SABR

Jersey Bakley

This article was written by David Nemec.

Edward Enoch Bakley was born on April 17, 1864, in Blackwood, New Jersey, hence his nickname of “Jersey,” but since peers usually called him by his middle name and from the outset of his professional career he appeared in box scores as “Bakely” without any evident desire to change that, he will be Enoch Bakely here. On Old Judge baseball cards of him, however, he is identified by his birth surname.

Bakely’s precise name is no harder to pin down than his pitching performance. On first glance, his career statistics look abominable, a .378 winning percentage and a mere 76 wins in 201 decisions. Yet statistics mavens generally give Bakely a plus rating in WAR (wins above replacement player). After his triumphant major-league debut with the Philadelphia Athletics on May 11, 1883, when he beat Tim Keefe of the fledgling New York American Association entry, 4-3, Sporting Life wrote: “Bakely, a West Philadelphia amateur, was put in the pitcher's box and his clever pitching delighted the crowd and demoralized the Metropolitans.” The 5-foot-8, 170-pound right-hander was nonetheless seldom used by the pennant-bound A’s and spent much of the season on loan to either Pottsville or Harrisburg of the Inter-State Association.

The A’s apparently made no effort to retain Bakely the following season, and their judgment seemed right when he led the Union Association in losses with 30 while pitching for three of the loop’s worst teams – Philadelphia, Wilmington, and Kansas City – the first two of which went belly-up before the end of the season. But the A’s noted that he also won 16 games and took into account the poor quality of the clubs he had behind him. They reclaimed him without a fuss after the Union Association collapsed, indicating that he had not been reserved for 1884 since most the other jumpers to the rebel circuit had to be removed from the blacklist before they could be restored to their former loops. After returning to the A’s in 1885, though, Bakely did little more than pitch batting practice for them, in between stints with teams in the New York State League on loan. Eventually A’s let him go to Portland, Maine, of the Eastern New England League without his having appeared in a single official American Association game that season.

The next two seasons Bakely pitched for the Rochester Maroons of the International Association. Despite being arrested along with teammate Fred Lewis after an infamous drunken spree in September 1887 and fined $50 (a hefty sum in those days) in police court, Bakely was signed by the American Association Cleveland Blues for 1888 on the advice of shortstop Ed McKean, a teammate of his on the 1886 Maroons. A bad cellar-dweller in 1887, Cleveland installed Bakely as its ace, and it paid a rich dividend. By late July of 1888 Bakely was among the top pitchers in the Association. After blanking the pennant-bound St. Louis Browns 1-0 on July 30, he fashioned three more shutouts the following month, including two on consecutive days in Cincinnati. In early September, Bakely owned a 25-24 record. Even though he ended the season with nine straight losses to finish 25-33, he collected exactly half of Cleveland’s wins and logged nearly half the team’s innings.

The following year, after Cleveland moved to the National League, Bakely led the team in ERA but fell to 12-22 when he received both poor fielding and run support. Jumping to the Players League Cleveland entry in 1890, Bakely again found himself on a bad team, but this was one that he made no better. Expected to share top billing with Cinders O’Brien, Bakely instead joined O’Brien in posting a combined 20-41 record while the rest of the team’s staff finished above .500 (35-34). To add insult, when he went 12-25 he made his mark as both the only pitcher ever to lose 25 games in a season in three different major leagues – the UA, the AA and the PL – and the lone pitcher to lose 20 games in a season in four different major leagues, since he had also been a 20-game loser with the Cleveland National League entry in 1889.

Slated to rejoin the Cleveland National League club after the Players League folded, Bakely was dealt a rude jolt when the Spiders released him in February 1891 for his drinking. Even though he was only 27, his close companionship with the bottle had already exacted a heavy toll. Bakely was thrown a life raft by the new Washington American Association franchise but was quickly dumped back into the sea after losing 10 of his first 12 starts. Unaccountably, Baltimore signed Bakely, and he no sooner joined the Orioles than it was written in The Sporting News: “The man is too far gone for any hope of usefulness. …” But Bakely surprised his critics, winning four of his six starts with Baltimore before his boozing caused the Orioles to release him on August 28, according to the Washington Post. Bakely’s official departure came eight days after his final ML appearance on August 20, an 8-4 loss to Washington.

Bakely drifted through the semipro ranks for the next several years and talked of boxing professionally. Although no records exist of his ever having fought for pay, in its November 17, 1888, issue The Sporting News related that he had once been scheduled to fight Jack Dempsey, the “Nonpareil,” while he was with Rochester, but his manager, Frank Bancroft, had intervened and called off the bout. However, in 1894 Sporting Life reported in its May 5 issue that Bakely was “living in retirement in Baltimore, as stout as a dime museum fat boy.” Bakely’s final opportunity to salvage his baseball career came in 1895 when Jack Milligan, one of his batterymates on the A’s10 years earlier, invited him to join the Allentown team of the Pennsylvania State League, which Milligan was managing. With Milligan catching him, Bakely staggered to a 19-15 win over Reading on May 1, Opening Day in the league.

Some 10 weeks later Bakely was among the missing when Milligan cleared all the lushers off his club shortly before Allentown disbanded. Upon his departure, The Sporting News lamented in its July 17, 1895, issue: “His jaunty step as he walked to the pitcher’s box was especially pleasing to the ladies, many of them attending games when they knew Bakely was going to pitch. He had such a bewitching smile also and it is to be regretted that his fondness for ‘smiles’ led to his release.” But Bakely still had one more baseball life. When Pottsville transferred to Allentown on July 24, the Colts’ player-manager, Phenomenal Smith, hired the jaunty-stepping right-hander. But Smith soon regretted it when Bakely lost his first nine starts and registered a 2.16 WHIP before drawing his final pink slip from the professional game.

Bakely died at his Philadelphia home on Brandywine Street of a heart attack on February 17, 1915, and was buried in Philadelphia’s Greenmount Cemetery on the 20th. His .378 career winning percentage, while the fifth worst among pitchers with a minimum of 200 decisions, is not much worse than that of the teams he played with. After being a marginal member of a pennant winner in his freshman season, he never again spent a full season with a big-league team that won more than 46 percent of its games.

 

Sources

This biography is an expanded version of one that appeared in David Nemec’s Major League Baseball Profiles: 1871-1900 (Lincoln: Bison Books, 2011) vol. 1.

In assembling this biography I made extensive use of Sporting Life, The Sporting News, and assorted box scores in the New York Times, Washington Post, and Boston Globe for details of Bakely’s professional baseball career, 1883-1895. For information about his grave site I used the Internet. Bakely’s major- and minor-league statistics came from baseball-reference.com.

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