It’s not every day that when you dig into the great old players of the 1800s you find so many good quotes that paint a nice tale of the personality and history of a player. Such is the case of John Stewart “Pop” Corkhill, Jr., born on April 11, 1858 in Parkesburg, PA. John was the seventh of eight children born to John Stewart Corkhill, Sr. (born McCorkle) and Atteline, or Adeline, (Nightlinger) Corkhill. Dad was a shoemaker and mom was a very busy homemaker and parent.
“John ‘Pop’ Corkhill, veteran professional baseball player, died at his home in Pensauken, N. J., Monday (April 3, 1921), it was learned here last night. Death followed an operation. He will be buried today.
“Corkhill became an outfielder on the old Philadelphia team in 1882. From 1883 to 1887 he played with Cincinnati, establishing a record by playing in the outfield for three consecutive years without dropping a fly ball. He played with Brooklyn from 1888 until he joined the Athletics in 1891.
“The following year he went to Pittsburgh, where he played until the 1893 season, when he was hit on the head by a ball pitched by Ned Crane. After this injury he retired.”
“‘Pop’ Corkhill Veteran of Baseball, Is Dead”, Wilkes-Barre Evening News, 7 April 1921 Page 15.
Crane’s pitch broke his jaw – but the end of his career came the way most players leave the game – he was released.
From what I gather, Corkhill – who was called “Honest John” before he got older and was retagged “Pop” – played a deep center field so as to keep the fly balls in front of him. And, he was very, very good at charging fly balls.
“Corkhill was a great proponent of that kind of fielding (coming in on flies) and combined with his ability to bat well, was one of the great players of this big game, though he has never been given due credit for his skill, his intelligence and his daring. The pioneers of baseball methods were so often overshadowed by the big deeds of the really big men physically that they were overlooked.
“Corkhill, however, was no infant in size. As he grew older he acquired a bald spot. When he donned his frock coat, his shiny bald head, combined with a huge mustache, made him appear like a professor, and when the frock coat was buttoned tightly to the chin, he looked not unlike an evangelist.
“One day while traveling, the Cincinnati team was near a town where an evangelist had been working. Some of those who had been to the meetings entered the train. The evangelist was due to leave on the same train.
“It was in the mountains, and cool, and ‘Pop’ Corkhill wore his frock coat. Leaning back, studying the scenery from the window, he was interrupted by a stranger who sat down, reached out his hand, and said: ‘Glorious work, glorious work. It must be wonderful to save them as you do, right on the very verge. Do you ever miss one now and then?’
“‘Miss? I missed on on that thick-headed, brawling, kicking, nagging, Irishman, Tebeau, just back of second, the first time I’ve missed one in three seasons, and of all the d–d men I ever missed on, I’d rather it would have been any cuss on earth than him.’
“‘Pop’ and the stranger became better acquainted during the day.”
Foster, John B., “When Baseball Was Young”, Harrisburg Telegraph, 29 January 1927, Page 13.
“Several athletes refused to sign with Louisville because of our rowdy patrons. Cincinnati once tried to trade us Pop Corkhill, an outfielder, for Guy Hecker. The deal fell through when Pop said, ‘I don’t want to play for Louisville. The fans down there are too tough.
“Ruby’s Report”, Louisville Courier-Journal, 27 July 1950, Page 24.
“…If my memory serves me right, the first time ‘ivory’ was ever used in baseball, was when Pop Corkhill, the old outfielder of the Cincinnati Reds, was hit on the head by a pitched ball thrown at him with terrific force by Amos Rusie, the Giant pitcher of the New York team.
“At the time of this nearly fatal occurrence Corkhill was at bat when a whizzing pitch took him fairly and squarely on the head.
“It came with such fearful force that it split the ball into two sections. Aside from a small bump upon his Rosman brow, Pop was not hurt a bit, though the ball was certainly retired from further commission.
“But very often after that Corkhill was referred to as the player with the ivory dome. It should be stated in this connection that Corkhill was as bald-headed a man as ever played professional baseball. Corkhill had not a single strand of hair and when he took off his cap the top of his head looked just like a billiard ball. From that fact, perhaps, came the word resolutions have been adopted for pre-‘ivory,’ so often used nowadays in baseball.”
Spink, Al. “Sporting Talk and Memories”, Reno-Gazette-Journal, 3 Feb 1920, Page 2.
When not playing in the outfield, Corkhill would frequently be called on to pitch in relief. And, the man could hit and was considered dependable with runners on base. Like many, he stopped hitting in his 30s, and despite still being a pretty dependable fielder, he eventually ran out of teams willing to carry a weaker bat.
During and after his career, Corkhill was a retailer – groceries, storage units, furniture, whatever. He was a police officer in his younger days, and was elected police chief in his older days. John married Martha Carey Jackson – they had a long marriage, but without children.
“Mrs. Martha C. Corkhill” (obit), The Cincinnati Enquirer, 9 June 1949, Page 12.
1850, 1880, 1900, 1910, 1920 US Census
Philadelphia Church Records
Also, Major League Baseball Profiles, 1871 – 1900, Volume 1. (David Nemec, Editor)
The first image comes from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Jefferson R. Burdick Collection, Gift of Jefferson R. Burdick.
The second image comes from Ancestry.com, and was found here.