Happy Birthday, Snake Deal!

john deal - first basemanSnake Deal was a lanky first baseman who played one season with Cincinnati in the majors, batting 0 – 21 – .208 in 65 games as a first baseman in 1906. Even in the dead ball era, that wouldn’t cut it as a first baseman.

“Ren Mulford, Jr., says: ‘Snake’ Deal always impressed me as a star fielder, but he wasn’t much of a hitter.’ In the Red-Quaker series Deal snagged just four safeties and he and Siegle were on an equal swatastic footing with credits of .250 each. Thus far the judgment of Sheets has been vindicated, for in all his games at home Deal has hit a few points below that mark. As a fielder Deal is all the cheese – Roquefort, Limberger and Brick – the best man Cincinnati has had on the bag since the days of St. Jacob Beckley.”

“Breakfast Food For Fans Served Up Hot”, Altoona Times, 04 August 1906, Page 7.

Deal spent at least 16 years playing minor league ball in the New York and Pennsylvania area. He managed Syracuse for a short period – in 1910, his star pitcher was Grover Cleveland Alexander.

john deal - camden basketballEqually important was his days as one of the first professional basketball players, playing for the Camden National League squad starting in 1899, among the first professional basketball leagues of its kind. He was regularly the league’s leading scorer. He later played in Philadelphia and Springfield, MA.

“Where’s the snake?” asked the clerk when the Reds were registering at the Continental Hotel in Philadelphia for the series with the Phillies.

“What snake?” then replied in surprise, according to the Cincinnati Post. “This isn’t a reptile show or a circus; it’s a baseball team; besides there’s not Keeley cure candidate in the crowd.”

“Why, they told me the snake was with you.” persisted the clerk. The players thought the heat must have driven him daffy, but they still declared themselves as free of snakes as Ireland was after the visit of St. Patrick.

“Oh, I mean Snake Deal,” declared the clerk.

We’ve got a Johnny Deal who plays first,” said one Red.

“That’s the snake,” asserted the clerk. “We never call him anything else here, and everybody doesn’t know his first name. He earned the nickname Snake playing basketball here with a professional team. With that long body of his he worked through all sorts of seemingly impossible plays, wriggling around and between the other players in a way they couldn’t stop, so that’s why they dubbed him Snake.”

“This Player Has A Lovely Name.”, Buffalo Enquirer, 27 August 1906, Page 8.

In 1909, playing for Lancaster against Altoona, Deal had three hits, recorded 21 putouts and five assists (!) in a 13 inning game, and won the game by stealing home off of Altoona pitcher Bill Steele in the bottom of the 13th inning when he caught Steele pitching from a full windup.

“Thriller Game Is Passed to Roses”, Altoona Times, 08 July 1909, Page 8.

john deal - harrisburg policeJohn Wesley Deal was born on 21 January 1879 to Charles and Clara Deal, the fourth of six kids in Lancaster, PA – though his World War II draft card says he was born in Conshohocken (the 1880 Census suggests the same).  Charles, like a few of his children in later years, worked as a cotton mill spinner.  Before he married Clara Deal – who could be a first or second cousin – Charles served in the Civil War.  John married Maude Kulp and, while they took care of Maude’s mother, Mary, they never had children. After his days as a baseball player, Snake Deal owned a billiard hall and later he worked with the Harrisburg (PA) capitol police department. He passed to the next league after having a heart attack while on the job on 09 May 1944.

Other Sources:

1920, 1930, 1940 US Census
World War II Registration
PA Death Records

“Death Claims Snake Deal, Sports Veteran”, Altoona Tribune, 10 May 1944, Page 6.

“John Deal Dies, Ex-Cage Star”, Philadelphia Inquirer, 10 May 1944, Page 24.

Photo of Deal the policeman found on Page 10 of the Harrisburg Evening News, 10 May 1944. The basketball photo is from page 10 of the Philadelphia Inquirer of 02 December 1901, and the baseball photo comes from the Philadehlpia Inquirer of 26 March 1905, Page 15.

Stats from Baseball-Reference.com


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