In any other year, Dick Blaisdell likely wouldn’t have made it to the big leagues, but 1884 wasn’t just any year. The creation of the Union Association in 1884 meant there were now three major leagues, and more opportunities for athletes to play on a major-league team. Thankfully, it happened for Blaisdell in 1884, because he didn’t have many other years. Barely two years after Blaisdell received a four-game tryout with the Kansas City Cowboys in the Union Association, he was dead.
Howard Carleton Blaisdell was born on June 18, 1862, in Bradford, Massachusetts, to Richard and Frances Almira (Carleton) Blaisdell — his father’s name might help explain how Howard became Dick Blaisdell in your baseball encyclopedia. Howard was the second of five children born to the shoe manufacturer and housewife. Richard and Frances were destined to be together. Richard met Frances when he worked as a carpenter and lived with the Carleton family around 1850. After they married (and after the Great War for Slavery), Richard Blaisdell was a prison warden in Rhode Island; his second in command was a relative of Frances. The Blaisdell family can trace its heritage back to a Ralph Blaisdell who came from Bolton, Lancaster, England, to what is now Maine in 1635.
Young Blaisdell first became a pitcher for local teams, but when he signed with Lynn in 1884, the Boston Globe said he spent 1882 and 1883 in Fort Wayne and Milwaukee.1 Skimming through the Globe for the spring and summer of 1884, you can find 11 Massachusetts State League games in which Blaisdell pitched. He also appeared in a handful of exhibitions against other squads, including the Boston Reserves and a game against the Kansas City Cowboys of the Union Association.2
The Cowboys, starting off very slowly, were hunting for young talent to improve the team.3 In July they sent offers to both Howard Blaisdell and Henry (Harry) Oxley, his catcher with Lynn.4 Blaisdell jumped at the chance and caught a train to meet the Cowboys. The people of Lynn, however, made a strong effort to retain Oxley5 and, while they suspended Blaisdell for jumping his contract, the Lynns chose to remove Oxley’s suspension and exonerated him for possibly having convinced Blaisdell to take the Cowboys‘ offer.6 The Boston Herald noted that it was the first time a Union Association team had stolen a player from another association.7
Blaisdell got his first chance with Kansas City on July 9, 1884, and it was his best start. Facing the Philadelphia Keystones, he lost 8-5; the Keystones bunched runs in the first, fifth, and seventh innings.8 He got a second chance at them a couple of days later, but was hit hard — the Keystones won, 16-4.9 After a single game as a right fielder, he returned to the pitcher’s box to face Baltimore on July 14, 1884, and lost that one, 15-2.10 Soon after, Blaisdell went back to Massachusetts.
In Blaisdell’s profile in Major League Baseball Profiles: 1871 to 1900 (Volume 2), historian Frank Vaccaro suggested that Blaisdell didn’t go to Massachusetts, but rather was traded to the Baltimore Unions for Henry Oberbeck — which would make Blaisdell not only the first player stolen by the Unions but possibly involved in the first trade in major-league baseball history. Vaccaro notes that a player named “Scott” joined the Baltimores while Henry Oberbeck switched from Baltimore to Kansas City a few days later. Scott contributed to a 13-game winning streak before being let go and was never heard from again (or, for that matter, easily identified because all we know is Scott’s last name). Vaccaro thinks that Scott is actually Blaisdell playing under an assumed name to avoid issues with his suspension. The profile concludes that in order to confirm Vaccaro’s theory they would need to find a “smoking gun.”11
Newspaper evidence suggests that Blaisdell and Scott are not the same person. On the day that Scott appeared in his first game for Baltimore,12 Blaisdell had returned from Kansas City by train to Lynn, claiming that new Kansas City manager Ted Sullivan asked him to scout the East for players and that he planned to stay in the area for 10 days.13 And in early August, when Scott was playing in his last series with Baltimore on August 3 and 4,14 Blaisdell was scheduled to pitch for a town team in Biddeford, Maine, against a team from Sanford, Maine, on August 2. When the Sanfords saw that Blaisdell was due to pitch for the Biddefords, they refused to play the game knowing Blaisdell was a suspended pitcher.15 Aside from the fact that one person could not be in two places at the same time, one wonders why someone “hiding” from a suspension and playing major-league baseball would leave his team for a day (and take two long train rides) to pitch in a semipro game in Maine where his cover might be blown.
In 1885 Blaisdell was reinstated and allowed to pitch for Haverhill in the new independent Eastern Association of Baseball Clubs (which included an entry from Biddeford).16 That’s where Blaisdell’s baseball career ends — six games for Haverhill and a “rank” performance as an emergency umpire.17 He returned to his Lynn home and worked as a shoemaker, his father’s trade. A year later, on August 20, 1886, just 24 years old, he died of tuberculosis in Malden, Massachusetts. He was buried in Riverview Cemetery in Groveland, Massachusetts, leaving behind both parents and three siblings: Stella, Ralph, and Helen.
This article was reviewed by Bill Lamb and Len Levin and fact-checked by Kevin Larkin.
Besides the sources cited in the Notes, the author consulted the following:
blaisdell.org/Index.htm (retrieved August 29, 2020)
Massachusetts Birth and Death Records
Massachusetts Marriage Records
New Hampshire Birth Records
1865 Rhode Island Census
1830, 1850, 1870, 1880 US Census
1882, 1886 Lynn, Massachusetts, City Directory
1 “Around the Bases,” Boston Globe, March 25, 1884: 4.
2 Lynn Box Scores, Boston Globe, April to July, 1884.
3 “The Kansas City Unions,” Kansas City Star, July 19, 1884: 1.
4 “Gossipy Gleanings,” Boston Globe, July 6, 1884: 3.
5 “Innocents Abroad,” Kansas City Times, July 12, 1884: 8.
6 “Balls and Strikes,” Boston Globe, July 16, 1884: 2.
7 “Innocents Abroad.”
8 “Keystones, 8; Kansas Citys, 5,” St. Louis Globe-Democrat, July 10, 1884: 8.
9 “Keystones, 16; Kansas Citys, 4,” St. Louis Globe-Democrat, July 12, 1884: 6.
10 “Baltimore Unions, 15; Kansas Citys, 2,” St. Louis Globe-Democrat, July 15, 1884: 8.
11 David Nemec, ed., Major League Baseball Profiles, 1871-1900, Volume 2 (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press), 353.
12 “Baltimore Unions 17, Kansas City 5,” Baltimore Sun, July 17, 1884: 1.
13 “Gossipy Gleanings,” Boston Globe, July 18, 1884: 2.
14 “Base-Ball,” Baltimore Sun, August 5, 1884: 4.
15 “Around the Bases,” Boston Globe, August 5, 1884: 5.
16 “Gossipy Gleanings,” Boston Globe, April 16, 1885: 3; “Haverhills, 7; Newburyports, 6,” Boston Globe, July 26, 1885: 4; “Various Sporting News,” Burlington (Vermont) Free Press and Times, October 2, 1884: 1.
17 “Haverhills, 7, Newburyports, 6.”