Just three years after graduate Jim McHale played outfield for the Boston Red Sox, St. Mary’s College of Oakland, California, had a total enrollment of 238 in 1911 – more or less 60 people in each graduating class. This small college has produced 63 major-league baseball players, most recently Mark Teahen, James Mouton, and Tom Candiotti. The Red Sox alone count nine St. Mary’s men among their own alumni: Frank Arellanes, Bill Fleming, Harry Hooper, Bill James, Earl Johnson, Dutch Leonard, Duffy Lewis, Emmett O’Neill – and McHale.
McHale began his professional career at the age of 24 with a team that existed for only one season: the 1900 Anaconda Serpents, based in the Montana town of the same name. The four-team Montana State League lasted only one year, too. McHale then spent a year out of Organized Baseball and next played for three years, starting in 1902, for the Butte, Montana, Miners in the Pacific Northwest League. (In 1903 the league changed its name to the Pacific National League, and partway through the 1904 season the team changed its name to the Fruit Pickers.) Each year McHale hit better than the year before: .265, .280, and .303.
With Anaconda he was playing in his adopted hometown. McHale had been born near Wilkes-Barre in Miners Mills, Pennsylvania, on December 17, 1875. His parents, Michael and Catherine (McGroarty) McHale, were Pennsylvania natives; all four of Jim McHale’s grandparents had immigrated to the United States from Ireland. Living in Nanticoke, Luzerne County, Pennsylvania, Michael was employed as an engineer at the time of the 1880 census. Jim had five siblings, John, Hugh, Joe, Richard, and Margaret. His son John later informed the National Baseball Hall of Fame that two of the brothers – John Stanislaus McHale and Hugh McHale – also played professional baseball, but no confirmed records have yet been located.i
When Jim was 20, Michael McHale moved the family to Anaconda, in Deer Lodge County, Montana. Michael’s brother-in-law John Steven McGroarty, who was county treasurer in Luzerne County, had been offered a position with the Anaconda Copper Mining Co., and moved there in 1896, taking some of his extended family with him. McGroarty later became a US congressman from the Los Angeles area and a successful playwright and the poet laureate of the state of California. Michael worked in Anaconda as a stationary engineer, perhaps for the light company. In the 1900 census, Hugh was listed as a machinery oiler. Jim gave his occupation as baseball player. In 1903, he was “the most popular player on the team” in Butte.ii
In 1905 baseball took McHale out of state. He opened the year with Seattle in the Pacific Coast League. He was released in late August and wound up with the Portland Beavers, staying on their reserve list for 1906. In 1905 he played in 182 games during the PCL’s much longer baseball season with a combined Seattle/Portland average of .239. In 1906, playing for Portland, McHale hit .278 over the course of 172 games.
In 1907 McHale and Ben Henderson both deserted Portland and played independent baseball in Stockton, California. Beavers owner Walter McCredie sold McHale’s contract to the Boston American League club, but McHale refused the assignment, even though Boston reportedly offered him $1,000.iii
Come wintertime, rather than remain on the suspended list, McHale came to terms with the team now known as the Red Sox and sent in his contract. He was impressive in spring training and Boston manager Deacon McGuire said that McHale and Amby McConnell were both “fixtures on the regular Boston team.”iv There was real excitement back in Anaconda, reported Rev. Mr. Carnahan from Montana. Sporting Life said, “All Anaconda is interested in her own boy, Jimmy McHale; proud that he is making his mark on the diamond. And best of all, because he is a clean one who takes care of his body, does not allow himself to be overcome by the habits that lose so many promising players a place in the base ball world. He saves his money and recognizes that even in the baseball field a man has a legitimate opportunity to make a name and place for himself in the world. So we are waiting for the papers to announce what we all confidently believe will happen, that Jimmy McHale will make good on Boston’s crack team and win new glory for himself and his home town.”v
McHale was particularly impressive on defense in spring training, covering much ground and with a strong arm to the plate, and had himself at least one three-hit game.
McHale made his major-league debut on Opening Day of the 1908 season, playing center field and batting third in the order, the third batter in history as a member of the team that first had the name Boston Red Sox. He was 0-for-3 at the plate, but saw Cy Young pitch the Red Sox to a 3-1 win over Washington. There weren’t a lot of hits to be had that day; each team had just four. He struck out three times in his second game, but executed one sacrifice and pulled in a long fly ball in center. On the 17th, he singled in the sixth for his first big-league base hit. The next day he was 2-for-3. In an April 20 doubleheader against Philadelphia he enjoyed his best day, 1-for-3 with a triple in the first game and 2-for-4 in the second game, driving in five runs on the day while two catches were deemed “superb.”vi He did hit well at first, but his batting average dropped after the first ten days or so. By May 6 Denny Sullivan had laid claim to the center-field spot, and though McHale filled in at left field once or twice, McGuire basically just stopped using him. Sullivan wasn’t that much of a hotter hitter than McHale by the time end-of-year statistics were compiled, but he hit very well indeed in his first three weeks, and cemented himself in place.
McHale made only one error, in 33 chances. But his strikeouts at the plate may have made too negative an impression. In 67 at-bats, he struck out 13 times. There was an unusual amount of coming and going from the Red Sox roster at this point in the season and one of those who were going was McHale, sent to Toronto. His final average was .224, with seven RBIs.
Arm trouble was cited as the reason for his lack of success, according to McHale’s obituary in the Los Angeles Times.vii In 1911 another (unrelated) McHale joined the Red Sox – Marty McHale, from Maine – and became a member of the team’s successful vaudeville group, the Red Sox Quartette.
After being released to Toronto, Jim McHale took a little time before deciding to accept the move but in its July 2 edition, Sporting Life reported that he had joined the team. And yet he was still with the Red Sox on July 8, his last game with the team. Gessler and LaPorte had both suffered injuries, and so the Red Sox held on to McHale just a bit longer. In the end, he went to Providence instead.
After their season was over, and he’d hit .220 for the Grays, Providence released him. He was still on a Boston contract, and the Red Sox granted him permission to return to the West.viii He apparently played 15 games for the independent league Stockton Millers, hitting just .130.
It is difficult to be definitive about 1909, since McHale is not found in Organized Baseball. A September 19, 1909, news story in the Los Angeles Times referred to a McHale playing in “outlaw ball” for Oakland (and beating Fresno with a leadoff homer in the eighth). McHale’s son John said he believed 1909 was the year his parents married.ix
In 1910 McHale opened the season playing outfield for the San Francisco Seals, but after 11 games (he was batting a respectable-enough .244) he was unconditionally released at the beginning of May. McHale was living in Oakland with his wife, Haidee Trahern. By 1917, at the time he registered for the military draft, he was employed as a clerk in Stockton for a company named Branch, Inc. The family increased by one as James B. Jr. was born. The household at the time of the 1920 census included Jim himself, working as a clerk in a cigar store. Father Michael had moved in with his son, working as a general engineer. Jim’s brother John was employed as a policeman. Ten years later, Jim and Haidee had another child, John. Jim Sr. was working as a fertilizer salesman at the time. He also served as a storekeeper at some point in his later life.
Jim Jr. was often in the headlines at national golf championships during the late 1930s and through the 1940s. He became a Walker Cup golfer in 1951.
James B. McHale died of a cerebral thrombosis at the St. John of God Sanitarium Los Angeles on June 17, 1959. He was 83 years old. The State of California certificate of death says that the last three years of his working life had been as a machinist for Lockheed Aircraft.
In addition to the sources noted in this biography, the author also accessed McHale’s player file from the National Baseball Hall of Fame, the online SABR Encyclopedia, the Encyclopedia of Minor League Baseball, Retrosheet.org, and Baseball-Reference.com.
i Player questionnaire at the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
ii Sporting Life, June 6, 1903.
iii Sporting Life, August 10 and 17, 1907.
iv Sporting Life, April 18, 1908.
v Sporting Life, April 18, 1908.
vi Boston Globe, April 21, 1909.
vii Los Angeles Times, June 19, 1959.
viii Sporting Life, September 26, 1908.
ix Player questionnaire at the National Baseball Hall of Fame.