From Baseball To Box Offices: Rivington Bisland

Rivington bisland - 1911 Pirates PhotoRivington Bisland, the baseball player, was most known for coming back from a brutal injury to play major league baseball.  However, his most prominent contribution to sports was likely being the box office manager for the biggest boxing promotor of his day, Mike Jacobs.

Rivington Martin Bisland was born February 17, 1890 to Alfred Rivington and Henrietta (Wood) Bisland in New York City.  While there were claims that Bisland hailed from an especially wealthy family, Alfred Bisland was a butcher with six kids (Rivington was #4) – some of whom brought their own husbands and children to live with Alfred and Henrietta in their house north of the city.  Rivington was the first to finish high school in his family and he learned to play baseball on the sandlots of his city.

“This year Rivington Bisland of New York City was given a trial and proved a veritable “find.” He was signed as an infielder and played the opening game at third, proving the star fielder of the game.

“Banner Crowds for Pottsville Players,” Philadelphia Inquirer, May 9, 1909: 18.

While still a teen, Bisland signed to play with Pottsville for the 1909 season, and despite that team already having experienced outfielders, Bisland proved good enough to make the roster.  Unfortunately, the Atlantic League folded within three months – Bisland was quickly signed by Harrisburg of the Tri-State League.  Before he got his feet wet there, though, Pittsburgh President Barney Dreyfuss got wind of the young speedster and signed Bisland to a contract with the Pirates, and then optioned Bisland to Wheeling where he became their starting right fielder before moving to third base.

Bisland returned to Wheeling for the beginning of the 1910 season.  On July 18, playing in a game against Ft. Wayne, Bisland’s career nearly ended.  Ft. Wayne’s Grover Reddin took a chance and tried to advance to third base, but the throw got there in time.  Reddin slid into Bisland’s left ankle and gashed the rookie infielder’s ankle and foot, spilling blood all over and requiring at least ten stitches on the field before they took Bisland to a local hospital to have doctors get a look at the ugly mess that was his ankle.  Players and Bisland’s manager, Bill Phillipps, said it was the worst spiking that any of them had ever seen.

The doctors who saw Risland’s injury tried different operations to stop the bleeding and connect loose tendons, and at some point they were convinced that gangrene was about to set in.  To prevent further problems they thought it was in Bisland’s best interest to have the foot amputated.  Doctors took Bisland to the operating room and knocked him out.  However, a nurse interfered with the surgery.  She claimed that, as a teen, surgeons couldn’t remove his foot unless they got approval from Bisland’s father.  Eventually the doctors agreed not to remove the foot and cleaned up the mess as best as possible.  Bisland stayed hospitalized for five weeks.

While he was there, Dreyfuss visited with Bisland and payed all of his expenses.  He told Bisland, who was distraught about the extent of his injury, that he had a place on the roster next spring so long as he was healthy.  So Bisland did just that – when allowed, he returned home and did various exercises (mixed with rest) to heal and recover.  He suffered a few setbacks, though – one while attending automobile races in New York City, another a month or so before spring training.  Dreyfuss saw that Bisland was making the effort to come back – so he offered to cover the expenses of seeing Bonesetter Reese in Youngstown, Ohio.

“Despite the handicap resulting from an injury to his foot last season, Bisland covers a large amount of ground. His throwing, like Carey’s, is fast and sure. Bisland, it seems, must be counted as a possibility for the outfield unless Clarke soon makes up his mind that he will be well enough fortified with Carey and Bates.

“..He swings his club nervously and watches the pitcher like a hawk. His a good waiter and makes the pitcher pitch. When he swings he hits hard and he seems to place his hits well.”

“Bisland Going Good in Pittsburg Outfield,” Dayton Herald, March 31, 1911, Page 20.

Whatever Reese did worked – Bisland was able to attend spring training with the Pirates in 1911.  He impressed manager Fred Clarke enough to keep him through most of the spring, even moving Bisland to the outfield as it would be easier on Bisland’s ankle than playing third base.  Unfortunately, another rookie outfielder beat Bisland out for the last spot in the outfield: Max Carey.  Bisland was optioned to Indianapolis, who then optioned him to Youngstown of the Ohio and Pennsylvania League.  In August, the Pirates, not wishing to expose their young prospects to other teams, recalled Bisland (and other players, such as Urban Faber) back to Pittsburgh for the last six weeks of the season.  Bisland may have been on the Pittsburgh roster, but he never saw action.

For 1912, he was returned to Springfield, where he batted .287 with a little more power, before being recalled again to the Pirates to close out the season.  This time, he actually got a chance to play.  On September 13 he pinch hit for Marty O’Toole, bounced out, and never played for the Pirates again.

Bisland was thought to have a shot at the Pirates roster in 1913, but he was sold to Atlanta in the Southern League instead.  Bisland moved to shortstop, and after a couple of so-so months, he really broke out.  Over a 47 game stretch, he hit .384 and fielded .981 – a remarkable run of consistent hitting and error free fielding – that helped the Atlanta Crackers to the 1913 pennant.  The Browns took a chance on the young shortstop and brought him up to the majors where Bisland appeared in twelve games for the last place Browns.  He didn’t help, though – getting just six hits in his 47 plate appearances.

rivington bisland - 1914 Browns team photo

When the 1913 season ended, there were rumors that Bisland would sign with a Federal League team – first in Pittsburgh, then in Indianapolis where his Wheeling manager, Bill Phillipps, now was signed to manage.  Neither of those rumors came to fruition.  Bisland was brought back for spring training with the Browns in 1914.  The Browns had no spot for him, though – he was waived in April but Cleveland had a need for temporary help as Ray Chapman was hurt.  So, Cleveland put in a claim and eventually purchased Bisland.  Bisland got six hits for Cleveland, but over 18 games and 64 plate appearances.  With Cleveland struggling and Bisland barely hitting .100, he was benched and then sold back to Atlanta.

Rivington bisland - 1913 Atlanta PhotoBisland spent 1914 and 1915 with the Crackers, but never put together a stretch as good as his 1913 summer.  He was sold to Chattanooga for 1916, but never played owing to a salary dispute.  Chattanooga wanted to pay Bisland, who hit only .229 in Atlanta, $225 per month, which was $25 less than the books showed he was paid in 1915 (the Southern League had a salary cap).  However, Bisland was the field captain, and claimed to have received $100 more on the side from Atlanta management.  Kid Elberfeld, who managed Chattanooga, wanted nothing to do with managing a player who was taking that kind of a pay cut – and the two sides argued for two months as to what a player like Bisland was worth.

Bisland was now married, too, having met and married Margaret Cecilia Hague.  Bisland had other ways to make money.  In his off-seasons, he worked ticket sales for the Drury Lane Theatre in New York – he even sang in an opera there in winter of 1913-14.  He could continue to work in New York theatre if things didn’t work out – and they didn’t.  By the summer of 1916, Chattanooga grew tired of his threats to quit and go home to his wife and stopped trying to sign him.

Back in New York, Bisland left the Drury Lane Theatre for the Princess Theatre, an off-Broadway location near 39th Street.  After having two sons together, Bruce and Richard, Margaret left New York and lived alone in Pittsburgh, where she first worked as a hair dresser and then later as a seamstress.  Then Bisland left the box offices of the theatre to work box offices for Mike Jacobs.

Jacobs was a boxing promoter who learned his trade helping Tex Rickard’s promotions in the 1920s and early 1930s.  In the 1930s, Jacobs convinced Detroit’s Joe Louis to let him promote his fights.  He just needed someone with box office management experience to join his new sports promotion company, Twentieth Century Sport Club.  So, he hired Bisland around 1936, and Bisland gladly moved into Jacob’s offices located in the Brill Building.  For at least twenty five years, Bisland collected the six figure (or higher) box office moneys for championship fights from Louis-Braddock in 1937 through the Floyd Patterson-Ingomar Johansson fights in 1959 and 1960.

During the war years, Risland met and married Vera Gallino, a woman thirty-four years younger than he. After he retired from sports promotions, the two moved to Austria. Bisland passed to the next league in Salzburg on January 11, 1973, dying of plasmocytoma – essentially cancerous tumors that grow in the plasma found in bone marrow or other soft tissue. His ashes were spread at the Kommunalfriedhof (cemetery) in Salzburg. Vera’s ashes were spread there after she died in Vienna on January 10, 2006.

By the way, a Rivington Bruce Bisland III is an Esports and video game promoter these days. His grandfather, Rivington Bruce Bisland, is the ballplayer Rivington Martin Bisland’s son.

Sources:

Baseball-Reference.com
Retrosheet.org
FindAGrave.com

1900, 1910, 1920, 1930, 1940 US Census
NY Birth Certificate
NY Marriage Index and License
CT Marriage Index
Social Security Application and Claims
World War I Draft Registration Card
World War II Draft Registration Card
US Report of Death of American Citizen Abroad

“One More Man and Pottsville’s Ready,” Philadelphia Inquirer, March 28, 1909: 18.

“Banner Crowds for Pottsville Players,” Philadelphia Inquirer, May 9, 1909: 18.

“Benefits Tri-State,” York Dispatch, July 20, 1909: 5.

Davis, Ralph S. “Davis’ Dope,” Pittsburgh Press, July 29, 1909: 16.

“Odd Names in Baseball,” Hancock Democrat, September 2, 1909: 8.

“Bisland Has a Rich Dad,” Dayton Herald, September 16, 1909: 8.

“Spiking May End Bisland’s Diamond Career; Phillipps Gets a Third Sacker Here,” Dayton Herald, July 19, 1910: 6.

“Rivington Bisland, Wheeling Star, May Not Play Again,” East Liverpool Evening Review, October 11, 1910: 6.

“Bisland is Seventeenth Man Signed,” Pittsburgh Press, January 23, 1911: 2.

“Bisland Injured Again,” South Bend Tribune, January 31, 1911: 9.

“Rivalry Rampant Among Slabbists,” Pittsburgh Press, March 12, 1911, Page 18.

“Little Bits of Baseball,” Pittsburgh Press, March 15, 1911: 14.

“Bisland Going Good in Pittsburg Outfield,” Dayton Herald, March 31, 1911, Page 20.

“Burke Gets Riv Bisland,” Dayton Herald, April 4, 1911: 10.

“Plucky Nurse Saved Career For Bisland,” Evansville Press, April 5, 1911: 4.

“Five Players Are Recalled By Pirate Management,” Pittsburgh Post, August 17, 1911: 9. Also photo…

“Springfield Receives Castoffs of Pirates,” South Bend Tribune, January 31, 1912: 10.

“Big Squad Taken On Last Journey to Eastern Lots,” Pittsburgh Post, September 10, 1912: 13.

“Pirates Possess Real Opera Star in Riv. Bisland,” Pittsburgh Press, January 16, 1913: 14.

“Death of Player Recalls Old Days,” Pittsburgh Press, January 19, 1913: 17.

Jemison, Dick. “Rivington Bisland Greatest Southern League Shortstop,” Atlanta Constitution, August 31, 1913: 10A. (Also Photo)

Troy, Jack. “All in the Game,” Atlanta Constitution, July 28, 1938: 16, 18.

“Notes of the Game,” St. Louis Star and Times, October 10, 1913: 6.

“Bisland Signs With Federals,”The Baltimore Sun, November 2, 1913: 13.

“Baseball Chatter,” Sheboygan Press, December 6, 1913: 3.

“Rickey Has Many Youths,” Chattanooga Daily Times, December 12, 1913: 10.

“Base Ball Briefs,” Washington Evening Star, April 13, 1914: 15.

“Indians Buy New Infielder From St. Louis Americans,” Indianapolis News, Aprl 15, 1914: 10.

“Rivington Bisland To Be Benched,” Nashville Banner, June 4, 1914: 11.

“Risland Will Be Atlanta Field Leader,” Knoxville Sentinel, March 22, 1915: 12.

“Bisland Spiked; Out For Season,” Atlanta Constitution, August 28, 1915: 8.

“Atlanta Paid Me $350 Salary Per Month Last Year,” Birmingham News, February 8, 1916: 13.

“Open Series With Barons,” Chattanooga Daily Times, June 5, 1916: 8.

“Henrietta Bisland,” Brooklyn Times Union, December 18, 1934: 10A.

Runyon, Damon. “Runyon’s Ramblings,” Lancaster New Era, August 22, 1936: 8.

“Braddock-Louis Gate to Reach Million Dollars,” Wilkes-Barre Evening News, May 31, 1937: 10.

Ward, Gene. “Floyd-Ingy Ticket Sale Spurts,” New York Daily News, June 12, 1959: 58.

McQueen, Red. “Hoomalimali,” Honolulu Advertiser, June 7, 1960: 8.

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