Jimmy Hart

This article was written by Terry Bohn

Jimmy Hart played roughly half of one major-league season, that as a switch-hitting, left-handed-throwing first baseman under John McGraw with the 1901 Baltimore Orioles. His season ended prematurely when he was fined and suspended by American League President Ban Johnson for punching umpire John Haskell. A short time after rejoining the team, upset that the Orioles refused to pay his $25 fine, he quit. Despite his .311 batting average and several subsequent .300 seasons in the high minors, Hart never returned to the big leagues.

James John Hart was born on November 27, 1875, in St. Paul, Minnesota, to George M. and Emaline “Emma” Jane Deline. George was born in Scotland, arriving in the United States in 1866, and Emma was a Wisconsin native. James was the sixth of nine children; he had four brothers and four sisters. George listed his occupation as a tailor and apparently, in addition to raising a large family, Emma worked with her husband, as on the 1880 Census her occupation was listed as “tailoress.”

Both George and Emma came from Cottage Grove, Wisconsin, a small town just east of Madison, and married there in 1868. It is assumed they were living in St. Paul around the time of James’s birth in 1875, but by the time of the 1880 Census the family was now living in Dodge Center, Minnesota. Sometime after that they had relocated to West Central Wisconsin in the Chippewa Falls/Eau Claire area, which Hart considered home most of his life.

Around the time Hart was in his late teens and early 20s, Charlie Comiskey was managing the St. Paul club in the Western League, and it’s likely Comiskey spotted or heard of Hart playing on the sandlots in nearby Wisconsin. Hart’s first season in Organized Baseball was with the Wahpeton (North Dakota)-Breckenridge (Minnesota) Methodists in the Class F Red River Valley League in 1897. This league was set up by Comiskey, along with Walter Wilmot of Minneapolis and Cap Anson in Chicago, to essentially serve as a feeder system for their teams, so it’s possible Comiskey had Hart under contract and farmed him out for seasoning.

The following account from a game that season provided evidence that Hart’s propensity for assaulting umpires began with his rookie season in professional baseball. “Just at the close of the Fargo-Wahpeton game Thursday, a most disgraceful scene occurred and the spectators had a ball game and a prize fight for one admission. When the last man was called out, first baseman Hart of the W-B aggregation rushed up to umpire Lyons and knocked him down, bruising him badly. The attack was entirely uncalled for and evidently an attempt on the part of Hart to square himself with the Wahpeton people for the ignominious defeat.1

Hart’s whereabouts in 1898 are unknown but he began the 1899 season as a third baseman with an independent team in Superior, Wisconsin. A brief news item that year also referred to Hart as a former Manitowoc (Wisconsin) player.2 When St. Paul’s regular second baseman, Bob Glenalvin, was injured in August, Comiskey brought Hart to St. Paul, where he finished the year. After the season it was rumored that he, along pitcher Roy Patterson, would be among the players Comiskey would take with him to Chicago, but there is no evidence he ever had a tryout with the White Stockings.

Instead, Hart started the 1900 season with the London (Ontario) Tecumsehs of the International League before being sold to the Buffalo Bisons of the American League (which was still a minor league) in August. He hit .253 in 72 games combined with both teams. Sporting Life reported that he also had played near his home in Duluth at some point that season and that he was “claimed by Connie Mack, but London had a prior claim to him.”3

Hart began the 1901 season with the Grand Rapids Furniture Makers of the Western Association.4 After a poor Western road trip through Chicago, Detroit, and Cleveland in late May and early June, Baltimore Orioles manager John McGraw decided a change was needed and purchased Hart, along with two other players, from Grand Rapids. The sale was challenged by Grand Rapids manager Deacon Ellis, but Ban Johnson ruled that the players had already been given their release,5 and the deal went through. McGraw released incumbent Frank Fultz and Hart became the team’s regular first baseman. He made his major-league debut on June 6 and through early August was hitting over .300.

On August 5, in the second inning of the second game of a doubleheader against the Boston Americans at Oriole Park, Hart became upset at a decision by umpire John Haskell and punched him in the face. Haskell reportedly “tried to retaliate in kind.”6 Hart’s hometown newspaper, the Eau Claire (Wisconsin) Leader, picked up the story but added that Hart’s poke at Haskell landed “as only a Eau Claire boy can.”7 McGraw, who was playing third base that day, “threw himself between the combatants and prevented further hostilities.” Hart and Haskell were arrested, taken to the police station, and charged with disturbing the peace. Both men paid fines and costs and were released.

American League President Johnson acted quickly. He said, “This is the first time a player of the American League has struck an umpire, and it is an offense that cannot be overlooked” and “... it is certain that the act will be sufficiently punished.”8 Johnson suspended Hart indefinitely (later reduced to 10 days retroactive to August 6) and fined him $25.

The baseball necrology website states that Hart was banned from the American League due to the fight with Haskell, and a contemporary source indicated he “probably will be out of the game for the rest of the season.”9 However, after serving his suspension (during which time he was paid his salary by Baltimore), Hart was back in the Orioles’ lineup and on August 24 he had his best day in the majors, going 4-for-4 in a 10-4 win over Chicago. That was to be Hart’s last game. A few days later two Baltimore papers, the American and the Morning Herald, both reported that he had quit the team because the Orioles refused to pay the $25 he had been fined.10 A few weeks later Hart was back in the Western Association (and in the minor leagues for good) with Wheeling.

This was the first of a number of disputes Hart would have with team management, causing him to bounce around among eight teams in five minor leagues over the next decade, and despite his being a consistent .300 hitter at the Class A level, likely prevented another return to the majors. In 58 games with Baltimore, all at first base, Hart hit .311 with three doubles and five triples among his 64 hits. Although the press described him as a good fielder, the 5-foot-10 inch, 180-pound Hart committed 14 errors at first and finished with a .976 fielding percentage.

In 1902 Hart signed with Columbus, Ohio, in the independent American Association. He returned to Columbus during the first weeks of the 1903 season but in May was signed by Minneapolis. After he played in only six games for the Millers, Louisville put in a claim on him and Hart finished the season batting .322 in 102 games for the Colonels.

Though primarily known as a batter, that summer Hart made a defensive play that made national headlines. On August 8 Louisville was hosting the St. Paul Saints. The Colonels were leading 6-5 with two out in the top of the ninth but St. Paul had runners on second and third. The next batter, St. Paul third baseman Eddie Wheeler, hit a fly ball to deep left field that looked like a sure extra-base hit, but Hart made a running catch in the corner, preserving the win for the Colonels.

The following spring, Louisville manager George Tebeau mailed Hart a contract that called for a reduction in salary from $350 to $250 a month, which Hart promptly returned unsigned. He was reportedly offered the manager’s job with Superior of the Northern League, near his home in Wisconsin, and the Duluth club of the Northern League also made him an offer, but he eventually signed and returned to Louisville in 1904.

In July Hart injured his hip while sliding and returned to his home in Eau Claire to recuperate. Louisville ordered him to report back to the team before he thought he was ready to play, and the Duluth News Tribune reported that he had jumped his Louisville contract and signed with Calumet, Michigan, of the Northern Copper County League. This turned out to be false, and after playing one game for his hometown semipro team (maybe an early version of a rehab assignment?) Hart returned to the Colonels for the rest of the year and hit .322 overall in 106 games.

He began the 1905 season with Louisville but by mid-May “balked at some of [manager George] Tebeau’s ways” and jumped the club for the Altoona (Pennsylvania) Mountaineers of the independent Tri-State League. By early July he was on the move again, deserting Altoona for Seattle of the Pacific Coast League. There were apparently no hard feelings in Altoona as the Philadelphia Inquirer wrote that Hart was “a clever, steady-going player and had won his place in the hearts of fandom.”11 All told he hit .300 again (.311) in 81 games

In 1906 Hart returned to Minneapolis. He never hit with much power, but that season did hit one memorable home run. On May 8 Hart “put the ball over the fence for the longest hit ever seen on Nicollet field.” At the time a Dr. C.H. Kohler was driving in his automobile on Nicollet Avenue and felt a bump near his right coat pocket. When he heard the yelling from the ballpark, Kohler paid his admission and went inside, where his friends told him of Hart’s long hit. Dr. Kohler reached inside his right coat pocket for a handkerchief, and instead produced the ball reputedly hit by Hart “with a deep dent in one side of it.”12

In 1907 Hart went to spring training with Minneapolis and that April got his first experience as a manager when Millers skipper Mike Cantillon left him in charge of the club while he was away at a league meeting in Chicago. In May there was a report than Hart had been obtained by Peoria of the 3-I League,13 but there is no record of his having played for Peoria.

In June Davy Williams resigned as manager of the Sioux City Packers in the Class A Western League, and Hart left Minneapolis and took over. He continued to play regularly, and as late as August 3 his .355 average was leading the league. He finished at .323 in 115 games. After the season Ducky Holmes was named manager of Sioux City and in December he sold Hart to Shreveport in the Southern League.

There is no evidence that Hart ever played or managed for Shreveport; instead his record shows him playing in 54 games for the Mobile Sea Gulls in the Class A Southern Association. At some point later that summer he returned to the Upper Midwest and played with the Eau Claire and Chippewa Falls teams in the semipro Western Wisconsin League. He also played a few games with independent teams on Minnesota’s Iron Range.

In 1909 Hart went East to play for the Hartford Senators, in the Class B Connecticut State League and again hit over .300 (.318) in 121 games. That fall he returned to Wisconsin and the Superior team again tried to secure him as manager. It was also reported Hart also had “opened negotiations for the purchase of a franchise in the eastern circuit” and “has several managerial offers under consideration.”14 Nevertheless, he returned to Hartford in 1910 as an active player and, at age 34, had his seventh professional season of batting .300 or better.

It is not known where Hart received his medical training, but when he returned to Chippewa Falls in the fall of 1910 he was referred to as Doctor Hart, a practicing veterinarian. On his World War I draft registration card from September of 1918, he listed his occupation as an assistant veterinary surgeon, working for his brother Leonard in Chippewa Falls.

That fall Hart made it known he was interested in purchasing the Superior Northern League team. His offer was not accepted by the club’s board of directors, so Hart returned to Hartford in 1911. He hit .288 in his last season on Organized Baseball. Hart retired to his farm, a few miles from Eau Claire, and opened a veterinary practice. At some point he moved to California and died on August 31, 1926, in Los Angeles. His body was returned to Wisconsin and he was buried in Lakeview Cemetery in Eau Claire. He had no known descendants.

A record was found of a marriage between James J. Hart and Mabel D. Earley, a native of Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin, on April 2, 1909, in Garland County, Arkansas. Hart was in Hot Springs at the time, preparing for spring training. Mabel was a widow; she had previously been married to George Earley, and had a daughter, Lillian.

In November 1909 the Duluth News Tribune wrote that Mabel had been undergoing treatment at Rochester, Minnesota, presumably at the Mayo Clinic, but by the time of the 1910 US Census, Jimmy, Mabel, and Lillian were living in Chippewa Falls. He listed his occupation as ballplayer, and Mabel was a real-estate agent. In the 1920 Census she listed her marital status as divorced, and in 1930 (after Jimmy’s death in 1926) as widowed.

 

Sources

ancestry.com

baseball-reference.com

 

Notes

1 Grand Forks (North Dakota) Daily Herald, August 1, 1897.

2 Manitowoc (Wisconsin) Daily Herald, August 30, 1899.

3 Sporting Life, August 25, 1900.

4 Besides his time with Baltimore, Hart’s movements in 1901 are difficult to track. It is known that he began the season with Grand Rapids until his sale to Baltimore. After he quit the Orioles, the Grand Rapids Press reported on September 7, 1901, that he “has broken into the game again with Wheeling.” Hart's page in baseball-reference.com shows him playing 48 games for Wheeling in 1901, but it is not clear if this report was referring to his first appearance in Wheeling, or a return from earlier in the season. According to baseball-reference, he also played for Fort Wayne, also in the Western Association, at some point that season.

5 Cleveland Leader, June 14, 1901.

6 Boston Globe, August 6, 1901.

7 Eau Claire (Wisconsin) Leader, August 7, 1901.

8# Boston Globe, August 7, 1901.

9 Grand Rapids (Michigan) Press, August 8, 1901.

10 Baltimore American and Baltimore Morning Herald, August 27, 1901.

11 Philadelphia Inquirer, July 9, 1905.

12 Minneapolis Journal, May 11, 1906.

13 Decatur (Illinois) Review, May 10, 1907.

14 Duluth News Tribune, November 5, 1909.