“Critchley, the man of weak legs and broad shoulders, astonished the world by batting the ball far into the left field, where it was lost in the grass, and before Manning could find it, the giant had made a home run. It was only luck, but it counted, and one man at least was supremely happy.”“Tobin’s Trouble,” Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, June 2, 1879: 4.
Morris Critchley was briefly a major league pitcher with the Pittsburgh Alleghenys and St. Louis Browns of the American Association in 1882, but was more famous as a pitcher in the minors during the 1870s. In the late 1870s and early 1880s there were very competitive leagues that included cities like Buffalo, Syracuse (the Stars), Rochester, Albany, Manchester, Providence and other cities in the northeast: the International Assocation and National Association being two of them. Many players who gained fame during this era all played there – Ned Hanlon, Lip Pike, Pud Galvin, Tim Keefe, Jack Glasscock, etc. – and Morris Critchley faced and was successful against all of these guys.
Morris Arthur Critchley (see note below) was born on 3/26/1850 in New London, Connecticut to Michael A. and Margaret A. (Dempsey) Critchley. Both Michael and Margaret were Irish immigrants who spent their American lives in or near Hartford; Michael as a factory hand or laborer and Margaret as the home hand and laborer. Morris would spend his first two decades – and probably a good part of a third – in the Hartford area. When Morris took up professional baseball, he gained fame pitching in upstate New York, allegedly once winning five games in a single day (!) for Auburn. His most famous outing was a 17 (or 18) inning effort where he beat the Allegheny team in 1877 and allegedly injured his heart, something that was listed as a probable cause of his death many years later.
Hartford was a major league city from 1874 to 1876 and had its fill of amateur teams; it makes sense that the tall and thick Critchley would find his way to the game. His first documented professional work is with Providence in 1876. That organization moved to Auburn, New York for 1877 where Critchley’s pitching began to gain regular notice. He went 15 innings in a tie against the Rhode Islands, pitched a one-hitter and three-hitter to blank Rochester and Fall River, and even took a game from the Pittsburgh Alleghenys, an event riddled with injuries. Two Allegheny players were injured during practice, their catcher split his hand during the game, the manager was hit by a broken bat – even the umpire got hit in the face with a foul tip.
For a giant of a man, easily standing at least an inch over 6′ 0″ and likely weighing close to two hundred pounds (and more in later years), Critchley was known for his lack of speed. As a pitcher, his bread and butter was a big breaking curveball. Once, in a demonstration, he threw a ball that broke around the corner of a hotel building. He also threw an odd sort of a change up – he’d exaggerate the speed of his wind up only to toss a soft one in there. If he threw especially hard, there is no recorded proof of it.
And, he was especially slow afoot. Stories claim he was granted a courtesy runner for some games. When he hit a home run for Albany, a Buffalo paper said, “The Rochester fielders must have been drugged Saturday when they allowed big Critchley of the Albany’s to make a home run.” One time he hit a double and the Buffalo Express noted, “It generally takes a hit that other players would reach second on to get him to first, so that he must have drove the ball an immense distance to allow of his securing second.”
For 1878, Critchley signed with the Hornells where, again, he’d pitch nearly every inning. His best game was a 4 – 0 win over the Alleghenies – only a Jack Glasscock single prevented Critchley from throwing a no-hitter. Then, in a series against Buffalo, Critchley got in hot water with team directors when Critchley and his long time catcher, Ed Keenan, let a game with Buffalo get away due to inexcusable errors. Already losing 2 – 0, Buffalo’s Davy Force reached with a leadoff single and stole second. After a strikeout, a routine grounder ended with the throw to first being dropped. Buffalo pitcher Pud Galvin struck out, but since Ed Keenan didn’t catch the third strike, he had to throw the ball to first for the out. For some reason, the ball was returned to the catcher, who must have thought there were three outs. Keenan rolled the ball toward the mound, allowing Force to steal third. Critchley picked up the ball and tried to throw Force out at third – that throw sailed high and wide and Force scored the third run for Buffalo. When a late rally in the ninth produced two runs for the Hornells, the misplays by Keenan and Critchley loomed especially large.
Sure enough, there were those that felt like something fishy had happened and, in fact, Critchley was called out for laying down the game. After defending himself in front of team directors, Critchley was absolved of those charges. The accusation, though, made the rounds – appearing in papers like the Chicago Tribune.
Critchley pitched well enough for the rest of the season, including a shutout over Buffalo, but the Hornells disbanded, allowing Critchley to sign with Albany for $110 per month to complete the season. With Albany, he shut out Buffalo again allowing just four hits. Critchley would stay with Albany through the beginning of the 1880 season, helping Albany to take the National Association crown in 1879 as their regular pitcher.
Unfortunately, things were starting to work against Critchley – starting with an injury that resulted in a dislocated shoulder in September, 1879. Albany signed Tim Keefe, then a young prospect, to finish the 1879 season. When the 1880 season started, Keefe was seen as the better pitcher and Albany asked Critchley to take a smaller salary as the change pitcher – something that didn’t sit well with last year’s ace.
“He was offered a salary deemed commensurate with his value as a change pitcher, which he declined to accept; and he was therefore given his release… In regard to the release of Critchley from the club, it should be stated that he has recently been subjected to a medical examination, and the examining physician pronounced one of the muscles of his arm so badly strained or injured that it could not be of any service to him for some time to come. In the game at New Haven a week or more ago, his arm was so painful that at the close of seven innings he was obliged to retire. It is not likely that he will be able to pitch effectively this season.”“Sporting Notes,” Buffalo Express, May 8, 1880: 4.
Critchley took a job with Baltimore of the National Association and immediately got revenge against Albany by beating his old teammates (and Tim Keefe), 9 – 4. He followed that with a 2 – 0 shutout over the Washington Nationals. His good fortune wouldn’t last – Washington returned the favor with a 2 – 0 win as Jack Lynch fired a no-hitter to beat Baltimore. Critchley move to Troy, then pitched for the Rochester Hop Bitters, and even pitched for Albany where he beat Boston in an exhibition, 3 – 2. That was just in June…
For 1881, Critchley took a break from pitching. He umpired a few games in Albany and began to learn the saloon trade while serving as a bartender at a saloon owned by heavyweight boxer Paddy Ryan.
Somehow Critchley got a pitching gig for 1882 – and with a new major league. The Pittsburgh Alleghenys picked up both Critchley and his catcher Ed Keenan in the maiden season of the American Association. The season didn’t start well for Critchley – he was sick and dealing with a lame arm. One game, Pittsburgh was desperate for players. Critchley played centerfield and was a substitute pitcher in a 19 – 5 exhibition loss to Cleveland. If Critchley was in the outfield, no wonder Cleveland scored so many runs… Critchley, hoped to be a regular contributor at the start of the spring, was now expected to be a change pitcher – if he could stay healthy.
In his only official MLB game for the Alleghenys, Critchley threw a 2 – 0 shutout to beat Cincinnati. Cincinnati didn’t seem to get good wood on the ball and the Allegheny fielders were on their game, too. Cincinnati faced the Alleghenys about 10 days later, winning the first game of the series, and then blew out Critchley 18 – 4 in a mid-series exhibition game. The Commercial Gazette said, “They at once opened procedings on Critchley and lit on to his slow balls and knocked him right and left.”
The Pittsburgh Press noted that the betting lines changed after the blow out loss and Critchley was again accused of laying down (if not playing in such a way as to influence betting). Pittsburgh suspended Critchley (yet used him as an umpire in exhibition games) before finally releasing Critchley and restoring Critchley’s good name in early June. A month later, Charles Comiskey gave Critchley a final chance but it didn’t work out. He was regularly beaten in the four official games he pitched for the Browns, and even lost an exhibition game to Reading.
Critchley, despite whatever accusations came his way in 1882, settled in Pittsburgh and, when he wasn’t working behind the bar, served as an umpire on and off for the next few years. For one season, he was a substitute umpire for the American Association and worked behind the plate for a few games. There was a thought he might be able to pitch for a Union Association team in 1884, but his arm never came back. In 1895, he purchased a hotel and saloon at 2818 Smallman Street from the late Aaron Agans estate. He would own that hotel until his death on March 6, 1910 – barely three weeks before his 60th birthday. Critchley is buried in Calvary Cemetery in Pittsburgh.
This seems like a good time to tell the story of his family life. Somewhere around 1868 or 1869 Morris Critchley connected with Florine (or Flora) Adella Hamlin. They married and had two children, George and Burton – Flora was still a teen when George arrived in 1870. By 1880, though, they were separated and Flora is listed in that year’s US Census as Flora Hart, as she had now taken the name of her stepfather with whom Flora was living. She must not have had much to do with the kids after a while. When Burton died of consumption in 1904, Flora is not listed in his obituary; when George died many years later, the death certificate didn’t even mention her. In the 1880s, Morris met and eventually married Margaret Dunning (born Birmingham). She was an accountant and invested some of her own money in Critchley’s hotel.
When Critchley died, Margaret’s sold the business and transferred the liquor license to John Jackal. Soon after, she completed the probate process. Critchley death, his being famous and all, made the wire copy and Flora Hart learned of Morris’s sudden demise (via heart attack) and reached out to the authorities looking to stake a claim on Critchley’s estate. Apparently they never divorced, making Morris Critchley a bigamist and costing Margaret $2100 to settle the claims by Hart. Hart then changed her name again. Beginning with the 1910 census (and 1910 Hartford city directory) she is listed as the widow Flora Critchley, a name she maintained until her death in 1938, sixteen years after the death of Margaret Critchley. Margaret passed away on December 18, 1922 and is buried near her husband in Calvary Cemetery.
Note: I could be equally convinced that Morris Arthur Critchley was actually born Michael Arthur Critchley. First – I found an 1860 US Census record that shows a Michael Critchley living with his parents, Michael and Margaret in Hartford. All three were born in Ireland per the census. Plenty of Irish kids are named for their parents, especially at that time. He’s listed as 14, but age is something that seems to change by a year or two every decade of the Census back then. In the 1870 US Census, Michael is married to Flora (Florence in the census record) – he’s now 22. If he decided to pursue a baseball career, he might have changed his name so that his dad wouldn’t be embarrassed to have a son playing a game for a career – as was done frequently in that era. In 1880, when Michael/Morris would have been pitching all over (Albany, Troy, Baltimore, etc.), George Critchley, 9, is living with a Bridget Critchley; we find out later that Bridget is Morris’s sister through her obituary in the Hartford Courant as she had taken a job as a dress maker and was living apart from her parents in 1860.
Anyway – it would also explain how Morris could easily evade Flora at a time when his baseball fame was growing in the 1870s.
1870, 1880, 1900, 1910, 1920, 1930 US Census
PA Death Certificates (Morris, George, Margaret)
Naturalization Documents (Michael)
Pittsburgh City Directories
“A Wonderful Game at Providence, R. I.,” New York Herald, June 11, 1876: 7.
“A Wonderful Game at Providence, R. I.,” New York Herald, June 11, 1876: 7.
“Semi-Professional Scraps,” Chicago Tribune, March 17, 1877: 7.
“Auburn vs. Rochester,” Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, May 28, 1977: 4.
“Auburn vs. Fall River,” New York Clipper, July 28, 1877.
“Out-Door Sports,” Boston Globe, July 24, 1877: 8.
“Base Ball,” Pittsburgh Commercial Gazette, August 11, 1877, Page 4.
“Buffalo vs. Auburn,” Buffalo Morning Express, August 14, 1877: 4.
“Diamond Dust,” Buffalo Express, September 6, 1877: 4.
“Base Ball,” Buffalo Express, June 3, 1878: 4.
“Hornells, 4; Alleghenys, 0,” Boston Journal, May 22, 1878: 4.
“Base Ball,” Buffalo Courier, June 17, 1878: 2.
“Base Ball,” Buffalo Express, June 17, 1878: 4.
“Base Ball,” Buffalo Express, June 20, 1878: 4.
“Base Ball,” Buffalo Express, June 21, 1878: 4.
“General Notes,” Chicago Tribune, June 23, 1878: 7.
“Notes,” Buffalo Express, August 24, 1878: 4.
“Notes,” Buffalo Express, August 28, 1878: 4.
“Demoralized Buffalos,” Buffalo Express, September 30, 1878: 4.
“Base Ball,” St. Louis Globe-Democrat, April 17, 1879: 6.
“Base Ball and Other Sports,” Buffalo Express, April 26, 1879: 4.
“League and National,” Buffalo Express, June 3, 1879: 4.
“Later Baseball Notes,” New York Clipper, October 4, 1879.
“Providence vs. Albany,” New York Clipper, October 11, 1879.
“Sporting,” Fall River Daily Herald, May 7, 1880: 1.
“Sporting Notes,” Buffalo Express, May 8, 1880: 4.
“Baltimores, 9; Albanys, 4,” Boston Globe, May 15, 1880: 1.
“Baltimores, 2; Nationals, 0,” Boston Globe, May 18, 1880: 1.
“Nationals, 2; Baltimores, 0,” Boston Globe, May 25, 1880: 1.
“Albany vs. Troy,” New York Clipper, June 19, 1880.
“Base Ball Yesterday,” Watertown Daily Times, June 4, 1880: 3.
“Sporting Matters,” Boston Globe, June 22, 1880: 4.
“Doings of the Sports,” Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, July 18, 1880: 4.
“Base Ball Notes,” New York Tribune, July 19, 1880: 2.
“Contests and Pastimes,” Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, March 6, 1881: 4.
“They Lost It,” Cincinnati Enquirer, April 13, 1882: 2.
“Base Ball Matters,” Buffalo Express, April 14, 1882: 4.
“Cleveland’s Picnic,” St. Louis Globe-Democrat, April 28, 1882: 6.
“The Best Yet,” Pittsburgh Commercial Gazette, May 9, 1882: 4.
“They Started Well,” Cincinnati Enquirer, May 12, 1882: 5.
“That Amateur Club,” Pittsburgh Commercial Gazette, May 18, 1882: 4.
“A Pair of Pitchers,” Pittsburgh Commercial Gazette, May 19, 1882: 4.
“Expulsions From the Allegheny Club,” Philadelphia Times, May 19, 1982: 4.
“Base Ball,” Pittsburgh Post, May 31, 1882: 4.
“Diamond Dust,” St. Louis Globe-Democrat, June 3, 1882: 8.
“Notes,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, July 8, 1882: 8.
“Base Ball,” Pittsburgh Post, July 12, 1882: 4.
“The Sporting World,” Philadelphia Times, July 22, 1882: 3.
“The Active Victorious,” Reading Times, July 25, 1882: 1.
Mexico (MO) Weekly Ledger, September 6, 1883: 4.
“The National Game,” Dayton Herald, June 5, 1883: 3.
“Sporting Sundries,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, December 21, 1883: 7.
“Base Ball Notes,” Wilkes-Barre Record, May 14, 1884: 3.
“Pittsburg’s Club,” The Sporting Life, April 22, 1885: 4.
“Diamond Chips,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, April 25, 1885: 11.
“Games Played April 28,” The Sporting Life, May 6, 1885: 3.
The Sporting Life, July 7, 1886: 3.
“In the Criminal Court,” Pittsburgh Post, September 4, 1895: 4.
Buffalo Enquirer, May 19, 1899: 4.
“Conspiracy Alleged Against Card Players,” Pittsburgh Press, April 29, 1903: 3.
“Burton H. Critchley,” Pittsburgh Press, June 14, 1904: 5.
“Meet some of Auburn’s earliest baseball players,” Auburn Citizen, November 24, 2013: C4.
“Old Baseball Star Dies of Heart Disease,” Pittsburgh Gazette Times, March 7, 1910: 1.
“Pitcher Dies of 1877 Injury,” Munster Times, March 08, 1910: 3.
Legal Notice, Pittsburgh Commercial Gazette, September 8, 1910: 13.
“Court Surcharges Widow with $2100,” Pittsburgh Press, May 24, 1911: 17.
“Mrs. Florine H. Critchley,” Harford Courant, January 9, 1938: 14.
H. Franklin Andrews, “A Genealogy of Capt. Giles Hamlin of Middletown, Connecticut, 1664-1900,” Author Published, Exira Iowa, 1900: 271.