SABR

Sam Moffet

This article was written by Carole Olshavsky.

Sam Moffet was one of four Moffet family members involved in professional baseball in the 1880s. In addition to Sam, his brother Joe played shortstop for the Toledo Blue Stockings, another brother, Link (Abraham Lincoln), played for the Nashville Blues and the Wheeling Nailers, and a first cousin, Robert McNichol (1852-1901), was an umpire first in Wheeling for the Standards[1] and then for the American Association.[2] Robert’s son, Edwin B. McNichol (1879-1952), went on to play for the Boston Beaneaters in 1904;[3] and his younger son, Joe, was a catcher in minor-league baseball[4].

Named after his father and grandfather, Samuel Robert Moffet was born on March 14, 1857, in Wheeling, West Virginia, one of 11 children born to Samuel R. and Mary Jane Wright Moffet. His parents, with their three oldest children (James, Robert, and Elizabeth), had emigrated from County Tyrone, Ireland, in 1848. Within a month of arriving, the family settled in Wheeling and a fourth child, Isabelle, was born. By 1862, the family had grown by seven with four sons (Thomas, Samuel, Joseph, Abraham Lincoln) and three daughters (Margaret, Mary, and Sarah).

Sam Moffet Sr. was employed as the toll collector for the suspension bridge between Wheeling and Wheeling Island, in the Ohio River. The Moffet family lived on the island at the foot of the bridge on Zane Street. As Wheeling Island boys, the Moffets and their neighbors grew up near the Commons and Fairgrounds Park, home to baseball teams as early as 1865. Robert McNichol grew up next door to the Moffets on Zane Street. Sam Barkley and Jack Glasscock lived just a few blocks north on Maryland Street, and Joe Miller lived nearby on Virginia Street.[5] All went on to major-league baseball careers.

At 6 feet in height, Sam was taller than most ballplayers and at 175 pounds he was quite slender, with sandy hair and a mustache.[6] Sam’s baseball career began when he was a teenager with the Buckeye Baseball Club, an amateur team in Wheeling. In 1875, the Wheeling Standards, reputed to be one of the fastest teams in the country,[7] recruited the best of the Buckeyes, including Sam; his brother Joe; Jack Glasscock; and Sam Barkley.[8] Sam played for the Standards in 1876 and 1877, but in 1878 the Fairgrounds Park on Wheeling Island was destroyed in a flood and without a field, the Standards disbanded. The team was reorganized in 1882, and Sam Moffet again joined the team. He was second only to Sam Barkley in hitting, with a .404 average.[9]

Sam started the 1883 season with the Standards, but was quickly lured away by Jack Glasscock with an offer to play for the newly organized Blue Stockings, Toledo’s first professional baseball team. Toledo was one of eight teams in the new Northwestern League. Also recruited to play for Toledo that year were three other Wheeling players, Sam Barkley, George “Chappy” Lane, and Joe Miller. Sam was hired for his pitching skill and was usually paired with Lane as the battery. He shared the pitching duties with Hank O’Day, who became a major-league umpire. When not pitching, Moffet also played first base and third base. There were high expectations for Sam’s pitching skills and in an interview on November 14, 1883, William Voltz, manager of the Blue Stockings, referred to him as one of the best pitchers in the country.[10]

Wearing their new blue and gray uniforms, Toledo opened its 1883 season on April 16 with a loss to Port Huron on Toledo’s new field.[11] The Blue Stockings didn’t win their first home game until May 5, but then went on to win the Northwestern League championship that year.[12] Sam’s record did not live up to expectations, but he played in 51 games and pitched in 20. In Toledo he picked up the nickname Dad, which stuck throughout his career. On August 8, 1883, Sam’s cousin, Robert McNichol, was the umpire for an exhibition game in Toledo against Columbus with Sam on the pitcher’s mound. Toledo lost, 18-10.[13]

Two days later Sam pitched in a game in Toledo against the National League champion, the Chicago White Stockings. The game went into extra innings, with Chicago pulling out the victory, 10-9, in the tenth inning. The game was marred by Cap Anson’s threat to boycott if Moses Fleetwood Walker was in the lineup for Toledo. Fleet Walker was one of the first (Brown University student and first baseman William Edward White played one game for Providence on June 21, 1879) African Americans to play in the majors and was a formidable catcher, usually teamed up with Sam Barkley as pitcher. Fleet had injured his hand and Toledo didn’t plan to play him, but after Anson’s antics, Toledo called Anson’s bluff and put Fleet in the game in right field. Anson finally backed down in order to avoid losing the gate receipts, but Toledo resented his behavior, and the newspaper coverage blasted Anson.[14]   

Toledo expected Sam to continue with the Blue Stockings for the 1884 season, but instead he signed with the Cleveland Blues, a National League team for which his good friend Jack Glasscock was playing. There was controversy over his new contract, because he signed with Cleveland before being released by Toledo. The issue was resolved when Moffet was officially released by Toledo on November 8, 1883, and his contract with Cleveland was approved on December 2.[15]

Heading home to Wheeling for the winter, Sam lived with his family on Wheeling Island and worked in the Aetna Steel mill in Bridgeport, Ohio, just across the river from Wheeling.

Moffet and Glasscock returned to Cleveland in late March of 1884 in time for the first preseason game, on April 9. The Cleveland Blues played against their reserve team, the Colts, and Sam pitched three innings. The Sporting Life reported: “Moffet came into the points after the fifth inning, and pitched three innings for the ‘Colts.’ He did good work for the Toledos last season, and ought to for Cleveland. He is a quiet fellow, with a plain delivery, plenty of speed, all the curves and a good fielder.”

Sam played his first regular season game in the major leagues on May 15, 1884, a losing start against the New York Gothams. He played in 67 games during the season, pitching in 24. He had one week that pitchers dream about -- three wins between August 11 and August 18 (Detroit twice and Philadelphia once). Unfortunately for Moffet, those were his only victories that season. When not pitching, he played in the outfield in 42 games, and the infield in a handful of games. At the plate, the right-handed hitter had a batting average of only .184, with only 47 hits.

On June 25, 1884, The Sporting Life reported that “a dog got out in right field in Cleveland during one of the games with the Chicago Club last week and snapped at Moffet’s legs while taking a high from Scott’s bat. ‘Dad’ held the ball and then threw it at the intruder.” A week later it was reported that the team now had a yellow dog as a “mascot” and that whenever the dog came on the field, Cleveland won the game.

In early 1884, Sam’s oldest brother, James, had signed a lease on the Orphan Girl mine in Butte, Montana. He quickly found a rich vein of silver and gold and made plans to work the mine. In March James headed east to visit his family in Wheeling and recruited Sam to join him as a partner in the mine lease.[16] As soon as the baseball season ended, Sam and brother Joe headed to Montana. Over the next year, they extracted more than 210,000 ounces of silver and 300 ounces of gold, worth about $231,000, before the ore vein petered out. James took his share of this sizable fortune to San Francisco and continued with mining ventures in California, Oregon, and Mexico. Sam and Link as well as brothers Joe and Tom continued their involvement with mining in Montana and in Oregon and Arizona. James Moffet’s obituary in 1912 credited the brothers with “having done more than any other group of blood relatives to develop the mineral resources of the West.” [17]

There is no record of Sam playing on a team in organized baseball in either 1885 or 1886. However, baseball was still a family game in Butte for the Moffet brothers, with Joe and Link playing for a local team, the Butte Nine. Sam kept up his practice and in 1887 he wrote to Jack Glasscock, who was managing the Indianapolis Hoosiers of the National League, and asked for a chance to pitch for the team.[18] Glasscock sent for him immediately. Sam played his first game for Indianapolis on August 12, 1887. He pitched and had a two-base hit. He played in only 11 games that season, pitching in six and playing the outfield in five, and had a batting average of only .122. While he improved as the year went on, he won only one game and lost five. In December, after Indianapolis did not reserve him for the following year,[19] Toronto of the International League tried to acquire him,[20] but on January 25, 1888, the Hoosiers re-signed Sam.[21] 

The Wheeling boys took their game seriously and over the next few months, Sam, Jack Glasscock, Joe Miller, and Sam Barkley practiced daily in a gym in Wheeling.[22] In 1889 Sam played in 10 games for Indianapolis, pitching in seven and playing center field in three. He won just two games and had as little success at hitting, with an average of .114. In July, Indianapolis brought in a new pitcher and gave Sam a 10-day notice of release.[23] He played his last major-league game on June 22, 1888, and for the rest of the season he played for teams in Omaha and Grand Island in the new Nebraska State League.[24]

Sam returned to Wheeling in late 1888 and on May 16, 1889, married Mary Agnes “Minnie” Donaldson. The Donaldson family had lived next door to the Moffets on Wheeling Island for many years. Sam Sr. died that spring, and the family decided to relocate to Butte, Montana. Sam and Minnie, along with his sisters Margaret Ault and Mary McClain and their families, arrived in Butte in late 1889. His sister Elizabeth stayed behind with her family and they lived in the Bridgeport area for the rest of their lives.

Following in the footsteps of their older brothers, Sam, Joe, and Link Moffet began investing in a significant amount of lode mining property in Silver Bow County, Montana. Some of that property is still called Moffet Mountain. A large portion of their claims was purchased by the Anaconda Mining Company in 1904. When not mining his own claims, Sam worked in the Parrot Smelter Lab in Butte. Smelting companies melted down the raw ore and extracted the silver, gold, and copper for transportation back east. The lab was responsible for validating the worth of the ore. In 1903, Sam traveled to Crofton, British Columbia, to take charge of the sampling works at the Breen & Bellinger Smelter. When that mine closed in 1904, Sam again returned to Butte.[25]

Minnie gave birth to two babies while they lived in Butte, but both died in infancy. Tragedy struck the family in 1907 with Link Moffet’s sudden death on April 27 at the age of 45. Less than two weeks later, on May 7, 1907, Sam died at the age of 50.[26] The cause of death was listed as “exhaustion from paresis,” which indicated some type of partial paralysis but offered no further explanation. Sam’s body was returned to Wheeling, where he was buried in Greenwood Cemetery. Minnie moved back to Wheeling as well, and in 1908 she married Harry Hunter, another longtime Wheeling Island neighbor.






[1] “Baseball: Standards vs. Washington,” Wheeling News Register, April 16, 1877.


[2] Retrosheet, 1883 AA Regular Season Umpiring Log for Robert McNichol.


[3] Baseball Almanac.


[4] “Joseph McNichol” (obituary), East Liverpool Review, Nov. 6, 1950.


[5] 1880 U.S. Census, Wheeling, West Virginia.


[6] Baseball Almanac.


[7] William E. Akin, West Virginia Baseball – A History 1865-2000, McFarland & Co., 2006.


[8] “Glasscock Still at It,” Fort Wayne Sentinel, May 11, 1899.


[9] Akin, op cit.


[10] The Sporting Life, November 14, 1883.


[11] “Port Huron’s Victory,” Toledo Blade, April 17, 1883.


[12]John R. Husman, Baseball in Toledo, Arcadia Publishing, 2003.


[13] “A Columbus View of It,” Toledo Daily Blade, August 9, 1883.


[14] “Ball and Bat,” Toledo Daily Blade, August 11, 1883.


[15] The Sporting Life, November 28 and December 12, 1883.


[16] “Local News,” Butte Daily Miner, March 13, 1884.


[17] “Noted Western Mine Expert Dies In South,” Oakland Tribune, June 5, 1912


[18] The Sporting News, Volume 3, No. 23, August 13, 1887.


[19] The Sporting Life, Volume 10, No. 9, p. 5, December 7, 1887.


[20] The Sporting Life, Volume 10, No. 12, p. 5, December 28, 1887.


[21] The Sporting Life, Volume 10, No. 16, p. 5, January 25, 1888.


[22] The Sporting Life, Volume 10, No. 17, p. 5, February 2, 1888.


[23] The Sporting Life, Volume 11, No. 15, p. 2, July 18, 1888.


[24] The Sporting Life, Volume 12, No. 2, p. 1, October 17, 1888.


[25] “Butte Briefs,” Butte Daily Miner, June 9, 1904.


[26] “Deaths and Funerals,” Butte Daily Miner, May 7, 1907
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