Barry McCormick

This article was written by Robert Peyton Wiggins

Barry McCormick played ten years in the major leagues, but is best remembered for a single game he umpired in 1920 at Boston’s Braves Field. On May 1 of that season, pitcher Joe Oeschger of the Boston Braves and Brooklyn’s Leon Cadore battled twenty-six innings, each allowing only one run. As dusk descended plate umpire McCormick called the tie game at 6:50 p.m. Some of the players expressed a desire to continue, but the decision by the umpire stood. Though the game had to be replayed, it became one of the most famous baseball games in the history of the major leagues and a defining event of umpire McCormick’s life whenever his name is mentioned.

Though principally known today as an umpire Barry McCormick played ten seasons in the major leagues, six with the Chicago National League club.McCormick did not live up to the expectations as a player and was unsuccessful as a minor league manager, but finally found his niche as a competent major league umpire.

William Joseph “Barry” McCormick was born on Christmas Day, 1873, in Maysville, Kentucky, the sixth child of Irish immigrants John and Catherine McCormick. John McCormick was a laborer who moved his family to Cincinnati, Ohio, in order for him to find work with the railroad. Young William spent his formative years in Cincinnati’s east end neighborhood of Pendleton. As a youth William became known as Barry, Irish for fair-haired. He attended school only as far as the fifth grade.

After the defection of the Cincinnati Reds club to the National League, the American Association fielded a new team, also called the Reds, in the city following the demise of the Players League in 1890. Barry acquired his attraction to baseball from “Kelly’s Killers” during the 1891 season. The club was captained by one of baseball’s biggest stars Mike “King” Kelly, whose team played their games at East End Grounds, only a block from Barry’s home.1

In 1894 an aspiring 20-year-old Barry McCormick began his trek to the major leagues with a local amateur team known as the Delias, and later that summer he joined the Cincinnati Gymnasium club. By 1895 Barry’s play with the Gymnasium team began to attract attention and he was recruited to play minor league baseball with the New Orleans Southern League club. McCormick played second base, shortstop, and the outfield in New Orleans, batting .309 in 101 games. Barry managed a few at bats in three games that September with the Louisville Colonels of the National League.

During the winter, Manager Cap Anson of the Chicago National League club expressed interest in the young infielder for 1896, but the Indianapolis club of the Western League held the rights to McCormick. Barry played only twelve games with the Hoosiers, batting .347 and fielding “phenomenally,” before he was sidelined with a bout of malaria.2 When Anson finally got his man that July, McCormick was weak from his illness and performed below expectations in the 45 games he played with the Colts. The newspapers had begun to refer to the Chicago White Stockings as the “Colts” after most of the veterans jumped to the short lived Players League.

A veteran National League player and current manager of the Cincinnati Reds, William “Buck” Ewing, lived in Pendleton and considered McCormick one of the up-and-coming stars in the game. “He is a natural gaited ball player and his arm is one that will never wear out. It is hung on to him like Billy Nash’s – just the same free and easy swing, and they have no equals in the league. I wanted him myself, but Anson beat me to him… He is as fast in a double play as any man that ever played.”3

Much of the talk at Chicago’s 1897 spring training site in Hot Springs, Arkansas, concerned the team’s newest addition, Barry McCormick. At around five feet, nine inches tall, Barry was about the average size of a middle infielder for that time. After watching him play infield for about an hour, the sixteen-year veteran second baseman Fred Pfeffer said, “I never saw anything like it. The boy is a marvel.”4

McCormick came to the Colts during a time of transition. Although the Chicago club’s manager Cap Anson was probably the most recognizable name in the game, his team had not challenged for the National League pennant since 1891. In McCormick’s first full season, the 1897 Colts finished ninth in the twelve-team league.

McCormick’s knee “went under him entirely” in the Colts’ game of July 20. When the injured limb failed to improve, he consulted a physician. However, Barry’s leg wasn’t much of a bother a week later when he went three for four, stole a base and walked once in a rain-soaked loss in Louisville.

A day later McCormick banged out six hits in eight at bats in a historic rout of the Colonels. The final score was 36 to 7 and McCormick was a major contributor. His hits included a triple and a home run, he stole three bases, and scored five runs. The starting pitcher for Louisville was no slouch either. Chick Fraser was gone by the end of the third inning with the score 15 to 0, but he would go on to win 176 major-league games while pitching mostly for second-division teams. McCormick’s two-day total of hits was nine.

Playing in only 101 games that season the 22-year-old easily led his team in stolen bases with 44 and had personal major-league bests in runs scored (87), triples (10), and batting average (.267). However, Barry made 59 errors in 499 chances, splitting time almost evenly between games at third base and shortstop.

However, taken in the context of time, that number of errors was not unusual. Hughie Jennings, who led the National League shortstops in fielding, committed 55 errors. Error totals were astronomical in those days compared to today. Baseballs were kept in a game as long as they were usable and the misshapen spheres often took odd bounces on the way to an infielder. Furthermore, the infields were not the manicured rugs of today but were full of pebbles and divots.The players’ gloves had no webbing and were little more than reproductions of everyday leather gloves.

McCormick had above-average range afield and a strong right throwing arm, but there were concerns about his accuracy and fielding prowess. McCormick was unable to get comfortable at any one infield position until he finally settled on second base after being traded to the Senators in 1903. During his ten major-league seasons, McCormick played in 411 games at third base, 314 at second and 265 at shortstop.

The St. Louis Star echoed a frequent criticism of McCormick’s play in the field, “Barry had a ‘whip’ as good as any infielder but frequently throws the ball out of the first baseman’s reach. He also gets to the ball but sometime doesn’t make the stop.”5

When the Colts won only 59 out of 132 games in 1897, manager Cap Anson was fired. After Anson’s departure, people began to refer to the team as the “Orphans.”

Because several Chicago players “drank spirits and otherwise misbehaved” during the 1897 season,the club added a clause to most of its 1898 contracts that dictated their players would forfeit a sum of money if they violated team rules for such behavior. Club President James A. Hart was so impressed with McCormick’s integrity that Barry’s contract did not include the provisionary clause on conduct and he received a raise in salary as well.6

In 1898 McCormick became the Orphans’ regular third baseman and committed 60 errors, almost a miscue in every other game he played. In late September Barry’s season was cut short by another bout of malaria, a condition that seemed to afflict him each fall.

When a position change was proposed for McCormick in 1899, he held out prior to going to Atlanta for spring training because he wasn’t pleased with the idea of becoming a full-time shortstop.The club relented and Barry spent most of the season at second base, playing only three games at shortstop. A newcomer to the position, his error total in 578 chances (99 games) was 34. By comparison the league’s best second baseman, Nap Lajoie, committed 22 errors in 482 chances.

Most of McCormick’s fifteen career home runs were of inside-the-park variety, but he had one of his longest hits at West Side Grounds in Chicago on September 27, 1899. With George Gray pitching for the Pittsburgh Pirates and two Chicago runners on base, McCormick “smashed the ball a terrific wallop and drove it over into the bleachers in left field.”7

In 1899 Barry married a daughter of Erin named Anna Kennedy (age 19). The couple made their home in Cincinnati, residing in a household that also included Anna’s bachelor brother and various Kennedy relations. The McCormicks would have a daughter in 1906.

McCormick became the Orphans’ regular shortstop in 1900 and had his poorest season with the Chicago Club, batting only .219. He was plagued with a sore shoulder that summer and posted the worst fielding average among National League shortstops.

A large percentage of players in those days were superstitious, and McCormick was no different.Hugh Fullerton of the Chicago Daily Tribune wrote: “Barry McCormick wasn’t so much a believer in his bats as he was in the idea that he could hoodoo the bats into making hits for him. Every time he chose a bat he would perform certain incantations over it, and wind up by putting a little smear of tar on the spot he wanted the ball to hit.”8

Following the 1900 baseball season, McCormick received an offer from Charles Comiskey to play for the Chicago White Sox of Ban Johnson’s American League that had proclaimed itself a major league and sought to sign as many National League players as possible. Barry decided to stay with the West Side club for the time being.

After playing in 115 games, mostly at shortstop, McCormick was not reserved by the Orphans following the 1901 season. He then signed a contract to play with the American League’s St. Louis Browns in February 1902 despite President Hart’s hope that Barry would remain in Chicago.9McCormick wouldn’t have to play shortstop in St. Louis because Bobby Wallace already occupied that position.

His biggest hit of the 1902 season may have come on July 22 in Washington. The Senators and Browns were tied at 6-6 when McCormick came to bat in the eighth inning. An unidentified sports writer penned a colorful description of Barry’s game-winning hit. McCormick sent a pitch from Willie Sudhoff on a long ride toward the left-field bleachers; “There was a bit of doubt as to whether the ball would fall within the enclosure, and big Del (Ed Delahanty) planted himself right up against one of the booze ads that make the American League Park so attractive, and was all ready to receive the ball, but the ball positively refused to be received – at least not on Del’s side of the lot.”10

McCormick would have his best year at bat in three years and played in 139 games, mostly at third base, for second-place St. Louis. He would return to the Browns a year later.

Before the game at Chicago’s South Side Grounds on May 7, 1903, “McCormick’s friends presented him with a pair of diamond studded cuff buttons when he made his first appearance at the plate.” He struck out, but later in the game Barry had a single and a triple.11

However, bright spots were few for McCormick in St. Louis that season, and he was relegated to the bench because of poor batting. Manager McAleer sought a trade and found teams were still interested in McCormick because of his reputation as a good fielder. In July 1903 Barry was traded to Washington for outfielder Joe Martin.

McCormick was involved in an unusual scoring decision in the second game of a doubleheader between Boston and Washington on August 31, 1903. With Bill Clarke on first base in the ninth inning of a tie game, McCormick hit a shoulder high pitch from Bill Dinneen “a mile” over the left field fence.By the rules of that time, he was not credited with a home run because as soon as Clarke scored the winning run the game was considered complete.12

The 1904 Washington Club was so bad it started the regular season with 13 straight defeats and finished the year with 113 losses and only 38 victories. McCormick made 37 errors at second and the team’s third baseman matched that number. McCormick played in his 113th game at second base on August 30. In the second inning of the game against the Browns, a pitch by St. Louis pitcher Barney Pelty struck McCormick on the left forearm. McCormick was taken to Freedmen’s Hospital where it was determined he had a fractured bone. Barry was finished for the year and would not play another game in the major leagues.13 

When McCormick’s arm was pronounced sound that winter, Manager Joe Cantillon of the Milwaukee American Association club and Jake Stahl of the Senators worked out a deal whereby the Brewers landed Barry and outfielder Tip O’Neill after the American League clubs granted waivers.14 McCormick would play at least 150 games for five consecutive seasons with the Brewers, 1905 through 1909.

After a seventh-place finish by the Brewers in 1907, the Milwaukee club named Barry McCormick manager the following January. The 1908 Milwaukee Brewers finished in sixth place with a record of 71 wins and 83 losses. Manager McCormick was succeeded by John McCloskey for 1909, though Barry remained with the Brewers, appearing in 173 games with a batting average of .221. The following May, the Brewers asked waivers on McCormick.

McCormick found a job with Minneapolis of the American Association in 1910. As it turned out, the Millers were a very good team with a roster of former or future major-leaguers that captured the AA pennant with 107 wins. McCormick was released by Minneapolis in the summer of 1911, but he caught on with the St. Paul club and played his first game with the Saints on July 27.

That winter McCormick announced he would not report to the St. Paul in 1912, but instead would retire to a chicken farm in Eagle Lake, Wisconsin. He changed his mind and managed and played in 112 games between the Mansville Brownies and the Newark Skeeters of the Class D Ohio State League. McCormick was released by the Mansville team at the end of July and within a week he was piloting the Skeeters. “Barry McCormick has fired the entire Newark, Ohio team,” opined one observer. “Barry has been manager about three days.”15

Despite his spotty record as a manager, McCormick again secured a job that November to manage and play second base for the Peoria Club of Three-I league in 1913. Barry was suspended by the Peoria Distillers at midseason because the directors of the club were dissatisfied with the way he ran the team. McCormick claimed the Peoria club suspended him to avoid paying his salary and fined him $10 a day through the remainder of the season.16 McCormick filed a grievance with the National Commission, governing body of the minor leagues, but his appeal was officially rejected on November 3.17

On February 8, 1914, President James Gilmore of the Federal League, a new major league wanna-be, announced that Barry McCormick would be one of the league’s umpires for the 1914 season. Former major-league players becoming big league umpires was not unusual for the time, notably Hank O’Day, Bob Emslie, and Bill Dinneen. Umpire McCormick performed admirably for the troubled Federal League umpire corps during the two years of its existence as a self-proclaimed major league.

Within three months of the official demise of the Federal League, McCormick’s performance in that circuit earned him a job as an umpire with the American Association in 1916. At the conclusion of the minor-league season, Association President Tom Chivington advised McCormick of his release, and the following February Barry joined Ban Johnson’s staff of American League umpires.

McCormick officiated in one of the most famous games in major-league history on June 23, 1917. The Red Sox’s starting pitcher, Babe Ruth, was ejected when he punched Umpire Brick Owens, who had awarded the game’s first batter a base on balls. Ernie Shore replaced Ruth and retired the ensuing twenty-seven batters for a personal perfect game.

During that season Yankees’ owner Colonel Jacob Ruppert lodged a formal protest to Ban Johnson about the league’s umpiring, especially targeting McCormick for his removal of a Yankee player from a game. Despite his problems with Ruppert, McCormick was expected to officiate American League games in 1918. However, Thomas Hickey, recently elected president of the American Association, announced the American League had no right to employ Barry McCormick in 1917. According to Hickey, McCormick was under reserve to the American Association, and he had been offered a contract for 1918.18 McCormick served his one year of exile in the American Association and was hired as a National League umpire for 1919. McCormick would umpire in the National League for the next eleven years.

McCormick achieved the pinnacle for a major league umpire when he was chosen as one of four arbiters to officiate the 1921 World Series between the Giants and the Yankees. When Baseball Commissioner Judge Kennesaw Landis awarded the Giants their diamond World Series rings before a game in New York the following April, Umpire McCormick was presented a diamond-studded watch fob.19

McCormick left the National League following the 1929 season and umpired in the International League until 1936, when he was sixty-two. By that time, McCormick and his wife had been separated for some time. Anna McCormick told the 1940 census official that her marital status was “divorced.”

William J. “Barry” McCormick died of a heart ailment in Cincinnati on January 28, 1956. McCormick had just exited his residence at the Parkway YMCA when he suffered a heart attack and collapsed on the sidewalk, dying almost instantly.The only survivor named in his obituary was a daughter, Margaret, of London, England. William J. McCormick is buried in St. Joseph New Cemetery in Cincinnati.20

The subheading of McCormick’s obituary published in the New York Times pronounced: “Ex-Baseball Player Umpired Longest Major League Game.” That game remained the most noteworthy event of McCormick’s career despite his tenure as a major league player for ten seasons and as a major-league umpire for fourteen years. That lack of notoriety as an umpire spoke volumes about his proficiency in that position.

 

Sources

Baseball-Reference.com was used for statistical information.

U.S. Census reports, 1880-1940, were utilized for personal information on the subject’s family.

Image of Barry McCormick baseball card came from a Breisch-Williams (a confectionery company) set (E107) 1903.

  • 1. “Sketches of Anson’s New Colts,” Chicago Daily Tribune, March 16, 1897.
  • 2. Ibid., p. 8.
  • 3. “Praise for McCormick,” Chicago Daily Tribune, March 6, 1897.
  • 4. “Colts Have a Day of Sunshine,” Chicago Daily Tribune, March 20, 1897.
  • 5. Pittsburgh Press, May 24, 1902.
  • 6. “All the Colts are in Corral,” Chicago Daily Tribune, February 25, 1898.
  • 7. Chicago Daily Tribune, September 28, 1899.
  • 8. Hugh S. Fullerton, “Famous Bats and Their Owners,” Chicago Daily Tribune, July 14, 1914.
  • 9. Pittsburgh Press, February 12, 1902.
  • 10. The Washington Times, July 23, 1902.
  • 11. Chicago Daily Tribune, May 8, 1903.
  • 12. (Washington) Evening Star, September 1, 1903.
  • 13. “Senators Win Second,” Washington Post, August 31, 1904.
  • 14. Minneapolis Journal, February 15, 1905.
  • 15. Bismarck Daily Journal, July 31, 1912; The Day Book (Chicago, Il.), July 31, 1912.
  • 16. “Sporting Gossip,” The Evening News, Providence R.I., October 28, 1913.
  • 17. “Farrell ‘Sting’ Barry McCormick,” Rock Island Argus, November 12, 1923.
  • 18. “Can’t Have Umpire McCormick,” Sporting Life, March 10, 1917.
  • 19. Chicago Daily Tribune, April 27, 1923.
  • 20. New York Times, February 8, 1956.