Pat “Paddy” Duff, one of four native Rhode Islanders to play only one game in the major leagues, spent the majority of his years in Organized Baseball at the B and C levels of minor-league ball, rising to Class A in the 1905 season before his brief appearance in the majors on April 16, 1906, for the Washington Senators of the American League. He is perhaps best known as a standout catcher at Manhattan College in the years 1901-1904, and was captain of the Jaspers from 1902 to 1904, leading the team to a 32-4 record in 1904, the most wins ever by a Manhattan baseball team.1
Patrick Henry Duff was born on May 6, 1875, in the Olneyville section of Providence, Rhode Island. He was the son of Patrick and Mary Duff, both of whom were born in Ireland. In the 1880 US Census, Patrick the father was listed as a laborer and Mary as keeping house.2 Patrick the son had three brothers, James, John, and Thomas, and a sister, Mary; both James and Mary were born in Ireland.
Duff began his professional baseball career with the Fall River Indians of the Class B New England League in 1897, appearing in one game and going 0-for-3, after which he was released. He followed that in 1898 with a two-game appearance for the Pawtucket Tigers of the same league, batting .143 (1-for-7). Despite his short stay in Pawtucket, he was praised by the Pawtucket Times of June 22, 1898, as one who “showed up well at the receiving end” and “shapes himself splendidly”; his “throwing to bases was very accurate.”3 Due to the reorganization of the New England League caused by financial woes, the entire team was released in mid-July of 1898.4 Unlike some of his former Pawtucket teammates, Duff did not land with one of the remaining New England League teams, but he did play for the Olneyville Temperance Cadets, an amateur league team, in 1898 after his release, playing against teams from Attleboro, Milford, and Franklin in Massachusetts and Laurel Hill and Lonsdale from Rhode Island.5 There is no record of Duff playing professional baseball in 1899, but he did play for Lonsdale again as an amateur, as well as for the Attleboro team, and again garnered praise for his continued solid catching.6
In 1900, at the age of 25, Duff split the season between the Norwich Witches and the New Haven Blues of the Class F Connecticut State League. In 86 games for both teams, he batted .260 in 315 plate appearances; he also played for the Syracuse Stars of the Class A Eastern League (.211 BA in 19 AB). A highlight of Duff’s partial season at New Haven was a game against his former team, Norwich, in which he had three hits, ironic since the reason given for his release from Norwich was “weakness with the stick.”7 He led all Connecticut State League catchers in fielding average.
Duff was a four-year baseball team member (1901-04), at Manhattan College in New York, playing catcher for two of the Jaspers’ greatest baseball teams. (In 1903 the Jaspers were 18-2 and, as mentioned, 32-4 in 1904.) Wee Willie Keeler, a future Hall of Famer, was one of his coaches with the Jaspers and Keeler, as expected, emphasized the importance of hitting. Duff batted leadoff for most of the 1901 season.
The issue of professional baseball players playing collegiate baseball was becoming controversial at that time, with some colleges, including Amherst, Williams, and Wesleyan, going as far as pledging to purge their teams of paid players. Duff was involved in a humorous example of this issue when he was visited by his manager from the New Haven team, Jimmy Canavan, and, after telling Canavan that he preferred college baseball to professional baseball, he was picked off at first base. Canavan took that opportunity to needle Duff, telling him that if he had done that in the Connecticut League, he would have been fined $10.8
After the college season, Duff again split time between New Haven and Norwich in the summer of 1901. He played for Plattsburgh in the Northern New York League that summer, batting in the winning runs that won the league championship for the team.
After Manhattan’s 18-2 season in 1902, Duff was scouted by higher-classification pro teams, among them Buffalo, Jersey City, and Providence. But Duff returned to Plattsburgh, rejecting “several flattering offers” to play for other teams. He did go to Providence of the Class A Eastern League in August, with teammate Tommy O’Hara, for a game against the Montreal Royals on August 4, and then returned to the Providence team on September 1 after Plattsburgh’s season ended.
In 1902 Duff had batted third for Manhattan, but when the 1903 season began, he was moved to fifth and then cleanup to end the season. On March 4, 1903, the Jersey Journal of Jersey City reported that Providence was again interested in acquiring Duff, and called him “one of the cleverest catchers on the diamond and a scientific hitter.”9 The New York Highlanders of the American League also sought to sign Duff, saying that he had “the earmarks” of a star baseball player.10 But Duff returned to Plattsburgh after the Manhattan season ended. He was involved in an atypical incident in a game against St. Albans. Duff and the umpire, MacCorrey, were at odds during the game, with Duff actually striking MacCorrey. When the umpire finally ejected Duff, he would not leave the game immediately. Since Duff was a player known for his great character, this was the exception rather than the rule for him.11 Returning to school in the fall, Duff joined the injury-beset football squad and practiced as an end to help the team.12
Duff was elected baseball captain again for the 1904 season. A highlight of the season was the first-ever game between Manhattan and West Point. After the season Duff joined Rutland of the Northern New York League after declining to sign with the Highlanders. Rutland made him the tram captain. Duff also played for a Pawtucket amateur team. He finished the 1904 season playing for the Jersey City Skeeters in the Class A Eastern League.
In 1905 Duff went to Cuba with a team of American major and minor leaguers to play the Habana and Azul teams. The Americans played 12 games, winning eight, losing three, and tying one.13 After returning, Duff signed with the Highlanders, and in the preseason was praised for his catching prowess and his hitting. But in April, after injuring his throwing arm, he was sent to Minneapolis of the American Association, and later to the Indianapolis Indians of the same league. His batting average for the two teams was.176 in 74 at-bats. At first, Duff objected to being farmed out, preferring to join a team closer to home, but ultimately he accepted the demotion.14 In the event, he was released by Indianapolis in mid-June, and joined an independent team in Rutland, Vermont.15
In March of 1906, manager Jake Stahl of the Washington Senators signed Duff to a contract.16 On April 16 he made his only appearance in the major leagues, in a 5-3 loss to the Philadelphia Athletics, in which he was struck out by Rube Waddell.17 Duff was released by the Senators and played a number of games with Pawtucket of the Interstate League. By mid-June, he had signed with Rutland of the Northern Independent League for the remainder of the season.18 Duff continued his fine work behind the plate, but struggled at the bat. The team disbanded in August after some of the players struck over a salary dispute. (Duff did not sympathize with the strikers.)19
Duff signed with the Class B Johnstown Johnnies of the Tri-State League (Pennsylvania, Delaware, and New Jersey) for the 1907 season. He caught and played first base, but was traded in April to the York White Roses, a team that thought it had signed him before the season started.20 For York, Duff mostly played first base, after getting injured while catching. Midway through the season the York franchise was moved to Reading, Pennsylvania, because of poor fan support; the team became the Reading Pretzels.21
Duff was released by the Pretzels before the 1908 season, and signed with the Lowell Tigers of the New England League.22 He was involved in an odd play in a game on May 1 against the Lynn Shoemakers. Playing right field, Duff caught a fly ball. However, the umpire ruled the batter safe at first, because Duff had been wearing a catcher’s mitt, which was forbidden for fielders. Duff was forced to change to a fielder’s glove.23 At the end of July, Duff was sent to the New Bedford Whalers in the same league, going from the seventh-place team to the cellar dweller.
New Bedford released Duff early in the 1909 season. He asked the Fall River team for a tryout at catcher, but eventually signed with the Haverhill Hustlers of the New England League.24 Later in the season he was traded to the Brockton Tigers of the same league. Duff played in 1910 for Norwich/Meriden of the Class D Connecticut Association, but the league folded in July. He also played for and was the captain of the Providence Independents, who barnstormed throughout New England, playing local teams, as well as for the Manville Company and Valley Falls in the Woonsocket Mill League.25
Duff returned to the York White Roses (Tri-State League) in 1911 and also coached his former college team, the Manhattan Jaspers.26 He returned to Rhode Island after the York season to play for the Woodlawn team of the Intercity League.
Little has been written about Duff or his baseball career for the 1912 and 1913 seasons, but his name reappeared when a new Class C circuit, the Colonial League, was formed in 1914, comprising teams in Woonsocket and Pawtucket, Rhode Island, and Brockton, Fall River, New Bedford, and Taunton, Massachusetts.27 Duff signed with the New Bedford Whalers and his presence gave the team an experienced hand in the infield.28 In 1915, approaching the age of 40, he was hired by the Colonial League as an umpire, but later in the season returned as a player, with Northampton in the Western Massachusetts League.
According to Duff’s draft registration card for World War I, signed on September 12, 1918, he was working as a truckman for the New York, New Haven, and Hartford Railroad.29 He listed his birth date as May 20, 1877, and his age as 41. (The Baseball Reference and Retrosheet websites list his birth date as May 6, 1875.) The address on the registration card matches the address given for him in a number of Providence city directories. However, on the census form listing his parents and siblings, his age is listed as one month, so it appears that for some reason, accidentally or otherwise, Duff listed his birth date as two years later than it actually was on his draft registration card.
The 1920 US census listed Duff as living with his mother and brother and his Duff’s occupation as colorer at a jewelry company. Duff went on to coach the Providence College baseball team in 1921 and 1922, compiling a record of 7 wins and 18 losses.
Duff’s life seems to have taken a tragic turn; he was listed in the 1925 Providence city directory as living at 1518 Westminster Street, where he had lived for many years. However, the Rhode Island State Census for 1925, recorded on April 21, listed Duff as a patient at the Rhode Island State Hospital for Mental Disease in Cranston. In the book Bury My Heart at Cooperstown: Salacious, Sad and Surreal Deaths in the History of Baseball, authors Frank Russo and Gene Racz offered the following explanation for Duff’s presence at the hospital:
“After his playing career was over, he turned to coaching and became the first baseball coach of Providence College. That stint lasted two years. Unfortunately for Duff, his health had slowly begun to deteriorate over time and, by his late forties, he was noticeably going downhill. Duff died at the state hospital in Providence on September 11, 1925, from syphilis-induced paresis.”30
Duff, a bachelor, was 50 years old. He was buried in St. Ann Cemetery in Cranston, Rhode Island.
1 Manhattan Jaspers Hall of Fame, Manhattan College website.
2 1880 US census.
3 Pawtucket (Rhode Island) Times, June 22, 1898.
4 Pawtucket Times, July 14, 1898.
5 Pawtucket Times, August 1, 1898.
6 Pawtucket Times, July 24, 1899.
7 Pawtucket Times, July 10, 1900.
8 Cleveland Plain Dealer, January 28, 1902.
9 Jersey Journal, Jersey City, New Jersey, March 4, 1903.
10 Boston Journal, June 9, 1903.
11 St. Albans (Vermont) Daily Messenger, July 13, 1903.
12 New York Times, November 7, 1903.
13 Sporting Life, February 4, 1905.
14 St. Albans Daily Messenger, March 31, 1905.
15 Jersey Journal, June 2, 1905.
16 Washington Post, March 25, 1906.
17 Washington Evening Star, April 17, 1906.
18 St. Albans Daily Messenger, June 19, 1906.
19 Montpelier (Vermont) Argus and Patriot, August 29, 1906.
20 Trenton (New Jersey) Evening Times, March 16, 1907.
21 Trenton Evening News, July 23,1907.
22 Harrisburg (Pennsylvania) Patriot, April 7, 1908.
23 Boston Journal, May 2, 1908.
24 Sporting Life, March 29, 1909. Pawtucket Times, April 12, 1909..
25 Pawtucket Times, April 13, 1910, July 5, 1910.
26 Pawtucket Times, March 16, 1911.
27 Pawtucket Times, March 26, 1914.
28 Pawtucket Times, May 22, 1914.
30 Frank Russo and Gene Racz, Bury My Heart at Cooperstown: Salacious, Sad and Surreal Deaths in the History of Baseball (Chicago: Triumph Books, 2006).