SABR

Red Morgan

This article was written by R. J. Lesch.

Just prior to his death on March 25, 1981, Red Morgan was the oldest living ex-major-leaguer, although nobody knew it at the time. In fact, what little we know about this ballplayer, whose promising life and career ended in obscurity, is due to the sort of painstaking research which ought to be SABR's hallmark.

James Edward Morgan was born October 6, 1883, in Neola, Iowa, just 45 days after another fellow Neolan and future major-league ballplayer, Red Downs. Morgan's father, also named James, was a businessman who arrived in Neola that same year, one year after the town's incorporation, purchased a general store and turned it into a thriving concern.

The elder Morgan was a civic booster, and apparently had no problem with his son's favorite pastime, which was baseball. Neola, a small town of barely 200 residents, boasted one of the top amateur ballclubs in western Iowa. Morgan, with classmate Downs, pitched and played shortstop. The Neola club claimed the unofficial western Iowa championship in 1899, and remained a powerful force for years to come. (See also the http://bioproj.sabr.org/bioproj.cfm?a=v&v=l&bid=193&pid=3755 "> Red Downs biography .)

Morgan attended Notre Dame in the fall of 1899, but returned to pitch nine games (seven starts) for the 1900 Neola Erins the following summer. His pitching career might have come to an end after pitching back-to-back games that August. After relieving in Neola's game on Sunday, August 5, Morgan then pitched a complete game for Nebraska City on Monday, August 6. Auburn defeated Nebraska City 9-7 [1]. Morgan yielded only 7 hits, but his fielders made 14 errors behind him. After that, Morgan pitched only once more for Neola, a loss, and apparently never took the mound again, either due to the physical strain of pitching successive games or the mental strain of enduring his fielders' ineptitude.

Morgan returned to Notre Dame, and was chosen captain of the baseball squad for the 1901 season [2]. He had played third base for the Irish in 1900, but moved across the diamond to first base in 1901. He transferred to Georgetown in 1903, where he was made captain of that squad [3]. He would hold the Georgetown post through the 1905 season, although he would miss significant playing time that year due to the illness of his father, who was stricken with tuberculosis [4]. His father succumbed to the disease on June 14 [5].

Morgan's next decision likely was influenced by the timing of his father's death. The younger Morgan was president of his class, captain of his ball club, and a popular man on the Georgetown campus [6]. He was clearly on his way to a successful professional career. Yet, a month after his father's death, Morgan signed a contract to play baseball with Providence of the Eastern League [7]. He played his first game with Providence a week later. By late August, Jack Dunn, his manager, was claiming that Jim Morgan was the best third baseman of the Eastern League [8]. He attracted attention from big league scouts, though he returned to Georgetown to complete his studies. He signed with the Detroit Tigers, and reported to them immediately following his graduation from Georgetown [9] in June 1906. Detroit loaned Morgan to Boston immediately.

Morgan made his major-league debut on June 20, 1906. The Boston Globe reported that Morgan "couldn't do much with Altrock, but handled himself nicely in the field." At the plate, he went 0-for-4, but made three putouts and recorded an assist.

Unfortunately for Morgan, he was replacing legendary glove man Jimmy Collins, and the Boston press was unmerciful. Several times Morgan's fielding woes made Globe headlines. Following a dreadful showing on July 26, the Globe wrote, "His sins of omission were as great as his sins of commission." Morgan would post the worst fielding percentage among regular American League third basemen in 1906, and his range factor was sixth of the eight [10]. His batting (.215 in 88 games) would have been tolerable by 1906 standards if his glove work had been better, but by the end of the season Boston had no qualms about sending Morgan back to Detroit.

Detroit's new manager, Hugh Jennings, passed up the chance to take Morgan back, and instead sold his contract to Montreal for $1,500. Montreal had to wait while Morgan finished coursework at Harvard Law School. (Morgan is sometimes listed as having played baseball for Harvard, but there is no evidence for this. In fact one contemporary Boston Globe writer bemoaned the new collegiate eligibility requirements, which prevented players from playing more than four years of college sports, because it kept Morgan off the Harvard squad [11]. Nonetheless, Morgan played well enough for Montreal that Detroit took him back in the September 1907 draft.

It appeared that the two Neola boys, Morgan and Downs, might be teammates on the Detroit club in 1908. However, Jennings changed his mind again, and asked waivers on Morgan.

Following this point, the trail grows cold. What little we know about Morgan's life after this is due to SABR members Tom Hufford and Bill Haber. The following are Hufford's words:

"In the first Macmillan Baseball Encyclopedia, he was listed with no death info. That was OK, since it was 1969, and there were still a handful of players from the turn of the century still living then. He would have been 86. It turned out, though, that no one had any info on him, to know whether he was dead or alive. Later editions (after he would have been 100+) just listed him as deceasedÂ…

"The Georgetown University alumni association had absolutely no info on Morgan. Somewhere, about 1980, Bill Haber got a lead that Morgan had been a stockbroker in New York City, and traced him to about 1934. That's when his wife filed for divorce and custody of their child, claiming that Morgan was 'an unfit father.'

"No trace of him could be found after 1934. He stayed "missing" until about 1992, when the Social Security administration made their death index public (available at www.rootsweb.com). I ran a bunch of missing players through it and was shocked when Morgan's death info came up, with the same birth date listed in the Baseball Encyclopedia. Bill (who lived in Brooklyn) was even more shocked when I told him that Morgan had died in NYC in 1981. He lived about 10 years after we started looking for him!

"His death certificate (which I have somewhere) had some real surprises. His occupation was listed as "stockbroker", although there was no record of him being registered as such in NYC since the 1930's. The informant on the death certificate (relation was listed as "friend") listed Morgan's marital status as "never married". Little did he know! You just have to wonder where Morgan was and what he was doing the last 50 years or so of his life." [12]

The 1934 divorce seems to have been from Charlotte Morgan, who is listed as his wife in the 1930 census. The 1920 census lists Morgan as "divorced," implying an earlier marriage still. Neither census indicates children except for a child in the 1930 census who appears to have been Charlotte's son by an earlier marriage. [13]

That's all we know today about the man once described as "the pride of Neola".

Acknowledgements

Many thanks to Cappy Gagnon, the late Bill Haber, and Tom Hufford. Without their efforts this biography would not have been possible.

Sources

[1] Neola (IA) Reporter, various issues, 1900.
[2] Chicago Tribune, June 8, 1901
[3] Washington Post, August 23, 1903
[4] Washington Post, April 28, 1905
[5] Neola Reporter, June 15, 1905
(6) Washington Post, January 13, 1906
[7] Washington Post, July 13, 1905
[8] Washington Post, August 28, 1905
[9] Boston Globe, June 20, 1906
[10] baseball-reference.com
[11] Boston Globe, March 31, 1907
[12] Tom Hufford, private correspondence, October 25, 2002
[13] Tom Hufford, private correspondence, October 12, 2005

Individual Memberships start at just $45/year

Become A Member Today

When you join SABR you are making a statement of support for baseball history. You are joining a worldwide community of people who love to read about, talk about and write about baseball.