Daff Gammons starred on the baseball diamond in the spring and on the football gridiron in the fall at Brown University. He also ran track for the Bruins. He was fast and tough, bursting through the line as a halfback on the left side. He scored 11 touchdowns in his senior year. Gammons’ good friend and fellow future major leaguer Dave Fultz lined up in the backfield on the right side. The pair starred for the baseball team as well, at left field and second base respectively. The Brown nine won the national championship in 1896 and the Eastern championship the following season.
After graduating from the school in Providence, Rhode Island, Gammons played semipro baseball in and around his home in New Bedford, Massachusetts, and played professional football in Pittsburgh. He also coached baseball and football at Brown for two decades. In 1901 Gammons donned a Boston Beaneaters’ uniform for two months; however, he didn’t hit well and was injured during the brief stint and was in truth ambivalent about pursuing a career in professional baseball. He had already established an insurance company, which was still doing business a century later. The company did well from the start, allowing Gammons to concentrate on his other passion, amateur golf. He competed in tournaments throughout New England and around the country for more than two decades, winning the Rhode Island state championship in 1924.
John Ashley Gammons – he acquired his nickname, Daff, at Brown, but nobody at the university 100 years later knew its significance – was born on March 17, 1876, in New Bedford. He was the oldest child of Edgar Howland Gammons and Amantha Bordon Gammons, nee Ashley. Edgar and Amantha lived all their lives in New Bedford. Amantha was a descendant of Peter Brown, who came to America aboard the Mayflower. The couple were married on June 4, 1874, and had five children. At various times Edgar worked as a farmer, dry goods merchant, and quarry operator and later in life was superintendent of the local health department. The family lived on a 250-acre farm in New Bedford.
Gammons attended grade schools in New Bedford and enrolled at Brown University in 1894. He graduated in 1898 and attended Harvard University in 1899 and 1900.
Gammons, 5-feet-11 and weighing 170 pounds, played football at Brown for three seasons, 1895 through 1897. Fultz, his backfield mate, was the star of the club, an All-American. Fultz’s career marks of 174 points and 31 touchdowns wouldn’t be topped by another Brown player for a century. Gammons played the outfield at Brown all four years he was at the school, typically left field, though he played center field in 1897. Fultz manned second base. The baseball squad was one of the strongest in the US during Gammons and Fultz’s tenure. In 1896 they won the national championship with a 19-4 record. The following season, Brown won the Eastern championship with an 18-6 record and defeated the Western champions, the University of Chicago, in a three-game series. Both Fultz and Gammons graduated in 1898. Future major leaguer William Lauder (Phillies, Athletics and Giants, 1898-1903) was also on the 1898 nine.
After graduating from Brown, Gammons played halfback for the Duquesne Country and Athletic Club in Pittsburgh in 1898 and 1899. The 1899 squad was coached by former major-league pitcher Mark Baldwin. In 1900 Gammons joined the Homestead Library Athletic Club, a Pittsburgh squad sponsored by Carnegie Steel, and in 1901 he was the team’s halfback and captain. Fultz was a teammate all three years. In 1902 Gammons played halfback for the Pittsburgh Stars in what was called the National Football League, but had no connection with the modern NFL, which was founded in 1920. The league was funded by baseball men Ben Shibe of the Philadelphia Athletics and John Rogers of the Phillies, among others. Connie Mack even coached one of the clubs. Gammons’ teammates that year included punter Christy Mathewson, a Bucknell University product, and Fred Crolius from Dartmouth College and Tufts University.
Gammons remained a fixture at Brown for more than two decades coaching the football team. Every season for years, the Brown players met for preseason practice and coaching at his New Bedford farm. Generations of Brown players were coached and drilled by Gammons and others at his makeshift field, including Fritz Pollard, the pioneer African-American football player. Gammons was an assistant coach with Brown for most of the years from 1900 until about 1920. He was head coach in 1902 and in 1908 and 1909, amassing a career 17-10-2 record. In 1908 Gammons was Brown’s athletic director as well. He coached baseball from 1901 through 1903. In February 1902 he brought Christy Mathewson in to coach the Brown pitchers.
After graduation, Gammons played semipro baseball for the Attleboro and North Attleboro, Massachusetts, clubs, from 1898 through 1900. In 1899 he also played with an independent New Bedford club that featured numerous college players, including Crolius. In 1901, while Gammons was coaching the Brown baseball squad, Milwaukee of the American League and Boston of the National League approached him about playing for them. However, he was hesitant to sign with any professional ballclub because he was trying to build his insurance business. He wavered back and forth but eventually signed with the Boston Beaneaters on March 26, 1901, and joined them for spring training.
Gammons, by now 25 years old, made his major-league debut on April 23 as a pinch-hitter in the Beaneaters’ second game of the season. Batting for pitcher Vic Willis in the ninth inning, he flied out to center field in a 5-3 loss to Philadelphia. Crolius also joined Boston in 1901, playing right field. Gammons split time in left field with a couple of other utility players. He also appeared in a few games in right field and at second base and third base. The New Castle News of New Castle, Pennsylvania, reporting on a Beaneaters game at Pittsburgh, wrote on May 29 that “Gammons’ first performance in the infield was entirely successful.” On June 4 Gammons split open a finger on his right hand in a game at Chicago. Manager Frank Selee sent the injured player home rather than take him to St. Louis, and signed George Grossart as a replacement. At the end of the road trip, on June 15, Selee released Grossart and inserted Gammons back into the lineup. The Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette in Indiana reported that Gammons was released on June 19; however, with a few doubleheaders in the near future Selee must have changed his mind, and Gammons stayed with the team for another week. His last appearance occurred on June 26 as a pinch-runner for catcher Malachi Kittridge in the ninth inning of a 3-2 loss to St. Louis. In all, Gammons appeared in 28 games for Boston, collecting 18 hits in 93 at-bats for a meager .194 batting average. In his brief stay with Boston he made a lasting impression on at least one teammate: Fred Tenney declared that Gammons was the greatest head-first slider he’d ever seen.
Within a couple of days, Gammons rejoined the semipro North Attleboro club. In July he joined the semipro Woonsocket (Rhode Island) Gyms. (Woonsocket is the birthplace of Napoleon Lajoie.) Gammons rejoined Woonsocket in 1902 but left the team abruptly when he was offered the captaincy of the Olneyville club, a neighborhood nine in Providence. He quit playing baseball and football after 1902 to concentrate on his growing insurance business.
In 1901 Gammons established his own insurance agency, John A. Gammons Inc., in Providence. It still does business more than 100 years later. He also invested in real estate. His businesses did well over the years, supporting an extensive amateur golfing travel schedule and a large home with live-in servants for his family. In October 1910, Gammons married Florence Fisher Talbot, a 28-year-old Andover, Maine, native. They had seven children, four boys and three girls. The family initially lived in the Rumford area of East Providence, adjacent to Proividence. They eventually settled in East Greenwich, farther out in the Providence suburbs, during the 1920s.
In 1915 Gammons initiated an effort to purchase the Providence Grays of the International League. He enticed other local investors and eventually bought into the club on March 13, 1917. Gammons was named president and handled the day-to-day operations. In March 1918, with the United States in World War I, he resigned after being appointed to the advisory committee of the Bureau of Mines in Washington, D.C.
Gammons was one of the top amateur golfers in Rhode Island, as a member of the private Wannamoisett Country Club in Rumford. He competed in tournaments throughout the country from at least 1912 to well into the 1930s. He won the Rhode Island amateur championship in 1924. By the mid-1930s, nearing his 60th birthday, Gammons gave up competitive golf. In 1933 he was elected president of the Rhode Island Sportsmen’s Association and later that year became executive vice president of the Rhode Island Golf Association. By 1935, he was president of the latter. In 1934 Gammons served as an official at the U.S. Open in Ardmore, Pennsylvania, working alongside Prescott Bush and others.
On March 24, 1963, John Gammons died at his home in East Greenwich at the age of 87. He was buried at Oak Grove Cemetery in New Bedford.
Bridgeport Post, Bridgeport, Connecticut
Carroll, John M. Fritz Pollard: Pioneer in Racial Achievement. Urbana, Illinois: University of Illinois Press, 1999.
Christian Science Monitor
Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette, Fort Wayne, Indiana.
Grand Rapids Tribune, Grand Rapids, Michigan
Kingsport Times, Kingsport, Tennessee
Lowell Sun, Lowell, Massachusetts
New Castle News, New Castle, Pennsylvania
Newport Mercury and Weekly News, Newport, Rhode Island
New York Times
Post-Standard, Syracuse, New York
The Sporting News
Titusville Herald, Titusville, Pennsylvania