SABR

Dick Conway

This article was written by Charlie Bevis.

During the 1880s, when the pitcher delivered his serves from the pitcher's box rather than the pitching rubber, Dick Conway played two major league seasons and a portion of a third, compiling a lifetime 15-24 record in 41 games as a pitcher for Boston in the National League and Baltimore in the American Association. Conway also played another 17 games as an outfielder, attaining a lifetime batting average of .230.

Richard Butler Conway was born on April 25, 1866 in Lowell, Massachusetts, one of the younger children in the large family raised by Joseph and Hannah Conway. Joseph, an Irish immigrant, first worked in Rhode Island and later moved to Lowell to work as an engraver. Dick had at least eight older brothers and sisters, including his brother Bill who would also go on to play major league baseball, as well as several younger siblings.

As a teenager, Conway played ball for local Lowell teams. In 1884, he played outfield for the Salem team in the Massachusetts State Association. When his brother Bill signed to play with the Philadelphia team of the National League in July 1884, Dick apparently went with him to Philadelphia. Conway caught on as a pitcher for a team in York, Pennsylvania, which was a member of the Eastern League, one of the first minor leagues in organized baseball.

Minor league baseball came to Massachusetts in 1885 when the New England League was formed around teams in the leading cities of the textile and shoe industries. Conway signed to play with Lawrence, just a few miles down the Merrimack River from his home in Lowell. With Conway as the team's primary pitcher, and brother Bill a regular catcher, Lawrence captured the New England League pennant in 1885. One baseball writer effusively called Dick Conway "the ball player who has probably gained more notoriety this season in the Eastern States than any other individual."

Conway gained a reputation as a tough competitor in 1885, the second year in which a pitcher could deliver an overhand pitch from a pitcher's box whose front line was just 50 feet from home plate. On July 23 in a game at Brockton, one of Conway's pitches fractured the skull of Bill McGunnigle, the Brockton player-manager. McGunnigle "dodged the first ball thrown at his head ... with the second [pitch] he needed to drop to all fours to save himself," the Brockton Weekly Gazette reported. "The unfortunate batsman could not avoid the [third] ball in time, and it struck him directly behind the left ear which caused a crash that was heard in every part of the grounds. Poor 'Mac' fell like an animal beneath the butcher's axe, and his quivering form was drawn up in agony as he lay upon the ground." The Boston Globe charitably reported, "The only topic on the street tonight is the question of whether it was Conway's idea to frighten the batsman or if he was trying to get the balls as close to the batsman as possible."

While Conway's catcher in the July 23 game was his future brother-in-law, George Moolic, his brother Bill often caught his games to form an all-brother battery. Two days after the McGunnigle incident, Lawrence defeated Brockton 13-1 as reported by the Boston Globe: "the Lawrences defeated the Brocktons this afternoon by the fine pitching and catching of the Conway brothers and by heavy batting."

In 1886, Conway returned to play with Lawrence. By early July, his pitching had led Lawrence to first place again in the New England League standings, until tensions on the team suddenly exploded. Despite the team's success on the field, management had been persistently handing out fines to players for infractions incurred both on the field (e.g., John Gorman $75 for "indifferent playing") and off the field (e.g., T. Clayton $25 "for intoxication"). The Lawrence players took exception to the fines and on July 17 they refused to play the scheduled game with Newburyport. William S. Knox, president of the Lawrence club, immediately moved to blacklist all the truant players at a special New England League meeting that evening.

When Gorman and player-manager Frank Cox expressed no contrition at the meeting, the New England League owners voted to blacklist both players. The owners then took up Conway's case. "R.B. Conway had no explanations to make, neither had he excuses or apologies for the claimed misconduct," the Boston Globe recounted of the meeting. "He stated that although he was not one of the members who was fined he stood by those who were, inasmuch as it was claimed that should any of those fines be allowed by the members of the club and paid, similar fines would be imposed without restraint. He refused to pay any fine to the New England League, as proposed by President Moody, but on the motion of Mr. Worthington, which had apparently the endorsement of all the League managers present, his case was laid upon the table."

Later in the meeting, the owners agreed to reinstate several players, rather than blacklist them, if they paid a fine and made amends with the club. Conway's brother Bill then "practically admitted the charges made by the League and was equally hearty in his assertion that he would make such reparation as was reasonably demanded by the New England League." According to the Lawrence Daily American, the Conway brothers were both reinstated after they agreed to pay a fine of $20 and answered three questions--"Do you think, on the whole, that you were acting right to your employers? Will you play to the best of your ability and will you submit to such punishment as you may think reasonable?"

Despite the recanting by Dick Conway, Knox had decided to sell his contract, which no doubt was the reason why Conway was allowed to be reinstated rather than blacklisted. Billy Barnie, manager of the Baltimore team in the American Association, was seeking new players to infuse some life into his last-place team. Two days after the special New England League meeting, Barnie checked into the Essex House hotel in Lawrence to negotiate with Knox.

Barnie reportedly paid Knox $1800 for three players, the Conway brothers and outfielder Pat O'Connell, and agreed to transfer catcher Ned Bligh from Baltimore to Lawrence. "The only reason he [Barnie] wanted W. Conway was that he being used to Dick they might work better together," the Lawrence Daily American reported. The Conways also received a raise in pay, according to the Lawrence Daily Eagle. "On the Lawrence team, the Conways got $175 and $125 a month, while O'Connell was paid $100 a month. On the Baltimores, each will receive $250 a month. Bully for O'Connell and bully for the Conways."

Five days following the walkout of the Lawrence team in the New England League, Conway was in the major leagues. His debut in Baltimore on July 22 was not auspicious, though, as he lost 11-10 to Cincinnati. "Judging by the way Dick Conway was batted at Baltimore yesterday, it will not be long before he will wish he had remained at Lawrence," the Lawrence Daily American reported.

He won his next two games, but then lost six in a row, including a 22-5 drubbing at the hands of Louisville on August 15 and a 14-2 rout by St. Louis on August 13. The New York Times noted of the St. Louis game, "The Conway brothers were in the points for the Baltimores, and their work was very poor."

Batters in the American Association were a bit more talented than the New England League hitters, so Conway didn't last long in 1886 at the major league level. He started nine games in the pitcher's box for Baltimore, winning just two games and losing seven.
By September, Conway was back in the New England League, this time with the team in Portland, Maine.

Conway helped Portland win the 1886 New England League pennant, pitching shutouts in his first four outings in the pitcher's box for Portland. "The credit of the pennant capture is, however, largely due to the services of Dick Conway, who was secured by the Portland management just in the nick of time, and to his elegant work in the box may be attributed the defeat of the Haverhills, who take second place," the Boston Globe remarked after the season concluded.

Conway caught a big break in Portland's September 14 game in Boston against the Boston Blues. In 1886, Boston housed both a National League team and a New England League team, with both teams playing at the South End Grounds. The owners of the National League team probably witnessed Conway defeat the Blues 6-1 that day, yielding just four hits. On October 30, Boston signed him to play for the National League team in 1887.

Since Conway depended on curve balls for his success in the pitcher's box, the early reviews on his potential in the National League were decidedly mixed. "Conway, to be of any value, will have to change his style," the Boston Globe reported in April 1887. "At present he uses his arm entirely and stands altogether too still. He fails to get any speed on the ball and much strength is wasted."

Conway made his National League debut on May 14, 1887, defeating Washington 10-8. "Conway made his first appearance in a championship game yesterday, and acquitted himself with great credit," the Boston Globe concluded. "He was very effective, had good control of the ball, watched the bases in good style, hit the ball hard [as a batter] and altogether played a very brilliant game. His work in the box was all the more welcome as it was to a certain extent unexpected."

After the "unexpected" victory, Conway went on to win four of his next five games. Then the roofed caved in, though, as he proceeded to lose five of his next six starts. After July 15, he was able to secure only three more wins, while suffering nine more defeats. With an overall 9-15 record for the season, his 1887 Old Judge cigarette card was not destined to become a collector's item. By the time October rolled around, Conway's arm was dead. On October 1, he gave up 20 hits in a 13-4 loss to Philadelphia, as the Globe reported, "Conway was hit hard from start to finish--even harder than the score indicates." On October 7, he lost 12-1 to Washington.

Boston retained Conway for the 1888 season, paying him a $2000 annual salary, but rarely used him in the pitcher's box. Boston had obtained the services of ace pitcher John Clarkson for the 1888 season, leaving little opportunity for Conway. When manager Morrill ran out of available pitching arms in August, he turned to Conway who rattled off three victories during the span of one week. On August 7, he defeated Pittsburgh 6-1 and two days later defeated Indianapolis 4-1. Then on August 11, he was victorious once more over Indianapolis, this time 10-8. Conway's last major league game was on October 8, 1888, when he lost 10-6 to Indianapolis. In that game, the Boston Globe reported that Conway pitched well for six innings, but then "the Hoosiers fell on his curves with a vengeance and knocked out four earned runs."

Boston overtly tried to rid itself of Conway's contract during the winter, as evidenced by the "Dick Conway For Sale" headline in the Boston Globe. "Dick Conway's release is for sale. All league teams have waived claim, and he can be purchased by any club willing to put up the necessary $1000 ... The young player lacks the snap necessary for the league, and it was on this account more than his inability to do good work in the box that induced the home team to release him."

Walter Burnham, Conway's manager at Lawrence in 1885, signed Conway to play for Worcester of the Atlantic Association during the 1889 season. Burnham paid Boston $1000 for the release and agreed to pay Conway an annual salary of $2500, which was reported to be the highest salary for any player in the Atlantic Association. Conway's arm, though, was not up to the task.

In a May 11 game between Worcester and Lowell played in his hometown of Lowell, Conway lasted only four innings and yielded nine runs. "Conway pitched for the Worcesters in the early part of the game, but was a marker and soon compelled to retire," the Lowell Daily News reported. Conway was honored at that game by the local fans. "In the third inning, when Dick Conway came to bat, he was presented a costly silver service by the Crescent Club and an Elgin watch by the Burke Temperance Institute. A small baby carriage was also given him."

Conway had married Katie Moolic, sister of ball player George Moolic (who played 16 games in 1886 with Chicago of the National League), and their first child had been born just a few days earlier.

In mid-May, Worcester suspended Conway, since his arm was obviously ailing. "Dick Conway says his arm does not bother him, only when he starts to pitch," the Lowell Daily News reported on May 23. "Then he experiences severe pains all through the arm and shoulders." On June 4, the Daily News reported optimistically that "Manager Burnham does not think Dick Conway's arm entirely gone, but notices an improvement in it every day." With several capable pitchers, the Worcester team couldn't afford to carry Conway with his high salary and released him in July.

For the 1890 season, Conway secured a trial with Buffalo of the International League, but the team folded after just 18 games. Conway then turned his attention to life after baseball. In October 1890, Conway opened up a men's clothing store called Conway & Hogan at 44 Central Street in downtown Lowell. His business partner was Charles Hogan, who had previously been a clerk at the post office. With both men lacking business experience, however, the store shuttered its doors before celebrating its second anniversary.

When the New England League revived for the 1891 season, Conway helped to form a Lowell team, probably investing what little he had left from his baseball days after opening the clothing store. He was named to the board of management and became the team's business manager. "Manager Conway will have full charge and will conduct the affairs of the club according to his best judgment," the Lowell Daily News reported in April 1891. "He will also play right field and pitch occasionally."

Conway experienced three futile attempts to pitch in 1891. After pitching briefly in relief on May 7 in a 29-15 blowout by Lynn, Conway started the game on May 15 but lasted only three innings before moving to first base. His last hurrah in the pitcher's box was on the Decoration Day holiday, May 30, when he started the first game of a twin bill with Manchester. Conway lasted just a few innings in the 15-2 defeat. He played sparingly thereafter, probably ensconced in the team's business challenges since attendance at the Lowell games was slight. When the Lowell team disbanded in August, Conway's baseball career ended as well.

The 1892 Lowell Directory listed no occupation for Conway, a departure from its listing of him as a "base-ball player" the previous three years. In 1899, and for twenty years thereafter, Conway's occupation was listed simply as "clerk." Census records add a little embellishment to his post-baseball working life, noting his occupation in 1900 as "wine clerk" and in 1920 as "clerk in a broker's office."

He and his wife Katie raised six children, four daughters (Mary, Grace, Ruth, and Irene) and two sons (Raymond and George). They rented apartments in various houses in Lowell, including those at 121 Lawrence Street and 15 Windsor Street.

Conway died on September 9, 1926 at his home in Lowell. His obituary on page 1 of the Lowell Courier-Citizen praised him as "well known in this city because of his having been one of the few Lowell baseball players to ascend to the major leagues." The article went on to say, "He experienced more than his usual success in the major circuit and his pitching indicated that he was destined for a long career in the big show, but this great promise was cut short by the development of lameness of the muscles of his pitching arm."

After a high mass at St. Margaret's church in Lowell, Conway was buried at St. Mary's cemetery in Lawrence, near the site of his first great pitching exploits with the Lawrence team of the New England League.


Sources

Boston Globe. "Another Kid: Gaffney's Senators Fall Before Conway: The Lawrence Boy Wins His First League Game." May 15, 1887.

------------. "Boston Signs Dick Conway." October 31, 1886.

------------. "Champions At Ball: Sketches of the Players Composing the Lawrence Nine." October 19, 1885.

------------. "Dick Conway For Sale." February 3, 1889.

------------. "Put Upon the Black List: Are Cox and Gorman of the Lawrence Club." July 18, 1886.

Lawrence Daily American. 1885-1886.

Lawrence Daily Eagle. 1885-1886.

Lowell Courier-Citizen. "Richard B. Conway Dies After Illness." September 10, 1926.

Lowell Daily News. 1889-1891.

Lowell Directory. 1886-1926.

Massachusetts State Archives. Birth, Marriage, and Death Records Prior to 1910.

U.S. census. 1860, 1870, 1900, 1920.

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