William H. “Bill” Lennon was the first player in a professional major league baseball game to score a run. From 1871-1873, he played in 28 games in the National Association of Professional Base Ball Players, recording 26 hits and batting .215 with 13 RBIs. He also umpired 15 games in that circuit through 1874. Previously, Lennon had a lengthy amateur career in the 1860s as a member of the National Association of Base Ball Players, during which time he was also an umpire.1
Lennon was born at the ideal time and in the ideal location to be a baseball player — 1845, Brooklyn, New York. He arrived on January 3 of that year, the third child of Patrick (1817-1859) and Catherine (née Murphy; 1819-1891), both Irish natives arriving in Brooklyn as young adults. Seven days later, the infant was baptized at St. Paul’s Roman Catholic Church in Brooklyn. Historian Tom Gilbert described the city in Lennon’s youth as “suffering from a kind of mass baseball insanity.”2 Every vacant lot in Brooklyn was a potential playing field.3
From 1845 to at least 1865, Lennon lived in Brooklyn’s 10th Ward, which included portions of the neighborhoods known today as Boerum Hill and Gowanus. Moving among residences between Warren and Baltic Streets, he had five younger sisters (Catherine, Kate, Maria, Rosanna, and Annie), two younger brothers (John and Edward), as well as two older brothers (Thomas and James). The eldest sibling, Thomas, born 1841, volunteered in 1861 for service in the Union Army as a private in the 87th New York Infantry Regiment (“Brooklyn Rifles”), Company H. He was killed during the Peninsula Campaign at the Battle of Oak Grove in Virginia on June 25, 1862, and posthumously promoted to corporal five days later.4
Early accounts show Lennon playing left field, right field, and first base for the Stars of Brooklyn in 1863. In July 1864, the Brooklyn Eagle observed, Lennon was a fine selection for first base and that the Stars were “an excellent nine, and could not be well improved upon.”5 In a 35-17 loss to the Atlantics in August 1864, there was a problem with “the very loose and wild fielding of the Star nine, especially to the first base, Lennon not having two out of a dozen balls properly fielded to him,” the Brooklyn Union attested.6 During 1865 Lennon was a member of the Enterprise Club of Brooklyn and worked as a New York State census enumerator, as well.
From 1866 through 1867, Lennon played for the Excelsior, Mohawk, and Franklin clubs in Brooklyn. In a July 1867 match with the Adriatics, Lennon’s catching for the Franklins (a junior organization) was not on par with his standard performance because of a severe headache.7 In another July game, Lennon’s throwing from behind the plate was described as “fine in every instance,” in a 31-10 Franklins victory over the Orientals of Brooklyn.8 As catcher from the Excelsior Club for a picked nine against the Atlantics Club of Brooklyn in August 1867 at Union Grounds, with an estimated 2,000 in attendance, Lennon made a “fine foul catch.” He also tallied three hits in the picked nine’s 24-11 victory.9
Lennon caught for Americus Hose Co. 7 in their victory against a nine fielded by Brooklyn Engine Co. 77 in a September 1867 exhibition game. He had eight hits, two of which were home runs. “The Americus boys went in on their muscle, and scattered the grasshoppers with daisy cutters in the highest style of the art,” the Brooklyn Union eloquently observed.10
The following season Lennon was playing for the Mohawk Club. In a June 1868 game against the 1867 NABBP champion Morrisania (Bronx) Unions at Brooklyn’s Capitoline Grounds, Lennon and fellow players Tom Forker, William McCrea, and Davenport made their opponents keep their eyes open in the field “to escape with their whole skins.” The champions defeated the Mohawks 34-11.11
Prior to the establishment of the National Association of Professional Base Ball Players in 1871, teams often had a mix of professionals and amateurs on the same nine. The more skilled positions of pitcher and catcher were often the paid members of these mixed teams. By the end of the 1860s, Lennon had left Brooklyn to pursue baseball in Chicago with the Excelsiors Club. The Chicago team began recruiting professional players during this period, “offering high-paying jobs during the week in return for their skill and diligence on the ball field.”12
Although Lennon was likely being compensated by Brooklyn clubs, the deal offered by Chicago (800 miles from Brooklyn) must have been of great value to him. As baseball historian James L. Terry has observed, “Hometown heroes were rapidly becoming a dying breed,” and Brooklyn players “could be found on the rosters of clubs all over the country,” including Lennon.13
Player salaries, travel costs, and other organizational expenses led to the demise of the Excelsiors, and by 1869 Lennon was playing for the Marylands of Baltimore, a team the Times Union (Albany, New York) described as “a gentlemanly lot of ‘good fellows,’ and the players are no novice in handling either the ball or the bat.”14 During a game in Philadelphia on July 27, 1869 against the Keystone Club at Athletic Grounds, Lennon drove in Tully Worthington with a hit to left in the top of the second. He then scored when left fielder Ed Mincher (Lennon’s future brother-in-law) sent a line drive over the head of Keystone shortstop Charles “Dickie” Flowers. Unfortunately, later in the game Keystone catcher Ewell sent a foul tip into Lennon’s lip, splitting it open. As Lennon was being attended to, rain began to fall and umpire John Radcliff (of the Athletic Club) called the game.
By late July 1870, the Marylands were on a road trip that had them playing teams in Indianapolis, Chicago, and Fort Wayne, among other cities. For lack of funds, the Marylands ended the tour early, and the Kekiongas management tracked down the team. They acquired pitcher Bobby Mathews and second baseman Tom Carey, and then Lennon, first baseman Tom Forker, and third baseman Frank Sellman. Fort Wayne was building a professional nine by taking the best of the Maryland players. The new squad began operations with the Kekiongas on April 1, 1871.
At the annual NABBP convention in March 1871, angered over their inability to compete with the professionals, those representing amateur teams walked out. The remaining 10 professional teams continued at the convention and established the National Association of Professional Base Ball Players for the 1871 season – baseball’s first major league.15
The fee to join was $10 per club, and that evening eight of the 10 paid the dues, including: Haymakers (Troy, New York), Olympics (Washington, DC), White Stockings (Chicago), Red Stockings (Boston), two Forest City clubs (Rockford, Illinois and Cleveland), Mutuals (New York City), and the Athletics (Philadelphia). The two teams in attendance that did not join were the Eckfords of Brooklyn and the Nationals of Washington, DC. According to MLB historian John Thorn, these two teams “held tight to their wallets.”16 While the clubs of the newly formed National Association of Professional Base Ball Players “were dwarfed in magnitude by more than 500 amateur teams, they would dominate the future of baseball,” according to William J. Ryczek.17
By the beginning of the 1871 season, the Fort Wayne Kekiongas were added to the newly formed league. Of the 10 professional Kekiongas players, seven were born in New York state (three in Brooklyn; two in New York City; one in Troy; one in Lansingburgh) and three in Baltimore. No player was over 5-feet-9, older than 22, or weighed more than 175 pounds. Pitcher Bobby Mathews was a slight 5-feet-4 and 120 pounds, while his batterymate Lennon was said to be 5-feet-8 and 155 in the spring of 1871 (he has also been described as 5-feet-7 and 145 pounds).18 Lennon, who was the Kekiongas captain, would go on to play in 12 and manage 14 of the team’s 19 games.
On May 4, 1871, the Kekiongas and the Forest Citys of Cleveland met in Fort Wayne to play the first game of the newly formed league. It was a cloudy day and about 56 degrees when the game’s umpire, J. L. Boarke of Cincinnati’s Live Oaks Club, tossed the ball to Lennon, who then threw it the regulation 45 feet to pitcher Bobby Mathews. Then just 19, the Baltimore native was credited as one of the first pitchers to deliver a spitball and to master the curve. In his major league career, the righty accumulated 297 wins. Both Lennon and Mathews were sons of Irish immigrants, and they were about to take their place in the annals of baseball history.19
The Forest Citys batted first. Future Baseball Hall of Fame member James “Deacon” White led off with a double but was erased when Gene Kimball’s line drive to Tom Carey became an unassisted double play. The Kekiongas failed to score in the bottom of the inning and left one man on base.
In the top of the second Lennon dropped Art Allison’s third strike, and the batter was able to take first. Allison then stole second, but Cleveland was not able to capitalize and left one man on base. Lennon, who would bat .229 for the 1871 season, led off the bottom of the inning with a double. The next two batters were unable to get on base, but James McDermott drove Lennon home with a single, marking the first run to be scored in a professional major league baseball game. The Kekiongas ended the inning with one run, two hits, and one man left on base.
In the top of the seventh, Cleveland’s Allison attempted to steal second again. This time Lennon was able to catch him with a throw to second baseman Carey. Overall, the game was uncharacteristically low-scoring: the Kekiongas shut out the Forest Citys, 2-0. Both teams had four hits; Cleveland left four men on base while Fort Wayne left three. Cleveland was even errorless; the Kekiongas committed three. Mathews recorded six strikeouts, while his mound opponent, Albert Pratt, was not able to put up any of his own.21 The Chicago Tribune described the match as “the finest game on record in this country.”22
The remainder of the Kekiongas’ season did not go as well as this historic game. The team folded before the end of the season and ended its run mired in controversy.
In a May 1871 game against the Chicago White Stockings in Fort Wayne, Lennon attempted to catch a foul ball, only to miss the opportunity because a group of small boys got in his way. The Kekiongas lost, 14-5.23 The following month, in the first meeting between Fort Wayne and the Mutuals Club of New York City, Mathews’ pitching was “simply immense,” the Fort Wayne Gazette boasted, and Lennon’s catching was “wonderful” with “not a ball or point escaping” Lennon in the 5-3 victory.24
Later in June, some 3,000 spectators turned out to watch the second meeting of the season between these two teams at the Union Grounds in Brooklyn. The Mutuals blanked the Kekiongas, 13-0, with the press describing the latter’s infield as “wonderfully weak.” Mathews’ pitching was off, and Fort Wayne’s batting was not on par with its displays in previous games played to that point in the season.25 In another game, on June 30, Lennon did not play in Fort Wayne’s 16-4 victory over the Olympic White Stockings in Philadelphia. He was kept in reserve for a game on the following day.26
While Lennon was in Cleveland umpiring a game between the Forest Citys and the Athletics Club of Philadelphia on July 23, 1871, the Kekiongas discharged Ed Mincher and Pete Donnelly, claiming the players violated their contracts when they left the club without warning or permission and that the two men were also in arrears with the organization. Mincher and Donnelly denied the accusations, claiming the team actually owed them money.
Then on July 25, the organization leveled four charges against Lennon. The first claim was that he abandoned the team during a game with the Atlantics on July 23. The second was that Lennon “violated all rules of decency” on June 24 while at the Hotel Earle in New York, and that he “refused to obey orders.” The third allegation stated Lennon “violated all obligations and rules of said club,” refused to practice, and was believed to be “in public under the influence of intoxicating liquors.” The final indictment accused Lennon of not notifying the team when he left to umpire the July 23 game in Cleveland. Frank Sellman was found guilty of the last three charges as well.27 Lennon denied any wrongdoing.
Lennon responded in the July 28, 1871, edition of the Chicago Tribune, pointing out that in view of the state of his hand, management told him he would not have to play in the game against the Atlantics. Addressing the “refused to obey orders” charge, Lennon explained this was likely related to a game against the Mutuals for which he was, once again, told to “lay off” because of his hand. He also denied ever being under the influence of intoxicating liquors while in any city he visited with the team. Lennon claimed he was to receive $75 a month ($7 every Saturday and the remainder at the end of the month), but that he never received the full amount due. This failure to pay what was agreed upon by the Kekiongas, according to Lennon, violated a clause in his contract with the team, rendering the agreement null. Lennon further asserted he had not been bound by his contract since the organization “willfully violated” it.
Although not pleased with how the dispute played out, Lennon expressed gratitude toward Kekiongas President C.W. Dawson, and conveyed that if the club had been managed with the same kindness Dawson had shown towards him, the issues the team now faced could have been avoided. The Chicago Tribune defended Lennon, blasting the Fort Wayne front office, labeling them as cheap and mean-spirited, and that players were treated as though they lived in a company town with deductions from salary to cover things like board while on the road, train fare, etc. The Chicago Tribune stated Lennon’s case was representative of how the entire team was treated.28
As for Lennon’s claim that he was injured, this was a common element of his amateur and major-league career, as it was for other 19th-century catchers. Broken eye sockets, noses, and fingers, as well as head injuries, were common among players at this position. The Brooklyn Union noted that Lennon had an injured hand in June 1868, and during a May 1871 match, “Lennon had a finger knocked out of joint in the first inning, but played the game out.”29 The New York Herald described Lennon’s “crippled condition” in early July 1871.30
In the July 29, 1871 edition of the Fort Wayne Gazette, Kekiongas executives maintained, “We have a letter in our possession from a Mr. Uppton, of Baltimore, requesting Lennon and others of our nine to ‘come on to Baltimore,’ [and] sending him money.” They continued, “We believe the sole and only reason Mr. Lennon had for taking … leave to be this: That he imagined himself to be worth $200 or $300 per month salary, and desired to violate his contract.”
In his response, Lennon stated fellow player James McDermott left the team out of disgust. Management countered, “McDermott was properly and promptly paid but instead of paying his board with the money betook himself to a gambling hell, lost his money, and when excused for his offense, a short time after, appeared in company with lewd women.” The remaining Fort Wayne players signed off on a statement that defended their “gentlemanly directors and officers,” proclaiming they were always paid promptly, treated kindly, and that Lennon deserved to be released from the team sooner.31
The Philadelphia Mercury supported Lennon when it wrote in July 1871, “The officers of the Kekiongas … gained an unenviable reputation for the manner in which they have treated their professional players, and when any of said players, in disgust at such treatment, left them, they had the unblushing impudence to publicly expel them on trumped-up charges.”32
Although recent scholarship has leveled criticism towards Lennon for being a drunk and a deserter, this characterization is not supported by the available evidence. It is likely that the release of Lennon, Mincher, and Donnelly stemmed from financial difficulties the organization faced. In addition to this, the new cadre of professional major-league ball players frequently displayed a level of brashness, grittiness, and toughness that ran counter to the gentlemanly etiquette of amateur/social baseball clubs of the 1850s and 1860s.
This merging of cultures, the pressure of baseball as a business, and the absence of a strong central authority to direct the league as a whole and to guide organizations through disciplinary issues may have had a role in the Kekiongas cutting key players during a season in which they were already struggling on the field and at the gate.33 As Ryczek pointed out, “While the players were professionals, management was strictly an amateurish proposition.”34
By late summer of 1871, Lennon was catching for the Olympics of Baltimore when the Pastimes of Baltimore reorganized under business manager Albert H. Henderson, who quickly signed Lennon, Mincher, and Sellman. Henderson also added Bill Stearns and George Hall from the Washington Olympics. At the end of August, the Kekiongas disbanded amid financial troubles. Mathews, who had started and completed all the club’s 19 games, joined the Pastimes with Carey and first baseman Jim Foran. The men played out the season in and around Baltimore.35
In 1872 Lennon and Tom Carey were listed as substitutes for the Pastimes, reorganized and now called the Lord Baltimores.36 Mathews’ new batterymate was Bill Carver.37 Lennon was a Baltimore substitute until at least April 2, with one publication noting he was a “genial” host, quartering several Baltimore players at his residence.38 However, by April 13 Lennon was listed as a member of the Nationals of Washington, DC. This team was winless in 1872, and the press seems to have captured little about its first and only season.
Lennon played 11 games for the Nationals, batting .204 with 11 hits and six RBIs. Lennon was in the lineup as catcher in all 11 games, during which the Nationals allowed 190 runs and scored 80. The Nationals took on the Forest Citys of Cleveland in May 1872. Bill Stearns pitched for Washington in the 13-10 loss. During a June game against the Athletics in Philadelphia, the Nationals lost 13-2; neither of their runs was earned.
It was also during 1872 that Lennon married Susana Eschbach of Baltimore. Born in 1856, she was the daughter of John Eschbach, owner of a Baltimore paving company, and Rebecca Eschbach (née Rigdon).39
By the 1873 season, Lennon had landed a spot on the Marylands of Baltimore, although he would only play one of his five games with the team as catcher. He was at first base for four of the games, and third base for one. That season Lennon recorded batted .211 on four hits, with two RBIs. The Marylands were never competitive in their short-lived 1873 season, taking a hiatus after losing back-to-back games to the Washington Blue Legs on April 14 and 15. They reappeared on May 14 to play the Baltimore Canaries, losing 26-5.
Taking another break, this one nearly six weeks, the Marylands resurfaced to play the Canaries on June 27, losing 20-0. They lost again to the Canaries three days later, 35-1. The Marylands lasted just six games in the 1873 season, giving up 152 runs and scoring just 26. The 1873 season was Lennon’s last in the majors.
Following the 1873 season, through at least 1900, Lennon was primarily employed as a clerk. He held this position in Baltimore until 1884, the year his wife Susana — merely in her late 20s — passed away in Philadelphia on April 20. She was buried two days later. This left Lennon with his three daughters, Daisey (11), Neila (8), and Catherine (4).
In 1893, Lennon was residing in Philadelphia, where he was still employed as a clerk. Seven years later, Lennon was living in Brooklyn, which had merged into New York City in 1898, and was working as a clerk for the city government. He was residing in the home of his older brother James and his wife, Charlotte, and their children. Records show that Lennon remained in Brooklyn until at least 1902.
On August 19, 1910, at 2:10 AM, Lennon died of a stroke at the home of his daughter Catherine and her husband, Arthur Betteridge, at 207 Daley Street in Philadelphia. He was 65.
At the time of his death, Lennon was employed as a watchman. His service was held at Murphy’s Funeral Home in South Philadelphia. His great-granddaughter, Leila Rambo, would be laid out at the same location some 80 years later. A Catholic Mass was likely held across the street from Murphy’s at Our Lady of Mt. Carmel. Lennon was buried on August 23, 1910, at Holy Cross Cemetery in Yeadon, Pennsylvania.
This biography was reviewed by Bill Lamb and Rory Costello and fact-checked by David Kritzler.
Although the main bibliographic focus in understanding Lennon as a ballplayer was found in the pages of numerous contemporary newspapers, the sources most helpful in this biography range widely. To understand Lennon’s early life and family background, the United States Census provided indispensable insight. Tom Gilbert’s How Baseball Happened provided me with a personal guide up and down the streets of Brooklyn in the early organizational years of the game, while James L. Terry’s Long Before the Dodgers: Baseball in Brooklyn, 1855-1884 did much the same but with a narrower focus. The numerous works of Bill Ryczek (When Johnny Came Sliding Home; Blackguards and Red Stockings: A History of Baseball’s National Association, 1871-1875), as well as email exchanges with the author, made understanding the development of the NAPBBP, and the utter chaos that came with it, much easier than it could have been. A full understanding of this period of baseball history would not have been possible without Robert P. Gelzheiser’s Labor and Capital in 19th Century Baseball, which filled in the gaps with its unique look at the economics of baseball, laying bare the reasons behind the early professional growing pains. The minute details of this biography also relied heavily on websites like baseball-reference.com, retroseasons.com, protoball.org, and SABR.org.
1 Lennon’s “professional” career refers to the time he spent in the National Association of Professional Base Ball Players, a major league, and not the years in which he likely received some form of compensation while playing in the “amateur” National Association of Base Ball Players.
2 Thomas W. Gilbert, How Baseball Happened: Outrageous Lies Exposed! The True Story Revealed, Boston, Massachusetts: David R. Godine (2020): 161.
3 Gilbert, How Baseball Happened: 162.
5 “Sports and Pastimes,” Brooklyn Eagle, July 26, 1864: 2.
6 “Outdoor Sports,” Brooklyn Union, August 5, 1864: 1.
7 “Sports and Pastimes – Base Ball,” Brooklyn Eagle, July 18, 1867: 3.
8 “Sports and Pastimes – Base Ball,” Brooklyn Eagle, July 24, 1867: 2.
9 “Sports and Pastimes – The National Game,” Brooklyn Union, August 27, 1867: 1.
10 “Firemen in the Field,” Brooklyn Union, September 27, 1867: 1.
11 “The National Game – Base Ball Notes,” New York Herald, June 16, 1868: 5.
12 Brian McKenna, “Sputtering Towards Respectability: Chicago’s Journey to the Big Leagues,” The National Pastime: Baseball in Chicago, 2015.
13 James L Terry, Long Before the Dodgers: Baseball in Brooklyn, 1855-1884, Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company (2002): 69.
14 “Sporting Items – Base Ball, Eckford vs. Marylands, of Baltimore,” Times Union (Brooklyn, New York), July 30, 1869: 2.
15 Robert P. Gelzheiser, Labor and Capital in 19th Century Baseball, Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company (2006): 15.
16 John Thorn, Baseball in the Garden of Eden: The Secret History of the Early Game, New York: Simon & Schuster (2012): 149.
17 William J. Ryczek, Blackguards and Red Stockings: A History of Baseball’s National Association, 1871-1875, Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company (2016): 18.
18 “The Kekionga Nine: Description of the Men,” Fort Wayne Gazette, April 12, 1871: 4.
22 John Thorn, “May 4, 1871: Association Ball: Kekionga vs. Forest City,” SABR Games Project, https://sabr.org/gamesproj/game/may-4-1871-association-ball-kekionga-vs-forest-city/.
23 “The Ball and Bat – A Short Game with the White Stockings Victorious,” Fort Wayne Gazette, May 15, 1871, 4.
24 “The Kekies ‘Waxed’ by the Eckfords, of Brooklyn 6 to 1,” Fort Wayne Gazette, June 28, 1871: 4.
25 “Mutual vs. Kekionga,” Times Union, June 29, 1871: 3.
26 “The Kekies Victorious in Philadelphia by 16 to 14 – The Olympic White Stocking Game,” Fort Wayne Gazette, July 1, 1871: 4.
27 Baseball History Daily, “Lennon Violated All Rules of Decency,” February 6, 2019 (https://baseballhistorydaily.com/2019/02/06/lennon-violated-all-rules-of-decency/)
28 “A Card from Mr. Lennon, the ‘Expelled’ Kianugan,” Chicago Tribune, July 28, 1871: 4.
29 “An Exciting Game Between the Forest Citys and Kekiongas,” The Daily Milwaukee News, May 24, 1871: 1.
30 “Base Ball,” Evening Star (Washington, District of Columbia), July 8, 1871: 4.
31 “The Expelled Members – The Recent Disturbance in the Kekionga Camp, Reply of the Kekionga Directors to the Card of Wm. Lennon and Remarks in the Chicago Tribune of July 28, 1871,” Fort Wayne Gazette, July 29, 1871: 4.
32 “Sports and Pastimes – Base Ball,” Brooklyn Eagle, July 31, 1871, 3.
33 Gelzheiser, Labor and Capital: 17.
34 Ryczek, Black Stockings: 5.
35 Brian McKenna, “Baltimore Baseball: The Beginning,” (2018): 129-130; https://bmorebbhistory.files.wordpress.com/2018/07/baltimore-baseball.pdf
36 Lord Baltimores and Baltimore Canaries were the same club and were sometimes called the Yellow Stockings, as well, due to the coloring of their mustard pants and yellow and black argyle stockings.
37 McKenna, “Bobby Mathews,” SABR BioProject.
38 “Professional Base Ball Nines for ’72,” Times-Picayune (New Orleans, Louisiana), April 2, 1872: 10; Baltimore American, March 11, 1872, per Protoball.org.