SABR

Jake Morse

This article was written by Charlie Bevis.

An influential sportswriter in Boston, Jake Morse helped to shape the public's perception of baseball during the game's accelerated growth stage from the 1880s to the beginning of World War I. Morse wrote for the Boston Herald and contributed articles to Sporting Life. He also served as secretary of the New England League, a minor league circuit. One of Morse's most notable accomplishments was the founding in 1908 of Baseball Magazine, the first monthly periodical devoted to baseball.

Jacob Charles Morse was born on June 7, 1860, in Concord, New Hampshire. He was the oldest child of Charles and Sara (Straus) Morse, both immigrants born in Bavaria, who raised a family of ten children after coming to the United States around 1850. Morse had three brothers and six sisters, the youngest being Matilda, who was born in 1879. The family moved to Boston, Massachusetts, in 1866 when Morse was six years old. In Boston, they united with his father's family, which had established itself in the clothing business and became prominent members of the Jewish community.

His uncle Leopold was a highly successful clothing merchant in Boston, operating the clothing store Leopold Morse & Co. He was also elected five times to the U.S. Congress on the Democratic ticket, one of the first Jewish citizens elected to Congress. In 1889, he established the Leopold Morse Home as a haven for orphans as well as aged and infirm Jewish people.

His uncle Godrey, a lawyer by training, was a renowned public servant. After graduating from Harvard College, he was elected to the Boston School Committee in 1875 and later served as a member of the Boston Common Council. He was president of the Leopold Morse Home for many years and served as an officer for several charitable organizations.

Morse's father operated a wholesale boys clothing business in Boston, first known as Philips, Morse & Co. and later Morse, Johnson & Co. After the Great Boston Fire in 1872, he conducted the business by himself before leaving for Colorado with a lung illness (probably tuberculosis).

In 1877, Morse graduated from Boston Latin School, the oldest public high school in the country. He then followed his uncle Godfrey's footsteps by attending Harvard College as a member of the Class of 1881. Although he is often referred to as having graduated from Harvard in 1881, Morse actually left school in January of his senior year due to health reasons; he received his Bachelor of Arts degree in 1906. Morse attended law school at Boston University, graduated in 1884, and was admitted to the bar as a lawyer in 1885.

Morse, though, was not destined for a life as an attorney, but rather as a journalist. During his three years at Boston University, Morse wrote articles for several Boston newspapers, including the Globe, Herald, and Post. When the Union Association was organized in 1884 as a third major league to compete with the National League and American Association, Morse edited the Union Association Guide published by Wright and Ditson, a sporting goods manufacturer.

With his family's strong ties to the Democratic Party and the welfare of common people, Morse was naturally a follower of the Union Association. The league was established as a player's league, in protest of the reserve clause being enforced by owners in the other two major leagues. Morse likely contributed reports to the Boston newspapers about the games played by the Union Association team in Boston, where he struck up a friendship with its first baseman Tim Murnane, who doubled as the team's field manager. While Murnane is now recognized as being the manager of the Boston Unions for the entire 1884 season, earlier editions of baseball encyclopedias had credited Morse with managing the team for seventy-five games during the latter part of the season.

When the Union Association folded after its one and only season, Morse took a full-time job in 1885 as sports editor for the Boston Herald, a position he held for twenty years. Morse provided baseball coverage of the Boston team in the National League and the various Massachusetts teams in the New England League, along with game accounts of local colleges and amateur teams.

Morse wrote a book, Sphere and Ash: History of Baseball, published in 1888, the same year his father died. Morse's father, who suffered from a lung disease, died in Denver, Colorado, where he had moved hoping the climate there would cure his illness. Upon his father's death, Morse became head of the household for his younger siblings.
Looking to supplement his income from sports writing for the Herald, Morse started to contribute articles to Sporting Life. In 1892, Morse joined up with Murnane, now working as sports editor of the Boston Globe, to be the administrative staff for the New England League. With Morse as secretary and Murnane as president, the two men tried to keep the club owners afloat financially, after a number of league failures the previous several years, and to provide opportunity for local ball players.

Feeling comfortable enough financially to settle down and raise a family, Morse married Josephine Gans on March 15, 1893. Josephine was the daughter of well-known Jewish philanthropist Louis Gans, who had made his money in the cigar business. Wedding presents included "a magnificent banquet lamp of hammered brass" from the owners of the Boston National League team and "the Century dictionary in half a dozen volumes" from his associates at the Herald. Residing in his father-in-law's house in Brookline, Morse and his wife raised two sons, Charles and Reginald.

Following his uncles' lead, Morse devoted a great of his time to charitable and civic affairs. He was a trustee of the Leopold Morse Home and organized many fund-raising events, including several under the auspices of the Boston Press Club. He was also involved in local governmental affairs in Brookline.

After three years as secretary of the New England League, Morse struck out on his own to become president of the New England Association, another minor league in the region. The New England Association operated on a small scale centering on cities in the Merrimack River valley of Massachusetts, in contrast to the New England League that at the time had a broader geographic focus, with half its teams in Maine and the other half in southern Massachusetts.

When the New England Association lasted less than three months, Morse returned to the New England League as secretary for the 1896 season. Trying to keep the league in business wasn't easy. There was a disputed pennant in 1897 between the Brockton and Newport teams, a war-shortened 1898 season, and a chaotic final day of the 1899 season when Manchester played a sextuple-header, six games in one day, in a quest for a first place finish (while two other teams played only a tripleheader). The league went into abeyance for the 1900 season.

In his primary job at the Boston Herald, Morse was at the forefront of change in the sports world, covering the increasing popularity of college football in the fall and the rise of a new winter sport, basketball. As the New England Basketball League organized in the fall of 1900 to play over the winter of 1901, another development would completely change the Boston sporting landscape--the upstart American League putting a franchise in Boston. The Boston Americans, challenger for spectator support to the established Boston team in the National League, quickly captured the attention of sports writers and the citizenry of Boston by winning pennants in 1903 and 1904.

The New England League revived in 1901 and entered a period of stability under the leadership of Murnane and Morse, as "President Murnane's tact and Secretary Morse's executive ability proved a double asset to the New England organization."

In 1907, management changes at the Boston Herald resulted in the ouster of Morse from the paper. In October 1906, William Haskell had acquired a controlling interest in the paper's stock, which had once been the exclusive domain of his father Edwin Haskell, who as editor had hired Morse back in 1885. Once the elder Haskell died in March 1907, Morse was asked to leave the newspaper.

"After a connection of twenty-three years with the Boston Herald, I naturally expected to die in the harness in that institution, but one can never tell," Morse reported to his Harvard classmates in 1931 upon the fiftieth anniversary of the Class of 1881. "The unexpected will happen every now and then, and changes in management bring about changes in personnel; so it was a case of pull up your stakes and go [at] it."

Morse's misfortune at losing his job turned out to be a fortunate turn of events for baseball fans (and present-day historians). Needing to augment his small stipends as New England League secretary and Sporting Life contributor, Morse once again struck out on his own, this time to start up a new publication called Baseball Magazine. The inaugural issue was dated May 1908, edited by Morse in the magazine's Boston office, and reached newsstands in time for the start of the 1908 baseball season.

A monthly baseball publication was unique for the times. The monthly format permitted lengthy examination of baseball issues which the weekly Sporting Life and its competitor The Sporting News didn't often pursue with their focus on on-the-field results. "Baseball has never had a magazine of its own, while almost every other sport has a high class publication," Morse wrote in the first issue. "So, the Baseball Magazine is supplying a long-felt need; in substance, the need of a monthly organ filled with the highest thought surrounding the game, well edited, well printed, and filled with first-class illustrations."

Morse had a distinct editorial focus on the Sunday baseball issue, something then prohibited in all East Coast cities such as Boston and New York but permitted in western cities such as Chicago and St. Louis. The lack of Sunday baseball in the East denied working people an opportunity to watch baseball games, since the six-day work week was still in vogue. On the one day off from work that most people had--Sunday--the law precluded ball games played by professionals. Morse published numerous essays supporting acceptance of Sunday baseball, including one by his rabbi, Charles Fleischer.

While Baseball Magazine was a literary hit, it wasn't overly profitable, lacking a wide audience for Morse's upscale editorial agenda. Morse's income from the Baseball Magazine venture must have been thin. Morse took a job in 1910 as a clerk at the Field and Fay brokerage, ostensibly to pay the bills while he labored on Baseball Magazine during the evening hours.

In late 1910, less than three years after the founding of the magazine, Joseph Potts replaced Morse as president of Baseball Magazine. Morse remained as editor for a time, but the December 1911 issue was the last one he edited. F.C. Lane, who had joined the publication as associate editor for the July 1911 issue, became the editor of Baseball Magazine effective with the January 1912 issue. Lane relocated the magazine's office to New York City and expanded the editorial content to "outdoor sports" such as football and ice hockey, and published more mainstream articles that appealed to a broader readership.

The 1912 season was Morse's last year as secretary of the New England League. In late 1912, he tried to organize a new minor league, the Northeastern League, becoming its president, but the league never got off the ground. Morse then resigned as secretary of the New England League in March 1913, under the guise of "demands of his private business." It was later revealed that he hadn't been paid for his services in more than a year.

It was a sour ending for Morse to an illustrious baseball writing career. After he dropped from the baseball scene in 1913, Morse tried to enter public service by attempting an election run in 1915 as state auditor on the Democratic ticket. He also dabbled in several ways to make a living outside of baseball. He ran a car dealership for a while before embarking on a career as an insurance salesman around 1921.
"I had nearly attained the sixtieth milestone before I was thrown into the insurance plan," Morse wrote of his insurance career. "A friend of mine, who had met with plenty of reverses in business, urged me to follow his example and make the plunge. It took me a year to make up my mind it was the psychological thing to do, but better late than sorry. So I joined the J.D.E. Jones general agency of The Equitable Life Society of the United States."

In the last years of his life, Morse returned once again to sports writing, working for the Boston Traveler newspaper. Morse died on April 12, 1937 at age 76, at his home in Brookline, Massachusetts, having suffered a heart attack a few weeks earlier. He was buried in Mt. Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

"To the generation of today, the name of Jacob C. Morse meant little," the Traveler wrote in its obituary of Morse. "His name is not inscribed in baseball's record book nor is there any tangible monument to him in the pastime. Only in the record-book of the heart is he inscribed, in the hearts of baseball's old timers and those young men who had the fortune to know him."

Now, the SABR BioProject has finally inscribed the name of Jacob C. Morse in baseball history, through the Internet.

Sources

Baseball Magazine, 1908-1912

Boston Globe. "Morse--Gans; Marriage of Popular Newspaper Man to the Daughter of a Well-Known Merchant," March 16, 1893.

Boston Herald. "Rites Tomorrow for Jacob Morse," April 13, 1937.

Harvard University Archives. Alumni biographical file of Jacob Morse and Class of 1881 anniversary reports published in 1906 and 1931.

Lowell Courier-Citizen. "Jake Morse Resigns Secretaryship of the New England League," March 8, 1913.

Sporting Life. "Jacob C. Morse, Boston Correspondent of 'Sporting Life' For 15 Years," March 14, 1908.

U.S. census records, 1870, 1880, 1910, 1920.

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