An undersized one-game pitcher for the 1885 Cincinnati Reds, Bill McCaffrey has been elusive quarry for baseball genealogists. The brevity of his major league stay has not been the only obstacle in the McCaffrey quest. Inconsistent spelling of his surname as well as the existence of equally obscure baseball contemporaries with the same or similar last name have made Bill McCaffrey a difficult player to pin down. And at this writing, significant gaps still exist in the McCaffrey story. Incorporating the research of 19th century baseball historians and SABR genealogical detectives Peter Morris and David Nemec, the following endeavors to present as complete and reliable an account of McCaffrey’s life as the current state of our knowledge about him permits.
William T. McCaffrey was born in Baltimore County, Maryland, on April 1, 1862. He was one of at least seven children born to contractor and “noted businessman”1 Jesse T. McCaffrey (1825-c.1890), a native of Pennsylvania, and his Ohio-born wife Mary (née Downes, 1832-1909).2 Little has been discovered about our subject’s early life except that the McCaffrey family is listed as Baltimore city residents and teenage son Bill is designated as “at school” in the 1880 US Census. He first came to public attention in dramatic fashion some three years later.
On the evening of December 10, 1883, four women residing on the second floor of a Baltimore building were roused from their sleep by smoke and fire sweeping through their apartment. Two attempted to escape the blaze by jumping from a second-floor balcony with near-fatal results. Coming to the rescue of the two other women still inside the residence was “William McCaffray [sic], the clever young pitcher of the amateur [Baltimore] Nationals.”3 The stranded women were retrieved “in a daring manner by William T. McCaffrey. He clambered up a ladder to the balcony through the blinding smoke and returned with one lady, and then ascending brought the other safely to the ground.”4 McCaffrey “was badly scorched and had his head cut and bruised in several places,”5 but otherwise emerged safely from the harrowing event.
Although the particulars have not been uncovered, it appears that the presumably right-handed McCaffrey6 pitched for various Baltimore-area amateur clubs as well as for the Johns Hopkins University nine into the 1885 season. Soon, Sporting Life’s Baltimore correspondent was touting the youngster. “A local amateur named Wm. McCaffrey … is now practicing with a view toward entering the [professional] game. He fields well and handles the stick cleverly, and appears to be a born ball player,” wrote columnist “T.T.T.” The account continued, “It has been suggested to [Baltimore Orioles manager Billy] Barnie to try him in the box and he will probably do so by facing him with batters of the team at the first opportunity.”7 Another American Association club, however, preempted whatever tryout Barnie may have been contemplating.
While on the road playing Baltimore, the Cincinnati Reds either spotted or were informed about McCaffrey and decided to audition him during an exhibition game against the semipro Nationals of Washington, DC. On June 9, 1885, Cincinnati “tried their new pitcher, McCaffrey, a youngster whom they picked up in Baltimore. He is small in stature [listed as 5-feet-5 and 121 pounds by Retrosheet], but from his work today the Cincinnatis consider him a giant in the box,” reported the Baltimore Sun.8 A local newspaper was also favorably impressed, reporting that “the Baltimore amateur … [was] cool in his method, speedy, has good control of the ball, and puts a deceptive curve on the ball.”9 But a much different assessment of the new Reds prospect was offered by the Cincinnati Commercial Gazette, which observed that McCaffrey only had an “easy slow ball, with no curve, although he carried himself like a ballplayer.”10 In any case, McCaffrey did not permit the Nationals a baserunner through six innings and cruised to a complete-game, five-hit triumph, 8-2.
Bill McCaffrey’s first and only major league game occurred in Brooklyn on June 15, 1885. Staked to an early lead, he “pitched a good game during the first half of the contest, but tired badly” thereafter.11 Still, he held on long enough to stagger to an 11-9 complete-game victory. He struck out two, walked two, and hit two Grays batsmen, while allowing 13 base hits.12 Observers were not impressed with the performance, with comment also directed at the hurler’s diminutive size. “McCaffrey, the new pitcher lately picked up by the Cincinnati club, is the featherweight of the profession,” sneered the Wheeling Register. “He weighs but 121 pounds, and has to brace himself well when at the bat to keep himself from being knocked down by the wind of the ball.”13 Another newspaper equated his stature with that of “a fair-sized girl.”14 Of more importance, the prospect failed to impress Reds field leader Pop Snyder. “McCaffrey, the Baltimore experiment, was not signed by the Cincinnatis,” reported the hometown Commercial Gazette. “Snyder does not deem him strong enough to put into the nine regularly.”15
Upon being jettisoned by Cincinnati, McCaffrey returned to Baltimore and did some freelance hurling. In late June, he pitched for a team composed of members of the Fifth Maryland Regiment against the Washington Light Infantry at Oriole Park in Baltimore.16 A month later, McCaffrey was in the box for the amateur Baltimore Mutuals, rematched against the Nationals of Washington.17 He also resumed pitching for Johns Hopkins.18
Soon thereafter, professional baseball reasserted interest in McCaffrey, albeit at the entry level. New Haven was in the process of organizing a replacement club for the Southern New England League and telegraphed an offer to the pitcher.19 But he opted for another berth instead, joining the Wilmington (NC) club of the independent North Carolina-Virginia League. There, McCaffrey reportedly “pitched nine straight games, winning eight, and this town is ‘stuck’ on him,” exclaimed the Wilmington Sporting Life correspondent.20
By mid-October, McCaffrey was back home in Baltimore, where Orioles manager Barnie belatedly implemented Sporting Life’s earlier tryout recommendation, deploying the little hurler in the box for the Baltimore scrubs during a postseason intra-squad game. McCaffrey held the varsity to only three hits but dropped a 3-1 decision.21
The following spring, Bill was on the move again, signing with the Augusta (GA) Browns of the Southern Association.22 But he got off poorly with his new club, shelled in consecutive preseason efforts by the National League Detroit Wolverines, 18-11 and 14-1. Following the latter debacle, it was reported that “McCaffrey is to be released.”23 Yet he remained with the club into the regular season. The reprieve was brief; it was “poor pitching” by McCaffrey in a late-April 9-8 loss to Chattanooga that clinched his fate.24 He was released by Augusta shortly thereafter.25
In early June, McCaffrey gave professional baseball another try, joining the Wilkes-Barre club of the independent Pennsylvania State Association.26 During the ensuing month, he saw action in 16 games, posting a 2-2 record in five pitching appearances while playing seven other games in center field and five at shortstop. Overall, McCaffrey batted .281 (18 singles in 64 at-bats) with seven stolen bases and 10 runs scored for Wilkes-Barre before being released in early July.27
Bill McCaffrey concluded his professional playing career with a brief stint in the New England League, playing for the Lawrence (MA) club. A one-game performance in right field on July 31 rang down the curtain.28 With that, McCaffrey put baseball behind him and returned to Baltimore, where he soon took up the construction business that engaged his father and other family members.29
On June 4, 1887, 25-year-old William T. McCaffrey was married to Ida V. Bright, the daughter of socially prominent Baltimoreans, in the parsonage of the Govanstown (Baltimore) Church.30 Their union would be childless. For the remainder of his life, McCaffrey made a good living as a Baltimore-area building contractor. In June 1902, he and Ida celebrated their 15th anniversary by hosting a gala for family and friends at the McCaffrey residence.31 But soon thereafter, the marriage turned sour, with Ida instituting divorce proceedings in March 1905, alleging “ill-treatment and non-support.”32 But the party at fault is far from clear: three years later Ida’s petition was dismissed, with the court granting her husband “an absolute divorce” instead.33 The McCaffrey residence on East Oliver Street, Baltimore, apparently went to Ida.34
McCaffrey relocated to an upscale local address and continued his prosperous business affairs. In 1911, he eloped with department store saleslady Genevieve (or Anna Geneva) Bosley, and the two were quietly married on Easter Monday in Alexandria, Virginia. But for reasons unexplained, the marriage was not revealed to family until September 1912.35 Thereafter, the couple lived at various Baltimore addresses, but this marriage, like McCaffrey’s first, produced no offspring.
On September 9, 1927, one-game major league pitcher William T. “Bill” McCaffrey died in Baltimore.36 He was 65. Interment was at Green Mount Cemetery, Baltimore. Survivors included second wife Genevieve, several siblings, and former spouse Ida, who never remarried.
This biography was reviewed by Rory Costello and Norman Macht and checked for accuracy by SABR’s fact-checking team..
An important source of the biographical detail imparted above was the genealogical research of 19th century baseball historian/scholar Peter Morris. Other info came from US Census and McCaffrey family data accessed via Ancestry.com. and certain of the newspaper articles cited in the endnotes. Insight into Bill McCaffrey’s baseball career was derived from his profile in David Nemec, The Rank and File of 19th Century Baseball: Biographies of 1,084 Players, Owners, Managers and Umpires (Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland, 2011). Unless otherwise noted, stats have been taken from Baseball-Reference and Retrosheet.
1 The description of the senior McCaffrey contained in the obituary published for his wife in the Baltimore Sun, September 30, 1909: 9.
2 Our subject’s identifiable siblings were J. Warren (born 1854), Annie (1856), Charles (1859), Susan (1861), Norma (1873), and Harry (1875). Older brother Charles McCaffrey later married Margaret Foutz, the sister of standout 19th century major leagues pitcher-outfielder Dave Foutz. This Charles McCaffrey, however, is not to be confused with Philadelphia-born Charles “Sparrow” McCaffrey, a two-game catcher for the 1889 Columbus Solons of the American Association.
3 Sporting Life, December 19, 1883: 2.
4 “Fatal Leap,” Stark Democrat (Canton, Ohio), December 12, 1883: 1. See also, “Jumping for Their Lives,” Baltimore Sun, December 11, 1883: 1, which identifies the hero as “W.B. McCaffrey.”
5 “Fatal Leap,” above.
6 Modern baseball reference authority list McCaffrey as batting/throwing: unknown. But given that roughly 90% of the population is right-handed and the fact that McCaffrey also doubled as a shortstop, the presumption of right-handedness here does not seem unwarranted.
7 T.T. T., “From Baltimore,” Sporting Life, June 3, 1885: 3.
8 “Base Ball,” Baltimore Sun, June 10, 1885: 4.
9 “The Sporting World, (Washington, DC) National Republican, June 10, 1885: 1.
10 Cincinnati Commercial Tribune, June 10, 1885, per Peter Morris.
11 According to a wire service dispatch published in the Cleveland Leader, Louisville Courier-Journal, and elsewhere, June 16, 1885.
12 The existence of our subject was unknown to twentieth-century baseball encyclopedias. Their work attributed the McCaffrey victory to Harry McCaffery (with surname misspelled), an infielder-outfielder with the 1882-1883 St. Louis Browns. Only the relatively recent intervention 19th century baseball scholar/historian David Nemec brought Bill McCaffrey to light and yielded the proper crediting of the June 15, 1885 Cincinnati win to him.
14 See “The Diamond,” Evansville (Indiana) Courier, June 28, 1885: 2.
15 “Notes,” Cincinnati Commercial Gazette, June 19, 1885: 3.
16 As reported in “Other Games,” Baltimore Sun, June 30, 1885: 4.
17 Per the (Washington, DC) Critic, July 23, 1885: 4.
18 See game accounts published in the Westminster (Maryland) Democrat, June 27, 1885: 4, and Alexandria (Virginia) Gazette, July 11, 1885: 4. It is unlikely that McCaffrey was actually a student at Johns Hopkins, but the writer’s inquiry to the university registrar went unanswered. The fact that McCaffrey had auditioned for Cincinnati without having signed a contract, however, left his amateur status unchanged.
19 As reported in the New Haven (Connecticut) Morning Journal, August 12, 1885, and New Haven Register, August 12, 13, and 15, 1885. The August 13 Register article mis-identified the club’s quarry as “Michael McCaffrey,” confusing our subject with a pitcher of that name released by the Newark Domestics of the Eastern League.
20 See “Wilmington Notes,” Sporting Life, August 26, 1885: 5.
21 Per T.T.T., From Baltimore,” Sporting Life, November 4, 1885: 1.
22 As reported in the Cleveland Plain Dealer, February 17, 1886; Sporting Life, February 27, 1886; and elsewhere. The Plain Dealer further advised readers that “the McCaffrey who has signed with Augusta is not the pugilist [Dominick McCaffrey, a heavyweight boxing contender who pitched exhibition game baseball on the side]. He is the young Baltimorean who pitched a few games for Cincinnati last season.”
23 According to the Savannah Morning News, March 27, 1886: 3.
24 “The National Game,” Augusta (Georgia) Chronicle, April 28, 1886: 8.
25 The Baseball-Reference entry for Bill McCaffery (sic) does not include his tenure in Augusta. Instead, the April 1886 loss to Chattanooga is attributed to minor leaguer Michael McCaffrey.
26 As reported in “Pennsylvania State Association News,” Sporting Life, June 9, 1886: 1.
27 Per “The Pennsylvania State Association,” Sporting Life, July 14, 1886: 3.
28 Batting ninth, McCaffrey went 1-for-5 in a 5-4 loss to the Boston Blues per the Boston Globe, August 1, 1886: 8. My thanks to SABR colleague Charlie Bevis for providing the Globe game account and box score. McCaffrey’s signing with Lawrence was noted in the Boston Herald, August 1, 1886: 2, and Portland (Maine) Press, August 2, 1886: 2. Baseball-Reference omits mention of McCaffrey’s time with Lawrence, and mistakenly lists him as playing a single game for the Lynn (Massachusetts) Lions of the NEL. By 1887, however, McCaffrey had embarked upon a career as a contractor back home in Baltimore, his baseball playing years behind him.
29 As initially reflected in some property transactions recorded in the Baltimore Sun, April 6, 1887: 3.
30 Per “Marriages: McCaffrey-Bright,” Baltimore County Union, July 9, 1887: 4.
31 As reported in “Have Been Married 15 Years,” Baltimore Sun, June 5, 1902: 7.
32 See “Two Wives Ask Divorce,” Baltimore American, March 16, 1905: 13.
33 Per “The Court Docket,” Baltimore American, December 7, 1908: 6.
34 As reflected in Ida’s continued residence at 1715 E. Oliver Street for decades thereafter in Baltimore city directories.
35 See “Kept Marriage Secret,” Baltimore Sun, September 5, 1912: 12.
36 As recorded in the Maryland Death Index and per a death notice published in the Baltimore Sun, September 9, 1927, per Peter Morris.