Joe Shannon

This article was written by Bill Lamb

When they joined the Boston Braves in late June of 1915, teenage brothers Joe and Maurice "Red" Shannon attracted immediate attention. During pregame warm-ups, the local press corps took note of their good size (5-feet-11, 170 pounds), athleticism, and strong righty throwing arms. But the brothers’ appearance was even more striking: boyishly good-looking, with fair Irish skin and a shock of flaming red hair protruding from under their ball caps. Upon closer inspection, the Shannon brothers did more than merely resemble each other. They were identical twins, whom Braves manager George Stallings, new teammates, Boston sportswriters, and local fans found almost impossible to tell apart.

Regrettably for Joe Shannon, the twins were not blessed with equal playing ability. Joe was often shaky in the field, and lacked the positional versatility and ability to switch-hit that afforded his brother Maurice, later called Red, a seven-season major-league career. For Joe, a brief stay with the 1915 Boston Braves would constitute his only time in the big leagues.

Joseph Aloysius and Maurice Joseph Shannon were born in Jersey City on February 11, 1897. The twins were late arrivals to the eight-child brood raised by Pennsylvania-born steamboat captain Michael Shannon (born 1858) and his Irish immigrant wife, Mary Ellen (née Coleman, born 1862).1 The twins grew up in the working-class German/Irish Catholic enclave of Greenville, attending local parochial schools through high-school graduation from St. Peter’s Prep. By the time that they matriculated to Seton Hall College, the Shannons had gained citywide renown for their exploits in both baseball and basketball. Outfielder-first baseman Joe and middle infielder Maury made their professional debuts in June 1914, joining the sad-sack Asbury Park Sea Urchins of the Class D Atlantic League, while employing the pseudonym O’Brien to protect their collegiate eligibility. Their numbers were unremarkable (Joe: .240 batting average in 40 games; Maury: .250 in 39 games) for the last place (30-57) Sea Urchins, but the two had shown enough promise to garner the attention of major-league clubs. At season’s end, both Shannon twins were drafted by the Boston Red Sox.2

In the spring of 1915, the Shannons were back on campus, where – in an era when baseball uniforms did not have numbers – Seton Hall team captain Jack Fish kept their identities straight by having the twins wear different color socks. Maury was directed to wear black hose, while Joe would don the varsity-issue stockings of blue with white stripes.3 On June 5 Joe bade farewell to his school days with a 4-for-4 game against Manhattan College.4 Later that month, he and Maury signed professional contracts and reported to the Boston Braves, their draft rights having somehow been acquired from the Red Sox over the winter.5 With the defending World Series champion Miracle Braves in the midst of another tight pennant battle, there was little prospect that inexperienced 18-year-olds would see playing time. Rather, the plan was for the twins to demonstrate their raw abilities to manager Stallings during pregame workouts, and then be assigned to an appropriate level minor-league affiliate for seasoning.

Fate had a different plan in store for one of the Shannon brothers. In the bottom of the fifth inning of a June 30 contest in Philadelphia, a scorching Gavvy Cravath liner over shortstop skidded into the face of Braves’ left fielder Joe Connolly, splitting his lip and temporarily knocking him out. Once he had figured out which of the two young redheads on the bench was the outfielder, Stallings dispatched Joe Shannon to take the disabled Connolly’s place in the field. There, Joe handled himself creditably, catching the only fly ball hit his way. He also made a fair showing at the plate – considering that he had to face future Hall of Famer Grover Alexander, then in the midst of a dominating 31-10 campaign. In his first at-bat, Joe drove an Alex fastball on a line to deep left for a sacrifice fly. The next time up, he struck out, finishing his major-league debut 0-for-1, with one RBI, in an 8-5 Boston loss.

A week later Joe registered his first-major league hit, leading off an eventual 4-3 loss to Brooklyn with a single off left-hander Sherry Smith. His fielding, however, was another matter. Shannon misplayed a long fly ball to center into an inside-the-park home run, and later allowed a base hit to roll through his legs and let two more Brooklyn runs score. Still, Stallings inserted Joe into a couple more games before the season-ender. Maury, meanwhile, had been optioned to the Rochester Hustlers of the International League6 without having seen any game action for the Braves. His late-season recall, however, permitted the Shannons to make some major-league history in the final game of the 1915 season. In the meaningless October 7 contest against the Giants, Joe at third base and Maury at second were midgame replacements for the second-place (83-69) Braves in a season-closing 15-8 loss to New York, thereby becoming the first twins to appear in a big-league game simultaneously.7 Between them, the twins went 0-for-5 at the plate, but caused no harm in the field.

Both Joe and Maurice Shannon were placed on the Braves’ reserved list for the 1916 season,8 and over the winter the twins stayed in shape by playing for the parish basketball team in a Jersey City recreation league.9 In March the arrival of the Shannons in Boston’s spring camp filled considerable newspaper space, with stories playing up manager Stallings’ widely reported inability to distinguish Joe from Maury,10 or the mischief the twins visited upon hotel wait staff on guard against buffet-line double-dippers.11

Unhappily for the twins, their play in exhibition games failed to impress. When spring camp broke up, Joe and Maurice Shannon were given their unconditional releases,12 a sharp comedown for two players adjudged “about the sweetest-looking prospects that ever reported to a big-league manager” only the summer before.13 Whether facetiously or not, news dispatches announcing the event often reported that “George Stallings overcame the danger of letting the wrong one go by releasing the Shannon twins at the same time.”14 Although both brothers would continue to play pro ball for years to come, only Maurice would make it back to the majors. For 19-year-old Joe Shannon, his big-league days were now behind him. In his five-game MLB career, he had batted .200 (2-for-10), with 1 RBI and 3 runs scored, while posting a substandard .875 (one error in eight chances) fielding average.

Free agents, the twins promptly signed with the New Haven Murlins of the Class B Eastern League. The ensuing months were not agreeable ones for either side. Manager Dan Murphy’s early-season insertion of himself into the lineup left Joe Shannon sulking on the bench. The twins retaliated by causing Murphy “more trouble … than the rest of the [New Haven] club put together.”15 Thereafter in mid-July, “without pausing to say farewell or give other warning … [the Shannons] packed their grips” and took a train for home.16 By the time they arrived in Jersey City, second thoughts had apparently set in. A telegram sent to New Haven club owner James T. Collins explained that the brothers had been suddenly called home to attend to their ailing mother.17 But Collins was not buying it, and placed the twins on the Eastern League suspended list. The two occupied their down time by playing for semipro teams in Jersey City and Trenton,18 while an older Shannon brother entreated with Collins to allow the twins to return to the New Haven club. Collins refused. The most that he would do is “offer to try to place the youngsters elsewhere.”19 In time, Collins granted Boston manager Stallings permission to use the Shannons in place of tired or injured Braves’ regulars in late-season exhibition games.20 But the twins did not appear in any National League contests.

As the disparity in their playing talents became apparent, the playing careers of Joe and Maurice Shannon began to separate. Over the winter, New Haven boss Collins removed the twins from the suspended list, then sold Maurice to the Baltimore Orioles of the International League. Before the 1917 season’s end, Maury would be back in the big leagues, a late-season acquisition of the American League Philadelphia A’s. Joe, meanwhile, remained in New Haven, where he batted .278 in 102 games of Class B baseball. The following season, Joe advanced to Baltimore himself, batting a robust .335 in 44 Orioles games. By June, Sporting Life was reporting that Philadelphia manager Connie Mack had made overtures about acquiring Joe’s contract and uniting him with his brother in the A’s infield.21 But the following month, with the United States now fighting in World War I, Joe short-circuited Mack’s plans by enlisting in the Navy.22 Shortly thereafter, Maury followed him into the service.

By heeding the call to arms, Joe Shannon not only forfeited a chance to return to the majors. He put the lie to an amusing, albeit improbable, anecdote about the Shannon twins later told by syndicated sportswriter Frank G. Menke: a yarn about how Maury once pinch-hit twice in the same game. As told by Menke, the A’s were trailing the Boston Red Sox when manager Mack surveyed his bench looking for a pinch-hitter. Spying the twins, Mack said, “Whichever one of you is Maurice, go up and hit.” Maury then promptly smashed a double. The situation repeated itself innings later, only this time Mack looked at the twins and said, “Joe Shannon, you bat for the pitcher this next inning.” As soon as Mack turned his attention elsewhere, Maury grabbed a bat and was soon back at the plate. Umpire Silk O’Loughlin was dutifully suspicious about the identity of this familiar-looking pinch-hitter, but with no numbers on their uniforms, O’Loughlin could no more tell the Shannons apart than Mack could. Thus, when Maury lined a single, he became the only player in major-league history to get two pinch-hits in the same game – at least according to Menke.23

The Shannons were mustered out of the Navy in time to resume their playing careers in early 1919. Maury returned to the A’s, batting .271 in 39 games, before being traded to Boston where he became the Red Sox’ everyday second baseman. Brother Joe’s year was a disappointment, a mixture of missed chances and overcrowded outfields. Dissatisfied with contract terms proffered by Orioles owner Jack Dunn, Shannon joined the ball team of the Baltimore Dry Dock Company instead. Dunn thereupon sold Shannon’s contract to the Washington Senators, with whom Joe quickly came to terms.24 But with stalwart Joe Judge at first base and future Hall of Famer Sam Rice, Clyde Milan, Mike Menosky, and Buzz Murphy monopolizing the outfield spots, there proved to be no room for Joe Shannon on the Senators’ roster. On Opening Day 1919, Shannon was cut, the Washington Evening Star reporting that he had “been turned back to the Baltimore club. Shannon gives promise of some day making it in the big show. He is fast and shows possibilities as a batsman, but needs more International League seasoning. He should be back up for another trial in 1920.”25 Back in Baltimore, club boss Dunn had his own overabundance of outfielders under contract, a problem he reduced by loaning Shannon for the 1919 season to a league rival, the Binghamton Bingoes.26


Displaying power that his brother Maury lacked, Joe batted .279 for Binghamton, with 48 extra-base hits, including an International League-leading 15 triples. After the season he barnstormed the East Coast with an International League all-star team. Baltimore thereupon reclaimed his rights, and then sold Joe to a new IL franchise, the Akron Buckeyes. On May 5, 1920, Shannon got the franchise off on the right foot, hitting a home run, double, and sacrifice fly before a crowd of 12,000 in the Buckeyes’ home opener, a 7-4 win over Jersey City.27 Doubtless aided by the livelier baseball now in play, Joe maintained a torrid hitting pace the entire season, batting .342 with 59 extra-base hits for the fourth-place (88-63) Akron club. Those numbers did not go unnoticed, and in mid-December Shannon’s contract was purchased by the Detroit Tigers.28 But competing for an outfield spot against Ty Cobb, Harry Heilmann, and Bobby Veach, Shannon had only a slim chance of sticking with the Tigers. Still, he appears to have been given little time to make an impression, as Detroit sold Shannon to the Columbus Senators of the American Association shortly after spring camp opened.29

Although still only 24 years old, Joe Shannon had now been cast off by three major-league clubs, and his prospects of rejoining brother Maury in the big leagues were rapidly fading. Rather, he was on the path of becoming a minor-league journeyman. Tours of duty in Columbus, Toledo, and Jersey City followed. Further undermining his chances for advancement was a loss of foot speed, the product of a fractured ankle suffered in 1923 while sliding home during an early-season game in Toledo.30 More important in the bigger picture, Joe was now taking on familial responsibilities. In late 1923, he married New Yorker Evelyn Kennedy. In time, the couple would be blessed with three children (Evelyn Marie, born in 1926; Marilyn, 1930; and John Joseph, 1935). For the short term, however, Joe forged on with baseball, adding stops in Jersey City and Montreal to his résumé. He ended his lengthy minor-league career in 1929, playing briefly for the Columbus (Georgia) Foxes of the Class B Southeastern League. Although his time in the majors had been negligible, Joe Shannon had been a competent professional ballplayer, posting a .291 batting average in over 1,000 games in high minor leagues.

For the remainder of his life, Joe lived in modest but comfortable circumstances in Jersey City. Although the Depression was setting in, local renown and Democratic Party affiliation secured him a steady job in city government, where after his retirement from pro ball at the end of the 1931 season, brother Maury joined him. Joe owned his family residence and advanced steadily through the municipal employment ranks, going from a youth athletics instructor to superintendent of Roosevelt Stadium, the WPA-built minor-league ballpark in Jersey City.

On July 20, 1955, Joe Shannon died unexpectedly at his home, the victim of a cerebral embolism.31 He was 58. After funeral services, his remains were interred at Holy Cross Cemetery in North Arlington, New Jersey. Survivors included his wife, three children, and seven siblings, including Maurice (who would be buried near Joe at Holy Cross Cemetery after his own death in April 1970). A century has now come and gone since the Shannon twins burst upon the major-league scene. But their memory endures, preserved for posterity by posthumous induction into the Hudson County (New Jersey) Hall of Fame in 2006.

 

Sources

Sources for the biographical information contained herein include the player files with questionnaires for Joe Shannon and Red Shannon maintained at the Giamatti Research Center, National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, Cooperstown, New York; Bill Nowlin’s excellent SABR BioProject profile of Red Shannon; Shannon family info posted on Ancestry.com, and certain of the newspaper articles cited below. Stats have been taken from Baseball-Reference and Retrosheet.

 

Notes

1 In addition to the twins, the Shannon children were Maria (Mary, born 1882), Agnes (1883), Thomas (1886), John (1889), Stephen (1890), and Francis (1899).

2 As reported in the Jersey (Jersey City) Journal, September 11, 1914, and Sporting Life, September 19 and October 3, 1914.

3 As per a nationally syndicated story published in the Cincinnati Post, Jersey Journal, and Kalamazoo (Michigan) Gazette, March 10, 1916, and elsewhere.

4 As reported in Sporting Life, June 12, 1915.

5 Although the events that attended the Braves’ acquisition of the draft rights to the Shannons have been lost to time, Red Sox historian and Red Shannon biographer Bill Nowlin suspects that the cozy relationship between the two Boston clubs may have been at work. See Red Shannon BioProject bio.

6 As reported in Sporting Life, August 14, 1915.

7 The Shannons were not the first twins to play major-league baseball. That distinction is held by identical twins George and Bill Hunter, born in Buffalo on July 8, 1887. Pitcher-outfielder George appeared in 45 games for Brooklyn in 1909-1910, while Bill was a 21-game outfielder for the 1912 Cleveland Naps. Unlike the Shannons, however, the Hunter twins never appeared in a major-league game together.

8 As per Sporting Life, October 1, 1915.

9 As reported in the Jersey Journal, February 15, 1916.

10 See “Shannon Twins Are Puzzle to Boss of Boston Braves,” published in the Columbus (Georgia) Ledger, March 14, 1916, Kalamazoo Gazette, March 16, 1916, Wilkes-Barre (Pennsylvania) Times, March 23, 1916, and elsewhere.

11 See Springfield (Massachusetts) Daily News, March 7, 1916.

12 As reported in the Boston Herald and Washington Evening Star, April 30, 1916, Jersey Journal, May 1, 1916, and elsewhere.

13 A.H.C. Mitchell, “Boston Budget,” Sporting Life, July 3, 1915.

14 See, e.g., Jersey Journal, May 9, 1916, Flint (Michigan) Journal, May 10, 1916, and San Luis Obispo (California) Daily Telegram, May 11, 1916.

15 Per Sporting Life, February 17, 1917.

16 Springfield Daily News, July 27, 1916.

17 See the Springfield Daily News, July 27, 1916, and the Springfield (Massachusetts) Republican, July 28, 1916.

18 As reported in the Jersey Journal, July 31, 1916, and Trenton Times, August 11, 1916.

19 Springfield (Massachusetts) Union, August 9, 1916.

20 As reported in the Boston Herald, Pawtucket (Rhode Island) Times, and Springfield Union, August 22, 1916.

21 Washington Evening Star, June 9, 1918.

22 As per the Jersey Journal, July 20, 1918.

23 As published in the Evansville (Indiana) Courier and Press, February 18, 1926, and elsewhere.

24 As reported by the Washington Evening Star, March 14, 1919, and Jersey Journal, March 17, 1919.

25 Washington Evening Star, April 22, 1919.

26 As per the Baltimore Sun, May 6, 1919. While Shannon would play the 1919 season in Binghamton livery, his contract remained the property of the Baltimore Orioles.

27 As per the Cleveland Plain Dealer, May 6, 1920.

28 As reported in the New Orleans Item and Riverside (California) Daily Press, December 20, 1920.

29 The sale of Shannon by Detroit was noted in newsprint by the beginning of March. See, e.g., the Columbus (Georgia) Daily Enquirer, March 1, 1921

30 As reported in the Cleveland Plain Dealer, May 29, 1923.

31 Per the Death Certificate contained in the Joe Shannon file at the Giamatti Research Center.