Happy Birthday, Frank Bliss!

Frank Bliss makes your baseball encyclopedia (or Baseball-Reference.com) because he was called back to Milwaukee as an emergency replacement for Bill Holbert for two games in 1878.

Frank Eugene Bliss was born on December 10, 1852 to Edwin and Mary (Osborne) Bliss, the first of three kids born to the carpenter and housewife. Frank was born in Chicago, but the family moved to Detroit when he was about 10 years old. Bliss learned baseball by the time he got to college at the University of Michigan, where he earned his first degree in Civil Engineering (’73) and then a few years later earned his Law Degree (’79). Bliss is the first Michigan grad to make it to the majors. While in Ann Arbor, he played on both college and town teams. By 1875, he was regularly playing (and getting paid) for teams in Detroit, Milwaukee, Janesville (WI) before returning to Detroit for the 1878 season.

That 1877 Janesville team was LOADED with professional talent. It won the Wisconsin state championship, knocking off Milwaukee in a long series. Then, when Cap Anson’s Chicago National League team visited Janesville for an exhibition, Janesville and its teen wonder lineup knocked off the professionals. Bliss captained a team featuring future MLB professionals Doc Bushong, Harry Arundel, Bill Phillips, John Shoup (or Shoupe), John Morrissey and the seventeen-year-old John Montgomery Ward as a starting pitcher. Ward wasn’t the youngest person on the team. Both Joseph and William Cantillon, local Janesville teenagers, were sixteen and fifteen (respectively).

Bliss was most frequently used as a catcher, though he appeared at shortstop and third base as needed. He was especially adept at catching foul tips. In the summer of 1878, Milwaukee’s National League team needed catching help. Starter Charley Bennett was out, Bill Holbert was injured, and the role was then shared between Will Foley and Joe Ellick. Ellick couldn’t play, so the team sent a request out to Bliss, who was then playing for the Mutual Base Ball Club of Plymouth in Michigan. Bliss raced around Lake Michigan in time to play third base for Milwaukee in a rainy loss to Chicago on June 20, 1878. He got his only career hit in that game. Then, two days later, he gave Foley a day away from catching duties.

For seven innings Bliss held his own and the game remained tied between Chicago and Milwaukee until the eighth inning. Then…

“In the eighth, Bliss the relief catcher of the Milwaukees began to weaken after having received a severe blow to the face from a tip foul, and Golden (the pitcher) was obliged to moderate his pitching.”

“‘Knocked All to Pieces’,” Daily Milwaukee News, June 23, 1878: 6.

Chicago took advantage of Mike Golden’s no longer being willing to risk further injury to Bliss’s face, scoring eleven runs in the last two innings.

Bliss returned to Detroit where, a few months later, his Plymouth club maintained a rivalry with the Cass Base Ball Club of Detroit. The two wanted to play, but Plymouth maintained it would not face Cass if Cass insisted on using Jim Devlin, the suspended Louisville ace, as their pitcher. Cass countered that Plymouth engaged at least three professional players, including Bliss – who, by then, was already known as “the Prince of Kickers.” Cass relented, though, and played the game without Devlin. Plymouth couldn’t win as it was – Cass took a seven inning contest, 5 – 2.

Frank BlissBliss’s penchant for arguing must have served him well in his legal work; he would practice law in Cleveland for the nearly 50 years. Bliss married Louise Sarah Fish in 1881 and they had three sons and a daughter. His oldest son, Frank, lived in Nashville, Tennessee and the elder Bliss, recently widowed, was visiting his son during the 1928-29 holiday season when he got sick. His illness turned into pneumonia and on January 9, 1929, Bliss left this world at a Nashville hospital.


FindAGrave.com (Also photo used here.)

1860, 1870, 1880, 1900, 1910, 1920 US Censuses
TN Death Records
OH Marriage Records

Catalogue of Graduates, Non-Graduates, Officers, and Mmbers of the Faculties, 1837 – 1921, University of Michigan Publication, Ann Arbor, 1923.

“Base Ball,” Detroit Free Press, August 18, 1875: 1.

“The Days Doing,” Daily Milwaukee News, June 11, 1876: 4.

“Champions!,” Janesville Daily Gazette, August 8, 1877: 4.

“Beaten!,” Janesville Daily Gazette, August 17, 1877: 4.

“Ann Arbor,” Detroit Free Press, June 20, 1878: 2.

“Another Defeat,” Daily Milwaukee News, June 21, 1878: 4.

“‘Knocked All to Pieces’,” Daily Milwaukee News, June 23, 1878: 6.

“Sporting News,” Detroit Free Press, September 17, 1878: 2.

“One to Nothing,” Detroit Free Press, July 18, 1879: 6.

“Frank E. Bliss, Ohio Attorney, Dies Here,” Nashville Tennessean, January 10, 1929: 3.

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