Happy Birthday, Henry Buker!

Henry Buker is a man quite hidden to history…  An infielder and outfielder for Detroit in 1884, Buker (sometimes Baker) had a single season as a professional baseball player and then went back to being anonymous – at least to history.

Henry Leslie Buker was born in Portland, Maine in 1859.  His mother was named Margaret.  Somewhere around the time of the Great War for Slavery, Margaret took her two sons, William and Henry, to the south side of Chicago.  Margaret met and married one of Chicago’s great land pioneers, Benjamin Shurtleff.  It was the second marriage for both of them.

Likely when Henry got to Chicago (technically, Lake View, Illinois – a section of the south side of Chicago) Buker learned to play baseball.  He was good enough to get a tryout with the new Minneapolis entry of the Northwestern League.  Among his teammates would be someone MightyCaseyBaseball.com just covered, Henry McCormick.  Buker (called Baker in the Minneapolis papers) only played in a game or two and found himself on the bench after spraining a finger and perhaps getting sick.  (And, like McCormick, his name was interchangeably Henry or Harry.)  A month later, Buker was allowed to leave and somehow got a tryout with Detroit in the National League.  He impressed the team because he was athletic and at least a reasonably good contact hitter in practice.

Originally an outfielder, Buker’s first major league game with Detroit was as a shortstop. And he went by Buker, and not Baker, in the newspapers.

“Buker, Detroit’s new right fielder, made his first appearance with the team on Saturday, but it was at short stop. For an initial performance, and out of position, he did very well and created a favorable impression from the moment he fielded the first ball, batted by O’Rourke, to Scott. He had nine chances and missed two of them, one slipping through his fingers, and the other jumping over his shoulder.” 

“Fair Balls.,” Detroit Free Press, 08 June 1884, Page 11.

His first major league hit was a double, but he didn’t get many hits after that.  In fact, in his 30 major league games, Buker only got 15 hits.  As you can imagine, a .135 batting average wasn’t going to keep him in the lineup.  Buker was a better shortstop than outfielder, though.  Buker’s last game with Detroit was James (Pud) Galvin’s no-hitter on 04 August 1884. Buffalo and Galvin clocked Detroit, 18 – 0. The only base runner was Buker, who – with one out in the ninth – reached on an error by Dan Brouthers, who dropped the throw from the third baseman. Galvin then struck out the next two batters to complete the no-hitter.

Days later, sports fans got one sentence noting the end of Henry Buker’s baseball career.

“Buker was released yesterday.”

“Fair Balls.,” Detroit Free Press, 09 August 1884, Page 8.

At this point, we can piece together some of his life.  Brother William was an actor – Henry took a job as a theatrical manager.  They became Baker brothers, rather than Buker brothers, too.  It’s hard to say how well this worked – when Margaret A. Shurtleff died in 1894, a year after becoming quite near an invalid, she left a good chunk of her $60,000 estate to fund scholarships at the University of Chicago and Northwestern University.  The rest was divided between William, Henry and a grand-daughter, Edna Adell.  William felt cheated – maybe both brothers did – and wound up challenging the will for much of a decade.

Henry didn’t live much longer.  He fell ill and died at the home of his step-father, Benjamin Shurtleff, on 10 August 1899.  His brief death notice did not note any immediate family.

Somewhere in the early 1880s, Henry met and then married Florence Adell (Della) Oakford in a county well west of Chicago.  Married on 06 February 1883, almost exactly nine months later they had a daughter, Edna Adell.  Considering that six months after Edna was born Henry left to chase some baseball dream, this couldn’t have been an appealing life for Della.  She would leave and remarry a Mr. S. S. Kirkpatrick in Kansas in 1888 and eventually she moved all the way to California to live with her sister.  One figures that Harry and Edna didn’t have much of a relationship, but at least Margaret Shurtleff left her something when she passed on.

Benjamin Shurtleff has kind of a cosmic tangential baseball relationship with Henry (as well as the one created by his marriage to Margaret).  Henry was close to major league talent.  Shurtleff owned a large chunk of land that he later broke into smaller lots, turning perhaps a $30,000 profit on his investment.  That land is the several blocks immediately north and bordering what is now Guaranteed Rate Field (New Comiskey Park) in Chicago.  It ran from 31st to 33rd Street, between Wentworth and Princeton.  You can’t miss it on the map.




1880, 1900, 1920, 1930 US Census
Cook County Death Index
Cook County Voter Registrations (1890, 1892)
Illinois, Illinois County (Warren County) Marriages
Kansas Marriage Index

“County Commissioners.,” Chicago Tribune, 03 February 1874, Page 2.

“Rain Prevented a Game.,” Minneapolis Tribune, 02 May 1884, Page 4.

“The Northwestern League.,” Minneapolis Tribune, 03 May 1884, Page 2.

“A Chance for Applause.,” Minneapolis Tribune, 04 May 1884, Page 2.

“Fair Balls.,” Detroit Free Press, 07 June 1884, Page 3.

“Fair Balls.,” Detroit Free Press, 08 June 1884, Page 11.

“Sporting Matters.,” Detroit Free Press, 10 June 1884, Page 8.

“Sporting Matters.,” Detroit Free Press, 05 August 1884, Page 8.

“Fair Balls.,” Detroit Free Press, 09 August 1884, Page 8.

“What’s the Matter with Chicago?,” Chicago Tribune 23 October 1887, Page 7.

“Mrs. Margaret A. Shurtleff.,” Chicago Tribune, 09 July 1894, Page 5.

“Mrs. Margaret A. Shurtleff.,” Chicago Inter Ocean, 09 July 1894, Page 3.

“News From The Civil Courts.,” Chicago Chronicle, 19 September 1896, Page 15.

“Sues To Have Will Set Aside.,” Chicago Tribune, 13 May 1899, Page 9.

“Deaths.,” Chicago Tribune, 12 August 1899, Page 5.

“Official Death Record.,” Chicago Tribune, 13 August 1899, Page 7.

“Chicago Pioneer Dies at Age of 95.,” Chicago Tribune 04 September 1906, Page 7.



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