Like many athletes of an earlier era, Jack Lewis played a fair amount of baseball before ever becoming part of the historical record of the game. His minor-league record indicates that his first year in Organized Baseball was in 1909 with the McKeesport Tubers of the Ohio-Pennsylvania League, and that he played 31 games for them that first year and then 97 games in 1910, batting .228 and .267, respectively. He was 25 years old, though, when he began with McKeesport.
Lewis was born as John David Lewis in Pittsburgh on Valentine’s Day 1884 to Edward and Margaret (or Elizabeth) Lewis. John was short of stature, standing 5-feet-8 inches tall, but it was as a first baseman that he began playing ball, in 1901 for Ellwood City, Pennsylvania. Census information is a little spotty, but it appears that his father came from England and his mother from Wales, and that Jack started work as a rougher in a tire mill while still in his middle teens.
His semipro career saw him also play for teams in Ohio and Pennsylvania at Alliance, Akron, and Williamsport, and professionally at New Castle (in the earlier part of 1909), before coming to McKeesport. His starting salary with McKeesport, in the Class C Ohio-Pennsylvania League, was $100 a month, bumped up to $110 in 1910.
Lewis received a substantial jump in 1911 when he joined the Class B Central League’s Wheeling Stogies. They paid $160 a month. He hit .284 in 126 games for Wheeling, with six home runs, which proved to be a career high.
Later in 1911, Lewis was invited to join the Boston Red Sox. They paid $1,800 per season, but he wasn’t with them all that long. His major-league debut came on September 16 against the Cleveland Indians in Boston and he “put up an impressive game at second.”i He was 1-for-3 at bat, and got hit by a pitch. He stole a base and scored a run in the 6-0 first game of the day’s doubleheader. Lewis was 2-for-3 in the second game, a 3-0 Boston win. The Cleveland Plain Dealer acknowledged his play: “Jack Lewis, the new infielder with the Sox, played a creditable game for a recruit, one of his stops being an especially classy bit of work for a bush leaguer.”ii One of his at-bats (which shows in the box score as an out) saw him bunt to the left of the pitcher, reach safely on an errant throw, then round second base and make it all the way to third.iii
A second baseman for almost all his career, Lewis committed two errors in a game against the Detroit Tigers on the 20th, and cost the Red Sox a run, but he made up for them in the bottom of the eighth, singling over Del Gainer’s head to drive in the winning run in a 3-2 game. He hit .271 for the Red Sox, without an extra-base hit, in 59 at-bats (he had a .368 on-base percentage), but his fielding was porous (six errors in 87 chances for a .931 fielding percentage), which is why the Denver Post wrote in December that Lewis was “hardly up to championship class.”iv
Lewis worked as an undertaker during the offseason.v He was offered, and signed (the first player to do so), a Red Sox contract for 1912. New Red Sox owner James McAleer “expects Lewis to develop into a good man, and to make those players seeking his position go some to land the regular job.”vi Lewis suffered the death of his mother on March 8 to asthma and was late reporting to spring training, and he injured his arm once he arrived. On March 30 Mike Kelley of the St. Paul Saints bought the right to Lewis’s contract from the Red Sox. The Saints paid him $300 per month. He split the season between St. Paul and the Milwaukee Brewers, both of them American Association teams, and hit a combined .206 in 93 games – though his 12th-inning sacrifice fly won a May 25 game for the Saints.
Lewis played for his hometown team in 1913, joining Pittsburgh’s entry in the Federal League. Lewis lived in Pittsburgh. He had to jump his contract with St. Paul to play with the oddly named Pittsburgh Filipinos in the independent Federal League in 1913, a team managed by Deacon Phillippe. We do not find statistics for the season, but do find a newspaper report showing that Lewis’s “timely stick work” won both games of a September 1 doubleheader against Cleveland. The “poplar (sic) South Side boy” was presented gifts before the game by “several thousand friends.”vii
The Federal League had an all-star team in 1913, and Lewis was on it, the All-Star Fed team to play a postseason series against Indianapolis.viii Why Indianapolis, which had finished in last place in the American Association in both 1912 and 1913, we don’t know.
The Federal League is classed as a major league for 1914 and 1915, and Lewis played both years for the Pittsburgh Rebels. He played 117 games the first year and 82 the second, batting .234 (with 48 RBIs) and then .264 (26 RBIs.)
The league disbanded in very early 1916. Lewis made his way to Wilkes-Barre (New York State League), signed up in February. Playing in 99 games, 95 of them at third base, he hit .266.
A little peeved that he hadn’t been retained as Wilkes-Barre manager for 1917, Lewis took a position with the Newark Bears of the International League in February, to work as coach and player alongside friend (and Steubenville neighbor in the offseason) Tom Needham, the club’s manager.ix Lewis hit .252 in 129 games. Much of baseball was shut down or had seasons cut short in 1918 because of manpower demands occasioned by the US entry into the World War. Lewis played in only 11 games, for Indianapolis. He got in two final seasons as a player, for Memphis in 1919 and in 1920. He hit .263, then dropped to .213 in the year he turned 36. He was hit on the forearm and suffered a broken bone on June 30, cutting out a big chunk of the season, but became the team’s manager, starting on July 24.
Memphis let Lewis go, but not until April 6, 1921. He signed with Terre Haute (Three-I League) for 1921 and hit .261 in 111 games. They were his final games. In mid-March 1922, Lewis’s automobile went over a 40-foot embankment and he suffered serious injuries.x He took up year-round residence in Steubenville and took a position at the Follansbee Steel Corporation.
Lewis worked for Follansbee for 32 years, retiring in 1954. At the time of the 1930 census, he was listed as “clerk, steel mill” and ten years later, in 1940, as the chief of police at the steel mill. For 12 years he was active in the community on the Steubenville Civil Service Committee. He served for a time as its chair.
In September 1914, Lewis had married Mary Elizabeth Dignan of Steubenville. They were married for 41 years prior to his death of heart complications at Ohio Valley Hospital on February 25, 1956, at age 72. The couple had two sons, Edward and John.
In addition to the sources noted in this biography, the author also accessed Lewis’s player file from the National Baseball Hall of Fame, the Baseball Necrology, the Encyclopedia of Minor League Baseball, Retrosheet.org, and Baseball-Reference.com.
i Springfield Republican, September 16, 1911.
ii Cleveland Plain Dealer, September 17, 1911.
iii See the Boston Journal account, September 17, 1911.
iv Denver Post, December 22, 1911.
v Duluth News-Tribune, March 7, 1912.
vi Sporting Life, January 27, 1912.
vii Cleveland Plain Dealer, September 2, 1913.
viii The Repository (Canton, Ohio), March 10, 1913.
ix Regarding Lewis being peeved, see the Wilkes-Barre Times of April 24, 1917.
x Cincinnati Post, March 14, 1922.