Happy Birthday, Stephen Dignan!

“A remarkable feature of the game was the fact that the first twenty-five men that went to the bat for the Buffalos were not able to get a single base hit off (Curry) Foley, and retired in one, two, three order. In the last half of the ninth inning (Tom) Poorman made a safe hit, thus spoiling Foley’s record of completely Chicagoing the Buffalos. (Bill) Crowley then got in a two-base hit, but the ball was neatly fielded to (Sam) Trott by Dignan and (Jack) Burdock in time to retire Poorman, who attempted to run home, and the game was ended, as he was the third man out.”

“The National Game.,” Boston Globe, 06-15-1880: 4.

Steve Dignan was a young outfielder from Boston who, just when he seemed to be on the verge of becoming a competent major league outfielder, was taken from the earth by that scourge of the era: Tuberculosis.

Stephen Dignan

Gordon Echols posted this image to Dignan’s FindaGrave.com page.

Stephen E. Dignan arrived 16 April 1859 to Timothy and Catherine Digden, a pair of Irish immigrants making their way in Boston.  Stephen was the third of five children (one daughter) born to the laborer and his bride.  Before Stephen would become a baseball player, his father caught typhoid fever and died in 1873, leaving Catherine to deal with their growing family.

Boston was a hub for baseball and Dignan would have ample lots on which to learn the game as a child.  He’s listed as a catcher with a Boston College team, though I can’t tell if he actually was a student there.  In the 1880 Census, he’s listed as a ball player and when he dies soon after, his occupation is listed as a laborer, so he may have just played for a team sponsored in some part by the college.

By 1878 Dignan was a regular playing for Clinton, and at the end of 1879 he leaves Clinton to play for the General Worths semi-professional team.  From there, he is invited to play with the Washington National Club, which is one of the country’s best club teams – good enough to beat Chicago in exhibition games.  Still, for some reason Washington chooses to let the young outfielder go and Boston scooped up Dignan.  On 01 June 1880, Dignan takes over in right field when the starting right fielder collides with the first baseman in the first inning.  Dignan gets a pair of key hits in a 5 – 4 win over Chicago.

Dignan remains a utility outfielder for two months, but Boston struggles and amid threats of change and Dignan is released.  However, he is quickly signed by Worcester.  There, he alternates hitless and big games – all three of his career hits with Worcester came in a game against Cincinnati.  Again, however, he is allowed to leave – despite the fact that with both teams and in limited action (11 games) Dignan batted .318.

Sadly, it was his only season as a professional.  The next spring Dignan came down with tuberculosis and left the world on 11 July 1881 in his hometown of Boston.



www.findagrave.com (also photo).

1880 US Census
Massachusetts Death Records
Boston Death Records

“The Boston College Nine.,” Boston Globe, 06-25-1878: 4.

“Worcesters, 16; Clintons, 4.,” Boston Globe, 08 August 1878: 5.

“Brocktons, 8. General Worths, 3.,” Boston Globe, 09-18-1879: 4.

“Base Ball.,” Buffalo Commercial Advertiser, 11-25-1879: 3.

“Sporting Notes.,” Buffalo Express, 05-20-1880: 4.

“Sporting Events.,” Chicago Tribune, 06-02-1880: 8.

“The National Game.,” Boston Globe, 06-15-1880: 4.

“Worcester vs. Cincinnati.,” Chicago Tribune, 08-01-1880: 8.

“Sporting Points,” Chicago Inter Ocean, 08-28-1880: 3.

“The Season’s Pastimes.,” Buffalo Express, 07-22-1881: 4

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