kept. The duck calls were meant to rattle Martin Duke, and in the fourth inning a live duck was thrown down on the diamond…”

For the third straight offseason, Duke was heavily courted by major league teams – and now it was going to his head.  Again, despite the opportunities, Duke wound up staying in Minneapolis, but Duke’s attitude towards others changed.  Articles in various papers mocked his decision to purchase property in Minneapolis, referred to his “long head – straight up,” and that Duke was now quite the ladies’ man.  Rumors mentioned his taking on a fiancee and that “…many a poor girl has committed suicide after once seeing Martin.”

On top of that, Duke was now gaining a reputation for late night carousing and drinking.  The wildness of Duke’s pitching got worse – as did his attitute toward management.  He was fined on at least three occasions by Minneapolis manager William H. Harrington.  The Minneapolis Tribune announced the inevitable resolution – Duke was released – on August 9, 1891.

“Martin Duke’s career is also at an end. Hach and Harrington stood his tantrums and whims as long as they were able. But his action on Thursday (August 6) was the last straw in the back of the managerial camel. He was expected to go in and pitch but refused point blank. That did settle it. He was fined $100 and expelled. Duke had the making of a star twirler but he was his own worst enemy. He made the mistake of believing that he was indispensible and that all his bad breaks and bits of folly, no matter how often committed, would be condoned. His work thus far this season has not been up to the standard. He would pitch about one good game in five. Dissipation, late hours, and a childish temper has ruined him. There is too much young blood coming into the baseball ranks to allow reckless players and disorganizers to have much play. Duke will find that out before many months roll by. In after life he will find but few jobs at $350 per month floating around loose and he will look back with regret at the opportunities he had missed.”

“The Base Ball World,” Minneapolis Tribune, August 9, 1891: 5.

It didn’t take long for Duke to find work.  In fact, he failed up – jumping at a contract offer to join Washington of the American Association at the end of August.  However, Duke was ill-prepared for the task.  In his first outing against Baltimore on August 24, the Baltimore Sun reported, “…he was so nervous that he gave ten bases on balls, made four wild pitches, and kept Catcher McGuire busier than anybody on the diamond. Duke seemed to use very little curve, and depended mostly on speed. Somehow or another he was not effective at any time. Besides his battery errors he had an error charged upon against him by dropping an easy thrown ball.”  The final was 13 – 0, with the game ending because of darkness after six innings.

He next lost to Milwaukee on August 31, 5 – 1, completing all nine innings and limiting his walk count to just four.  Entering in relief on September 3, he faced Louisville and gave up four runs in six innings.  However, he got his lone major league hit – a double off of Scott Stratton.  His last outing of 1891 was a 16 – 7 loss to Columbus – he gave up 11 runs in the second inning and left that game early. 

He totaled 23 innings in his four appearances (three starts).  In those innings, he walked 19, gave up 33 hits, and threw 11 wild pitches.  All three decisions were losses.

And yet, Duke received offers to pitch from Brooklyn and Chicago in the National League for 1892, eventually signing with Cap Anson’s Chicago White Stockings.  Oddly, writers in Minneapolis noted in 1891 that Duke might benefit from someone like Anson keeping Duke in check.  Except that Duke failed to pitch well that spring and Anson let Duke go.  Duke wasn’t thrilled – he expected that by signing a contract, Chicago was obligated to keep him for the season.  Instead, Anson went with four other pitchers he trusted and Duke was required to find another league that might want his services.

To be certain, Duke was his own worst enemy here – he was losing control of his personal life, he couldn’t control his temper during games, and he couldn’t control the baseball.  It was this situation that greeted Duke when he signed to pitch for Binghamton in the Eastern League.  Three months was all it took and he was released (a Buffalo paper said Duke’s arm was wrong at the time of signing).  Duke made two starts for Rochester – a fair start where he earned a win, and a horrific start where he lost 16 – 5 by giving up 24 hits and 5 walks.  The Rochester Democrat and Chronicle noted his release by adding, “He shouldn’t have been signed.”

With the Eastern League no longer interested, Duke ran to New Orleans in the Southern Association.  He pitched fairly well to finish 1892 (he won 13 of 16 decisions), but he failed to make a mark with three franchises (New Orleans, Birmingham, and Savannah) in the 1893 and 1894 seasons.  At the end, the Savannah Morning News reported, “The trouble was the same as on Wednesday, when he was taken out in the Nashville game. He seems to be unable to control the ball. The teams do not hit him very hard, but he gave too many men bases on balls and by hitting men with pitched balls.”

Tail between his legs, Duke returned to Minneapolis, where he would pitch for two seasons and work as a porter in a downtown saloon.  In 1895, Duke injured his arm in a semi-pro game.  With that, Duke was no longer a baseball player.  While he appeared in old-timers games and tried to get his arm and body back in playing shape, the remainder of Duke’s life would be spent working saloons.

The remainder of Duke’s life, however, wouldn’t last long.  He fell ill in the winter of 1898;  pneumonia took him on December 31, 1898 in Minneapolis; he was just 31 years old.  Duke’s body was buried in Mount Calvary Cemetery in Columbus, Ohio next to that of his father, who had died the previous year.  Duke left behind a mother and five siblings.

Sources:

Baseball-Reference.com
Retrosheet.org
1870, 1880 US Census
1895 Minnesota Census
Minneapolis Birth Records
FindaGrave.com

“Notes,” Zanesville Times Recorder, May 2, 1887: 4.
“The Season Opened,” Zanesville Times Recorder, May 3, 1887: 1.
“The Visitors’ Dish,” Zanesville Times Recorder, July 17, 1888: 1.
“Something About Strikeouts,” Zanesville Times Recorder, August 11, 1888: 1.
“Contracts and Releases,” Chicago Inter Ocean, November 1, 1888: 2.
“Gossip of the Ball Field,” The New York Sun, February 10, 1889: 10.
“Rival to Galvin,” St. Paul Globe, February 10, 1889: 7.
“Cleveland Parts With Its Duck,” Detroit Free Press, April 24, 1889: 3.
“Still in Doubt,” The Pittsburgh Press, September 28, 1890: 6.
“Wow, This is Awful,” St. Paul Globe, July 5, 1889: 1

“Western Association,” Minneapolis Tribune, August 27, 1889: 2.
“Batted the Air,” St. Paul Globe, September 30, 1889: 5.
“After Duke and Foster,” Minneapolis Tribune, October 4, 1899: 2.
“Des Moines Done Up,” St. Paul Globe, September 10, 1889: 5.
“Notes and Gossip,” The Sporting Life, February 19, 1890: 4.
Minneapolis Tribune, March 2, 1890: 16.
“This is all Sport,” Minneapolis Tribune, March 9, 1890: 17.
“Omaha Didn’t Score,” St. Paul Globe, September 5, 1890: 5.
“Kansas City, 9; Minneapolis 0,” Minneapolis Tribune, September 21, 1890: 5.
“The Last One Came Easy,” Kansas City Star, September 23, 1890: 3.
“General Sporting Notes,” Kansas City Star, October 18, 1890: 3.
“The Offical Averages,” Kansas City Star, October 18, 1890: 3.
“On the Diamond,” Kansas City Times, March 22, 1891: 10.
“Base Ball Notes,” Sioux City Journal, June 7, 1891: 3.
“Hunks of Sport,” Lincoln Journal Star, July 14, 1891: 1.
“Sporting Comment,” Minneapolis Daily Times, July 24, 1891: 2.
“Beaten By One,” Lincoln Journal Star, July 31, 1891: 1.
“Base Ball Gossip,” Omaha World-Herald, August 2, 1891: 7.
“The Base Ball World,” Minneapolis Tribune, August 9, 1891: 5.
“To Be Kicked Out, St. Paul Globe, August 16, 1891: 6.
“A Victory At Last!,” Baltimore Sun, August 25, 1891: 6.
“Might Have Been Worse,” September 4, 1891: 6.
“Columbus Walk-Over,” Cincinnati Enquirer, September 8, 1891: 2.
“Base Ball Notes,” Nebraska State Journal, November 1, 1891: 15.
Cedar Vale Commercial, January 23, 1892: 1.
(Image of Duke) Chicago Tribune, January 31, 1892: 6.
“Pitcher Martin Duke,” Vanity Fair (Lincoln, NE), May 14, 1892: 8.
“Anson’s New Baseman,” Chicago Tribune, April 5, 1892: 7.
“Superfluous Timber,” Minneapolis Daily Times, April 18, 1892: 2.
“Around the Bases,” Buffalo Courier, May 1, 1892: 7.
“The Jump,” Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, July 22, 1892: 8.
“Not Duke’s Day,” Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, July 26, 1892: 10.
“Base Ball Brevities,” Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, July 27, 1892: 7.
“Condensed Despatches,” The Sporting Life, April 22, 1893: 1.
“Beaten by a Single Run,” Savannah Morning News, April 28, 1894: 3.
“Diamond Dust,” St. Paul Globe, August 5, 1895: 5.
“The Old Boys Won It,” Minneapolis Sunday Times, July 26, 1896: 12.
“An Umpire’s Joke,” Sporting Life, January 30, 1897: 10.
“Martin Duke as a Pitcher,” Buffalo Enquirer, January 10, 1899: 4.
“Death of Martin Duke,” Minneapolis Tribune, January 1, 1899: 7.
“MARTIN DUKE DEAD,” SPORTING LIFE, JANUARY 7, 1899: 4.

Happy Birthday, Shadow Pyle!

“To see Pyle move around in the box,” said St. Louis’ Billy Gleason, “would remind you of a shadow dance.” – “‘Shadow’ Pyle,” Harrisburg Times, March 26, 1887: 1.

Slight of build, Harry Pyle got the nicknames “Shadow” and “Scissors” from his fellow baseball players.  Yet, despite a lifelong issue with asthma attacks, he was able to fashion a career that lasted almost a decade before his behavior and changing rules rendered his pitching ineffective.

Harry Thomas Pyle was born November 29, 1861 to Isaac Newton Pyle and Sarah (Stott) Pyle.  Isaac worked the foundries making nails while his English import wife took care of a regularly growing family.  Isaac may not have been home when his seventh and last child was born – he had enlisted in the Union Army and would serve with Company H of the 50th Pennsylvania Infantry.  In his three years with the Union Army, Isaac was once shipwrecked off the North Carolina coast, then fought in battles such as Second Bull Run, Antietam, Fredricksburg, Vicksburg, Spottsylvania and the Battles of the Wilderness.

Time spent in battle wasn’t easy on Issac.  Within a few years of his return home he was arrested for assault and battery, then found to be insane.  In fact, even though he was arrested in January, 1869 and sentenced to two weeks in the county prison, Issac Pyle never returned home.  Doctors argued that, after five years, he should be “…removed to some insane hospital where he can be properly treated, and when there might be still some hope of having his reason restored.”  By 1880, he was moved – but to a poor house instead, where he lived until his death in 1891.

Living without a father – and when he did, a father who may have had with issues with PTSD – likely contributed to a life where Harry was unafraid of confrontation and difficult for authority figures.  The first time Harry appears in a newspaper article in his hometown of Reading, Pennsylvania it is not for his pitching prowess.  Instead, it’s a story about how a boat captain had grown tired of the harrassment delivered by Harry and a group of his friends.  So, while the boys were swimming in the Christiana River, a verbal altercation led to the captain finding his shotgun.  One boy had more than a dozen grains of shot in his face, neck and chest.  Harry was lucky not to have been hit.

Harry could throw, though.  And, despite his lifelong issue with asthma (it was thought that the asthma would prevent him from finishing his first season alive), he was a competent pitcher and occasional outfielder as needed.  His first semi-professional team was the local Reading Actives where he was the ace pitcher on the 1882 team.  He was good enough to get a contract with the Wilmington Quicksteps, an Eastern League team.  Pyle’s 1883 season included an 11 – 16 record, a 2.63 ERA, and an excellent strikeout rate.  However, the team’s manager liked a late night game of cards and wasn’t the right person to manage an undersized rebellious kid with a huge chip on his shoulder.  By early August, Harry Pyle was blacklisted for drunkeness and insubordination (Pyle claimed he drank blackberry brandy to soothe an upset stomach and it had affected him).

Regardless, Pyle returned home and pitched for his local Reading nine.  The next year, Baltimore in the Union League took an interest in Pyle and worked to have Pyle removed from the blacklist.  When Harry became eligible, Baltimore sent Pyle $50 and a $1700 contract for the season.  Pyle ditched Lancaster, with whom he signed a contract – except he didn’t go to Baltimore.  Instead, he ditched both teams.  Eventually, Baltimore had Pyle arrested to collect their $50, and Pyle stayed in Lancaster to pitch.

While in Lancaster, Pennsylvania he married Anna E. Kenyon (or Bannen, depending on the source) and they quickly had a child, Harry Thomas Pyle, Jr.  If anyone thought that being married might settle down the mercurial Pyle, that person would have been mistaken.  In July, friends of Pyle were especially obnoxious and interfering with a game.  The next day, those same friends were met by members of the local police force, who sent the boys packing.  In September, Pyle was arrested for drunkeness and disorderly conduct at a Lancaster skating rink, which included Pyle’s assaulting an officer who was trying to escort Pyle from the rink.  A week later, he was involved in another incident where he was being arrested by one officer and a second officer ran across the street to help out.  The second officer was investigated for his “murderous assault” on Pyle when he struck Pyle’s head with a blackjack.

Despite that, Pyle got more chances to pitch.  Following a season with Lancaster where he pitched 39 times, completing all but one of his 36 starts, and winning 19 of 36 decisions, Harry Wright gave Pyle a chance to tryout with his Philadelphia Quakers.  Pyle was given the start on the last day of the 1884 National League season and became the answer to a triva question when Philadelphia lost to Ol’ Hoss Radbourn and Providence, 8 – 0.  With that win, Radbourn won his 60th decision of the season.  Pyle was nervous – he walked six, and had a wild pitch.  However, his team was disinterested and the collection of fans was “small and unenthusiastic.”

Pyle didn’t stick, but he did get other offers.  Richmond signed the 5 foot 8 inch, right handed twirler who barely weighed 130 pounds to a contract paying him $150 a month.  Within weeks of his contract signing, Anna filed a suit saying that she had been abandoned and a judge forced Pyle to send her five dollars each week for support.  In June, Anna filed for divorce “…on the ground that her husband has offered her such indignities as to make her condition intolerable and life burdensome, so much so that she was compelled to leave his house and home.”  In October, the divorce was finalized.

Despite those distractions, Pyle was a remarkably successful pitcher for a very good Richmond team.  He finished the 1885 season with a 35 – 15 record for the Virginias, striking out 240 batters in his 453.1 innings of work.  The Virginias might have won the Eastern League except that by September, the team was in financial trouble.  Bridgeport chose to forfeit a game to Richmond rather than collect half of the attendance money as it would be less than the $65 guarantee they would have expected to get.  Two days after the forfeit, the Virginias disbanded.  Pyle quickly signed with Newark, made four starts and finished his season.

Even with this success, Pyle still had moments where he let his temper get in the way.  In a game against Brooklyn, an umpire called a balk when Pyle ignored warnings about throwing with his arm above his shoulder.  (Motions were limited to side armed or underhanded throws at the time.)  Pyle took offense to the balk – and then did the same thing to the next six batters, letting those batters reach base and turning a 1 – 0 lead into a 12 – 1 loss.

And he continued to have issues with the law.  In December, Pyle met with Louis Koch, a policeman in Reading, to discuss their issues with each other.  Words became blows and Pyle pulled out a knife and stabbed Koch above his ear, digging the blade into Koch’s skull.  Less than two months later, Pyle (and his friend) was arrested again for disorderly conduct and a minor altercation with an officer.

For the first time in his professional career, Pyle actually stayed with his team for a second contract.  Newark was loaded with fine players and pitchers, including Phenomenal Smith.  Using essentially a three man rotation, Pyle finished 25 – 9 with a 1.15 ERA (less than 3.5 runs allowed per game) and 199Ks in 313 innings.

His second consecutive great season got the attention of major league teams again.  This time, Pyle signed a contract with the National League Champion Chicago White Stockings.

But the 1887 season would be different for all pitchers.  The pitcher’s mound was moved back to 55.5 feet, which messed with guys who threw heavy doses of breaking pitches as those pitchers had to relearn the arc required to throw strikes or avoid bats.  It took fewer balls to walk a batter, too.  Pyle would be greatly affected by these changes – he regularly bounced his curveball well in front of the plate or missed the plate by wide swaths.  Making just four early starts, Pyle won just once.  He frequently struggled in early innings until he found his target.  In his last start on May 13, 1887, he gave up 10 runs to Detroit in the first inning – the first three batters were walked, and then the hitting started.  Pyle left before the third out was counted – and soon after was sent to La Crosse, WI to find his control in the Northwestern League.  Pyle strugged to a 12 – 25 record, barely striking out more batters than he walked, and allowing some 506 hits in 328.1 innings.  A contract with Jersey City for 1888 ended with an August release.  With the exception of a single start with Wilmington in 1890 (a loss), Pyle’s professional career as a pitcher was over.

That’s not to say that Pyle’s baseball days were over.  He returned to Reading and pitched for the Actives semi-professional team, then lower level amateur games as late as 1894.  On rare occasions, Pyle was asked to umpire.  One time, Pyle was frustrated by the abuse that came with the job.  In 1892, Pyle returned the favor, abusing an umpire until he grew tired of the abuse and left the game in the seventh inning.  The last time Pyle worked the plate was in 1897 – and it ended the way you might have expected.  The regular umpire didn’t show but Pyle was in attendance and the teams asked if Pyle could cover for this game – or at least until another umpire might be able to arrive,  Three innings later, chaos began when the Paterson manager objected to every decision. Pyle responded with his fists.  Both managers got involved and even fans joined in the fray.  Removed when police finally ended the melee, Pyle went home and never got on a field again.

It’s hard to say what Pyle did when he wasn’t a ballplayer. He didn’t have an occupation listed in the 1900 US Census, nor was one listed in his obituary.  In 1900, he lived with his mother – but they were boarding with the child of one of his sisters.  In the early 1890s, Pyle was listed as a laborer in Reading city directories, but by the end of the decade those same directories listed him as a ball player.  The last year he was alive, Pyle was again listed as a laborer.  That year, in 1908, Pyle’s asthma got the best of him. He was found dead in his bed on December 26, 1908.  As with his birth, Harry Pyle entered and exited this world in Reading, Pennyslvania.

By that time, Anna Kenyon had long since remarried, and she and Harry, Jr. lived with her second husband in Chester, PA. Harry, Jr followed the paths of his father and grandfather.  He served in the US Army in an infantry regiment and while stationed in the Philippines he played on the Army baseball team.

Sources:

1860, 1880, 1900, 1910 US Censuses
PA Death Certificates
PA Marriage Licenses
PA Veteran Burial Card
Reading (PA) City Directories

FindAGrave.com (Isaac Pyle)
FindAGrave.com (Harry Thomas Pyle)

Baseball Reference
Retrosheet.org

Pennsylvania Civil War Site

“‘Shadow’ Pyle,” Harrisburg Times, March 26, 1887: 1.

“A Silly Shot,” Wilmington Daily Gazette, September 6, 1880: 1.

“The Actives’ Picnic this Afternoon,” Reading Times, July 29, 1882: 1.

“Two More Players Signed,” Wilmington Daily Gazette, November 20, 1882: 1.

“Notes for Base Ballists,” Wilmington Daily Republican, December 29, 1882: 1.

“Placing the Trouble,” Wilmington Morning News, August 9, 1883: 4.

“The American Association,” Louisville Courier-Journal, March 6, 1884: 6.

“Sporting Notes,” Fall River Daily Herald, March 11, 1884: 2.

“The Actives All Home Again,” Reading Times, May 9, 1884: 1.

“The Base Ball Case,” Lancaster New Era, May 14, 1884: 4.

“Won in Eleven Innings,” Reading Times, July 29, 1884: 1.

“The Suspense is Over,” Lancaster Intelligencer, October 8, 1884: 5.

“Painting it Red,” Lancaster New Era, September 24, 1884: 4.

Lancaster Intelligencer, October 1, 1884: 2.

“Providence Wins,” Philadelphia Inquirer, October 16, 1884.

“Baseball Notes,” Norfolk Virginian, February 15, 1885: 1.

“Pitcher Pyle Arrested for Desertion,” Lancaster Intelligencer, March 12, 1885: 1.

Lancaster Daily Intellingencer, April 20, 1885: 2.

“Suit Against the Phenominal Pitcher,” Lancaster Examiner, April 22, 1885: 4.

“Pitcher Pyle’s Wife Wants a Divorce,” Lancaster Examiner, June 10, 1885: 2.

“General Information Condensed,” Lilitz Express, October 9, 1885: 1.

“The Diamond Field,” Richmond Dispatch, May 30, 1885: 1.

“Game Given the Virginias,” Richmond Dispatch, September 19, 1885: 1.

“Base-Ball Matters,”Richmond Dispatch, September 22, 1885: 1.

“Two of the New Men,” Darlington (WI) Republican, November 19, 1886: 4.

“Desperate Fight in a Saloon,” Pittston Evening Gazette, December 22, 1885: 1.

“In the Mayor’s Court,” Reading Times, February 15, 1886: 1.

“In Town,” Lancaster Daily Intelligencer, November 5, 1886: 1.

“Base-Ball Notes,” Reading Times, April 18, 1887: 1.

“Slugging By Sluggers,” Chicago Tribune, May 14, 1887: 3.

“Harry Pyle Goes to Jersey City,” Lancaster Examiner, February 22, 1888: 6.

“Open-Air Pastimes,” Reading Times, August 23, 1888: 1.

“Harry Pyle With the Wilmington Club,” Reading Times, May 10, 1890: 1.

“Let It End Here,” Reading Times, Augsut 10, 1892: 1.

“It Was Very Exciting,” Reading Times, June 22, 1897: 1.

“Lancaster Boy in Philippines,” Lancaster News-Journal, December 14, 1899: 4.

“Obituary: Harry T. Pyle,” Lancaster Daily Intelligencer, December 28, 1908: 4.

“Harry T. Pyle,” Reading Times, December 28, 1908: 8.

Happy Birthday, John “Pop” Corkhill

John Corhkill - MetIt’s not every day that when you dig into the great old players of the 1800s you find so many good quotes that paint a nice tale of the personality and history of a player.  Such is the case of John Stewart “Pop” Corkhill, Jr., born on April 11, 1858 in Parkesburg, PA.  John was the seventh of eight children born to John Stewart Corkhill, Sr. (born McCorkle) and Atteline, or Adeline, (Nightlinger) Corkhill.  Dad was a shoemaker and mom was a very busy homemaker and parent.

“John ‘Pop’ Corkhill, veteran professional baseball player, died at his home in Pensauken, N. J., Monday (April 3, 1921),  it was learned here last night.  Death followed an operation.  He will be buried today.

“Corkhill became an outfielder on the old Philadelphia team in 1882.  From 1883 to 1887 he played with Cincinnati, establishing a record by playing in the outfield for three consecutive years without dropping a fly ball.  He played with Brooklyn from 1888 until he joined the Athletics in 1891.

“The following year he went to Pittsburgh, where he played until the 1893 season, when he was hit on the head by a ball pitched by Ned Crane.  After this injury he retired.”

“‘Pop’ Corkhill Veteran of Baseball, Is Dead”, Wilkes-Barre Evening News, 7 April 1921 Page 15.

Crane’s pitch broke his jaw – but the end of his career came the way most players leave the game – he was released.

From what I gather, Corkhill – who was called “Honest John” before he got older and was retagged “Pop” – played a deep center field so as to keep the fly balls in front of him.  And, he was very, very good at charging fly balls.

“Corkhill was a great proponent of that kind of fielding (coming in on flies) andJohn Corhkill combined with his ability to bat well, was one of the great players of this big game, though he has never been given due credit for his skill, his intelligence and his daring.  The pioneers of baseball methods were so often overshadowed by the big deeds of the really big men physically that they were overlooked.

“Corkhill, however, was no infant in size.  As he grew older he acquired a bald spot.  When he donned his frock coat, his shiny bald head, combined with a huge mustache, made him appear like a professor, and when the frock coat was buttoned tightly to the chin, he looked not unlike an evangelist.

“One day while traveling, the Cincinnati team was near a town where an evangelist had been working.  Some of those who had been to the meetings entered the train.  The evangelist was due to leave on the same train.

“It was in the mountains, and cool, and ‘Pop’ Corkhill wore his frock coat.  Leaning back, studying the scenery from the window, he was interrupted by a stranger who sat down, reached out his hand, and said: ‘Glorious work, glorious work.  It must be wonderful to save them as you do, right on the very verge.  Do you ever miss one now and then?’

“‘Miss?  I missed on on that thick-headed, brawling, kicking, nagging, Irishman, Tebeau, just back of second, the first time I’ve missed one in three seasons, and of all the d–d men I ever missed on, I’d rather it would have been any cuss on earth than him.’

“‘Pop’ and the stranger became better acquainted during the day.”

Foster, John B., “When Baseball Was Young”, Harrisburg Telegraph, 29 January 1927, Page 13.

“Several athletes refused to sign with Louisville because of our rowdy patrons.  Cincinnati once tried to trade us Pop Corkhill, an outfielder, for Guy Hecker.  The deal fell through when Pop said, ‘I don’t want to play for Louisville.  The fans down there are too tough.

“Ruby’s Report”, Louisville Courier-Journal, 27 July 1950, Page 24.

“…If my memory serves me right, the first time ‘ivory’ was ever used in baseball, was when Pop Corkhill, the old outfielder of the Cincinnati Reds, was hit on the head by a pitched ball thrown at him with terrific force by Amos Rusie, the Giant pitcher of the New York team.

“At the time of this nearly fatal occurrence Corkhill was at bat when a whizzing pitch took him fairly and squarely on the head.

“It came with such fearful force that it split the ball into two sections.  Aside from a small bump upon his Rosman brow, Pop was not hurt a bit, though the ball was certainly retired from further commission.

“But very often after that Corkhill was referred to as the player with the ivory dome.  It should be stated in this connection that Corkhill was as bald-headed a man as ever played professional baseball.  Corkhill had not a single strand of hair and when he took off his cap the top of his head looked just like a billiard ball.  From that fact, perhaps, came the word resolutions have been adopted for pre-‘ivory,’ so often used nowadays in baseball.”

Spink, Al. “Sporting Talk and Memories”, Reno-Gazette-Journal, 3 Feb 1920, Page 2.

When not playing in the outfield, Corkhill would frequently be called on to pitch in relief.  And, the man could hit and was considered dependable with runners on base.  Like many, he stopped hitting in his 30s, and despite still being a pretty dependable fielder, he eventually ran out of teams willing to carry a weaker bat.

During and after his career, Corkhill was a retailer – groceries, storage units, furniture, whatever.  He was a police officer in his younger days, and was elected police chief in his older days. John married Martha Carey Jackson – they had a long marriage, but without children.

“Mrs. Martha C. Corkhill” (obit), The Cincinnati Enquirer, 9 June 1949, Page 12.

Additional Sources

1850, 1880, 1900, 1910, 1920 US Census

Philadelphia Church Records

https://www.baseball-reference.com/players/c/corkhpo01.shtml
FindaGrave.com

Also, Major League Baseball Profiles, 1871 – 1900, Volume 1.  (David Nemec, Editor)

The first image comes from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Jefferson R. Burdick Collection, Gift of Jefferson R. Burdick.

The second image comes from Ancestry.com, and was found here.

Happy Birthday, Milo Lockwood!

Milo Lockwood was a pitcher and utility player for the Washington Nationals of the Union Association in 1884.  He wasn’t on a very good team, and Lockwood was part of the problem.  In his eleven outings, he lost nine of ten decisions.  And, as a backup right fielder, center fielder, or third baseman, he didn’t hit enough to keep his job – he was released about six weeks into the season.

Lockwood did have the occasional good outing. In an April start against Baltimore, Lockwood fanned 11 batters, but ten (!) errors contributed to the 8 – 5 loss.

Milo Hathaway Lockwood was born 07 April 1858 to C. B. and Jane (Hathaway) Lockwood in Solon, OH.  C.B. owned a hardware company and was on the board of directors for a large insurance firm in New York.  Milo went to Hiram Collage and spent two years studying law at the University of Michigan.  He even served as a lawyer for the second district, but was removed from that role in 1885.  Eventually he went back to work for his father and lived an upper class life.  In 1890, he went to Brooklyn and married Frances Mary Pollard and they returned to live in Cleveland.  They never had any children

Over time, however, Lockwood struggled with rheumatoid sciatica.  In 1897, he and Frances spent a summer in Ecomony, PA.  On the afternoon of October 9, after mingling with friends in the hotel office, and after telling his wife he was going to take his afternoon nap, he picked up a pistol and fired it into his temple.

“…The only cause his friends in the town can ascribe is despondency from a long sickness. He has been a sufferer from acute sciatic rheumatism for a number of years. He leaves a wife, who is at the hotel, and has been there with her this summer, but no children.

“…Not five minutes before he (fired) the fatal shot he had been chatting with friends in the office of the hotel, and had retired to his room to read. Before lying down to take an accustomed afternoon siesta, he spent some moments with Mrs. Lockwood and he then stepped into the bedroom adjoining. Within five minutes his wife heard a shot and rushing into the room found her husband gasping his last on the floor with a bespattered temple, where the bullet had entered, and his head resting in a pool of blood. There had not been the slightest intimation that Lockwood had contemplated such an act, nor, from what can be gathered in the town, is there any circumstances surrounding his career which would make him rather face the “ills he knew not of” than to enjoy the society of his wife and friends. If an exceedingly genial disposition, generous to a fault, and seemingly in the position to spend his money freely, there were few people whom he had met in the old settlement who did not count themselves as a friend of Mr. Lockwood’s.

“About the only circumstance in connection with the affair is the oddity of a man of his prominence in the Forest City choosing such a quiet place as the old town of Economy in which to spend the summer: but since the 26th day of August he and his wife have to all appearances led the most contented existence, broken only by little pleasure excursions to the surrounding country… (H)e had spent much time at Hot Springs in hopes of being freed from the pains of sciatic rheumatism, and it was his intention to return there this fall.”

“Suicide at Economy,” Pittsburgh Press, 10 October 1897, Page 16.

Other Sources:

1860, 1880 US Censuses
Baseball-Reference.com
FindAGrave.com
Student Lists, Hiram Colleage Yearbooks (1875, 1876)
Student Lists, University of Michigan (1923, Pg. 965)
Brooklyn Daily Eagle 06 March 1878: Page 1.
“The First Innings,” National Republican (DC), 02 April 1884: 5.
“The Nationals Lose,” National Republican (DC), 29 April 1884: 1.
“The Second District Court,” Wood River Times (Hailey, ID), 30 July 1885: Page 3.
“Married,” Brooklyn Daily Eagle, 03 January 1890: Page 3.
“Lockwood-Pollard,” Brooklyn Daily Eagle, 03 January 1890: Page 2.
“Put a Bullet Through His Head,” Meadville Evening Republican, 11 October 1897: Page 1.