Courtesy of John Thorn

Mike Moynahan

This article was written by Pamela A. Bakker

Courtesy of John ThornMichael “Mike” Moynahan was a versatile player who played for a number of baseball clubs during his seven-year career. Standing at 5-feet-9 and weighing 165 pounds, the redheaded Moynahan was a jack of all trades, who played shortstop, second and third base, and the outfield. It was as a shortstop that he excelled with his brilliant right-handed throwing and catching, called “pretty stops at short”1 by one newspaper, along with his cooperative work with his team against opponents. In its 1883 season preview, Sporting Life referred to him as “a heavy left-handed batter and clever base runner” who would occupy the shortstop position for the Philadelphia Athletics.2 Moynahan proved to be one of the catalysts of the team as he led the American Association champions in hitting.

Moynahan was born in Chicago in 1856. The young city was growing with a large influx of immigrants from a number of countries. Irish Catholics, many of whom had journeyed to America during or after the 1845-1849 potato famine in Ireland, settled happily in the city, which offered plenty of factories, steel mills, and meat-packing plants, providing ready employment. The English-speaking Irish were willing to work long hours for low pay. The 1860 US census has a Michael Monahan Sr., which may be one of the spellings of Moynahan. Michael, age 49, and his wife, Bridget, 35, were born in Ireland. They had five children. A daughter named Bridget, age 17, was also born in Ireland, and the rest of the children were born in Chicago: Jane, 15; Patrick, 11; Michael, 4; and Thomas, 3. Michael’s age of four on the census would place his birth in 1856 like Michael Moynahan. There are two Michael Moynahans listed in the Chicago marriages and births as married at age 18 in 1874. One married a Hana Callaghan and one married a Margeret Sullivan with a child named Alice, baptized in November, but it is unclear if either of these is the ballplayer. By 1860 Chicago had the fourth-largest Irish population in the United States; the 1871 Great Chicago Fire left much of the city in ashes, including the courthouse with its many family records.

The Davenports were listed in the Chicago Tribune on October 27, 1878, as having played 45 games from May 15 to September 28 with 33 wins and 12 losses. They scored 440 runs to 219 by their opponents. Moynahan played shortstop in 18 of those games; he made 23 putouts, had 70 assists, committed 11 errors, and had a .358 batting average in 87 at-bats. He is reported to have earned third place in the professional batting averages that year.5 In October there was speculation that he might play third base in 1879 for the Milwaukee Club but that did not happen.6

The Northwestern League was formed in 1879 with four clubs: the Davenport Brown Stockings, Dubuque Red Stockings, Omaha Green Stockings, and Rockford White Stockings. The league began with high hopes, adhering to the rules of the National League, using a Spalding baseball, and refusing clubs that were financially irresponsible. The thought process was that because the clubs were reasonably close to one another, their expenses would be lower, and that the natural rivalry between the towns should bring in thousands of spectators, making the league financially viable.7 A number of the players from the Northwestern League went on to play for major-league teams.

The Davenports’ season was to run from May 1 to September 1. The Rock Island Argus declared that the Davenports felt they would “whip the world,”8 but the league began to unravel under the strength of play of the Dubuque team and because of infighting about things like the choice of umpires. By July the league was suffering financial trouble. Three clubs left the circuit, leaving the championship-winning Dubuques alone. The Chicago Tribune reported on the Davenports’ breakup:

“On their way back from Omaha they left [L.H.] Hayes and Bid] McPhee at [Council] Bluffs [Iowa]. Thursday evening Harry] McCaffrey and Moynahan left for Detroit –where they are now playing – and Mason for Philadelphia, his home. The others, Charlie] Bohn, Rudy] Kemmler, and [Samuel] Kelly,9 are still in town. It is said that Bohn and Kemmler, after having a settlement with the Association, will go to Council Bluffs. Thus three of the clubs are disposed of and it is an easy matter to surmise what will become of the remaining one, the Dubuques.”10

The Detroit Free Press, as reported in the Chicago Tribune, went further, stating that the Davenports disbanded after the July game because their treasurer ran off with receipts totally three games, resulting in the players leaving.11

The Davenports (5-15) finished last, disbanded and did not return until 1888, which left Moynahan free to pursue offers from other clubs. There are no classifications for this year but Moynahan’s batting average was listed as .400.12 According to the Tribune, Moynahan finished the season at Detroit, which had been initially declined membership by the league because of financial irresponsibility toward players’ salaries. It had played against clubs in the league, however. As the Northwestern League floundered, the Detroit Club, Hollinger’s Nine, was one of the teams recorded in papers like the Detroit Free Press as filling in engagements with the remaining Dubuques.13 Their home field was at Recreation Park and they were considered the first play-for-pay baseball team in Detroit.14

But Hollinger’s Nine had its problems. Its owner, William Hollinger, was attacked by the Chicago Tribune for “personal speculation” and “arrears to players.” The paper wrote, “Any nine under the management of Hollinger or Jack Chapman [manager] is sure to be a distinguished failure.”15 Hollinger argued that he had promises of working capital, but by June the Cincinnati Daily Star listed the club as “dead-broke,” needing a money order to get home from Iowa.16 Moynahan did not play many games with the team.

During the 1880 season 24-year-old Mike Moynahan moved east for his first big break, covering shortstop for the Buffalo Bisons of the National League. The team had joined the league in 1879 after two years of independent games and would remain in the league until 1885. Manager Sam Crane oversaw the 1880 Bisons, who played at the Riverside Grounds.

In 1880 the reserve clause imposed by the National League held players to very tight contracts which were always in the favor of the club owners. Salaries were kept low and they were not free to sell their talents on the open market.

Daniel Stearns, Hardy Richardson, and Moynahan seemed to work particularly well together in the field and the Bisons were credited with playing “a fine fielding game.”17 Moynahan was also praised for his batting in a September 1 game between Buffalo and Providence in which he was one of those who “carried off honors.”18 Even though the Buffalo team lost 6-3, the report captured some of the excitement of the game:

“In the fourth inning Jack] Rowe led off with a safe hit, Joe] Hornung fouled out, Moynahan got in a safe liner which sent Rowe to second, Dude] Esterbrook went out on a fly to Start, Dan] Stearns sent a hot grounder to Mike] Dorgan, who attempted to throw Moynahan out at third, but threw wild and Moynahan followed Rowe home, while Stearns reached third base. Davy] Force’s baser allowed Stearns to score.”19

In 27 games and 100 at-bats, Moynahan hit a strong .330 with an on-base percentage of .368, a slugging average of .400, 12 runs scored and 14 RBIs. His fielding percentage as a shortstop was .862. The New York Clipper reported that Moynahan had “led his team in batting and ranked fifth in that area in the League averages.”20

The Bisons did not fare well and finished seventh in the eight-team National League with a record of 24-58, with 3 ties. The Bisons were financially strapped at the end of the season and required a pledge from Albert Spalding, secretary of the Chicago White Stockings of the National League, to help it out for the following year.21 Chicago (67-17) led the league. The Batavia (New York) Daily News listed Moynahan among those who were without engagement for the 1882 season and would most likely be shelved.22

Leaving Buffalo, Moynahan moved around between clubs in 1882. He played third base, left field, and outfield most of the season for the National League Cleveland Blues under manager Mike McGeary and John Clapp. Clapp earned the name “Honest John” that year when a man named Woodruff attempted to bribe him into throwing games. Clapp reported him to the police and the man was arrested.23 The club played at Kennard Street Park, also called National League Park.

The Cleveland Blues were part of a new configuration in the league; the Cincinnati Reds had been dropped and the Detroit Wolverines added. The Chicago Tribune at the beginning of the season reported that the Cleveland Blues appeared stronger than the prior season.24

Moynahan’s batting average fell to .230 in 1881, in 34 games with 139 at-bats. He scored 13 runs and had 8 runs batted in. Moynahan played in the outfield in 32 games with an .883 fielding percentage. He played third base in one game for three innings with one chance taken and one error. Moynahan played in one game at third base with the Detroit Wolverines. He went 1-for-4 at the plate in a 12-inning game.

In an August article, a teammate described Moynahan as the one who “told tales.”25 This gives a small insight into his relationship within the clubhouse fraternity. The Blues (36-48-1) finished seventh. Chicago (56-28) earned first place once again.

Now 26 years old in April of 1882, Moynahan traveled back east to play for the Philadelphia Phillies in the two-team League Alliance at Recreation Park at 24th Street and Ridge Avenue. The League Alliance – the other team was the New York Metropolitans – was the National League’s attempt to address the threat of the International Association of Professional Base Ball Players of 1877 with its many independent teams, luring away top players who were seeking better pay and more freedom. Besides Moynahan, the Phillies, managed by Horace Phillips and Billy Barnie, had many future National League players, including Jack Manning, Tim Manning (not related), Bill McClellan, Jack Neagle, Arlie Latham, and Charlie Buffinton.26

On May 8, 1882, in a game against the Metropolitans at the Polo Grounds, Moynahan was noted for doing “fine work at short-field.” He and Pop Corkhill were credited with a double play each and Moynahan was one of two said to have led in batting.27 It was not an easy year for Moynahan; in May he severely injured his hand and was sent to the outfield, “where he astonished everyone by his brilliant catches.”28 According to one historian, Moynahan ignored the pain and “picked up the ball and threw a runner out at third base before leaving the field.”29 The forefinger of his left hand had been so badly broken that it required amputation of the first joint.30

Nursing his injury, Moynahan eventually recovered enough to play shortstop again. In 1883, he moved to another Philadelphia club, the Athletics of the American Association, replacing Lou Say. The team played at the Jefferson Street Grounds. Lon Knight was the field manager and captain. Co-owners were Billy Sharsig, Lew Simmons, and Charlie Mason, with whom Moynahan had played in Detroit.

The victory meant the Athletics had won the pennant by one-game over St. Louis. The Athletics finished the season with 66 wins and 32 losses.

Moynahan played in 95 games in 1883, all at shortstop. In 400 at-bats, he hit a team-leading .310, scored 90 runs and drove in 67 (second only to Jack O’Brien’s 70). In the Association, he ranked second in walks (31), third in on-base percentage (.360), fourth in RBIs, sixth in batting average, sixth in slugging percentage (.413), and seventh in hits (124). His work at bat in particular was remarkable considering the fact that he had undergone the partial amputation of his left forefinger. The stress of that would begin to show in his playing ability on the field. He made 76 errors, for a fielding percentage of .833, as his throwing grew more erratic.

Philadelphians went crazy with enthusiasm after the team’s win. They celebrated, decorated and draped buildings, and illuminated streets. “Broad Street was so choked that the players could scarcely reach their carriages. The club was received by the mayor after the procession to Independence Hall.”33 They were honored in Harrisburg, the state capital.34

The Athletics ownership enjoyed unprecedented attendance during the 1883 season. In 51 home dates, the club drew more than 300,000 fans to Recreation Park.35 The players reportedly earned a yearly salary of $4,000. The club offices, on the second floor of Charles E. Mason’s Cigar Store on 130 North 8th Street in Philadelphia, was filled with photos and trophies.36 It was a year of triumph with players enjoying every minute of their win and national fame.

There is little information on the personal life of Mike Moynahan but there is a report in Sporting Life in January of 1884 of the birth of his son.37 That is one of the rare references to him as a family man. The year would be a year of transition at many levels. He began the season patrolling center field for the champion Athletics. Papers like the New York Clipper felt that the club would be even stronger this season and mentioned improvements to the field and stands with a toilet-room added for ladies. The club was called “temperate and intelligent.”38 However, Moynahan played in only one game with the Athletics He was released on May 17. He returned to the Cleveland Blues of the National League.39 Given the severity of his hand injury in 1882, his vagabond existence in 1884 may have been a sign of how deeply his injury was affecting him.

For Cleveland Moynahan played in only 12 games under manager Charlie Hackett and batted .289. After a game in Buffalo, a local paper credited him with “good work in right field,”40 but later, when playing in Cleveland, criticized him with an “inexcusable pass of Richardson’s grounder.”41

Cleveland (35-77) finished in seventh place. Moynahan played six games at second base, three at shortstop, and three in the outfield, committing 10 errors in 52 chances. He played his final major-league game was June 21. He was released.

Never to cry defeat, Moynahan finished the season playing third base and shortstop for the minor-league Milwaukee Brewers of the Northwest League. The Brewers played at Borchert Field, also called Athletic Field and were managed by Tom Loftus and Charlie Cushman. Sporting Life unkindly described Moynahan as a player the Athletics and Clevelands “did not want.”42 However, in a game against Fort Wayne in July, the local press noted that it had been “well fielded,” and they recorded his appearance at bat as follows:

“So sure were the Milwaukees of victory that the bats were all carried into the club room when the tenth inning began. Moynahan made his appearance with blood in his eye. His throw had lost the game to all intents, and he seemed determined that he would get it back again, and stepping to the plate he landed against the first ball pitched and drove it far out to the left field fence for two bases. Steve] Behel was thrown out from the pitcher to first. Griffin hit to the shortstop, who duplicated Moynahan’s throw, and Mike scored, Griffin reaching third.”43

In 1885 Moynahan moved once again, to finish out his professional career, covering the outfield and shortstop positions for the Utica Pent-Ups. The Pent-Ups were in the New York State League, and had a number of former major-league players on the team.44

In 1886 the Pent-Ups played in the reorganized International League. It picked up clubs from Toronto and Hamilton in Canada. The Pent-Ups offered their players some of the highest wages in baseball, higher than some of the major-league teams offered. Moynahan, now 30 years old, signed with the club in March of 1886. In June he and two others were released.45

There is no record of Moynahan playing baseball anywhere after 1886. He lived in Chicago and quietly worked his last few years as a butcher, a field that would have welcomed a strong man. He was now described as a widower, with no listing of his wife’s name.46

The journeyman shortstop died in Chicago on April 9, 1899. He was 43. His passing was so unnoticed by baseball people that Alfred H. Spink, founder of The Sporting News, thought he was still alive in 1911.47 He had been quietly interred on April 11, 1899, at Mount Olivet Catholic Cemetery on Chicago’s south side.48 An infant, Michael, presumably his son (born in 1887 and died March 1, 1887), was also buried in this plot.

Moynahan’s versatility as both a fielder and batter are reflected in career statistics. In 169 major-league games he batted .294, with a .339 on-base percentage and a .379 slugging percentage. His 202 base hits included 30 doubles, 13 triples, and one home run. He played 125 games at shortstop, 36 in the outfield, 6 at second base, and 2 at third.



In addition to the sources cited in the Notes, the author consulted and



1 The Buffalo Morning Express used this term for Moynahan’s fielding while writing about a game between Buffalo and Cincinnati. “High Kicking,” Buffalo Morning Express, September 11, 1880: 4.

2 “The Home Team: Sketch of the Men who Constitute the Local Teams,” Sporting Life (Philadelphia), April 15, 1883: 2.

3 “Athletics Baseball Club: Mike Moynahan,” New York Clipper, October 13, 1883 cited in Jean-Pierre Caillault, The Complete New York Clipper Baseball Biographies (Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland and Co., Inc., 2009), 27. Sporting Life, April 15, 1883: 2, identifies his first team as the Franklins in 1878 but he may have played for the club in 1877 as per the New York Clipper.

4 Rock Island Argus, May 19, 1877: 4. The Argus also carried game scores for the clubs playing this year on June 20, 1878: 4; June 13, 1877: 4; July 25, 1878: 1.

5 New York Clipper, October 13, 1883.

6 Chicago Tribune, October 13, 1878: 7.

7 Chicago Tribune, February 16, 1879: 10.

8 Rock Island Argus, January 22, 1878: 1.

9 Baseball-Reference spells his last name Kelley.

10 Chicago Tribune, July 16, 1879: 5.

11 The Detroit Free Press is quoted in the Chicago Tribune, July 6, 1879: 7.

12 Statistics in this article were provided by Sports Reference LLC. “Mike Moynahan,” League Statistics and Information,, accessed March 6, 2019; and by Baseball Almanac,, accessed March 6, 2019.

13 Cincinnati Star, June 14, 1879: 2, mentioned Detroit filling engagements in the Northwestern League.

14 This assertion that Hollinger’s Nine were the first play-for-pay baseball club in Detroit is referenced on the “Before They Were Tigers,” article on

15 Chicago Tribune, March 30, 1879: 10; April 5, 1879: 5; and June 22, 1879: 7.

16 Cincinnati Daily Star, June 27, 1879: 1.

17 “The Bashful Blonde Batted Badly – Buffalos 19, Cincinnatis 2,” Buffalo Evening Republic, September 13, 1880: 1, and September 17, 1880: 3.

18 “The Pennant ‘Problem,’” Buffalo Evening Republic, September 2, 1880: 3.

19 “The Pennant Problem.”

20 New York Clipper, October 13, 1883.

21 National Republican (Washington), June 10, 1881: 1.

22 Batavia (New York) Daily News, January 26, 1881: 1.

23 True Northerner (Paw Paw, Michigan), June 3, 1881: 2.

24 Chicago Tribune, April 29, 1881: 6.

25Cleveland Leader, August 30, 1881: 2.

26 John Shiffert, Base Ball in Philadelphia: A History of the Early Game, 1831-1900 (Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland and Company, Inc., 2006), 146.

27 New York Clipper, May 13, 1882.

28 New York Clipper in David Nemec, The Beer and Whiskey League (Guilford, Connecticut: Lyons Press, 2004), 45.

29 Edward Achorn, The Summer of Beer and Whiskey (New York: Public Affairs, 2006), 77.

30 Shiffert, 110.

31 New York Clipper. October 13, 1883.

33 The press release was wired to a number of papers; this one appeared in the Mineral Point (Wisconsin) Tribune, October 25, 1883: 2.

34 Wheeling (West Virginia) Daily Intelligencer, October 4, 1883: 1.

35 Achorn, 243.

36 Wilmington (Delaware) Daily Gazette, October 18, 1883: 1.

37 Sporting Life, January 23, 1884: 4.

38 New York Clipper, March 15, 1884.

39 Buffalo Evening Republic, May 29, 1884: 4.

40 Buffalo Evening Republic, June 13, 1884: 4.

41 Buffalo Evening Republic, May 31, 1884: 4.

42 Sporting Life, July 23, 1884: 7.

43 St. Paul Daily Globe, July 16, 1884.

44 Richard Worth, Baseball Team Names: Worldwide Dictionary, 1869-2011 (Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland and Company, Inc. Publishers, 2013), 311.

45 Oswego (New York) Daily Palladium, June 15, 1886: 4.

46 George Berz on lists Moynahan as a widower and butcher at the time of his death and the address shown for him matches the address given the author by the cemetery.

47 Alfred H. Spink, The National Game (Carbondale, Illinois: Southern Illinois University Press, 2000 edition of the 1910 original), 72.

48 Burial information was provided to the author by Thaddeus M. Dronski, manager of St. Casimir Cemetery of the Archdiocese of Chicago on March 12, 2019.

Full Name

Michael Moynahan


, 1856 at Chicago, IL (USA)


April 9, 1899 at Chicago, IL (USA)

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