SABR

Michael J. Finn

This article was written by Charlie Weatherby.

A quintessential sportsman and promoter, Michael J. Finn was a newspaper writer, trainer of champion foot racers, dog racing promoter, boxing manager, and circus man before he ever got into professional baseball in 1897. Then, over the next 25 years, he served as a minor league manager, owner and scout, sending dozens of players to the major leagues, including Hall of Fame member Tris Speaker. In 1918, the San Antonio Evening News said, “Mike Finn knows ball players. He knows how to round them onto shape, and he probably has had…more experience with recruits than 90 per cent of the men in baseball today. [He is] responsible for many of the big stars of today going to the big show.”i

One of the best-known minor league figures during baseball’s Deadball Era, Finn, known as “By T’under Mike” (“By T’under” was his expletive when he thought he got a raw deal), managed 25 teams, won two pennants and unofficially accumulated a record of 1,154-1,196 (.491). He is credited, along with Charlie Frank, Newt Fisher, and Ab Powell with forming the Southern Association in 1900, leading the Montgomery Advertiser to note that, “He helped materially to make professional baseball a paying and established sport in the south,”ii a region that previously had only organized semi-pro ball. Finn also managed five teams during one season and was once jailed for playing Sunday baseball. He is sometimes misidentified as his slightly older namesake, Michael E. “Duke” Finn, who played and managed in the California League in the 1880s and 1890s.

A genial, good-natured, and excitable man who was sometimes gruff and blustering, Mike, who was portly and had a red handlebar mustache, always wore a smile and often flashed his Irish wit with a joke, always on the tip of his tongue. A devout Catholic, he didn’t drink, smoke or curse, and was popular with all who knew him. He was also a shrewd businessman who could drive a hard bargain; in the opinion of The Sporting News, “there was not a question in his whole life that was not decided without hesitation on the basis of what was square and right. He always negotiated an honest bargain and his word was all that was necessary with any baseball man who had dealings with him.”iii

Michael J. Finn was born in Natick, Massachusetts, on February 19, 1861. He was the youngest of four sons born to his Irish immigrant parents, David and Ellen (Dunlay) Finn. His father was a carpenter who became a naturalized U. S. citizen in April 1860.

Although Mike grew up just three blocks from the old Natick ballpark, he never played baseball. Some obituaries depicted him as a left-handed pitcher, and the New Orleans Item once called him “one of New England’s fastest 100 yard [dash] men,”iv which also wasn’t true. He apparently had little athletic ability; his brother John once told the Omaha Sunday World-Herald that Mike “was never interested in actively engaging in athletics. But he couldn’t resist the sportsmanship of it.”v

Finn graduated from Boston College High School and then attended Boston College, where he received an A. B. degree in the early 1880’s. According to the 1880 U. S. Census, he worked in a shoe shop. After graduating from college, he worked as a reporter for the Boston Globe for three years.

New England in the 1880s was a hotbed for professional runners and Natick was adept at producing them; Finn became heavily involved in the sport as an organizer, handicapper, trainer, and backer. One of his signature achievements occurred in 1888 when his Natick Ladder Truck Company set a world hook-and-ladder race record of 38 seconds, a feat that required a team of 20 men, 15 of whom sprinted 200 yards, joining with the other five to return with a wheeled truck carrying a ladder, with one man climbing to the top, 28 feet above the ground.

Several Natick team members became great runners and athletic trainers: Mike Murphy, Keene Fitzpatrick, Pooch Donovan and his brother Piper, and Sid Peet. Mike Murphy has been called “the father of American track athletics” and coached at Yale, the University of Michigan, and the University of Pennsylvania. He once spent a year training heavyweight boxing champion John L. Sullivan. Finn was instrumental in Murphy’s getting his start as a trainer. In the fall of 1896, the Yale athletic committee asked Finn to be a trainer and instructor there. Instead, he secured the position for Murphy, who in the spring of 1887 became Yale’s first director of physical education. William “Pooch” Donovan coached track, football, and baseball at Harvard. Piper Donovan broke the world 100-yard record with a 9 3/5 second dash at Brockton in 1896. Keene Fitzpatrick coached at Yale, Princeton, and Michigan and was one of track and field’s most innovative trainers and coaches.

Mike Finn was also well-known in England as an authority on sprinting and one who could develop champions. He traveled with, and was the advisor to, Steve Farrell when he won the Sheffield (England) Handicap in July 1899. He also worked with star sprinters Sid Peet, Mike Donlon, and “Cuckoo Jim” Collins, who won at Sheffield in the spring of 1890.

Finn didn’t limit himself to track athletes. He was the first man to introduce and popularize greyhound racing in New England, running them at fairs and booking them with the Barnum and Bailey circus while selling tickets on the side. He later got into the circus business. For a while, Mike was a correspondent for The New York Clipper in Europe, writing about dog races. He also dabbled in backing fighters and once managed Jimmy Dime, a lightweight boxer. For a change of pace, Finn managed the Natick Cornet Band, which played all over the country. He reportedly earned much money from this enterprise, as well as a fine reputation.

It was Tommy Connolly, a friend from Natick, who got Mike into baseball in 1896. A future Hall of Fame umpire, Connolly, then a New England League arbiter, told Finn about an opportunity to buy the independent Newport (Rhode Island) club. Finn bought the team, spent a year attending New England League meetings, led the team to a 48-24-2 record in his first season, and gained admittance to the circuit in 1897.

Finn’s first entry was a success: his Newport Colts (70-37) were the New England League co-champions with the Brockton Shoemakers. According to Sporting Life, “He has taken this town … with no material to draw from and landed it a winner all season, both in position and financially. He has given us a class of ball we never saw before. What’s more, he has done it with a team that all admit was the only one within the [$1,000 per month] salary limit. He has kept rowdy ball out, and has … allowed the sharp managers to get none the best of him. … The players say Finn ruled by kindness, not a fine being made all season, and this was the reason all worked so hard for him.”vi

On April 28, 1896, Mike Finn married Elizabeth J. Hanna, a Massachusetts native, in Natick. They had three children, David in 1897, and Mary and Catherine in 1900.

In early February 1898, Mike Finn was hard at work drafting the New England League schedule and later succeeded in getting team owners to approve it. He would assume the same responsibility over the next two-plus decades for a number of minor leagues, including the Texas League, Southern Association, South Atlantic League, and Georgia State League, as he gained a reputation as professional baseball’s foremost schedule-maker. In the opinion of the New Orleans States, “Finn was a wizard at making playing charts. He probably rigged up more schedules for various minor leagues than any other man in the business. His work for the Southern Association, always with a view of helping the weaker clubs, frequently brought about criticism, but Finn rarely ever replied to those who found fault, preferring to let the matter work itself out.”vii

The 1898 season was more difficult for Mike. The league (and entire world) suffered from economic woes and, if not for Finn’s two shares in the franchise, Newport (26-28, fourth place) would have disbanded in June. Instead, the league ceased operations in early July. Finn, who saw it coming, embarked on a curious odyssey which saw him leave Newport and take the reins of four other professional clubs.

On June 10 W. A. Brady of the Eastern League’s Rochester Patriots signed Finn as the club’s manager. A month later, lack of fan support forced the team to move to Ottawa, where it became known as the Wanderers. Finn’s tenure lasted until late July when he was replaced by Frank Bonner. Shortly thereafter, he landed with the Auburn Maroons of the New York State League, only to be replaced by Tom Shinnick in mid-August. Finn then assumed charge of the Johnstown/Palmyra Mormons and the Lyons (New York) teams of the same circuit for short periods of time. Both lacked fan support and withdrew. By early September he was back in Newport, having retained his stake in the team during his travels.

During the winter of 1898-1899, Finn managed the Augusta, Maine, roller polo club. He later profited by selling the team to an ownership group in Jersey City, New Jersey. He also promoted boxing bouts for the Newport Athletic Club, causing Newport’s anti-fisticuff church ministers to consider boycotting his baseball team.

Finn was the Newport pilot again in 1899, another financially challenging year for the New England League. The eight-team circuit began to falter on May 24 when Fitchburg moved to Lawrence; along with the Cambridge club, it disbanded eight days later. Brockton and Pawtucket threw in the towel after the first half ended on August 8. With four teams left, the Portland Phenoms (61-39) won the pennant; Finn’s Colts finished third (52-46). The league wasn’t able to resume play until 1901.

In late February 1900 Finn bought the Inter-State League’s Youngstown (Ohio) franchise. Known as the Little Giants, the club ran afoul of the law on Sunday, May 6, after a 6-2 loss to New Castle when players from both sides were arrested for violating the Ohio Sunday baseball blue law. One newspaper reported that the players were eventually fined $1 each and costs. Finn was also convicted, but appeals prolonged the process into November, when a Circuit Court affirmed the decision of a lower court to fine him $100 and costs, with 30 days in jail suspended on the condition that he refrain from playing Sunday baseball in the future. Finn neglected to show up for a hearing and was briefly jailed for his failure to appear. He was finally released on December 27 when a settlement was reached. He paid a fine of $176, which was raised by his friends, and was perpetually enjoined from playing Sunday baseball in Ohio.

Meanwhile, Youngstown’s attendance dwindled as it plunged toward the bottom of the league by the end of May. By early August Finn had run out of money, was unable to raise any from the community, and secured permission from the league to move the franchise to Marion, Indiana, where the team became known as the Glassblowers. Finn was retained as manager as the franchise was taken over by the Marion Base Ball Association. The Little Giants/Glassblowers (44-92) finished the Inter-State season in seventh place, 47 ½ games behind pennant-winning Dayton.

In the midst of his legal problems, Finn, ever the sportsman, refereed a boxing bout on December 17 between Eddie Lenny and Jack Hamilton. The 20-round contest, which was witnessed by 3,000 at the Youngstown Athletic Club, was called a draw by Finn, a decision that was most unsatisfactory to the spectators. According to The Cleveland Leader, “Lenny clearly outpointed Hamilton and was entitled to the decision.”viii

On February 2, 1901, Mike was hired to manage Little Rock of the new Southern Association. Unlike his experience of the last three years, the Travelers played well in front of good crowds, clearing $2,000 by mid June. Led by pitcher Harry Allemang (20-4), the league’s top hurler, and outfielder Jackrabbit Gilbert (.324), a former major leaguer, Little Rock was in first place for most of the season and seemed to have locked up the pennant by mid-September. During the last week of the season the Travelers had three open dates that Finn filled with exhibition games at Jackson, Tennessee. Meanwhile, when the club was traveling there, the league president ordered them to play three postponed games at Memphis. Finn and his Travelers remained in Jackson, played the exhibitions, and made good money. Memphis, however, fielded a team for the postponements and the umpire awarded them three forfeit wins by the score of 9-0, lopping three full games off Little Rock’s lead.

The final nail in Little Rock’s coffin came courtesy of a successful protest by the Selma club, which had lost a game to Little Rock weeks before the end of the season. The Travelers’ season was ultimately unraveled by a small boy’s eagerness to see a ballgame. It was an era when boys were given admission to the ball park for returning foul balls hit over the stands. During this game, a “returned” baseball found its way into play and was inspected by players on the Selma bench who took a knife to the missile and found that it was constructed with cheap yarn. Indignation and charges of playing “dirty ball” followed; a protest was lodged and upheld at the end of the season and the league presidents awarded the pennant to Nashville (78-45), which beat out Little Rock (76-45) by one game.

Finn’s 1902 Travelers (77-49) finished third and turned an $8,000 profit. In December Sporting Life reported that he was offered the St. Louis Cardinals managerial position, which he turned down. His 1903 Travelers finished second (70-51) but defeated pennant-winning Memphis three out of five games in a post-season playoff. A managerial offer from Minneapolis of the American Association was reported in October, but Finn again chose to remain in Little Rock.

According to the New Orleans Item, “Mickey is a peculiar sort of a duck. He can sit on the bench and run his team as long as he is winning, but when the Travelers drop a few he prefers a seat in the grandstand, or out by the entrance. Then is when [one of his players] conducts the game on the Little Rock side.”ix

Finn could also be superstitious. A black cat crossing his path was an ill omen and he refused to carry an umbrella in a driving rainstorm. A photographer could not take snapshots of any of his players and wouldn’t be allowed anywhere near his side of the field. During a post-game session with one of his pitchers, Finn, according to the Portland Oregonian, dressed him down for pitching bad ball. “I knew I’d lose that game,” said the pitcher, seeking an alibi, “for on my way to the ball park I walked under a ladder.” He thought this would appeal to Finn’s superstitions and get him by, but Finn bellowed back: “Walked under a ladder did ye? Well, that will cost ye $25 and maybe ‘twill teach ye to watch where ye walk from this time on. By t’under, I’ll have ye all know nothing like that can be done on my ball club.”x

The 1904 Little Rock club was disappointing (61-74, sixth). The team was plagued by rainouts, batted poorly (with the exception of Jackrabbit Gilbert’s .328), attendance and enthusiasm dwindled, and the team lost money. By mid-September, it was a foregone conclusion that Mike would move on to manage elsewhere.

Mike resurfaced with the 1905 Toledo Mud Hens of the American Association, a club run by J. Edward Grillo, who later became a sports editor for two Washington, DC, newspapers, the Post and the Star. The team performed poorly during the season’s first two months and Mike was dismissed as manager on June 15 by the club’s board of directors, who charged him with incompetency. At the time, the Mud Hens were in eighth place with an 18-30 record.

Once dismissed, Finn fought to compel the board to pay his ten-month contract in full. Reaction in the press was mixed. The Boston Journal said, “I fear my friend J. Ed Grillo is having hard sledding as a magnate in Toledo. He has discharged Mike Finn as manager. Mike has hitherto been a very successful handler of baseball teams.”xi On the other hand, the Montgomery Advertiser noted that Toledo’s “directors had the good sense to see that Mike Finn was not only of no benefit to the team but that his bench warming policy was a positive detriment. …The Toledo team [has now] been winning steadily – playing better ball all around.”xii With Grillo at the helm, the Mud Hens (61-92) finished in seventh place.

Mike wasn’t out of work for long. On July 18 he returned to the Southern Association when he was hired to manage the eighth place Nashville Volunteers (23-49), replacing retiring team owner Newt Fisher. Finn predicted that the Volunteers would overtake seventh place Little Rock by the end of the season. The club went 8-12 during his first three weeks and moved up to seventh place, where it stayed for the rest of the schedule, finishing 47-88 (24-39, .381 under Finn).

Despite reports that he would manage Little Rock in 1906, Mike signed a contract to return to Nashville in late January. Unfortunately, his season was a near carbon-copy of the previous one, as the Vols (47-90), who were plagued by injuries and poor play, finished seventh again. By early September, Finn had announced his resignation; a few weeks later, he agreed to manage Little Rock in 1907, offering to refund part of his salary if the team failed to finish in the first division.

The New Orleans Item noted, “While he has had some losers in his day, [Finn] has gotten more out of a losing club than almost any man in the country.”xiii The Times-Picayune wrote, “[Finn] is gathering a pretty swift bunch of players.”xiv A salary refund wasn’t necessary. Little Rock (66-66) finished fourth, getting good production from catcher Bob Wood (.294) and pitcher Bill Hart (13-10), former major leaguers.

Figuring his club was on the rise, Finn predicted that the Travelers would win the 1908 Southern Association pennant. The Macon Telegraph didn’t see it that way, forecasting a lower division finish. Finn had good reason for optimism. During an early spring scouting foray in Texas, he found himself watching the Texas League’s Cleburne Railroaders and a former pitcher named Tris Speaker. After a week of watching him in the outfield, Mike was convinced that Speaker would eventually be a star.

The Boston Red Sox, who used Speaker (.158) in seven games at the end of the 1907 season, invited him to spring training, which, as chance would have it, was in Little Rock. With several good outfielders signed for 1908, Boston gave Speaker to Finn’s Travelers as a ballpark rental payment, with a handshake agreement to pay Finn $500 if they wanted him back later in the season. Speaker proceeded to have a breakout year in Little Rock, hitting .350 (.452 slugging average) and winning the Southern Association batting title. By the end of the season, Mike Finn was fielding generous bids for Speaker from nearly every major league club and turning them down, losing the opportunity to make at least $7,500. A man of his word, Finn, according to The Sporting News, said, “Boston gave me Speaker and if Boston wants him back he’s Boston’s man.”xv Paced by Speaker’s hot hitting, Little Rock led the league in hitting and runs, but was last in team fielding, finishing seventh (62-76).

The 1909 Travelers (59-80) also finished seventh, suffered from poor attendance, and lost money. Finn attempted to find a new home for the club in the Texas League, but debt couldn’t be paid off and the Little Rock Baseball Association disbanded. Later in the year, a few South Atlantic League clubs touted Mike for league president, but he didn’t have the necessary support. Instead, he returned to New England in January 1910 when he bought a controlling interest in the Waterbury Connecticut League team.

The Waterbury Finnegans got off to a good start in 1910 and were on top of the league all season. According to the Springfield Republican, “There can be no denial that Finn has made an unusual showing with the team he has carried through the season, making league leaders of a team that in previous years had been fortunate to finish within striking distance of the first division.”xvi

In first place despite numerous injuries, Waterbury (70-52) went into the last two weeks of the season barely breaking even at the box office. Always the promoter, Finn tried everything he could think of to bring in paid admissions. In June, Sporting Life noted that he “has caused a commotion in this league by making a feature of Ladies Day, presenting a prize to the holder of the lucky ticket. Gold watches and silk parasols are among the prizes thus far offered.”xvii By the last two weeks of the season, Waterbury fans woke up to the situation and turned out in standing-room only droves. The Republican estimated that Finn’s profit was $2,000.

But good feelings generated by winning the pennant didn’t last long. In early October, Finn and team president Harry Durant were at odds over financial matters; Finn claimed certain players as his property because he bought them with his own money. Durant, an attorney, claimed them as assets of the club. The dispute went unresolved and Finn declined to exercise his option to continue with the team.

In March 1911 Finn became a scout for his good friend John McGraw and the New York Giants. Operating out of his home in Little Rock, Finn covered the Southern Association and Texas League. He signed Gene Paulette for the Giants, who eventually had a six year, 500 game major league career.

Finn resurfaced in the Southern Association in 1912, this time with the Mobile Sea Gulls, a second division franchise for years. Despite a ten-game losing streak in early June, the Gulls (79-58), led by pitcher Al Demaree (24-10), outfielder William “Baby Doll” Jacobson (.261), and 13 other future major leaguers, finished in second place and turned a profit. Finn’s 1913 Mobile club (81-57) again finished second and were paced by outfielder Dave Robertson (.335, 11 homers) and pitcher Pug Cavet (23-12). A 1915 New Orleans Item story noted that Finn cleared nearly $10,000 each year in Mobile, counting the profits from the sale of players.

On September 9, 1913, the Montgomery Advertiser announced that Mike Finn had signed a contract to manage the Southern Association’s Memphis Chicks in 1914. Though his contract with Mobile was due to expire at the end of the season, the local baseball association had offered him a new contract at the same salary. According to the Advertiser, Mobile felt that Mike “had acted in bad faith with the Mobile Association and broken his word to the directors [that he would give an answer in time for the annual meeting on September 15].”xviii By the end of the year, Finn had cleaned house in Memphis, releasing all but five players.

The housecleaning didn’t work; the Memphis Chicks (61-87) finished seventh and changed ownership in late May when team president Frank Coleman sold the franchise to Russell A. Gardner, a millionaire St. Louis vehicle manufacturer. Finn’s Chicks suffered an inability to drive in runs all year, leading him to initiate an incentive system – every hit that brought in a run would get the hitter a silver dollar. The scheme worked pretty well and the resurgent Chicks climbed out of the cellar. Finn let the players run accounts until they climbed to $110. When Mike took the bill to Gardner for payment, he received a grunt and shake of the head as the bill was turned back to him. Finn had to dig deep into his own pockets to make good with the players.

In late August Finn was notified by Gardner that he would not be retained as the Chicks manager in 1915. In the opinion of the New Orleans Item, “Finn made a bad financial move when he went from Mobile to Memphis … but accepted the Memphis management at a small salary and with the change in ownership … Finn had no chance to hold his new job longer than this year.”xix

By late March 1915, Finn had been hired by Detroit’s Hughie Jennings as a scout, covering the Southern Association, the Texas League, and the South Atlantic League. He also assisted the Tigers in closing a deal to train in Waxahachie, Texas, in 1916, and helped the minor league St. Paul American Association team locate a training site in Ft. Smith, Arkansas.

Throughout the year, the press reported that Finn wanted to return to New England to manage, preferably with a team in Waterbury, Springfield, or New Haven. Some reports indicated that he’d already located financial backing and was on the verge of making a deal to buy a team. By October, however, things began to fall apart. Finn’s scheduled appearance at the Eastern League’s annual meeting was cancelled due to his daughter’s illness. He later told a reporter that he could not see how aligning with the Eastern League would pan out.

On December 11, 1915, Finn was hired to manage the Beaumont Oilers of the Texas League. In early February 1916, he was hospitalized in Little Rock and, after an emergency operation, was, according to the Tulsa World, in critical condition and near death. A few days later, physicians told him he needed to rest and should stay out of the game for at least a year. Finn then asked Jim Delahanty, a veteran player, to take charge of the team. On February 22, in a stunning reversal after his condition rapidly improved, Mike was once again ready to manage. Finally, on May 12, citing ill health, and aggravated by the failure of his team to win, Finn resigned as manager and went home to Little Rock to rest. The Oilers (10-18) were in last place at the time. After a few days, he resumed work as a Detroit scout. He was spotted at South Atlantic, Georgia-Florida, and Central Texas League games in July, and turned up in North Carolina in August to watch semi-pros. Mike continued to scout the southern minor leagues for Detroit in 1917.

Finn returned to managing in 1918 with Chattanooga, his fourth stint in the Southern Association. The Lookouts were a scrappy, hard-hitting team led by outfielder Ira Flagstead (.379, 49 games), who went on to hit .290 during his 13-year, 1,218 game major league career. Finn called him as good as Speaker and Dave Robertson; but Flagstead was lost to injury by late May.

With the US in the World War, the Southern Association suspended operations as of June 28; Chattanooga (35-34) was in fifth place at the time. Finn immediately sold all of his players (with the exception of two that retired) to major league clubs. Some of the players balked at their sale, instead choosing to work for ship and steel plants that had their own teams. Eleven others enlisted in the service. According to the New Orleans Item, Mike accepted a position in Little Rock as a government railway agent.

In late January 1919, after the Armistice, Mike was engaged to manage the San Antonio Bronchos of the Texas League. Popularly known as the Aces, Finn’s club had a difficult season (66-87) and finished sixth. Third baseman Sammy Hale (.346) was the team’s most effective batsman.

By early 1920, Mike Finn had returned to scouting the south for Detroit and creating schedules for several leagues. In August, it became obvious that he wanted to run his own minor league franchise; his name was prominently mentioned as one who wanted to run a club in Asheville, North Carolina. A few weeks later, he expressed interest in a newly proposed Alabama-Georgia-Florida league. After protracted planning, the idea died in mid-November. In December Mike arranged for Detroit and new manager Ty Cobb to train in San Antonio in 1921.

In January Finn and J. Feagin “Barney” Burch purchased the Western League’s Omaha Buffaloes for $50,000, with Finn serving as secretary-general manager. The 1921 season was a success on the field and off, with a second place finish (95-73) and 131,000 paid admissions at the ballpark. Player-manager Jack Lelivelt led the league with a .416 average, but was relieved of managerial duties in May, with Burch taking over. Thereafter, the club became informally known in the press as the “Burch-Rods.”

On March 23, 1922, Mike Finn arrived in Victoria, Texas for Omaha’s spring training. Shortly thereafter, when he developed a peculiar choking in his throat and a shortness of breath, he found it necessary to see his physician at once and returned home to Little Rock. According to a letter from his daughter Catherine quoted in the Omaha World-Herald, “He arrived home on Thursday morning [March 30] and was immediately put to bed and told to rest physically and mentally for two weeks. His heart is in a weak state, although he feels that he should be there at Omaha right now. It is impossible.”xx By April 7, the paper noted that Finn was in critical condition but had showed some improvement.

In the opinion of the World-Herald, “General Manager Finn has certainly been overdoing himself in his overwhelming ambition to give Omaha a great ball team. He has been working night and day, at a gait that would spell disaster to many a younger man. However, there has been no stopping Mike, and while conditions have been (looking favorable) it looks now as if he were to realize his fondest dream, and give this city its greatest year of baseball, and with the recovery of his usual robust health, he will succeed.”xxi

After recuperating for several weeks, Finn and his family traveled to Omaha so he could see his Buffaloes for the first time, arriving on May 5 at their temporary home in the Loyal Hotel. The entire team welcomed him and his wife had to restrain him from talking all night. The next day, against the pleas of Mrs. Finn, who didn’t think he was strong enough to withstand the excitement, they were in box seats for Omaha’s game against the Tulsa Oilers.

In the top of the third inning, with Omaha up by a 2-1 score and a runner on first, Tulsa’s Yank Davis hit a home run over the right field fence, giving his club a 3-2 lead. Finn became noticeably nervous and was cautioned by a friend to not get excited. As Lyman Lamb, the next batter, was hitting a double, Mike Finn grasped the arms of his seat, swayed a second, and pitched forward, striking his forehead on the arm of a chair as he fell. He was immediately attended to by a doctor and Red Cross worker and, with the help of Barney Burch and others, was carried under the grandstand, where last rites were administered and he was pronounced dead fifteen minutes later after a second heart attack seized him. He was 61 years old.

Most of the 1,800 fans in attendance were unaware of what had happened after the game was abruptly stopped. Cries of “play ball!” were heard from distant parts of the stands until the umpire addressed the crowd and announced the end of the game. A cheering and jeering throng was immediately turned into a somber crowd that silently filed out of the park, many of them observing the covered body of Mike Finn under the grandstand.

Finn’s body was transported back to Natick, Massachusetts, for a funeral on May 10, which took place at the home of his brothers, David and Edward. A requiem high mass was celebrated at St. Patrick’s Church and Finn was buried in the church cemetery. He was survived by his widow Elizabeth, age 51; a son, David, 25, an electrical engineer in Boston; and his daughter, Catherine, 22, who inherited Mike’s half interest in the Omaha Buffaloes and became its business manager. Barney Burch and the Buffaloes (91-77) finished fourth in the Western League, 12 ½ games behind pennant-winning Tulsa.

Mike Finn’s death made headlines across the nation, and tributes poured in from all over the sporting world: Frank Navin, owner of the Detroit Tigers; the South Atlantic League; Eastern League; Little Rock baseball team; Michael Kelly, owner of the St. Paul club; the American and National Leagues; and Thomas H. Connolly, umpire, among others.

 

Sources

Boston Globe, 1889, 1891, 1899, 1922, 1925

Hartford Courant, 1910, 1911

Springfield Republican, 1910, 1922

Boston Journal, 1905, 1911

The Victoria Advocate, 1922

Jonesboro (Arkansas) Daily Tribune, 1922

Baseball-Reference.com

Ancestry.com

Thanks to Tim Newenham for providing the Mike Finn photo.


Notes

i “Sports Round Table,” San Antonio Evening News, April 15, 1918, 8.

ii “Mike Finn,” Montgomery Advertiser, May 8, 1922, 4.

iii “Heart Disease Fatal to Baseball Veteran,” The Sporting News, May 11, 1922, 2.

iv “Mike Finn of Memphis Turtles is Game’s Most Superstitious Character,” New Orleans Item, March 3, 1914, 9.

v “Old Files Tell Early Fame of ‘By Thunder’ Mike Finn,” Sunday World-Herald, May 7, 1922, 12.

vi “Newport Notes: A Glowing But Deserved Tribute to Manager Finn,” Sporting Life, October 16, 1897, 9.

vii “The Listening Post by Col. Cluke,” New Orleans States, May 8, 1922, 12.

viii “Fought A Long Draw,” Cleveland Leader, December 18, 1900, 7.

ix “Picturesque Mike Finn and His Old-Fashioned Team Open Here,” New Orleans Item, April 25, 1908, 5.

x “Mike Finn Superstitious,” Oregonian, July 9, 1922, 4.

xi “Bob Dunbar’s Sporting Chat,” Boston Journal, June 22, 1905, 5.

xii “Lack of Head Work Cost Montgomery The Game,” Montgomery Advertiser, June 25, 1905, 12.

xiii “Little Rock Redemption Seen in Finn’s Return,” New Orleans Item, December 31, 1906, 7.

xiv “Southern League Will Be Faster,” Times-Picayune, December 31, 1906, 10.

xv “Heart Disease Fatal to Baseball Veteran,” The Sporting News, May 11, 1922, 2.

xvi “Waterbury Wins Pennant Success Due to Work of Finn,” Springfield Republican, September 11, 1910, 18.

xvii “Connecticut League News Notes,” Sporting Life, October 15, 1910, 18.

xviii “Finn Has Acted in Bad Faith With Mobile Club, Montgomery Advertiser, September 13, 1913, 9.

xix “Michael Finn Gets Notice of His Dismissal,” New Orleans Item, August 29, 1914, 18.

xx “Sandy’s Dope,” Omaha World-Herald, April 4, 1922, 13.

xxi “Burch-Rods Are Ready for Opening of Season on Wednesday,” Omaha World-Herald, April 9, 1922, 17.

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