In 1898, the town of Plymouth, Pennsylvania, lost one of its most respected residents when forty-four-year-old harness maker Dan B. Loderick died of Bright's disease, leaving behind his wife Annie and five children. Loderick had served terms as police chief and burgess of Plymouth and, even though he was a Democrat in a Republican town, was so popular that it was a byword that he would be elected to any office he sought. Yet when word came of his tragic passing, many recalled Loderick's days on the baseball diamond in the early 1870s.
Dan Loderick was born in New Jersey in 1853, one of two children of Jonas and Marina Loderick. The family relocated to Pennsylvania when Dan and his sister Georgianna were children and eventually settled in Tunkhannock. At age 17, Dan was apprenticed to Wilkes-Barre harness maker James Laird. When he completed his apprenticeship four years later, he moved the neighboring village of Plymouth (about five miles away) to start out on his own.
During those four years two defining events had taken place in his life. He had won the heart of Laird's daughter Annie, and the two were married at about the time Loderick moved to Plymouth. And he had also made a lasting impression on Wilkes-Barre baseball enthusiasts.
He started out with the Shoemakers, a ball club that first played its games on a site where Sturdevant & Goff's lumber yard later stood and then moved to grounds at the corner of South Fell and Ross Streets. After a year, baseball interest in Wilkes-Barre had risen to the level where it was felt necessary to organize a more ambitious club to represent the city.
The new club chose the name of Coal Heavers and set up grounds on a lot bordered by Park Avenue on the east, Hickory Street on the west, Metcalf Street on the north and Dana Street on the south. The nine included Gene Rhoads as pitcher, Frank Bossart at first base, "Nort" Marshall at second base, Frank Wheaton as short stop; Charley Tammony at third base, Eddy Moore at left field, Walt Stein in center field, and Alfred Dando in right field. But the star of the club was Dan Loderick, who was the team's catcher.
The catcher was considered the most important defensive position of the era, since a pitcher could not be effective unless he knew he had an agile man behind the plate to stop his fastest deliveries. In addition, the catcher had to be courageous, since he wore neither gloves nor mask and typically stood within ten feet of the plate. Dan Loderick possessed both attributes, and his prowess in that onerous position struck those who watched him as "phenomenal."
They were just as impressed by the novel way he found to reach base. Although the bunt was all but unknown in the era, Loderick's experience back of the plate made him realize that such a play would be very difficult to defense with the catcher standing well behind the batter. As a result, "Loderick's great specialty was the bunt and run act, and at that he was a bird. You ought to have seen him make the visitors open their eyes, and bustle to nip him at first, but he was too quick for them and could beat 'em out nineteen times out of twenty."
Such boasts about early ballplayers are, of course, commonplace and need to be taken with a grain of salt. But most of these assessments were passed along by a man named Tom Taylor who followed baseball in Wilkes-Barre for many years and watched a later player named Pete Gillespie go on to a long major league career. Thus his evaluation of Loderick, while quite possibly influenced by friendship, cannot be dismissed.
One of Loderick's games in particular passed into legend. The visitors were a club called the New Havens, and the Coal Heavers held a comfortable lead when a sharp foul tip struck the middle finger of Loderick's right hand. He danced around in agony as the home team's fans began to wonder if victory was about to slip away. They were reassured when Loderick resumed his position, but then another foul tip struck him square in the face, spattering blood far and wide. A physician came out of the stands, looked him over and advised the catcher that his nose was broken and that he should not continue.
Reluctantly, Loderick agreed to give up the catching position for the rest of the game. Even with a broken nose, however, he refused to leave the game and instead switched positions with second baseman "Nort" Marshall. The New Havens figured that the switch would derail their hosts and make it easy for them to come back. Instead, Marshall proved a stellar replacement, prompting one of the New Havens to ask pitcher Rhoads how many great catchers his team possessed. "This timber," responded Rhoads, "is all alike. Some days we knock out half a dozen catchers, but we have no men on this team who can't go behind the bat and do the same kind of work as Dan and Nort."
Despite the widespread praise for his catching skills, Dan Loderick, according to Taylor, "never got a swelled head. He was always the gentleman, never became dissipated and while he was stuck on the game he stuck to business like a leech."
His abilities brought him the opportunity to play professional ball. The shortstop of the New Havens was a man named Rowe who was destined for the major leagues. (It was probably Jack Rowe, but it could also be his brother David -- the article does not specify.) Rowe tried hard to convince Rhoads and Loderick to pursue professional baseball, but careers in baseball were still very uncertain ways of supporting a family. So, although the two men, "loved base ball, they did not think enough of it to give up good jobs to follow it."
As a result, with Dan Loderick, as with many ballplayers of the 1870s, we can only conjecture about how good of a ballplayer he really was. Would competing against the best players from New York City and Philadelphia have exposed weaknesses in his game? Or was he a star in the making who gave up baseball to marry the woman he loved and start a family? There is no way to be certain.
Wilkes-Barre Times, February 3, 1898, obituary of Dan B. Loderick; censuses.