Fleury Sullivan

This article was written by Bill Lamb

Aspects of the life story of obscure mid-1880s pitcher Fleury Sullivan have doubtless been lost to time. But the surviving historical record militates that any profile of the brawny Sullivan focus on his relatively brief ballplaying career; his involvement in the political affairs of East St. Louis, Illinois; and his proclivity for resolving differences via his fists. Regrettably for Sullivan, his final dispute came with an adversary armed with a revolver. The following day, Fleury Sullivan succumbed to gunshot trauma to the abdomen at age 34. To the extent possible, the life and times preceding that fateful event are recounted below.

Florence P. Sullivan1 was born in East St. Louis on an undetermined date in 1862.2 He was the younger of two sons born to Irish Catholic immigrant Florence Sullivan (1816-1882) and his wife (name unknown). At the time of Fleury’s birth, his father operated a grocery store.3 He later owned an East St. Louis saloon. Her absence from the 1865 Illinois state census suggests that Fleury’s mother died while her children were young. So does the boarding of Fleury and older brother Michael (born 1860) with a neighbor during the boys’ formative years.4 Fleury, however, was not a neglected child. He was bright and well-educated. As a teenager, he placed first in the spelling and reading examinations given local candidates for appointment to the US Naval Academy.5 Fleury did not receive the coveted academy appointment but ultimately attained schooling sufficient for him to later be employed as a schoolteacher himself during early adulthood.6 Perhaps more important, the Sullivan boys were beneficiaries of their father’s political influence. A Democrat, the elder Sullivan served on the East St. Louis city council and held other local government offices prior to his passing in November 1882.7 By that time, son Mike was also deeply involved in politics, having been elected to the Illinois House of Representatives. Not coincidentally, Fleury enjoyed government sinecures throughout his adult life.

Presumably, Fleury Sullivan began playing baseball on city sandlots, as East St. Louis, like its more celebrated namesake across the Mississippi River, was a hotbed of the early game. At age 19, he and future major league backstop Billy Colgan formed the battery for the Nationals, an East St. Louis amateur nine. Although modern reference works list Sullivan’s vital statistics as unknown, he was a physically imposing six-footer who, in all probability, batted and threw right-handed.8 In July, the Nationals journeyed to the Illinois state capital but dropped a 14-12 decision to the Watch Factory club of Springfield.9 But the young Sullivan-Colgan battery evidently made a favorable impression on the host club, then contemplating a move into the professional ranks. In the meantime, the two continued their labors for the Nationals, as “Sullivan and Colgan pitched and caught in remarkable style” in a 5-2 victory over the West Ends of St. Louis in September.10 Two months thereafter, the Nationals finished their campaign with a 20-6-1 record, “mainly due to the excellent work of Colgan and Sullivan.”11 Fleury Sullivan and Billy Colgan were then among the first players engaged by the Watch Factory Reds, Springfield’s entry in the newly formed minor Northwestern League.12

After showing well in an exhibition game loss to the major league American Association St. Louis Browns, Sullivan opened the Northwestern League season on May 1, 1883 by pitching Springfield to a 13-11 victory over the Fort Wayne Hoosiers, Springfield errors making seven of the opposition tallies unearned.13 Three months later, a 12-strikeout/four-hit triumph over the Peoria Reds prompted a Springfield newspaper to declare that “if there has ever been any doubt heretofore as to [Sullivan] being the best pitcher in the Northwestern League, yesterday’s game settled this fact in the minds of everybody.”14 Late in the season against Grand Rapids, Fleury flashed strikeout stuff again, fanning 14.15

Unsettling for Sullivan, the Northwestern League folded after its inaugural season. While he awaited developments on the baseball front, Fleury returned home to East St. Louis where he joined brother Mike and batterymate Colgan in a severe beating administered to an unfortunate patron of a local alderman’s tavern. The three were promptly arrested and charged with assault with intent to kill.16 The following week, the matter was “settled” with the charges withdrawn upon “defendants paying costs.”17

Over the winter of 1883-1884, the formation of the renegade Union Association and the enlargement of the American Association to a twelve-club circuit expanded major league playing opportunities for the likes of Fleury Sullivan and Billy Colgan. And in March, the pair signed with the AA Pittsburgh Alleghenys.18 The battery made a successful major league debut on May 3, notching a “stubbornly contested” victory over the Philadelphia Athletics, 9-8.19 In short order, Sullivan became the mainstay of the Pittsburgh pitching corps. But the Alleghenys were a bad ball club, and Sullivan struggled to find wins as the campaign wore on. A four-hit/eight-strikeout 5-0 shutout of the Richmond Virginians provided a rare midseason bright spot. Otherwise, defeats continued to pile up until a 4-1 setback in Louisville on September 17 made Sullivan a 30-game loser. Shortly thereafter, he reeled off four consecutive victories, giving the Alleghenys their longest season winning streak in the process. Among the Sullivan triumphs was a 2-0 whitewash of the Indianapolis Hoosiers wherein only a single by John Kerins stood between the young pitcher and a seven-inning no-hitter. Two days later, Fleury outdueled St. Louis ace Bob Caruthers, posting a 2-1 win over the Browns. The victory proved Sullivan’s last, as he dropped his final four decisions.

In his only season as a big leaguer, Sullivan finished with a dismal 16-35 (.314) record that was nonetheless markedly better than the 14-43 (.246) log accumulated by the other nine hurlers who assayed the box for the tenth-place Pittsburgh Alleghenys. Sullivan was the team leader in victories (16), complete games (51), innings pitched (441), and strikeouts (189), while his 4.20 ERA was second to that of 11-game winner Jack Neagle (3.73). Along the way, Sullivan set a peculiar major league record that stands to this day: most strikeouts by pitcher whose career lasted only one season, a feat made all the more impressive by the fact that foul balls did not then count as strikes.20 Fleury did himself little good with the bat, however, posting a feeble .153 batting average with only three extra-base hits in 189 at-bats. His fielding was also suspect, Sullivan’s 26 errors in 144 chances translating into an .819 fielding average,21 substandard even by barehanded defense norms.

Over the winter of 1884-1885, the collapse of the Union Association and the contraction of the American Association to an eight-club circuit for the coming season greatly reduced the major league job prospects of borderline talents like Fleury Sullivan and batterymate Billy Colgan, a harmless .155 batter in 48 games during the 1884 season. While the pair waited for the employment landscape to become clearer, they sojourned to New Orleans to play exhibition games as part of a barnstorming club from St. Louis.22 Once back home, political connections secured Fleury a postal clerk position from the Grover Cleveland administration in Washington, but he quit the job as spring training approached.23

Bereft of major league offers, the Sullivan-Colgan battery began the 1885 season with the Kansas City Cowboys of the minor Western League. Sullivan got off well, winning two of three outings for his new club. But with the Western League teetering on the verge of financial collapse in early June, he and Colgan were released by the Cowboys.24 Days later, Sullivan was scooped up by the Macon (Georgia) club of the Southern League.25 Inserted into the Macon rotation, he split 12 decisions while posting an excellent 1.26 ERA in 100 innings pitched. Yet days after Sullivan suffered a 11-2 thrashing by the Memphis Browns, he was released.26 Upon returning home, Fleury obtained a teaching position at the White School in East St. Louis.27

Still only 23 years old, Fleury was soon back in harness, signing with the Lincoln (Nebraska) Tree Planters of a reconstituted Western League for the 1886 season. But when the club got off to a slow start, tension developed between Sullivan and team captain Perry Werden.28 The animosity between the two came out into the open when Sullivan and several other Tree Planters failed to appear for a morning practice called by Werden. That afternoon, the annoyed team captain found Sullivan and first baseman Charlie Hautz lounging in a Lincoln tavern. A $5 fine imposed on the pair for missing the practice session quickly led to an argument between Sullivan and Werden that turned physical. This time, however, Fleury had an adversary just as ornery as himself and even larger. The 6-foot-2, 220-pound Werden made short work of Sullivan, knocked out by “a swinging blow from Werden’s sledge-hammer fist.”29 But a bad arm rather than a bad attitude was the cause of Sullivan’s subsequent discharge by Lincoln. He hooked on briefly with a semipro nine based in Hastings, Missouri,30 before returning to East St. Louis – his professional ballplaying career now behind him. Likely through the political clout of his brother, Fleury subsequently secured a position as a railroad mail agent.31

Over the ensuing decade, mention of Sullivan in local newsprint emigrated from the sports page to news of East St. Louis political affairs and entries in the police blotter. In July 1887, he advanced four grades in his railroad agent position.32 Late the following year, Fleury was assaulted by a man named Lanigan, but the charges were dismissed when Sullivan failed to appear for court proceedings.33 In February 1889, “Florence P. Sullivan … saw a colored man coming along who wore a suit of clothes which he recognized as belonging to him. A lively debate ensued which almost terminated in a hand-to-hand fight [before] the negro finally acknowledged that he had stolen the clothes and returned them” to Sullivan.34

Days after report of the curious stolen clothes affair appeared in the press, Sullivan announced his candidacy for the post of East St. Louis city clerk.35 But unlike his father and brother, Fleury was unsuccessful in his bid for local elective office. That summer, Fleury briefly returned to baseball, promoting a revival of his old amateur club, the Nationals of East St. Louis. And in late August, he “pitched a good game” for the Nats in a losing exhibition contest against the American Association St. Louis Browns.36 Toward the close of an eventful year, Fleury found himself among “the prominent citizens of East St. Louis” charged with unlawful gambling by a St. Clair (Illinois) County grand jury.37 The roster of defendants also included his brother, Councilman Michael A. Sullivan, and John and James Enright, two figures also active on the East St. Louis political scene who would loom large in our subject’s future.

In July 1890, Sullivan informed The Sporting News that he was in Hot Springs, Arkansas, “boiling out the physical and moral impurities” and that as soon as his arm was in shape, he intended to offer his services to a Players League club.38 Nothing ever came of the comeback effort, and a year later Sullivan found himself back in the dock, charged with assault and battery upon a railway motorman named O’Connell. Agreeably for Fleury, a jury found him not guilty.39

Upon the death of his brother Mike in 1893 Fleury assumed a lower public profile, reputedly making his living as “a professional gambler.”40 But in 1895, he returned to politics, working assiduously behind the scenes for the People’s Ticket in East St. Louis municipal elections, and he expected to be appointed deputy city controller after the slate prevailed at the polls. But when no such appointment was forthcoming, Sullivan assigned responsibility for his disappointment to St. Clair County Assessor John Enright.41

The events which culminated in the death of Fleury Sullivan began on the night of Saturday, February 6, 1897.42 Sullivan spent that evening into the following morning shooting craps in the back room of Scully’s Tavern, an East St. Louis watering hole. Gambling ceased at about 7:00 a.m. whereupon Sullivan and company retired to the bar. Later that morning, the group was joined by James Enright, a bailiff at the county courthouse and the younger brother of Sullivan nemesis John Enright. Fleury and James, however, were lifelong friends and their ensuing banter about local politicos began in good-natured fashion. But fueled by whiskey, the conversation eventually turned bitter, particularly when the subject became County Assessor John Enright. Friends separated the “tall and stout” Sullivan – by now his weight had ballooned to 280 pounds – from the “short and slight” James Enright after the two came to blows.

After a brief cooling-off period, the argument resumed, even more heatedly than before. And when Sullivan lunged at Enright (with a knife according to some witness accounts), Enright uncovered a revolver and fired three quick shots. The first bullet struck its target in the stomach. Sullivan staggered and then collapsed onto the tavern floor. A distraught Enright immediately came to the aid of his stricken friend, exclaiming: “My God, Florry! Are you hurt?”

An ambulance summoned to the premises transported Sullivan to St. Mary’s Hospital in East St. Louis where doctors eventually succeeded in extracting the bullet. After surgery, Sullivan regained consciousness and was given a decent chance of survival by attending physicians. He was close-mouthed about the shooting when questioned by the county attorney but privately told a priest called to his bedside that the incident was entirely his fault, not Enright’s. As hours passed, Sullivan’s condition deteriorated. Death came at 4:00 a.m. Monday, February 8, 1897. Florence P. “Fleury” Sullivan was 34.

In the meantime, Enright had surrendered to police and been remanded to jail pending a coroner’s inquest. In due course, he was indicted for murder and, after several postponements, brought to trial in May 1898. The Enright defense was self-defense and the proceedings moved swiftly to a jury verdict of Not Guilty, an outcome “fully expected from the testimony adduced at trial.”43

By the time that Enright was acquitted, his victim was long in his grave. Following funeral services, the remains of Fleury Sullivan were interred in St. Henry Cemetery, East St. Louis.44 Unmarried and without issue, the deceased left no immediate survivors.



This biography was reviewed by Darren Gibson and Stanley Enzweiler and fact-checked by Paul Proia.



Sources for the biographical info imparted above include the Fleury Sullivan file at the Giamatti Research Center, National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, Cooperstown, New York; the Sullivan portrait in Major League Player Profiles, 1871-1900, Vol. 2, David Nemec, ed. (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2011); US and Illinois state census data accessed via Ancestry.com; and certain of the newspaper articles in the endnotes listed below. Stats have been taken from Baseball-Reference.



1 Although used almost exclusively as a female first name today, Florence was a name sometimes given to boys in 19th century Ireland. Fleury is a nickname for a male named Florence.

2 Fleury Sullivan’s Find-A-Grave page states that he was born on July 6, 1862. The provenance of this putative birthdate, however, is unknown and it has not been adopted by SABR’s Biographical Research Committee.

3 Florence Sr. sold the grocery store in Fall 1871, as reported in the (East St. Louis, Illinois) People’s Gazette, September 16, 1871: 3.

4 As reflected in the 1870 US Census, the Sullivan boys lived with carpenter Michael Melona and his family. Florence Sr. boarded next door.

5 As reported in “Naval Honors,” St. Louis Globe-Democrat, June 16, 1877: 4.

6 One account of Sullivan’s death described him as “a graduate of the High School and he has taught in the local schools.” See “His Lifelong Friend Shot Him,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, February 8, 1897: 6. The White School in East St. Louis was named as the place where Sullivan was employed as a teacher in “Two Murders,” Belleville (Illinois) Weekly Advocate, February 12, 1897: 1, and “Shot to Death,” East St. Louis (Illinois) Journal, February 8, 1897: 3.

7 A brief obituary described the elder Florence Sullivan as “one of the oldest and most respected citizens of East St. Louis.” See “East St. Louis,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, November 23, 1882: 4.

8 At the time of his death 15 years later, Sullivan was described as “fully six feet tall and weighed 280.” See “His Lifelong Friend Shot Him,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, February 8, 1897: 5. The right-handedness designation is predicated on statistical probability, circumstantial evidence derived from game accounts, and the absence of any press mention that Sullivan batted or threw left-handed, an attribute that usually attracted newsprint comment in the 1880s.

9 Per “Fourteen to Twelve,” (Springfield) Illinois State Journal, July 10, 1882: 8.

10 Per “A Good Game Over the River,” St. Louis Globe-Democrat, September 11, 1882: 2.

11 “The Nationals’ Record,” St. Louis Globe-Democrat, November 12, 1882: 7.

12 Same as above. Also reported in “Leaves,” Decatur (Illinois) Herald, November 11, 1882: 4.

13 See “Springfield Victorious,” Fort Wayne (Indiana) Gazette, May 2, 1883: 3.

14 “Peorias Lose,” Illinois State Journal, August 12, 1883: 3.

15 See “Easily Done,” Illinois State Journal, September 25, 1883: 7.

16 As reported in “East St. Louis,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, November 5, 1883: 2, and November 6, 1883: 11. The three were part of a “drunken gang” that set upon the victim.

17 Per “East St. Louis,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, November 17, 1883

18 See “Pittsburg’s Ball Tossers,” Cincinnati Commercial Gazette, March 14, 1884: 3.

19 “One for a Starter,” Pittsburgh Commercial Gazette, May 4, 1884: 5.

20 Pre-third strike fouls did not become strikes until after the turn of the century.

21 The .819 Sullivan fielding average incorporates three games played as an inept center fielder. The 1884 Pittsburgh Alleghenys posted a team fielding average of .889.

22 See e.g., “Nip and Tuck,” New Orleans Times Picayune, December 1, 1884: 8.

23 As mentioned in Sullivan obituaries.

24 As reported in “East St. Louis,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, June 8, 1885: 8.

25 A few weeks later, batterymate Colgan hooked on with a Southern League rival, the Memphis Browns.

26 As reported in “Memphis Scores Three and Macon Shut Out,” Savannah Morning News, July 2, 1885: 2.

27 As noted in several accounts of Sullivan’s death in February 1897.

28 See “Topics of the Times,” (Lincoln, Nebraska) State Journal, May 13, 1886: 4.

29 Per “Matters in Lincoln,” Omaha Bee, May 22, 1886: 6. While he was at it, Werden also kayoed a Sullivan companion who attempted to intervene. Months later, a garbled account of the incident had the fracas being stopped by bystanders after Sullivan landed a punch over Werden’s eye. See “Sullivan and Werden,” The Sporting News, July 26, 1886: 4, and St. Joseph (Missouri) News, July 27, 1886: 1.

30 Per “Sullivan and Werden,” St. Joseph News, above.

31 Subsequently reported in “East St. Louis,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, July 4, 1887: 3. See also, “Fleury Sullivan” in Major League Player Profiles, 1871-1900, Vol. 2, David Nemec, ed. (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2011), 409.

32 As reported in “East St. Louis,” above.

33 See “Circuit Court,” Belleville (Illinois) Semi-Weekly Advocate, October 26, 1888: 8.

34 As recounted in “East St. Louis and Belleville,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, February 25, 1889: 1.

35 Per “East St. Louis and Belleville,” St. Louis Republic, March 3, 1889: 8. See also, “East St. Louis Election,” St. Louis Republic, March 8, 1989: 6.

36 See “The Browns Won,” St. Louis Globe-Democrat, August 30, 1889: 6. The score: Browns 10, Nationals 2.

37 As reported in “Circuit Court,” Belleville Semi-Weekly Advocate, November 1, 1889: 8. The disposition of the charges was not discovered.

38 As related in Major League Player Profiles, 409.

39 Per “Suburban: East St. Louis,” St. Louis Globe-Democrat, July 3, 1891: 11.

40 According to “His Lifelong Friend Shot Him,” above.

41 Per “Shot to Death,” above.

42 The instant account of the fatal shooting and its aftermath has been crafted from the reportage of the Belleville Weekly Advocate, East St. Louis Journal, St. Louis Globe-Democrat, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, St. Louis Republic, and Westliche Post, a St. Louis German-language daily newspaper, February 8 to 12, 1897. Also consulted was “St. Louis Siftings,” Sporting Life, February 20, 1897: 6.

43 “Belleville, Ill.,” St. Louis Globe-Democrat, May 5, 1898: 13.

44 As reported in “Coroner’s Inquest,” East St. Louis Journal, February 9, 1897: 3, and “His Lifelong Friend Shot Him,” above. Baseball-Reference and other modern reference works that identify Sullivan’s burial site as Mt. Carmel Cemetery in Belleville, Illinois, are in error. Efforts to correct the cemetery mistake were ongoing at the time that this bio was submitted.

Full Name

Florence P. Sullivan


, 1862 at East St. Louis, IL (USA)


February 8, 1897 at East St. Louis, IL (USA)

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