SABR

Walter Lonergan

This article was written by Bill Nowlin.

The pride of Brighton High School, Walter Lonergan played in semipro and company team baseball in the Greater Boston area for several years. In September 1907, Lonergan was the shortstop and captain of the Boston Globe baseball team, which won the “printer’s championship of the world” at a tournament in New York. That resulted in a contract with the New York Highlanders. Apparently, it didn’t work out, because Lonergan played for Quincy in 1910 and with Brockton in 1911. A postal worker, when Brockton’s team made a run for the New England League pennant, he had to get an extension of leave in order to continue to compete. On August 10, Brockton traded both Lonergan and outfielder Olaf Henriksen to Boston.

For Lonergan, making it to the majors was a chance to play for his hometown team. Nearly 100 years later, he was one of only 16 natives of the city of Boston to play for the Boston Red Sox. He was born in the Hub on September 22, 1885, or 1886 (per the 1900 United States Census), the second son of Richard and Caroline Lonergan. Both parents were Massachusetts natives of Bay State-born parents. Richard was an interior decorator. Walter’s older brother was named Arthur; he later had a younger brother, George. Arthur was a competitive swimmer and also shared some time on the basketball court with Walter; in 1905, both Arthur and Walter were among the starting five for Brighton High’s team, Arthur as right forward and Walter as left forward. That same spring, Walter was named captain of Brighton High School’s baseball team. Walter is listed in the record books with the middle initial E., but his draft registration records state his middle name as Lawrence.

On October 2, 1908, New York Highlanders scout Arthur Irwin signed Walter to the team that later became the Yankees. He was said to be 21 at the time, which doesn’t compute with either an 1885 or 1886 birth year. Walter was the shortstop on the Boston Globe’s baseball team, which had recently won the printer’s championship in New York in September. Walter signed with the Highlanders again in January 1909. He was a slight player, standing 5-feet-7 and with a listed weight of 157 pounds. In October 1909, he is found playing for the Kenilworth A.A. of Brighton, kicking a 35-yard field goal which were the winning points in that year’s 150-pound and under Greater Boston football championship. A week later, his 75-yard touchdown run helped win another shutout for Kenilworth as the team beat the USS New Jersey football team.

Walter began working at the post office in Boston, but took a leave in order to play baseball for the New England League’s Brockton Shoemakers. The leave expired on July 1, but not before Lonergan had already developed a reputation as “the fastest man in the league on bases and the best fielding shortstop in the circuit.” [Boston Globe, July 1, 1911] The post office denied his request for an extension of the leave, prompting a contingent of Brockton businessmen to travel to Boston and argue for the extension. On August 10, the Red Sox traded first baseman Tracy Baker and shortsop Joe Giannini to Brockton to acquire Lonergan and Henriksen.

The Red Sox at the time had no real shot at the pennant. They were 14½ games out of first place, but even with a mediocre 54-51 record on the morning of the trade they were temporarily on top in a four-team battle for third place and anxious to maintain their slot in the standings. They wound up the season in fifth. The only player who went on to considerable success in baseball was Henriksen, who had his major-league debut on August 11 and hit .366 for the rest of the year. In 1912, Henriksen’s work as a pinch-hitter and substitute fielder played a significant role in Boston’s world championship year.

Lonergan first appeared a week after Olaf and contributed what he could over the succeeding five weeks. His August 17 debut saw him start at shortstop in Detroit, batting eighth. Boston won the game, 4-3, breaking a tie with a run in the top of the ninth. Walter had an 0-for-4 day, the final out coming with one on and nobody out in the top of the ninth. He attempted to sacrifice but popped up into a double play. In the field, he handled five chances cleanly. It was Henriksen who drove in the winning run.

Lonergan had one big day in his short stay with the Red Sox. It came on September 2 in Boston, as Boston hosted the New York Highlanders for two games. He played second base in both games. In the first game, Walter committed two errors in seven chances but went 4-for-4 at the plate. “Little Lonergan, the recruit, was easily the star player in the game,” said the New York Times. In the second game, he collected another hit – they were all singles – and helped execute two double plays in an error-free game. His seventh-inning single was one of only three balls any Red Sox batter hit past the New York infield, and the only safe hit aside from three infield singles. The Red Sox lost both games, but Lonergan collected five of his seven major-league hits.

Five days later, though, he cost the Red Sox a game in Philadelphia. In the bottom of the first, with a runner on first, the Athletics batter, Rube Oldring, “drove one through Lonergan, on which a double play should have been made, but the youngster flinched.” [Boston Globe, September 8, 1911] A sacrifice fly later brought in the first Philadelphia run. Two innings later, Lonergan’s wild throw to first base allowed a runner to come in the back door from third base. The next batter, Jack Barry, grounded to second but Lonergan fumbled the ball and two more runs scored. The Red Sox lost, 5-1, four of the runs scoring because of Lonergan’s unfortunate fielding. Hal Janvrin took over second base duties. The Globe’s game notes commented, “Manager Donovan has suggested to Pres. John I. Taylor to pick up a minor league second baseman, as Lonergan is considered light and Donovan does not care to shift Yerkes to second.”

The last game in which Lonergan played came on September 22, and he suffered the indignity of being left out of the box scores in most major newspapers.  It wasn’t that memorable an outing, Emerging from Donovan’s doghouse, he was inserted as a pinch-runner for Tony Tonneman in the bottom of the eighth inning but a grounder by pinch-hitter Joe Riggert result in a force out at second base.

Lonergan went to the winter having produced seven hits in 26 at-bats (.269, just a hair below the team’s 1911 average of .275) – with no extra-base hits. He walked once and sacrificed twice. He drove in one run. In his 10 games, he played one at third base, one at shortstop, and the rest at second base. He had been charged with three errors in 39 chances. On January 5, 1912, Walter was traded to Jersey City as one of six players sent in exchange for catcher Hick Cady. The other players traded were Hal Janvrin, Marty McHale, Hap Myers, Billy Purtell, and Jack Thoney.

By the following spring, Lonergan was playing second base for the Lowell Grays, an unaffiliated New England League team. In August 1913, he’s found playing third base for the semipro Maples of Salem, Massachusetts.

From 1914 to 1916, Lonergan was the shortstop for the Portland Duffs, Maine’s New England League championship team. That was the end of his time in Organized Baseball, though he kept playing for years afterward. He had a cumulative minor-league batting average of .262.

In 1917 he played for the Marblehead AA team. In 1922, we find him in the Globe listed as trying to round up opponents to play the Lynn city team. Walter lived in Medford at the time. In the summer of 1923, the team took as its name Walter Lonergan’s East Lynn All-Stars. In 1924, it was the Columbus All-Stars. Even by late 1925, Lonergan was still active in area twilight league games, playing for the post office nine, “postal champ of the East.” [Boston Globe, September 17, 1925] Because his brief major-league stint was played in the last year the Red Sox played at the Huntington Avenue Grounds, his first baseball game at Fenway Park was to be as a member of the Boston Post Office team, playing there against Waterbury on September 27, 1925, in their defense of the Eastern postal championship. The Boston team won the game, 10-3, but for reasons that remain unclear so many years later, Lonergan did not play in the day’s ballgame.

Lonergan retired from the post office after many years of work as a letter carrier working out of Boston’s South Postal Annex. On January 23, 1958, he died at the age of 72 in Medford, Massachusetts, after a long illness, leaving behind his widow (the former Christine Kersting) and two sons born to his first wife, Marguerite, Walter,Jr., and Donald. His passing was noted on the front page of the Medford Daily Mercury.

Sources

In addition to the sources cited in this biography, the author consulted the online SABR Encyclopedia, retrosheet.org, Baseball-Reference.com, and Bill Lee’s Baseball Necrology.

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