Baseball in the 1880s was at times chaotic, with teams and leagues forming and folding, and clubs moving from league to league, often in the same season. One club from St. Paul even spent just a few weeks as a “major league team” – without ever playing a home game.1 The career of Jack Gorman reflected the chaos of this period. He made his professional debut in 1883 with the St. Louis Browns and in 1884 played for four different clubs. From then until his untimely death in 1889, Gorman bounced through a baseball career almost at the whims of the sport, as clubs and leagues folded on him, leaving him looking for the next opportunity. Such was the life of a lesser player in that era.
Little is known is known about the early life of John (Jack) Gorman. He was born in St. Louis, Missouri, in 1859. His sister Mary (also known as Mollie) had been born there two years earlier. His mother, Catherine Farley, was a native of Missouri, the daughter of Irish immigrants.2 There is no mention of his father in any records, despite Catherine being identified as married. (There is a possible hint as to Jack’s father in the 1868 St. Louis street guide: an entry for Catherine Gorman, widow of Thomas.)
In 1874 John F. Gorman is listed as a student at St. Louis University, with a course of study as Rudiments. He would have been 15 at the time, about the right age for students starting at that school.3 In the late 1870s and early 1880s, there were two Gormans playing baseball in St. Louis who made the majors – Jack Gorman, and Thomas Gorman, who played briefly with the Kansas City Blues in the Union Association in 1884. Box scores from the period usually identify the player only as “Gorman,” so distinguishing one from the other is almost impossible. David Nemec reports that John Gorman played for a youth club called “Little Potatoes and Hard to Peel.”4
The Standards were one of the top amateur clubs in the city in the summer of 1882, when Jack Gorman joined them for a trip to Omaha, Nebraska, in August, as a pitcher. He was pounded by the Union Pacific club to the tune of an 18-4 loss, allowing 12 hits, while the Standards made 17 errors. He did strike out seven batters, and although “the wild pitching of Gorman made it exceedingly difficult and sometimes impossible to stop the ball,” he only walked two and threw two wild pitches, while his catcher had 10 passed balls.5
At age 24, Gorman, identified as a tinsmith living with his mother and sister in various St. Louis city guides, joined the amateur Grand Avenue Club of St. Louis in 1883. On July 1, when new Browns player Tom Mansell was unable to get into town in time for their American Association game, Gorman was called upon to play left field for the Browns against the Philadelphia Athletics.6 In his major league debut, he reached base twice, once on an error and once on a fielder’s choice, and had one putout, an assist and an error. A week or so later he signed with the Quincy (Illinois) Quincys in the Northwestern League, where he split time between pitching and the outfield. In 43 games, he hit .315, good for eighth in the league. In 29 games in the outfield, his .724 fielding percentage (14 errors in 50 chances) was almost the worst in the league. He had good company on the team, as Quincy finished dead last in the league in fielding as a club.7
Gorman returned to Quincy in 1884. In early August, the league started foundering as clubs began dropping out. Quincy resigned from the league on August 11 and applied to join the major league Union Association.8 On August 14, Quincy played a game against the St. Louis Maroons in an audition to get into the Union Association. Gorman was 0-for-4, and Quincy lost, 5-1.9 They were not admitted to the Union Association and folded a few days later. Gorman pitched in 24 games for Quincy, starting and finishing 23 of them, winning 16 while losing only 4 with a 1.84 ERA. He also played in 28 games in the outfield and appeared at first base and third base. According to the Quincy club secretary, Gorman played in 60 games, scored 61 runs, had 80 hits and a .309 BA, and had a .936 fielding average (122 put outs, 168 assists and 20 errors).10
Gorman then signed with Ted Sullivan and the Kansas City Unions along with Quincy teammates Pat Sullivan and Bob Black. He played his first game with the Unions against the St. Louis Maroons on August 22, and his last against Cincinnati on August 30. On September 4, he made his debut with St. Paul in the revamped Northwestern League. Three games and three days later, the league folded (for the second time that season), and Gorman was cut loose again. He then joined the Pittsburgh Alleghenys in the American Association, playing eight games with them (pitching in three of them) as the season wound down. It was while pitching with Pittsburgh that the nickname “Stooping Jack” came to be. “Last season the Athletics had ‘Jumpin Jack’ Jones, and now the Alleghenies have ‘Stooping Jack’ Gorman. When about to deliver the ball he gets down almost on his knees, then suddenly rises and sends the ball in with terrific force.”11
The 1884 season marked the last appearance for Jack Gorman in the majors. In two seasons across two leagues and seventeen games, he had just six hits in 62 at bats for a .129 batting average. His pitching wasn’t much better, as he finished with a 1-2 record and a 4.68 ERA. His one win was on September 22, playing for Pittsburgh against Indianapolis. He allowed only two hits and no earned runs, struck out five, walked one, hit one, and threw a wild pitch in the 4-2 win.12
In January 1885, Gorman signed with the Milwaukee Grays while the club was still a member of the Union Association. His salary was reported to be $1,200.13 Just weeks after he signed, the Union Association formally dissolved. Its last two clubs, Kansas City and Milwaukee, helped form a new Western League, which didn’t last as long as the Northwestern League had the previous season. Milwaukee folded on June 22 with a 22-13 record. Their final game was that day, an exhibition against Cap Anson and the powerful Chicago White Stockings, who would win 87 games and the National League Championship that season.14 Gorman allowed only five hits and struck out 12, but Milwaukee lost, 2-1, as the Grays had only one hit and made seven errors.
His next stop was New Britain, Connecticut, in the Southern New England League, where he pitched the first six innings of a no-hitter against New Haven, which was playing its first game in the league. Gorman walked three and struck out seven as New Britain won, 21-0.15 New Haven then dropped from the league almost immediately, several other clubs folded over the next few weeks, and by early September New Britain and the Southern New England League were no more. Gorman finished the season with Utica, New York, in the New York State League.
In 1886, Gorman returned to the east coast to play with Lawrence, Massachusetts, in the New England League. While he stayed with Lawrence the entire season, he only played in 60 games, as he was blacklisted in July for refusing to play in a scheduled game.16 The case revolved around fines imposed on several members of the club (including Gorman, who was fined $75) for “indifferent” play. The players signed a letter stating their intention not to play until the fines were revoked. At a meeting of representatives of the clubs in the league, Gorman “attempted a successful explanation of the alleged misdemeanors. His excuses were not accepted, and … [he] was placed upon the blacklist.” The other players involved paid their fines and were not blacklisted. Gorman was ultimately reinstated after a meeting in August at which he apologized and agreed to a fine of $300.17 When he left Lawrence, he was given a purse of $100 from his friends.18
When Gorman signed with Memphis for the 1887 season, the Nashville Tennessean reported:
“[John] Sneed says he has one of the greatest pitchers in the country in Jack Gorman, who won last season the championship of the Western League for the Denver club.19 He is not only a great pitcher, but one of the heaviest batters in the West. He had a strike-out record last season of thirteen men to each game. In several games he struck out as many as twenty of his opponents. It cost big money to get him, but Sneed said he had to come.”20
But with a 2-2 record in late May, he asked for his release and signed with Denver in the Western League, where he hit .373 as an outfielder.
The Western League folded after the 1887 season, and Gorman signed with Troy, New York, in the International League. He was cut from that club at the end of April and quickly signed with Denver again in a new Western League. When the reorganized league folded in June 1888, Gorman landed with Omaha in the Western Association, where he lasted two weeks. On July 7 the Omaha Bee wrote, “A wooden Indian set up in left field would have answered every purpose that Gorman did. He couldn’t stop a ball after it had lighted and was rolling along the ground, let alone catch one in the air. As a fielder Mr. Gorman is a towering failure, and as much might be said of his first base play.”21 Gorman played just one more game before being cut. Omaha was his last stop in professional baseball.
In his brief career, Jack Gorman bounced around like a pinball hitting bumpers as clubs repeatedly folded on him. He had only a single season where he stayed with the same club. Still, for six seasons he plied his trade as a respected baseball player. He had a couple of great seasons hitting, but his record suggests he was a better pitcher than hitter. His lifetime record across all levels was 34-20, with an ERA of 2.12.22
Gorman died at the age of 30 on September 9, 1889, in St. Louis, the cause of death listed as pulmonary infiltration, or “quick consumption.” “Poor Jack has not been himself for a long while and during the last year he has often told his intimate friends that he was dying. In his prime he was a player of the first quality and wherever he played he won the respect and good will of his players.”23 A month after he died, a benefit was held for his mother. “So do not fail to be there boys. Jack was one of the big-hearted lads himself. He was always ready to do a friend a good turn and those who knew him well should be there to-night to do honor to his widowed mother.”24 Gorman is buried in Calvary Cemetery in St. Louis. His mother is buried next to him, and his sister nearby.
This story was reviewed by Bill Lamb and Norman Macht and checked for accuracy by SABR’s fact-checking team.
US Census data was accessed through GenealogyBank.com and Ancestry.com, and other family information was found at Ancestry.com and FindAGrave.com. Stats and records were collected from Baseball-Reference unless otherwise noted. Stats and records from some seasons were found in the annual Spalding’s Base Ball Guides. Articles cited in the Notes were typically accessed through Newspapers.com and/or GenealogyBank.com. Street guides were accessed through Ancestry.com.
1 St. Paul and Milwaukee joined the Union Association in September 1884 after their league, the Northwestern League, collapsed. St. Paul played nine games in the Union Association, all on the road (in Kansas City, St. Louis and Cincinnati), finishing with a 6-2-1 record.
2 “Deaths,” St. Louis Republic, May 14, 1901: 9.
3 The St. Louis University Course Catalogs are available online through their archives. However, assistance was also obtained through correspondence with a member of their library staff.
4 Nemec, David, The Rank and File of 19th Century Major League Baseball (Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company Inc., 2012), 180.
5 “The Jumbos Floored,” Omaha Bee, August 28, 1882: 10.
6 “Sporting News,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, July 2, 1883: 8. Game details are from the St. Louis Globe-Democrat (“Nine to Eight,” July 2, 1883: 3).
7 “Northwestern League. Official Averages for the Season of 1883,” Sporting Life, November 14, 1883: 2. Quincy also finished last in hitting as a club and last in the league with a 23-61 record.
8 “The Northwestern League Falling to Pieces,” Minneapolis Star Tribune, August 12, 1884: 8. In late August, the league completely rebooted with four clubs in Minneapolis, St. Paul, Milwaukee and Winona, Minnesota.
9 “A Novel Game,” Sporting Life, August 20, 1884: 5. The article in the Sporting Life stated “The visitors [Quincy] played a magnificent game in the field, but were very weak at the bat. This is the first game of the kind on record.”
10 “Local Sporting Gossip,” Milwaukee Sentinel, December 30, 1884: 3.
11 “Gossipy Gleanings,” Boston Globe, September 30, 1884: 2.
12 “Lost in the First Inning,” Cincinnati Enquirer, September 22, 1884: 2.
13 Pajot, Dennis, The Rise of Milwaukee Baseball: The Cream City from Midwestern Outpost to the Major Leagues, 1859-1901 (Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company Inc., 2009), 114-118. This section discusses the 1885 Milwaukee season. The text refers to the club as the Grays, while Baseball-Reference calls them the Brewers.
14 “Sporting Matters,” Milwaukee Sentinel, June 23, 1885: .
15 “New Britains 21, New Haven 0,” Springfield Republican, August 16, 1885: 1. The Hartford Courant reported on August 18 that “The New Haven club was short-lived and disbanded after the New Britain game of Saturday.” “Base Ball,” August 18, 1885: 2. If that is correct, the no-hitter was the only official game they played.
16 “Put Upon the Black List,” Boston Globe, July 18, 1886: 2.
17 “New England League Meeting,” Sporting Life, September 1, 1886: 4.
18 “Player Gorman Gets $100,” Boston Globe, October 6, 1886: 8.
19 This is probably referring to his time with Milwaukee two seasons prior. Milwaukee was leading the league when it disbanded.
20 “Base Ball. Roster of the Nashville Team as Far as Signed,” The Tennessean (Nashville, Tennessee), February 13, 1887: 7.
21 “Same Old Story Repeated,” Omaha Bee, July 7, 1888: 2.
22 This does not include his record with Lawrence in 1886.
23 “Jack Gorman Dead,” The Sporting News, September 14, 1889: 4.
24 “The St. Louis Lads,” The Sporting News, October 26, 1889: 2.
John F. Gorman
, 1859 at St. Louis, MO (USA)
September 9, 1889 at St. Louis, MO (USA)
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