Barney Joy

This article was written by Peter Morris

Although long forgotten, Barney Joy was briefly the talk of baseball when his 1907 signing by a National League club created a furor.

Born January 27, 1882, Frank Barney Joy grew up in Honolulu and was known by his middle name. By the turn of the century, his play for the Honolulu Athletic Club had begun to earn a reputation as one of the best baseball players in Hawaii. An enormous man by the standards of the era — standing nearly six feet tall and usually weighing well over 200 pounds — he naturally became known for his powerful hitting. But he also showed surprising agility for a man his size, and his fielding also earned him plaudits.

He was even more of a standout as a pitcher. A southpaw, he featured a variety of curves and a tantalizing slow ball that he called the “Kanaka Korker.” Barney Joy’s unusual assortment of skills would no doubt have caused him to be known as the “Babe Ruth of Hawaii” except for the fact that he preceded Ruth. (Fort Wayne News, March 29, 1907; Washington Post, March 24, 1907)

After several years of dominating Hawaii’s baseball scene, Joy was noticed by a traveling theatrical man who was acquainted with San Francisco Seals manager Danny Long. On the strength of the theatrical man’s recommendation, Long offered the big left-hander a contract to play in the Pacific Coast League in 1907.

Initial reports had suggested that Joy would be accompanied by another Honolulu Athletic Club player by the name of En Sue. Instead Joy arrived alone, but he still attracted considerable attention, being hailed as the first baseball player ever imported to the United States. The hype only grew when Joy took the mound for his first intrasquad game and struck out the first five batters. (Washington Post, November 13 and December 27, 1906, and March 24, 1907; Fort Wayne News, March 29, 1907; Los Angles Times, March 17, 1907)

Once the season started, reviews were more mixed. His drop ball was reported to be the sharpest in the league, with its tantalizingly slow pace leaving “players breaking their backs to get at it.” (Los Angeles Times, June 26, 1907) But others expressed skepticism about his conditioning. After an early-season game in which he tossed four no-hit innings but then suddenly weakened, the Los Angeles Times noted that it was characteristic of his work. (Los Angeles Times, June 19, 1907) His tendency to run out of gas got worse as the season went on, and by the fall the Times bluntly dubbed him the “fat wonder.” (Boston Globe, February 13, 1908; Los Angeles Times, October 3, 1907) Befitting the mixed reviews, he ended the year with a 17-21 record while his estimated earned run average was a good but not spectacular 2.45.

Yet there were plenty of major league clubs that saw potential for big league stardom. Washington’s Joe Cantillon reportedly offered $5,000 for Joy, and Pittsburgh was also an avid suitor. Boston National League owner George Dovey ultimately made the successful bid for the Hawaiian’s services, and he later claimed that he had beaten out seven other major league clubs in the process. (St. Louis Times, reprinted in Washington Post, August 30, 1907; Washington Post, September 4 and November 16, 1907)

The press quickly turned Joy’s signing into a controversy that centered around massive confusion about Joy’s race. A bizarre article in the Washington Post explained that was Joy was “a native-born Hawaiian” and “a Malay and not a negro [sic],” but also stated that, “the employment of this negro [sic] from Honolulu is like a match in a powder magazine.”

Not content with having irresponsibly fanned the flames of racism, the piece tried to pass the blame, claiming, “The players will take a man of foreign parentage into the fold with all the welcome that the game offers, but as a rule they make it so bumpy for a foreign-born player that he usually backs out with good grace after the first whirl around the circuit … Throughout the circuit of the two leagues the ball clubs stop at hotels which have long since drawn the color line, and therein Manager [Fred] Tenney is going to have his first trouble. Players always go in pairs, and are so allotted to their rooms, and therein comes another bump. Barney Joy … will have a hard road to travel when it comes to finding a roommate.” (Washington Post, September 8, 1907)

Sadly, this coverage struck a chord and was echoed in other accounts. The Fort Wayne Sentinel solemnly informed its readers that “Barney Joy … is as dark as an Ethiopian. In case the Boston players ostracise [sic] the dusky Malay the native born Hawaiian will have a hard row to hoe. Without the good will and esteem of his teammates even a cracking good pitcher like Joy can do nothing. In signing Barney many serious problems face Tenney. Many hotels and dining rooms bar duskies. Players refuse to double up with them in sleeping car berths. Players go in pairs. Trouble will break out on the Boston team when Tenney assigns the Hawaiian a roommate.” (Fort Wayne Sentinel, September 11, 1907)

As reports of the controversy spread, it was accompanied by even more convoluted descriptions of Barney Joy’s racial heritage. One newspaper quoted Boston owner George Dovey as maintaining that if “negro” [sic] pitcher Joy made good, he would receive a spot on the team regardless of any protests. (Connellsville Daily Courier, October 20, 1907) But the Washington Post, which had once described Joy as Chinese, and then published the inflammatory article that described him as both “a negro” [sic] and “not a negro [sic],” now had a new take on the matter. (Washington Post, December 27, 1906 and September 8, 1907)

The Post now quoted Dovey as saying, “There is absolutely nothing to the claim that he is colored. He was born in Canada, and went to the Sandwich Islands with his parents.” (Washington Post, November 17, 1907) This new angle was soon picked up by the Canadian press, with a Manitoba newspaper reporting, “Barney Joy, the much-talked-of Hawaiian, is not a Hawaiian at all, but a native of a tiny hamlet in the province of Quebec, near Montreal. Joy’s parents removed to California, when he was yet an infant, and later crossed to the Sandwich Islands.” (Manitoba Morning Free Press, July 2, 1908) (In point of fact, according to the 1930 census, Joy’s father was born in Nova Scotia, but Joy and his mother had both been born in Hawaii.)

We don’t know what Barney Joy’s reaction was to all this hullabaloo, but it seems a safe assumption that he was not pleased by press coverage that seemed intent on making him into a pioneer for his race (or for whatever race the latest theory had him belonging to). More pragmatically, the firestorm could be expected to lead to at least some discrimination on road trips, abuse from spectators and perhaps some trouble with his new teammates.

He had every reason to be just as concerned about the hype that now surrounded a player who had never played a major league game. Rather than pointing out his fairly mediocre record for San Francisco, descriptions of his abilities were similarly polarized: detractors said he was not good enough for the Coast League while others hailed him as “one of the coming pitchers of the country.” (Boston Globe, October 29, 1907; Manitoba Morning Free Press, July 2, 1908) The result was that, instead of entering the league with modest expectations and a chance to prove himself, Joy’s every move would be scrutinized intensely and he would be regarded as a bust if he was anything less than sensational.

In December, Joy returned to Hawaii to spend the winter with his wife Rillie and three young children — including a son and namesake born in April whom Barney would be seeing for the first time. (Daily Kennebec Journal, December 9, 1907) He also spent the winter contemplating his future and by February, he appears to have reached a decision. He informed Dovey that he expected a $4,000 salary for the 1908 season, along with a $400 advance and a round trip fare from Honolulu to Boston. The demand was viewed as greatly excessive and effectively ended any chance that Barney Joy would play in the major leagues.

So far, no specific documentation has been found explaining why Joy requested such a high salary, but some inferences may be made. It is possible that all the hoopla surrounding Joy gave the southpaw an inflated opinion of his own worth, as Boston Globe sportswriter Tim Murnane appears to have believed. (T. H. Murnane, Boston Globe, February 13, 1908) This, however, seems an unlikely explanation.

It seems much more likely that when Joy weighed his options, remaining in Hawaii with his family seemed infinitely preferable to traveling to a faraway and potentially hostile environment. Thus, Joy made his exorbitant demand knowing full well that it wouldn’t be met, leaving him at liberty to remain in Honolulu.

So he remained in Hawaii, working for the Honolulu police department and as a machinist and raising an ever-growing brood of children. He was not forgotten about in Boston, as the club placed him on the National League’s suspended list and reserved him year after year. (Washington Post, September 25, 1908; Indianapolis Star, March 16, 1911; Chicago Tribune, September 25, 1911)

After the 1911 season, word came that Joy’s contract had been sold to Spokane and that the pitcher had been reinstated by the National Commission and planned to report to his new club. (Williamsport Gazette and and Bulletin, October 13, 1911) But in March, he wired the team’s manager that he had missed the boat and would be late, and by June the club had given up on his arrival. (Oakland Tribune, March 24, 1912; Gettysburg Times, June 14, 1912)

Once again, there was probably a good reason for his apparent change of heart about reporting to Spokane. According to a fan who had seen him in his prime, the never svelte Joy had put on another forty pounds and was in no condition for the grind of a long season. (Los Angeles Times, July 5, 1912) He continued to pitch in Honolulu, but rumors about a return to organized baseball gradually diminished. (Washington Post, March 16, 1913)

Word of his doings did occasionally trickle back to the contiguous United States, however. In 1922, he was hired to scout Honolulu players for the Los Angeles entry in the Pacific Coast League. (Nevada State Journal, February 27, 1922) By 1930 he had a new young wife and a brood of somewhere around a dozen children — children and grandchildren are indistinguishable in the census listing. At least one of them, the namesake who had been born while Barney was pitching for San Francisco, made a name for himself as a baseball, football and basketball star. (Syracuse Herald, June 10, 1928)

When last heard from in 1932, Barney Joy was employed at the local naval base. (Los Angeles Times, May 11, 1932) According to an on-line genealogy, he died in Honolulu on May 25, 1938. But, assuming this to be correct, his passing was never mentioned in the newspapers that had had so much to say about him three decades earlier.


Contemporary newspapers; censuses; Carlos Bauer’s Coast League Cyclopedia for his PCL statistics.

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