The Brief Life of Will Collver

W. J. Collver, a Detroit ball player, has signed to play with the Zanesville Club, of the Ohio League, the coming season. Collver is a sturdy young fellow of good habits, a good fielder and batter, and will prove an acquisition to the Zanesvilles.

“Sporting Notes,” Detroit Free Press, February 1, 1887: 7.

Will Collver only played in a single game, the second game of a Fourth of July doubleheader between Boston and Detroit in 1885. His life was equally brief.

William J. Colver was the second child of three born to Francis (Frank) Taylor Collver and Mary Elizabeth (Bartlett) Collver on March 21, 1867 in Clyde, Ohio. Mary raised the three children while Frank worked as a salesman, telegrapher, and travel agent during Will’s days with his parents. Prior to their marriage, Frank served with Company K of the 65th New York Infantry, which saw action at Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, and Appomattox among other battles. Mary was a Daughter of the American Revolution, through Samuel Bartlett of Massachusetts and Maine. After their wedding Frank and Mary moved some, from Ohio to Indiana, and it included a stop in Detroit.

It was in Detroit where Will Collver became a ballplayer, playing for the Cass Club. And, it was in Detroit where he became, for one day, a right fielder for Boston in 1885. Boston was in town and playing a doubleheader when they lost their catcher during the first game. Mert Hackett broke a finger reaching for a wild pitch – Boston used a bunch of catchers in 1885 – and with injuries piling up Guerden Whitely was pressed into duty as a catcher, requiring Boston to hastily find a right fielder. The guy they found, likely in the stands among the 2,500 to 3,000 people at Recreation Park on this holiday, was the eighteen-year-old Will Collver.

Collver’s day was uneventful – he struck out once and went hitless in four at bats. He did not catch a fly or throw anyone out; he was error-free for the game. Any Detroit hits into right field were taken and the ball returned without incident. Detroit won the second game to complete the sweep for the day and Collver returned to being a semi-professional ballplayer.

In 1887, he signed to play with Zanesville serving as a shortstop and alternate pitcher. There, his speed and power led to home runs and complaints from a neighboring landowner who grew tired of Collver launching baseballs into a chicken coop beyond the outfield wall. After being released at the end of the summer, Collver was picked up to play for Kalamazoo when their shortstop, Billy Otterson, was sold to Brooklyn. He didn’t play many games for Kalamazoo, but Collver doubled, homered, and collected four hits in a win over Sandusky. For 1888 he signed a contract to play in Hutchinson, Kansas.

When not playing ball, Collver earned his pay as a brakeman for a local railcar – but not for long. In March of 1888 he required a minor operation. What today might be routine was not for Collver – he fell ill and feverish following the surgery and his demise could not be prevented.

“He submitted to a very unimportant operation at St. Mary’s Hospital on Saturday, and taking a chill, died after all threatened bad results of the operation itself had passed away.”

Detroit Free Press, April 2, 1888: 3.

Collver passed to the next league just three days after his twenty-first birthday on March 24, 1888. His Cass Club teammates attended his funeral, and then Collver’s remains were returned to Clyde, Ohio and buried in McPherson Cemetery there.


Baseball-Reference calls him Bill Collver, so for me to use Will – I should have a reason. One newspaper reference I saw called him Will; most used William or Wm. Both of his Census records call him William or Willie. I’m not saying that people might not have called him Bill, but I can prove Will and can’t prove Bill. So Will it is. (Will Colver) (Frank Colver)

1870, 1880 US Census
Ohio Marriage Records
Detroit City Directory – 1886
North American Family Histories, 1500 – 2000

“Morning Game,” Detroit Free Press, July 5, 1885, Page 7.

“A Fielding Record,” Zanesville Daily Times Recorder, May 21, 1887: 1.

“Yesterday’s Ball Playing,” Zanesville Daily Times Recorder, June 8, 1887: 1.

“Otterson Joins the Brooklyns; Collver Signs With Kalamazoo,” Detroit Free Press, September 1, 1887: 2.

“Kalamazoo Issues a Drubbing to Sandusky,” Detroit Free Press, September 4, 1887: 6.

“Shockingly Sudden,” Detroit Free Press, March 26, 1888: 4.


1 thought on “The Brief Life of Will Collver

  1. Pingback: Baseball History on March 21 | Mighty Casey Baseball

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