SABR

Art McGovern

This article was written by Bill Nowlin.

Art McGovern, the carpenter’s son. He came to America and made good in New England, only once in his baseball career briefly returning to the land of his birth, Canada. Art was a right-handed catcher who was born in St. John, New Brunswick, on February 27, 1882. His father, John, was a native New Brunswicker and a carpenter. His mother, Amy Duffy McGovern, was a native of Ireland. Arthur John McGovern was one of six children at the time of the 1891 census of Canada.

The family moved to the United States in 1892 and when the US conducted its own census in 1900 he was the oldest of the five children still living in the household, in Boston, and working as a printer. Three years later he became a naturalized US citizen, in Boston on October 13, 1903. He also became a baseball player, his first season being 1904 when he caught 74 games with the Lowell Tigers of the New England League.i McGovern hit for a .222 average – 48 of his 57 hits being singles. The next year he was in the major leagues, playing for the Boston Americans.

The McGovern who garnered the most headlines in 1900 and shortly afterward was Brooklyn’s Terrible Terry McGovern, a bantamweight and featherweight boxer and briefly the world champion at both weights. McGovern (no relation as far as we have been able to determine) turned to umpiring baseball in 1900, the same year he was beginning to break out in boxing, as a way to make a little more money – even though he pocketed a reported $95,000 in ring receipts in 1900.ii He never umped at the major-league level, but was the same Umpire McGovern who suffered an attack from the fans at Lowell in 1901. “After the game he was followed by the hoodlum element, who threw sticks and stones, one of the latter missiles hitting the umpire.”iii Terry McGovern tried his hand at baseball, too, breaking a collarbone in a collision during a 1902 game at College Point, Long Island. In December 1903 he asked John McGraw for a job playing second base. More than one news story referring to Arthur seems to have inadvertently substituted the name “Terry” in front of “McGovern.” After a while, the nickname affixed itself to Art, making it into his obituary in Sporting Life. At one time or another, he also turned up as Lynn or Larry in newspaper coverage.

Arthur McGovern had a good enough year with Lowell in 1904, as indicated above, receiving occasional mention for his work in the Boston newspapers, for example the July 30 Boston Globe. On August 27 his contract was purchased from Lowell by the Boston Americans. “McGovern is a South Boston boy,” commented the next morning’s Globe, “22 years of age and has made a fine record in his first year out. He called at American league headquarters yesterday and fixed up the salary question with Pres Taylor. McGovern is a fast man, a fine thrower and has all the good points to make a valuable man for Boston. He will not join the team before next spring, having injured a finger some time ago. The young player and his many local fans were delighted to see him get a chance with Jimmy Collins.” After meeting Taylor, McGovern watched Boston beat the White Sox, 2-1, from the press box at the Huntington Avenue Grounds. His finger had been broken in a game on August 2 against visiting Manchester.

It was later explained that Lowell manager Fred Lake had first spotted McGovern in 1903 while on a barnstorming trip in Maine. The January 9, 1904, Sporting Life said, “Lake has in tow a young catcher named McGovern of this city, who he expects will give a good account of himself.” McGovern was bigger than the boxer – 5-feet-10-inches tall and weighing 160 pounds. Boston Globe sportswriter Tim Murnane, who also happened to be president of the New England League, declared in favor of signing a local player: “Few ball clubs ever give a local player an opportunity to show his speed, and for that reason McGovern will be a prime favorite with the local fans next season if he fulfills the good things said of him by such authorities as Fred Lake, Fred Doe, and Billy Hamilton.”iv An article in the same paper a couple of weeks earlier said, “McGovern can handle all kinds of pitching easily, and is a good man to have behind the plate when there are men on bases, for he has acquired the throwing arm to a nicety and can snap a ball to any one of the corners with ease. He is good with the stick, too, and made quite a lot of trouble for some of the New England league box performers last season. Cap Collins is very much pleased with him and had told him to commence training with the new year, for when the ‘champs’ strike the Crescent city, where they are to train next season, the South Boston boy will be expected to put on the mitt and hold pitchers will all kinds of wings.”v

The Lowell Tigers finished seventh in 1904.

McGovern had joined a team that had won the American League pennant two years in a row. Lou Criger was the main man behind the plate, and he appeared in 109 games, but Boston went through an unusual number of catchers in 1905. Only 27 men played for the team that season, and six of them were catchers. Yip Owens played in one game, and Tom Doran in three. The veteran Duke Farrell, who had been playing professional baseball since 1888, got into seven games. Charlie Armbruster was second to Criger, added in midseason and appearing in 35 games. McGovern ranked third in terms of usage, playing in 15 games.

Several times during spring training he played a position – at Collins’s request – where he had never played before: second base. From the start it was understood that McGovern would help back up Criger, but there was little to lose in seeing if he might be able to handle other work, too.

McGovern’s debut game was on April 21, 1905, the sixth game of the season but the home opener in Boston. The team had lost all five of the road games, and lost this one, too, to the visiting Philadelphia Athletics, 5-4, all five Philly runs scoring in the top of the eighth. Catcher Doran pinch-hit for Duke Farrell in the bottom of the eighth, but it was McGovern who came into the game on defense in the ninth. The “pride of the peninsular district” (South Boston) had his first start on April 23, and earned a subhead “Young McGovern Shows Up Strong Behind the Bat.” The Globe continued to favor him with more attention than was customary at the time for locally raised prospects. “Young catchers usually worry when under fire for the first time in major league company, and are more than likely to throw a shoe at the wrong time, but the blonde youth who picked up the game on the open lots over south was very graceful, always in front of the ball and never dropped the leather during the game. He shot the ball to second, nipping Hoffman, and lost a chance on the second man by getting his fingers on the moist part of the ball delivered by Prof Winter. His work at the bat was very good. He made a clever sacrifice, a base on balls, cracked out a sharp single and an out at first in four times up.” A group of friends sat on the first-base side and cheered him on. When he come to bat for the first time, his fans presented him with a watch and chain.vi He called a good game that day; Boston won its first game of the year, a 3-0 shutout thrown by George Winter.

On the 27th Jesse Tannehill was pitching against the Washington Senators and McGovern caught again. The game was a 2-1 win, McGovern’s two-out single in the bottom of the eighth snapping a 1-1 tie. Senators second baseman Mullen had dropped a weak fly hit to him by Buck Freeman. Candy LaChance sacrificed him to second. Hobe Ferris made an out, but McGovern singled to left field and brought Buck home. The Washington Post grumbled that it was a “cheap hit back of third.”

It turned out to be the only RBI of McGovern’s big-league career. He was with the team all year, though he didn’t make all the road trips, and he spent some time in July hospitalized in Chicago for what looked to be an onset of typhoid fever. By the time McGovern rejoined the team in August he had lost up to 40 pounds.vii He played in his last major-league game on October 3. He’d been used but sparingly, hitting for a .114 average in his 50 plate appearances (44 at-bats), with just one extra-base hit (a double). He scored one run and he drove in the one run that won the game on April 27. In his last game, on October 3, he played second base, taking over after Ferris was ejected from the game. His error was the only one of the game; Boston won, 7-4. No longer champion, the team finished in fourth place, 30½ games behind Philadelphia.

Other than the 21 games the Canadian native played for the Toronto Maple Leafs in 1906, every other one of his 871 games in minor-league baseball over a ten-year career was played in the New England League. He was secured from Boston by the Maple Leafs in April 1906. His season was split between Toronto (21 games, and a .140 average) and, after his release at the end of June, the Manchester (New Hampshire) Textiles, where he appeared in 29 games and hit .261. From 1907 through 1910 – four full seasons – McGovern caught for the Brockton Tigers (they changed their name to the Shoemakers in 1910). His average fluctuated a bit, .204, .197, .221, and finally .269 (with his first home run as a pro in the latter year, when he hit four of them). Of course, offense was a bonus for a catcher in those days. When he first joined the Brockton team in 1907, the team had four catchers named “Mac” on their roster: McGovern, McCormick, McDaniels, and McAuliffe. The first couple of years, Brockton finished in the middle of the pack but in 1909 was in second place, just a game and a half behind Worcester. The team finished dead last in 1910. Most of the time McGovern played first base for Brockton. He was team captain in 1909 (when he led the league in stolen bases) and in 1910.viii

In January 1911 McGovern’s contract was sold to the Lynn, Massachusetts, team – still in the New England League, with him still at first base. He played in 1911 and had his best year at the plate, hitting .302. In January 1912 he was named manager of Lynn but in mid to late August, he was relieved of the post. He played in 99 games for the Fall River Adopted Sons in 1913, batting .255. His 1914 season was split between Lawrence and Lewiston, Maine. Lawrence won the New England League pennant that year, but McGovern had finished the year managing the Lewiston Cupids. His combined average was just .132. There was one interesting incident in Lewiston, with Lynn the visiting team. In the seventh inning of the July 23 game, McGovern was thrown out of the game for protesting a decision by umpire Black. Local fans were incensed as well and stormed the field; Lynn’s third baseman, Louis Courtney, was taken to Lewiston police headquarters, but was released without charges being filed.ix

After baseball, McGovern operated a pool and billiards parlor in Lynn, but not for long. On August 29, 1915, he was on his way to Braves Field to see a game against Cincinnati and suffered a stroke that left him unconscious for four days at Boston City Hospital. In September, he was moved to Danvers (Massachusetts) State Hospital where he died on November 14, 1915, the cause of death given on the state’s certificate of death as “general paralysis of the insane.” He was unmarried, and left his mother and three brothers.

 

Sources

In addition to the sources noted in this biography, the author also accessed McGovern’s player file from the National Baseball Hall of Fame, the Encyclopedia of Minor League Baseball, Retrosheet.org, and Baseball-Reference.com.

i There was a catcher named McGovern who was signed to the Norwich, Connecticut, team in 1903, but was released not long after the season began, per the May 23, 1903, issue of Sporting Life.

ii The Washington Post, July 29, 1900, reports his work in baseball, and the Boston Globe of December 16, 1900, reported his earnings for the year. It wasn’t just something the boxer did for a brief stretch in 1900. An August 28, 1901, article in the Hartford Courant bore the subhead “Pugilistic Champion Umpiring Baseball Games.”

iii Boston Globe, August 30, 1901. Haverhill had beaten Lowell, 14-4.

iv Boston Globe, December 4, 1904.

v Boston Globe, November 19, 1904.

vi Boston Globe, April 23, 1905. The newspaper featured an action photograph showing him catching during the game.

vii Sporting Life, August 12, 1905

viii Boston Globe, December 29, 1910

ix Boston Globe, July 24, 1914

 

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