Until someone finds a frame of microfilm that describes Jim Tray’s methods – batting or throwing – we’re left wondering if he batted left or right handed and which hand he threw with…
James Tray had a limited major league career – six games with a lowly Indianapolis Blues squad in the American Association in 1884, though articles noting his signings with various minor league teams in the 1880s never mention that. Instead, articles mention his days with Pittsburgh in 1884 (did he get a tryout in the spring or something?) and his season with St. Paul in the Northwestern League. With the Blues, Tray appeared at three positions (C, 1B, RF) and batted .286 (6 for 21) for a team that didn’t win 30 of its 107 games. You’d think he might have stuck around a little longer but he didn’t. He was released in late September after his three-week tryout.
Instead, Tray returned to his native Jackson, Michigan home and played semi-pro and minor league baseball for the rest of the 1880s throughout low level Michigan and Indiana leagues, managing one last time (that I can find) in 1890 for the hometown nine. He spent a year everywhere – Kalamazoo, Saginaw, South Bend, Jackson, but rarely saw a second season in the same dugout. Normally Tray earned his money behind the plate, but he’d move around as needed. He caught Dave Foutz in St. Paul and Bob Hart in South Bend, but in later years he spent more time at first base or in the outfield.
Tray was one in a rather large Irish family. Born 14 February 1860 to a day laborer named Michael James Tray (originally Trahee or Trehay) and Margaret Lanigan Tray, both immigrants, James was the third of eight kids evenly split between boys and girls. At least three of the boys played ball. William (b. 1863) was a pitcher and Eddie (b. 1865) was, like James, willing to crouch behind the plate. Eddie also played some minor league ball, including spending time in Galveston and at least one season with brother Jim in Michigan when Jim was a player-manager.
“Manager Tray is the well-known catcher formerly of St. Paul and Pittsburgh, and from his long experience in base ball matters and an extensive knowledge of players, it is safe to say that the team that will represent Jackson in the Michigan League will be one that will do credit to the city. Ed Tray, of last year’s Galveston club, will be signed as a catcher, and if he does not lead the leage in that position your correspondent is very mistaken; he is also a hard batter and can play almost any position in a satisfactory manner.”
– “The Jackson Club Reorganized.” The Sporting Life, 24 April 1889, Page 1.
There aren’t a ton of baseball highlights (the sports pages where Tray played were still rather limited in coverage), but there was one semi-pro game he played with brother William where Jim cranked out a pair of grand slam homers. And, Jim must have been well respected given he was frequently a captain or manager. Usually a gentleman on the field, a couple of articles from 1889 note that his patience was tested at least a couple of times. That season, he was fined at least twice for kicking and one game was nearly forfeited until Tray paid his $2 fine to the umpire. (I liked that the player was fined immediately by the umpire.)
Anyway – when his days as a player ended, Tray became a saloon keeper in Jackson. He never married, living with family until his early death; a heart attack felled Tray on 28 July 1905.
“Northwestern League Games”, Detroit Free Press, 15 July 1884, Page 8.
“Liners”, Detroit Free Press, 17 July 1886, Page 8.
“Great Work By Tray Brothers”, Kalamazoo Daily Telegraph, 2 June 1887, Page 7.
“Kalamazoo Gets a Good Catcher”, Detroit Free Press, 15 June 1887, Page 2.
Galveston Daily News, 17 February 1888, Page 15.
“Base Ball.”, Nappanee News, 12 April 1888, Page 1.
Elkhart Daily Review, 22 March 1889, Page 3.
“The Jackson Club Reorganized”, The Sporting Life, 24 April 1889, Page 1.
“Michigan League. Lansing, 13; Jackson, 11”, Chicago Inter Ocean, 06 July 1889, Page 2.
“Kalamazoo Beats Jackson”, Detroit Free Press, 23 August 1889, Page 8.
“Gossip”, Detroit Free Press, 01 September 1889, Page 4.
“Saginaw, 7 – Jackson, 1”, Detroit Free Press, 27 September 1889, Page 8.
“The Michigan League.” The Sporting Life, 3 March 1890, Page 16.
US Census Data, 1860, 1870, 1900