SABR

Gene Madden

This article was written by Peter R. Madden.

An article appearing in the Galveston Daily News during 1912 reads, “It was the first of the seventh when the redoubtable Christy Mathewson stepped into the pitching box to perform for the last three innings. He was greeted by an ovation from grandstand and bleachers as he trotted upon the field and grinned one of his happy grins. The big fellow shot a few fast ones across the plate to Paulet who took Myers’ place behind the bat to receive Mathewson, and then signed that he was ready. Shortstop Madden stepped up to the plate, braced himself and took a determined swat at the first one Matty served to him, landed solidly and drove it over second base into center field for a clean single, to the howling delight of the fans in the grandstand.”1

That may have been the finest moment in the playing career of Gene Madden, an infielder whose major-league career consisted of one unsuccessful at-bat as a pinch-hitter for the 1916 Pittsburgh Pirates.

Eugene Madden was born in Elm Grove, West Virginia, on June 5, 1890. (Elm Grove is now a part of Wheeling.) His father, Michael Aloysius Madden, was a first-generation Irish-American, and his mother, Mary Ann DeVliegher, was of Dutch/Irish descent, Gene, one of seven children, attended Cathedral High School in Wheeling, where he was a prominent athlete. After completing high school in 1908, he signed with the Bradford (Pennsylvania) Drillers of the Class D Interstate League. Only 17 years old, the youth struggled at the plate and in the field, batting just .174 and making 16 errors in 18 games at shortstop. To make matters worse, the struggling league folded on June 5, Madden’s 18th birthday, stranding him and his teammates, who had to play some exhibition games to raise money to pay their hotel bills and buy train tickets home.

Back at Elm Grove, Madden went to work with his father as a meter reader for the town’s natural-gas company and played for a local semipro team. In December 1910, he signed a contract with the Dallas Giants of the Class B Texas League. He got to play against the New York Giants during spring training, but he fielded poorly and in late March was sent to for Hattiesburg Woodpeckers of the Class D Cotton States League, where his play improved; he batted .283 and scored 82 runs in 120 games. He returned to the Dallas club in March 1912, but was sent to Galveston, which needed players. There he faced Mathewson and also played in exhibition games against the Philadelphia Athletics and Chicago White Sox. Then he had a solid season with the Sand Crabs, batting .246 with 29 stolen bases.

Madden spent three more seasons playing for Galveston, a dependable hitter and the fastest baserunner in the league (59 stolen bases in 1913). In the offseason he returned to Elm Grove and worked for the gas company. In 1915 he played the outfield and batted .312. Big-league clubs took note of his talent, and after that season the Pittsburgh Pirates offered him a contract. At spring training in Dawson Springs, Kentucky, manager Nixey Callahan put the players through some grueling physical training before intrasquad games began. Playing for the Yannigans against the Pirates regulars on March 11, Madden saw his first action, batting leadoff. He went 3-for-5, and the Pittsburgh Post Gazette called his hitting a bright spot in the game. The next day he played second base for the regulars and was 1-for-2. He continued to play for the regulars, alongside shortstop Honus Wagner. Later he was moved back to the Yannigans.

Madden was on the Opening Day roster, but didn’t play in the first two series of the season, against St. Louis and Cincinnati. The night before the April 20 home opener, against St. Louis, manager Callahan told Madden he would be optioned to Syracuse of the New York State League after the game. Madden didn’t expect to play in the game, but after Pirates pitcher Al Mamaux gave up three runs in the top of the second, acting manager Honus Wagner (Callahan had been ejected in the first inning), sent him up to pinch-hit for Mamaux in the bottom of the second. Madden, by this point rusty from inaction, grounded out to second base.

Mike O’Neill, the Syracuse Stars’ manager, had been after Madden for over a month. The Pirates reserved the rights to Madden and could recall him from Syracuse when needed.

The Stars were still practicing, in Allentown, Pennsylvania. Madden played well in practice, but got off to a poor start once the season opened. He was batting .220 after 40 games. As the season went on, he improved his batting average, made spectacular plays in the field, and stole many bases. Madden finished the season with a .239 batting average and a league-leading 63 stolen bases as Syracuse won the league championship.

O’Neill had arranged a postseason barnstorming tour for the Stars. Their first game was to be against a team based in Pulaski, New York, called the Pulaski Colored Nine or the Havana Red Sox, and Madden remained in Syracuse. The Syracuse Herald reported that he refused to play against black baseball players. Madden said, according to the Herald, “that if he had to play against Negroes he would slide high every time.”2

Madden was not recalled to the Pirates in the fall. On September 12 the Pirates announced that he would play for Birmingham of the Southern League in 1917. But on December 17 O’Neill announced that he had purchased Madden’s contract from the Pirates. According to the Syracuse Herald, “(F)or several weeks the leader of the Twinks has been after Barney Dreyfuss to sell the little redheaded gardener. O’Neill declares that Madden is one of the most valuable men that he has ever run across, as Gene can play every position except in the box and behind the bat.”3

In February O’Neill said Madden had told him he didn’t want to play in Syracuse in 1917. “Gene said that his legs were sore for a long time after the season closed due to playing at the damp Star Park grounds,” the Herald reported.4 O’Neill said he thought he could persuade Madden to return, however, and said he would play second base instead of the outfield as he had in 1916. Eventually he did talk Madden into returning. Madden’s respect for O’Neill as a manager must have been a factor. He told the Syracuse Herald that “of all the managers he played under, O’Neill knew the most. He was one manager who could get the most there was from a ball tosser.”5

Madden’s 1917 season resembled that of 1916. He got off to a slow start and showed improvement during the warmer months. But the Stars were no longer a championship team. Without Howard Ehmke, their star pitcher of the season before, they struggled. Madden finished the season with a .232 batting average and 49 stolen bases. The Stars finished in third place. And the New York State League disbanded after the season. In 1918 the Syracuse club joined the International League. Madden would not accompany the team to the higher-classification league. On April 5, 1918, the Syracuse Herald reported: “Today Manager (Patsy) Donovan received a telegram from Gene Madden saying that he had quit baseball for all time and would not consider playing again this season.”6

The next month, with the US embroiled in the World War, the federal government issued it “work or fight” order. All able bodied men of draft age who were not employed with war-related work were subject to the draft. Madden enlisted in the Marines on June 23. He received his training at Parris Island, South Carolina, and then was sent to the Marine Barracks at Quantico, Virginia.

During the 1917 season at Syracuse, Madden had become romantically involved with Genevieve Tormey, a young graduate of the School of Fine Arts at Syracuse University. While Madden was at Quantico, she received word that he was to depart for France. She quickly left Syracuse for Quantico with a friend. On September 7, 1918, she and Madden were married. Shortly after the ceremony, he returned to his quarters, and she returned to Syracuse. A few days later Madden left with the 13th Marine Regiment for France. (Two of his brothers, Louis and Julian, were in the Army, but were still in the US.) The 13th Regiment landed at Bordeaux, France, and Madden was assigned to a Military Police unit. On October 14 he was promoted to corporal, and four weeks later, on November 11, the war ended. Madden remained in France until August of 1919. Back home, he was discharged from the Marines on August 15.

Madden and Genevieve moved to Baltimore, where he went to work for the Bethlehem Steel Company. During the war, many ballplayers under the work-or-fight order worked for Bethlehem, and the company had formed the Bethlehem Steel League, and continued after the war. In 1920 Madden played for the Sparrows Point team in the league.

Eugene Madden Jr. was born on August 28, 1920. Gene continued to work for Bethlehem Steel. As the spring of 1921 approached, he got the itch to play baseball again, and on March 9 he signed a contract with the Baltimore Orioles, an International League powerhouse, under a contract that allowed him to become a free agent if he didn’t make the team. (This was not a common occurrence in those days.)

About this time, two years “vanished” from Madden’s age. Newspapers began reporting Madden, almost 31, to be in his late 20s; Baltimore papers were claiming he was only 27. The origins of this age change are a mystery; Madden may have claimed a younger age to attract more ballclubs.

The Orioles were training in Goldsboro, North Carolina. The team had won the International League title in 1920 and was the favorite to repeat in 1921. It would be difficult for Madden to find a spot on the team. He made the decision even harder for manager Jack Dunn; he came into camp on fire. He hit well, played the outfield perfectly, and was as speedy as ever. But Madden was eventually released. He hit well in spring training, but manager Dunn decided to keep a longtime catcher as a utility player instead of Madden. Upon his release, Madden received offers from three clubs, and signed with the Newark Bears of the International League. He got the same salary as he would have made with the Orioles. In his first game with Newark, the Bears’ home opener, on April 20, he singled in his first at-bat, doubled his next time up, singled in his third appearance, doubled his fourth time up, and, in his fifth at-bat, slapped a ball down the right-field line that the home fans thought was two inches fair but that the umpire called foul.

During the first month of play Madden was superb and the toast of Newark. As June approached, he fell into a slump and was eventually benched by manager Jimmy Walsh. Madden eventually left the team and joined the Syracuse club of the International League in August. Madden finished out the 1921 season with Syracuse playing center field. He played well for Syracuse and batted .310 in 252 at-bats with the Stars. Overall, he played in 107 games for Newark and Syracuse and batted .284.

As the 1922 season approached, the Newark club, which owned his rights, told Madden to report to Waterbury, Connecticut, to play for the Brasscos of the Class A Eastern League. He was not pleased; he felt that his contract with Newark had expired, making him a free agent. He was overruled. Shortly thereafter, with Genevieve expecting their second child, Madden decided to quit the game. His family would live in Elm Grove and he would be the player-manager of a local semipro team, the Bauers.

After almost 13 years in and out of baseball, interrupted only by the World War, the 32-year-old father of two went to work for the local highway board as a surveyor. His family was growing, and by 1927, Gene and Genevieve had five children, Gene, Robert, Thomas, Janice, and Eleanor. In 1928 the family moved back to Syracuse, where Madden worked for Genevieve’s brother-in-law, Gus Hopkins, at the Leaf Spring and Service Company. In February 1929, Gene and Genevieve had their sixth child, Jerome.

In 1929 the Maddens moved roughly 50 miles east of Syracuse to the town of New Hartford. Gene wanted to start his own business. He founded the Utica Spring Service Company in nearby Utica. In 1932 Genevieve gave birth to their seventh and final child, John.

Madden worked a 5½-day week at his shop. It was hard work. The customers included loggers who were unsteady in paying their bills, and Genevieve often had to go out and collect money from these struggling men. It was the Depression, and no one could have struggled more than Gene. All seven of the Madden children made their way to college, owing to Gene’s self-sacrifice. He began his day boarding the bus at 5:30 A.M., leaving the family Buick for his wife’s use. Genevieve would arrive at the shop after Gene’s shower to find him dressed in a shirt and tie and everyday suit.

The Maddens attended St. John the Evangelist Church, and after Sunday Mass, Gene could be found working in the yard. It became a showplace. Sunday dinner would follow, perhaps a nap, followed by a thorough reading of the New York Times. On April 6, 1949, working at the shop, Gene suffered a fatal heart attack.

Gene Madden’s life was much more than baseball. His greatest accomplishment was not on April 20, 1916, in Pittsburgh. It was the family he had raised and the legacy he would leave behind.

 

Photo Credit

Madden family photo.

 

Sources

Because Gene Madden was my great-grandfather, I had access to the family scrapbook compiled by his wife, Genevieve. This scrapbook contained many newspaper clippings from Syracuse, Baltimore, Newark, and Wheeling. Many of these sources did not contain the specific newspaper title or dates that they were written.

Specific minor-league statistics were acquired from various Spalding’s and Reach Baseball Guides, located at the National Baseball Hall of Fame Library in Cooperstown, New York.

Pittsburgh newspapers were accessed at the Carnegie Library in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Newspapers

Baltimore Sun

Galveston Daily Press

Newark Ledger

Pittsburgh Dispatch

Pittsburgh Press

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Pittsburgh Sun

Sentinel-Record (Hot Springs, Arkansas)

Syracuse Herald

Warren (Pennsylvania) Evening Mirror

Wheeling Register

 

Notes

1 “Giant Regulars Defeat The Crabs,” Galveston Daily News, March 17, 1912.

2 “Stars To Face Colored Nine At Pulaski To-Day,” Syracuse Herald, September 11, 1916.

3 “Syracuse Club Buys Madden From Pirates,” Syracuse Herald, December 17, 1916.

4 “On The Sport Firing Line,” Syracuse Herald, February 19, 1917.

5 “Madden Is Back In Town,” Syracuse Herald, February 1928 (day unknown).

6 “Madden Has Quit Game,” Syracuse Herald, April 25, 1918.

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