In May 1951, a brief Associated Press dispatch noted the death of old-time left-handed pitcher Ezra Lincoln. Curiously left unmentioned was anything about the deceased’s playing days. Rather, the dispatch focused on his mid-season release by the 1890 Cleveland Spiders, which opened up the roster spot that the club then allotted to a baseball immortal — Cy Young.1
Although Lincoln won 508 fewer major league games than Young, his professional career was not without highlights. In 1893, he was the dominant pitcher in the minor New England League, and a stalwart staff member of three consecutive NEL pennant-winning Fall River teams. By the end of the century Lincoln had left the game to spend the remainder of his long life in the workaday labor force, first as a blacksmith, thereafter as an auto mechanic.
Ezra Perry Lincoln was born on November 17, 1868, in Raynham, Massachusetts, a small town located about 30 miles south of Boston. He was the second of three children2 born to blacksmith S. Russell Lincoln (1845-1910), and his wife Julia (née Woodward, 1845-1919), both descended from long-settled English Protestant stock. Ezra attended local schools through the eleventh grade,3 then began working full-time in his father’s blacksmith shop. The youngster reached good size — a broad-shouldered 5-foot-11, 160 pounds originally (later heavier). In his leisure time, he played baseball for area amateur teams as a left-handed hitting and throwing pitcher-outfielder.
In late summer 1889, Lincoln’s performances with clubs from nearby Taunton and Rockport started receiving coverage in Boston newspapers.4 Then in early November, the unveiling of the Players League placed a third major league on the baseball scene. As a consequence, clubs from the established National League and American Association began scrambling to find the talent needed to fill the roster vacancies created by wide scale player defection to the PL. Soon, it was reported that the National League’s Boston Beaneaters were trying to sign local prospect Ezra Lincoln, considered “the best amateur pitcher in southern Massachusetts, and a good general player.”5 Yet for reasons undiscovered, Lincoln chose to cast his lot instead with the NL’s Cleveland Spiders.6
The 21-year-old showed enough in spring camp to make the Opening Day squad, but saw no game action for the first two weeks of the 1890 season. He made his major league debut on May 2 with a start against the Cincinnati Reds. Lincoln pitched decently, allowing only six hits and one earned run. But he “was unsteady at critical points,” walking six and throwing two run-scoring wild pitches in a 6-1 complete-game defeat.7 Five days later, Lincoln was roughed up (seven runs allowed in five innings) in a start against Pittsburgh, but escaped with a no-decision when the Spiders rallied for a 9-8, 10-inning triumph. The rookie’s next three outings all ended in defeat. Lincoln finally broke into the win column on June 11, besting the Chicago White Stockings in the nightcap of a doubleheader, 3-1, on a five-hitter.
Not a hard thrower by major league standards, Lincoln relied on a variety of curveballs and pitched to contact, relying on his defense to make plays behind him — a risky strategy with a poor fielding Cleveland club headed for a seventh-place finish (44-88, .333). But it worked well on June 11, when Ezra threw a four-hit/no strikeout 7-1 win at Pittsburgh. Lincoln was hit hard the next four times out before registering his third and final major league win: a 5-4 victory over future Hall of Famer Amos Rusie and the New York Giants at the Polo Grounds on July18.8 The following afternoon, New York returned the favor, beating Lincoln, 7-5, and dropping his record to 3-11.
Immediately thereafter, Lincoln was given notice of his release, his place on the Cleveland roster ultimately assumed by a strapping Ohio farm boy named Cy Young.9 A kindly post-mortem in Sporting Life reported that Lincoln “has the makings of a good man, but the present company is a little too fast for him.”10
Before July was out, Lincoln got another chance, signed by the pitching-poor Syracuse Stars of the American Association.11 In his first start, “Lincoln pitched a good game for Syracuse, considering that his support was rocky,” declared a St. Louis newspaper in its report of his 6-1 loss to the hometown Browns.12 As had often been the case in Cleveland, Lincoln’s reliance on his fielders was misplaced, as Syracuse miscues cost him four unearned runs.
No such excuse was available three days later when a six-run first inning propelled the pennant-winning Louisville Colonels to a decisive 8-0 beating of the left-hander. But what sealed Lincoln’s fate in Syracuse was a 9-2 exhibition game loss to an unaffiliated professional team from Terre Haute, Indiana. The humiliating defeat infuriated Syracuse club owner George Frazier, who promptly took the managerial reins from Stars skipper Wally Fessenden and vowed to clean house.13 On August 12, Louisville hitters “fattened up their batting averages at the expense of young Lincoln,” driving him from the box in the fourth inning of an 18-4 rout.14 The following day, Frazier released Lincoln, reportedly saying that the jettisoned pitcher was “of no earthly good.”15
Although he was young, healthy, and destined for successful seasons in minor league baseball, Lincoln never appeared in another big league contest. In his 18 appearances for Cleveland and Syracuse combined, he had posted a 3-14 (.176) record, with a high 5.28 ERA in 138 innings pitched. Over that span, he allowed 190 hits and 57 walks, striking out only 28. That his soft curves had not puzzled major league batsmen was reflected in his opponents’ lusty .317 batting average. Conversely, Lincoln’s own bat was mostly silent, with only one extra-base hit in his 8-for-59 (.136) output. The tepid stats notwithstanding, an eventful decade of professional baseball still awaited him.
Following his release by Syracuse, Lincoln returned home to Raynham, where he consoled himself with work in the family blacksmith shop and by taking a bride. On October 19, 1890, Ezra married a 21-year-old local girl, Hattie Hansel Wilbur. Their union would last the ensuing 60 years and produce two sons, Leon (born 1893) and Clayton (1896).
No record of Lincoln playing in any recognized baseball league could be found for the 1891 season. But in 1892, he resurfaced with the Brockton (MA) Shoemakers of the New England League.16 “Lincoln pitched a good game” but lost his first time back in harness, dropping a 7-5 decision to Manchester on May 25.17 He then assumed a regular place in the Brockton pitching rotation. When the umpire failed to appear for a mid-July contest against Woonsocket, the two sides agreed to let Lincoln call the game, a necessity that would occasionally repeat itself in future and form a testament to Lincoln’s perceived rectitude and fairness. In this instance, “it proved to be a disastrous decision for the home team” as his hotly disputed home run call in Woonsocket’s favor tied the game, eventually lost in 10 innings, 6-1.18
By season’s end, Lincoln’s pitching record stood in the neighborhood of 13-14, about on par with fourth-place Brockton’s 46-45 log.19 Despite his so-so record, Lincoln’s hurling impressed some observers. Boston Beaneaters manager Frank Selee reportedly intended to audition the Brockton left-hander in the late season.20 Sadly for Lincoln, the tryout never took place.
Unlike a multitude of hurlers, Lincoln was unaffected by the rule changes (elimination of the pitcher’s box; elongation of the pitching distance to the modern 60 feet, six inches, etc.) instituted for the 1893 season. His problem, rather, involved competing claims upon his services. That spring, Lincoln exchanged letters with Brockton manager Fred Doe regarding engagement for the coming season and agreed to the contract terms proposed by Doe. But before the contract was executed, Lincoln signed with another New England League club, the Fall River (MA) Indians.21 The lefty got off to a fast start with his new club, defeating a good Lewiston (Maine) club on Opening Day, 9-2.22 Fall River quickly shot to the top in NEL standings with Lincoln widely considered the league’s best pitcher.23 But trouble was brewing for both the Indians and their staff ace.
In late May, Brockton filed a grievance with the league office, asserting that Lincoln had entered an agreement in principle to play there and demanding his return, with club supporters denouncing the “guerrilla policy of Fall River management” that had led Lincoln to renege on his commitment to Brockton.24 Unhappily for Lincoln and the Indians, a meeting of NEL officials in Boston culminated in a directive awarding the pitcher to Brockton.25 Private negotiations between the two clubs, however, quickly bore fruit. Cryptically citing “the good of the cause,” Brockton manager Doe relinquished his club’s claim on Lincoln and allowed him to remain with Fall River.26
Lincoln promptly demonstrated that he had been worth fighting for. He continued to dominate NEL opponents, throwing an eight-strikeout, 9-0 no-hitter at Dover on July 5.27 It was one of only four no-hit games pitched in all of Organized Baseball during the offense-crazy 1893 season.28 In the end, Fall River (60-30, .667) cruised to the New England League crown, while Lincoln’s 24-7, .774 record paced league hurlers in wins and winning percentage.29
His performance entitled Lincoln to promotion, and the Minneapolis Millers of the faster Western League landed him for the coming season.30 The pitcher began his Minneapolis tenure in fine style with an Opening Day victory over the Sioux City (Iowa) Cornhuskers, 15-7. An impressed St. Paul Globe reporter informed Millers fans that “Lincoln, apparently is going to be a success, and no doubt is by far the best twirler on the Minneapolis team. He has wonderful curves, good control of the sphere, and, above all, good judgment. The manager will do well to let him appear frequently.”31 But the would-be staff ace soon proved a major disappointment for the Millers, losing his next six starts. In time, Lincoln raised his record to 5-7, but that was not good enough. In late June, the “Minneapolis club laid pitcher Lincoln off without pity for indifferent work.”32
Lincoln’s failure in the Midwest did not deter Fall River from quickly re-signing him. “Over 2,500 people welcomed pitcher Lincoln, late of Minneapolis, back to Fall River.”33 With future Boston Beaneaters standout Fred Klobedanz now the Indians staff mainstay, Lincoln served as a reliable number two starter the remainder of the way. He finished a useful 10-8 for the New England League pennant-winning (62-35, .639) Indians club.34
Klobedanz and Lincoln continued their roles as staff ace and second starter in 1895. Although nowhere near as dominant as he had been two seasons earlier, Lincoln was reliable, taking his regular turn and hurling well over 350 innings on the way to a 20-16 season.35 Klobedanz, meanwhile was outstanding, going 28-9 and leading Fall River (67-39, .632) to its third straight New England League crown.
Fall River was counting on its sterling pitching duo in the quest for a four-peat in 1896, but time and innings pitched had taken their toll on Lincoln. Despite “getting as hard as nails in his blacksmith shop in Raynham,”36 there was considerably less life than before in Lincoln’s arm. Three straight early season defeats had the Boston Herald suggesting that he was Fall River’s designated losing pitcher.37 In time, Lincoln nearly managed to level his record, but he was no longer much of a mystery to NEL batsmen. In a little over 135 innings pitched, he allowed an unsightly 191 hits while walking 33. With his record standing at 8-9 in early July, Fall River released Lincoln.38 A snide comment in the Boston Globe suggested that “Lincoln should seek a berth where it would be impossible for him to get … the soothing sirup,” seemingly implying that Lincoln had become a problem drinker.39
A league rival, the New Bedford (MA) Whalers, quickly signed the left-hander. But after one ineffective relief appearance, he quit the club and went home. A perplexed New Bedford Mercury thereupon informed fans that “Ezra Lincoln has lost his nerve. He asked for his release, and says he will go [back to] making horseshoes in his Raynham blacksmith shop. Ezra can still pitch good ball, and he shouldn’t become disheartened.”40
Lincoln did not stay home long. He soon joined yet another New England League club, the Pawtucket (RI) Maroons. Reportedly spoiling for a start against the Fall River club that released him, Lincoln got his wish on August 1 — matched against Fred Klobedanz, no less. The outcome bordered on farce, as Klobedanz and his relief were pounded for 35 base hits and 32 runs. Much of the support was needed by Lincoln, who was only somewhat better, throwing a complete game 19-hitter in the 32-12 laugher.41 Lincoln made his final appearance for Pawtucket a week later, then went home for good. For three NEL teams combined, he finished the season at 10-13, with a 3.65 ERA in 189 2/3 innings pitched.
With a wife and two toddlers to support, Lincoln spent the next two years plying his blacksmithing skills. But he gave the game a final whirl in 1899, signing with the Taunton Herrings of the New England League. “Ezra Lincoln signaled his return to base ball by pitching a good game.” reported the Boston Herald, but was undone by five Taunton errors in his initial comeback start, a 6-5 loss to Brockton.42 He followed that with a winning effort against Portland, leading prominent Boston sportswriter Jacob C. Morse to observe that “for a man who has been out of the game for two seasons, Ezra Lincoln has done finely in pitching.”43
But by early July, Lincoln, now 30, was done. His final game, a July 4th holiday start against Brockton, ended in a no-decision and rang down the professional baseball career of Ezra Lincoln. Although he lacked the stuff necessary for success at the game’s highest level, Lincoln had been a more-than-competent mid-minor league hurler, posting a respectable 83-67 (.553) record over seven campaigns.
Once he left the game, Lincoln quickly receded into the anonymity of private life. He lived with family and worked in the blacksmith shop in Raynham until World War I. He then relocated both family and business to Taunton, the nearby county seat. By the time of the 1920 US Census, Ezra’s occupation had changed with the times. He was now employed as an auto mechanic in a local garage. A year later, tragedy struck the Lincoln family. Son Leon, having survived front line combat duty in the Great War, was killed by an explosion while working at the Taunton Gas Company plant.44
Ezra and his wife Hattie remained in Taunton until his death there on May 7, 1951. Ezra Perry Lincoln was 82. Following funeral services, his remains were interred in Pleasant Street Cemetery, Raynham. In addition to his widow, survivors included son Clayton and several grandchildren.
This biography was reviewed by Rory Costello and Norman Macht and checked for accuracy by SABR’s fact-checking team.
Sources for the biographical information recited above include the Ezra Lincoln profile in The Rank and File of 19th Century Major League Baseball: Biographies of 1,084 Players, Owners, Managers and Umpires, David Nemec, ed. (Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland, 2012); US Census and other governmental records accessed via Ancestry.com; and certain of the newspaper articles cited in the endnotes. Unless otherwise specified, stats have been taken from Baseball-Reference.
1 See e.g., “Old Pitcher Dies,” Cleveland Plain Dealer, May 9, 1951:30; “Ex-Tribe Pitcher Dies,” Rockford (Illinois) Register-Gazette, May 9, 1951:24; “Former Pitcher Dead,” Springfield (MA) Union, May 9, 1951: 13.
2 His siblings were older sister Lizzie (born 1866) and younger brother Eugene (1878).
3 1940 US Census.
4 See e.g., the Boston Herald, August 14, August 20, and September 2, 1889.
5 “After Taunton Pitcher,” Boston Herald, November 11, 1889: 8. Lincoln reportedly batted .380 that summer.
6 “Cleveland Signs Lincoln,” Boston Herald, January 3, 1890: 2; “Another Pitcher,” Cleveland Plain Dealer, January 3, 1890: 5; “A Wonderful Left-Handed Pitcher,” Kalamazoo (Michigan) Gazette, January 4, 1890: 2, and elsewhere.
7 “Twas Rhines’ Fault,” Cleveland Plain Dealer, May 3, 1890: 5.
8 Rusie pitched both ends of a doubleheader that day, winning the first game, 9-5.
9 Young’s contract was purchased from the Canton club of the Tri-State League for $300.
10 “A Cleveland Turn-Up,” Sporting Life, July 19, 1890-1.
11 “Notes of the Diamond,” Philadelphia Inquirer, July 28, 1890: 3; “Base Ball Notes,” Cleveland Plain Dealer, July 30, 1890: 5; “Notes and Gossip,” Sporting Life, August 2, 1890: 4. Early baseball scholar David Nemec states that Syracuse manager Wally Fessenden remembered Lincoln from when he pitched for Taunton. See The Rank and File of Major League Baseball (Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland, 2012), 53
12 “Ramsey in Good Form,” St. Louis Republic, July 31, 1890: 6.
13 “No Joy in Syracuse,” The Sporting News, August 16, 1890: 3. Syracuse fans, meanwhile, threatened to boycott the club until the playing talent was upgraded.
14 Wire dispatch published in the Cleveland Plain Dealer and Philadelphia Inquirer, August 13, 1890.
15 Frazier’s remarks were in response to a claim purportedly made by Lincoln that “he was cut because he refused to play on Sunday.” See Nemec, above, quoting an unidentified item in The Sporting News.
16 “Grounders,” Boston Herald, May 26, 1892: 5: Brockton has signed pitcher Lincoln.
17 “New England League,” Boston Journal, May 26, 1892: 3.
18 “Woonsocket 6, Brockton 1,” Boston Herald, July 16, 1892: 7.
19 As calculated by the writer from box and line scores published in New England newspapers. Baseball-Reference offers no data for Lincoln in 1892, while the Spalding Guide provides only his batting average: .217 in 39 games.
20 “Base Ball Notes,” Boston Journal, September 30, 1892: 3.
21 “Fall River Facts,” Sporting Life, May 6, 1893: 3.
22 “Fall River 9, Lewiston 2,” Boston Herald, May 10, 1893: 2, and “New England League,” Boston Journal, May 10, 1893: 3.
23 “Hits and Misses,” Boston Herald, May 17, 1893: 2.
24 “The Lincoln Case,” Sporting Life, May 27, 1893: 3.
25 “New England League,” Boston Herald, May 25, 1893: 2; “Portland Loses Mains,” Portland (Maine) Press, May 26, 1893: 3, and elsewhere. At the same league meeting, Portland was divested of star hurler Willard Mains.
26 “Peace in New England,” Boston Herald, June 2, 1893: 2; “Peace Reigns Once More,” Sporting Life, June 10, 1893: 1. Left unreported was what Brockton received in return for its concession of Lincoln. In the meantime, similar back-stair club negotiations resulted in Portland retaining pitcher Mains.
27 “Dover Completely Shut Out,” Boston Herald, July 6, 1893: 2.
28 The only big league no-hitter thrown in 1893 was by Baltimore’s Bill Hawke.
29 The Encyclopedia of Minor League Baseball, Lloyd Johnson and Miles Wolff, eds. (Durham, North Carolina: Baseball America, Inc., 2d ed. 1997), 118.
30 “Special Notice,” Sporting Life, December 30, 1893: 1. Reportedly, the club’s engagement of Lincoln was recommended by Portland ace Will Mains, another post-season Minneapolis signee. See Edwin Phillips, “Portland Paragraphs,” Sporting Life, November 18, 1893: 3.
31 “Minneapolis 15, Sioux City 7,” St. Paul Globe, May 11, 1894: 6.
32 Condensed Dispatches, Sporting Life, June 30, 1894: 1. The phrase “indifferent work” was sometimes sportswriter code signifying excessive use of alcohol and, if so, would be the first discovered published reference to the drinking problem later attributed to Lincoln.
33 “Peculiar Accident,” Sporting Life, July 7, 1894: 1.
34 1895 Spalding Official Base Ball Guide, 135. Baseball-Reference does not provide Fall River stats for Lincoln that season. Klobedanz (28-9, 757) supplanted Lincoln as the NEL leader in wins and winning percentage.
35 1896 Spalding Official Base Ball Guide, 151. As the previous season, Baseball-Reference provides no data on Lincoln’s performance in Fall River in 1895.
36 Bangor (ME) Whig & Courier, June 31, 1896: 3.
37 “New England Tips,” Boston Herald, may 18, 1896: 3.
38 “Baseball Notes,” Portland Press, July 9, 1896: 3, and “New England League Tips,” Boston Herald, July 10, 1896: 8
39 Nemec, 53. Precious little evidence that Lincoln was a lush, however, was encountered in the writer’s research.
40 Boston Herald, July 15, 1896: 8.
41 “Klobedanz Pounded Hard,” Portland Press, August 3, 1896: 3. It was the only time that Klobedanz, in the midst of another standout (25-6) season for Fall River, was knocked out all season. A few weeks later, he was acquired by the Boston Beaneaters.
42 “Brockton 6, Taunton 5,” Boston Herald, May 27, 1899: 4.
43 Jacob C. Morse, “New England League Notes,” Boston Herald, June 6, 1899: 4.
44 “Killed in Explosion,” Brattleboro (VT) Reformer, February 25, 1921: 2, and “Taunton, Feb. 25,” Quincy (MA) Patriot Ledger, February 25, 1925. A more detailed account of the incident is provided in an unidentified newspaper account posted on the Find-A-Grave website page for Leon Lincoln.