This article was written by Jim Sandoval
It was a career that included playing minor-league baseball, owning a minor-league club, scouting for the New York Giants, doing political work, running a business, and taking part in a legendary fistfight at the side of John McGraw. He was also said to be an amateur violinist. He built the first ballpark in Springfield, Illinois. One of baseball’s best scouts he was McGraw’s right-hand man for many seasons, helping build the great New York Giants clubs of the 1910s, ’20s, and ’30s.
As is common with people of his time, there are varying birthdates for Richard F. Kinsella. On his passport application he said he was born on October 20, 1864, in Springfield. His obituary in The Sporting News agrees with the place but gives the birthdate as October 21, 1862. The 1900 US Census gives the year as 1865 and other censuses agree. He was the son of James Kinsella, a laborer originally from Queenstown, Ireland, and Mary Kinsella, maiden name unknown.
Kinsella was described as having black hair with a light complexion. He was a “fastidious dresser, square-topped derby, square-toed shoes, long sack coat, high stiff collar, a heavy gold watch chain across his middle.” None of that gave him the nickname Sinister. While he was working with the New York Giants a newspaper wrote of his “gruff ways [and] beetling brows that make children tremble with fear.” Sportswriter Tom Meany said, “[H]e was called Sinister Dick because his eyebrows looked like fright wigs.” That’s how he got the nickname.
Kinsella played semipro baseball in and around Springfield. He also built up a home-decoration business, manufacturing varnish and selling paint, wallpaper, and windowshades. He was active in politics. But he always found time for his various roles in professional baseball.
From 1904 to 1911 Kinsella owned the Springfield team in the Three-I League. Meanwhile, in 1907 he began his long scouting career, beginning as McGraw’s one-man scouting staff. The Giants from time to time added scouts but Kinsella was essentially McGraw’s right-hand man. His stay with the Giants was interrupted when in 1912 he joined the St. Louis Cardinals and in 1916 he worked for the Yankees.
Kinsella was heavily involved with Democratic Party politics. He was elected to the Sangamon County Board of Supervisors, and was county treasurer from 1899 to 1902. In 1903 he was the Democratic candidate for sheriff of Sangamon County. He was a delegate to many Democratic National Conventions, and was the sergeant-at-arms at the Baltimore convention in 1912, and head doorkeeper at the St. Louis convention in 1916.
While in Houston for the Democratic National Convention in 1928, Kinsella took time out to see a baseball game and spotted Carl Hubbell, who was in town with the Beaumont Exporters of the Texas League. Many teams were scared off Hubbell, who threw a screwball, thinking that the pitch would injure his arm. McGraw had managed Christy Mathewson, whose fadeaway pitch was an early version of the screwball, and the manager was willing to take a chance on Hubbell. Kinsella bought Hubbell’s contract from Beaumont, and the left-hander went to the Giants immediately and began his Hall of Fame career.
Kinsella developed his own scouting system. He subscribed to newspapers in every town or city that had professional baseball. He made connections with the compilers of league statistics to get the official averages in advance of publication. He also acquired lists of players on waivers.
Kinsella was alleged by Sporting Life in an article in 1915 to have purchased pitcher Bill Hopper in 1912 from the Cardinals, managed by Roger Bresnahan, for $25 and a bird dog (not a low-level scout but a canine). Bresnahan denied it, but the story may have a germ of truth. In an affidavit filed in connection with the Federal League’s lawsuit against the major leagues, Bresnahan said Hopper sold a bird dog to Kinsella, who then gave it to Bresnahan. But there is no indication, at least in Baseball-reference.com, of any transaction between the Cardinals and Kinsella involving Hopper.
In 1915 Kinsella was involved in a fight involving McGraw and Giants catcher Larry McLean in the lobby of the Buckingham Hotel in St. Louis. McLean, who apparently had had too much to drink, accused Kinsella of having induced McGraw to suspend him for ten days. After an exchange of words, with Kinsella saying, “I’m going to bed” and McLean responding, “Not unless you are carried there,” McLean assaulted Kinsella. The fight quickly spread, with many others joining in. Some accounts say McLean first attacked McGraw with Kinsella coming to the rescue. As many as six players helped Kinsella. Accounts say two chairs were broken on McLean, with Kinsella breaking a rocking chair over his head, then chasing him around the fountain in the courtyard. McLean ran away, chased by McGraw and Kinsella, and McLean escaped by jumping into a passing automobile.
Kinsella signed Federal League hitting star Benny Kauff out of the Federal League by taking a job on a plantation near a Mississippi resort hotel where Kauff and other baseball people were visiting. (He didn’t want to stay at the hotel, lest he be recognized.) While the baseball people were meeting, Kinsella was meeting secretly with Kauff.
In late 1916 it was rumored Kinsella might succeed Joe Tinker as the manager of the Chicago Cubs. The move never happened and Kinsella continued his scouting career.
In 1924 the Giants went on a tour of Europe with the Chicago White Sox, exposing the Europeans to America’s game. Kinsella helped to organize the tour.
Kinsella retired from scouting about 1930 but continued to run his paint business and worked as the superintendent of the Illinois Division of Oil Inspection. In 1937, showing he was feisty almost to the end, Kinsella went on a one man sit-down strike, refusing for three months to leave his office in the statehouse and move to a new one in the state armory. He said he resented being moved to a secondary building.
Kinsella and Mary Kathryn had four sons, three of whom served in the US Army in the First World War. The oldest, Sergeant Raymond Joseph Kinsella, born in 1892, died of disease on October 29, 1918. James Foster Kinsella, born in 1894, was an infantry private. He had a brief trial with the Giants but did not make the club. Richard Byrne Kinsella, born in 1895 and a sergeant in the Medical Department, died after appendicitis operation in November 1920. The youngest son, Robert Francis “Bob” Kinsella, born in 1899, provided perhaps the greatest thrill in a scout’s career: He was signed by his father, who then saw him reach the major leagues. An outfielder, Bob played in four games for the Giants in 1919 and 1920.
Mary Kathryn died on November 12, 1936, believed to have suffered a stroke while driving. A friend found her slumped over the steering wheel. Dick Kinsella died on October 14, 1939, in St. John’s Hospital, Springfield. He is believed to be buried in the family plot at Calvary Cemetery, Springfield. Survivors included sons James and Robert Francis, two grandchildren, and two brothers.
SABR’s Scouts Committee credits Kinsella with signing Virgil Barnes, Larry Benton, Ben Cantwell, Ray Chapman, Otis Crandall, Larry Doyle, Ben Dyer, Freddy Fitzsimmons, Art Fletcher, Paul Florence, Frankie Frisch, Heinie Groh, Grover Hartley, Walter “Butch” Henline, Walter Holke, Carl Hubbell, Travis Jackson, Elmer Johnson, George Kelly , Bob Kinsella, Freddie Lindstrom, Red Lucas, Doc Marshall, Fred Merkle, John Merritt, Joe Moore, Chief Meyers, Cy Pieh, Goldie Rapp, Hank Ritter, Slim Sallee, Rube Schauer, Ferdie Schupp, Milt Stock, Jeff Tesreau, Johnny Vergez, Rube Walberg, Bill Walker, Art Wilson, Hack Wilson, and Ross Youngs.
November 3, 2011
www.ancestry.com: 1860, 1900, 1910 1920, and 1930 censuses; passport application; Springfield city directories 1887-1898
The Sporting News
Various newspapers including the Chicago Tribune (obituary, October 19, 1939 p. 9)
Sangamon County (Illinois) records
Sangamon County (Illinois) probate file
Frank Graham. The New York Giants (Carbondale, Illinois: Southern Illinois University Press, 1952)
Richard F. Kinsella
October 29, 1864 at Springfield, IL (US)
October 14, 1939 at Springfield, IL (US)
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