Happy Birthday, Bill Traffley!

Bill TraffleyBill Traffley was briefly a catcher for Chicago in 1878 then, after a run through the minors, he returned to play in the American Association from 1883 to 1886 with Cincinnati and Baltimore. Likely the first major league player born in Staten Island, he spent a long time playing for and managing teams in Des Moines before succumbing to tuberculosis on 23 June 1908 in that city. Just digging a little through newspapers, I saw him called “Wild Bill” and “Appetite Bill” (Detroit Free Press, 04 Jan 1899, Page 6.)

According to his childhood friend, John Ullrich, his family left Staten Island for Chicago in the 1860s, beginning his career in the early 1870s on a city team “…that was then the whirlwind of the town. It was called the ‘Onwards’ and was one of the fastest corner lot teams that Chicago ever saw play… When he was young he worked in a rolling mill. He made $4.50 a day. His duty was to guide the great ladle when they poured the molten iron… Often times when Billy’s father thought he was working in the mill he was out on the common playing ball…

“…A. G. Spaulding was at that time pitching on the Chicago team and
‘Silver Vance’ was the catcher. One time, ‘Silver’ was taken down sick and Spaulding sent for ‘Billy to take his place… Not a ball got past him and from then on his reputation as a ball player was established… In those days they wore no mitts. They caught everything right off the bat with never a flinch.

“…Billy used to have lots of money but he spent it all on his first wife who was an invalid.”

“Boyhood Friend Tells of Traffley”, Des Moines Register, 25 June 1908, Page 10.

“Bill Traffley, the old Cincinnati and Baltimore catcher, used to be considered the biggest eater in the profession. Bill could go through a $4-a-day hotel bill of fare like a small-pox rumor through a village…”

“Champion Eaters.”, Nebraska State Journal, 15 November 1891, Page 14.

As told by Ed Hickey…

“Bill had a peculiar way of giving signals. He always put his hands to the side of his mask before making the signal. If he wanted a straight ball he had a way of puckering his lips, and if a curve, he would open his mouth. It made no difference to him what sort of curve the pitcher threw. Lots of times, when old Bill would open his mouth for a curve ball, his hands up at his face like blinkers on a bridle, the pitcher would make Bill open his mouth wider. Still sometimes the pitchers wouldn’t see, and I’ve actually seen old Bill open that mouth of his until I could see one corner of it where I stood on third. The pitcher could have thrown the ball into that mouth and the ball wouldn’t have scraped the sides in entering…”

“Jay Andrews Fooled ‘Em”, Buffalo Times, 22 November 1900, Page 10.

“Des Moines, Ia., July 10. – The passing of “Bill” Traffley, former manager of the Baltimore and Des Moines teams, in this city last Wednesday evening, ended the life of one of the men connected with the game in the formative days.

“Traffley was a catcher in the days before catchers wore a mask, a breast protector, or even gloves, and his death from tuberculosis was induced, according to the physicians who attended him in his last months, from the blows of balls which hit him in his earlier days as a catcher. The constant hammering of foul tips weakened the bones of the chest, affecting the lungs, and ending in the attack of the ‘white plague.’

“Throughout the west Traffley will always be known as the manager who was at the head of the Des Moines team when it made the world’s record of twenty-five games won in succession…

“For the last few years, Traffley had been out of the game, working in a number of the buffets of the city. Last year, when his health began to fail, he secured the management of the Granger, Ia., independent team and spent the larger part of the summer there in the hope that the outdoor life would benefit him. This failed, however, and while his last illness was short, he was seen but little after he returned to the city.

“Traffley was 48 years old at the time of his death. He left a wife and five children.”

“Bill Traffley Dead”, Wichita Daily Eagle, 12 July 1908.

Des Moines later played an exhibition game against Omaha in early September to raise money for a monument in his memory.

“Will Honor Bill Traffley”, Des Moines Tribune, 01 September 1908, Page 5.

I can’t find a birth record, so I’m remiss in noting that I cannot find his parents – but Traffley was born 21 December 1859 in Staten Island.  His brother John appeared in one game for Baltimore – one assumes that he was invited in an emergency basis by his brother.  John is listed as having been born in Chicago – which suggests that Traffley was likely of German heritage and his parents hadn’t been in the United States long when William was born.  Anyway….  William Franklin Traffley married Ella P. Groom of Maryland, and by 1900 they had four children, Ella, Nettie, Lillian, and William, Jr.  Bill was listed as a base ball manager, with three of the four kids in school. (Son, Harold, came later, after the census enumerator took the family data in 1900.) In fact, the birth locations give you a sense of his minor league treks, too. Ella was born in Maryland, Nettie was born in Iowa, Lillian in South Dakota, William in Illinois, and Harold in Iowa.

Baseball-Reference.com (Bill Traffley)
Baseball-Reference.com (John)
Findagrave.com (Photo Source)
1900, 1910 US Census
Iowa Marriage Records
Baltimore (1889) and Des Moines (1897, 1902, 1907) City Directories


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