This article was written by Craig Lammers
The 1890 season was perhaps the most turbulent in baseball history. Conflict between owners and players over a salary cap and the reserve clause sparked the creation of a third major league. The Players League would compete with the two established leagues for players and fans. Although the addition of eight new major league teams resulted in additional major league jobs, the right-handed pitcher Leander Franklin Abbott was far from an accidental major leaguer. His 1889 minor league success would likely have warranted a major league trial under any circumstances. Unfortunately, Abbott’s tryout was with a team whose pitching staff was nearly set.
The Abbott family was originally from New England. They lived in Massachusetts, Connecticut and New York State, where Dan’s father Anson was born on May 25, 1828. Seven years later, the Abbotts settled in Huron County in north central Ohio, near the village of Greenwich. On April 19, 1849, Anson Abbott married Clarissa Sizer, who had been born in New York on December 2, 1828.
In the late 1850s the Abbott and Sizer families moved further west. This time they went to the most inhospitable part of Ohio, The Great Black Swamp. The Swamp was located in northwestern Ohio just south of Toledo. The Abbotts settled in Wood County’s Portage Township. An 1858 map of the county labels much of the township as “inundated.” In the words of an 1884 Wood County Sentinel article, the land was covered with “dense forests of elm, sycamore and the pride and glory of a black swamp forest, the giant cottonwoods, for miles in unbroken reaches, except where a lower level of the ancient lake bottom, had not yet taken on its crown of trees, and where it was still uncertain whether the Divine Mandate to ‘let the dry land appear’ applied to this country.” Though the swamp has since been tamed by ditches and most of the trees have been cleared, remnants remain to this day. A forested area near the Abbotts’ second home in the county generally retains standing water into June.
Anson’s obituary states he moved his family to Wood County in 1861. The Abbotts farmed the rich Wood County soil, and on March 16, 1862, their fifth child and fourth son was born. He was named Leander Franklin Abbott and called Lan in the family.
The Abbotts later had two more sons, Adalbert and Owen. When young Lan was fifteen, the family settled on prairie land near the town of Weston in western Wood County. Lan Abbott started playing baseball seriously in his mid teens while working on the family farm.
Around 1882 or 1883, he started to work in a sawmill and also began to pitch for the area’s top team, the Weston Buckeyes. Sawmill work put him in outstanding physical condition. He was a big man for the era, later described by the Toledo Blade as “a powerful man, standing five feet ten inches in his stocking feet and weighing 200 pounds.” The Buckeyes attracted attention throughout northwest Ohio, and their battery of Abbott and Bay Brown was one of the reasons.
Both received minor league tryouts in the spring of 1888. Brown went to Toledo of the Tri State League, while Abbott joined Peoria of the Central Interstate. Abbott’s stay in Peoria was brief. Surviving box scores don’t show him as appearing in a regular season game.
Younger brothers Dell and Owen joined Lan on the 1888 Buckeyes. In early season games, Dell pitched and Lan caught. In late June Brown was released by Toledo and returned to the Buckeyes. Weston’s team returned to its accustomed dominance in area baseball. Its toughest competition came from teams in Pemberville and Fostoria. In one of the season’s most memorable games, Abbott was matched against the Pemberville Sluggers, who brought in future major leaguer Elmer “Babe” Doty from nearby Genoa. Lan Abbott struck out 18 batters on that late September afternoon.
The work of Weston’s top battery was so impressive that both were signed by Saginaw of the Michigan State League for the 1889 season. Initially Lan’s weight was his most noted characteristic. A note in the May 16 Jackson Citizen said “Saginaw’s new pitcher Abbott weighes 207 pounds.” By this time Abbott had won his first two starts over Lansing and Kalamazoo.
Lan established himself as the league’s top pitcher in early June. On the rainy afternoon of June 4, he shut out Grand Rapids on one hit striking out five and walking none. He also rapped a pair of doubles. A week later he beat Kalamazoo 8-1. He struck out four and, according to the Citizen, “had the Kalamazoo batsmen at his mercy.” Since he hit five batters that day, it’s not clear whether they were at his mercy or begging for mercy. Abbott won 11 of his first 12 decisions.
On September 26, Abbott beat Jackson 7-1, striking out six and walking none. The next day he was even better. He blanked the same team 9-0 with four strikeouts. He also victimized the Jaxons at the plate, going 3-5 with a triple. The Jackson Citizen reported, “Abbott pitched both the Saginaw games, Jaxon getting but three hits the first game and four the second. He is the best pitcher in the Michigan League.”
By October 1, Abbott had a record of 30-9 with ten shutouts and had worked more than 350 innings. The league’s iron man led at Jackson 9-4 with two outs in the ninth inning when he was the victim of a late rally. Four singles and three doubles tied the game; the strain of the long season was apparently showing. According to the Citizen, “When Abbott went in the box in the tenth, he was considerably rattled.” Three singles and a hit batsman gave Jackson a controversial go-ahead run: “By a trick, Jim Tray who was coaching had Brown tag him while [baserunner] Blackstock slid in and was safe which raised a big ruckus.” After a long argument and gathering darkness, Jackson was awarded the victory. That was Saginaw’s last game. Jackson went on to win several makeup games and the pennant.
Finishing at 30-10, Abbott also was one of the best control pitchers in the league. Box scores I’ve found had him walking an average of just over one batter a game. The impressive 1889 season would earn him a major league trial.
In 1890 the Toledo Black Pirates gained major league status when a players’ revolt sparked an upheaval in baseball. Players rebelled against the owners’ imposition of a salary classification plan and of the reserve clause, which bound a player to his team for life. Many players from the National League and American Association (AA) jumped to the new Players League. In the shuffle of franchises, three members of the 1889 International Association — Rochester, Syracuse and Toledo — joined the AA.
The three former minor league clubs retained most of their 1889 rosters, augmented by castoffs from established teams and players who had enjoyed minor league success. One of the Toledo newcomers was Lan Abbott. Unlike most major league teams, Toledo had three holdover pitchers, leaving just one pitching spot open.
Lan Abbott’s acquisition by Toledo received extensive coverage in the area newspapers. The Wood County Sentinel said, “They’ll want a cast iron man to catch the ball he throws, for it don’t seem if flesh and blood could stand before them.” The Wood County Tribune wasn’t quite as optimistic about Abbott’s chances. Catcher Bay Brown told the Tribune, “Abbott would be in fast company, but hopes he will turn out alright [sic]. Lan is practicing two hours a day over at Weston and no longer depends on his straight swift balls.”
Abbott made his first exhibition appearance for Toledo on March 27, 1890, against former American Association member Cincinnati. Opposing Abbott that afternoon was Tony “The Count” Mullane. Neither pitcher was particularly effective. After Toledo jumped out to a 2-0 lead, a Bid McPhee single and Oliver Beard‘s triple tied the score. In a snow-shortened game, Abbott pitched five innings, allowing nine hits and one walk. Five of the eight Cincinnati runs were earned.
Abbott’s first home appearance came April 1 against Dayton of the Tri-State League. Again the weather was less than ideal. The next day’s Toledo Blade said, “360 people paid admission into the park yesterday, and shivered through ten innings of baseball, while the ball players glided through about the same number of inches of mud.” Abbott worked the first four innings, surrendering two runs (one earned), striking out two and walking three. As it turned out, an off field occurrence that day would have a major impact on the career of the Toledo newcomer.
The same day the Blade ran the account of the game in the mud, the following note appeared: “At last the game has been bagged. Pitcher Healy has been signed by the Toledo club, and the Egyptian will soon put on the uniform of the Black Pirates. The negotiations have long been pending, and were not concluded until a late hour last night.” The potential savior of the Toledo staff had compiled a 26-68 record the previous three seasons, including a 2-15 mark in 1889.
The day after Healy signed, Abbott pitched seven innings against Dayton and allowed just one earned run with three strikeouts and a pair of walks. His next game would prove to be the highlight of his major league career. On Sunday, April 6, 1890, Toledo hosted another Tri-State League opponent, the Wheeling Nail Citys. The Blade account commented on Abbott’s pitching and also noted the controversy over playing professional baseball on the Sabbath: “Between 2,000 and 3,000 people, including a number of ladies, witnessed the contest, and while the enthusiasm was great, there was nothing to mar the occasion until the second inning was being opened when Sergeant Sullivan put in an appearance and informed Director Raitz that he’d been ordered by the Chief to place both teams under arrest.” Neither team was removed from the field; the Toledo club sent a representative to the police station to “bail out” the players. As for the game, Leander Abbott turned in a dominant performance. The Blade reported, “The Wood County Cyclone proved a puzzler to the Wheeling team. Abbott occupied the box for Toledo during the entire game and was at once a favorite with the people. He held the visitors down to three scattering hits, a single each in the first and second and a double in the third. Not a Nail City man reached third and only four got as far as second.” Lan struck out six and walked just one that afternoon.
The following weekend, Abbott appeared in all three games of an exhibition series with Akron. In the Friday game he allowed a single unearned run and struck out five in as many innings. He was also impressive on Sunday. Pitching the final four innings in relief of Healy, he allowed four hits with three strikeouts and no walks. That game featured no arrests and showed the drawing power of Sunday baseball. The Sunday game drew “between 3,000 and 4,000 fans” after crowds estimated at 200 to 300 the previous two days.
Abbott’s last exhibition performance was a complete-game 20-13 win over Detroit. He was referred to as “Manager Morton’s heavy weather pitcher” after yet another exhibition performance in bad weather. Despite the loosely played game, there was a bit of a rivalry between the cities. The Blade said, “There was a time when Detroit was quite a drawing card in Toledo, but this city has made such rapid strides of progress and has outclassed Detroit so completely in all matters of legitimate sport, unless it be croquet that the once proud champions of the International League failed to enthuse the citizens to any great extent.”
Toledo opened the American Association season in Columbus on April 17, 1890. Two days later Leander Abbott made his regular season debut. Charlie Sprague started for Toledo and trailed 10-7 after seven innings, largely due to seven Black Pirate errors. The Blade commented, “Toledo lost a chance to tie it in the eighth from the fact that Abbott, who’d taken Sprague’s place in the box, became rattled by the Comanches in the bleachers.” He walked three in the one inning of work and was charged with the loss.
As the fifth pitcher on a four-man staff, Abbott didn’t get another opportunity to pitch until May 3, again against Columbus. The Blade‘s account said: “Sprague opened the game for Toledo, but gave way to Abbott, as his arm was sore. Abbott had poor control of the ball, but Toledo batted out a victory behind him, and the splendid field work of the Toledo team kept the score down.” Pitching the last four innings, Abbott was (retroactively) credited with a save, according to his entry in Total Baseball.
After his second relief appearance, Abbott again endured a long period of inactivity. On May 23 he was manager Charlie Morton‘s choice to pitch the second game of a doubleheader at Philadelphia. The Blade reported, “He received good support, the errors made by Toledo (six) not being costly, but the home team found him for 13 hits and a total of 20 bases and won the game with ease, which closed at the end of the eighth inning to allow Toledo to catch the train for Rochester.” Abbott walked three, hit a batter and threw a pair of wild pitches. At bat he tripled and drove in a run. The following Monday, a brief item in the Blade reported the end of his major league career: “Abbott has not proved the wonder he gave promise of and will be released June 1.”
Abbott’s big-league career is summarized by a single line in the baseball encyclopedias: three games, 0-2 record, one save and a 6.23 ERA.
He finished the 1890 season pitching for Jamestown of the New York-Pennsylvania League.
On January 8, 1891, Leander Abbott married Belle McKenzie of nearby Henry County, Ohio. That spring, while his bride stayed at her parents’ home, Abbott pitched for Grand Rapids of the Michigan State League. He also played professionally in Utica, New York, and sometimes pitched for Northwest Ohio independent teams over the next few years.
One of the last references to Abbott as a player has a certain “Casey at the Bat” feel. The Wood County Sentinel reported, “Art Carney who was in the box for the Bowling Green team, did some great work for an amateur, striking out 15 men among them being Abbott a professional player. Abbott declared that Carney could not strike him out, but after two swift ones which he failed to find, he was given a chance at a dinkey ball, which completely outwitted him and he took his seat.”
By the time that game took place in August of 1898, Abbott had become a blacksmith. In 1900, the Abbotts rented a home in Weston, but blacksmithing was a lucrative profession, and within a decade they owned their home, with the mortgage paid and a blacksmith shop separate from the house. They lived briefly in western Michigan, but spent most of their lives in Wood County.
The Abbotts had no children. Belle McKenzie Abbott died in Kalamazoo, Michigan, on July 18, 1917. Soon afterward, Leander Abbott suffered a stroke and spent the last dozen years of his life as an invalid. He lived with his father-in-law until 1926 and then at the home of a niece in Ottawa Lake, Michigan. He died there on February 13, 1930, and is buried next to Belle in Weston Cemetery.
NOTE: Leander Abbott is listed in the encyclopedias as “Dan,” nicknamed “Big Dan.” It is not clear when or how this name originated. Newspapers in 1889-1890 don’t use “Dan,” but they rarely printed first names. The local papers in the early 1890s called him “Lan” or “Lann.” By the time he died, the obituaries called him “Dan.”
Wood County (Ohio) Sentinel, 1884, 1888-93, 1897-98.
Wood County (Ohio) Tribune, 1890.
Wood County (Ohio) Herald, 1912, 1917, 1930.
Bowling Green (Ohio) Daily Sentinel, 1890, 1917, 1930.
Toledo (Ohio) Blade, 1889-90.
Jackson (Michigan) Citizen, 1889.
The Sporting News, 1890.
US Census: New York, 1820.
US Census: Ohio, 1870, 1880, 1900, 1910, 1920.
Total Baseball (seventh edition)
Nemec, David. The Great Encyclopedia of Nineteenth Century Major League Baseball. New York: Donald I. Fine Books, 1997.