John Francis Ryan, an outfielder from West Mineral, Kansas, appeared in two games for the Red Sox at Yankee Stadium on June 18 and 19, 1929.
He should not be confused with Jack “Gulfport” Ryan – whose given name was “Jack Ryan” and who had just left the Red Sox employ less than two years earlier; Gulfport Ryan (who had been 3-3 as a pitcher for the 1909 Boston Red Sox) later served as the team’s pitching coach for five years, from 1923 through 1927.
John Francis Ryan was born in West Mineral on May 5, 1905. His father, Francis, was an Irish immigrant who worked as a foreman in a Kansas coal mine. His mother, the former Anna Callewaert, came from Belgium. They had five sons and no daughters. By the 1930 census, the family had moved to Kansas City and Francis was proprietor of an enterprise listed as in the "care and building material" industry.
Jack went to East Mineral Catholic School for his first eight grades, then to Mineral High School and finished at Catholic High School in Kansas City. He enrolled at St. Mary's College in St. Mary's, Kansas, about 75 miles west of Kansas City. The college had a disproportionate number of major leaguers among its alumni: Tom Walsh (1906), Claude Hendrix (1908-1920), Lou McEvoy (1926-1936), Frank Bushey (1927-1931), Lee Riley (1927-1949), Ryan, and Hank Patterson (1932-1933). Bushey, Ryan, and Patterson signed with the Red Sox, whose scout, Steve O’Rourke, was the school’s athletic director. His son Steve Jr. (age 14) was with a junior baseball team in St. Mary's team in 1929 and pitched back-to-back no-hitters. In addition to Ryan, O’Rourke signed another 1929 graduate, pitcher Paul O’Boynick, to a Des Moines contract.1 O’Boynick never made it to the majors.2
Manager Bill Carrigan had led the Red Sox to back-to-back world championships in 1915 and 1916, then retired. He was lured back to Boston fter the team had languished in last place for five years in a row (except for 1924, when they finished next-to-last), but under Carrigan the Sox finished last again in 1927 and 1928. By mid-June 1929, they were already 23 games out of first place.
On May 31, Red Sox president Bob Quinn announced that the team had signed left fielder Jack Ryan of St. Mary's and that, once he was presented his diploma on June 12, he and O'Rourke would both head east and join the Red Sox on the 15th.3 Reportedly, Dick Kinsella of the New York Giants had been after Ryan as well.
The Red Sox were in New York for a doubleheader on June 18. Miller Huggins of the Yankees started Fred Heimach in the first game and George Pipgras in the second. Carrigan countered with Ed Morris and Bill Bayne. In the bottom of the first inning of the first game, Morris walked leadoff batter Earle Combs. With one out, Lou Gehrig hit his 18th home run of the year deep into the right field bleachers and put the Yankees up, 2-0. They scored three more runs in the fifth and another in the sixth. Only one Red Sox batter reached third base – Morris, who tripled in the top of the fifth.
With the Red Sox on the way to a 9-0 loss in the first game, manager Carrigan called on Ryan to replace right-fielder Elliot Bigelow late in the game. Ryan was 0-for-1 in his only at-bat.
The Sox won the second game, 7-4; Bill Barrett took over for starting right-fielder Bigelow.
The next day, with Jack Russell starting for Boston, the Yanks scored eight runs in the third inning and again had a 9-0 lead. Carrigan gave many of his reserves a chance to play, including Ryan, who replaced Russ Scarritt in left field. Only Bill Barrett in right and Jack Rothrock in center were left in place, without substitution.
Ryan had two at-bats but made an out each time. He had one opportunity on defense and caught the ball hit his way for a putout. The Yankees collected 31 total bases on 20 base hits. Gehrig hit another home run, his 19th. The final score was 13-2.
After a win against Washington on June 20, the Red Sox lost eight games in a row and found themselves 30 games out of first place. It got worse; they wound up 48 games out of first. Bill Carrigan decided he'd seen enough and retired back to life in Maine.
Given that the two games at the Stadium were the only two big league games in which Ryan ever played, he ended his career in the majors with a .000 batting average and a 1.000 fielding percentage.
A glance at SABR's Minor Leagues Database offers no indication that Ryan ever played another game at any level of Organized Baseball, neither before nor after his two games for the Red Sox. We don't know for sure when he left the Red Sox, but he did not appear in the exhibition game on July 29, which would have presented another opportunity. Perhaps he simply returned to Kansas.
The 1940 census shows Ryan living in Kansas City with his wife, the former Cecile Mary Regan (they married in June 1935) and two children, Mary Cecile, age 3, and Arthur Joseph, age 1. He was the head of accounting for the city water department, the Board of Public Utilities. He had perhaps later gone into business with his father, or inherited the business. At the time he completed his player questionnaire for the National Baseball Hall of Fame, he listed himself as owner of Ryan Building Materials of Kansas City.
In 1967, suffering from atherosclerosis and for two years with an aneurysm noted as "abdominal, aortic," he made his way to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, where he died of renal failure after just a couple of days in hospital. His occupation at the time of his September 2, 1967, death was listed as "retail business, building materials."
In addition to the sources noted in this biography, the author also accessed Ryan’s player file and player questionnaire from the National Baseball Hall of Fame, the Encyclopedia of Minor League Baseball, Retrosheet.org, Baseball-Reference.com, and the SABR Minor Leagues Database, accessed online at Baseball-Reference.com.
1 Aberdeen Daily News (Aberdeen, South Dakota), June 18, 1929, and The Repository (Canton, Ohio), June 23, 1929.
2 Neither did Steve O'Rourke Jr., who at age 14 was with a junior baseball team in St. Mary's team in 1929 and pitched back-to-back no-hitters.
3 Boston Herald, June 1, 1929.