Cotton Minahan

This article was written by Chris Rainey

In 1912 Jim Thorpe set the sports world atwitter with his performance at the Olympics. The next year he started his major-league baseball career. A decade before Thorpe, sprinter Edmund Minahan competed in the 1900 Olympics. Minahan left track and field in 1903 for the baseball diamond. There he showed enough promise to be invited to spring training with the New York Giants in 1904. Three years later he had a brief stay in the majors with Cincinnati.

Dubbed “Cotton” because of his curly blond hair, Minahan proved to be enigmatic. A fine athlete, he was also an excessive smoker. One writer complained that it was “pretty hard to hold the championship of the cigarette destroyers union and pitch good ball too.”1 From a well-to-do family that was in a business where a meeting a contract was paramount, Minahan bolted Birmingham for an outlaw league in 1904 and then turned the same trick on Toledo in 1905. Faced with the prospects of a million-dollar inheritance, he still held out in 1908 over a “matter of money.”2

Edmund Joseph Minahan was born on December 10, 1882, in Springfield, Ohio. He was the fifth of 10 children (five boys and five girls) born to Daniel F. and Mary Minahan. Daniel Minahan was an engineer/builder/contractor born in Limerick, Ireland, in 1847. After service as a drummer boy in the Union Army during the Civil War, he attended college in New York. During his career he worked on numerous public projects, many in Ohio. They included the sewer system in Alliance and construction of the city hall and courthouse in Springfield. Other projects took him to the cities of Hamilton, Dayton, and Lima.3 Around 1890 the family moved to Orange, New Jersey. The Minahans were a prominent family in Orange, even after Daniel’s death in 1904. Edmund’s older brother Daniel was the mayor of Orange from 1914 to 1919 and then served in the US House of Representatives for two terms. The majority of the children stayed in the area and became involved in community affairs. Minahan’s mother was involved with many church charitable groups. His sister Katherine became a patron of the arts and founder of a bird-sanctuary group. After his sports career ended, Edmund took up residence in Orange, and later East Orange, and worked with the family contracting/land-development business.

In 1897 Minahan went to Georgetown University Preparatory School as a 14-year-old freshman. He participated in the Freshman/Sophomore football game as a halfback. He also ran track. By 1900 he was a top-notch sprinter, specializing in the 60-meter and 100-meter. On June 4, 1900, he and fellow Hoya sprinters Arthur F. Duffey (the reigning world sprint champion) and William J. Holland sailed to England,4 where they participated in the Amateur Athletic Association Games at Stamford Bridge. From there they traveled to Paris and joined the American contingent at the 1900 Paris Olympics. About 30 countries took part in the Games, only the second staging of the Olympics in modern times. Minahan was eliminated in the semifinal heat of the 100-meter dash and finished in the back of the field in the 60-meter finals. He did post a victory in the 100-meter handicap, in which runners were staggered from the start line. Minahan, for instance, had a 6-meter lead on the regular start position. His winning time was 10.8 seconds.5 Years later his Associated Press obituary said that he won two medals at the Olympics,6 but the website Sports-Reference.com does not credit him with any medals.

Minahan returned to collegiate studies at Georgetown. As he grew stronger he changed his sprint specialty to the 220-yard race. Baseball-Reference.com lists him as 6 feet and 190 pounds. This might have been his size with the Reds in 1907, but while he was a sprinter it is more likely he was 165 or 170. In 1905 he was listed as weighing 175 pounds. He left Georgetown and enrolled at Manhattan College. Forsaking track, Minahan joined the baseball team in 1903 and excelled as a pitcher. He had an excellent breaking pitch and enough speed on his fastball to retire the hitters, but he would struggle his entire career with control. In 1904 Minahan accepted John McGraw’s invitation to spring training in Savannah, Georgia. His first game action with the Giants came on March 12 when he was one of three Giants pitchers who threw for the local YMCA squad against the Giants. McGraw determined that Minahan needed more seasoning and arranged for him to play for the Birmingham Coal Barons in the Class A Southern Association. In his first appearance, on April 21, he held Nashville scoreless. He followed that up with 10 strong innings against Atlanta. In the 10th he walked, stole second, advanced on the second baseman’s error handling the throw, and eventually scored on a wild pitch to ice the victory.

Minahan’s season in Birmingham ended in late June. He had a 13-10 mark on the hill in 27 games and also saw time in the outfield and as a pinch-hitter, batting .265. An outlaw league formed in Vermont and upstate New York called the Northern League. Minahan left the South for Rutland. Owners in Montpelier, Rutland, and the rest of the league overspent in their efforts to lure ballplayers; “Vermont paid too high for baseball players … much higher than leagues” in larger cities, a newspaper said.7 Because he had skipped to an outlaw league, Birmingham claimed his rights and arranged to sell Minahan to the Cincinnati Reds. After some wrangling with a claim by the Giants, the sale was approved.

Minahan turned some heads in his spring-training appearances with the Reds in 1905. In his only complete game, he beat Memphis on a three-hitter. His other performances were either in the outfield or as a combination pitcher-outfielder, splitting time with other hurlers. He was praised for his ability to bear down in tight spots. He also “impressed one as a fielder who knows how to move around.”8 Minahan added to this reputation on April 4 against Evansville when he fielded a drag bunt and outraced the hitter to the bag. The Reds took 11 pitchers to camp and Minahan became a victim of his inexperience and the numbers game. On April 13 he was optioned to Toledo in Class A American Association.

With the Mud Hens, Minahan joined Howie Camnitz on the pitching staff. In late June Minahan was again contacted by Rutland and he and Camnitz bolted the team for the wilds of Vermont. President Ed Grillo of Toledo immediately asked the National Association to blacklist the pair. The pitchers soon found that the pay was not as lucrative in Rutland as in 1904. Camnitz left the league in a dispute after less than a month. Minahan stayed a little longer until he was fined $40 for insubordination.9 Toledo welcomed Camnitz back in late July, and Minahan returned to action on August 10. Grillo hosted a barbecue dinner to welcome the pair back. Minahan ended the season at 11-13 with a .248 batting average. His downfall on the mound was control; he issued 5.5 walks per 9 innings.

Minahan returned to Toledo for the 1906 season and posted a 15-12 record in 261 innings. He carved a walk per game off his stats and finished the season with a nifty 5-0 victory over Louisville. The Reds purchased his contract and had him join the team for the latter part of the season. He saw no action, but was invited to 1907 spring training in Marlin Springs, Texas. Minahan had some arm problems early in 1906 and continued to experience difficulty warming up in cold weather. He also had the notion that a pitcher should save his arm for the games; consequently, he did not throw or work out over the winter. He arrived in spring training about 10 pounds overweight and it took a while to trim him down. He worked with trainer Chris Clune to get himself into shape.10 Minahan showed enough promise to go north with the club. On April 21 Bob Ewing had to skip his normal start because of a finger injury. Minahan was pressed into last-minute duty starting against the National League champion Chicago Cubs. He walked six and gave up four runs in five innings of work. A crowd of 18,000 was on hand at the Palace of the Fans in Cincinnati for the game, an attendance record for the city up to that time. After the game Minahan said, “I did my best, but found it impossible to get a curve of more than three inches. … My arm was stiff and the weather was a bit too cold.”11 In the following week he sank into manager Ned Hanlon’s doghouse for missing practices.

Minahan redeemed himself somewhat on an Eastern trip. The Reds were slated to play an exhibition game in New Bedford, Massachusetts. Minahan and Andy Coakley were the scheduled Reds pitchers, but Coakley missed the train. Forced to go the distance, Minahan held on for a 9-7 win. He even broke open the game with a double. Most impressive, though, was that he issued no walks. This performance earned Minahan the starting nod against the Giants in New York on May 15. He held the Giants scoreless until he made an error in the seventh to allow two runs. In the ninth he filled the bases on walks and then watched as an error by shortstop Hans Lobert cemented the 4-3 loss. Minahan surrendered only six hits, but issued seven walks and hit a batter. He made no other regular-season appearances and closed out his major-league career 0-2 with a 1.29 ERA and 1.786 WHIP (walks and hits per inning pitched). Minahan’s final appearance for the Reds was an exhibition against Elizabethtown, New Jersey. After two innings he left with damage to a ligament in his arm. Chris Clune, the trainer, worked with him, but in the end the Reds sold Minahan and Bill Essick on June 11 to St. Paul of the American Association. Working through issues with his arm, he posted a 5-9 record, according to the Reach Guide.

Rumors and newspaper articles concerning a massive inheritance for the Minahan children first appeared in early 1907. An uncle, a brewer in Dublin, Ireland, died leaving a $21 million estate. A newspaper article noted that he was “a level-headed, unassuming young man, and it is not thought he can be ruined by sudden riches.”12 (What share, if any, of the estate Minahan received is uncertain.) Meanwhile, Minahan held out for more cash from St. Paul before finally reporting in mid-April. His first start may have been the finest performance of his career. He battled 14 innings against Columbus. In the top of the 15th, he singled to send the Saints up, 2-1. In the bottom of the frame he allowed four consecutive hits and lost, 3-2. Piecing together his record from box scores indicates he was 1-4 in seven appearances for the Saints. He was then released to Rochester, bottom dwellers in the Class A Eastern League. He posted a 0-6 record with Rochester before retiring from the game. Minahan retired from business in 1933 (at age 50) and eventually moved to East Orange, New Jersey. Unlike some of the other family members, he kept a low profile; his obituary mentioned no spouse or children, and no philanthropic causes.13 He is buried in St. John Cemetery in East Orange.

 

Sources

Ancestry.com

Atlanta Constitution

Daily Illinois State Journal (Springfield, Illinois)

Evening Times (Grand Forks, North Dakota)

Harrisburg Telegraph

The Inter Ocean (Chicago)

Indianapolis Sun

Seattle Daily Times

The Sporting News

Washington Post

Washington Times

 

Notes

1 Cincinnati Post, June 1, 1905, 6.

2 New Orleans Item, April 7, 1908, 14.

3 New York Times, September 28, 1904, 9.

4 Brooklyn Daily Eagle, June 4, 1900, 4.

5 Brooklyn Daily Eagle, July 19, 1900, 2.

6 New York Times, May 22, 1958, 29.

7 St. Albans (Vermont) Daily Messenger, September 15, 1904, 5. Baseball-Reference calls the league the Northern New York League to avoid confusion with the league in Minnesota and the Dakotas.

8 Cincinnati Post, March 24, 1905, 6.

9 Sporting Life, July 22, 1905, 13.

10 Cincinnati Enquirer, March 1, 1907, 4.

11 Cincinnati Post, April 22, 1907, 7.

12 San Antonio Gazette, July 6, 1907, 16.

13 New York Times, May 22, 1958, 29.