SABR

Mickey Devine

This article was written by Bill Nowlin.

Catchers may often disagree with the calls made by umpires, but it didn’t take Mickey Devine that long to get himself suspended for the depth or demeanor of his disagreement. On June 1, 1916, in his first year in Organized Baseball, the young New Haven catcher was “ordered from the field for disputing Umpire Stafford’s decisions” early in a game against Springfield.i

He’d attracted some attention earlier in the year, when Sporting Life referred to him as a “youngster from Albany, N.Y., … who has made a good record with independent teams at various Eastern Summer resorts.”ii

Devine was already a player in whom the Boston Red Sox had an interest. As early as February 1916, Sporting Life had written, Devine is said to be a real wooly bearcat, and Manager Carrigan looks for great things from him.”iii

On July 25 of that 1916 season, he was recalled to the Red Sox, though he never appeared in a game. He was, nonetheless, at least briefly on the roster of that world championship team. Boston manager Bill Carrigan, himself a catcher, had first learned of Devine from Danny Mahoney of Holy Cross, who had “tipped Carrigan off to a clever young catcher that had played independent ball around New York last season. Mahoney’s dope was good enough for Manager Bill and he has signed up for the Red Sox catcher Joseph P. Devine of Albany N.Y. who was 21 years of age his last birthday.”iv

Devine didn’t last long on the major-league roster the first time around. He was released on February 25 to Montreal, and Montreal in turn farmed him out to New Haven. By the time he signed his Red Sox contract for 1917 he was named, correctly, William Devine – or, as Boston Globe sportswriter Tim Murnane called him, William “Skull” Devine.v And he’d picked up the nickname Mickey by the beginning of the 1917 season, when he was back with New Haven. It was the name he used as a pugilist, boxing in Western Massachusetts before turning full time to baseball.

Devine had meanwhile gotten himself in a little more hot water, suspended from the Eastern League. It appears that his mouth was getting him in trouble. The Springfield Daily News reported that the league secretary “has refused to lift the suspension placed on Catcher Mickey Devine of New Haven. That youth probably won’t be quite as noisy when he hits the big circuit next year, if experience teaches him anything.vi He was definitely seen as a comer; the Red Sox had purchased his contract again on August 15. Devine appeared in 83 games for New Haven in 1916 and hit .220.

The Red Sox gave Devine another look during spring training in 1917, and he looked promising at first. In early May, still not having played a game for the Red Sox, he was returned to New Haven in time for the season opener.vii Within a couple of weeks, he’d been upbraided by league President Dan O’Neill, warned by O’Neill in a meeting with New Haven owner Jimmy Collins and Devine. During the May 11 game in Bridgeport, more than one Bridgeport fan had written the league office, Devine had “delayed the game by his rowdy tactics after he disagreed with Umpire Whalen on a decision. Devine’s remarks to the umpire could be plainly heard by ladies in the stand and his language was off color. ‘Devine is a good catcher,’ said O’Neill, ‘but he must behave better on the field. We intend to protect patrons of our parks.’ ”viii

An August assessment of the team called Devine “one of the top notchers of the league” and said, “He is an unerring thrower, an unusually accurate backstop and worker, but has a batting weakness, his average at present being .208.”ix New Haven won the Eastern League pennant that season and Devine, who had put on a late-season surge in hitting, improved his average to .230 in 86 games.

William Patrick Devine was his name, despite the fact that he was called Joseph in some early newspaper coverage (though he did have a younger brother named Joseph). He was the oldest of six children born to James and Josephine (Healy) Devine of Albany, New York. All four of his grandparents were Irish, though both parents were New York natives. James Devine was a brakeman on the railroad. William was born on May 9, 1892 – though we do see possible misunderstanding or misstatement of his age in a report in 1916 that he was 21. The 1900 census placed his birthdate in May 1892.

Devine first made the majors in 1918. He took a circuitous route to get there. The Red Sox released him to Louisville early in the year, prompting Devine to take a trip to Boston and meet with owner Harry Frazee and manager Ed Barrow. Barrow had seen Louisville as a step up the ladder, but Devine declared, “You boys are all wrong. To begin with Louisville is too far South for me, but that is not the main blast with me. I want you boys to get me right as you are overlooking something. I am all ready for the big league, right now. Don’t let somebody else slip in and grab me. You had better hold me. Don’t be saying to each other later on, ‘How did we ever let that swell catcher get away from us?’ ”x

Self-confidence aside, Devine was sold to Louisville on February 14 – but manager Bill Clymer “decided he won’t do” and asked for waivers on him.xi A month later his contract had still not been returned to Louisville and the team was “looking high and low” for him, with no success.xii St. Joseph purchased his contract, but Toledo refused to waive on him so Devine ended up being passed to the Toledo Mud Hens – but only briefly; he was sold to Minneapolis on May 21. He played 24 games for a combination of Toledo and Minneapolis (hitting an improved .241) and then was dealt to New London, where he played in 22 games and hit .296. On July 29 the Philadelphia Phillies acquired Devine from New London (as part of a battery, the Phils also signing pitcher Gary Fortune). It was Devine’s sixth team of the season – and manager Chick Hartman of Binghamton immediately sought to make it seven, asking Philadelphia to lend Devine to him for the remainder of the season.xiii The Phillies declined. Indeed, the Phillies had him from New London on loan “for nothing” – added to boost their roster as so many players had left to take war-related work in defense plants.xiv Back in Boston, one wonders if Frazee and Barrow were troubled that their “swell catcher” had made the majors for another team.

The Boston management no doubt had its plate full dealing with the early closing of the 1918 season due to wartime. The season ended on September 2, and the Red Sox won the World Series over the Cubs. It was the second year that Devine had been on a world champion Red Sox roster at the beginning of the season, but had never appeared in a game.

The Philadelphia Inquirer reported Devine’s acquisition, dubbing him a “ ‘mouthy’ catcher with a lot of pep, and stocky in build.”xv Devine’s debut came on August 2 in Philadelphia against the visiting St. Louis Cardinals. He had one at-bat without a hit. On August 6 and 18 he got into games for the Phillies, but again lacked a hit. Finally, in his fourth and last game of the year, on August 30, he was 1-for-3 with a double against the visiting Boston Braves. In the four games, he committed one error in 11 chances on defense.

Devine played for Pittsfield in the Eastern League in 1919, and after avoiding what was initially feared to be appendicitis early in the season, played in 95 games, batting .304. There was an incident in the first inning of a game on July 5 at Waterbury. Fortune was pitching and he was getting lit up. In frustration, Devine “tore off his mask and slammed it to the ground. Then he pulled off his chest pad and hurled that also to the ground. Next came one shin guard, which went flying in one direction, and the other in the opposite direction.” Devine refused to continue to catch, claiming that Fortune was “crossing” him on signals.xvi Waterbury won, 17-4. Fortune later went on a run, winning 14 consecutive games, and he typically worked very well indeed with Devine despite the two being of different temperament. Fortune was seen as level-headed, and Devine “aggressive and inclined to be too much so.”xvii

Fortune and Devine were both reported sold to the New York Giants on September 10, 1919, but that report may have been in error. Several newspapers reported in March 1920 that it had been the Boston Red Sox who paid $5,000 for the pair from Pittsfield. Boston’s Ed Barrow had his swell catcher back after all. Catcher Wally Schang was a holdout into April, and that helped Devine get an opportunity. He played in eight games for the Red Sox from the second game of the season, on April 17, through May 5. He got a hit in his first game and his third game but was 2-for-12 overall without a run batted in and with just one run scored. Roxy Walters had begun to catch so well that Devine was not called upon further. Finally, on June 17, Barrow cut him loose, at Devine’s request, releasing him to Toronto in the International League, where he could have more of an opportunity to play every day.xviii

Devine played in 76 games, hitting .302, but was ejected from at least a couple of games, once for pulling an umpire’s ear.xix

It was Toronto again in 1921, and Devine even filled in for a game or two at first base during an August series in Baltimore – as well as playing a joke on the crowd during Prohibition days by coming out to take his position with a bottle in his hip pocket, which he tossed away when the crowd started to howl.xx He enjoyed his best year at the plate, batting .336 with three homers in 101 games.

Devine began the 1922 season playing for the Maple Leafs once more, but was unexpectedly loaned to his hometown Albany ballclub on July 13 for the balance of the season. There had apparently been some internal friction on the Toronto team.xxi Albany had apparently thought to install Devine as a playing manager. However, just a day later, manager Bill Clymer of the Newark Bears objected, asking that Devine be loaned to Newark instead, and that he’d even pay part of Devine’s salary. That didn’t go over too well, but Clymer was told he could purchase Devine for $2,500 – the sum Toronto had paid the Red Sox to get him.xxii Within a few days, Devine was playing in games for Newark. Both teams being in the American Association, his stats for the year were combined without differentiation; he hit a combined .298.

On December 12 Devine was hired to manage the Bears in 1923. The team had finished in last place in 1922, with a 54-112 record. They inched up to 60-101 and seventh place in 1923; Devine had managed only the first part of the season, being relieved of that duty in early July. Devine asked for his release, to become a free agent, saying that ownership had not supplied funding for talent and had “shattered the club morale.”xxiii He wasn’t let go, and so he vowed to do his best. He hit .291, playing in 132 games. He caught in 109 games, but also played first base in four games, second base in three, third base in two, and one at shortstop. He played outfield in two games and pitched in four.xxiv

Devine did even better in 1924, hitting .324 is 123 games with four home runs, the most he ever hit in a season. Not surprisingly, he was named to the league all-star team. In September John McGraw of the New York Giants – a friend – purchased Devine’s contract from Newark for a reported $20,000.

Devine spent all of 1925 with the Giants, appearing in 21 games and hitting a good .273. He was behind catchers Frank Snyder, Hank Gowdy, and Grover Hartley on the depth chart. He pinch-hit or pinch-ran in nine games. He made an impression early on with a throw to second base that one could say had a little extra on it: “He aimed at second base and hit the barrier in centre field.”xxv And this was at the Polo Grounds, no less, where center field was just over 480 feet from home plate. Two runs scored on that errant throw. Mickey also enjoyed “Devine Day” at the Polo Grounds when 700 friends from Albany took the train to New York to take in the June 28 game. He was given a start and was 1-for-4 with a walk and a run scored. On November 20 his contract was sold to Rochester.

Devine played five more years in the minor leagues, and he kept on the move. He hit .313 in 119 games for Rochester in 1926, and .285 in 88 games for Buffalo in 1927 (playing for Bill Clymer). He hadn’t lost his passion. He was fined $75 for his part in a “near-riot” during a game in Buffalo on May 18 that three times had required police to come onto the field.xxvi The Bisons finished in first place.

In 1928 Devine began the season with the Baltimore Orioles, another International League team, before shifting over to Jersey City, yet another IL club. He hit for a .261 average in 113 games for the two teams and, with a .990 fielding percentage, was considered the league’s leading catcher. He was a holdout in 1930, and was dealt to the Columbus Jets (American Association) on April 23. He got into 78 games but hit only .211. His final year was 1930, again for Columbus, 85 games with a .227 average.

That was the end of Devine’s baseball career. The Mickey Devine who began to feature in news stories in 1932 was a “petite American dancer” who landed a hard right to the chin of Italian boxer Primo Carnera at the Lido nightclub in Paris.xxvii

Devine worked for the Works Progress Administration’s publicity department at Albany, working in the post office. He died at home of a heart attack on the evening of October 1, 1937. His obituary in the New York Times said he had been manager of the Milwaukee Brewers four years earlier, but we are unable to find any indication that anyone named Devine ever managed for Milwaukee. His Sporting News obituary said his last season was with St. Joseph in 1931, but we can find no trace of him there, either. He left behind his wife, Anna (Gunter); their two sons, William and James; and four daughters.xxviii

 

Sources

In addition to the sources noted in this biography, the author also accessed Devine’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.

 

Notes

i Hartford Courant, June 2, 1916.

ii Sporting Life, March 11, 1916.

iii Sporting Life, February 12, 1916.

iv Boston Globe, February 5, 1916.

v Boston Globe, February 2, 1917.

vi Springfield Daily News, September 15, 1916.

vii The March 21, 1917, Boston Globe quoted New Haven manager Danny Murphy as saying, “I see that Devine, the young backstop I had last year, is going nicely for the Red Sox. I predict a splendid future for that kid as he has all the qualifications for a great catcher, in my opinion.” The May 6 Hartford Courant reported his return.

viii Hartford Courant, May 19, 1917.

ix Hartford Courant, August 19, 1917

x Boston Globe, February 22, 1918.

xi Hartford Courant, May 5, 1918.

xii Lexington (Kentucky) Herald, March 17, 1918.

xiii Wilkes-Barre Times-Leader, August 3, 1918.

xiv Philadelphia Inquirer, September 9, 1919.

xv Philadelphia Inquirer, July 30, 1918.

xvi Springfield Republican, July 6, 1919.

xvii See a discussion in the Springfield Daily News of August 20, 1919.

xviii Boston Herald, June 18, 1920.

xix Boston Herald, September 8, 1920.

xx Baltimore Sun, August 14 and 16, 1921.

xxi Watertown (New York) Daily Times, July 13, 1922. The mention of friction is found in the December 13 Baltimore Sun.

xxii Jersey Journal, July 14, 1922.

xxiii Trenton Evening Times, July 8, 1923.

xxiv Springfield Republican, January 18, 1924.

xxv New York Times, April 30, 1925.

xxvi Springfield Republican, May 19, 1927.

xxvii See, for instance, the Cleveland Plain Dealer of May 3, 1928.

xxviii Brooklyn Eagle, October 2, 1937.

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