The Missed Opportunities of Martin Duke

Martin Duke, the well-known pitcher, died in this city on Saturday, Dec. 31, of pneumonia. He had not played ball for several seasons and earned a precarious livelihood by working around a local saloon. He was a strong pitcher in his time and held engagements in the National League, Eastern League and Western League. In late years his work was limited entirely to the latter organization. He possessed great ability as a pitcher, but never lasted long with any club, as he was a hard man to control, and was given to dissipation, which ultimately led to enforced retirement from the profession and untimely death, his illness being brought on by needless exposure.

“Martin Duke Dead,” SPORTING LIFE, January 7, 1899: 4.

The article in Sporting Life at the time of Martin Duke’s death succinctly notes the theme of his life – that Duke had talent but not the discipline to become a star on baseball’s biggest stage.  The details of Duke’s short but noteworthy path from life to death are recited below.


Martin DukeThe precise date of Martin F. Duke’s arrival is not readily available – though it is generally believed to be in 1867 based on an 1870 US Census record.  Certainly the event provided a distinct memory to Patrick and Mary (Henney) Duke when the fifth of their six children arrived.  Patrick was a teamster who, like his wife, left Ireland in the 1840s and made his way to the United States.  Their first son was born in Rhode Island, but the other five children were born in Ohio.  The family spent many years in Zanesville, Ohio, the city of Duke’s birth, both in terms of his real life and his baseball life.

Indeed, Duke was a member of the Zanesville entry of the Ohio State League – after a year pitching for the local semi-professional club, Duke signed with Zanesville as a professional in 1887 and was selected to pitch the opening game against Columbus.  His second year with Zanesville, which now was a member of the Tri-State League, contains an intriguing mix of good and bad events – like the day he was firing a perfect game into the fourth inning when he was struck in the hand by a line drive and dislocated his thumb.  In early July, Duke fanned 15 Toledo batters and developed a reputation that now reached out higher level clubs.

The Detroit Wolverines were the first major league team to sign Duke to a contract – but that team was more or less disbanded after the 1888 season ended.  The franchise in Cleveland bought many of Detroit’s assets, including the rights to Martin Duke, whose rights cost Cleveland about $700.  Making perhaps $800 or $900 to pitch in Zanesville, Duke eagerly agreed to a $2000 contract – only to think that he might deserve even more money from Cleveland.  After a period of time, however, he was convinced to sign the contract and head to spring training.

What kind of pitcher did Cleveland sign?  Duke wasn’t very big. The righthanded thrower stood 5′ 5″ and weighed less than 135 pounds until later in his career.  A wire story once noted, “…His pitching arm is so strong and shapely and so well equiped with powerful muscles that it would win admiration from a blacksmith.”  Duke Farrell said his most effective pitch worked like a modern slider.  “Martin Duke’s most effective curve was a downshoot. It wasn’t, literally speaking, a downshoot, but rather on the Jimmy McJames brand of shoot, a sort of slant that whistled up to the plate on a bee-line and broke suddenly, taking a downward and outward course; that is outward for a right-handed batsman.”

Additionally, Duke was especially adept at catching baserunners napping.  Toledo’s manager, Bob Woods, compared Duke with Pud Galvin.  “I see a great deal is being said about Galvin’s cuteness in watching or holding runners to the bag. It is not generally known that he will have a worthy competitor for honors in that respect this season; but such is the fact, and young Martin Duck, of the Cleveland club, will be his contestant. His actions in the box will be equally as puzzling as those of the genteel James, while I am of the opinion that his actions are somewhat quicker.”

Duke’s biggest problem, however, was his control.  There would be many games where he might strike out eight batters, walk six, and throw four wild pitches.  This likely contributed to his failure to make Cleveland’s final roster after spring training, leading to Cleveland selling his rights to Minneapolis of the Western Association.

Maybe you didn’t catch it – maybe you thought it was a typo.  The other change in Martin’s baseball life was his name.  For some reason, Martin Duke was known as Martin Duck in Zanesville.  Not in census records, mind you, but in the box scores.  When he got to Minneapolis, he was now Martin Duke.

“The Kansas City Times is responsible for the following story about the crack Minneapolis pitcher, Martin Duke: “The real name of the Millers’ best pitcher is not Duke, but Duck, and how he came to change his name forms an interesting story. About two years ago Martin was pitching in a game up in Michigan, and in the ninth his club led the opposing team by one run. Two of the latter had reached the two corners nearest the plate when a man up in the grandstand began imitating the ‘quack’ of a duck. Martin didn’t show at first that he was annoyed by it, but as the ‘quack, quack, quack,’ continued his face became lobster-colored. He shouted to his taunter that he would fix him after the game, but the field gave the pitcher the horse laugh and went on with his ‘quack, quack, quack.’ Duke was crazier than the wild man from Borneo, and at least he lost his head and threw the ball with all his might at his tormentor. It didn’t hit the mark, but two runs came in and Martin’s side lost the game. After that, he dropped the name of Duck entirely.”

“Still in Doubt,” The Pittsburgh Press, September 28, 1890: 6.

Duke’s season started cold but warmed up with the weather.  He once lost to St. Paul, 18 – 7, when he gave up 14 runs in the first inning, an inning in which he also hit four batters.  Facing the same team in August, he threw a dominating one-hitter to beat St. Paul.  Then, in the last game of the season, Duke was in his finest form.  St. Paul went home without a single hit.  The St. Paul Globe noted, “Though he made one or two outbursts of temper, and once disturbed the Sabbath serenity with a fierce oath, he was less wild than usual, hit nobody and gave but three bases on balls.”

One runner, John Carroll, reached on a two out walk. Duke had the runner picked off at first but Duke’s throw to John Ryn was dropped. A wild pitch and an error later, the only Apostles run scored.

It was a fine season – he went 24 – 16 in 47 appearances, striking out 347 batters in 355 innings.  To counter his high strikeout totals, Duke also walked 210 batters, hit 42 others, and fired 65 (!) wild pitches.  Still just 22 years old, Duke earned further notice from any number of major league teams in the National League, American Association, and the new Players League that formed for the 1890 season.  He was chased by Chicago’s NL and PL entries, nearly signed with Philadelpha in the PL (he turned down $3500, of which $1000 would have been paid up front) but decided that the Players League wasn’t guaranteed to finish a full season and used these offers as leverage to get a better contract with Minneapolis in 1890.

Duke had an even more remarkable season in 1890 than he had in 1889.  His ERA, just 1.72 in 1889, fell to 0.80 in 1890.  He fanned 308 batters, but was “frightfully wild,” walking 155 men, beaning 17, and throwing 73 wild pitches.   Still, Duke singlehandedly kept Minneapolis in the pennant race – a contest between Minneapolis and Kansas City came down to a series in Kansas City in late September.  Kansas City, leading by a half-game in the standings, swept Minneapolis, beating Duke twice.  In the first game, Kansas City worked on Duke’s nerves directly – first by relating the story of Duke’s first baseball name being “Duck” and then by encouraging fans to get under his skin.  The Minneapolis Tribune reported “Five hundred fish horns and a dozen duck calls were scattered through the audience, and while the Millers were in the field, an unearthly din was kept. The duck calls were meant to rattle Martin Duke, and in the fourth inning a live duck was thrown down on the diamond…”

For the third straight offseason, Duke was heavily courted by major league teams – and now it was going to his head.  Again, despite the opportunities, Duke wound up staying in Minneapolis, but Duke’s attitude towards others changed.  Articles in various papers mocked his decision to purchase property in Minneapolis, referred to his “long head – straight up,” and that Duke was now quite the ladies’ man.  Rumors mentioned his taking on a fiancee and that “…many a poor girl has committed suicide after once seeing Martin.”

On top of that, Duke was now gaining a reputation for late night carousing and drinking.  The wildness of Duke’s pitching got worse – as did his attitute toward management.  He was fined on at least three occasions by Minneapolis manager William H. Harrington.  The Minneapolis Tribune announced the inevitable resolution – Duke was released – on August 9, 1891.

“Martin Duke’s career is also at an end. Hach and Harrington stood his tantrums and whims as long as they were able. But his action on Thursday (August 6) was the last straw in the back of the managerial camel. He was expected to go in and pitch but refused point blank. That did settle it. He was fined $100 and expelled. Duke had the making of a star twirler but he was his own worst enemy. He made the mistake of believing that he was indispensible and that all his bad breaks and bits of folly, no matter how often committed, would be condoned. His work thus far this season has not been up to the standard. He would pitch about one good game in five. Dissipation, late hours, and a childish temper has ruined him. There is too much young blood coming into the baseball ranks to allow reckless players and disorganizers to have much play. Duke will find that out before many months roll by. In after life he will find but few jobs at $350 per month floating around loose and he will look back with regret at the opportunities he had missed.”

“The Base Ball World,” Minneapolis Tribune, August 9, 1891: 5.

It didn’t take long for Duke to find work.  In fact, he failed up – jumping at a contract offer to join Washington of the American Association at the end of August.  However, Duke was ill-prepared for the task.  In his first outing against Baltimore on August 24, the Baltimore Sun reported, “…he was so nervous that he gave ten bases on balls, made four wild pitches, and kept Catcher McGuire busier than anybody on the diamond. Duke seemed to use very little curve, and depended mostly on speed. Somehow or another he was not effective at any time. Besides his battery errors he had an error charged upon against him by dropping an easy thrown ball.”  The final was 13 – 0, with the game ending because of darkness after six innings.

He next lost to Milwaukee on August 31, 5 – 1, completing all nine innings and limiting his walk count to just four.  Entering in relief on September 3, he faced Louisville and gave up four runs in six innings.  However, he got his lone major league hit – a double off of Scott Stratton.  His last outing of 1891 was a 16 – 7 loss to Columbus – he gave up 11 runs in the second inning and left that game early. 

He totaled 23 innings in his four appearances (three starts).  In those innings, he walked 19, gave up 33 hits, and threw 11 wild pitches.  All three decisions were losses.

And yet, Duke received offers to pitch from Brooklyn and Chicago in the National League for 1892, eventually signing with Cap Anson’s Chicago White Stockings.  Oddly, writers in Minneapolis noted in 1891 that Duke might benefit from someone like Anson keeping Duke in check.  Except that Duke failed to pitch well that spring and Anson let Duke go.  Duke wasn’t thrilled – he expected that by signing a contract, Chicago was obligated to keep him for the season.  Instead, Anson went with four other pitchers he trusted and Duke was required to find another league that might want his services.

To be certain, Duke was his own worst enemy here – he was losing control of his personal life, he couldn’t control his temper during games, and he couldn’t control the baseball.  It was this situation that greeted Duke when he signed to pitch for Binghamton in the Eastern League.  Three months was all it took and he was released (a Buffalo paper said Duke’s arm was wrong at the time of signing).  Duke made two starts for Rochester – a fair start where he earned a win, and a horrific start where he lost 16 – 5 by giving up 24 hits and 5 walks.  The Rochester Democrat and Chronicle noted his release by adding, “He shouldn’t have been signed.”

With the Eastern League no longer interested, Duke ran to New Orleans in the Southern Association.  He pitched fairly well to finish 1892 (he won 13 of 16 decisions), but he failed to make a mark with three franchises (New Orleans, Birmingham, and Savannah) in the 1893 and 1894 seasons.  At the end, the Savannah Morning News reported, “The trouble was the same as on Wednesday, when he was taken out in the Nashville game. He seems to be unable to control the ball. The teams do not hit him very hard, but he gave too many men bases on balls and by hitting men with pitched balls.”

Tail between his legs, Duke returned to Minneapolis, where he would pitch for two seasons and work as a porter in a downtown saloon.  In 1895, Duke injured his arm in a semi-pro game.  With that, Duke was no longer a baseball player.  While he appeared in old-timers games and tried to get his arm and body back in playing shape, the remainder of Duke’s life would be spent working saloons.

The remainder of Duke’s life, however, wouldn’t last long.  He fell ill in the winter of 1898;  pneumonia took him on December 31, 1898 in Minneapolis; he was just 31 years old.  Duke’s body was buried in Mount Calvary Cemetery in Columbus, Ohio next to that of his father, who had died the previous year.  Duke left behind a mother and five siblings.

1870, 1880 US Census
1895 Minnesota Census
Minneapolis Birth Records

“Notes,” Zanesville Times Recorder, May 2, 1887: 4.
“The Season Opened,” Zanesville Times Recorder, May 3, 1887: 1.
“The Visitors’ Dish,” Zanesville Times Recorder, July 17, 1888: 1.
“Something About Strikeouts,” Zanesville Times Recorder, August 11, 1888: 1.
“Contracts and Releases,” Chicago Inter Ocean, November 1, 1888: 2.
“Gossip of the Ball Field,” The New York Sun, February 10, 1889: 10.
“Rival to Galvin,” St. Paul Globe, February 10, 1889: 7.
“Cleveland Parts With Its Duck,” Detroit Free Press, April 24, 1889: 3.
“Still in Doubt,” The Pittsburgh Press, September 28, 1890: 6.
“Wow, This is Awful,” St. Paul Globe, July 5, 1889: 1

“Western Association,” Minneapolis Tribune, August 27, 1889: 2.
“Batted the Air,” St. Paul Globe, September 30, 1889: 5.
“After Duke and Foster,” Minneapolis Tribune, October 4, 1899: 2.
“Des Moines Done Up,” St. Paul Globe, September 10, 1889: 5.
“Notes and Gossip,” The Sporting Life, February 19, 1890: 4.
Minneapolis Tribune, March 2, 1890: 16.
“This is all Sport,” Minneapolis Tribune, March 9, 1890: 17.
“Omaha Didn’t Score,” St. Paul Globe, September 5, 1890: 5.
“Kansas City, 9; Minneapolis 0,” Minneapolis Tribune, September 21, 1890: 5.
“The Last One Came Easy,” Kansas City Star, September 23, 1890: 3.
“General Sporting Notes,” Kansas City Star, October 18, 1890: 3.
“The Offical Averages,” Kansas City Star, October 18, 1890: 3.
“On the Diamond,” Kansas City Times, March 22, 1891: 10.
“Base Ball Notes,” Sioux City Journal, June 7, 1891: 3.
“Hunks of Sport,” Lincoln Journal Star, July 14, 1891: 1.
“Sporting Comment,” Minneapolis Daily Times, July 24, 1891: 2.
“Beaten By One,” Lincoln Journal Star, July 31, 1891: 1.
“Base Ball Gossip,” Omaha World-Herald, August 2, 1891: 7.
“The Base Ball World,” Minneapolis Tribune, August 9, 1891: 5.
“To Be Kicked Out, St. Paul Globe, August 16, 1891: 6.
“A Victory At Last!,” Baltimore Sun, August 25, 1891: 6.
“Might Have Been Worse,” September 4, 1891: 6.
“Columbus Walk-Over,” Cincinnati Enquirer, September 8, 1891: 2.
“Base Ball Notes,” Nebraska State Journal, November 1, 1891: 15.
Cedar Vale Commercial, January 23, 1892: 1.
(Image of Duke) Chicago Tribune, January 31, 1892: 6.
“Pitcher Martin Duke,” Vanity Fair (Lincoln, NE), May 14, 1892: 8.
“Anson’s New Baseman,” Chicago Tribune, April 5, 1892: 7.
“Superfluous Timber,” Minneapolis Daily Times, April 18, 1892: 2.
“Around the Bases,” Buffalo Courier, May 1, 1892: 7.
“The Jump,” Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, July 22, 1892: 8.
“Not Duke’s Day,” Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, July 26, 1892: 10.
“Base Ball Brevities,” Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, July 27, 1892: 7.
“Condensed Despatches,” The Sporting Life, April 22, 1893: 1.
“Beaten by a Single Run,” Savannah Morning News, April 28, 1894: 3.
“Diamond Dust,” St. Paul Globe, August 5, 1895: 5.
“The Old Boys Won It,” Minneapolis Sunday Times, July 26, 1896: 12.
“An Umpire’s Joke,” Sporting Life, January 30, 1897: 10.
“Martin Duke as a Pitcher,” Buffalo Enquirer, January 10, 1899: 4.
“Death of Martin Duke,” Minneapolis Tribune, January 1, 1899: 7.

Happy Birthday, Shadow Pyle!

“To see Pyle move around in the box,” said St. Louis’ Billy Gleason, “would remind you of a shadow dance.” – “‘Shadow’ Pyle,” Harrisburg Times, March 26, 1887: 1.

Slight of build, Harry Pyle got the nicknames “Shadow” and “Scissors” from his fellow baseball players.  Yet, despite a lifelong issue with asthma attacks, he was able to fashion a career that lasted almost a decade before his behavior and changing rules rendered his pitching ineffective.

Harry Thomas Pyle was born November 29, 1861 to Isaac Newton Pyle and Sarah (Stott) Pyle.  Isaac worked the foundries making nails while his English import wife took care of a regularly growing family.  Isaac may not have been home when his seventh and last child was born – he had enlisted in the Union Army and would serve with Company H of the 50th Pennsylvania Infantry.  In his three years with the Union Army, Isaac was once shipwrecked off the North Carolina coast, then fought in battles such as Second Bull Run, Antietam, Fredricksburg, Vicksburg, Spottsylvania and the Battles of the Wilderness.

Time spent in battle wasn’t easy on Issac.  Within a few years of his return home he was arrested for assault and battery, then found to be insane.  In fact, even though he was arrested in January, 1869 and sentenced to two weeks in the county prison, Issac Pyle never returned home.  Doctors argued that, after five years, he should be “…removed to some insane hospital where he can be properly treated, and when there might be still some hope of having his reason restored.”  By 1880, he was moved – but to a poor house instead, where he lived until his death in 1891.

Living without a father – and when he did, a father who may have had with issues with PTSD – likely contributed to a life where Harry was unafraid of confrontation and difficult for authority figures.  The first time Harry appears in a newspaper article in his hometown of Reading, Pennsylvania it is not for his pitching prowess.  Instead, it’s a story about how a boat captain had grown tired of the harrassment delivered by Harry and a group of his friends.  So, while the boys were swimming in the Christiana River, a verbal altercation led to the captain finding his shotgun.  One boy had more than a dozen grains of shot in his face, neck and chest.  Harry was lucky not to have been hit.

Harry could throw, though.  And, despite his lifelong issue with asthma (it was thought that the asthma would prevent him from finishing his first season alive), he was a competent pitcher and occasional outfielder as needed.  His first semi-professional team was the local Reading Actives where he was the ace pitcher on the 1882 team.  He was good enough to get a contract with the Wilmington Quicksteps, an Eastern League team.  Pyle’s 1883 season included an 11 – 16 record, a 2.63 ERA, and an excellent strikeout rate.  However, the team’s manager liked a late night game of cards and wasn’t the right person to manage an undersized rebellious kid with a huge chip on his shoulder.  By early August, Harry Pyle was blacklisted for drunkeness and insubordination (Pyle claimed he drank blackberry brandy to soothe an upset stomach and it had affected him).

Regardless, Pyle returned home and pitched for his local Reading nine.  The next year, Baltimore in the Union League took an interest in Pyle and worked to have Pyle removed from the blacklist.  When Harry became eligible, Baltimore sent Pyle $50 and a $1700 contract for the season.  Pyle ditched Lancaster, with whom he signed a contract – except he didn’t go to Baltimore.  Instead, he ditched both teams.  Eventually, Baltimore had Pyle arrested to collect their $50, and Pyle stayed in Lancaster to pitch.

While in Lancaster, Pennsylvania he married Anna E. Kenyon (or Bannen, depending on the source) and they quickly had a child, Harry Thomas Pyle, Jr.  If anyone thought that being married might settle down the mercurial Pyle, that person would have been mistaken.  In July, friends of Pyle were especially obnoxious and interfering with a game.  The next day, those same friends were met by members of the local police force, who sent the boys packing.  In September, Pyle was arrested for drunkeness and disorderly conduct at a Lancaster skating rink, which included Pyle’s assaulting an officer who was trying to escort Pyle from the rink.  A week later, he was involved in another incident where he was being arrested by one officer and a second officer ran across the street to help out.  The second officer was investigated for his “murderous assault” on Pyle when he struck Pyle’s head with a blackjack.

Despite that, Pyle got more chances to pitch.  Following a season with Lancaster where he pitched 39 times, completing all but one of his 36 starts, and winning 19 of 36 decisions, Harry Wright gave Pyle a chance to tryout with his Philadelphia Quakers.  Pyle was given the start on the last day of the 1884 National League season and became the answer to a triva question when Philadelphia lost to Ol’ Hoss Radbourn and Providence, 8 – 0.  With that win, Radbourn won his 60th decision of the season.  Pyle was nervous – he walked six, and had a wild pitch.  However, his team was disinterested and the collection of fans was “small and unenthusiastic.”

Pyle didn’t stick, but he did get other offers.  Richmond signed the 5 foot 8 inch, right handed twirler who barely weighed 130 pounds to a contract paying him $150 a month.  Within weeks of his contract signing, Anna filed a suit saying that she had been abandoned and a judge forced Pyle to send her five dollars each week for support.  In June, Anna filed for divorce “…on the ground that her husband has offered her such indignities as to make her condition intolerable and life burdensome, so much so that she was compelled to leave his house and home.”  In October, the divorce was finalized.

Despite those distractions, Pyle was a remarkably successful pitcher for a very good Richmond team.  He finished the 1885 season with a 35 – 15 record for the Virginias, striking out 240 batters in his 453.1 innings of work.  The Virginias might have won the Eastern League except that by September, the team was in financial trouble.  Bridgeport chose to forfeit a game to Richmond rather than collect half of the attendance money as it would be less than the $65 guarantee they would have expected to get.  Two days after the forfeit, the Virginias disbanded.  Pyle quickly signed with Newark, made four starts and finished his season.

Even with this success, Pyle still had moments where he let his temper get in the way.  In a game against Brooklyn, an umpire called a balk when Pyle ignored warnings about throwing with his arm above his shoulder.  (Motions were limited to side armed or underhanded throws at the time.)  Pyle took offense to the balk – and then did the same thing to the next six batters, letting those batters reach base and turning a 1 – 0 lead into a 12 – 1 loss.

And he continued to have issues with the law.  In December, Pyle met with Louis Koch, a policeman in Reading, to discuss their issues with each other.  Words became blows and Pyle pulled out a knife and stabbed Koch above his ear, digging the blade into Koch’s skull.  Less than two months later, Pyle (and his friend) was arrested again for disorderly conduct and a minor altercation with an officer.

For the first time in his professional career, Pyle actually stayed with his team for a second contract.  Newark was loaded with fine players and pitchers, including Phenomenal Smith.  Using essentially a three man rotation, Pyle finished 25 – 9 with a 1.15 ERA (less than 3.5 runs allowed per game) and 199Ks in 313 innings.

His second consecutive great season got the attention of major league teams again.  This time, Pyle signed a contract with the National League Champion Chicago White Stockings.

But the 1887 season would be different for all pitchers.  The pitcher’s mound was moved back to 55.5 feet, which messed with guys who threw heavy doses of breaking pitches as those pitchers had to relearn the arc required to throw strikes or avoid bats.  It took fewer balls to walk a batter, too.  Pyle would be greatly affected by these changes – he regularly bounced his curveball well in front of the plate or missed the plate by wide swaths.  Making just four early starts, Pyle won just once.  He frequently struggled in early innings until he found his target.  In his last start on May 13, 1887, he gave up 10 runs to Detroit in the first inning – the first three batters were walked, and then the hitting started.  Pyle left before the third out was counted – and soon after was sent to La Crosse, WI to find his control in the Northwestern League.  Pyle strugged to a 12 – 25 record, barely striking out more batters than he walked, and allowing some 506 hits in 328.1 innings.  A contract with Jersey City for 1888 ended with an August release.  With the exception of a single start with Wilmington in 1890 (a loss), Pyle’s professional career as a pitcher was over.

That’s not to say that Pyle’s baseball days were over.  He returned to Reading and pitched for the Actives semi-professional team, then lower level amateur games as late as 1894.  On rare occasions, Pyle was asked to umpire.  One time, Pyle was frustrated by the abuse that came with the job.  In 1892, Pyle returned the favor, abusing an umpire until he grew tired of the abuse and left the game in the seventh inning.  The last time Pyle worked the plate was in 1897 – and it ended the way you might have expected.  The regular umpire didn’t show but Pyle was in attendance and the teams asked if Pyle could cover for this game – or at least until another umpire might be able to arrive,  Three innings later, chaos began when the Paterson manager objected to every decision. Pyle responded with his fists.  Both managers got involved and even fans joined in the fray.  Removed when police finally ended the melee, Pyle went home and never got on a field again.

It’s hard to say what Pyle did when he wasn’t a ballplayer. He didn’t have an occupation listed in the 1900 US Census, nor was one listed in his obituary.  In 1900, he lived with his mother – but they were boarding with the child of one of his sisters.  In the early 1890s, Pyle was listed as a laborer in Reading city directories, but by the end of the decade those same directories listed him as a ball player.  The last year he was alive, Pyle was again listed as a laborer.  That year, in 1908, Pyle’s asthma got the best of him. He was found dead in his bed on December 26, 1908.  As with his birth, Harry Pyle entered and exited this world in Reading, Pennyslvania.

By that time, Anna Kenyon had long since remarried, and she and Harry, Jr. lived with her second husband in Chester, PA. Harry, Jr followed the paths of his father and grandfather.  He served in the US Army in an infantry regiment and while stationed in the Philippines he played on the Army baseball team.


1860, 1880, 1900, 1910 US Censuses
PA Death Certificates
PA Marriage Licenses
PA Veteran Burial Card
Reading (PA) City Directories (Isaac Pyle) (Harry Thomas Pyle)

Baseball Reference

Pennsylvania Civil War Site

“‘Shadow’ Pyle,” Harrisburg Times, March 26, 1887: 1.

“A Silly Shot,” Wilmington Daily Gazette, September 6, 1880: 1.

“The Actives’ Picnic this Afternoon,” Reading Times, July 29, 1882: 1.

“Two More Players Signed,” Wilmington Daily Gazette, November 20, 1882: 1.

“Notes for Base Ballists,” Wilmington Daily Republican, December 29, 1882: 1.

“Placing the Trouble,” Wilmington Morning News, August 9, 1883: 4.

“The American Association,” Louisville Courier-Journal, March 6, 1884: 6.

“Sporting Notes,” Fall River Daily Herald, March 11, 1884: 2.

“The Actives All Home Again,” Reading Times, May 9, 1884: 1.

“The Base Ball Case,” Lancaster New Era, May 14, 1884: 4.

“Won in Eleven Innings,” Reading Times, July 29, 1884: 1.

“The Suspense is Over,” Lancaster Intelligencer, October 8, 1884: 5.

“Painting it Red,” Lancaster New Era, September 24, 1884: 4.

Lancaster Intelligencer, October 1, 1884: 2.

“Providence Wins,” Philadelphia Inquirer, October 16, 1884.

“Baseball Notes,” Norfolk Virginian, February 15, 1885: 1.

“Pitcher Pyle Arrested for Desertion,” Lancaster Intelligencer, March 12, 1885: 1.

Lancaster Daily Intellingencer, April 20, 1885: 2.

“Suit Against the Phenominal Pitcher,” Lancaster Examiner, April 22, 1885: 4.

“Pitcher Pyle’s Wife Wants a Divorce,” Lancaster Examiner, June 10, 1885: 2.

“General Information Condensed,” Lilitz Express, October 9, 1885: 1.

“The Diamond Field,” Richmond Dispatch, May 30, 1885: 1.

“Game Given the Virginias,” Richmond Dispatch, September 19, 1885: 1.

“Base-Ball Matters,”Richmond Dispatch, September 22, 1885: 1.

“Two of the New Men,” Darlington (WI) Republican, November 19, 1886: 4.

“Desperate Fight in a Saloon,” Pittston Evening Gazette, December 22, 1885: 1.

“In the Mayor’s Court,” Reading Times, February 15, 1886: 1.

“In Town,” Lancaster Daily Intelligencer, November 5, 1886: 1.

“Base-Ball Notes,” Reading Times, April 18, 1887: 1.

“Slugging By Sluggers,” Chicago Tribune, May 14, 1887: 3.

“Harry Pyle Goes to Jersey City,” Lancaster Examiner, February 22, 1888: 6.

“Open-Air Pastimes,” Reading Times, August 23, 1888: 1.

“Harry Pyle With the Wilmington Club,” Reading Times, May 10, 1890: 1.

“Let It End Here,” Reading Times, Augsut 10, 1892: 1.

“It Was Very Exciting,” Reading Times, June 22, 1897: 1.

“Lancaster Boy in Philippines,” Lancaster News-Journal, December 14, 1899: 4.

“Obituary: Harry T. Pyle,” Lancaster Daily Intelligencer, December 28, 1908: 4.

“Harry T. Pyle,” Reading Times, December 28, 1908: 8.

Happy Birthday, John “Pop” Corkhill

John Corhkill - MetIt’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) andJohn Corhkill 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.

Additional Sources

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, and was found here.

Happy Birthday, Milo Lockwood!

Milo Lockwood was a pitcher and utility player for the Washington Nationals of the Union Association in 1884.  He wasn’t on a very good team, and Lockwood was part of the problem.  In his eleven outings, he lost nine of ten decisions.  And, as a backup right fielder, center fielder, or third baseman, he didn’t hit enough to keep his job – he was released about six weeks into the season.

Lockwood did have the occasional good outing. In an April start against Baltimore, Lockwood fanned 11 batters, but ten (!) errors contributed to the 8 – 5 loss.

Milo Hathaway Lockwood was born 07 April 1858 to C. B. and Jane (Hathaway) Lockwood in Solon, OH.  C.B. owned a hardware company and was on the board of directors for a large insurance firm in New York.  Milo went to Hiram Collage and spent two years studying law at the University of Michigan.  He even served as a lawyer for the second district, but was removed from that role in 1885.  Eventually he went back to work for his father and lived an upper class life.  In 1890, he went to Brooklyn and married Frances Mary Pollard and they returned to live in Cleveland.  They never had any children

Over time, however, Lockwood struggled with rheumatoid sciatica.  In 1897, he and Frances spent a summer in Ecomony, PA.  On the afternoon of October 9, after mingling with friends in the hotel office, and after telling his wife he was going to take his afternoon nap, he picked up a pistol and fired it into his temple.

“…The only cause his friends in the town can ascribe is despondency from a long sickness. He has been a sufferer from acute sciatic rheumatism for a number of years. He leaves a wife, who is at the hotel, and has been there with her this summer, but no children.

“…Not five minutes before he (fired) the fatal shot he had been chatting with friends in the office of the hotel, and had retired to his room to read. Before lying down to take an accustomed afternoon siesta, he spent some moments with Mrs. Lockwood and he then stepped into the bedroom adjoining. Within five minutes his wife heard a shot and rushing into the room found her husband gasping his last on the floor with a bespattered temple, where the bullet had entered, and his head resting in a pool of blood. There had not been the slightest intimation that Lockwood had contemplated such an act, nor, from what can be gathered in the town, is there any circumstances surrounding his career which would make him rather face the “ills he knew not of” than to enjoy the society of his wife and friends. If an exceedingly genial disposition, generous to a fault, and seemingly in the position to spend his money freely, there were few people whom he had met in the old settlement who did not count themselves as a friend of Mr. Lockwood’s.

“About the only circumstance in connection with the affair is the oddity of a man of his prominence in the Forest City choosing such a quiet place as the old town of Economy in which to spend the summer: but since the 26th day of August he and his wife have to all appearances led the most contented existence, broken only by little pleasure excursions to the surrounding country… (H)e had spent much time at Hot Springs in hopes of being freed from the pains of sciatic rheumatism, and it was his intention to return there this fall.”

“Suicide at Economy,” Pittsburgh Press, 10 October 1897, Page 16.

Other Sources:

1860, 1880 US Censuses
Student Lists, Hiram Colleage Yearbooks (1875, 1876)
Student Lists, University of Michigan (1923, Pg. 965)
Brooklyn Daily Eagle 06 March 1878: Page 1.
“The First Innings,” National Republican (DC), 02 April 1884: 5.
“The Nationals Lose,” National Republican (DC), 29 April 1884: 1.
“The Second District Court,” Wood River Times (Hailey, ID), 30 July 1885: Page 3.
“Married,” Brooklyn Daily Eagle, 03 January 1890: Page 3.
“Lockwood-Pollard,” Brooklyn Daily Eagle, 03 January 1890: Page 2.
“Put a Bullet Through His Head,” Meadville Evening Republican, 11 October 1897: Page 1.

The Downfall of Henry Kessler

Henry KesslerHis nickname, hung on him by a Cincinnati Enquirer scribe, is “Lucky” – however, by the time Henry Kessler’s career was at its peak he was far from lucky.  The teams on which he played were never first division, with one team finishing 2 – 42.  He was unlucky with women – his three documented relationships all ended in turmoil.  At some point, his luck ran out when his decisions backfired.  Then his heart gave out.

John and Margaret Kessler came to the United States as Manifest Destiny gripped the nation.  The Prussian immigrants brought along a daughter, Theressa, and added a son in Brooklyn.  Baseball sites list the birthdate of Henry Kessler as July 27, 1851 but the handful of documents available to researchers suggests that his actual birth year was 1847 or 1848.

Kessler’s baseball exploits begin in an area where baseball was thriving.  Among the best teams in the country was the Atlantics of Brooklyn, with plenty of very good teams playing in New York City and across the river in New Jersey.  By 1870, Henry is listed as the third baseman for the Silver Stars of New York, an improving team.  One reason the Silver Stars improve is the play of Henry Kessler, a compentent hitter, a good enough catcher, and a good enough athlete to play any position asked.

His hometown Atlantics took note – needing a first baseman for a game in 1873, Kessler is tabbed to play.  He makes 17 putouts in an 11-inning game on August 4 and remains with the squad through the end of the season without making another appearance.  In 1874, the versatile Kessler is a utility player for the Atlantics.  About half of his games are at catcher, but the rest are scattered across the field.  By the end of the season, the New York Clipper noted that Kessler had earned more playing time.  “Kessler, by his fielding, base running and batting, showed himself to be too good a man to be out of the nine.”  He might have had more playing time, but he was injured behind the plate and missed out on about four weeks of games and exhibitions.  Still, in his fourteen games he tallied a .304 average and threw in a double among his seventeen hits.

The 1873 and 1874 Brooklyn Atlantics were poor but competitive.  In 1875, player-manager Bob Ferguson was gone, Dickey Pearce was deemed too old and Tommy Bond was dispatched elsewhere.  Kessler earned his first regular status on a team destined to be among the worst squads the National Association ever saw.  Kessler finished second on the team in batting (.248, with only one walk and little power – but still the second best OBP on the team) and led the Atlantics in runs scored.  However, Atlantic opponents scored 438 runs to the 132 runs scored by Brooklyn – the Atlantics won but two of 44 decisions.

When the National League formed in 1876, Kessler was signed to play shortstop and third base (among other positions as needed) for Cincinnati.  Kessler’s season, and that of the Red Stockings, got off to a bad start.

“Anson opened the third inning with a hard hit to Kessler, which so rattled that player that he overthrew to Gould and let the runner around to third. McVey followed with a driver also to Kessler, and Anson let out for home. Kessler got the ball well enough, but threw slow and badly to home plate, letting Anson score, while McVey took first. It having been settled that Kessler was a “berry,” Hines followed his two predecessors by hitting right at the unfortunate short stop. The victim got one hand on the ball, but it went through his hands as if he were made of paper, and McVey took third, whence he came in on Spalding’s long fly to Jones, which was well taken. Thus, two runs were scored without a clean hit.

“Sporting News,” Chicago Tribune, May 12, 1876: 8.

Cincinnati finished 9 – 56, Kessler finished as perhaps the third or fourth best hitter on the team and had enough good moments to earn the nickname “Lucky.”  On August 25th, he kept Louisville from scoring the lead run when he made a fine running catch on a fly to right-center field and then turned to fire to first base to complete a double play.  He made another circus catch in the 11th, then his long drive to left plated two runs to give Cincinnati a 3 – 1 win over Louisville.

The Reds started slowly again in 1877; Kessler played well enough in the field but having only two hits in twenty at bats sealed his fate.  When Reds ownership chose to turn over the team in mid-June, Kessler was released.

Kessler returned home and played amateur and semi-professional ball with a team of former Atlantic ballplayers through 1881, but in 1882 he followed the call of Horace Greeley and headed west.  Kessler landed on the Leadville Blues, a Colorado based team that traveled about the United States playing in exhibitions against local professional and amateur nines.  He may have gotten involved in some mining investments, too.  After two seasons, the Leadville’s finances got the blues and the team disbanded in Pennsylvania.  Fortunately, oil country was a burgeoning baseball area and Kessler was invited to play with a semi-professional team in Franklin, PA.

In leaving behind his life in Brooklyn, Kessler also left behind a wife, Louisa, who successfully filed for divorce in 1885, getting full custody of their child.  A family friend chased down Kessler in Franklin, visited with Henry in the United States Hotel there, and returned to Brooklyn to tell Louisa that Henry was living with another woman as his wife.

The second wife would also leave him, but not before Henry was sent somewhere else.  Weeks after Kessler acknowledged he was not returning home at the bar in the United States Hotel, Kessler fell helpless to a growing problem with alcohol and was caught trying to set fire to that same hotel.  Found guilty of arson, Kessler was sentenced to three and a half years hard labor at a Venango County penitentiary.  (It’s his prison record that tells us that Kessler was a shade over 5′ 6″ and 139 pounds, far shorter and slightly lighter than his Baseball-Reference listed data.) 

Not having learned his lesson, within months of returning home he was caught trying to steal from the cash register at the bar of the American House.  Kessler spent another six months in prison.

The kind people of Franklin helped him get his life started again, but bad decisions continued to plague Kessler.  Lizzie Bowersock Saltsgiver ditched her husband and child at about the time Kessler got out of prison for the second time.  She hooked up with Kessler and they lived together for at least a year before Kessler left her.  This turned out to be the right move – in 1892, Lizzie was arrested and sent to prison for stealing a horse and buggy.

Kessler played baseball into the 1890s, but a decade of drinking caught up with him.  In 1899, Kessler started having issues with his heart, resulting in his being moved to a poor farm in Sugarcreek, PA in mid December.  He’d spend just a few weeks there; Kessler’s heart failed him in the early hours of January 8, 1900 and he passed to the next league.  A few friends pitched in to have his body interred in the Venango Farm Cemetery in Sugarcreek the next day, saving it from being dissected by nearby medical students.


1880 US Census
PA Prison Workhouse Records
NY Death Certificate (Theressa Kessler Clay)

“Warren vs. Silver Star,” New York Clipper, November 19, 1870: 2.

“Mutual vs. Silver Stars,” New York Clipper, June 3, 1871: 2.

“Base Ball,” Philadelphia Inquirer, July 27, 1872: 2.

“Atlantic vs. Mutual,” New York Clipper, July 25, 1874: 2.

“Atlantic vs. Boston,” New York Clipper October 31, 1874: 2.

“Sporting News,” Chicago Tribune, May 12, 1876: 8.

“A Firebug Divorced,” Brooklyn Daily Eagle, August 10, 1885: 4.

“The League,” Cincinnati Enquirer, August 27, 1876: 6.

“Louisville Loses,” Cincinnati Enquirer, August 26, 1876: 8.

“Base-Ball,” Cincinnati Enquirer, June 19, 1877: 2.

“An Atlantic Nine,” New York Clipper, April 12, 1879: 3.

“Again Victorious,” Kansas City Times, September 3, 1882: 3.

“Of Local Interest,” Conneautville Courier, February 6, 1885: 5

“Professional Ball Player in Trouble,” Pittsburgh Daily Post, March 23, 1889: 5.

“The Story of Lizzie Saltsgiver,” Butler Citizen, May 6, 1892: 2.

“Death of Henry Kessler,” Frankin Evening News, January 8, 1900: 4.

“Old Ball Player Dead,” Pittsburgh Commercial Gazette, January 10, 1900: 6.

(Image Source) “Kessler’s Death,” Seymour (IN) Daily Democrat, February 15, 1900: 7.

Happy Birthday, Johnny Carr!

John W. Carr was a member of the Dayton Marcos when the Marcos were an initial entrant in the Negro National League, formed by Rube Foster and launched in 1920.

Johnny Carr was born John W. Carr to Robert Carr and the former Lue Fleming on January 1, 1887.  Carr was born in Owenton, KY but the family eventually moved to the Dayton area.  There, he earned his way to the Dayton Marcos, a team of African American players formed in the second decade of the 20th century that appeared to alternate between amateur and professional status.  When Rube Foster created the Negro National League in 1920, the Dayton Marcos were one of those original eight teams.  Finishing last, Dayton’s franchise moved to Columbus for 1921.

Carr was a Marco starting at least five years earlier, but only played one game as a Negro National League player (so far as the current documentation exists – he batted once and made an out) in 1920.  However, that year he spent the vast majority of his time with the Johnny Carr All-Stars, a barnstorming team that borrowed players from the Marcos from time to time.  He’d return to the Marcos briefly, but the first baseman would be out of professional baseball before long. Carr hung around the team for years, however, even appearing in old-timer games as late as 1936.

Carr married Paralee Carter in 1909; they took care of her daughter, Ethel, who was born a few years before they married.  After they divorced in 1925, Carr was briefly married to a young woman named Mattie – an Arkansas divorce record suggests that they may have been married while John was married to Paralee and they remarried after 1925.  When not playing baseball, Carr worked as the head porter at the Rike-Kumler Department Store in downtown Dayton. The longtime Dayton resident joined a local Masonic Lodge and was a member of the Shriners. When Carr died on April 7, 1939 he left behind no children, just his third wife, Ella. He was buried at Greencastle Cemetery in Dayton.


1910, 1920, 1930 US Census
World War I Registration Card

Ohio Marriage Certficate
Arkansas Divorce Records
Ohio Department of Heath Death Index

“Johnny Carr Is Again a Marco,” Dayton Daily News, Septebmer 25, 1915: 7.

“All-Stars To Play Rubbers at Westwood,” Dayton Herald, May 20, 1920: 16.

“Wife Had To Work, Charge,” Dayton Daily News, January 29, 1925: 15.

“Hups, Coopers and Ford Win,” Dayton Daily News, Dayton Daily News, August 17, 1926: 9.

“Pfeiffer, Mills Take No Chances,” Dayton Daily News, September 15, 1936: 20.

“John W. Carr,” Dayton Daily News, April 8, 1939: 16.

Happy Birthday, Nathan Jewett!

Nathan (Nat) Jewett was briefly a major league baseball player – but only if you consider the National Association a “major league” and, just as importantly, the Eckford of Brooklyn a major league team. Jewett’s team won but 3 of 29 decisions, with many of the losses featuring lopsided scores.

Nathan W. Jewett was born Christmas Day, 1844 (census and military records suggest 1842, as does his gravestone) in New York City to Perry Jewett and his wife Catharine Cowen, an English immigrant. The Jewett family can trace its lineage back to the founding of Rowley, Massachusetts in 1638/1639 by Puritans in a hurry to leave Yorkshire, England – and, if you read the family history assembled by Dr. Frederic Clarke Jewett, that line can be traced back to Henri de Juett, a Knight of the First Crusade in 1096-1099.

Perry named his son after his father, but wouldn’t live to see the son’s baseball career. The owner of a porter house passed away in 1851. Catharine was left tending to a family of at least seven children – Nathan was in the middle somewhere, having three sisters that were younger than he. By his late teens, Nathan worked as a clerk and, when he registered for service in the Great War for Slavery, he was listed as a milkman.

Nathan enlisted with the local volunteers and somehow was assigned to Company G of the 71st Pennsylvania Infantry. This unit was extremely busy during course of the Civil War, featuring prominently at the battles of Gettysburg, Antietam and others. Some combination of proud service and having more than 90% of the regiment being killed or wounded, Nathan worked his way to Corporal before mustering out. While he was always employed, he applied for a pension in 1878 to help with some injury he received during the war. He returned home to New York City, living in the Bronx for most of the rest of his life.

Before the Civil War (and certainly after it), New York was a hot bed of amateur and professional baseball. And, baseball was played amongst the soldiers serving during the Civil War. One of these provides the source of Jewett’s finding his way into the top circles of the local baseball teams. In 1872, needing a catcher to give a break to Doug Allison, Jewett was briefly added to the roster of the Eckford of Brooklyn. He caught two games, July 4, and July 6, batting last both times. He reached base twice – getting a hit in his first game and scoring a run in his second. In addition to three errors, he also allowed nine passed balls. The Eckford lost 16 – 3 to the Philadelphia Athletics on July 4, and 24 – 5 to the Forest City club on July 6 – even though Forest City was forced to play the game with just eight men.

With that, Jewett returned home to his wife, the former Christina Campbell, herself an immigrant who came to the United States from Scotland in 1849. The Jewetts had ten children, with eight surviving to adulthood. Working as a letter carrier, clerk or laborer for the remainder of his days, lobar pneumonia took Nathan Jewett to the next league on February 23, 1914. He is buried with other family in Kenisco Cemetery in Valhalla, NY.


New York Death Index/Certficate
1855 NY State Census
1850, 1860, 1870, 1880, 1900, 1910 US Census
New York City Marriage Record

Frederic Clarke Jewett, MD. History of Genealogy of the Jewetts of America, Grafton Press, New York, 1908.

“Base Ball,” New York Times, July 7, 1872: 8.
“Base Ball,” Philadelphia Enquirer, July 6, 1872: 2.

Happy Birthday, Jim (Buzz) Busby!

Jim Busby was a Battle Creek area baseball legend who got a brief tryout with the Indianapolis A.B.C.s of the Negro National League in 1933.

James Alfred Busby, Jr. was born November 28, 1900 to James Alfred and Sarah (Reed) Busby in Benton Harbor, Michigan. (His obituary said he was born in 1902, his gravestone says 1901, and the obituary and some documents list his birthdate as November 26 or November 27.) His father was a laborer and fireman at a Benton Harbor foundry for much of his adult life; they had eight children and James, Jr. was the fifth to arrive. At least one US Census record noted that both of James’ parents were of mixed race backgrounds.

Busby played baseball at Central Junior High and for the Battle Creek High School Bearcats, earning local plaudits. However, he made his mark as an amateur baseball player when he lived and worked in Battle Creek, Michigan. There, Busby played at least fourteen seasons in various class level recreational leagues starting in about 1927. Nicknamed Buzz, Busby was a tall and lanky player who played every position on the field, though his most frequent position was likely shortstop or third base. He had a number of spectacular seasons in Battle Creek, including a 1932 season where he hit .459 – earning a tryout with the Indianapolis A.B.C.s and Cleveland Giants in exhibition games.

Jim Taylor, described as the “roly-poly” manager for Indianapolis, liked the raw athletic skills, but figured that Busby needed seasoning. “(Taylor) “…was particularly pleased with the looks of Jim Busby, gangling, terrificly {sic} hitting all-’round star of Columbia Cleaners, who has maintained a batting average above and around .500 all season in class A recreational league. Taylor believes Busby a ‘comer’ but admits he needs lots of experience and training under capable tutorship of a manager who could successfully develop his natural ability.”

In 1933, Taylor sent travel funds and Busby joined the Indianapolis A.B.C.s, where he would appear in at least two official league games and likely other exhibitions – but failed to make a mark. He was, of course, at least 32 years old even though one paper said he was 21 (!) at the time he got his tryout. In eight official at bats, Busby had two hits and drove in a run. Busby returned to Battle Creek for the rest of the decade, once even hitting .467 for Columbia Cleaners.

Busby never had children, but he did have three wives. He married Cecil Russell in 1923, but she filed for divorce for non-support six months later. In 1928, Busby married Minnie Lee Smith, and they remained married for much of the 1930s and maybe later. When he passed away in 1960 he was married to a young lady named Yvonne.

As a young man, Busby worked at a foundry – just like his father. After, 1940, though, Busby headed east. For a while he was a butler at a fraternity in Philadelphia, and when he died on October 2, 1960, he was living in Clinton, New Jersey. He was buried in Evergreen Cemetery in Clinton a few days later.


1910, 1920, 1930, 1940 US Censuses
World War II Registration Card
MI Marriage and Divorce Records
SS Claims Index


“The Sport Outlook,” Battle Creek Enquirer, July 27, 1932: 8.
“Colubmia Cleaners Win Over Hastings Nine, 4 – 1,” Battle Creek Enquirer, September 23, 1932: 20.
“The Sport Outlook,” Battle Creek Enquirer, July 27, 1932: 8.
“Cleveland Club Opposes Postum,” Battle Creek Enquirer, July 27, 1932: 8.
“Busby Will Get Trial With Famous A.B.C’s,” Battle Creek Enquirer, Aprl 23, 1933: 15.
“Home Run Parade,” Battle Creek Enquirer, August 1, 1937: 10.
“Player of Week Busby Veteran of 13 seasons in Recreation Leagues,” Battle Creek Enquirer, June 25, 1940: 15.

Happy Birthday, John “Daisy” Davis!

“…[U]ntil yesterday no one had the faintest idea that Davis could pitch, that is, good enough to put in the box against the Philadelphia heavy hitters. The fact was developed that Davis is a ball tosser and a daisy at that.”

“Joe Hornung’s Home Run,” Boston Globe, June 12, 1885: 2.

John Henry Albert Davis was born November 28, 1858 to William and Annie (Shirreffs) Davis in Boston – dad was a blacksmith and shipwright while mom raised five kids of which John was the youngest. The Davis parents were likely immigrants, but not very clear based on US Census data, which also suggests they had a stop in New Hampshire prior to moving to Boston around 1856 (or the Boston area) for the rest of their lives. (1870 and 1880 says William was from Nova Scotia and Annie was from Scotland while 1860 says New Hampshire, for example.) Anyway – Davis grew up in a huge baseball town and by the time he was old enough to start playing at least on good town teams he was working as a blacksmith.

“The feature of the game was the pitching of Davis, who struck out nine men. His delivery transcended the rules, being considerably above the shoulder, but no objection was made to it.”

“St. Louis, 6; Toledo, 3,” St. Louis Globe-Democrat, May 7, 1884: 8.

In 1884, Davis lands on the St. Louis Browns, a very good team with a pretty full roster of decent pitchers. He won his first start over Toledo, with errors marring his first inning, but he didn’t allow a run the rest of the way. However, with the highest ERA and a 10 – 12 record, the Browns decided that they didn’t need a fifth starter and he’s allowed to move to Boston for the rest of the season.

Except, of course, that Daisy Davis was a pretty good pitcher. He had the best K/9 data, didn’t walk that many batters, and probably had room to improve. His best start was likely a four hit shutout of Cincinnati on July 23rd where he fanned five and walked one. Instead, he got shelled a little with his home club as 1884 finished and he wasn’t used all that much in 1885 – the Boston Nationals had two solid starters who split 100 starts down the middle. Davis’s last major league start was a 1 – 0 win over Buffalo in a game shortened to five innings by rain on July 29, 1885. The diminutive Davis (he’s listed as 5′ 6″ and 150 pounds) took a job pitching for Toronto, at allegedly at the highest salary in the International Association, and went 16 – 7 with good strikeout and control numbers in 1886. According to a Utica sourced article published in the St. Joseph Daily Gazette, Davis had a rather interesting delivery.

“Davis, the Toronto pitcher, pitched effectively. His delivery consists of a short Indian club exercise, two sing and dance steps and a hop, step and jump, but the ball gets there just the same. The puzzling nature of his delivery proved a stumbling block to the eleven of the Uticas who struck out.”

“Outside the Diamond,” St. Joseph Daily Gazette, August 31, 1886: 3.

You’d think that SOMEBODY would have given the righthander a chance following that. Instead, he became a bit of a pitching nomad, pitching for the Portsmouths in 1888 – the Kansas City Times noting that by early July he had yet to suffer a defeat there. After that, Davis’s career appears to have ended.

He went home to his wife, the former Minnie Brown (she was eight years younger than John). They moved to Lynn, MA where Davis became a clerk until the fall of 1902, when pneumonia (or tuberculosis, per took him to the next league on November 5, 1902.


1860, 1870, and 1880 US Censuses
1865 Mass. Census
Massachusetts birth
Massachusetts marriage records
Massachusetts death records

“St. Louis, 2; Cincinnatis, 0,” St. Louis Globe-Democrat, July 24, 1884: 8.

“Was it the Rain?,” Boston Globe, July 30, 1885: 2.

“Outside the Diamond,” St. Joseph Daily Gazette, August 31, 1886: 3.

“Hits Outside the Diamond,” Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, September 5, 1886: 3.

“Base Ball Briefs,” Kansas City Star, July 8, 1888: 3.

Happy Birthday, Walter Marbet!

“With the game lost, Walter Marbet, the new pitching acquisition from Cleveland, Tenn., made his first appearance. He gave cause for hope. Marby seems to have a ‘hop’ on his fast ball, and he has a good curve. He escaped damage in the last two rounds though the outfielders were kept busy.”

“Card Chirpings,” St. Louis Star and Times, June 18, 1913: 8.

With little professional fanfare, Walter Marbet was lifted from the obscurity of Kentucky and Tennessee baseball diamonds and placed on the mound used by the St. Louis Cardinals. His stay in the majors was about two weeks; it took but three days to show that Marbet belonged behind the counter of his family businesses in rural Tennessee.

Walter William Marbet was born on September 13, 1891 in Merrill, Iowa to Swiss immigrants Jacob and Pauline (Karrer) Marbet. The German speaking parents arrived in the United States around 1880 and had three sons – Walter arrived after Albert and before Otto. Around 1896, the Marbets left Iowa for Hohenwald, Tennessee – a town founded by Swiss immigrants about the time that Jacob and Pauline arrived in the United States. In fact, part of what is now Hohenwald includes a town named New Switzerland. Jacob opened a hotel there and ran the hotel until his retirement around World War I.

walter-marbetWalter and Otto both played baseball in Hohenwald in the late 1900s and early 1910s. In fact, they both tried out with the Nashville Volunteers in 1911. Otto’s career never got much beyond that tryout, though he played baseball locally for several years. Walter’s first impression might have been a bit different. In an exhibition game against Vanderbilt, Walter reached as a pinch hitter in the ninth inning and, forgetting a belt, struggled to keep his pants above his posterior while racing to first base. Walter and his flying fanny didn’t make it with Nashville, though he was was versatile enough with a strong arm – good enough to get a look with Clarksville in the Kentucky, Indiana, and Tennessee League – called the Kitty League at that time.

Walter Marbet played first base, center field, and pitched with Clarksville for much of 1911 and then semi-professionally for Centreville, TN to begin 1912. That June, Walter signed with Paducah in the Kitty League. At first, the tall and lean Marbet was stunningly successful. After winning his maiden effort, the righthander went 14 innings to beat Hopkinsville. However, three weeks after he signed with Paducah, he either lost his nerve or lost his fastball. By early August, manager Pat Bohannon told Marbet to stay home. Marbet agreed and stated he wouldn’t return to Paducah until he was in condition to win games.

Something changed – Marbet wanted to pitch but didn’t want to return to Paducah for 1913. After trying to sell Marbet’s rights, Paducah traded Marbet for infielder Daddy Whitaker with Cleveland of the Appalachian League. There, Marbet found his form – and pitched well enough in front of a St. Louis Cardinals scout to earn a trip to the Gateway City. Marbet’s signing earned a surprised take from his old home city. The Paducah Evening Sun noted, “Marbet pitched star ball for Clarksville in 1911, but his arm went bad, and he showed only flashes of his form last season. Whether Marbet can make good in fast company is a puzzle to the fans.”

A couple of weeks after arriving in St. Louis, Manager Miller Huggins gave Marbet two innings of mop up duty in an 8 – 3 loss to Brooklyn on June 17, 1913. Two days later, desperate to find anyone who could pitch, Huggins gave a start to Marbet against the same Brooklyn nine. This time, Marbet wouldn’t be so lucky. In the first inning an error and two singles scored a run with one out. However, after a foul out, Casey Stengel was fooled by the hidden ball trick to end the inning with just the one run scored. In the second inning, after a ground out, six straight Brooklyn batters singled, scoring four runs and ending Marbet’s day – Bob Harmon came in to finish the remaining 7.2 innings.

Marbet got one more chance – this time in the tenth inning of a June 25 game that was 1 – 1 when the extra inning started. Rube Geyer was hammered by Pittsburgh, so Huggins called for Marbet. Marbet proceeded to walk the next three batters, forcing in two more runs. Huggins next tried Poll Perritt, who at least got the final out – if not quickly. Exactly a month later, St. Louis sent Marbet back to Cleveland, TN.

And with that, Walter Marbet’s professional career was over. And it was Walter, not Walt. If you run queries for “Walt Marbet” on you won’t get a single hit. But “Walter Marbet” returns scores of hits over a five or ten year period of time. Marbet tried out one more time in 1914, but the Nashville Volunteers decided he wasn’t good enough after three years wandering through other professional circuits. He’d play locally in any number of amateur or semi-professional leagues for the rest of the decade, but Walter Marbet’s days getting paid to play baseball were done.

Like many of this era, Marbet registered for the draft as World War I started. However, a few things changed. His father sold the hotel business – and Walter Marbet became a year older, listing his birthdate as 1890 instead of 1891. On that registration form, Marbet used his father’s retirement as a reason he should have been exempt from military service – he was the lone provider for his father. One figures that the locals saw through the ruse. Walter eventually was inducted into the Army and sent to Camp Wadsworth in late October, 1918. The war ended three weeks later and Private Marbet soon returned home.

Marbet married a woman at least twelve years his junior, Florine Springer. His father was eighteen years older than his mother, so maybe this was in his genes. To pay the bills, he operated a grocery store for the better part of thirty years. The life long Democrat also served two terms as a county trustee from 1944 to 1948. Florine helped run the family grocery store and gave birth to two children. The oldest, Dorothy, would marry and move away. His son, Jacob Springer Marbet, opened a service station around 1950 but only ran it for five years – he would perish in an automobile wreck at just 29 years old in 1955. Walter Marbet still worked the service station in Hohenwald when lung cancer took him to the next league on September 9, 1956 – just four days shy of his 65th birthday, He was buried in Swiss Cemetery in Hohenwald two days later.



1900, 1910, 1920, 1930, 1940 US Censuses
Iowa Birth Records
Tennessee Death Records
Tennessee Marriage Records
World War I Registration Records

“Walter Marbet,” Nashville Tennessean, February 8, 1911: 7. (Includes picture.)

“Three of Hirsig’s Proteges Arrive,” Nashville Banner, March 14, 1911: 12.

“Notes of Yesterday’s Game,” Nashville Banner, April 6, 1911: 16

“Diamond Dope,” Hopkinsville Kentuckian, April 15, 1911: 4.

Jack Nye, “Vol. Sidelights,” Nashville Banner, May 25, 1911: 14.

“Go Out and See New Club,” Clarksville Leaf-Chronicle, May 22, 1912: 1.

“14 Innings to Great Victory,” Paducah Evening Sun, June 28, 1912: 6.

“Big Chief,” Paducah Evening Sun, August 8, 1912: 1.

“Kitty Scratches,” Paducah Evening Sun, May, 8, 1913: 6.

“Walter Marbet Given Tryout by Cardinals,” Paducah Evening Sun, June 6, 1913: 8.

“Card Chirpings,” St. Louis Star and Times, June 18, 1913: 8.

“Marbet Will Go Full Route Today Against Dodgers,” St. Louis Star and Times, June 19, 1913: 10.

“Dodgers Pass Cubs; Return in Third Place,” Brooklyn Standard Union, June 20, 1913: 12.

“Big Bob Before Native Friends,” Davenport Daily Times, June 26, 1913: 13

“Contracts and Releases,” Fall River Globe, July 25, 1913: 6.

“Colonels Romp on Vols 6 to 2,” Nashville Banner, March 23, 1914: 10.

“N., C. & ST. L. Team Defeats Hohenwald,” Nashville Banner, July 6, 1916: 10.

“Moore Democratic Primary Quiet,” Nashville Banner, April 2, 1946: 18.

“Hohenwald Man Killed in Wreck,” Clarksville Leaf-Chronicle, August 26, 1955: 4.

W.W. Marbet Dies in Lewis; Rites Wednesday,” Nashville Banner, September 25, 1956: 6.