This article was written by Malcolm Allen
Connie McGeehan appeared in five major league games as a pitcher-outfielder, all shortly before his 21st birthday in the summer of 1903 with the Philadelphia Athletics. After returning to the minors to gain experience, he developed a terminal illness within two years and ultimately perished in what his local newspaper called “the most pathetic double visitation of death that has taken place in the coal regions in years.”1
Cornelius Bernard McGeehan was born on August 25, 1882, in Jeddo, Pennsylvania, a Luzerne County coal-mining town of about 350 residents at the time. His parents, Patrick McGeehan and the former Margaret “Maggie” Early, came to the Keystone State from Ireland in 1880 with their two-year-old son Charles. Patrick, a miner, was “one of the pioneer residents of Lehigh coal field.”2
The family grew large in Pennsylvania as Maggie McGeehan bore at least a dozen children,3 nine of whom were still alive at the beginning of the 20th century. Cornelius –known as “Connie,” “Cond,” or “Con”—was the first born in America, followed by four brothers and three sisters. The McGeehans lived in Freeland and Drifton –both within a few miles of Jeddo—for a while before settling in Hazleton, a larger city about six miles to the southwest.
In 1900, Charles worked as a machinist, Connie was a laborer in a machine shop, and their younger brother Danny was a slate picker in the mines. Several of the brothers played minor league baseball; only Connie and Dan McGeehan reached the majors. Charles peaked in Class D ball after captaining the baseball and football teams at the Augustinian College of Villanova (now Villanova University), where he became the school’s first professor of electrical engineering and served as the Wildcats’ graduate manager of athletics until his death. For more than two decades, he managed the baseball team, and the on-campus diamond where the team played until 1998 was posthumously renamed Charles A. McGeehan Field in his honor in 1966.4
Baseball-Reference lists Connie McGeehan as playing for the Lock Haven Maroons/Normals in the four-team Central Pennsylvania League in 1898, but most of his early experience came with local semipro clubs like the Drifton Fearnots,5 Freeland Tigers,6 and Hazleton Athletics, with older brother Charles often playing shortstop behind him.7 When Connie wasn’t pitching, he usually played third base.8
McGeehan’s career really took off in 1901, when he performed so well that the local paper reported that he’d been “offered a position at Weatherly with a good salary providing he consents to join the baseball club of that town.”9 Instead, McGeehan went about 15 miles south to Tamaqua, Pennsylvania. After he pitched a two-hitter and went 4-for-5 at bat in his debut victory over Hazleton, Tamaqua’s Register reported: “By the time nine innings were played, Con had all the girls in love with him and he could have had the town for the asking. He can play in our backyard til the cows come home.”10
Within weeks, McGeehan “received several offers from other teams since he has done such phenomenal work.”11 After he throttled the Shamokin club on September 7, a headline in the Philadelphia Inquirer proclaimed: “M’Geehan Had ‘Em Tied In Knots.”12 Ten days later,13 McGeehan was off to study law at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts.14
McGeehan’s college career began inauspiciously. He was so sick from malaria in his first semester that some inaccurate reports claimed he had died.15 He was back on his feet by November, however, and did a good job for the baseball team in the spring. Righthander Andy Coakley was the Crusaders’ ace, so McGeehan played second base and filled the number-two pitcher role for a club that went 18-6 in 1902.
On May 29, McGeehan shut out Cornell University on three hits, winning 3-0 on Pete Noonan’s homer with two aboard.16 But he still hadn’t decided where to spend his summer. A club in Pottsville, Pennsylvania, had been trying to sign him for months, but McGeehan wanted more money, so negotiations did not progress.17 Finally, in mid-June, he agreed to join the Oldtown team in the Northern Maine League18 where most of his teammates were college players from other New England-area schools. When McGeehan didn’t pitch, he played the outfield — often batting cleanup — and Oldtown won the league championship.
Holy Cross’s baseball squad lost Coakley’s services for 1903 after he became ineligible for pitching three games for the American League’s Philadelphia Athletics under an alias.19 Consequently, McGeehan was expected to shoulder the bulk of the Crusaders’ pitching load as a sophomore, but another bout of acute malaria landed him in a Worcester isolation hospital for six weeks that spring.20 Noonan and the team captain had previously been stricken. Despite initial fears that McGeehan would miss the entire season,21 he returned in May to beat Amherst College, Wesleyan, and Yale in his first three starts.22
Less than two weeks after McGeehan defeated Amherst with a two-hit, 10-strikeout performance on June 10,23 he returned to Pennsylvania with his second year at Holy Cross complete. Before the month was over, Connie Mack showed up at McGeehan’s home in Drifton to offer him $400 a month to join the Philadelphia Athletics for the remainder of the American League season.24 After McGeehan declined and remained steadfast when the offer reportedly increased to a flat $3,000, a local newspaper reported that he’d accepted a clerical job in Pennsylvania’s state capital of Harrisburg25 and intended to return to Holy Cross in the fall.
On July 7, however, Hazleton’s Plain Speaker put McGeehan’s picture on the front page and announced that he had signed with the Athletics.26 Three days later, the same paper reported that McGeehan’s older brother Charles had received a letter from Connie in Philadelphia, saying he liked the city and “he will be used as a utility man and not be asked to officiate in the box.”27 Mack’s second-place club lost that day when Coakley, McGeehan’s former Holy Cross teammate, was outdueled by Addie Joss of the Cleveland Naps.
McGeehan made his big league debut on July 15, replacing Topsy Hartsel in left field for the conclusion of the opener of a Wednesday afternoon doubleheader at Columbia Park. With 13,964 in attendance, the Athletics won, 11-7, behind rookie Chief Bender. McGeehan caught both balls hit his way and made an out in his only at bat versus White Sox right-hander Roy Patterson. In his second appearance, exactly two weeks later, McGeehan pinch hit for pitcher Weldon Henley against Highball Wilson of the Washington Senators. He made the final out a contest that ended in a 10-inning tie.
On July 30, McGeehan made his pitching debut, relieving Rube Waddell to start the seventh inning with Philadelphia trailing the Senators, 5-3. “When Mr. McGeehan first mounted the slab, he seemed about to break the world’s record for the standing broad jump, but that was only his way of winding up,”28 observed Charles Dryden, the leading baseball writer of the time. “If McGeehan keeps that motion before pitching, he will be known as “Froggie” McGeehan. He gives a good imitation of a frog swimming before delivering the ball,” noted the Philadelphia Record.29
McGeehan retired all nine Senators he faced, and his long fly out to center following Monte Cross’s triple brought the Athletics within one run in the bottom of the seventh. After Philadelphia surged ahead on Danny Murphy’s two-run double an inning later,30 McGeehan finished off a 6-5, come-from-behind victory by whiffing veteran catcher Malachi Kittridge for his first major league strikeout. “To the rescue came a youth to fortune and to fame, unknown at that moment, and now he is famous,” wrote Dryden after McGeehan earned the win with three hitless innings. “McGeehan had great speed, good command and sharp curves and the general impression is that he will improve with experience”31
The Athletics moved to within two-and-a-half games of the first-place Boston Americans with the victory, but that was as close as they would get. When the Americans jumped on Philadelphia’s Eddie Plank for seven early runs in the rubber match of a three-game series on August 7, McGeehan got to face the 1903 pennant winners in relief. Boston greeted him with three quick runs, but the Philadelphia Ledger said that “everything considered, he did quite well”32 after McGeehan hurled the last five innings of an 11-3 defeat.
A 6-11 Athletics road trip began the next day in Boston — where Mack’s club was swept in three games—and McGeehan only saw action on August 14 in Chicago. He hurled the last two innings of Waddell’s 6-0 loss at South Side Park, prompting this optimistic report in Hazleton’s Plain Speaker: “If Waddell is released — and that is altogether probable unless he braces up —McGeehan will be regularly used in the box.”33 Instead, while Waddell braced up and pitched himself into the National Baseball Hall of Fame, McGeehan never appeared in another major league game.
When Philadelphia’s dismal road swing wrapped up in Cleveland on his 21st birthday, McGeehan was missing $20 and a pair of shoes. He and rookie infielder Bert Daly had items stolen from their room at the Hollendon Hotel while they were at League Park with their teammates.34
Before the Athletics finished their season, McGeehan was back in Drifton playing for the Fearnots. “McGeehan is to return to Philadelphia as soon as he rounds out,” a local paper reported that fall.35 After McGeehan stroked two hits and played shortstop impressively at Hazle Park on September 12, the Plain Speaker raved that he “showed in his every move that he is a true base ball artist. His throws to first base were lightning-like in their swiftness and he made a one-handed catch at second that brought applause from the audience.”36
During the off-season, McGeehan kept “in condition by taking long walks every day and engaging in light athletic exercise.”37 In November, Mack revealed his plan to send McGeehan to the Class-A Toronto Maple Leafs in 1904. “He is to be loaned for Lou] Bruce, an Indian who did star work in the box for the Eastern Leaguers, and who has been secured by Manager Mack.”38 Prior to beginning his winter job as the physical director at a local YMCA in the newyear, McGeehan made a business trip to Worcester, Massachusetts, where he ran into Mack.39 There’s no record of what was discussed but, even before spring arrived, it became clear that manager and player had different understandings of McGeehan’s status.
In the last week of February, Harrisburg Senators’ skipper/catcher Pete Agnew announced that McGeehan would play the 1904 season for his independent Tri-State League team. “McGeehan was sought after by about a dozen other managers, but Pete was not to be denied,” explained one Harrisburg paper.40 McGeehan, just “recovered from a severe attack of the [grippe],”41 would reportedly receive more money42 to remain in Pennsylvania than to cross the Canadian border. The Harrisburg Telegraph reported, “McGeehan says he will not leave Harrisburg and rather than play at Toronto would quit the game.”43
McGeehan’s employment for 1904 was far from settled, however. In early March, published reports said, “[I]t now develops that [McGeehan] has made a deal whereby he will pitch during the coming season with Charles Comiskey’s Chicago Americans. McGeehan has just received notice from Comiskey that his terms have been accepted and a contract will be forwarded for him to sign.”44
By mid-March, Harry’s Cigar Store in downtown Harrisburg featured a large portrait of McGeehan in its display window.45 Agnew insisted that, when he visited McGeehan to take measurements for a uniform, the player promised to report.46 McGeehan believed that “neither Mack nor any other manager in the National Association has any claim on him, as he had never signed a contract while with Mack and cannot be held under any reserve rule.”47
McGeehan did join the Harrisburg club, and contemporary reports described him as a “giant in size”48 with “the ideal build of a strong pitcher, one who can stand the strain of many hard battles. In height, he is close to six feet, and his inches are backed up by 180 pounds of good bone and muscle.”49 In his season debut, his first pitch sailed high over Agnew’s head, prompting Clarence “Waxey” Williams of the Cuban X-Giants to exclaim, “Oh my, a skyscraper!”50 McGeehan walked the first two batters, but settled down to defeat the seasoned club — which had been playing all winter—with a four-hitter in front of 1,800 fans.51
Within 10 days, McGeehan — playing third base as well — had become the “idol of the town”52 and a target of Hughie Jennings’s Eastern League Baltimore Orioles. “McGeehan is satisfied where he is and refuses to consider the offer,” read Harrisburg’s Patriot.53 On June 13, McGeehan defeated the Philadelphia Giants,54 the club that went on to win 1904’s “World’s Colored Championship.” The same day, “McGeehan to Leave”55 headlined a Harrisburg Daily Independent story describing a lucrative offer from a club in Plattsburgh, New York, but he remained with the Senators for the entire season.
The same could not be said of Ernest “Rube” Vinson. After McGeehan served as the best man at Vinson’s wedding on the evening of July 5, the outfielder skipped town with money the team had advanced him,56 resurfaced in the Eastern League, batted .360 in 76 games for the Providence Grays, and finished the season with the American League’s Cleveland Naps. At least 16 past or future big leaguers played for Harrisburg in 1904, but when William Matthews left for the Eastern League as well in August, McGeehan was the only reliable pitcher left with the team.57
He would toy with hitters, as described by the game account of a July victory over the Altoona Mountaineers: “Connie McGeehan as he pitched each ball, would remark, ‘Hit that one, won’t you.’ ‘Now, here is one for you to hit.’ ‘Here is one for you to knock to [shortstop Matt] Broderick.’ ‘Now I’ll give you one for [right fielder] Dick Nallin.’”58
When Harrisburg struggled, the superstitious players would rearrange their bats, switch occupants of the coaches’ boxes, or get dressed in different places to snap losing streaks. McGeehan also described one less traditional ritual. “Connie said that nearly every member of the Harrisburg team would let out a whoop of joy if — on the way to the park in their bus — they met a wagon load of hay. This episode, the players declare, presaged a victory for the team.”59 Though McGeehan insisted he couldn’t recall the team ever losing after encountering the positive omen, not enough wagon loads of hay crossed the club’s path and Harrisburg finished third in the six-team circuit.
Late in the season, both McGeehan and Broderick were initiated into the Knights of Columbus60 at a capital city council meeting before heading back to Luzerne County. Twice, McGeehan arranged to bring his teammates to Hazleton to play exhibitions, but he was disappointed when both games were scuttled by a contrary team director who forced the club to travel to unprofitable Brandywine instead.61
McGeehan spent part of his off-season at the Augustinian College of Villanova62 near Philadelphia, where his older brother Charles was a student and two-sport athlete. Charles, primarily an infielder, tried out for the Phillies63 before enrolling at the school and later played Class D ball in the Tigers’ chain in 1910. Connie McGeehan coached the Wildcats baseball team in the spring.64
Harrisburg wanted McGeehan back in 1905,65 but the spurned Maple Leafs still desired his services badly and had sent a proposal for his consideration the previous fall.66 In early April, the Altoona Tribune reported that “[McGeehan] will go to the Toronto team of the Eastern League with a view of getting into the big league next year.”67 “Connie McGeehan, by going to Toronto — which is really a Connie Mack team — is again in the good graces of the Philadelphia Athletics’ manager,” another newspaper added.68
Former major league outfielder Dick Harley, the Maple Leafs manager, told McGeehan to report to Preston Springs, Ontario, for training on April 4. Preston Springs was a resort town about 60 miles west of Toronto with sulfur springs and a racetrack in addition to a ballpark.69 In Preston Springs, “the players were compelled to practice on a field covered with snow”70 read one report. “On one occasion, [McGeehan] played in a practice game with the snow three inches deep”71 said another. McGeehan caught a cold, developed a cough that he couldn’t shake, and changed his mind about playing in Canada. On May 10, he rejoined his former teammates in Harrisburg.72
In McGeehan’s first week back in the Tri-State League, he tossed a one-hit shutout against the Lebanon Dutch, allowing only a two-strike single to right by Bobby Rothermel in the seventh inning.73 After working the first seven innings of a 7-2 loss to Coatesville,74 just over two weeks later he was too sick to continue.
On June 30, Harrisburg’s Courier optimistically reported that “Connie McGeehan, who has been very ill, is improving very much,”75 and the manager of Hazleton’s baseball club, H. Dryfoos, Jr., announced that he had signed McGeehan in early August.76 By February 1906, however, published reports confirmed that McGeehan was dying from tuberculosis at the White Haven Sanitarium.77
For more than a year, McGeehan lived in a tent set up in his parents’ yard78 in Hazleton. His younger sister, Maggie, was his primary attendant.79 McGeehan’s former Nesquehoning club named him team captain80 and played a benefit game in Freeland in the summer of 1907 to help with his family’s expenses.81
On July 4, 1907, Connie McGeehan died around 5 a.m. He was 24. “Possibly it is better that he, poor boy, has been relieved of his misery,”82 said Maggie, a 19-year-old described by the local paper as “one of the most beautiful girls in the coal regions.”83 She then told another family member that “I am dying, too,” closed her eyes and breathed her last breath about two hours later. Maggie had never fully recovered from a bout with the grippe about six months earlier.84 Though published reports initially suggested that she’d died from shock or a broken heart, her death certificate cited pulmonary tuberculosis, just like her brother.
Two days later, there was a solemn double funeral at the parents’ home on East Green Street. After a Mass at St. Gabriel’s Church, the bodies traveled by trolley to Freeland where they were interred at St. Ann’s Cemetery. Ballplayers from the Nesquehoning team served as pallbearers for both caskets.85 It all happened so fast that Connie and Maggie’s uncle Terrence and his family arrived too late from Akron, Ohio, for the service. Terrence hadn’t seen his sister — their mother—in 23 years.86
During his brief career, Connie McGeehan earned a reputation as “one of the most gentlemanly players in the business on and off the field. He did not drink, chew or smoke.”87 When his former big league skipper learned of his death, Hazleton’s Plain Speaker reported that ”Mr. Mack expresses his sympathy for the McGeehan family in their loss and said that he personally felt the death of Connie, as he was always a nice young man.”88 With the Athletics busy with their American League schedule, it’s not clear whether Mack’s offer to umpire a benefit game or to supply players ever happened,89 but a series of contests toward the end of July produced record crowds at Hazle Park with gate receipts donated to McGeehan’s parents. Nesquehoning, the Pottsville club from Atlantic City, and a team of Hazleton all-stars all participated.90
The McGeehan family’s ordeal was not quite over. In the first week of 1908, their father, Patrick McGeehan, died at age 53.91 Intestinal tuberculosis was one of the causes. After Patrick’s oldest son Charles married in 1916, he and his wife Katherine named their first two children Margaret and Cornelius.
This biography was reviewed by Bill Lamb and Rory Costello and checked for accuracy by SABR’s fact-checking team.
1 “Tri-State Player and Sister Die,” Danville (Pennsylvania) Morning News, July 8, 1907: 3.
2 “Death’s Third Visit,” Wilkes-Barre (Pennsylvania) Times-Leader, January 8, 1908: 16.
3 The 1900 United States Census records 13, versus the 12 in 1910.
4 Ray Saul, “Speaking of Sports,” (Hazleton, Pennsylvania) Standard-Speaker, April 5, 1991: 11.
5 M.V. Coll, “Drifton Fearnots and Freeland Tigers Gave Many Players to Major Leagues During Glorious Era,” Standard-Speaker, October 20, 1955: 15.
6 “Norristown Again Tomorrow,” Pottsville (Pennsylvania) Republican, June 12, 1901: 4.
7 “Athletics Defeated,” Plain Speaker, May 30, 1901: 4.
8 “Base Ball,” Freeland (Pennsylvania) Tribune, August 12, 1901: 1.
9 “Ball Player Receives an Offer,” Plain Speaker, July 22, 1901: 4.
10 “With Speed and Curves,” Freeland Tribune, July 31, 1901: 1.
11 “Base Ball,” Plain Speaker, August 5, 1901: 4
12 “M’Geehan Had ‘Em Tied in Knots,” Philadelphia Inquirer, September 8, 1901: 13.
13 “Local Notes Written Up,” Freeland Tribune, September 16, 1901: 1.
14 “Had Him Reported Dead,” Plain Speaker, October 29, 1901: 4.
16 “Other Games Yesterday,” New York Tribune, May 30, 1902: 5
17 “Wants More Money,” Plain Speaker, April 11, 1902: 4.
18 “Base Ball,” Plain Speaker, June 19, 1902: 4.
19 “Coakley Out at Holy Cross,” Worcester Spy, January 9, 1903: 9.
20 “Baseball Game at U. of M. Today,” Bangor (Maine) News, May 28, 1903: 3
21 “Baseball Notes,” Boston Globe, May 8, 1903: 5.
22 “Baseball Game at U. of M. Today,” above.
23 “Holy Cross 2, Amherst 0,” Boston Post, June 11, 1903: 3
24 “M’Geehan Turned Down Connie Mack’s Offer,” Worcester Spy, July 3, 1903: 9.
25 “50 Years Ago,” Plain Speaker, June 24, 1953: 8.
26 “Picture of Con. McGeehan,” Plain Speaker, July 7, 1903: 1.
27 “News and Views in the World of Base Ball,” Plain Speaker, July 10, 1903: 5.
28 “McGeehan Makes His Debut,” Plain Speaker, July 31, 1903: 1.
29 “Over the Home Plate,” Boston Herald, August 3, 1903: 10.
30 “Sports of All Sorts,” Evening Star (Washington, DC), July 31, 1903: 9.
31 “McGeehan Makes His Debut,” above.
32 “Base Ball,” Plain Speaker, August 8, 1903: 1
33 “Base Ball,” Plain Speaker, August 15, 1903: 1.
34 “Pitcher McGeehan Robbed,” Plain Speaker, August 28, 1903: 1.
35 “What Is Going on in the World of Sport,” Plain Speaker, November 9, 1903: 5
36 “Drifton Defeated in Exciting Contest,” Plain Speaker, September 14, 1903: ?
37 “What Is Going on in the World of Sport,”
39 “Met the Athletics’ Manager,” Plain Speaker, November 30, 1903:1.
40 “M’Geehan Signed for Local Team,”(Harrisburg, Pennsylvania) Patriot, February 23, 1904: 1.
41 “Sick List,” Plain Speaker, February 27, 1904: 1.
42 “McGeehan With Harrisburg,” Plain Speaker, February 23, 1904: 1.
43 “World of Sport,” Harrisburg Telegraph, June 3, 1904: 14.
44 “Local Ball Players in Demand Elsewhere,” Plain Speaker, March 9, 1904: 5.
45 “Their Pictures at Exhibition,” Plain Speaker, March 19, 1901: 1.
46 “Agnew Claims McGeehan,” Plain Speaker, March 14, 1904: 1.
47 “World of Sport,” above.
48 “M’Geehan Signed for Local Team,” above.
49 “Base Ball,” Plain Speaker, April 20, 1904: 5.
50 “Russ-Jap Fight at the Island,” Harrisburg Telegraph, May 4, 1904: 7.
51 “Base Ball,” Plain Speaker, May 4, 1904: 1.
52 “Base Ball,” Plain Speaker, May 10, 1904: 1.
53 “Base Ball,” Plain Speaker, May 12, 1904: 1.
54 “Victory for Harrisburg,” Philadelphia Inquirer, June 14, 1904: 10.
55 “McGeehan to Leave,” Harrisburg Independent, June 13, 1904: 7.
56 “Vinson Leaves City,” Harrisburg Independent, July 6, 1904: 4.
57 “Base Ball,” Plain Speaker, August 12, 1904:1.
58 “Champions Down Altoona,” Harrisburg Telegraph, July 17, 1904: 11.
59 “Base Ball Players Superstitious Lot,” Plain Speaker, October 24, 1904: 5.
60 “Joined the Knights,” Plain Speaker, September 7, 1904: 1.
61 “Pitcher McGeehan Returns,” Plain Speaker, October 7, 1904: 1.
62 “Briefs and Personals,” Plain Speaker, November 15, 1904: 5.
63 M.V. Coll.
64 “McGeehan Coaching Villa Nova,” Patriot, March 28, 1905: 6.
65 Plain Speaker, January 25, 1905: 3.
66 “Pitcher McGeehan Returns,” above.
67 “In the Tri-State,” Altoona (Pennsylvania) Tribune, April 8, 1905: 7.
68 “Base Ball,” Plain Speaker, April 6, 1905: 1.
69 “Will Train at Preston,” Plain Speaker, March 31, 1905: 5.
70 “Death Strikes 2 in One Family,” Plain Speaker, July 5, 1907: 1.
71 “Base Ball,” Plain Speaker, May 30, 1905: 1.
72 “Base Ball,” Plain Speaker, May 13, 1905: 1.
73 “Harrisburg Had Walk Over at Lebanon,” Patriot, May 17, 1905:6.
74 “H.A.C. Got Bumped on Circus Day, Score 7-2,” Patriot, May 27, 1905: 6.
75 “Short Stops,” (Harrisburg, Pennsylvania) Courier, June 30, 1905: 1.
76 Wilkes-Barre Times, August 9, 1905: 3.
77 “Baseball Notes,” Altoona Mirror, February 16, 1906: 1.
78 “Will Play Series for Sick Player,” Philadelphia Inquirer, June 23, 1907: 65.
79 “Tri-State Player and Sister Die,” see 1 above.
80 “Fast Independent Game,” Reading (Pennsylvania) Times, May 11, 1907: 2.
81 “A Good Game,” Plain Speaker, July 1, 1907: 3.
82 “Tri-State Player and Sister Died,” above.
84 “Death Strikes 2 in One Family,” Newspaper?
85 “Double Funeral,” Plain Speaker, July 6, 1907: 1.
86 “Briefs and Personals,” Plain Speaker, July 8, 1907: 5.
87 “Death Strikes 2 in One Family,” above.
88 “Mack Offers to Umpire Benefit Game,” Plain Speaker, July 17, 1907: 1.
90 “Plenty of Base Ball Past Week,” Plain Speaker, July 22, 1907: 5.
91 “Death’s Third Visit,” Wilkes-Barre Times-Leader, January 8, 1908: 16.