A bellicose player whose large stature cast an imposing shadow, Frank Boyd was tailor-made for rough-and-tumble late nineteenth-century baseball. Though he was a well-regarded and sturdy catcher, his big-league career spanned only two games – in which he improbably caught two future Hall of Fame pitchers. Without some unlucky contractual happenstances that befell him, however, it was suggested by noted baseball historian David Nemec that Boyd “might have proven to be a capable backup catcher in the majors for several seasons.”1
Frank Jay Boyd was born on April 2, 1868, in West Middletown, Pennsylvania, a rural borough of Pittsburgh that was once a stop on the Underground Railroad.2 There, his painter and merchant father, John, and homemaker mother, Eliza, raised three children. Boyd was the middle child; his brother, William, was the oldest and his sister, Mary (also known as Birdie), was the youngest. Boyd was of Scottish and Irish descent; his lineage interestingly runs through his great-great-grandfather, David Boyd, a Revolutionary War veteran who “resembled an Indian in appearance” after having previously been held captive and raised during his teenage years by Native Americans.3
After leaving home to pursue higher education, Boyd attended California State Normal School (California University of Pennsylvania) and Washington & Jefferson College. Although this soon enabled him to secure school teaching jobs “for a number of years” in the surrounding Pittsburgh area, Boyd’s focus began to shift from academics to baseball.4 By the age of 20, he was already “well known to all ball players of Washington County and the West Virginia ‘panhandle’” for his fine play as a catcher for the independent West Middletown team.5 After he played for that club for at least the 1887 and 1888 seasons – while moonlighting for the independent W.B. Cains club of nearby Burgettstown – the Pittsburg Dispatch had this to say about Boyd (and one of his batterymates): “They can hold their own in any minor league, being not only an excellent battery, but first-class batters, and Boyd a very fine baserunner.”6 The 6-foot-4, 195-pound “great hitter” reportedly hit .410 for West Middletown in 1888.7
The big backstop finally got his first nibble of professional ball in the 1889 campaign when he joined Wheeling of the Tri-State League.8 But review of box scores indicates that he was released before Opening Day. Although records are sketchy, it is likely that the right-handed batter and thrower began the regular season with the independent club in Mingo Junction, a small village in Ohio less than 20 miles from his hometown.9 What is certain, however, is that he joined the independent club in Scottdale, Pennsylvania, in July.10 He was called one of that team’s “best” players, and it was reported by multiple sources in September that Boyd was slated to join the independent club in Jamestown, New York, to finish the season.11 For unclear reasons, however, the catcher actually remained in his home state and wrapped up his busy year with the independent Erie Drummers.12
The hectic nature of Boyd’s 1889 campaign continued into the offseason. In November he signed for the following season with Erie, which was in the midst of joining the newly formed New York-Pennsylvania League.13 Although advancing from semipro to professional ball likely seemed at the time to be a progressive step for Boyd, it may have cost him an expedited path to the big leagues. In early December, (temporary) manager Harry Smith of the National League’s Pittsburgh Alleghenys met with the big catcher. The Pittsburgh Post reported this of their meeting: “Smith wanted Boyd to sign a Pittsburgh contract, but he could not do it, as he had already signed an Erie contract. Smith wants him to ask for his release from Erie and join the Pittsburgh leaguers, but it is not likely the Erie team will so easily let him go, as he is a good man in his position.”14 Indeed, Erie did not release the “popular” player; this would not be the last time unfortunate circumstances caused a setback to Boyd’s major-league career plans.15
Serving as the Drummers’ backstop during the 1890 and 1891 seasons, Boyd received media praise for his play. Meaning it as a compliment, the Pittsburg Dispatch stated early in the 1890 campaign that “Boyd will bother many people” in the league.16 And although the Erie Daily Times likewise lauded his play behind the plate, it additionally exposed a different, darker side of Boyd that arose during a June 30, 1891, game against Meadville. “Frank Boyd is a good catcher, but the public will not tolerate many displays of temper like that given yesterday,” the newspaper opined.17 Unsportsmanlike instances such as this continued to plague Boyd throughout his career, giving him a bad reputation among his opponents.
The offseason after the 1891 campaign proved to be filled with both intrigue and excitement for the 23-year-old. Leveraging his teaching background, Boyd was hired as a detective by the Edinboro State Normal School in Pennsylvania to surveil a principal thought to be stealing funds from the school’s financial manager. “[Boyd] matriculated and began to ‘brush up’ in the day time, and watched [the principal] from a secret hiding place, covering [the financial manager’s] safe and desk at night,” reported the Pittsburg Dispatch. “After two months’ watching Boyd gave up his job, failing to detect [the principal] or anybody else.”18 Although unsuccessful in ferreting out the alleged thief, the catcher was successful in generating interest from several minor-league clubs spanning the Illinois-Iowa League, Western League, and Wisconsin-Michigan League.19 Boyd eventually opted to jump to the Eastern League, however, opening the 1892 season with the Elmira Gladiators before spending the second half with the Buffalo Bisons. All told, he hit a disappointing .227 in 97 games.20
While working as a hotel clerk during the offseason, Boyd was reportedly was being targeted by the NL’s Boston Beaneaters, despite coming off an Eastern League campaign as a middling hitter at best.21 Although a deal with Boston never came to fruition, another NL team, the Cleveland Spiders, signed Boyd to a contract for the 1893 season. “Though unlike most hotel clerks, he wears very few diamonds,” observed Cleveland manager Patsy Tebeau upon meeting his new player. “The biggest he had on when I saw him was only an inch in circumference. That is quite modest, being that Boyd is a hotel clerk.”22 Initial scouting reports for the new Spiders catcher were generally favorable, with the Cleveland Leader noting that Boyd was reputedly “a fairly good man behind the bat,” while the Cleveland Plain Dealer commented that he was “physically a big fellow and looks as though he could stand behind the bat for a week at a time.”23 The Sporting News offered this assessment of the backstop: “Boyd is a large, well-molded man, with the qualifications of a good catcher, in that he has a good arm and is an accurate thrower.”24 And Frank Knauss, an Eastern League competitor of Boyd’s, deemed him to be “a clever catcher,” and opined that “Cleveland has made no mistake in signing him.”25
As Cleveland headed south for spring training, expectations indeed grew for the big catcher, with the Cleveland Leader now proclaiming that Boyd “from all accounts will develop into a really valuable player behind the bat.”26 Although a finger injury limited his preseason playing time, Boyd nonetheless was included on the club’s roster to begin the 1893 regular season.27 After spending the first nine games on the bench, Boyd was tabbed by manager Tebeau to get the start behind the plate in the May 18 game against the Cincinnati Reds. His batterymate that day was none other than future Hall of Famer Cy Young. In the 21-4 drubbing of the Reds, Boyd “rapped a beauty to left” for an RBI double in his first plate appearance “which a speedy man might have drawn into a triple.”28 All told, he went 1-for-5 with a walk, three runs scored, and three RBIs in his big-league debut. Despite some mild criticisms of his handling of foul flies, the 25-year-old acquitted himself quite nicely in the field.29 “The young man is clean cut and vigorous looking and his work was like that of an old-timer,” commented the Cleveland Plain Dealer on Boyd’s performance. “He gave Young perfect support. His throwing was a sight for sore eyes.”30 And The Sporting News echoed the positive sentiment: “He caught well, giving ‘Cy’ Young excellent support and the opinion prevails that the youngster will do.”31 The next day in another trouncing of Cincinnati, the rookie backstop caught John Clarkson, another future Hall of Famer. Unlike in his debut, however, this time Boyd only saw action as a ninth-inning defensive replacement. It was his final appearance in the big leagues – perhaps again due in large part to unfortunate circumstances.
Earlier in 1893, the Eastern League contended that the NL had been pilfering its talent without providing proper compensation as per an agreement between the two parties. Boyd, who had come to Cleveland via the Eastern League’s Buffalo club, was one of the players stuck in the middle of the squabbling. Although the Spiders believed till the end that they held a legitimate claim on Boyd’s services, NL President Nick Young intervened and opted to settle the dispute in June by returning the catcher to the Eastern League and Buffalo.32 “Boyd says with all possible emphasis that he will not play with the Bisons,” reported the Cleveland Plain Dealer after Young’s decision.33 Indeed, Boyd did not immediately sign with Buffalo. He still kept himself sharp, however, by playing for independent Pennsylvania clubs in Marienville, Titusville, and Franklin, before finally relenting and rejoining the Bisons in August.34
Although the catcher hit a respectable .313 in 39 games to cap his 1893 campaign back in Buffalo, his season was again tainted by instances of unsportsmanlike play. After an August game against Erie, the Cleveland Plain Dealer reported that “Boyd had a stick about 18 or 20 inches in length, sharpened on one end, which he used as his weapon, and during the earlier part of the game, while Bill] Kuehne was about to field a ground hit he deliberately threw it in front of Bill, thereby causing him to slip up on the play.”35 Later in that game, he used the same tactic during a foul fly, and was this time fined by the umpire. And while coaching third base in a September contest again versus Erie, Boyd was “warned not to exercise his voice” while he “crazily danced” and “sonorously” taunted the opposition.36 Nonetheless, the “lively chirruper” was back with Buffalo for the 1894 season, hitting a solid .318 in 82 games and impressing with his fine throwing arm.37
After his three consecutive seasons in Buffalo, Boyd spent the rest of his baseball career hopping from town to town. In 1895 the “rowdy and scrappy” catcher became the player-manager for the Franklin (Pennsylvania) Braves of newly formed Iron and Oil League, where his uncivil behavior continued.38 “Frank Boyd’s team, down in Franklin, is getting itself badly disliked by their boorish and dirty ball playing of late,” reported the Buffalo Enquirer. “One day last week the Oil City team was compelled to arm itself with bats and threaten to brain any of the spectators who laid hands on either the players or the umpire, whom they tried to mob at the instigation of Boyd, it is said.”39 Nonetheless, Franklin’s mayor awarded a diamond pin to the “great favorite” in an August ceremony, after which the backstop departed to Detroit to join the Western League’s Tigers upon receiving their more lucrative offer.40 He hit .258 in 23 games with Detroit.41
Returning to the Eastern League for the 1896 campaign, Boyd joined the Rochester Blackbirds, for whom he posted respectable batting numbers while displaying “brilliant backstop work.”42 There, the “ironman” became a fan favorite upon catching in nearly every game during the season.43 After Boyd jumped to the league-rival Scranton Red Sox for the 1897 season, his batting average declined over 50 points to .204 – perhaps a result of the prior year’s heavy workload.44 His offensive struggles continued in 1898 when he hit .192 in 97 games back at Rochester (and Ottawa when the team relocated there during the season).
Despite now being deemed a “has been” and “bunco man” in the media, Boyd remained in the Eastern League to begin the 1899 campaign, this time with the Hartford Indians, but was released early on by manager Billy Barnie because he had been “so slow in throwing that bases were stolen with impunity.”45 He later briefly joined the Bristol Bell Makers of the Connecticut League but was commissioned to finish the season as an Eastern League umpire. While umpiring a game in Syracuse on Sunday, July 2, Boyd and some members of the home team were arrested and charged with Sabbath breaking.46 Things did not improve after that incident. “It was the hardest work I ever put in in my life,” Boyd said of his umpiring experience. “To begin with, knowing every player in the league, made the task still more severe, for where you would expect the men you formerly played with to help you out, they were the worst of the lot, and had no more respect for one’s feelings than a dog would have. I would rather play than umpire any time.”47
With his skills on the decline, the 32-year-old nonetheless was offered the opportunity to return to Bristol as a player-manager in 1900 – while simultaneously being pursued by the Wheeling Stogies of the Interstate League. Bristol, however, believed it held a legal claim to Boyd’s services. “But Boyd will play here or in no league,” proclaimed Bristol’s secretary, James Cray. “We not only have his contract duly signed, sealed and delivered, but he has also accepted advance money from us. We intend to compel him to live up to his agreement if there is any baseball law that can be invoked to do so.”48 Once the dispute was settled, however, the catcher joined Wheeling’s roster to begin the season. After he finished the campaign hitting a dreadful .208 in 84 games with the Stogies, Boyd’s baseball career was over.
In his post-baseball years, Boyd settled down in Oil City, Pennsylvania, with his “well-to-do” wife, Mary.49 Strange circumstances surrounded their marriage. According to the Cleveland Leader, Boyd’s soon-to-be bride charged him with an unspecified crime while he was on the road during the 1893 baseball season. Arrested out of town, he posted bail, returned home, and got married the very next day. His new wife then dropped the charges.50 Despite their rocky beginning, the couple raised five children: Frank, Jane, John, Loretta, and Mary. Census information indicates Boyd was an Oil City alderman in 1900. The next year he joined the South Penn Oil Company. There, Boyd spent 32 years primarily working in the land title and tax department before retiring. He was a member of St. Joseph (Catholic) Church and the Oil City Elks Lodge.51 After a four-year battle, Boyd succumbed to hypertensive cardiovascular disease and decompensation on December 16, 1937. He was buried in St. Joseph’s Cemetery in Oil City.
Despite his reputation for dirty play on the baseball field, Boyd exhibited a softer side in his later years. “He was a very modest, self-effacing man, very intelligent and well-informed on many subjects,” wrote his daughter, Jane, in a 1973 letter to historian Clifford Kachline of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. “He had a very engaging smile and a good sense of humor. When the ball-playing boys on the block would see him coming home from work you could hear, ‘Throw me one, Mr. Boyd, throw me one, please!’ He never came in the home until he had thrown a ball to each boy.”52
In addition to the sources listed in the Notes, the author accessed Boyd’s file from the library of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, New York; Ancestry.com; Baseball-Reference.com; Chronicling America; GenealogyBank.com; NewspaperArchive.com; Newspapers.com; Paper of Record; and Retrosheet.org.
1 David Nemec, The Rank and File of 19th Century Major League Baseball: Biographies of 1,084 Players, Owners, Managers and Umpires (Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company, 2012), 92.
2 “West Middletown Walking Tour to Focus on Underground Railroad,” Observer-Reporter (Washington, Pennsylvania), April 7, 2016, observer-reporter.com/news/localnews/west-middletown-walking-tour-to-focus-on-underground-railroad/article_3d24e0a8-c86a-5471-99f8-2f8793894d70.html, accessed June 24, 2019.
3 64th Congress 1st Session, Senate Documents Vol. 14: Eighteenth Report of the National Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution October 11, 1914, to October 11, 1915 (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1916), 169.
4 “Frank J. Boyd Is Dead Here,” Oil City (Pennsylvania) Derrick, December 17, 1937: 5.
5 “West Middletown Ball Players,” Canonsburg (Pennsylvania) Notes, May 10, 1888: 1.
6 “West Middletown-Burgettstown,” Canonsburg (Pennsylvania) Notes, September 15, 1887: 1; “Middletown in Line,” Pittsburg Dispatch, February 12, 1889: 6.
7 “Base Ball,” Wheeling (West Virginia) Daily Register, March 8, 1889: 4.
8 “Base Ball.”
9 “Other Games,” Pittsburg Dispatch, May 5, 1889: 6; “The Duquesnes Downed,” Pittsburg Dispatch, July 12, 1889: 6.
10 “A Successful Trip,” Pittsburg Dispatch, July 21, 1889: 6.
11 “Bad State of Affairs,” Erie (Pennsylvania) Daily Times, September 17, 1889: 3; “Downed the Nocks Again,” Pittsburg Dispatch, September 13, 1889: 6.
12 “Baseball Melange,” Erie (Pennsylvania) Daily Times, September 26, 1889: 1; “The Situation in Pittsburgh,” Pittsburgh Post, December 4, 1889: 6.
13 “City News in Brief,” Erie (Pennsylvania) Daily Times, November 26, 1889: 4.
14 “The Situation in Pittsburgh.”
15 “General Sporting Notes,” Erie (Pennsylvania) Daily Times, November 29, 1892: 1.
16 “Mr. Schmitt Was Great,” Pittsburg Dispatch, April 17, 1890: 6.
17 “On the Diamond,” Erie (Pennsylvania) Daily Times, July 1, 1891: 1.
18 “Cooper Still Ahead,” Pittsburg Dispatch, February 11, 1892: 7.
19 “Local Baseball Notes,” Erie (Pennsylvania) Daily Times, February 9, 1892: 4.
20 “Eastern League,” Buffalo Courier, March 4, 1893: 8.
21 “General Sporting Notes.”
22 “Signed Two Men,” Cleveland Plain Dealer, January 28, 1893: 5.
23 “The Sporting World,” Cleveland Leader, January 24, 1893: 3; “Signed Two Men.”
24 “Cleveland Signs Two Players,” The Sporting News, February 4, 1893: 1.
25 “Signed Two Men.”
26 “On Their Way South,” Cleveland Leader, March 28, 1893: 3.
27 “Cuppy Is Rounding To [sic],” Cleveland Leader, April 9, 1893: 3.
28 “Twenty-Three Hits,” Cleveland Leader, May 19, 1893: 3; “A Farce,” Cleveland Plain Dealer, May 19, 1893: 5.
29 “Twenty-Three Hits.”
30 “A Farce.”
31 “Those Awful Spiders,” The Sporting News, May 27, 1893: 5.
33 “The Disabled Spiders,” Cleveland Plain Dealer, June 17, 1893: 7.
34 “Boyd’s Work Was Good,” Cleveland Leader, June 25, 1893: 3; “Boyd Batted Well,” Cleveland Leader, July 2, 1893: 3; “Base Ball Notes,” Cleveland Plain Dealer, August 18, 1893: 5.
35 “Base Ball Notes,” Cleveland Plain Dealer, August 20, 1893: 6.
36 “It Came in the Ninth,” Buffalo Courier, September 6, 1893: 8.
37 “Sporting,” Buffalo Courier, March 3, 1895: 20; “Down to Business,” Buffalo Courier, April 19, 1894: 8.
38 “Four Straight,” Buffalo Enquirer, August 24, 1895: 10.
39 “Luck Changed,” Buffalo Enquirer, August 7, 1895: 8.
40 “Four Straight”; “Base Hits,” Evening Democrat (Warren, Pennsylvania), August 23, 1895: 4.
41 “Work of a League,” Saint Paul Daily Globe, December 1, 1895: 14.
42 “Eastern League Players’ Averages,” Scranton (Pennsylvania) Tribune, November 23, 1896: 3; “Base Ball Comment,” Wilkes-Barre (Pennsylvania) Record, January 20, 1897: 7.
43 Nemec; “Morton Returned from His Trip,” Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, February 18, 1898: 14.
44 “Averages of Eastern League,” Philadelphia Inquirer, January 31, 1898: 4.
45 “World of Sports,” Waterbury (Connecticut) Democrat, May 22, 1899: 8; “The National Game,” Hartford Daily Courant, May 29, 1899: 2.
46 “Base Ballists Arrested,” Scranton (Pennsylvania) Times, July 3, 1899: 1.
47 “It Sickened Boyd,” Ottawa Journal, September 7, 1899: 3.
48 “Bristol Managers Anxious,” New Haven Register, May 4, 1900: 9.
49 “A Catcher Caught,” Cleveland Leader, July 1, 1893: 2.
50 “A Catcher Caught.”
51 “Frank J. Boyd Is Dead Here.”
52 Copy of letter written by Jane Boyd Thomas to Clifford Kachline dated September 22, 1973, from Boyd’s file in the library of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, New York.