SABR

Patsy Flaherty

This article was written by Terry Bohn.

Left-handed pitcher and sometime outfielder Patsy Flaherty pitched in nine major-league seasons spanning the years 1899 to 1911, compiling a record of 67 wins and 84 losses.i He was the most famous of the early practitioners of the no-wind-up, “quick pitch” delivery in which he returned the ball to the catcher as soon as he received it in an attempt deceive the hitter and disrupt his timing. He also had excellent control for a lefty and was very good at holding runners on base “probably the best there ever was in this respect.” It was said Flaherty would walk batters on purpose just for the fun of picking them off.ii

In the 1950s, Casey Stengel was managing two Yankee pitchers, Bob Turley and Don Larsen, who also pitched with a no-windup delivery. This caused Casey to recall facing Flaherty more than 50 years earlier. He described his pitching this way, “He took no windup and you never knew when he was going to throw the ball. A master of quick pitches. There was no rule forcing pitchers to come to a full stop. Patsy picks up the ball and you hear the umpire holler strike. The quick, no-windup pitch is called a Patsy Flaherty. As I was digging in, I had no idea the man was ready to pitch.”iii

A story was told of the time Flaherty struck out a batter on two pitches. While pitching for Philadelphia in 1910, he was facing Steve Evans of the Cardinals with a man on first base. He got two strikes on Evans and made a pick-off throw to first. Evans dropped his bat and walked to the dugout but was called back by umpire Bill Klem, who informed him he had only two strikes on him. Evans insisted he swung three times. By trying to time Flaherty's quick pitch he swung when Patsy threw to first.iv

Hall of Fame manager John McGraw also had a favorite Patsy Flaherty story. While pitching for Boston against Pittsburgh, the Pirates' Ginger Beaumont was on first with Fred Clarke at bat. Twice Patsy made a bluff throw to first and a quick pitch to Clarke getting two swinging strikes, and each time Beaumont slid back into first. Not wanting to be fooled a third time, Beaumont took a big lead, but this time Flaherty fired to first and picked him off. Clarke, expecting another quick pitch, swung and struck out to complete a double play.v

Sometimes Patsy's quick pitch backfired. Once, while pitching for the Boston Braves against Pittsburgh, the score was tied with two out in the ninth and a Pirate runner on third. Flaherty's catcher disputed a ball-strike call and turned around to argue with the umpire. At that moment, Patsy threw one of his quick pitches. The ball hit his catcher on the back of the head, bounded away, and the winning run scored from third.vi

Patrick Joseph Flaherty was born June 29, 1876,vii in Mansfield (since re-named Carnegie), Pennsylvania. His mother and father, Cecelia (Murray) and James Flaherty were born in Ross, Ireland, having immigrated to the United States in 1875. He had two older brothers, John and Michael, a younger brother Tom, and three younger sisters, Ellen, Mary and Cecilia. James worked as a laborer on the Pennsylvania Railroad, as did each of his brothers, Tom (employee), Michael (yardmaster), and John (inspector). Patsy's mother died in 1911 and her death notice mentioned his father had passed away one year earlier, and described the senior Flaherty as “a well-known resident of Carnegie.”viii

To research Patsy’s career and life was complicated by the fact that several other men in America went by the same name. A Patrick Henry (Patsy) Flaherty played 39 games at third base for Louisville in 1894. Additionally, an actor, a racecar driver, an umpire in Montana, a boxer in Pittsburgh and a football player for the New York Giants all went by the name Patsy Flaherty. A notorious bank robber in the Chicago area named George Burns used the name Patsy Flaherty, as an alias. As if this were not enough, a right-handed pitcher named Patsy (Edward J.) Flaherty joined the Boston Red Sox during spring training camp in 1920 who was the nephew of the Louisville third baseman. However, only one Patsy Flaherty ever pitched in the major leagues.

At a young age, Patsy became interested in baseball and knew he wanted to play ball for a living rather than follow his father and brothers into the railroad yards. By the age of 16, Patsy was working as a brakeman on the railroad. At the same time, he also began drawing attention pitching on a railroad nine “in great style.”ix Patsy broke into professional baseball with the Jackson, Michigan Wolverines in the Interstate League in 1896. He also played for Youngstown, Ohio that year in the same league.

The family of Patsy Flaherty and the family of Hall of Famer Honus Wagner were neighbors in Carnegie, and the two men were life-long friends. Patsy was a signer as a witness to Wagner's first professional contract with Steubenville, Ohio in 1895. Later, when the two were teammates with the Pirates, Patsy played on an off-season basketball team (the 5' 8”, 165-pound Flaherty played center) organized by Wagner, although this activity was discouraged by Pittsburgh owner Barney Dreyfuss, fearing injury to his star shortstop. During another winter, Flaherty acted as timekeeper in a boxing match that Wagner referred.

In 1897, his friend Wagner recommended Flaherty to the Paterson, New Jersey club in the Atlantic League, where he played off and on the next three years. After 15 games with Paterson in 1899, Flaherty moved on to Richmond, Virginia. On September 8, 1899, he made his major league debut with Louisville of the National League. Patsy had a record of two wins and three losses and batted .208. Flaherty was one of 14 players involved in the transfer to Pittsburgh when the National League contracted the Louisville franchise before the 1900 season. However, he played in only four games for the Pirates, spending the balance of the season with Hartford, Connecticut in the Eastern League.

In January 1901, Pittsburgh traded Flaherty along with Walt Woods and Fred Ketcham to Syracuse of the Eastern League for Snake Wiltse. He had a record of 15 wins and 16 losses in 47 games split between Syracuse and Toronto in the Eastern League. By 1902, Patsy was back with Louisville, this time in the independent American Association. He won 26 games while working 367 innings and hit .292 at the plate.

On the last day of the season, Indianapolis led Patsy's Louisville team by two games with three games to play for each team. Indianapolis was at St. Paul and Louisville in Minneapolis; the four clubs agreed to play all three remaining games on the same day. Minneapolis wasn't ready to play the first game by the scheduled starting time, so Louisville won the game by forfeit. Flaherty pitched the next two games, beating Minneapolis in 4-0 and 4-2 complete game victories. However, Indianapolis won all three from St. Paul that day to capture the league pennant. Thereafter, although he officially won two games, Patsy claimed to have accomplished the rare feat of having won three games on one day.

Patsy always had an interest in furthering his education and during his playing days had aspirations of going into dentistry. He also had an interest in coaching at the college level. In the spring of 1903, he was the baseball coach at Rawlins College in Winter Park, Florida, where he was also a student. In 1905, he had an offer to coach the Beloit, Wisconsin college baseball team. He would receive free tuition as compensation, but had to turn the offer down, as his duties would interfere with the start of spring training. During the winter of 1913-1914, he was the baseball and basketball coach at the University of Florida. At one time, he also coached baseball at Pennsylvania Western University (now Penn State). In 1915, Keewatin Academy in Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin hired him to coach baseball as well as teach a course on the game.x

Patsy returned to the major leagues in 1903 with the Chicago White Sox but had a miserable season. He had a record of 11 wins and 25 losses (tops in all of baseball) and his 338 hits allowed led the American League. To top it off, Patsy also led American League pitchers with 12 errors. However, he was a hard luck pitcher. Among his first 20 losses, 14 were by two runs or less. But the next season, 1904, Flaherty made a dramatic turn around, winning 20 games for the only time in his career.

After winning just one game in five appearances for Chicago, Wagner recommended his old friend to Pirate owner Barney Dreyfuss. He was sold to Pittsburgh on June 6 and won 19 more games for the Pirates, throwing 28 complete games in 28 starts. Flaherty is still one of only four pitchers since 1900 to have won 20 games while pitching in both leagues in the same season.

The primary reason for his success, according to Patsy, was that he had now perfected a spitball, said to be the best of any pitcher on the Pirate staff. He asked that a second hip pocket be sewn into his uniform pants to store a sponge “so that I can be prepared to throw a spitball even when my throat is parched.”xi

Patsy had a mediocre season for the Pirates in 1905, going 10 and 10 in 27 games. On September 1, he was optioned to Columbus of the American Association. The foundation for this transaction actually began two years earlier. When Pittsburgh was in need of pitching in 1903, manager Bill Clymer of Columbus called Dreyfuss and told him that the White Sox had asked for waivers on Flaherty. Rules at the time prohibited Clymer from picking him up, but he told Dreyfuss that he thought Patsy could pitch winning ball for Pittsburgh. Now Dreyfuss returned the favor and Flaherty was sent to Columbus, but as a condition, insisted Clymer pay Flaherty a salary equal to what he was making in Pittsburgh.xii

Patsy was the best pitcher in the American Association, going 23-9, and in late August, Dreyfuss re-acquired the little lefty from Columbus. The Pirate owner admitted it had been a mistake to send Flaherty to Columbus, saying he would have been a great addition to the Pittsburgh club.xiii He didn't see any action for the Pirates the rest of that season, and in December 1906, the Pirates traded Flaherty, along with Ginger Beaumont and Claude Ritchey to the Boston Doves in exchange for infielder Ed Abbaticchio.

Flaherty got off to a slow start in Boston and never seemed to be able to recover his previous form. In the spring of 1907, he injured his shoulder during a friendly wrestling match with a teammate and later that summer missed several weeks due to a broken arm. He managed just a 12 and 15 record that season. One of the few highlights that year was a 1-0 loss to Christy Mathewson on April 22, one of many battles between Flaherty and the great Giant pitcher. In fact, Mathewson perfected a pick-off play with his first baseman, Fred Merkle; he said he learned from watching Flaherty.xiv

During the 1908-1909 off-season, Flaherty was a member of the Reach All-America team that toured the Orient. The group departed from San Francisco in November and made stops in Honolulu, Japan, Manila and Hong Kong. While in Yokohama, Japan, Patsy demonstrated his spitball to Japanese pitchers. The Chinese, however, had little previous exposure to American baseball, and the South China Morning Star commented that what they were witnessing was the English game of “rounders.” The umpire for one of the last games was an English-speaking newspaper editor. Flaherty pitched in a 15-inning scoreless tie before the game was called because of darkness. The next morning there was no published account of the game in the newspaper and Flaherty confronted the editor/umpire who replied, “Since you didn't score any runs, what was there to print?”xv

After another losing season with Boston in 1908 (12 wins, 18 losses) Patsy was effectively done as a big league pitcher and on February 9, 1909 was sold to Kansas City of the American Association. He said he didn't mind the demotion, as he was paid $50 more per month in Kansas City than he was in Boston. He managed a 14-13 record that season and went 7-8 with the Atlanta Crackers of the Southern Association the next season. At the end of the 1910 season, he briefly returned to the major leagues, appearing in two games with the Philadelphia Phillies.

By 1910, Flaherty had developed arm trouble and a hip injury, and he began the transition to the outfield in an attempt to prolong his career. Flaherty had a reputation as being a good hitter for a pitcher, compiling a .197 career batting average in the major leagues. He was often called on as a pinch-hitter, and 1911 he lead the National League in pinch-hits (6) and average (.353) and over his career hit .286 as a pinch-hitter.xvi In 1911 with Boston, his last major league season, Patsy pitched in just four games but appeared in 19 games in the outfield and hit .287. When regular center fielder Harry Steinfeldt returned from an injury in July, Patsy got little playing time and asked for his release from the Doves.

After the season, he was released to the Rochester club in the International League with the understanding that he would work in the outfield, and if he made good, would return to Boston in 1913. However, he was released again before he could even play for Rochester, due to a sore arm. Patsy turned his attention to managing once his playing days were effectively over. He signed on as manager of the Lynn, Massachusetts club in the New England League on November 1, 1912. He held that post until July 1914 when he resigned and went to work as a scout for the Boston Red Sox.

According Flaherty’s minor league record in Baseball-Reference.com, he played with Grand Forks and Fargo, North Dakota in the Northern League in 1914 and 1915 and with Waterloo, Iowa in 1916. However, during this period, the real Patsy Flaherty was half way across the country, managing in Lynn, and later employed as a scout by the Red Sox. It is unclear just who these other Flahertys were, but evidence suggests they were not Patsy Flaherty. xvii

Flaherty managed the Mobile, Alabama, club in 1918, but due to World War I, the Southern Association broke up in July. He even tried an ill-fated comeback on the mound with Mobile but was knocked out of the box after surrendering seven runs in two innings. Flaherty spent the rest of that summer teaching baseball to servicemen stationed in the south under a program organized by the Y.M.C.A. Although he was now 41 years old, Patsy enlisted in the U.S. Army in October 1918. Assigned to the tank corps, he was shipped to Camp Polk in Raleigh, North Carolina. While he awaited orders to go overseas, the Armistice was signed. On January 16, 1919, Patsy was mustered out of the service as a private.

Patsy signed to manage Louisville in the American Association on February 15, 1919, but quit on July 23 “for the good of the team.” Flaherty said he was tired of front office interference, grandstand managers and newspaper criticism.xviii Joe McCarthy replaced him. A couple weeks later, he signed on as a scout with the Chicago White Sox organization, and the next three seasons (1920-1922) scouted for Cleveland, even working with Indian pitchers during spring training. Flaherty received credit for recommending Joe Sewell as the new Cleveland shortstop after Ray Chapman's death,xix and later converting his brother Luke from and infielder to a catcher.

In 1925, Patsy tried his hand at managing again, this time with Alexandria, Louisiana in the Cotton States League. Before the season began, he resigned as field manager, because he would count against the league roster limit, and served as the team's general manager. By August 1925, health issues forced Flaherty to leave his post in Alexandria, and Patsy was on the move again, returning to scouting with the Chicago Cub's organization. Over the next decade, Flaherty continued to scout; his last known stint was with the Detroit Tigers from 1937 to 1940.

Patsy’s whereabouts after 1940 were difficult to track. Several sources indicate he remained in Louisiana, but no record could be found of a Patsy, Patrick, or Pat Flaherty in the 1930 or 1940 US Census rolls. In addition, no record of Flaherty marrying or having children surfaced. Patsy Flaherty died on January 23, 1968, at the Veteran’s Administration Hospital in Alexandria, Louisiana. Internment took place at Alexandria National Cemetery in Pineville, Rapides Parrish, Louisiana.

 

Sources

Ancestry.com

Baseball-Reference.com

 

Notes

i The Baseball Encyclopedia, 7th Edition, lists Flaherty’s career record as 66-84, including a 9-10 record with Pittsburgh in 1905. http://www.baseball-reference.com and the 1906 Spalding Base Ball Guide indicate his 1905 record was 10-10, for a career record of 67-84.

ii Youngstown Vindicator, August 2, 1919

iii The Sporting News, March, 13, 1957

iv Maui (HI) News, August 5, 1911

v New Orleans Item, December 25, 1920

vi Jackson (MI) Citizen-Patriot, March 4, 1913

vii Other birthdates were found in other sources. June 29, 1876 is the most commonly accepted birth date for Flaherty, per email from Bill Carle, chair, SABR Biographical Research Committee, March 27, 2013.

viii Boston Herald, October 31, 1911

ix Sporting Life, April 4, 1908

x Boston Herald, July 7, 1915

xi Sporting Life, March 2, 1905

xii Sporting Life, February 3, 1906

xiii Washington (DC) Evening Star, August 31, 1906

xiv Christy Mathewson, Pitching in a Pinch: or Baseball from the Inside, G.P. Putnam & Sons, 1912, page 273.

xv Boston Herald, February 6, 1916

xvi Paul Votano, Stand and Deliver: A History of Pinch-Hitting, McFarland, 2003

xvii The Flahertys playing in North Dakota and Iowa were always referred by the Grand Forks and Waterloo papers as “Pat” or “Patrick,” never “Patsy.” None of these newspaper accounts ever referred to this Flaherty as an ex, or former, major league player. According to the Grand Forks Evening Times (March 28, 1914) the Flaherty, playing in Grand Forks had been obtained from Davenport, Iowa and was a native of West Virginia. In addition, the real Patsy Flaherty would have been nearly 40 years old at this time, but game accounts often wrote of this Flaherty legging out triples and stealing bases; not impossible, but highly unlikely for a man of Patsy Flaherty’s age.

xviii Washington (DC) Times, July 23, 1919

xix New Orleans States, July 20, 1920

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