When it came to baseball, left-handed outfielder Charlie Eden was born a century too soon. An able batsman but atrocious in the field, Eden might well have had an extended major league career as a designated hitter if his playing days had begun in the 1970s. As it was, his offensive prowess—plus some pitching—ability afforded him four seasons at baseball’s highest level. At the completion of the 1885 campaign, however, Eden abandoned the game for marriage and the employment stability provided by his offseason job as a railway conductor. He was still employed as such when felled by a stroke 35 years later. A baseball-centric profile of this now long-forgotten 19th-century player follows.
Charles M. Eden was born on January 18, 1855, in Lexington, Kentucky. He was one of nine children born to bricklayer Asa T. Eden (1822-1907), and his wife Catherine (née Hayden, 1828-1902), both Kentucky natives.1 Asa was a member of the Kentucky Home Guard and had spent time in a Confederate prisoner of war camp during the Civil War. After the war ended, the Unionist Eden family relocated to Indianapolis, where Charlie completed his schooling. Thereafter, he entered the local workforce.
The details of Eden’s earliest ballplaying days are lost to time. His name is first discovered in baseball-related newsprint in early September 1875, when he was selected as captain of the Capital City club, a newly organized Indianapolis amateur nine.2 Initially, Eden was a left-handed catcher, a physically perilous position where he “was disabled by a hot foul to the left eye” during a late-September Capital Citys game.3 He recovered, however, in time to catch a second contest later that same day.
The Capital Citys stepped up in class the following season, adding against major league ball clubs to their schedule. Eden hit top-class pitching well but was a defensive liability regardless of the position: first base, second base, catcher, or outfield. In a rain-shortened 2-1 victory over the National League Philadelphia Athletics in mid-June, for example, Eden’s RBI-single plated the winning run while his muff of an easy outfield fly paired with a bad throw handed Philadelphia its only run. At season’s end, he began a new profession as a brakeman for a local railroad. He remained in the railroad employ for the rest of his life.
Eden entered the professional ranks in early May 1877, signing with the Minneapolis Browns of the League Alliance.4 For the next three months, he was the club’s regular right fielder, but in mid-August, the Minneapolis club (20-23, .465) disbanded. Eden thereupon signed with the Chicago White Stockings of the National League.5 He made his major league debut on August 17, 1877, in grand style, going 2-for-4 with a triple off St. Louis Browns right-hander Tricky Nichols in a 12-6 Chicago victory. Eden also scored three runs and managed to play an errorless right field – as no fielding chances were sent his way.6 But his batting soon tailed off, eventually yielding a pedestrian .218/.259/.255 slash line during a 15-game audition, and his play in right field – nine errors against 17 putouts, for a .679 fielding percentage – was brutal even by the barehanded norms of the day.
After being released by Chicago, Eden dickered with several non-affiliated professional clubs regarding the 1878 season before agreeing to terms with the Forest City club of Cleveland.7 In a mid-campaign profile of club members, the Cleveland Leader described Eden as “5 feet 8 inches in height and tips the scales at 173, although his heavy build makes him appear heavier.”8 The newspaper then added: “Without Eden the Forest Citys would lack one of the jolliest and most pleasant fellows that ever lived. He is quite droll, and often perpetrates some pun or witty remarks that brings down the house.”9 As it turned out, Eden and Cleveland proved a congenial pairing. The line-drive lefty hitter led the team in batting average and was one of only four players who started the year with Forest City to finish the season with the club.10 He then went home to Indianapolis and his railroad job.
Eden returned to the major leagues in 1879 when the Forest City roster provided the nucleus of a new ball club installed in Cleveland by the National League: the Cleveland Blues.11 That March, he arrived back in town “looking as fresh and plump as a Christmas turkey.”12 Overweight or not, he proceeded to perform well, at least with the willow, for a non-competitive (27-55, .329) sixth-place Cleveland club. Eden batted a solid .272 and led the National League in doubles (31). He topped the Blues in doubles, triples (7), home runs (3), RBIs (34), total bases (150), and slugging (.425). Defense was another matter. Eden’s .808 fielding percentage in 80 games in right field was markedly below the levels of George Strief in center (.918) and Billy Riley in left (.850). He also made three errors in three games played at first base and allowed two passed balls in a two-inning emergency stint behind the plate. Still, Eden was clearly among the best of the Cleveland lot. This makes his failure to return to the club for the 1880 season difficult to comprehend. But strangely, Charlie Eden would not play another major league game for almost four years.
Complicating the situation was Eden’s promotion to passenger car conductor by his railroad employer. Somehow, he secured a temporary leave of absence that March so that he could play with Dubuque (Iowa), a team in the unrecognized Northwestern League.13 In a season-opening game against the Chicago White Stockings, “Eden showed up poorly,” going 0-for-4 at the plate and making two fielding errors.14 His Dubuque teammates played no better, registering but three base hits and making 17 errors in a 27-0 shellacking. In late July, Dubuque folded, making its players free agents.15 Eden went back home to Indianapolis, finishing the summer with the Capital Citys.
The following year, history repeated itself. Eden secured another leave of absence from the railroad so that he could play ball. This time, he joined an unaffiliated professional club based in Grand Rapids, Michigan. This club, too, abandoned play in mid-summer, necessitating a return home to Indianapolis. Eden’s domestic situation, however, was stable and relatively comfortable. Unmarried, he lived at home with his parents and other siblings and held a steady job as a freight conductor with the Cleveland, Chicago, Cincinnati & St. Louis Railroad, aka the Big Four Railroad. Father Asa, meanwhile, had ascended from bricklayer to prosperous contractor and builder. Working in conjunction with his brother Charlton, Asa erected Eden Flats, the first public housing project built in Indianapolis.16 The fortunes of Charlie’s older brother Goose (William) were also on the rise. Over time, Goose became an influential Democratic Party insider, serving as lieutenant to an Indianapolis ward leader and becoming a political force in his own right.17
No evidence has been uncovered that Charlie Eden played professional baseball in 1882. Rather, he got back into the game the year after, returning to Grand Rapids to play for the local entry in a newly organized Northwestern League, the first minor league of Organized Baseball. During a non-league game in his hometown in July, Grand Rapids captain Eden launched the first over-the-fence home run ever hit on the Indianapolis grounds.18 More important, he became the NWL’s best hitter, leading the circuit in both base hits (130) and batting average (.359) for a third-place (48-36, .571) Grand Rapids club.19 He even played a decent right field, his .888 fielding average being a dramatic improvement over previous seasons and good enough to place Eden among the top one-third in NWL outfield defense.20 At season’s end, he reportedly re-signed with Grand Rapids for the coming season.21
With the upstart Union Association joining the established National League and American Association on the big-league scene in 1884, there should have been no prospect of Eden playing another season in the minors; potential major league berths seemingly abounded for him. The newly formed Indianapolis Hoosiers of the American Association were particularly desirous of having hometown-boy Eden on their roster.22 But Eden’s promotion prospects were snared by the Tripartite Agreement (more commonly known as the National Agreement) the peace pact which the NL and AA had entered with the Northwestern League prior to the start of the 1883 season. This covenant obligated the signees to respect the player contracts of NL, AA, and NWL clubs. It also allowed each such club to reserve up to 11 players from its previous season’s roster. In the case of Charlie Eden – and much to his displeasure – the rights to his services for the 1884 season were held by Grand Rapids.23 This made the rebel Union Association, not a party to the Tripartite Agreement, Eden’s only employment alternative.24
Eden was dissatisfied with the situation, reportedly grousing that he would “rather be blacklisted than play another season in Michigan.”25 But absent an offer by a UA club, Eden had no option other than to return to Grand Rapids if he wanted to play in 1884.26 He got off smartly that season, getting three base hits in a non-NWL game against Indianapolis in mid-April.27 So did Grand Rapids, zooming to the top of league standings. Along the way, the normally placid Eden engaged in perhaps the first reported instance of mound charging by an angry batsman. During a late-July game against Muskegon, he was struck in the leg by an errant Bill Nelson fastball. Taking offense, Eden raced out to the pitcher’s box and “attempted to brain” Nelson.28 But prompt intervention by the umpire and other players prevented any damage from being done.
By the time of the above incident, the Northwestern League was in turmoil, with several of its clubs in financial trouble. At a league meeting conducted in early August, league-leading Grand Rapids (48-15, .752) and Muskegon were expelled from the NWL for refusal to post a $500 bond as a guarantee for completion of their league schedules.29 For the short term, Grand Rapids continued playing against random opposition, but expulsion from the NWL vitiated Grand Rapid’s claim upon Tripartite Agreement protection and exposed its roster to predation. Its prospects bleak, Grand Rapids disbanded soon thereafter. Resourceful Grand Rapids manager Horace Phillips then secured late-season engagement as field leader of the woeful Pittsburgh Alleghenys of the American Association, bringing several NWL players with him, including Charlie Eden.30
Immediately installed in the Allegheny outfield, Eden reverted to his usual dismal self on defense, committing 14 errors and posting a .759 fielding average in 31 games. His bat, however, injected some life into the torpid Pittsburgh attack. His .418 slugging average paced Allegheny hitters with over 100 at-bats, while his .270 BA and .341 on-base percentage were second only to those posted by new outfield mate Ed Swartwood. Eden even did some pitching for Pittsburgh, but without success: 0-1 in two appearances, with a 6.75 ERA in 12 innings pitched. The Alleghenys went 30-78 (.278) and finished a distant tenth in the bloated 12-club American Association of 1884. Drastic overhaul of the club was demanded in a season-ending article published in the Pittsburgh Commercial Gazette, with the signing of Eden for the 1885 season being cited as a step in the right direction.31
With Charlie Eden as its regular left fielder, Pittsburgh was a much-improved ball club in 1885. His fielding (111 putouts and 27 errors for an .814 fielding percentage in left) was no worse than usual.32 Meanwhile, his batting (a modest .254/.298/.328 slash line) was steady, if unspectacular. And he again did some pitching, going 1-2 with a 5.17 ERA in four appearances. More important, Eden was part of an everyday lineup that saw the Alleghenys post a winning (56-55, .505) record and surge to a third-place finish in final AA standings. The postseason announcement that Eden would not be back for 1886 was, therefore, greeted with some dismay. By then 30 years old, he was focused on his upcoming wedding and working fulltime for the railroad. Baseball was no longer in his plans.33
On November 9, 1885, Eden and 21-year-old Lydia Chambers were married in Cincinnati. Their union endured for the remainder of his life but produced no offspring. Eden played no professional baseball in 1886, spending the year employed by the railroad. But the return of major league baseball to his hometown of Indianapolis for the following season inspired Eden to attempt a comeback.34 Originally, it was reported that the National League Indianapolis Hoosiers wanted him as a pitcher.35 Thereafter, “Charley Eden [was] put into practice in right field.”36 The workout, however, “renewed the soreness in his knees,” a remnant of a baserunning injury incurred several seasons earlier.37 Several days later, “Eden injured his knee again in running for a ball” and pulled up lame.38 That evening, he turned in his locker room key, “stating that he feared that he would never be able to return to regular ball-playing. His friends are greatly disappointed, and he himself is somewhat disheartened over the matter.”39
The abortive comeback brought the ballplaying career of Charlie Eden to a close. In parts of four major league seasons, he had batted a respectable .261, with 78 of his 244 safeties being good for extra bases. His fielding, however, had been epically bad, with a career fielding average of under .800. His slight pitching log totaled 1-3 (.250), with a 5.53 ERA in six appearances. In 27 2/3 innings, he allowed 34 hits, striking out eight while walking six and throwing five wild pitches.
With baseball behind him, Eden concentrated upon his job as a passenger car conductor for the Big Four Railroad. In March 1893, he was severely injured in an Indianapolis train accident that left eight dead. In time, however, he recovered and returned to work.40 Two years later, he was briefly suspended from duty for undisclosed reasons, but thereafter restored to his post as a railway car conductor.41
In 1899, Charlie and Lydia Eden relocated to Cincinnati and took up residence with her mother. Thereafter, the threesome moved from one Cincinnati address to another on virtually an annual basis.42 All the while, Eden remained in the employ of the Big Four Railroad. By that time, he had thoroughly receded into the anonymity of private life. His name had been out of newsprint for more than 20 years when a brief Associated Press dispatch announced word of his passing on September 17, 1920.43 He had suffered a massive stroke while working at the Central Union railroad station and died at home days later. Charles M. Eden was 65. Following funeral services, his remains were cremated and interred at Crown Hill Cemetery, Indianapolis. The only immediate survivor was his widow.
This biography was reviewed by Rory Costello and Michael Tow and fact-checked by Paul Proia.
Sources for the biographical info provided above include the Charlie Eden file at the Giamatti Research Center, National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, Cooperstown, New York; the Eden profiles published in Major League Baseball Profiles, 1871-1900, Vol. 1, David Nemec, ed. (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2011), and the New York Clipper, September 20, 1884; and US Census data from Ancestry.com. Unless otherwise specified, stats have been taken from Baseball-Reference.
1 The other Eden children were Henrietta (born 1848), twins Elizabeth and Mary (1850), William (1852), Lee (1857), James (1860), Katherine (1862) and Lena (1865).
2 “Base Ball,” Indianapolis News, September 2, 1875: 4.
3 “Base Ball,” Indianapolis News, September 25, 1875: 3.
4 Indianapolis News, May 3, 1877: 4. Baseball-Reference erroneously lists Eden as a member of the League Alliance club in Indianapolis during the 1877 season.
5 “Base Ball,” Indianapolis News, August 17, 1877: 1; and “The Minneapolis Browns Disband,” Chicago Inter Ocean, August 16, 1877: 2.
6 Chicago Tribune, August 18, 1877: 5. The box score of the Chicago Inter Ocean, August 18, 1877: 5, has him going three-for-four and credits Eden with two putouts.
7 “Ball and Bat,” Cleveland Leader, May 7, 1878: 8.
8 “Our Boys,” Cleveland Leader, July 3, 1878: 8.
9 “Our Boys.”
10 Cleveland Plain Dealer, September 14, 1878: 1.
11 “Indianapolis,” Cincinnati Gazette, March 27, 1879: 3, and “About People,” Indianapolis Sentinel, March 27, 1879: 8.
12 “General Notes,” Cleveland Leader, March 27, 1879: 8.
13 “The National Game,” Chicago Tribune, March 21, 1880: 7; and “In and Out-Door Sports,” Cleveland Plain Dealer, March 10, 1880: 1. The other clubs in the Northwestern League were located in St. Louis, Kansas City, Topeka (Kansas), St. Joseph (Missouri), and Adrian (Michigan).
14 “General Notes,” Cleveland Leader, April 15, 1880: 3.
15 Cincinnati Enquirer, August 6, 1880: 5.
16 Indianapolis Star, May 10, 1907: 15.
17 “Wm. H. Eden Dead,” Indianapolis News, June 7, 1899: 9.
18 “An Interesting Game,” Indianapolis Journal, July 6, 1883: 9.
19 Sporting Life, November 14, 1883: 2. Baseball-Reference has no 1883 stats for Eden.
20 Sporting Life, November 14, 1883: 2.
21 “On the Fly,” Sporting Life, October 15, 1883: 6.
22 “News and Notes,” Sporting Life, April 9, 1884: 5.
23 “On the Fly;” and “Phillips at Work,” Sporting Life, January 9, 1884: 2. Horace Phillips was the manager of the Grand Rapids club.
24 “Base-Ball,” Indianapolis News, April 1, 1884: 4.
26 No contract has been found between Eden and any Union Association team for 1884.
27 “Their First Defeat,” Pittsburgh Commercial Gazette, April 18, 1884: 2.
28 St. Paul Globe, August 3, 1884: 9; and “Old Blues Player Spotlight – Charlie Eden,” Cleveland.com (website), accessed March 20, 2022, https://www.cleveland.com/cbbc/2010/03/old_blues_player_spotlight_-_c.html
29 “Northwestern League,” Sporting Life, August 20, 1884: 2.
30 “Base Ball Squads,” Muskegon (Michigan) Chronicle, August 29, 1884: 3. In 58 games for Grand Rapids, Eden batted .280, with 24 extra-base hits and a career-high .451 slugging average. He also posted a 1-0 record with a 2.45 ERA in two pitching appearances.
31 “A Fond Farewell,” Pittsburgh Commercial Gazette, October 16, 1884: 2.
32 Some wretched defensive work as a third baseman and pitcher lowered Eden’s season fielding average to .794 in 98 games overall.
33 “Base Ball Notes,” Cleveland Plain Dealer, October 13, 1885: 6: “Charley Eden says he will play ball no more. He is to be married in two weeks.” See also, “Notes and Comments,” Sporting Life, October 21, 1885: 3.
34 In early 1887, a consortium of sports-minded Indianapolis businessmen acquired the failing St. Louis Maroons and relocated that National League franchise to their city. This version of the Indianapolis Hoosiers was a NL club during 1887-1889.
35 “The Search for Another Pitcher,” Indianapolis Journal, May 12, 1887: 3.
36 “Notes,” Indianapolis News, May 24, 1887: 1.
37 “Eden Retires Permanently,” Indianapolis Journal, May 26, 1887: 3.
38 “Eden Retires Permanently.”
39 “Base-Ball Notes,” Indianapolis Journal, June 4, 1887: 5.
40 “Sporting Notes,” Indianapolis News, April 16, 1893: 6.
41 “Personal, Local and General Notes,” Indianapolis Journal, April 19, 1895: 6.
42 As reflected in Cincinnati city directories, 1899-1920.
43 “Baseball Veteran Dies,” (Zanesville, Ohio) Times Recorder, September 18, 1920: 1.