This article was written by Brian McKenna
Dan Shay was a hard-nosed infielder at the turn of the twentieth century, playing 231 major league games during his long professional career. His style of play can best be imagined by the nicknames he accrued: Scrappy and Hustlin’. His major league resume, though, was scant. He preferred the employment conditions, lifestyle and climate of the west coast, decades before the major leagues had located there. For several years his name was at the center of disputes between the outlaw California leagues and organized baseball, as he held out from one club to gain a more attractive offer from another.
His problems off the field became much more serious, and tragic, after his playing career ended. One night in May 1917, in his sixth season managing in the American Association, he became involved in a dispute with an African-American busboy. Shay pulled out a gun and killed the man. Nevertheless, he was found not guilty by an all-white jury. Ten years later, he suffered a stroke, which left him partially paralyzed and despondent. In December 1927 he committed suicide.
Daniel Charles Shay was born on November 8, 1876 in Springfield, Ohio. His first known baseball affiliation came with in 1896, with semi-pro ball in Butler and Oil City, Pennsylvania. He also worked for a time as a horse jockey. The following year he signed with Wheeling in the Interstate League, and finished the season with Cambridge in the Ohio-West Virginia League. Shay began 1898 with Olean in the Iron and Oil League. In June he played a game for Ottawa of the Eastern League on the 14th and then finished the year with Cortland in the New York State League. His five teams in just two years foretold a common pattern to his career.
He bounced around again in 1899, beginning the year with Brockton of the New England League before joining Albany of the New York State League on August 9. Within a week he was back in the NEL with Newport. At the end of the season he joined Providence of the Eastern League for a game on September 5. Shay began 1900 with Youngstown in the Interstate League but was suspended in mid-July. The club planned to ship him to Greenville for the remainder of the season but Cleveland of the minor American League stepped in and purchased the infielder on July 22. In the minors he moved around the infield, manning second, short and third.
When 1901 began, Shay was retained by Cleveland, as part of the American League’s inaugural major league season. He made his major league debut at age 24 on April 30, and ended up appearing in 19 games at shortstop. By mid-year he had joined the pennant-bound San Francisco squad in the California League, where he played 68 games. For much of the next decade Shay would bounce between clubs in organized baseball and the independent California League. Naturally, this placed him at the forefront of arguments between organized baseball and the outlaw leagues.
In 1902 Shay played 127 games with San Francisco before and after a 40 game spell with St. Paul in the American Association. The following year he landed in San Francisco again but this time in the still independent Pacific Coast League. Remarkably he played the entire year for the club, leading the league with 83 stolen bases. Over the winter, several major league teams offered to purchase the scrappy infielder. On January 31, 1904 the Washington Post noted that the St. Louis Cardinals beat out the Detroit Tigers for Shay. He appeared in 99 games for St. Louis that summer, mainly at shortstop. At the end of the American League season he returned to the west coast and played games for Portland of the Pacific Coast League and also Stockton in the California League.
Shay bemoaned to eastern writers at the end of the 1904 major league season that he might not return east the following season. He was feeling ill at the time and feared an attack of consumption, noting that one of his sisters had recently passed away from the ailment. In truth, it was merely a negotiating tactic. Shay became known for his yearly holdouts, and this negotiating stance, and his claims of love for the west coast, became fairly common.
Kicking off 1905, Shay actually began the year in a Stockton uniform. In June, though, he joined the Cardinals and played 78 games for them, 39 games each at second base and shortstop. At the end of the season Shay once again announced his intention to remain in California; in fact, he asked the Cardinals for his release in January 1906. He had again played for the pennant-winning Stockton club at the end of the 1905 season, sustaining an injury to his little finger. The wound failed to heal necessitating the amputation of the digit.
Shay rejoined Stockton in 1906, holding out from St. Louis once again. The Cardinals became fed up and traded him with Spike Shannon to the John McGraw of the New York Giants for Sam Mertes and Doc Marshall in July. However, Shay refused to join the Giants stating that he could make more money playing once or twice a week as team captain for Stockton and tending to his tobacco shop in Slough City. Stockton again won the California League pennant.
McGraw, planning to conduct spring training in California in 1907, took a train westward in December 1906 to finalize details and partake in his other passion: horse racing. While in California, he also met with Shay to try work out a contract. Shay finally signed with New York in late February and met the club for spring workouts; however, he played only 35 games for the Giants in the middle infield. During the summer, the Cardinals filed charges against Shay claiming that the ballplayer accepted $204 from the club on December 11, 1905 and had failed to repay it after joining the Giants. In May the National Commission ruled that Shay had to repay the debt or be declared ineligible. Circumstances of the repayment are confusing but the Giants likely paid the debt.
In early 1908 Shay’s contract was assigned to Oakland of the (no longer outlaw) Class-A Pacific Coast League. He flatly refused to sign with either New York or Oakland, claiming that neither team really wanted him anyway. Instead, he once again joined Stockton in the independent California League. The National Commission took up Shay’s case and officially declared him a free agent on April 15, 1908.
Shay’s 1909 season naturally began amid controversy. He announced his intention to quit baseball because he had a great deal of success over the winter winning money and booking bets in horse racing. As the Washington Post noted, “Shay…is the only baseball player ever known to have got much ahead of the racing game. Danny was so good at picking winners that he finally quit the diamond for the racecourse.” Interestingly, the article noted that Chicago Cubs manager Frank Chance wasn’t as successful in this endeavor. Rumors surfaced that Shay had signed with fellow-Californian Chance to replace Johnny Evers, who was making noise about leaving the club. It never panned out. Instead, Shay followed another opportunity.
At this time Stockton manager and promoter William Moreing decided it was time to step up the west coast war with the Pacific Coast League. He built a new park in Oakland and took control the Oakland Invaders of the California League, directly competing with the PCL’s Oakland Oaks. This left the manager’s job in Stockton available, and Shay was hired to fill it.
Shay managed the Stockton Tigers to the first-half title, but still did not last the season. Wish Egan, Shay’s former teammate with the St. Louis Cardinals and in 1909 a top pitcher with San Jose, contacted George Tebeau in Kansas City, and recommended Shay for the open manager’s job with the Blues of the American Association. Tebeau took a train to San Francisco and met with the managerial candidate. On July 19, 1909 Shay quit the California League and joined Tebeau in the Class-A league. Over the winter Shay also played some games in the Colorado Desert League.
Though finishing his playing career in 1910, Shay managed the Blues through 1911, in second place in his final season. In October 1911 he resigned, becoming involved in an effort to start up a new Columbian League as part-owner and field manager of the Kansas City entry. The project never got off the ground. Over the next few years, Shay backed in and out of the game. He briefly managed Helena in the Union Association in 1913.
Shay had married a California woman around the turn of the century and had two children, Florence and Daniel Jr. In 1914 a tragic car accident killed his wife. The two children were then split between relatives in San Francisco and Kansas City.
After a year away, Shay returned to baseball in June 1915, replacing Bill Armour as manager of Kansas City. The club finished in fifth place, 19 games out. He managed them to another fifth-place finish the following year. After the 1916 season, Shay became manager of the Milwaukee Brewers of the American Association. On May 3, 1917 the Brewers played the Indianapolis Indians in Indianapolis, losing 3-1. This brought the club’s record to 7 and 8. After the game, Shay persuaded the team’s business manager to hold the club over an extra night even though the series was over; he wanted to party.
Shay went out drinking and hired some female company. The two went to dinner at the dining room of the team’s hotel, the Hotel English. Shay had two more drinks, later described as Bronx cocktails, and hailed Clarence Euell, a thirty-year-old African-American busboy, to complain that the sugar bowl on the table was near empty. A verbal argument of some sort erupted. Shay then stood up, pulled a revolver and shot Euell in the stomach. Euell wrestled him to the ground, stepped on his neck and beat his head against the ground several times. The young woman fled and Shay took off for his hotel room. Euell was taken to the hospital where he died an hour later.
Shay was arrested in his room and held without bail on a charge of second-degree murder. He was indicted on May 11 in Indianapolis. Brewers’ president Al Timmie supported Shay, sending the team lawyer to defend him. American Association president Tom Hickey also announced that the league would establish a defense fund. Columbus manager Joe Tinker led the drive to secure funds and a top lawyer for the accused. A week after the incident Timmie was forced to replace Shay, who would spend more than six months in jail awaiting trial.
At his trial Shay claimed self-defense. Both he and his date claimed that Euell was rude and aggressive. Shay claimed that Euell punched him and threatened to kill him before the gun was pulled and he also denied any intoxication. Hotel employees refuted all such descriptions of the incident. Nevertheless, after a nine-day trial, Shay was acquitted on November 22. The fact that Shay was white and Euell was black surely factored into the verdict. Local papers roundly declared the verdict a miscarriage of justice.
Shay never managed again. He lived out his life in Kansas City, where he had moved from Stockton in 1909. He never remarried. He landed a job working as a deputy in the county surveyor’s office. In 1923 Milwaukee Brewers’ owner Otto Borchet hired Shay as a part-time scout. In late 1926 or early in ’27 Shay suffered a stroke that resulted in paralysis of his right hand among other maladies. Friends later claimed that he was in ill heath and despondent all of 1927. In the late evening on November 30 he was found in his Kansas City hotel room suffering from a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head. The revolver lay on the floor near his body. He died in a hospital the following day, having never regained consciousness. He was interred at Mount St. Mary Cemetery in Kansas City, Missouri.
Fort Wayne News, Indiana
Fort Wayne Sentinel, Indiana
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Los Angeles Times
Mansfield News, Ohio
New York Times
Podoll, Brian A. The Minor League Milwaukee Brewers 1859-1952. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers, 2003.
Spalding, John E. Always on Sunday: The California Baseball League, 1886 to 1915. Manhattan, Kansas: Ag Press, 1992.
Springfield News, Ohio