Best known for pitching the meaningless third game of the 1884 World Series, James “Buck” Becannon pitched in 11 regular-season games in the major leagues for the Metropolitan club of the American Association. He also played one game at third base in 1887 for the New York Giants of the National League.
James Melvin Becannon was born on August 22, 1859, in New York City.1 He was the second-oldest of the four children of Hiram and Mary (Greene) Becannon.2 His father was a well-to-do businessman who could afford to live in a brownstone on West 123rd Street across from Mt. Morris Park in then-suburban Harlem.3 His older brother was William Becannon, the American Association umpire and business partner in the sporting-goods firm Keefe & Becannon.
Given his father’s stature in the business community, James received an education and could devote the time to play amateur baseball as a young man. In the 1880 federal census, the 21-year-old James was listed as “at home” without an occupation, as he played baseball for various amateur clubs based in Harlem.4 He acquired his nickname, Buck, as a shortened version of his last name, which sounded similar to Buchanan. He turned professional in 1883, playing for the Newark, New Jersey, team in 1883 and the Hartford, Connecticut, team in 1884.5
During the latter stages of the 1884 baseball season, Buck stepped up to the major leagues, when he played for the Metropolitan club in the American Association. He pitched for the Mets in their last game of the regular season, on October 15. “Becannon and Murphy, the battery of the Hartford Club, officiated in that capacity for the Mets,” the New York Times reported on Becannon’s major-league debut. “The former proved that he is above an ordinary pitcher and created a favorable impression by his good head work. Only two hits were made from his delivery.”6
Buck pitched again for the Mets, in the last game of the three-game World Series that the Metropolitans, champions of the American Association, played against Providence, champion of the National League. Since Providence had won the first two games, and the third game was meaningless, Becannon was given another tryout in the pitcher’s box. “The Mets played recklessly in the field,” the Times reported, “and failed to give young Becannon any kind of support,” as Providence romped to an 11-2 victory.7
With the transfer of star pitcher Tim Keefe to the New York Giants, the Mets signed Buck to be a pitcher for the 1885 season. In 10 games with the Mets, though, Buck was less than stellar, compiling a 2-8 record in the pitcher’s box. Buck did a better job in the batter’s box, producing a .303 average as a hitter. The Mets released him in June.
For the remainder of the 1885 season, Buck played with the Hartford club in the Southern New England League. For the rest of his baseball career, he played less as a pitcher and more as a fielder, manning several infield and outfield positions. During 1886, he bounced around the International League, playing for Binghamton and Buffalo, before returning to play with Hartford, then in the Eastern League.
In 1887 Buck started the season with the reserve team of the New York Giants.8 This team, managed by his brother William, played exhibition games against minor-league teams as sort of a farm team for the Giants if they needed a replacement player. Buck got his last chance in the major leagues on May 28, 1887, when several Giants players were injured. “In this emergency Becannon of the New York Reserves played at third base and did good service there,” the New York Clipper reported, as Buck went 0-for-5 and committed one error in the field in five chances.9
After playing out the remainder of 1887 with the Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, club in the International League, Buck played the 1888 season with the Easton, Pennsylvania, club in the Central League. That was the conclusion of his career in Organized Baseball. He did play some semipro baseball in 1889, with a reconstituted Metropolitan team, made up of former players with the major-league Mets (the club had disbanded after the 1887 season), which played various teams in the New York City area.10
Buck never married nor had any children. For three decades after his baseball career ended, he worked as a collector at the Custom House in New York City.11
James “Buck” Becannon died on November 5, 1923, in New York City and is buried at Kensico Cemetery in Valhalla, New York.12
This biography was reviewed by Len Levin and fact-checked by Rob Wood.
1 No birth record can be located for Becannon. This date is from his death record (death records for 1923 in New York City at familysearch.org website).
2 Federal census record for 1870 for Hiram Becannon, 7th election district, 12th ward, New York City, New York; death notice of four-year-old Hiram Jr., New York Times, March 20, 1866.
3 New York City Directory, 1867 and 1875; federal census record for 1870 for Hiram Becannon.
4 Federal census record for 1880 for Hiram Becannon, 1 West 123rd Street, New York City, New York.
5 “Metropolitan vs. Newark,” New York Clipper, August 26, 1883; “A Loosely Played Game,” Hartford Courant, July 22, 1884.
6 “The Metropolitans Win the Last of Their Championship Games,” New York Times, October 16, 1884.
7 “Close of the Championship Season,” New York Times, October 26, 1884.
8 “New York Reserves,” Sporting Life, April 6, 1887.
9 “New York vs. Detroit,” New York Clipper, June 4, 1887.
10 “Their Nine Selected,” New York Times, March 9, 1889; “Brooklyn 13, Mets 2,” New York Times, June 28, 1889.
11 Federal census record for 1900 for William Becannon at 461 East 176th Street in Bronx, New York City; New York City Directory, 1912 and 1920.
12 “‘Buck’ Becannon, Old Ball Player, Dies at 64,” New York Sun, November 6, 1923; Kensico Cemetery records show that James is buried in Section 45/46, Lot 1186.