SABR

Amos Booth

This article was written by Chris Rainey.

Amos Booth started his professional baseball career with the Cincinnati Red Stockings.1 No, not the undefeated touring team from 1869, but the tragically inept 9-56 squad from 1876. Booth was the jack-of-all-trades for Cincinnati. He opened the season as a highly-regarded third baseman, but saw as much action at catcher and shortstop as he did at third. He even pitched in three games. He was one of only three holdovers on the 1877 Cincinnati team that improved minimally, winning 16 and losing 42. Booth’s baseball career generated very few headlines; his greatest notoriety in the Queen City came later in life during his career as a city policeman. On May 27, 1897, he was involved in the shooting of an innocent man which splashed his name in the headlines across the nation and forced his move from the city.

The Booths were of Irish descent and first settled in Pennsylvania. There Amos’s father, George, met Eleanor Ferguson (called Ellen in some census reports). The couple wed and had two children before moving to Warren County, Ohio, in the mid-1840s. Over the years their place of residence was either Turtle Creek Township or the village of Lebanon, which borders the township. George was a laborer and Eleanor worked as a housekeeper or laundress when the need arose. Amos and his older brother, Albert, were born in Ohio. Some sources say Amos was born in Lebanon on September 4, 1848; others say he was born in Turtle Creek.2 In either case, he is the only major-league ballplayer born in either geographical entity.

Amos became a laborer like his father and brother, but also exhibited a talent for baseball. He first appears in newspaper accounts in 1868 playing for three Lebanon teams.3 By 1870 he was a mainstay on the Lebanon Lightfoot, a collection of the best players in the area, who would take on all comers. Booth played shortstop and batted leadoff. He got two hits when the Lightfoot traveled to Cincinnati to face Harry Wright and the Red Stockings. The result was a 66-6 drubbing by the pros. Coverage of the Lebanon baseball is spotty in the papers of the time. The Lightfoot had its most successful season in 1875 when Amos was the hitting star while pitching or playing on the left side of the infield. The September 16, 1875, Western Star of Lebanon mentioned that four players from the Lightfoot had joined professional teams, proving that it was a talented bunch of players. Booth turned professional with the Blue Stockings of Cumminsville, Ohio.

It is likely that during 1875 Booth was spotted by Charlie Gould, a Cincinnati native who had played with the original Red Stockings in 1869-70 before joining Boston in the National Association, the original professional league. Cincinnati never had a team in the National Association, but plans were afoot to rejoin the professional ranks, and Gould was appointed captain of the new Red Stockings. The team played all comers in 1875 and then joined the new National League in 1876.

The 1876 Red Stockings were led by the veterans Gould, Henry Kessler, and Charles Sweasy. Youngsters added to the roster included Booth, Dave Peirson (or Pearson), and outfielder Charley Jones, who became the hitting star of the squad and a Cincinnati favorite. The season opened auspiciously with two wins over St. Louis. Two losses to the powerful Chicago team did not deter the players or the fans, and the team bounced back to split with Louisville and even its record at 3-3 for the opening homestand. Cruel scheduling put the Red Stockings on the road from May 10 through June 17. The squad dropped 17 out of 18 games, the lone win coming on June 1 in Hartford in one of the few games Booth sat out. Initially offense was a problem as the Red Stockings averaged less than two runs a game over a ten-game span. Then injuries set in and the lineup faced frequent juggling. Late in the trip the pitching and fielding failed and the Red Stockings allowed 20 runs three times in a five-game span. Booth was the starting pitcher in the last of those 20-run games, on June 17. He held a 4-3 lead over the Athletics of Philadelphia going into the fifth inning, but seven hits and two errors combined for an eight-run inning. Cherokee Fisher finished the game, a 23-15 loss.

The Red Stockings returned home for a set with Boston. Booth had his finest game at a batter on June 20 when he “won great admiration behind the bat, and struck for a base every time he presented himself at home plate.” “Booth is the best player on the nine” was a remark frequently heard.4 Going 5-for-5 with a double still could not prevent a 14-7 loss. The Red Stockings won only five more games before the season ended on October 9. Booth was second on the team in hitting and runs batted in behind Charley Jones. The Red Stockings were the worst fielders in the league and Booth contributed by making 76 errors and committing 26 passed balls in his 63 games.

In May of the 1876 season Booth became engaged to Lena Ertel, a Cincinnati of French and German descent. They were married after the season. Lena gave birth to six children from 1877 to 1885. (Mary Ellen, Jennie, George, Amos, Myrtle, Bessie in that order.) The family resided in various parts of Cincinnati before settling down in Cumminsville, an area northwest of the city center that is now part of the Northside neighborhood of the city.

Booth had played well enough during the 1876 campaign for owner J.L. Keck and new captain Lip Pike to sign him early for 1877. Keck even made a job available in his packing plant for Booth. The Red Stockings underwent many personnel changes over the winter. When exhibitions began in March, Booth was at shortstop and was dropped to eighth in the batting order. The March 16 Cincinnati Enquirer noted that “Booth we believe to be the weakest point in the nine, if there is a weak point.” By the time the season began in May, Booth had been supplanted at shortstop by Jack Manning and saw very little action until a major roster upheaval took place in mid-June. Booth became a true utility player. It was not unusual for him to play a different position each game; one week he started at third, second, and short in that order. In August he pitched in one game and caught the next.

Despite a news report that he was more robust and able to drive the ball better – he had specialized in opposite-field pokes in 1876 – Booth hit only .172. The Red Stockings won their opener on May 10 and then did not win again until July. By season’s end they had managed to win 16 games, but could not escape the cellar. In November Booth was released by the club.

Booth was no longer playing in the majors, but the baseball bug still had him. From his home in Cincinnati, Booth was willing to travel to keep playing baseball. In 1878 he went to Lowell, possibly assisted by Charlie Gould, who had played there previously. The next year Booth was on the Washington Nationals, reunited with Levi Meyerle, who had played in Cincinnati in 1877. The next couple of years Booth played on various semipro teams and put in one last appearance with Cincinnati. In the spring of 1882 Booth found himself without any prospects for the coming season and put a notice in the Cincinnati Commercial Tribune looking for a team. His efforts landed him a spot on the roster of the semipro Cincinnati Buckeyes. Later in the season Booth joined former RedStockings teammate Charley Jones on the Cincinnati Shamrocks.

Booth also made three appearances in the American Association in 1882. The Baltimore Orioles arrived in Cincinnati on June 5 with only eight players. The Enquirer reported that they intended to add either “Pearce or Booth.” “Pearce” was actually Grayson Pierce, a youngster who played for the Orioles on June 6. Booth played on June 8, going hitless, lining into a double play in one of his at-bats. In the field he returned the favor by turning an unassisted double play at third. He was invited to play third again the next day in an exhibition between the Orioles and Red Stockings. After this audition, the Orioles signed the much younger Pierce for the season. On September 18 umpire Charley Smith was taken ill and Amos was called upon to umpire the game between Cincinnati and St. Louis. St. Louis won. The game was uneventful for Booth; the Enquirer said simply that “Booth has a good voice.” The Louisville Eclipse came to Cincinnati on September 28 and recruited Booth to play second base and bat leadoff. He fielded flawlessly and went hitless. Some papers suggested he would finish out the year with Louisville. Instead, the Eclipse left Amos behind and used Tony Mullane at second.

Booth’s major-league career was at an end. In 1883 he played with the local Cincinnati Stars. In 1884 he signed on as infielder and team captain for Hamilton in the Ohio State League. (Hamilton was just a short train ride north of his home.) In February 1887 Booth took on a different career when he was approved as a patrolman in the Cincinnati police department. His baseball playing was now confined to weekends with the city workers team. In 1890 Booth joined the mounted patrol and built a reputation as a fine officer.

Patrolman Booth’s career started to unravel in 1893. In April he wounded himself while cleaning his gun at home. Late in the summer he got into a dispute with a fellow officer that made headlines in the August 30 Cincinnati Post. These troubles were smoothed over, but Booth was taken off the mounted unit. On the evening of May 27, 1897, Booth was at home in Cumminsville and getting ready for bed when he heard the screams of a female neighbor. Her house was being burglarized, and she called for help. Amos grabbed his revolver and rushed into the street without thought about how he was dressed. He saw a figure coming toward him, but the person turned around and began to walk away. Why the sudden change of direction? We will never know; possibly the sight of a man dressed for bed carrying a gun scared him. Perhaps the neighbor’s screams made him do an about-face. Booth called out to the person to stop, thinking he was a burglar. It is uncertain whether Booth announced that he was the police.

The person whom Booth confronted was George A. Duey. He had been a newspaperman and news telegrapher. Duey was visiting family in Cincinnati and had recently been hired to work at the Latonia race track, across the Ohio River in Kentucky. Duey, for whatever reason, did not stop when Booth ordered him to halt. Booth raised his gun and shot Duey dead. The story made all the Cincinnati papers and because Duey had been in the newspaper trade, it was wired to every outlet in the United States. Booth was suspended while an investigation was conducted. He was reinstated in July after a grand jury declined to issue an indictment. Booth was awarded back pay for the 19 days he was suspended.5

Booth’s troubles did not end there. John Duey, brother of the victim, proceeded to stalk Booth on the job. Duey presented information to the chief of police that Booth had entered an unsavory establishment while on duty and proceeded to spend an hour and a half there. The newspaper accounts didn’t say it, but it was most likely a brothel or at the very least a gambling house. In the course of all these legal disputes, Booth found himself before the police review board eight times. Seemingly the last straw for the department was a midwife’s lawsuit seeking $121 she said he owed her. She had attended to Miss Laura Kraft at Booth’s request. It is unclear whether Booth was the father of a child by Kraft or a gentleman who came to her aid.6 Kraft was the sister of a fellow officer, and this created an issue in the workplace. Booth was dismissed from the department on November 23 by vote of the Board of Police Commissioners. In January 1898 George Duey’s estate filed a $10,000 wrongful death suit. The Cincinnati Post carried a single paragraph on November 7, 1899, noting that the case had been settled for $515. The settlement was paid by the city’s bondsman.

Amos and Lena moved the family (George lived with them) north to Dayton, Ohio, where Booth found work as a painter and a saloon keeper. Around 1911 or 1912, the family moved to Miami Township, south of Dayton. Booth took a job as a policeman for the town of Miamisburg. Some sources list him as manager of the Hamilton team in 1911. A search of the local paper showed three managers, none of them Booth. Booth died at home on July 1, 1921. He is buried in Woodland Cemetery in Dayton.

 

Sources

Johnson, Lloyd, and Miles Wolff, eds. The Encyclopedia of Minor League Baseball (Durham, North Carolina: Baseball America, Inc, 1993).

Nemec, David, The Great Encyclopedia of 19th Century Major League Baseball (New York: Donald L. Fine Books, 1997).

Wolff, Rick, ed. The Baseball Encyclopedia (New York: Macmillan, 1993).

Cincinnati Commercial Tribune

Cincinnati Daily Times

Cincinnati Enquirer

Cincinnati Post Times

Hamilton (Ohio) Daily News, 1884

Hamilton (Ohio) Republican Daily News, 1911

St. Louis Star-Democrat

Western Star, Lebanon, Ohio

Ancestry.com

Baseball-Reference.com

Files and genealogy at the Warren County (Ohio) Historical Society, Lebanon, Ohio.

 

Notes

1 Baseball-Reference lists the team as the Reds. Cincinnati newspapers like the Enquirer and the Daily Times called them the Red Stockings.

2 Baseball-Reference.com lists Lebanon as Booth’s birthplace. Some older publications, like the Baseball Encyclopedia Macmillan), say he was born in Cincinnati in 1852.

3 Booth played for the Lightfoot, the Mechanics, and Normal during the summer of 1868. Normal and the Mechanics seldom ventured more than a few miles outside the town limits. The Lightfoot made trips around the county. In later years the Lightfoot played in Warren, Hamilton, and Butler Counties and entertained teams traveling through Lebanon from Ohio locales like Columbus, Urbana, and Lima.

4 Cincinnati Daily Times, June 21, 1876, 4.

5 A good synopsis of the shooting incident was published in the Cincinnati Post on June 28, 1897, 8. How Booth was dressed was never totally explained; the article has him dressed in his “pantaloons.” The grand jury’s refusal to indict was based on a section of the police department’s code that allowed an officer to shoot if commands were not obeyed by a suspected felon. This was only the second shooting by a patrolman in Cincinnati in a decade.

6 Some news reports have the amount as $160.

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