In the early years of baseball, the job of manager entailed far more than it does in the modern era. Today’s skipper is focused almost exclusively on the play on the field – making lineups, in-game decisions, keeping the club focused on each and every game. While he may consult on roster decisions, they are fundamentally not in his control. He has a bevy of coaches to assist him. Scheduling, travel arrangements, salaries … all of these are well beyond his domain.
In the 19th century, however, as the early leagues were taking shape and the rules of baseball were still being written, the manager of a club did almost everything. In a given season, he could be responsible for scouting and signing players, arranging games with other clubs, and even financing the team and helping organize the league. Such was the job of Charlie Morton. Between 1881 and 1895, he managed at least one club every season except 1882, including three stints as a manager in the major leagues. In the early 1900s, he assumed the role of league president, a position he held for four years before a bizarre absence ended his baseball career.
Charles Hazen Morton was born October 12, 1854, in Kingsville, Ohio. His father was the Reverend Aaron Delos Morton, born in 1823 in Ashtabula, Ohio, in the same county (Ashtabula) as Kingsville. In 1855, the year after Charlie was born, Rev. Morton was appointed to the Methodist church in Poland, Ohio, where he baptized a young William McKinley.1 He was also active in the Underground Railroad and served as a chaplain in the Union Army during the Civil War. Charlie’s great-grandfather was John T. Morton, whose vote as a delegate from Pennsylvania at the Second Continental Congress swung Pennsylvania to support the Declaration of Independence.2 John Morton later signed the Declaration and chaired the committee that wrote the Articles of Confederation. Charlie’s mother was Zylpha (Leech) Morton, born in 1831 in Leechburg, Pennsylvania.
Charlie was the third of six children in the family.3 He grew up in various communities in Ohio as his father moved from assignment to assignment. As a youth, Charlie attended the Grand River Institute (now the Grand River Academy) in Austinburg, Ohio, and then Mount Union College (now the University of Mount Union) in Alliance, Ohio.
Morton’s first foray into professional baseball appears to have been in 1878, at the age of 24, when he signed with the Forest City club in Cleveland. “[Charles H. Morton] belonged to last year’s Slow and Easys, and is well-known throughout the city. He is five feet, ten inches in height and weighs 140. As a player he is very ambitious and [has] always done his level best. He has done some brilliant work for a young player.”4
A few weeks later, a Cleveland paper commented, “It was thought that by laying Cummings off the position of shortstop would be strengthened by the substitution of Morton, but this idea did not pan out very well.”5 The statistics bear this out. The 1879 Spalding Official Base Ball Guide reported that Morton played in 27 games (most seemingly in the outfield or at shortstop), hitting .192 and having a fielding percentage of .747.6 Morton was slightly better for the Detroit club in 1879, where he hit .204 in 29 games with an .817 fielding percentage.7 At the conclusion of the season in October 1879, Morton joined the club in Akron, Ohio for a few games against the National League Cleveland Forest City club (his team from the preceding season) and other local clubs.8
Morton played shortstop for the Akron club in 1880, and in August became manager. He held both positions again in 1881.9 The 1881 Akron team was one of the strongest independent teams in the Western states. In addition to Morton, the club included pitcher Tony Mullane, Ed Swartwood, Bid McPhee, Sam Wise, Leech Maskrey, Rudy Kemmler, Andy Piercy, and Blondie Purcell. John Mansell, John Neagle, and Billy Taylor also played for the club during the season.10 The Summit County Beacon (Akron, Ohio) reported at the close of the season that Morton hit .361 and fielded .852.11
After Akron disbanded, Morton joined players from the Louisville Eclipse club, first playing a series of games in St. Louis against the St. Louis Browns, and subsequently on a barnstorming tour of the south. Both these clubs were founding members of the American Association in 1882. Morton signed with the new Association club in Pittsburgh, the Alleghenys. He made his major-league debut on May 2, 1882, playing on Opening Day in Cincinnati against the Red Stockings. He went 4-for-5, with one triple and a run scored, and earned a shout-out in the game writeup in the Cincinnati Enquirer: “The best features of the game was sic the batting of Morton, Swartwood, [Billy] Taylor and [Pop] Snyder, and the fielding of [Bid] McPhee, [George] Strief, [John] Peters, Morton and Jim] Keenan.”12
Morton played predominantly in center field for the Alleghenys with a few innings at third base and second base. In 24 games, he hit .296, but had only three extra-base hits (all triples). He made his final appearance with the club on July 1, the team’s 27th game. The Cleveland Leader reported that Morton was released on July 11; the St. Louis Post-Dispatch later reported he was released “on account of bad health.”13 He spent time in Cleveland before joining a club called B & M in Omaha, Nebraska, in August, with whom he played at least one game before signing with the St. Louis Browns in late August.14 “Morton, late of the Alleghenies, will play at second. Morton is well known to the profession as ‘Dexter, the lightning base runner.’”15 Morton remained with the Browns through all but the last two games of the season, when John Shoup took over at second base.16 He played in just nine games, and hit an unspectacular .063, with just two hits in 32 at-bats.
In December 1882, Morton signed with Toledo in the Northwestern League for the 1883 season. He took over as manager in late May. “[Morton] was formerly manager of the Akron club, is a thorough ball player, a strict disciplinarian, and one in whom everyone seems to have confidence.”17 One of the players Morton inherited when he took over as manager was Fleetwood Walker, African-American and a rising star. On August 10, 1883, Cap Anson and the Chicago White Stockings came to Toledo for a game against Toledo.18 Anson initially refused to field his team if Walker played for Toledo, but Morton forced him to do so by threatening to withhold the gate receipts if they didn’t play. Chicago won the game by a score of 7-6 in ten innings. Morton had three hits, including a triple, against Fred Goldsmith. For the season, he hit .335 with 87 hits in 67 games (fifth in the league). He played 36 games in the outfield and 29 games at third base.
With the formation of the Union Association for the 1884 season, the American Association added four teams, including Toledo, and Charlie Morton was managing a club in the majors. A handful of regulars came with Morton from the 1883 Toledo club, including Fleet Walker, but Morton’s biggest signing was his old Akron teammate, Tony Mullane. In 1883, Mullane played with the St. Louis Browns, who reserved him for 1884. In November he jumped his Browns contract to sign with Henry Lucas and the St. Louis Maroons in the upstart Union Association for $2,500. Then, in January 1884, Mullane visited Morton in Akron.19 Reports soon surfaced that Mullane jumped his contract with the Maroons to sign with Toledo, facilitated by the Browns, who released him for that purpose. For ten days Mullane and Morton reportedly traveled around to stay away from Lucas’ men until the allotted time passed for Mullane to be able to legally sign with Toledo.20 Lucas responded with a restraining order prohibiting Mullane from pitching in St. Louis.21 Mullane won 36 games for a Toledo as the club finished 46-58 in eighth place. Morton played in just 32 games, hitting .162. Toledo was dropped from the Association at the end of the season.
Morton signed to manage the Detroit Wolverines in the National League for 1885. This was to be his last season as a player in the majors. After a 11-0 victory over Providence in June, the Detroit Free Press wrote “Morton let two hot ones get away from him, but he had a great amount of work to do. It must be remembered that Morton was engaged for a manager, not a player, nevertheless he has jumped into every opening and done the best of which he is capable in each. Few managers would have done as much.”22 The win was only the seventh of the season, against 30 losses. Following another Detroit loss the next day, Morton was replaced by Bill Watkins.23 He finished his major-league playing career with 87 games, a .197 batting average and just 15 extra-base hits (no home runs) in 320 at-bats. While more than a third of his games were at third base (37 games), he played every position except catcher and first base, including pitching 23 innings over three appearances.
After leaving Detroit, Morton returned home to Akron, where he played a few games with the local club, umpired some, and worked as a clerk. He had married Margaret Laber (born in Germany in 1864) in 1884. Their first child, a son, was born in March 1886.24
In November 1885, Morton signed to manage Savannah in the Southern League. He resigned that position in June 1886 to take a job as an umpire for the American Association, a job which he held for approximately one week. It was reported that he was “incapacitated by illness” for a game he was supposed to umpire in St. Louis shortly before he left the position.25 However, the Cincinnati Enquirer reported that his resignation was demanded on account of a report alleging that he had sold a game six years earlier while managing for Akron.26 It is not clear if the allegation was ever investigated or proven.
Morton returned to manage Savannah again in 1887, but stayed with the club only a month, once again reportedly leaving because of his health.27 After a stint managing and playing in Akron, he replaced William Bryan as manager of the Des Moines club in the Northwestern League. Des Moines joined the new Western Association in 1888, with Morton still managing the club. The Prohibitionists won the championship on the second-to-last day of the season with a victory over second-place Kansas City.
Morton played in 25 games for Des Moines in 1888 and in 14 games the following season as the manager of the Toledo club in the International League. His playing career was winding down, but he still was sought after as a manager. In 1890, the Players League resulted in upheaval in the American Association. Cincinnati and Brooklyn jumped to the National League for the 1890. Baltimore moved to the Atlantic Association, and Kansas City moved back to the Western Association. Needing four clubs, the American Association recruited clubs from Syracuse, Rochester, and Toledo, and established a new club in Brooklyn. Morton managed Toledo for the full season, bringing the team home with a 68-64 record in fourth place, his best season as a manger in the majors. His overall record as a manager in the majors over three years was 121– 153.
Morton managed five more years in the minors. He started 1891 managing Jamestown in the New York-Pennsylvania League, resigned that position in late June, and took charge of a moribund Rochester (Eastern Association) club in early July. “Manager Charlie Morton has evidently infused a good deal of ginger into the Rochesters. The latter are now playing a great game and it takes good all around ball playing to beat them.”28 Despite the optimism, the club folded on August 25 with a record of 36-61, fifth in the six-team league. The players had not been paid in almost a month, and Morton played right field in the club’s final game after a portion of the team left.29
Morton started 1892 managing Minneapolis in the Western League.30 That club folded in July, and Morton took over in Atlanta in the Southern Association, succeeding his former player Leech Maskrey. “Manager Morton is one of the best posted ball men in the country, and his knowledge of players and the game will enable him to give Atlanta the first team in the league.”31 Under Morton, Atlanta finished the second half of the season at 22-19, in fourth place.
In 1893, Morton managed the club in Erie, New York, in the Eastern League. The team included Bill Van Dyke, Parson Nicholson, and Frank Scheibeck, all from Morton’s 1890 Toledo club, while Dad Clarke led the pitching staff. Erie won the league championship with a record of 63-41. Morton returned to Erie in 1894 with about the same lineup, the most notable difference being Pop Smith taking over from Scheibeck at shortstop. The pitching staff was led by Joseph Herndon and Egyptian Healy, Clarke having moved to the majors with the New York Giants.32 Erie finished in third place for the season.
Morton moved on to Buffalo in 1895.33 At the age of 40, this was his last full season as a manager. In early July, he left the team because of illness. The club was in third place with a record of 30-24 on July 1. By July 12 they were in fifth place at 33-33. “It is quietly whispered about that some of the men are taking advantage of Manager Morton’s illness and seeing too many sights in the different cities. There is no questioning the fact that they were having a good time when at home here.”34 Morton was a strict manager, known to fine and/or suspend players for drinking. He managed to stop the plunge when he returned, but the club finished at 63-61 in fifth place.
For the first time in more than 15 years, Morton started the 1896 season without a spot. He was “engaged this season to manage the Fall River, Mass., club, when he broke his arm just as he was about to head east.” Instead, he wound up umpiring in the Eastern League in July for about a week before taking a job in Chicago with the Pullman Palace Car Company. 35 He returned to baseball again in July 1897, this time as an umpire in the Western League. As respected as he was as a manager, he was just not successful as an umpire. “Morton, the latest acquisition in the shape of an umpire, threw up his job today and did not appear on the grounds until after the game had been well started, much to the satisfaction of both teams and everybody else.”36 Like his previous stints umpiring, this once again lasted just a short time before he walked away from the job.
In 1898, Rochester hired the 43-year-old Morton to manage their club in the Eastern League.37 At the time of his hiring, the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle wrote “Mr. Morton has managed more minor league pennant winners than almost any other manager in the country.” That was not the outcome for Rochester. The club never got out of last place in the first month of the season, and Morton resigned on May 26, leaving the club with a record of 5-13. “We had all kinds of hard luck and apparently were in a rut. A change of management has been known to have beneficial results in such cases, and it may have in this case … I am out of baseball for good.”38 Rochester exited the Eastern League later that summer, as the club was transferred to Ottawa in July due to lack of patronage.
Morton’s retirement lasted longer this time. In 1900, he was living in Akron, working as a railroad conductor with Margaret and two children.39 His daughter Edna was born in 1888, while son Fred was born in 1891.
In 1905, Morton returned to baseball, becoming the president of the Independent Association of Baseball Clubs, based in Ohio and Pennsylvania. This collection of clubs (ultimately numbering 21) was organized outside of the National Agreement between the major leagues and minor leagues that was put in place when the National and American Leagues made peace. By the end of July, the Association joined the National Agreement and rebranded as the Ohio and Pennsylvania League. Morton remained as its president. In 1906, the league reorganized as an eight-team league, and under Morton it had successful seasons in 1906 and 1907.
In 1908, the league shut down early, at the beginning of September, as no team was making money. In October, Akron sued the league for $3,000 in damages related to lost income from canceling the last month of the season. In November, the clubs faced the risk of losing control of all their players for failing to pay salaries through the end of September as contracted. By the beginning of January, the league was in disarray.
On January 12, 1909, Morton failed to show up at a meeting of the league owners; with him vanished $2,500 in league funds, which had been deposited into his accounts. He was missing for just over two months before he was found by his brother Harry in Chicago in a state of acute dementia. Papers found with him suggested he had been in the West, Southwest, and Mexico. He was reported to be muttering about Corpus Christi. He was unable to return home to Akron until later in the summer, and his whereabouts during the two months he was missing were never explained.40
Morton recovered enough by 1912 to open a pool hall in Akron, an establishment he owned until 1918. He lived long enough to see the birth of two grandsons; sadly, his daughter died in 1920 shortly after the birth of her second son.
Charles Morton died on December 9, 1921, at his home in Akron after a brief illness, at the age of 67. His son Fred died just a few months later in February 1922. Charlie’s widow lived until the age of 98 or 99 before she died in 1963. All three are buried at Glendale Cemetery in Akron, Ohio.
This story was reviewed by Bill Lamb and Rory Costello and checked for accuracy by SABR’s fact-checking team.
US Census data was accessed through Geneology.com and Ancestry.com, and other family information was found at Ancestry.com and FindAGrave.com. Stats and records were collected from Baseball-Reference unless otherwise noted. Stats and records from some seasons were found in the annual Spalding Base Ball Guides. Articles cited in this biography were typically accessed through Newspapers.com and/or Genealogy.com. Street guides were accessed through Ancestry.com. Details on the assignments of Reverend Morton were given on his FindAGrave.com website.
1 William Howard Armstrong, Major McKinley: William McKinley and the Civil War (Kent, Ohio: Kent State University Press, 2000), 7. Rev. Morton was assigned to the church at Portland in 1855 and left there in 1857. The FindAGrave website for Reverend Morton includes a list of assignments with dates.
2 “Former Manager of Akron Baseball Club is Called by Death,” Akron (Ohio) Beacon Journal, December 10, 1921: 1. Additional information on John T. Morton came from Wikipedia.
3 One brother appears to have died young, as he is listed on the 1870 Census at age one but does not appear in the 1880 Census. Another brother, Harry, also was active in professional baseball for a short period of time.
4 “Our Boys: The Members of the Forest City Base Ball Club,” Cleveland Leader, July 3, 1878: 8. This article included a short biographical sketch about Charlie, including the information about his education. The Slow and Easys were an amateur club in Cleveland.
5 “Seeing Stars,” Cleveland Leader, July 16, 1878: 8
6 1879 Spalding Base Ball Guide, 36. Statistics for non-league players are given from pages 30-37. The percentages provided are “Percentage of Base Hits to Times at Bat” and “Percentage of Fielding Chances Accepted to Chances Offered.” Pages 45-46 provide a summary for the Forest City ball club.
7 1880 Spalding Base Ball Guide, 31. Statistics for non-league players are given from pages 28-32.
8 Alvin Peterjohn, “Baseball in Akron, 1879-81,” Baseball Research Journal (1973). The article is available on the SABR site here. It covers the three years Morton was in Akron and was a significant resource for this section of the biography.
9 “Local News,” Ashtabula (Ohio) Weekly Telegraph, September 10, 1880: 1. The paper describes manager Charlie Morton of the Akrons as “an old Ashtabula boy”; his father was assigned there from 1872-1874. “Diamond Dust,” Summit County Beacon (Akron, Ohio), May 4, 1881: 2. This article discusses manager Morton’s efforts to schedule games against Providence, Boston, Troy and Worcester.
10 The Louisville Courier-Journal mentioned that Morton and Leech Maskery were cousins. The mother of Samuel Leech Maskrey was Sophronia Leech. Morton’s mother’s maiden name was Leech, and she was born in Pennsylvania, where Leech Maskery was born. While no definite connection has been established between the two, this certainly suggest a relationship of some sort. See “Liners,” Louisville Courier-Journal, June 27, 1881: 2.
11 “Individual Records of the Akrons,” Summit County Beacon (Akron, Ohio), September 14, 1881: 1. The records were reported for “the reorganized Akrons, exclusive of the St. Louis and Louisville games.”
12 “Smoky City Smashing,” Cincinnati Enquirer, May 3, 1882: 5. Snyder and McPhee played for Cincinnati, while the others were with the Alleghenys.
13 “Diamond Dust,” Cleveland Leader, July 12, 1882: 5, and “Sporting,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, August 26, 1882: 8. Pittsburgh only played five games between July 1 and July 11, and Morton didn’t play in any of them.
14 “The B & M – St. Louis Game To-day,” Omaha Bee, August 19, 1882: 8. An article in the St. Louis Globe-Democrat on August 24, 1882 described how “H.B. Phillips, the organizer of the Philadelphia team … is in Omaha engaging players for the Browns. He telegraphed last night that [Bert] Dorr had left for St. Louis … and he also stated that he had secured the services of two good men, one a baseman and the other an outfielder” (“Brown Stocking Changes,” 7). The baseman was likely Charlie Morton. Morton replaced Bill Smiley at second base, who was released “owing to the indifference he has shown in his work of late.” Smiley apparently stopped caring after he found out the Browns did not want to bring him back for the 1883 season, per the Globe-Democrat article.
15 “Diamond Dust,” St. Louis Globe-Democrat, August 27, 1882: 9. Morton’s speed was also referenced in the Louisville Courier-Journal, which stated “Maskrey and Morton, of the Akrons … can beat any two men running in Ohio or Kentucky” in 1881 (“Liners,” Louisville Courier-Journal, June 27, 1881: 2).
16 “Diamond Dust,” St. Louis Globe-Democrat, September 30, 1882: 5. St. Louis played two games against Louisville on September 30 and October 1, and Shoup started both games (his only two with St. Louis that season). Morton returned to Cleveland at the end of the season.
17 “Local Notes,” Summit County Beacon (Akron, May 30, 1883: 6.
18 The article “August 10, 1883: Cap Anson vs. Fleet Walker,” by John Husman is published on the SABR website. The essay was originally published in Inventing Baseball: The 100 Greatest Games of the 19th Century, Bill Felber, ed. (Phoenix: SABR, 2013).
19 “Personals,” Summit County Beacon, January 16, 1884: 5.
20 “A Stern Chase,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, February 11, 1884: 5. Per the National Agreement, there was a waiting period after a player was released before he could sign with another club. The article describes how Maroons manager Tom Sullivan allegedly chased Morton and Mullane around for a week before the deadline passed and Mullane could sign with Toledo.
21 The injunction remained if effect long after the Union Association ended. In 1886, when Cincinnati came to St. Louis with Mullane, he was still unable to pitch, and the Red Stockings had to use Joe Murphy to start one game of their series against the Browns.
22 “Sporting Matters. The Detroits Play a Strong Game and Shut Out the Providence Team,” Detroit Free Press, June 24, 1885: 8.
23 “Good Bye Charley,” Detroit Free Press, June 25, 1885: 3. The paper reported that Morton “stepped down and out. He waived his twenty-day notice and will at once go home to Cleveland.” It sounds as if Morton may have resigned rather than been fired.
24 “Rakings,” Akron City Times, March 24, 1886: 3.
25 “Pittsburgs, 3; St. Louis Browns, 0,” St. Louis Globe-Democrat, June 24, 1886: 5.
26 “Why Umpire Morton Resigned,” Cincinnati Enquirer, June 27, 1886: 8. The incident involved a game pitched by Tony Mullane against Louisville. The report in the article alleged that
27 “Sporting Notes,” Summit County Beacon, May 25, 1887: 4.
28 “The Bisons Found a Nest of Duck Eggs at Rochester,” Buffalo Times, July 18, 1891: 3.
29 “The Agony is Over,” Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, August 26, 1891: 7.
30 Baseball Reference indicates that Morton managed Buffalo in 1892, and in March it was thought he would manage there before he signed with Minnesota, but there is no evidence he actually did manage there that season.
31 “Those New Players,” Atlanta Constitution, July 11, 1892: 2.
32 Baseball-Reference does not identify John Healy, but the Buffalo Enquirer reported on March 15, 1894 that Egyptian Healy signed with Erie (“Baseball Notes,” 8). The Buffalo Courier subsequently refers to him as “Long John Healy,” another known nickname for Egyptian Healy (“Buffalos in Third Place,” May 30, 1894: 1).
33 According to the Buffalo Courier, Buffalo purchased the Erie club and its players after the 1894 season (“Didn’t Sign Berger,” January 1, 1895: 10). It published a long complaint by Morton, in which he described how the National League refused to recognize the transfer of the Erie players to Buffalo, in violation of the National Agreement. Morton also asserted that the National League “controls baseball, and can pursue any method it sees fit without consulting the minor leagues.” As a result, Morton was required to travel the country and re-sign as many of the former Erie players as he could.
34 “Baseball Items,” Buffalo Sunday Morning News, July 7, 1895: 9.
35 “Morton in a New Position,” Akron Beacon Journal, August 17, 1896: 3.
36 “Tied At Last. Pitcher Gayle Officiating as Umpire until the Eleventh,” St. Paul Globe, June 19, 1897: 7.
37 The owners in Rochester purchased the club from Scranton and moved it to Rochester for the 1898 season.
38 “He Is Out For Good. Manager Morton is Tired of Baseball and Will Become an Ex,” Buffalo Commercial, May 26, 1898: 5.
39 The 1900 Census indicates he and Margaret had three children, one of whom died before the 1900 Census. Given that he had a son born in 1886 not listed in the Census, this is likely the child that died.
40 The story is told at https://baseballhistorydaily.com/2015/08/28/he-fell-off-the-face-of-the-earth/.