Happy Birthday, Gene Derby!

“In the latter half of the eighth inning, Derby made the most wonderful catch of the game. Davis opened the inning with a magnificent drive to left centre. Derby started for the ball, nearly tripping as he ran, and caught it far out from him, on a run. The great feat evoked a tempest of enthusiasm from the crowd that was only stifled when the modest little player doffed his cap in response to repeated applause at the end of the inning.”

“A Great Victory.”, Lancaster Daily Intelligencer, 05 June 1884, Page 2.

Gene Derby was a catcher and outfielder who got a one month tour with Baltimore of the American Association in 1885. In his ten-game tryout, Derby failed to hit, though, gaining just four hits in thirty-three plate appearances and was returned to the minor leagues. Derby had gained the attention of Baltimore by playing well in exhibitions with major league teams. While playing with Norfolk, pounded out three hits in a close loss to Washington and displayed fine skills behind the plate.

“In Derby, the visitors presented one of the neatest catchers that has been seen here this season.”

“The Norfolks Defeated.”, Washington National Republican, 06 May 1885, Page 1.

Derby was an agile catcher – when not behind the plate, he often played centerfield. He started with local teams, including a very good Lancaster Ironsides team that beat St. Louis of the American Association in an exhibition game. After his one month trial with Baltimore, Derby played with various minor league and semi-professional teams through the rest of the 1890s, including seasons with Hartford, and Troy.

Born to Joel A. and Sarah E. Smith Derby on 03 February 1860 in Fitchburg, MA. Joel was a machinist and later a brick mason while Sarah took care of two boys, Clarence and Eugene. Prior to his becoming a professional ball player, Eugene was a agent selling sewing machines.

On 25 November 1880, he married Angeline Viger of Weymouth and they added a son, Joseph, in 1881 and a daughter, Grace, in August, 1894, while living in New York. Joseph died in June, 1893 in a boating accident in Troy, an accident that nearly took Gene’s life as well. While rowing back from a fishing trip, the son’s fishing line got caught in an oar, which made the rower stop – except they were near a dam and the boat was tossed over a rapids to a nearby waterfall. Joseph must have hit his head on the rocks and drowned, while Eugene was miraculously saved by someone on shore who managed to poke Derby with an oar as he was about to give up. At the time of the accident, Joseph had been a mascot for Troy’s baseball team and Gene had spent some time as a catcher there a few years back. By 1910, the Derby family had moved again to Hartford, CT, where Gene was an inspector for a street car company.

Derby passed to the next league on 13 September 1917 while living in Waterbury, CT, but he was buried back in Glen Falls, NY so he could be laid to rest near his late son.

Sources:

Baseball-reference.com
FindAGrave.com

Massachusetts Birth Records (1860)
1860 US Census
1870 US Census
1880 US Census
1900 US Census
1910 US Census

“A Sad Picnic.”, Troy Northern Budget, 18 June 1893, Page 9.

“Wanted Blood.”, Wilkes-Barre News, 15 July 1889, Page 3.

“A Great Victory.”, Lancaster Daily Intelligencer, 05 June 1884, Page 2.

“The Norfolks Defeated”, Washington (DC) National Republican, 09 May 1885, Page 2.

“The Norfolks Defeated.”, Washington National Republican, 06 May 1885, Page 1.

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