It was no surprise that Eddie McNichol would play professional baseball. Born on January 10, 1879, in Martins Ferry, Ohio, he grew up on Wheeling Island surrounded by baseball and baseball players. Wheeling Island, a tiny strip of land in the middle of the Ohio River between Ohio and West Virginia, produced several young men who became professional baseball players in the 1880s and ’90s. The McNichol family lived almost in the shadow of the ballfields at the Wheeling Fairgrounds and Bridge Park, an easy walk to a game. Islanders Jack Glasscock, Sam Barkley, Jesse Burkett, and Tom Needham all made it to the major leagues. Al Buckenberger owned and managed local Wheeling baseball teams before moving on to manage four major-league teams between 1889 and 1904.
Ed’s father, Robert “Bobby” McNichol, grew up playing baseball in the neighborhood along with Glasscock, Burkett, and Barkley. Bobby reportedly played for a team in the Pittsburgh area before he began umpiring for local teams beginning in 1877. He was an umpire in the American Association in 1883. Cousins Sam Moffet, Joe Moffet, and Link Moffet, who lived just a few doors away on the island, each played baseball for the Wheeling Buckeyes boys team as well as the Wheeling Standards before moving on to professional teams. Baseball was a part of life for those living on Wheeling Island.1
Edwin Briggs McNichol was the oldest of six children, three girls and three boys, born to Robert and Emma McNichol. Their youngest son, Robert, died when he was an infant. The McNichols moved from Martins Ferry to Wheeling Island after the birth of their second child and lived there for more than 20 years. Ed’s father was born in Martins Ferry in 1852. Early in his career, Robert worked in the local steel mills, but in 1888 he joined the Wheeling police force as a deputy sergeant. By 1892 he was the chief of police, a position he was elected to and held until 1896, when he lost in the election. He opened a detective agency and continued this work until he retired. Robert married Emma Peltz in 1878. Emma was born on January 10, 1863, in Wurttemberg, Germany. Her family emigrated from Germany when Emma was around 2 years old.
In 1895, at the age of 16, Ed McNichol graduated from Wheeling High School and went on to college2 to study mechanical and electrical engineering. According to his biography in the book History of Columbiana County, Ohio, he played on both his high-school and college baseball teams. The Boston papers also reported that “he made a fine record as an amateur for his school and college teams.”3
By 1901, McNichol was working as an electrician4 for a mill in Martins Ferry and then at the Ohio and Pennsylvania Coal Company in Yorkville, Ohio. On May 18, 1901, he married a woman from Wheeling, Victoria McKelory. They were married in Steubenville, Ohio, and settled in Highland City, just north of the Wheeling area and near Yorkville.
McNichol is listed as a member of the Wheeling Stogies5 team for the 1903 season, but according to team records, he never played. A conflicting report in the Boston Globe notes that “McNichol played with [Tom] Needham, the Boston catcher, for two seasons around Wheeling.”6 Needham had briefly played for the Wheeling Stogies in 1901.
Professional baseball had returned to McNichol’s neighborhood in 1895 with the organization of the Interstate League. The Wheeling Standards team was owned by Buckenberger and George Moreland. When Buckenberger left to manage the Boston Beaneaters in 1904, he offered McNichol a tryout as a pitcher. Ed showed enough to be given a contract. His decision to leave his job and the Wheeling area may have been partly influenced by the loss of his father in 1901 and the more recent death of his wife, Victoria.
McNichol made his major-league debut in Pittsburgh against the Pirates on July 9, 1904, as Boston was shut out, 6-0.7 McNichol, a right-hander, stood 5-feet-5 and weighed 170 pounds. The newspapers tagged him “Buck’s Midget Pitcher” and, a little more kindly, “the diminutive pitcher.” His performance was erratic and he continued to be plagued with wild pitches. He made the first of his 15 starts on July 17, a 6-3 loss to St. Louis. The Globe reported that he did not seem ready for the majors.
The 1904 Beaneaters finished 55-98, seventh in the league, which probably is why the rookie pitcher stayed in the rotation. McNichol’s first victory likely came on August 5, when he started at home against St. Louis in a 3-2 Boston win. By mid-August, his performance showed improvement. Boston lost 2-1 in his August 15 start against St. Louis and 1-0 in his August 20 start in Chicago. McNichol shut out the Pirates in the second game of a doubleheader on September 28, 1904, in what would be his last major-league victory. Five days later, he was on the wrong end of a 16-5 loss to Chicago in what would be his final major-league game.
In spite of McNichol’s pitching difficulties, Buckenberger kept him on the reserved list for 1905. But on March 11, 1905, McNichol was given an unconditional release. In his short major-league career, McNichol pitched 17 games, starting 15 and pitching 12 complete games. He won two games and lost 12. He threw 122 innings, but control was an issue. He walked 74 batters and had 12 wild pitches and a 4.28 earned-run average.
“The boy always had plenty of confidence in himself,” the Boston Globe noted, “and it would not be surprising if he reappeared in one of the major leagues.”8
McNichol returned to the Wheeling area and started the 1905 baseball season with the Wheeling Stogies. Baseball Reference lists him as having pitched and won the only game in which he appeared.9
Instead of baseball, McNichol concentrated on his career in the coal mining industry and went back to work as an electrician for the Sterling Coal Company in Salineville, Ohio. By 1908 he had moved up to superintendent of the coal mines, a position he held for the next nine years.
By late November of 1905, McNichol had met and married, Margaret Russell, daughter of James Russell and Mary Garrett, longtime residents of Salineville. Ed and Margaret moved from Yorkville to Salineville. The couple had two children. Their first child was born on January 10, 1909 (Ed’s birthday), a girl they named Mary Jane. Robert Thomas McNichol, their son, was born on January 27, 1913.
In a 1980 interview, Margaret McNichol said that Ed didn’t think he had ever been technically released from the Boston team, and that meant that he was prohibited from officially playing for other teams. So he never considered returning to professional baseball, but that didn’t keep him from taking the opportunity to play for the Salineville baseball club. He played under the alias of Ed Johnson.10
Tragedy struck the McNichol family in March of 1910, when Emma McNichol, Ed’s mother, committed suicide at the age of 62. Believed to have been well on the road to recovery from pneumonia, she had been in her yard and was planning dinner.11 Instead she apparently went to bed and drank a bottle of carbolic acid without any explanation. Her cause of death was originally noted as pneumonia, but after a coroner’s inquest, it was recorded as a suicide.12
In 1917 McNichol became superintendent of the Columbiana Coal Mining Company in Salineville, a position he held for many years. He continued working in the coal mining business until 1942, when he joined the Electric Furnace Company in Salem, Ohio, and then retired due to failing health in 1944. His family members were prominent in society in Salineville. In 1952 his niece Ruth McNichol successfully spearheaded a community effort to build athletic fields and a recreation center for Salineville, including a baseball diamond and a football field.
On October 31, 1952, while Margaret was away from home, a fire started at the McNichol home when Ed dropped a match on some papers after lighting his pipe. He was home alone and ill at the time, but attempted to put out the fire with wet rags. A neighbor saw the flames and called the fire department, which found Ed overcome by smoke and unconscious in the bathroom. The firemen were able to resuscitate Ed, but he suffered second- and third-degree burns on his face and hands and was in poor condition from the burns as well as smoke inhalation and shock. He died the next day, November 1, 1952, at age 73.13 He is buried in Woodland Cemetery in Salineville.
Margaret McNichol was 95 when she died in 1985. In 1980 she was interviewed by baseball researcher Bill Haber about Ed’s baseball career. She is buried in the family plot in Woodland Cemetery. The couple had several grandchildren, many of whom were still living in Ohio, some in the Salineville area and others in Cleveland and Cincinnati, in 2019.
This biography was reviewed by Jack Zerby and Len Levin and verified for accuracy by the BioProject fact-checking team.
Barth, Harold B. History of Columbiana County, Ohio (Topeka, Kansas: Historical Publishing Company, 1926)
Newspapers and Magazines
East Liverpool (Ohio) Review
The Sporting News
Wheeling (West Virginia) Intelligencer
Baseball Hall of Fame Library, player file for Edwin Briggs McNichol, research by Bill Haber
State of Ohio Department of Health, Birth and Death Certificates
World War I and II Draft Registration Cards
Wheeling City Directory
US Census for 1850, 1870, 1900
1 The author is a distant relative of Ed McNichol.
2 To date no records have been found to identify the college McNichol attended. In his research in 1980, Bill Huber found two independent sources that said McNichol had attended college and studied electrical engineering. In spite of numerous inquiries by Huber, he was never able to confirm the name of the college. The author has also made inquiries and checked online sources with no success.
3 Boston Globe, July 14, 1904.
4 1900 US Census.
5 William E. Akin, West Virginia Baseball, A History, 1865-2000 (Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company, 2006).
6 “New Pitcher with Boston Nationals,” Boston Globe, July 14, 1904, in McNichol’s Hall of Fame file.
7 Sporting Life, Vol. 43:18, July 16, 1904: 4.
8 “Baseball Notes,” Boston Globe, March 12, 1905, in McNichol’s Hall of Fame file.
10 Mike Winklman,“Sporting Goods,” East Liverpool (Ohio) Evening Review, July 18, 1980.
11 “Mrs. Emma McNichol,” Wheeling (West Virginia) Intelligencer, March 30, 1910, in McNichol’s Hall of Fame file.
12 Ohio County Deaths, Volume 24, 204.
13 East Liverpool Review, November 1, 1952.