SABR

Frank Morrissey

This article was written by Bill Nowlin.

The shortest pitcher in major-league history, Frank “Deacon” Morrissey threw right-handed for the 1901 Boston Americans (later the Red Sox) and the 1902 Chicago Orphans (also the Cubs). Aside from the one game with Boston and seven with Chicago, he spent 12 seasons in the minor leagues playing a wide variety of positions (every position but catcher), though he won more than 150 games on the mound. Morrissey is listed at 140 pounds and stood 5-feet-4, something apparently deemed not that remarkable at the time he played.

Morrissey was born as Michael Joseph Morrissey to Irish immigrant parents on May 3, 1876, in Baltimore. It was a difficult life for the Morrisseys, particularly Frank’s mother, Mary (O’Fogarty), who came to the United States at the age of 10 and bore 10 children, but saw only four survive. At the time of the 1900 Census, she was working as a “servant” in Baltimore, living with her son the ballplayer and his sister Katie, an operator. Using the 1880 Census and even an 1873 map of Baltimore, Maurice Bouchard presents a very convincing case that Frank’s father was Michael Sr., a stevedore.

Frank attended St. Patrick’s Boys School but did not go on to high school. His first known appearance in organized baseball came in the Virginia State League in 1896, primarily as a pitcher (1-6) with the Petersburg Farmers – a team that transferred to Hampton on August 13 and became known as the Hampton-Newport News Clamdiggers. The club finished 39-90, in fourth place in what had begun as an eight-team league. Two of the teams disbanded in mid-August, and the league itself failed to continue in 1897. Morrissey wasn’t necessarily just a good pitcher on a bad club; in an August 20 game against Norfolk, he walked nine batters. Morrissey took advantage of Sporting Life’s willingness to mention players seeking work, and the publication indicated in 1897 that he was “open to business with any other club.”1 Sporting Life reported that he was “disengaged” and provided his address in Baltimore.

There was an incorrect report that he’d signed with Wheeling (West Virginia) for 1897, but it’s not clear where he may have played. In 1898 Morrissey pitched for Meadville (Pennsylvania) in the independent Iron and Coal League. It was a league comprising both black and white ballplayers, but no more successful for that. The Oil City team transferred to Dunkirk-Fredonia (New York) on June 18. The Acme Colored Giants team (based in Celeron, New York, near Jamestown) disbanded on June 5 and was replaced by a white team, the Acme Giants. Then, when the Olean, New York, club disbanded on July 14, the league folded. Not one of the six clubs covered their expenses.2 Morrissey was Meadville’s best pitcher; the club finished 23-30 but he was 10-3 according to a letter to the editor in the August 20 issue which said he’d gone on to play in the Inter-State League for Dayton. Morrissey apparently also hooked on with Youngstown to get in a little more play before the season was over.

Occasional newspaper subheads in 1899 showed Morrissey battered around a bit in the New England League, playing both for the Newport Colts in Rhode Island (4-2) and Manchester (9-9), and Newport didn’t hesitate to take advantage of him once he’d moved to the New Hampshire team – which went by the name of the Manchester Manchesters. Morrissey often played the outfield when he wasn’t pitching. This was a league, under President Tim Murnane, struggling to survive as well. The Fitchburg club moved to Lawrence on May 24, and the Cambridge club moved to Lowell on May 29. Both teams disbanded on June 1. Both Brockton and Portland disbanded on August 8, at the end of the first half of the season, and the Taunton ballclub finished the season but left owing its players between two and four weeks of salary. Apparently neither Portland nor Manchester wanted Newport to win the second half of the season, so they expanded the schedule on the final day from a doubleheader to play six games in one day. Perhaps not coincidentally Manchester won all six, to top Newport, but the league threw out the results of the questionable competition.3 Portland refused to play Newport in the finals, fearing defeat.

In 1900 Morrissey played in the newly organized Virginia League. He had been signed to Richmond but was apparently cut before the season began. In March Sporting Life advised readers that “Frank Morrissey, pitcher, late of Richmond, is free to sign anywhere.”  When the baseball season got under way, things are difficult to reconstruct today. Sporting Life reported in its May 26 issue that Portsmouth had signed three new pitchers, Frank being one of them, but the season was well under way at the time. Morrissey played with the Portsmouth Boers (also known as the Pirates), but the Petersburg club disbanded on June 11, then Richmond disbanded on the 13th, and soon then the whole league did – though not before Morrissey threw a 1-0 no-hitter against Norfolk on June 16, walking just two and scoring the game’s only run. The August 18 issue of Sporting Life carried word that he “would like to finish the season with some club.”

In 1901 the newly organized Virginia-North Carolina League was launched, embracing Norfolk, Portsmouth, Richmond, and three other clubs. Frank played some third base, second base, and right field but primarily pitched, for three different teams, Norfolk, Portsmouth, and Raleigh.

On July 13 he appeared in his first major-league game, with the Boston Americans. The team was in Philadelphia but the weather was threatening, the field of play was soft, and the game was delayed for a considerable period of time before play began. The Americans’ Tommy Dowd singled to lead off the game, but it was the only hit Boston had off Chick Fraser over the first four innings. Boston manager Jimmy Collins started Fred Mitchell. He gave up one run in the first inning and was getting manhandled in the second, after hitting a batter and throwing a wild pitch. With two outs, Fraser singled and two more hits followed. Collins asked the newly acquired Morrissey to relieve. Though the first thing he did was uncork a wild pitch of his own (according to the game account in the Boston Globe, though it doesn’t show in Morrissey’s career stats), and he saw two more inherited runs come in on another base hit, the game account in the Globe said that “Morrissey made a favorable impression, and showed coolness and headwork.” But “it was too late for him to save the game, as the mischief had been done.” Philadelphia had a 5–0 lead and won the rain-shortened game, called in the seventh, by a score of 6–1.

Giving up just one earned run in the bottom of the fifth, and given that this was the only time he appeared for Boston, he held an earned run average of 2.08. He walked two, hit two batters, struck out one, and surrendered five hits in 4⅓ innings. He had three at-bats, but failed to get a hit. He did reach base one of those times, but was thrown out trying to score. He earned a subhead in the Globe, which after mentioning Mitchell wrote: “Young Morrissey Relieves Him and Does Well.”4 Morrissey stayed with the club for a while but is thought to have been released about a month later.

In 1902 Morrissey accompanied John F. “Phenomenal” Smith, who had been appointed manager of Manchester, and returned to the New England League, where he played for Manchester from 1902 through 1904 and into 1905.5 He also returned briefly to the major leagues, though not as briefly as he had for Boston. He starred for Manchester. On May 3, he threw a three-hitter against Lawrence, a four-hitter against Fall River on August 4, and a five-hit shutout of Lowell on August 15. And there was another three-hitter (with nine K’s) against Lawrence on August 20. Frank Selee of the National League’s Chicago Orphans (later the Cubs) wanted to give him a tryout in September. He had helped Manchester win the pennant, 12½ games ahead of the second-place Haverhill Hustlers, and had won 15 straight games. Not every game was a good one (he was pounded for 25 hits by Dover on July 12), but he finished the season with a league-leading 27 wins and lost only four games.6

For Chicago Morrissey first appeared on September 3, a complete-game start against the Brooklyn Trolley Dodgers. As had the Boston Globe the year before, the Chicago Daily Tribune praised his coolness. Though he’d been tagged for 13 hits, and lost the game, 4–0, he didn’t walk anyone (he hit one) and struck out two, and showed that “he had good control of the ball and is possessed of plenty of nerve, accompanied by coolness.”

He lost to the Boston Beaneaters on September 8, but it was a 2–1 defeat and he held Boston to just five hits, three of them in the first inning, before he settled down. He didn’t allow a hit after the third inning. Morrissey pitched in five games (1-3, with a 2.25 ERA), throwing 40 innings and giving up 40 hits. He walked eight and struck out 13 – and hit two more batters.

Three days later, on September 11, Morrissey pitched against the Giants in New York and won his only game in the majors, 7–2. Chicago benefited from seven errors, including four in Chicago’s four-run third inning. Morrissey gave up only four hits, and the Tribune reported that he “pitched the locals onto a comatose state.”7 He lost on September 21 to visiting Pittsburg, 4–1. The last game in which he appeared was a 4–4 tie on October 4 in St. Louis, called after seven innings because of the extreme cold (and perhaps the fact that only 250 people had come out to see a game that mattered not in the standings).

He also played two games at third base, and was saddled with a .600 fielding average, with two errors in five chances. While pitching, he handled 14 chances without an error. Morrissey batted .091. He never drove in a run.

In November Sporting Life expressed surprise that Morrissey had not been on Chicago’s reserve list, as it had been understood he “was supposed to be entitled to a fair shake.”  Manchester gladly placed him on its reserve list at the end of the year.

Frank was back with Manchester again in 1903 and once more had a number of low-hit games. He lost a 6–1 game to Fall River on August 13, then just two days later pitched a 1–0 six-hit shutout at Manchester – and then proceeded to throw the second game that day, too. He was hit hard, giving up 15 hits, but limited Concord (New Hampshire) to just two runs. Even though he took part in a triple play, his teammates couldn’t produce more than one run and so he finished the day with one win and one defeat.8

In January 1904 there were reports that the Haverhill (Massachusetts) team was after Morrissey, but in fact he signed for manager Smith in March and played for Manchester again (and shut out Haverhill in at least the August 16 game, 5–0). That year he played a little more in the field, appearing in 49 games and batting .275. On July 4 he threw a 1–0 five-hitter against Concord; his second-inning double put him in scoring position, and he scored on a double by his shortstop, Louis Knau. On July 7 he shut out Lawrence, 2–0.

On August 30 Morrissey beat Fall River 15–1, allowing five hits and going 4-for-5 at the plate himself. But it was still pitching that was his forte.  In November Sporting Life said it was being “whispered” that Morrissey was going to be drafted by the Boston Americans again.

Morrissey started the 1905 season again with the Manchesters, but quit the club at some point in July. The ballclub itself moved to Lawrence, Massachusetts, on July 20. According to Sporting Life Morrissey had a row with new manager Win Clark and he quit. “Morrissey claims he was overworked, and when he refused to play he was fined seven days’ pay and suspended 10 days additional. Morrissey is planning to join the Harrisburg team.”9 Instead, he started working for the New Bedford Whalers, among his work a 2–0 shutout of Nashua (New Hampshire) on September 7.

After the season Morrissey made another move. He married Jennie Idalia McNew in early October, and worked over the winter in a wholesale liquor store in Baltimore.10 The couple had two daughters – Mary Catherine, who became a nun, and Margaret Cecelia, who married a William E. Merson.

In June 1906, with the New Bedford Whalers again, the Deacon was working on developing a spitball and reportedly having some good luck in mastering it.11 By late July, he was said to be “pitching as good ball as when he led the league in pitching honors several years ago.”12

The 1907 and 1908 seasons saw Morrissey back in the Class C Virginia League, pitching for the Roanoke Tigers – perhaps ironically under manager Win Clark for the first part of the season (before Clark left Roanoke and went to manage the Portsmouth Truckers). He was 15-10. In early 1908, Morrissey contemplated not pitching, but he came back and pitched a lot of games, particularly after the warmer weather arrived.  He threw a three-hitter against Danville on May 29 and shut out Richmond on five hits on June 1, but was 18-20 for the season. He was extremely popular in Roanoke (“the idol of the Roanoke fans” in the words of Sporting Life) and “one of the most popular players ever to don a Roanoke uniform”13 He even demonstrated more versatility than previously, playing every position on the team except catcher.

Morrissey threw a two-hitter against Lynchburg on September 7. During the winter, though, Roanoke traded him to the Danville Red Sox for catcher Ray Ryan.14 He put up a 15-14 year for Danville in 1909, throwing another two-hitter against Lynchburg on July 13. Morrissey started the 1910 season with Danville, but in late May the team sold his contract to Richmond.  He was 12-11 for the full season. In 1911, his last year in Organized Baseball, he played in the Carolina Association for either Greensboro (North Carolina) or Greenville (South Carolina), or both. SABR’s minor-league records show him as 16-11 for Greensboro, but other listings show him as on Greenville’s suspended list at the end of the season.

After baseball Morrissey continued to live in Baltimore, where the 1920 Census has him as a paperhanger, but at the time of his death it was noted that he had become a diamond broker and self-employed jeweler. He died of a coronary thrombosis on February 22, 1939, in Baltimore. Morrissey is buried at New Cathedral Cemetery in Baltimore, which also contains the remains of four members of the National Baseball Hall of Fame (Ned Hanlon, Wilbert Robinson, Joe Kelley, and John McGraw) – the most of any cemetery.

 

This biography can be found in "New Century, New Team: The 1901 Boston Americans" (SABR, 2013), edited by Bill Nowlin. To order the book, click here.

 

Sources

In addition to the sources noted in this biography, the author also accessed Morrissey’s player file from the National Baseball Hall of Fame, the online SABR Encyclopedia, Retrosheet.org, and Baseball-Reference.com. Thanks to Maurice Bouchard for assistance.

 

Notes

1 Sporting Life, March 20, 1897

2 Sporting Life, July 23, 1898. Information about minor-league team transfers and closings comes from the Encyclopedia of Minor League Baseball, Third Edition, edited by Lloyd Johnson and Miles Wolff (Durham, North Carolina: Baseball America, 2007)

3 Sporting Life, September 30, 1899

4 Boston Globe, July 14, 1901

5 Bevis, Charles, The New England League, pp. 116–117, shows that the John Smith listed is the one we know as Phenomenal Smith.

6 Sporting Life, November 1, 1902, and the Encyclopedia of Minor League Baseballboth show four losses. The minor-league data on baseball-reference.com shows five.

7 Chicago Tribune, September 12, 1902

8 Maurice Bouchard notes that Morrissey was a teammate of Moonlight Graham with Manchester in 1903

9 Sporting Life, July 22, 1905

10 Sporting Life, March 3, 1906, and the player questionnaire at the National Baseball Hall of Fame, completed by Morrissey’s daughter, Margaret Merson.

11 Sporting Life, June 6, 1906

12 Sporting Life, August 4, 1906

13 Sporting Life, August 1 and August 29, 1908

14 Sporting Life, March 20, 1909

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