John Haggerty

This article was written by Charlie Bevis

As one of the earliest ballpark groundskeepers, John Haggerty1 worked for the Boston ballclub in the National League for 24 years to maintain the South End Grounds. After he was fired in 1907 by the new owners of the ballclub, John worked another 15 years as a gatekeeper for the Boston club in the American League.

John Haggerty was born on June 5, 1848, in Hartford, Connecticut, the son of James and Mary Ann Haggerty.2 In the early 1870s he moved to Boston, where he married Mary Sammon on May 7, 1874.3 They lived in various rental flats in the Roxbury neighborhood of Boston, all within a half-mile from the South End Grounds.4 John and his wife raised six children: James, William, Mary, John, Rose, and Agnes.5

John was a carpenter by trade.6 During his early years in Boston, he often worked for master carpenter Moses Chandler, who in 1869 had built the original grandstand at the South End Grounds, as John “broke into the game through him.”7 In 1872 John first did some carpentry work at the ballpark and “for about 10 years he worked about the plant as a carpenter and became acquainted with all the players.”8 Harry Wright, the field manager of the Boston team, was then the de facto groundskeeper, as he identified needed work at the ballpark and hired men on an ad hoc basis to perform it.9

In 1883 John became a full-time employee at the ballpark, which by then had grown into a dilapidated state following the departure of Wright from the Boston ballclub after the 1881 season.10 John’s initial work to enhance the playing surface seemed to inspire the ballplayers, since “Boston had a good team the first year I came with them,” John recalled later in life, when “John Morrill was captain” and “they won the championship.”11

John worked in early 1884 to improve the structure of the ballpark. “It is a well-known fact that the Boston grounds are about the worst in the country in every respect,” the New York Clipper reported. “The fence is an unpainted, untidy and uneven affair, pierced with gaps of larger or smaller size in places according to the demands made for a [free] view.”12 In addition to building a new fence, John also worked to expand the grandstand and improve the seating, which “is to be supplied with new and comfortable chairs” to replace the existing seats that “are scarcely fit for a second-class stable.”13

By 1884 John had expanded his talents beyond carpentry to include agronomy, as he cared for the grass and soil of the playing field. “Keeper John Haggerty of the League grounds did his part in welcoming the boys home yesterday,” the Boston Globe reported, “by having the diamond as smooth as a billiard table and the sod almost like velvet.”14 He also added good-luck charms to the playing field, once burying a horseshoe at home plate.15 In 1886 the ballplayers so appreciated John’s efforts to improve the quality of the playing field that they staged a benefit game on his behalf, when “he went to bed last night $200 richer than he had been.”16 The benefit game for John became an annual event to provide a gratuity for the Boston groundskeeper.

As baseball games in Boston became more popular to watch, John used his carpentry skills to thwart freeloading fans who watched the games for free over the fence. Initially, “they were foiled by John, who erected poles parallel to the fence in front of the ‘free seats’ and then attached a canvas screen to them.”17 When an enterprising man named Sullivan built a tower on his property near the fence, “this new stunt was also kayoed by the ever-alert groundkeeper, who built another tower which shut out the view of the first one.”18

When a construction firm built a brand new double-decked grandstand for the 1888 season, John used the old boards from the previous grandstand to build a one-story house on the edge of the property to provide a dressing room for the ballplayers.19 A small house was also constructed across Walpole Street from the ballpark (presumably also using discarded boards from the old grandstand) on land owned by the Boston ballclub, where John and his family lived for several years.20 Unfortunately, John’s daughter Rose died in 1890 while at the Walpole Street home.21

The new grandstand created an important new task for John: to protect the structure from winter elements, by closing it up when the baseball season concluded and then opening it up the following spring for the new season. After the 1888 season, John closed up the grandstand in mid-October, soon after his benefit game, and in late March 1889 “Superintendent Haggerty was busy with a gang of men taking off the winter covering of the grand pavilion.”22 By now John was managing a crew of men to do more of the manual labor involved in the upkeep of the ballpark.

With the new grandstand at the South End Grounds, John had less carpentry work to do as the groundskeeper. Even so, John still considered himself to be a carpenter and never wavered in reporting his occupation as such in the Boston City Directory.23

By 1888 John and his crew had installed an underground drainage system at the ballpark. At one rainy game that season, “John Haggerty locomoted a big pair of rubber boots around the edges of the miniature lake” on the field, the Boston Globe reported about the shovel-toting groundskeeper. “John was hunting for the traps, and soon had the water on the run for a dozen different drains.”24 After a heavy rainshower midway through a July 1889 game, “Four men and two boys manipulated brooms to good advantage until the larger sheets of water disappeared down the traps like snow before a July sun. After several barrels of sawdust were sprinkled around the bases and on the pitcher’s and catcher’s positions, the game was resumed.”25 The Globe noted that many people in the grandstand complimented John on getting the grounds into playable condition so quickly.

John got to watch many baseball games at the South End Grounds. “There’s been many a star play pulled off on these old grounds and I’ve seen many a long drive made by league sluggers,” John told the Boston Post in 1907. “I guess old Williamson of Chicago made the longest. He soaked that ball all right and I happened to be standing in centre field back of the flag pole when the ball came down. It was almost on a line and the ball struck the top of the fence and went into the next lot. And mind you, the fence was a good many feet farther back those days.”26

Mike Kelly was John’s favorite Boston player. “The foxiest player who ever wore a suit was old Mike Kelly, of course. His own team wouldn’t know what he was going to do next,” John recalled in that 1907 interview. “He was always up to some trick and the pitcher used to keep one eye on Kelly and the other on the batsman when Mike was on the coaching line.”27 John also remembered how Kelly “hid a ball in his waist and substituted it several times for balls which were knocked out of bounds, but which were mysteriously (to the fans) returned to the game.”28

Newspaper accounts characterized John as being “a hard, faithful worker,” “genial,” and “polite and accommodating.”29 He struck a good balance between his bosses and the people at the ballpark by being “a good fellow and a pleasant acquaintance, faithful in carrying out the will of the triumvirs, but courteous and kindly.”30 There are three known physical depictions of John during his days as a groundskeeper: a line drawing in the Boston Globe in 1893, a photograph in the 1897 book A History of the Boston Base Ball Club, and a photograph in the Boston Globe in 1904.31

As a reward for his service, John went on a vacation trip in August 1889 with the Boston team, courtesy of superfan Arthur Dixwell. “John Haggerty was busy getting things into shipshape, as he will leave Sunday with the team to spend a week’s vacation on the road,” Tim Murnane of the Globe reported on a six-game road trip to Philadelphia and New York.32 Once John had left on the trip, Murnane noted “the two dogs at the grounds mourn his absence,” as they had to serve as night watchmen at the ballpark without John.33 At the games in Philadelphia, Dixwell treated John to seats in a private box at the ballpark, where they “yelled themselves hoarse.”34

One of John’s duties was to ring a gong to signal the beginning of a game.35 He also performed numerous tasks for ballplayers: “Lumps were removed from the field at the players’ requests, bats were arranged and rolled, uniforms were always made ready and hundreds of odd jobs were done to please the athletes.”36 As the night watchman for the ballpark, John trained dogs to guard the facility at night (and would investigate if the dogs barked loudly). One report said that John trained an Irish setter, owned by one of the ballplayers, to point upon the command “seek pennant.”37 Among the many miscellaneous tasks, he once mended a broken rope on the flagpole by putting in a splice.38

In an unanticipated task on May 15, 1894, John became a firefighter when a blaze flared up under the right-field bleachers during the game between Boston and Baltimore. “John Haggerty, the veteran keeper of the grounds, who after vainly endeavoring to crush the flames in their incipiency, went to give the alarm at ladder 12’s [fire] house on Tremont st.,” the Boston Globe described John’s actions that day. “When John got back to the grounds the whole grand stand was afire, as well as his own little house close by on Walpole st.”39

John worked the next 24 hours to locate a place for his family to live and fix up the old Congress Street Grounds, which the Boston ballclub temporarily used to play its home games. When it became clear that more than one day was needed to adequately renovate the Congress Street Grounds, several home games were transferred to Philadelphia so that John could focus on getting the grounds into reasonable shape for an extended homestand beginning on May 21. Besides improving the field conditions, John had to borrow hundreds of chairs from other organizations to put into the grandstand, since the folding chairs at the Congress Street Grounds had been sold earlier in the year.40 John then worked on the field at the South End Grounds to get it ready for play in mid-July once the grandstand was partially rebuilt, using “the big steam roller” to smooth out the playing field.41

John’s season at the South End Grounds now extended beyond the spring and summer to continue into the fall, when the ballclub management rented the field out for football games. By 1894 the ballpark was booked throughout October and November for high-school and college games.42 Preparing the field for the ensuing baseball season became more difficult, since the playing surface was chewed up by the shoes of the football players.

In the 1890s John began to man an entrance gate at the South End Grounds. “Before the game you find him guarding the gate where the holders of personal season cards come in without working the turnstiles click,” George Tuohey wrote in a sketch of John in his 1897 book A History of the Boston Base Ball Club. “He has been there so long that he knows the old guard, and woe be to that one who tries to run the gauntlet on somebody else’s ticket. Everybody who uses that gate finds Mr. Haggerty a painstaking, courteous ticket taker, with a smile for his friends and a vice-like clutch for the pink pasteboards.”43

Another enhanced responsibility was to patrol the grounds as a special police officer for the city of Boston. “One stern duty of Mr. Haggerty’s is to chase the ubiquitous small boy off the lot,” Tuohey wrote. “The casual observer would be terror-stricken by the dreadful fierceness with which he advances upon any stray urchins who respect not the exclusiveness of the diamond; but long observation compels admiration of the finesse with which Mr. Haggerty times his charge so as just to escape catching the youngsters.”44 John was less forgiving when he had to escort from the ballpark a ballplayer who had been ejected from the game, for the protection of the umpire, as he did with Baltimore outfielder Steve Brodie in a September 1895 game.45

In 1897 John moved his family into a house on Northfield Street, about a quarter-mile from the ballpark, where they lived for the next two decades.46 His wife, Mary, didn’t get to enjoy living in the Northfield Street house very long, though, as she died in 1903.47 Five children still lived at the home for several years, until his two daughters married (in 1907 and 1913) and his three sons, who all worked in the city government, eventually moved out.48

After so many years as the groundskeeper at the South End Grounds, John continued to make improvements for both spectators and ballplayers. In early 1899 “Superintendent John Haggerty [was] busy with a crowd of carpenters raising the seats on the bleachers, so that the patrons of the game will enjoy a much better seat for half a dollar next season.”49 Later that season, to block out sunlight, the Boston Globe reported that “John Haggerty is painting some new scenery to place in the back of the grand stand for the benefit of the players who refuse to wear smoked glasses.”50 In 1904 John lamented to a sportswriter that “when a young player fumbles the ball he blames the grounds, saying they are full of holes. The old fellows never complained of [the] grounds, saying they were as good for one as for another.”51 The publicity helped John get the funding to fix the infield, as two weeks later he was seen making a new infield.52

After the Boston ballclub was sold in November 1906, the new owners, the Dovey brothers, discharged John from his job in March 1907.53 The decision was not popular among the baseball public. “Haggerty was beloved by all the fans and players,” one sportswriter commented. “The Doveys did not make any friends in letting Haggerty go.”54 The Doveys said that John was released for “good and sufficient reasons,” but did not elaborate on what they were.55 “I’m sorry to leave the club,” John told the Boston Post in an interview following his dismissal after 24 years of steady employment at the South End Grounds. “Mr. Soden and a lot of others thought I’d be here until I was too old to do any more work, but I suppose they want a new face around the grounds as well as new faces on the team.”56

Unemployment didn’t last long for John, as the Boston team in the American League quickly offered him a job at the Huntington Avenue Grounds.57 Since the Americans already had a head groundskeeper in Jerome Kelley, John worked as a gatekeeper at the grounds.58 “Mr. Haggerty blushed like a school girl as his army of old friends passed him with a pleasant word,” the Boston Globe reported as John manned one of the grandstand gates at the season-opening game.59

John worked for the Red Sox for at least another 15 years. In 1912 he moved with the team to Fenway Park, where the Red Sox won four World Series championships between 1912 and 1918. John was much less mobile in 1918 when his left leg had to be amputated due to an ulcerated foot.60 The Red Sox ballplayers voted John a $117 cut of their 1918 World Series proceeds, as “the team remembered poor John Haggerty, who for so many years been connected with the game, first as groundkeeper and afterwards as gatekeeper.”61 Following his surgery, John manned the automobile gate at Fenway Park rather than a spectator turnstile.

In 1921 the Boston Globe published an extensive article about John, as he neared four decades of working at the Boston ballparks. At the time, John was living with his oldest daughter, Mary.62 The article showed that John had a deep appreciation for the game of baseball, as he talked about the use of a livelier ball than the one used in the old days and how the longer pitching distance instituted in 1893 had changed the nature of the game. “Babe Ruth is a great batter and I believe the biggest drawing card in the history of baseball,” John said, but added, “Mike Kelly will always remain my favorite. He was a dandy batter and a good catcher and fielder.”63

John died on April 23, 1927, and is buried at Mt. Benedict Cemetery in the West Roxbury neighborhood of Boston.64

 

Acknowledgments

This biography was reviewed by Len Levin and fact-checked by Chris Rainey.

 

Notes

1 Like many Irish surnames, there was inconsistent spelling of John’s last name during his lifetime. In virtually all newspaper accounts, his surname was spelled with a double “g” (i.e., Haggerty), while in most government documents, such as birth and marriage records and federal census enumerations, and public information, such as Boston City Directory listings, his surname was spelled with just one “g” (i.e., Hagerty). The spelling with a double “g” was chosen for this biography, since that spelling was used in the vast majority of sources accessed for this biography and is consistent with the contemporary public understanding of the spelling of his surname.

2 Connecticut state vital records at familysearch.org website.

3 Marriage records for Boston for 1874 at the Massachusetts State Archives (Volume 264, Page 83).

4 Boston City Directory, 1877 and 1882.

5 Federal census record for 1880 for 14 Whitney Street, Boston, Suffolk County, Massachusetts; federal census record for 1900 for 13 Northfield Street, Boston, Suffolk County, Massachusetts; birth record of Rose in 1885 at the Massachusetts State Archives (Volume 360, Page 112).

6 Boston City Directory, 1875; birth record of son William in Boston in 1876 at the Massachusetts State Archives (Volume 279, Page 210).

7 Death of Moses Chandler reported in “Live Tips and Topics,” and “Janvrin Signs 1916 Contract,” Boston Globe, January 14, 1916.

8 “Veteran Groundkeeper Knew All the Old Baseball Stars,” Boston Globe, September 19, 1921.

9 Peter Morris, Level Playing Fields: How the Groundskeeping Murphy Brothers Shaped Baseball (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2007), 2.

10 The 1883 date is backed into from 1904 being his 22nd season (“Echoes of the Game,” Boston Globe, April 22, 1904), 1905 being his 23rd season (“At the South End,” Boston Globe, April 19, 1905), and 1906 being his 24th season (“Bill Bailey Says,” Boston Post, March 12, 1907).

11 “John Haggerty Harking Back,” Boston Post, March 24, 1907.

12 “Boston Baseball Gossip,” New York Clipper, February 23, 1884.

13 “Matters at the Hub,” New York Clipper, April 26, 1884.

14 “Diamond Dust,” Boston Globe, July 13, 1884.

15 “All Over the Field,” Boston Globe, June 2, 1886.

16 “John Haggerty’s Benefit,” Boston Globe, October 21, 1886.

17 “Veteran Groundkeeper.”

18 Ibid.

19 “Diamond Points,” Boston Globe, March 21, 1888.

20 32 Walpole Street address, Boston City Directory, 1889 to 1893.

21 Death records for Boston for 1890 at the Massachusetts State Archives (Volume 411, Page 416).

22 “Base Ball Chaff,” Boston Globe, March 30, 1889.

23 For example, Boston City Directory, 1899 and 1913.

24 “Harry Wright Sanguine,” Boston Globe, September 27, 1888.

25 “It Had to Come,” Boston Globe, July 24, 1889.

26 “John Haggerty Harking Back.”

27 Ibid.

28 “Veteran Groundkeeper.”

29 “Gossip from the Diamond Field,” Boston Globe, April 4, 1888; “Diamond Points,” Boston Globe, March 21, 1888; “Boston Ball Players Work at a Benefit for John Haggerty,” Boston Globe, October 17, 1888.

30 George Tuohey, “Ground Keeper John Haggerty,” in A History of the Boston Base Ball Club (Boston: M.F. Quinn, 1897), 171.

31 “Sergt. Curry and Mr. Haggerty,” Boston Globe, May 16, 1893; Tuohey, “Ground Keeper John Haggerty,” 171; “Baseball Galore for the Local Fans,” Boston Globe, May 2, 1904.

32 “Echoes of the Game,” Boston Globe, August 23, 1889.

33 “Echoes of the Game,” Boston Globe, August 26, 1889; “Veteran Groundkeeper.”

34 “Echoes of the Game,” Boston Globe, August 27-28, 1889.

35 “Joy and Sorrow,” Boston Globe, September 7, 1889.

36 “Veteran Groundkeeper.”

37 “Echoes of the Game,” Boston Globe, July 24, 1889.

38 “John Haggerty’s Orison and What Came of It,” Boston Globe, June 13, 1890.

39 “1900 Persons Homeless,” Boston Globe, May 16, 1894.

40 “Philadelphia Pointers,” Sporting Life, March 24, 1894; “New England News,” Sporting Life, April 7, 1894; “Boston Fire,” Sporting Life, May 26, 1894.

41 “South End Grounds,” Boston Globe, July 15, 1894.

42 For example, Latin and English high schools met on November 29, 1894, while Technology and Bowdoin colleges played on November 7, 1894.

43 Tuohey, “Ground Keeper John Haggerty,” 170.

44 Tuohey, “Ground Keeper John Haggerty,” 171.

45 “Kept Guessing,” Boston Globe, September 19, 1895.

46 Boston City Directory, 1897 to 1915; G.W. Bromley, Atlas of Boston Proper, 1902, plate 30; federal census record for 1910 for 13 Northfield Street, Boston, Suffolk County, Massachusetts.

47 Death records for Boston for 1903 at the Massachusetts State Archives (Volume 8, Page 119).

48 Federal census record for 1910 for 13 Northfield Street, Boston, Suffolk County, Massachusetts.

49 “Fixing the Fence,” Boston Globe, February 21, 1899.

50 “Baseball Notes,” Boston Globe, September 15, 1899.

51 “Murnane’s Baseball,” Boston Globe, March 20, 1904.

52 “Getting Field in Shape,” Boston Globe, April 1, 1904.

53 “Nationals Start Friday,” Boston Globe, March 5, 1907.

54 “Bill Bailey Says,” Boston Post, March 12, 1907.

55 “Boston Briefs,” Sporting Life, March 30, 1907.

56 “John Haggerty Harking Back.”

57 “Cy Has the Goods,” Boston Globe, April 16, 1907.

58 Glenn Stout, Fenway 1912: The Birth of a Ballpark, a Championship Season, and Fenway’s Remarkable First Year (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2011), xix.

59 “Cy Has the Goods.”

60 “Ground Keeper Haggerty Loses Most of Left Leg,” Boston Globe, February 16, 1918.

61 “Red Sox Regulars Get $1108.45 Each,” Boston Globe, September 12, 1918; “Sport Comment,” Boston Post, September 15, 1918.

62 Federal census record for 1920 for 145 Bowdoin Street, Boston, Suffolk County, Massachusetts.

63 “Veteran Groundkeeper.”

64 Mt. Benedict Cemetery records for Haggerty family plot purchased on December 24, 1890. John is buried in Section F, Grave 776.