Bill Hawes was a professional baseball player over a 20-year period in the latter part of the nineteenth century, including two seasons at the major league level in 1879 and 1884.
William Hildreth Hawes was born on November 17, 1853 in Nashua, New Hampshire, the younger of two sons of Ira and Martha Hawes. His father was a native of New Hampshire and his mother was born in Vermont. His older brother was named Ira. At the time of the 1860 census, the Hawes family lived in Syracuse, New York, where the father worked as a tailor. William’s father apparently died sometime before the 1870 census, since Martha Hawes and her two sons by then were living in Lowell, Massachusetts. William and his brother supported the family as laborers.
In 1874 and 1875, Hawes played baseball with the Bartlett club in Lowell, a local amateur team that played other clubs in the Massachusetts Junior Association. In 1876, his achievements with the Bartlett club seemingly earned him the spot as the second baseman on the picked nine that played the Boston team of the newly formed National League in the first exhibition game played by the National League club. That game on April 14, 1876, was so memorable to Hawes that his participation in it was prominently noted in his obituary six decades later. However, it is inconclusive whether Hawes actually was the second baseman in that game. The box score printed in the Boston Herald indicates that “Hodges” played second base for the picked nine, not “Hawes,” although it is easy to imagine that scrawled handwriting in the scorebook could have been mistakenly read as “Hodges” rather than “Hawes” by the writer for the Herald.
Since Hawes played in 1876 with the Pastimes ball club in St. Joseph, Missouri, far removed from New England, it is quite conceivable that Harry Wright, manager of the Boston club in the National League, provided Hawes with a recommendation based on his play on the picked nine in that initial game in Boston. When the Pastimes disbanded midway into the 1876 season, Hawes went to Detroit, Michigan to play for the Aetna club.
Hawes returned to New England in 1877 to play with the Lowell professional team, as an outfielder and change catcher. Lowell played a 40-game schedule in the five-team New England Association, a proto minor league, along with an extensive slate of games with other independent professional teams, as well as 18 games against National League teams (of which Lowell won 11 games). Lowell had a strong team, which captured the championship of the New England Association and also defeated the Boston club of the National League four times. In spite of the team’s success on the playing field, Lowell rejected an offer to join the National League, since the club’s management felt it could be more successful financially by remaining a regional team rather than play a national schedule. Hawes stayed with Lowell for the 1878 season, when the club competed in the International Association, until the club disbanded for financial reasons.
For the 1879 season, Hawes joined the Boston club in the National League. He batted only .200 in 38 games for Harry Wright’s team that finished in second place, after first place finishes the previous two years. Wright did not retain Hawes for the 1880 team. Instead, Hawes, who listed his occupation as “base ballist” in the 1880 census, began the 1880 season with a team in Baltimore. Later that year, while playing with the Rochester, New York, club when it played a series of games in Brooklyn, Hawes jumped to the newly formed Metropolitan ball club in Manhattan, managed by Massachusetts native Jim Mutrie.
Hawes was an umpire, rather than ball player, during the 1881 and 1882 seasons. He apparently made the switch after being a substitute umpire for the Boston-Worcester game in the National League on September 9, 1880. In 1882, he served as a substitute umpire in the National League for 16 games involving either the Boston or Providence club. This stint as an umpire evidently convinced Bill to return to the playing field. At Detroit for an Independence Day twin bill with Boston, the Boston Globe reported that “the hoodlum element of the crowd attempted to mob Hawes after the game, his umpiring being bad,” when Boston won the second game 14-1. Reporting on Boston’s final game of the 1882 season, the Globe wrote: “The regular season closed here today, with a gift to the Boston nine from Hawes, the Lowell base ball player, who systematically ‘sat down’ on the Providences and gave the visitors the game in the ninth inning.”
For the 1883 season, Hawes went west with many New England ball players to play in the fledgling Northwestern League, the first recognized minor league. Hawes played for Saginaw, Michigan. When a third major league emerged for the 1884 season, the Union Association, Bill was recruited by Lowell native Arthur Whitney to play for the Cincinnati Unions. Hawes batted .278 for Cincinnati in 79 games as an outfielder and first baseman.
When the Union Association folded after just one season, Hawes returned east in 1885 to play with the Brockton, Massachusetts, club in the newly formed New England League. Brockton finished tied for first place with Lawrence in a disputed pennant race, which was settled by a best-of-three-games playoff series won by the Lawrence, Massachusetts, club. After another season in Brockton in 1886, Hawes went back west to play in Minneapolis in 1887 and 1888 and in St. Paul in 1889 and 1890.
Hawes retired from baseball after the 1890 season, returning to Lowell, where he went into business with two partners to run the Washington Tavern on Central Street in downtown Lowell. He kept his hand in baseball as the secretary-treasurer and member of the board of management of the Lowell ball club in the revived New England League for the 1891 season. He did play in one game that season, on May 28, to help attract a good crowd for Lowell’s game with rival Manchester, New Hampshire.
Hawes returned to the diamond during the 1892 and 1893 seasons to play regularly for the Lowell club. He played his last minor league game on June 2, 1893 before the owners of the Lowell club transferred it a few weeks later to Manchester, New Hampshire.
The economic depression that swept the country in 1893 put an end not only to Hawes’ baseball career but also his tavern-owner career. In 1894, Hawes was working for James Breen & Company, a pawnbroker down the street from the Washington Tavern at 320 Central Street. By 1901, Hawes was listed in the Lowell Directory at the sole proprietor of the pawn shop, where he conducted business over the next four decades.
Hawes was married twice. His first wife, Nellie Curtis, died in 1917, and his second wife, Myra Bostwick, died in 1935. There were no children from either marriage.
Hawes was a regular attendee at the annual reunion of the Bartlett ball club that he played on in 1874 and 1875. The club’s initial reunion was held in Lowell in 1912, and two years later was expanded to include the other ball clubs the club competed against. In 1914, they formed an organization called “Junior Baseball Players of Massachusetts 1873, 1874 and 1875 Association”. Freeman Young, a member of the Bartlett club in 1873, was named president and Hawes was the original treasurer. A photograph of Hawes and the other members was printed in the Lowell Courier-Citizen. Reunions were held for several years thereafter at Young’s house in Arlington, Massachusetts.
Hawes died on June 16, 1940 at his home on 147 Forest Street in Lowell. He was 86 years old. “Through the death of Bill Hawes, Lowell loses another of her former major league players and one who had the distinction of being in the game when baseball was in its infancy,” the Lowell Evening Leader commented in its sports pages. “He played second base in Boston when the first professional game was played there in 1876.”
Hawes is buried in the Edson Cemetery in Lowell, whose main entrance is half a mile from the Shaughnessy School, the site of the old fair grounds where Hawes played for the Lowell ball club in the 1870s and 1890s. His resting place within the Edson Cemetery, on the far side from the main entrance, is within 100 yards of a Little League baseball field on Boston Road in Lowell.
Boston Globe. 1876-1893
Boston Herald. “Boston vs. Picked Nine,” April 14, 1876.
Brockton Enterprise. “The Probable Champions: Sketches of the Players in the Brockton Base Ball Club,” September 28, 1885.
Edson Cemetery records, Lowell, Massachusetts.
Howard files, archive of 19th century minor league ball players maintained by SABR member Reed Howard.
Lowell Courier-Citizen. “Old Time Ball Players Gather for Happy Reunion,” January 21, 1914.
Lowell Directory. 1891-1941.
Lowell Daily News. “Base Ball for Lowell,” March 24, 1891.
Lowell Evening Leader. “Another One Gone,” June 17, 1940.
Lowell Sun. “William H. Hawes,” June 17, 1940.
Shea files, archive of New England ball players established by Tom Shea and maintained by SABR member Dick Thompson.
U.S. census, 1860, 1870, 1880.