Happy Birthday, Henry McCormick!

Henry (or Harry, as it was used interchangeably) McCormick was perhaps the best semi-professional pitcher of the late 1870s, pitching for the Syracuse Stars when the Stars would tour the eastern half of the United States and beat all the best National League teams.

Harry McCormick - Spalding Library

McCormick’s picture from Al Spalding’s private collection.

Born in Syracuse, New York on 25 October 1855, Patrick Henry McCormick was the third child (of four) born to Patrick and Julia McCormick, both Irish immigrants who arrived in the United States in the late 1840s.   His mother did the bulk of the work – both in raising the children and putting food on the table – as his father died in November, 1859.  To pay the bills, Julia took in laundry and did ironing for much of her adult life.

Somewhere along the way, Henry learned the game of baseball and the Stars of Syracuse was one of the best amateur teams around.  Starting as an alternate pitcher and eventually becoming the ace of the staff, McCormick and his teammates played all of the great amateur and semi-professional teams it could.  Often, the Stars would win – managed by their catcher, Mike Dorgan, and surrounded by players who came from the Live Oaks of Lynn, Boston, New York City, and Syracuse, they were a smart and confident bunch.

“(McCormick’s) pitching is very puzzling and effective, the strongest batters in the League being unable to hit him with any degree of safety…”

“Base-Ball.,” Cincinnati Enquirer, 02 October 1876, Page 6.

When the National League was formed in 1876, those teams would play exhibitions against the Stars – and the Stars frequently won.  McCormick shut out Cap Anson’s Chicago club, 2 – 0, and held other wins over St. Louis, Boston, Hartford and the Mutuals.  Dorgan, who eventually would have to give up catching, took a spot on the Browns.  In early 1877 the St. Louis Browns and Syracuse matched up in a 15-inning scoreless tie – McCormick allowed just seven hits for his efforts.  A player this good deserved a nickname – and the one I found was “The Unwashed” McCormick, which might make sense to someone else…

Dorgan returned to the Stars for 1878 and that club agreed to play in the International League, where it took a pennant.  When spots opened up to join the National League, Syracuse – with its national reputation for being as good as the professionals – was invited to join the league.

It was one thing to be a great amateur team, and another to work a major league schedule and the Stars struggled to make it to the end of the season, disbanding after playing 70 games (just about the entire schedule).  Meanwhile, McCormick did his best until his arm practically fell off.  He pitched in 54 contests, throwing 49 complete games and nearly 460 innings of work.  His 18 – 33 record belies how good he really was – five shutouts, for starters, and the team was 4 – 15 in decisions assigned to other pitchers.  McCormick and Dorgan did combine for a rather odd putout.  According to the Syracuse Herald (and quoted in the Buffalo Express), “…a foul tip hit Dorgan in the head, bounded off (his) cranium to the pitcher’s position, and was caught by McCormick.”

McCormick did, however, suffer from a lame arm.  Even though the 1880 U.S. Census listed him as a baseball player, McCormick wasn’t playing professionally that season and at some point he moved to Texas to take up cattle ranching.  That life didn’t stick – feeling better, he moved up north again to take a job as the alternate pitcher for Worcester in the National League.  Worcester finished in last, and the weak armed McCormick lost eight of nine decisions.

“Mack is a good pitcher and a strong batter, and is a reliable man.”

“Harry M’Cormick”, Cincinnati Enquirer, 29 July 1883, Page 11.

The American Association opened for business in 1882, and feeling better than he had the last two seasons, McCormick took the job as alternate pitcher for Will White and the Cincinnati Reds.  White and McCormick actually met nearly a decade earlier when White was learning the ropes playing for the Live Oaks in Lynn, MA.  Playing with a great team behind him, Cincinnati would win the Association crown, McCormick won fourteen of twenty-five starts and was a key player for that championship squad.  The next year, he fell back to 8 – 6, his ERA nearly doubled, and his arm went lame again – McCormick was released.  He did get a save, sort of.  Prior to a game with Columbus on 21 July 1883, a player pretended to be sick while McCormick raced to the railroad station to pick up Hick Carpenter, who apparently was late making a train and arrived just as the game started.  To appear in the game back then, you had to be part of the starting line up.  The fake illness gave McCormick just enough time to get Carpenter to the ballpark – late, but on time for the first pitch.

For 1884, McCormick signed with Minneapolis of the Northwestern League – Minneapolis, St. Paul and Stillwater were new for the 1884 season.  McCormick didn’t make it very far, though he beat Quincy in their second game – the first win for Minneapolis that season.

“What has been expected for some time culminated today in the dishonorable discharge of McCormick for drunkeness and other discreditable conduct. The trouble was kept quiet with the hope that he would change his course, but he seemed to be going from bad to worse with no sign of improving.”

“Minneapolis at Grand Rapids,” Minneapolis Tribune, 21 May 1884, Page 2.

Before long, he tried pitching for Trenton and that was equally disastrous.  He wound up quitting the team and being suspended (briefly) for jumping.  McCormick’s last attempt to play was with Syracuse in 1885, but he couldn’t ever make it to the mound.

“Henry McCormick has not occupied the box as yet for the Stars. His many friends are anxious to see him don a Star uniform and do some of the good work that made him famous in days gone by.”

“Syracuse Mention.,” The Sporting Life, 03 June 1885, Page 5.

In the summer of 1879, McCormick and his best friend, Mike Dorgan, got married to sisters.  Mike married Jennie Connor – they would remain married for the rest of their lives together.  Henry married Mary Connor – and when the census taker came in 1880, Henry was living at home with his mother and two sisters.  Mary was gone – and I haven’t figured out where she went.

His baseball life over, McCormick took a job as a tender along the Erie Canal.  Like his baseball career, that job didn’t last very long either.  In the fall of 1889, McCormick came down with Cholera Morbus, and McCormick left for the next league on 08 August 1889.  Like his father for whom he was named, he was 33 years old when he passed.

“He was cool-headed, had good speed and puzzling curves and was a strategist. He was likewise a man of good habits, popular, and his many friends will regret to hear of his demise.”

“McCormick Dead.,” The Sporting Life, 14 August 1889, Page 1.

Sources:

Baseball-reference.com

Findagrave.com

McCormick’s biography by Charles Faber on SABR.ORG

1860, 1870, 1880 US Censuses
1855, 1865, 1875 New York Censuses
1860 US and NY Census Mortality Schedule

“Syracuse Champions.,” The Sporting Life, 03 October 1888, Page 1.

“Base-Ball.,” Cincinnati Enquirer, 02 October 1876, Page 6.

“Wonderful Work.,” St. Louis Globe-Democrat, 02 May 1877, Page 5.

“Dorgan’s Woe.,” Buffalo Express, 21 May 1879, Page 4.

“Once More.,” Buffalo Express, 22 July 1879, Page 4.

“The Old Story.,” Cincinnati Enquirer, 31 July 1879, Page 8.

“Sporting Notes.,” Buffalo Express, 08 August 1879, Page 4.

“Notes.,” Buffalo Express, 11 August 1879, Page 4.

“They’ll Shine No More.,” Buffalo Express, 11 September 1879, Page 4.

“Sporting News,” Buffalo Commercial Advertiser, 25 June 1881, Page 3.

“Notes.,” Buffalo Express, 12 July 1881, Page 4.

“Harry M’Cormick”, Cincinnati Enquirer, 29 July 1883, Page 11.

“Base Ball.,” St. Paul Globe, 17 February 1884, Page 3.

“Notes.,” Cincinnati Enquirer, 09 March 1884, Page 10.

“This is Official,” Cincinnati Enquirer, 06 April 1884, Page 13.

“Minneapolis at Grand Rapids,” Minneapolis Tribune, 21 May 1884, Page 2.

“Reinstated.,” Boston Globe, 04 April 1885, Page 2.

“Base Ball.,” St. Paul Globe, 11 May 1885, Page 2.

“Syracuse Mention.,” The Sporting Life, 03 June 1885, Page 5.

“McCormick Dead.,” The Sporting Life, 14 August 1889, Page 1.

“Base Hits.,” Buffalo Express, 11 August 1889, Page 14.

The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs: Photography Collection, The New York Public Library. “Harry McCormick” New York Public Library Digital Collections. Accessed August 8, 2020. http://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/510d47d9-c085-a3d9-e040-e00a18064a99

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