Born February 12, 1895, this future Chicago Cubs pitcher would be named after the president who shared his birthday.
Abraham Lincoln Bailey was born in Joliet, IL, one of ten (!) Bailey kids, to Bernard and Charlotte (Schriber) Bailey. Bernard was a machinist who had moved his family from New York to the Chicago suburb just prior to Abraham Lincoln Bailey’s birth. The Bailey who played ball learned to throw the baseball in the sandlots of his city. When not pitching he worked as a machinist, like his father, for a firm in Waukegan, IL. He grew tall and thick – listed at 6′ 0″ and about 185 pounds, but the few photos of the day suggested that he carried a few pounds more than that. Still – he threw the ball hard and it was his fastball that drew the attention of Chicago Cubs scouts who saw him play in the old Joliet City League, or on the semi-professional Joliet Rivals, or on the Nash semipro team in Kenosha, WI, where he lost but one decision while pitching there. He was so good pitching in Kenosha that when the season ended local fans gave him a gold watch and chain to celebrate his remarkable pitching. Early in his amateur career, he was scouted by St. Paul of the American Association, but that didn’t work out. In late 1917, he tried out with the Chicago Cubs – and this time he earned a shot with the major league club.
When the Cubs finally agreed to terms with Bailey, though, Bailey had already signed up to join the US Army. Assigned to the 72nd Field Artillery, Bailey spent part of two years in France during World War I. A picture of Sgt. Bailey even appeared in The Sporting News, alongside much more famous ballplayers who had joined the war, like Pete Alexander. One article suggested that Bailey once faced Alexander in a baseball game in France as the war approached its end. However, when asked about this, Alexander denied having lost any games in France and suggested that he might have met Bailey without knowing it.
Interestingly, Grover Cleveland Alexander and Abraham Lincoln Bailey were destined to become teammates – a pair of presidential names gracing the game. One, a veteran, savvy pitcher who had a reputation for hitting the bottle and the other was a young pitcher needing to harness his game and likely had a reputation for hitting the bakery. Bailey was “…inclined to be corpulent” and the few articles that mention Bailey note that he didn’t take the game seriously enough and was battling his weight in spring training. In fact, when Bailey left for the war he weighed perhaps 185 pounds. When he returned from France, his mother suggested he weighed closer to 235. The Chicago Tribune said he weighed more like 190 but needed time to get himself into shape once he joined the team in 1919.
The nickname that followed Bailey into the history books and reference websites is “Sweetbread.” (I found four hits for Sweetbreads, but not Sweetbread – maybe we should fix that…) He wasn’t called Abe – when Cubs manager Fred Mitchell called him that, Bailey told him, “The folks back home still call me ‘Linc’ for short.” Many articles refer to him as Link Bailey, so I’ll use that the rest of the way home.
Link Bailey finally joined the Cubs in the 1919 season where he was the ninth or tenth man on a ten man pitching staff. Appearing 21 times and getting just five starts, Bailey went 3 – 5 for Chicago with an ERA of 3.15. He struggled in 1920, though – giving up 55 hits in just 36.2 innings, he finished with a 1 – 2 record and a horrific 7.12 ERA. Bailey came back in 1921, got himself in pretty good shape, but still struggled in 1921, so the Cubs waived him in May of that season. The Brooklyn Superbas picked Bailey up on waivers, gave him seven appearances in May and June, and sent him off to New Orleans for some seasoning.
At first, Bailey found success in the minors – he won ten of fourteen decisions in the Southern Association. He stayed in New Orleans for the 1922 season and turned in a 12 – 13 record in 39 outings – the 208 innings he logged that year would be the most he would pitch in professional ball. However, he was done in New Orleans. He moved to Beaumont in the Texas League in 1923, going 3 – 2 in seven games and was released. Bailey returned home to Joliet and made his life there so he could be closer to his family – and did some pitching for a couple of years with a team there.
Unfortunately, like his baseball career, his life ended too soon. He developed cancer of the pituitary gland, which affected him for the last years of his life. Bailey died at the home of his sister on September 27, 1939, and is buried in Elmhurst Cemetery in Joliet.
Link Bailey Page on Retrosheet.org
Link Bailey Pages on Baseball-Reference.com
FindAGrave.com (Also photos uploaded to that site by Patrick Flahive and James Henkel).
1900, 1910, 1920 US Census
Illinois Death Index
World War I Registration Card
1930, 1935, 1937, 1938 Joliet City Directories.
“Teams Full of ‘Pep For Flag Winning Spurt,” Joliet Herald, October 1, 1913: 14.
“Cubs Get New Man Who Beat Grover Alexander’s Nine,” Moline Dispatch, January 8, 1919: 14.
A Picture of Sgt. A. Lincoln Bailey appears in the 3/13/1919 issue of The Sporting News on page 6. “Notables Among the National League’s Brave Hundred”
George S, Robbins. “Chicago Cubs,” The Sporting News, 3/13/1919, Page 6.
“Lieut. Joe Jenkins and Sergt. Aleck Meet Up in the Loop,” Chicago Tribune, April 23, 1919: 18.
“Famous Names,” Chicago Eagle, 8/2/1919, Page 7.
Oscar C. Seichow. “Popular Song Will Fit Fred Mitchell,” The Sporting News, 4/8/1920, Page 1.
Oscar C. Seichow. “Big Change in Evers Comes With Years,” The Sporting News, 3/10/1921, Page 1.
“Dodgers Count Hal Janvrin Real Asset,” The Sporting News, 6/23/1921, Page 3.
“Bailey Returns to Kenosha Sunday to Hurl for Joliet Against Twin Sixes,” Kenosha News, May 23, 1925: 10.
“Necrology,” The Sporting News, 10/5/1939, Page 15.