Mike Flynn had an extremely brief major-league baseball career, appearing in just one game in 1891 with the Boston Reds in the final year of the major-league American Association. He then played portions of three minor-league seasons in the New England League before retiring as a ballplayer in 1895 to be involved in the bowling-alley business for the next three decades.
Flynn was born on March 15, 1872, in County Kildare, Ireland.1 His parents, James and Maria (Crane) Flynn, immigrated to the United States in 1873.2 They settled in Lowell, Massachusetts, where his father worked as a cooper, making wooden-staved vessels like barrels and tubs that were used by businesses associated with the local textile mills.3 When his father died in 1884, the 12-year-old Flynn remained in school to complete an eighth-grade education.4 Later he went to work as an operative in a local textile mill where he, along with several of his older brothers, toiled six days a week to help support his widowed mother and younger brother.5
During the summer of 1887 when Lowell first had a baseball team in the minor-league New England League, the 15-year-old Flynn likely started to aspire to be a professional baseball player as an easier way to earn a living than his 60-hour workweeks in the textile mill. Although he worked long days in the mill during the week, Flynn had the opportunity to watch the Lowell games on Saturday afternoons, since 1887 was the first year that the textile mills shut down at midday on Saturday to give workers a half-holiday.6 Flynn also played for local amateur baseball teams on Saturday afternoons, where he developed a local renown as a talented catcher.7
In 1890 Flynn left his job in the textile mill (at least for the warm weather months) to play baseball for the Union Street Railway team in Dover, New Hampshire.8 The Dover team was an independent professional team, not affiliated with a league, which played other amateur and company-sponsored teams in the region. The advent of the electric trolley in the early 1890s to replace the horse-drawn trolley enabled Flynn to play baseball for a living, since the owners of these more technologically advanced transportation systems often sponsored baseball teams to encourage ridership among city residents.
Flynn was likely recommended for the Dover job by Frank Thyne, a manager of local baseball teams who was also the Lowell correspondent for the weekly baseball publication Sporting Life. The well-connected Thyne, a former minor-league catcher, was one of Flynn’s biggest promoters. For example, in March 1891 Thyne wrote in Sporting Life: “Mickey Flynn, the excellent catcher of last year’s Dover, N.H., Club, has received an offer from the manager of the Dovers to sign with that team again the coming season. Flynn is playing out of his class in that club, and is too valuable a man to be found playing with the Dover, N.H., Club. He should be in faster company.”9 Indicating the hyperbole on the part of Thyne as well as the catcher’s moderate talent level, Flynn returned to play for the Dover team in 1891.10
In 1891 the recruiting of players for the major leagues was haphazard and talent evaluation imprecise. When Boston Reds manager Arthur Irwin needed a backup for his regular catcher, Morgan Murphy, he like other managers at the time sought referrals from his network of baseball contacts. Not wanting to spend money to purchase the contract of a catcher in the local New England League, Irwin located backup catchers who were playing for independent professional teams not in Organized Baseball. He first used Tim Donahue as a backup catcher, signing him in mid-July. Donahue, who would go on to later fame as a catcher in the National League, spelled Murphy for just four games before Irwin released him on August 21.
Flynn was the next local catcher to get a chance with the Boston Reds. Either Thyne in Lowell or Jim Chatterton, the Dover manager, who was a former minor-league ballplayer, likely recommended Flynn to manager Irwin. On August 30, 1891, the Boston Sunday Globe reported, “The Reds will give Catcher Flynn of Dover a chance tomorrow.” Indeed, Irwin inserted Flynn into the starting lineup of the Monday, August 31, game against Louisville at Boston’s Congress Street Grounds. Flynn played five innings, going 0-for-2 in his two at-bats, to earn a headline in the Boston Globe the next day: “Reds Tried New Catcher Flynn Behind the Bat for a Time.”
However, despite solid box-score statistics as a catcher, handling six chances without an error and throwing out two of three runners attempting to steal, Flynn was not ready for the major leagues. The Globe’s review of his performance was charitable: “The Reds tried a young catcher from Dover named Flynn. He did fairly well, but was badly rattled at times. He was replaced by Murphy in the sixth after a passed ball. The young man may turn out all right, but it is taking great chances trying experiments at this stage of the race with Morgan Murphy in good condition after a rest over Sunday. [Pitcher George] Haddock had no confidence in the new man, as he was rather slight and acted nervous.”11
The Reds quietly released Flynn after his one-game trial and next signed Tom Cotter of the Morrills team as backup catcher. After Cotter appeared for the Reds on September 3, though, one wag noted that “he did not begin to show up nearly as well as either Donahue or Flynn.”12 Thyne noted that winter in Sporting Life that Flynn was one of several “disengaged ballplayers from Lowell” who were seeking employment.13
Flynn’s modest talent as a catcher was evident over the winter when few teams sought his services for the 1892 season. The Dover team, which looked to move up to the New England League, did not invite him back as it sought a more experienced catcher. Among the three former backup catchers for the Boston Reds, only Flynn did not begin the 1892 season in the New England League; Donahue and Cotter played for the Lewiston and Brockton teams, respectively. Flynn was back in Lowell playing semipro ball for the Mathews team, which was sponsored by the local chapter of the Mathew Society, a temperance organization.14 The Manchester (New Hampshire) team in the New England League considered signing Flynn, but wanted him only as part of a battery with pitcher Jack Roache.15
Flynn did don a Manchester uniform for one game in 1892, when Manchester arrived for its game in Lowell on June 15 in need of a replacement catcher. He went 0-for-4 at bat and committed two errors in the field, ending his New England League trial period at one game.16 Three weeks later, though, the third time was the charm for Flynn: He got a trial with the Portland team in the New England League, which arrived for its July 6 game in Lowell needing a catcher. “Mickey Flynn made an eloquent catch of a foul fly from McCarthy’s bat in the fourth inning,” the Lowell Daily News reported on his play at catcher, adding that he also threw out two runners trying to steal.17 Portland signed Flynn as a backup catcher and utility player.
However, Flynn played only 15 games with Portland, mostly as an outfielder and shortstop, before he was released in late July after compiling a paltry .207 batting average.18 In August he was back in Lowell playing on a team managed by Thyne.19 Later in the year Thyne was still shilling for Flynn when he wrote: “Mike Flynn, of last year's Portland, Me., Club, is in this city disengaged. Flynn was one of the star catchers of the New England League last season, and should not be overlooked by the managers the coming season in making up their aggregation.”20
The one team interested in Flynn for the 1893 season was Brockton of the New England League, which was partly owned by the local electric trolley system looking to cultivate riders in the leading men’s shoe manufacturing city in New England.21 Brockton signed Flynn to back up regular catcher Dan Burke.22 However, Flynn, looking to leverage all his baseball-for-pay angles, negotiated a clause in his Brockton contract “that he be allowed to play with the Southbridge team every Saturday.”23 Since Saturday, with its half-holiday for shoe-factory workers, was Brockton’s most lucrative day of the week at the ballpark, the no-Saturday clause didn’t endear him to the team’s ownership. Brockton released Flynn in early June after he compiled a meager .200 batting average in 14 games.24 He wasn’t exceptional in the field either, committing 14 errors in 67 chances.25
An economic depression that hit the country in 1893 dampened baseball opportunities in New England. Flynn likely played with independent teams in 1894 for a few dollars a game. He received one more chance at professional baseball in 1895 when so many electric trolley companies sought to sponsor minor-league baseball teams that two leagues operated in eastern New England, the established New England League and the fledging New England Association. With 14 teams looking to fill rosters, opportunities abounded for moderately talented ballplayers like Flynn, who signed with the new Augusta (Maine) team in the New England League.26
Augusta was a late addition to the league, a huge disadvantage in signing ballplayers; even worse, the small city could not adequately support a professional ballclub even though it was the state’s capital city. Augusta was a regional team known as the Kennebecs, which was centered in Augusta but also played some home games in the nearby small cities of Gardiner and Waterville.27 The team was not very good and quickly plunged into last place in the league standings, where it remained throughout the 1895 season.
Flynn lasted eight weeks with the Augusta team, his longest stint in the minor leagues, playing mostly first base in addition to being the backup catcher before being released in mid-June. He had short stints with two other teams that year. He caught three games for the Lewiston (Maine) team in the New England League, but was released within a week.28 At the end of the season in early September, Flynn played catcher in three games for Brockton, including both games of its season-ending doubleheader on September 7. That was it for Flynn’s baseball career, as these were his last professional baseball appearances. He batted well during the 1895 season, compiling a .264 average in 46 games, which raised his career minor-league batting average to .240.29
Flynn turned from baseball to bowling, a recreational activity that was increasingly popular in the 1890s after the rules were standardized in 1895 by the American Bowling Congress. In the fall of 1895 the Lowell Sun noted that “Mike Flynn of this city is one of the attendants in the Brockton alleys.”30 Two years later Flynn relocated from Brockton to Fall River, where he worked as a clerk in the sole bowling alley in the city, operated by John B. Swift at 340 Central Street; by 1899 Flynn was the manager of Swift’s bowling alley.31
Fall River seemed to be the better place to run a business than Flynn’s hometown of Lowell. In 1895 he had played a few games for Augusta in Fall River, the eventual league champion that season, including one Sunday layover between Saturday and Monday games, where he experienced a more vibrant city than Lowell. Although the economies of both Fall River and Lowell were dependent on the textile industry, the mills in Lowell still used water power while the mills in Fall River used coal-fueled steam power. The more modern technology made Fall River the leading textile manufacturer in the country at the end of the 19th century as Lowell was steeped in a gradual economic decline.32
Flynn’s mother died in 1902 in Lowell. Her obituary referred to her seven surviving children, including “son Michael, the well-known ballplayer, now proprietor of a bowling alley in Fall River.”33 No longer needing to help support his widowed mother, Flynn started his own family in 1903 when he married Catherine Reynolds.34 They had two children, Charles in 1905 and Margaret in 1908.35
By 1906 Flynn owned his own bowling alley, at 114 Third Street in Fall River, which at first was called Wordell & Flynn but by 1909 was known as the M.J. Flynn Company.36 After his first wife, Catherine, died after 1910, Flynn had a second wife, named Margaret, who was the stepmother to the two young children.37
By the early 1920s Fall River’s economy plunged into a depression as the textile mills closed and their operations transferred to Southern states. Since many residents were unemployed and could no longer afford recreational activities like bowling, Flynn sold his bowling alley in 1924 to Ameen Slyby and relocated to Los Angeles, California.38 The family settled in the Hollywood section of Los Angeles, where he and his son worked as construction workers at the movie studios, which rose to prominence in the 1920s as watching motion pictures in a theater became a popular leisure activity.39
Flynn died, aged 69, on June 16, 1941, in Los Angeles. He is buried at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale.40
Bevis, Charlie. The New England League: A Baseball History, 1885 to 1949 (Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland, 2008).
Boston Globe, 1891.
Lowell Daily News, 1889-1893.
Sporting Life, 1890-1895.
Ancestry.com, Fall River Directory and California Death Index.
Massachusetts State Archives, Boston, vital records prior to 1910.
Pollard Library, Lowell, Massachusetts, Lowell Directory.
US Census Bureau, federal census records for decennial years from 1880 to 1940.
1 California Death Index record shows this birth date.
2 1910 US Census (Series T624, Roll 575, Page 206).
3 Lowell Directory, 1875 to 1884; 1880 US Census (Series T9, Roll 545, Page 621).
4 Death records for 1884 in the Massachusetts State Archives (Volume 356, Page 103); education level from the 1940 US Census (Series T627, Roll 399, Page 17B).
5 Lowell Directory, 1890 to 1892.
6 Charlie Bevis, The New England League: A Baseball History, 1885 to 1949 (Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland, 2008), 49-50.
7 Lowell Daily News, June 8, 1889.
8 Sporting Life, September 20, 1890.
9 Sporting Life, March 14, 1891.
10 Boston Globe, April 6, July 8, and July 29, 1891; Sporting Life, April 4, 1891.
11 Boston Globe, September 1, 1891.
12 Sporting Life, September 12, 1891.
13 Sporting Life, January 16, 1892.
14 Lowell Daily News, May 9, 1892.
15 Sporting Life, April 9, 1892.
16 Lowell Daily News, June 16, 1892.
17 Lowell Daily News, July 7, 1892.
18 Sporting Life, November 5, 1892.
19 Sporting Life, August 15, 1892.
20 Sporting Life, December 24, 1892.
21 Bevis, The New England League, 36.
22 Sporting Life, April 29, 1893.
23 Lowell Daily News, May 6, 1893.
24 Sporting Life, June 17, 1893; Flynn’s 1893 playing statistics at Baseball-Reference.com website.
25 Boston Globe, June 12, 1893.
26 Sporting Life, May 4, 1895.
27 Bevis, The New England League, 94.
28 Sporting Life, July 13, 1895.
29 Batting average for 1895 compiled from extant box scores published in Sporting Life that season.
30 Lowell Sun, October 29, 1895.
31 Fall River Directory, 1897 and 1899; 1900 US Census (Series T623, Roll 636, Page 180).
32 Bevis, The New England League, 22.
33 “ Michael Flynn Found,” SABR Biographical Committee Monthly Report, August 1983; Lowell Sunday Telegram, May 2, 1902; Lowell Daily Mail, May 3, 1902.
34 Marriage records for 1903 in the Massachusetts State Archives (Volume 536, Page 227).
35 Birth records in the Massachusetts State Archives for 1905 (Volume 550, Page 171) and 1908 (Volume 574, Page 189).
36 Fall River Directory, 1906 and 1909.
37 1920 US Census (Series T625, Roll 683, Page 104).
38 Fall River Directory, 1925.
39 1930 US Census (Series T626, Roll 133, Page 13A).
40 California Death Index record.