SABR

Doc Hanna

This article was written by Peter Morris.

In a National Association contest played in Cleveland on August 19, 1872, the Boston Red Stockings overcame an early deficit and trounced the Cleveland Forest Citys, 12-7. Rarely in baseball history has there been a meeting between two clubs headed in such diametrically opposite directions. The Forest Citys disbanded after the game, leaving Cleveland without a major league team until 1879. The victory improved the Red Stockings’ record to 30-3 as they continued their inexorable march toward Boston’s first pennant. In addition, the Red Stockings took advantage of the demise of their opponents to sign Forest Citys star Deacon White, who led his new team to four more pennants in the next five years.1

The umpire of this noteworthy game was a man who was making his only appearance on a major league diamond. Identified in game accounts only as “Doc Hanna,” his name still appears in some listings of major league umpires as “Dr. Hanna.” In fact, the now-forgotten Leonard C. “Doc” Hanna was so well known in his day that upon his death a tribute in the Plain Dealer predicted: “when a list is made of all the prominent Clevelanders who have helped along the game of baseball during the past half century, it will be found that the roll of names includes a large proportion of the men who have built up the city – and L.C. Hanna’s name will be near the top.”2

Leonard Colton Hanna was born on November 30, 1850, in New Lisbon, Ohio, a village south of Cleveland that has been known as Lisbon since 1895. His father, Dr. Leonard Hanna, was one of seven brothers who were known as the “forty-two feet of Hanna” for their unusual height in an age when Americans were much shorter than today.3 After graduating from Philadelphia’s Rush Medical College, Dr. Hanna returned to his native New Lisbon to begin a medical practice. He married a schoolteacher named Samantha Converse in 1835, and the couple almost immediately began a family that eventually included seven children.

Their plans for a picturesque life as a village doctor’s family changed dramatically when Dr. Hanna was thrown from his horse and suffered a severe spinal injury. Unable to continue his practice, he joined several of his brothers in a canal-building venture designed to connect New Lisbon to the Ohio River. After a promising start, however, the national economic Panic of 1837 caused the enterprise to collapse. After some difficult years, the family relocated to Cleveland in 1852, where Dr. Hanna operated a grocery store.

The success of this business allowed the younger Leonard to grow up in comfort, but Dr. Hanna never fully overcame the effects of his fall. With his health continuing to deteriorate, he began training his eldest son, Marcus Alonzo “Mark” Hanna, to take over the business. Born in 1837, Mark had attended the Cleveland Central High School, where one of his fellow students was John D. Rockefeller. After a short and undistinguished stint at Hudson’s Western Reserve College, Mark left school for good to learn the family business. It proved a perfect fit, as Mark demonstrated a dedication to mastering all of the minute details of a complex operation that would serve him in good stead.4

Dr. Hanna died on December 15, 1862, and Mark Hanna returned home from a short tour of duty in the Union Army to take over the grocery store. Well prepared for the responsibility, he was an immediate success. Two years later he married Charlotte Augusta Rhodes, the daughter of Cleveland coal and iron magnate Daniel Rhodes, and soon he was being trained to take the helm of his new father-in-law’s companies as well. Once again, Mark Hanna delved into every aspect of the industry, and within a few years he had combined all of his holdings into a new firm, M.A. Hanna & Co. Shipping became one of the focuses of the business and by the 1870s Mark Hanna was one of the wealthiest men in Ohio.

His new wealth meant that Mark Hanna was also one of the state’s largest employers, but according to his younger brother, he never lost his willingness to deal with his workers first-hand. “I never knew my brother to turn any man away,” reported Leonard Hanna. “In our business we dealt almost entirely with common unskilled labor, and in all the interests which the firm owned and directed I suppose we had 6000 employees. We never had serious labor troubles. On our docks we occasionally had local and temporary disturbances among the ordinary employees; and whenever these occurred it was always my brother’s custom to go right among the men. He would not ignore the superintendent, but would take the latter with him to the dock and hear what the men had to say. Then he would take such action as he thought to be necessary.”5

With the family’s fortunes once again secure, the younger Leonard Hanna was able to enjoy a very different sort of upbringing. One of his passions was the still-young sport of baseball, which he found plenty of time to play while a student at Doctor Holbrook’s Military School and Cleveland High School. By his teen years, the younger Leonard Hanna had earned a reputation on the baseball diamonds of Cleveland as a “hard hitter” who was “quick on his feet and always tractable.” Soon “everybody called him ‘Doc’” – presumably a legacy from his father and namesake, since the younger Leonard Colton never studied medicine.6 By 1866, he was pitching for the Cleveland High School nine against the Forest Citys, the city’s top amateur club.7 Two years later, though still shy of his eighteenth birthday, he became a regular on the Forest Citys, a position he retained for two seasons.

According to a eulogy, left field was Doc Hanna’s primary position, “that section of the garden being considered in the early days the most important.”8 This appears to be an error, however, as Hanna was primarily a second baseman for the Forest City club, also playing at least one game at first base.9

The two years that Doc Hanna spent as a regular for the Forest Citys corresponded with one of the most dramatic transformations in baseball history. In 1868, baseball was still ostensibly an amateur sport; Hanna’s eulogist described it as an era “when the game was a pastime pure and simple, staged on commons or cow pastures, with neither enclosed grounds or grand stands, where the ball was lively, the batting vigorous and the scores ran high, the contests often lasting from noon till dark.”10 This rosy portrait was an exaggeration, since under-the-table payments to the purported amateurs were already commonplace in the big cities, but at least in the less frenzied environment of Cleveland, it still had some basis in reality.

The 1869 season, however, brought the advent of open professionalism. Although often simplistically credited to the Red Stockings of Cincinnati, the change was in fact the result of the National Association of Base Ball Players waving the white flag and admitting that it was helpless to prevent the payment of players. As a result, about a dozen clubs chose to compete as professionals in 1869 – the Red Stockings were one of those clubs, but they were far from alone.

The Forest City Club of Cleveland responded to this revolution in singularly ambivalent fashion. Initially, club directors proclaimed that the 1869 nine would be made up strictly of amateurs, but in fact the starting lineup was divided almost evenly between imported professionals and local amateurs. One of the latter was Doc Hanna, who continued to be the starting second baseman.

The results of this hybrid roster were predictable: the Forest Citys compiled an 18-0 record against amateur foes but won only one of seven games against openly professional opponents. By the end of the season, the need to be either fully professional or purely amateur was unmistakable. Cleveland’s premier club opted for the professional route, a decision that was symbolized by an October game between old and new players. The old players held a surprising lead after two innings, but then the new ones “struck their gait, and thence the game was just like the handle of a jug – one side only.”11

Doc Hanna represented the old guard in that game and when the lineup of the all-professional Forest Citys was unveiled in the spring of 1870, his name was no longer included in it. The Forest Citys enjoyed only modest success that season, but the presence of the gifted Deacon White and other stars enabled them to be competitive enough to join the National Association in 1871. During the first season of major league baseball, the Forest Citys enjoyed another mediocre season. Doc Hanna did not play for the team during either season.

In 1872 the Forest Citys opened a new ballpark that was very luxurious by the standards of the era. The investment was made possible by the financial backing of a wealthy set of new directors who included Mark Hanna. Since Mark Hanna never again showed any interest in baseball, it seems likely that his new position was the result of urging from his brother. Once
again, Doc Hanna did not play for the Forest City nine in 1872, but on August 19, he served as umpire in the aforementioned game against the Boston Red Stockings.

By then it was clear that Cleveland’s first professional baseball franchise was doomed. The real problem was external – the Great Chicago Fire had caused the Chicago and Rockford teams to withdraw, leaving the Forest Citys as the only Midwestern entry. East-coast clubs were reluctant to schedule the expensive trips to Ohio, which made the cost of road trips prohibitive. Following the game umpired by Doc Hanna, the Forest Citys disbanded, and it was not until near the end of the decade before Cleveland again had a professional club.

Doc Hanna joined his brother’s firm in 1875 and soon began to display a similarly sharp mind for business. Under his guidance, the M.A. Hanna Company “revolutionized the construction of lake vessels” by introducing steel vessels to the Great Lakes.12 He also spurred the firm into continued diversification by becoming closely associated with the mining industry. He became known as a leading “authority on iron ores,” serving as president of the Bessemer Ore Association and as a director of the Cambria Steel Company.13 Along the way, his baseball nickname fell into disuse, and he became known as either L.C. Hanna or Leonard C. Hanna.

Meanwhile, Mark Hanna’s longtime devotion to business was giving way to a new passion. By the end of the 1870s, he was a major player in Republican politics and was a major fund-raiser for the successful 1880 campaign of James Garfield. Hanna’s prominence in the burgeoning Republican political machine continued to grow during the next decade-and-a-half as he championed the candidacy of William McKinley, whose parents also hailed from New Lisbon. In the fall of 1894 he told his brother that he intended to retire from business, explaining that he wanted to “get some amusement out of what remained of his life, to go away when he wanted, and to do what he wanted.”14 In January of 1895, the reins of the company were officially handed over to Leonard C. Hanna.

Mark Hanna’s notion of doing “what he wanted” turned out to revolve around overseeing McKinley’s 1896 presidential campaign as chairman of the Republican National Committee. He proved to be as adroit at the intricacies of politics as he had been at business, so much so that his political enemies derided him as “Marcus Aurelius,” the kingmaker who had installed McKinley in the White House. More recent assessments suggest that the image of Hanna as a puppet-master has been greatly exaggerated, but there can be no doubt that he made an enormous contribution to the ascendance of McKinley.15

Shortly after the election of McKinley, Mark Hanna was appointed to the U.S. Senate to complete the term of John Sherman, who had been named McKinley's Secretary of State. After McKinley’s reelection and subsequent assassination, there was talk that Hanna would run for president in 1904. By then, however, his health was failing, and he died in Washington on February 15, 1904.

Leonard C. Hanna remained the chief executive of the M.A. Hanna Company until his own health began to fail. Then he began to turn the company over to younger members of the family, including his son, Leonard C. Hanna Jr. With the company securely in the family, he retired in 1917. On March 24, 1919, Leonard C. Hanna Sr. passed away in Cleveland.

Reflecting the thirteen-year age difference and the contrasting financial circumstances of the family, Mark and Leonard Hanna had very different childhoods. Biographer Herbert Croly reported that Mark Hanna “belonged to the generation of Americans who took no exercise,” and while there was no doubt truth in that observation, the straitened circumstances of the Hanna family during Mark’s boyhood also undoubtedly played a role in this lifestyle choice.16 By contrast, his younger brother was free to indulge his passion for baseball.

This difference between the two brothers continued throughout their lives. Mark Hanna was well known for having only two recreations: whist and the theatre. He told anyone who asked that he did not fish, hunt, follow baseball, or “even affect books.”17 Although he served as a Forest City Club director in 1872 and occasionally attended a ballgame when it served his political aims, he made no pretense of taking any interest. Shortly after becoming a U.S. Senator, Hanna was asked his views on the raging controversy over Sunday baseball in Cleveland and curtly replied that he had more important business to worry about.18

The man once known as “Doc” Hanna, however, does appear to have retained his passion for baseball. In 1879, he joined other old-time ballplayers in helping to finance Cleveland’s first National League entry. He appears to have remained involved with that club for at least one more season. After that, the growing pressures of business prevented him from taking a prominent front office role in Cleveland’s various major league franchises. Yet when he died, W.R. Rose of the Cleveland Plain Dealer reported that Hanna had been a backer and board member of many later clubs and had held a private box at League Park until his death.19

 

Sources

This profile is based primarily on the research done for Base Ball Pioneers, 1850-1870: The Clubs and Players Who Spread the Sport Nationwide, edited by Peter Morris, William J. Ryczek, Jan Finkel, Leonard Levin and Richard Malatzky (Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2012), which contains a much more detailed history of the Forest City Club of Cleveland. Other sources include:

Thomas Beer. Hanna. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1929.

Herbert Croly. Marcus Alonzo Hanna: His Life and Work. New York: Macmillan, 1912.

James M. Egan Jr. Baseball on the Western Reserve: The Early Game in Cleveland and Northeast Ohio, Year by Year and Town by Town, 1865-1900. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2008).

William T. Horner. Ohio’s Kingmaker: Mark Hanna, Man and Myth. Athens: Ohio University Press, 2010.

“L.C. Hanna’s Death Recalls First of Steel Cargo Boats” Duluth News-Tribune, March 25, 1919.

W.R. Rose. “All in the Day’s Work” Cleveland Plain Dealer, March 25, 1919.

William J. Ryczek. When Johnny Came Sliding Home: The Post-Civil War Baseball Boom, 1865-1870. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 1998.

Henry Litchfield West. “Hon. M.A. Hanna.” Washington Post, March 23, 1902.

Marshall Wright. The National Association of Base Ball Players, 1857-1870. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2000.

 

Notes

1 In the one year that White did not lead Boston to the pennant, he was playing for Chicago and led that team to the pennant.

2 W.R. Rose, “All in the Day’s Work,” Cleveland Plain Dealer, March 25, 1919.

3 Herbert Croly, Marcus Alonzo Hanna: His Life and Work (New York: Macmillan, 1912), 5.

4 Henry Litchfield West, “Hon. M.A. Hanna,” Washington Post, March 23, 1902.

5 Herbert Croly, Marcus Alonzo Hanna: His Life and Work (New York: Macmillan, 1912), 85.

6 W.R. Rose, “All in the Day’s Work,” Cleveland Plain Dealer, March 25, 1919.

7 James M. Egan Jr., Baseball on the Western Reserve: The Early Game in Cleveland and Northeast Ohio, Year by Year and Town by Town, 1865-1900 (Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2008), 6.

8 W.R. Rose, “All in the Day’s Work,” Cleveland Plain Dealer, March 25, 1919.

9 Marshall Wright, The National Association of Base Ball Players, 1857-1870 (Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2000), 203, 249; James M. Egan Jr., Baseball on the Western Reserve: The Early Game in Cleveland and Northeast Ohio, Year by Year and Town by Town, 1865-1900 (Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2008), 28, 30, 36-38, 43.

10 W.R. Rose, “All in the Day’s Work,” Cleveland
Plain Dealer
, March 25, 1919.

11 James M. Egan Jr., Baseball on the Western Reserve: The Early Game in Cleveland and Northeast Ohio, Year by Year and Town by Town, 1865-1900 (Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2008), 42-43.

12 “L.C. Hanna’s Death Recalls First of Steel Cargo Boats,” Duluth News-Tribune, March 25, 1919.

13 Los Angeles Times, August 16, 1901; “L.C. Hanna’s Death Recalls First of Steel Cargo Boats,” Duluth News-Tribune, March 25, 1919. See Herbert Croly, Marcus Alonzo Hanna: His Life and Work for a detailed account of the firm and the transfer of power.

14 Herbert Croly, Marcus Alonzo Hanna: His Life and Work (New York: Macmillan, 1912), 173-174.

15 See William T. Horner, Ohio’s Kingmaker: Mark Hanna, Man and Myth (Athens: Ohio University Press, 2010) for a book-length discussion of this still-controversial topic.

16 Herbert Croly, Marcus Alonzo Hanna: His Life and Work (New York: Macmillan, 1912), 448.

17 Henry Litchfield West, “Hon. M.A. Hanna,” Washington Post, March 23, 1902.

18 Washington Post, April 4, 1897.

19 W.R. Rose, “All in the Day’s Work,” Cleveland Plain Dealer, March 25, 1919.

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