There are many ways to leave a mark on baseball history. Home–run records, ERA, RBIs, AVG – records that can be bested at any time. There are other ways too, some subtle and serendipitous, intentional or accidental, fleeting moments of bravado and incidents that changed the course of baseball history culminating with names emblazoned on plaques in Cooperstown and elsewhere. And then, history holds the story of Frank Connaughton.
Frank Henry Connaughton, son of Lawrence and Ellen, was born on New Year’s Day 1869 in Clinton, Massachusetts, son of an Irish immigrant farmer in a town that had been baseball–mad ever since the game grew out of the rampant ballgame culture of Worcester County. Even today, Clinton claims – arguably – that its baseball field holds the record for longest continuous use, since 1878,1 in Massachusetts. And it is likely the place where Frank took his first at–bats.
The players found around the Worcester County hill towns were signed by minor–league teams throughout New England and beyond. Frank’s reputation as a steady, competent catcher connected him to several prominent amateur teams, leading to his first professional contract, with Woonsocket in 1891. Pawtucket of the New England League was his next engagement, in 1892; he stayed with the team until it disbanded and subsequently finished the year in Lewiston, Maine.2 He traveled farther in 1893 when he signed with the Savannah team of the Southern League, and while there he earned a reputation as a very solid, useful utility infielder on second and third base, as well as his primary position as catcher. He was a fast, reliable baserunner and batsman, considered at the time as one of the best all–around players produced by the New England League.3
In January 1894 Connaughton’s reputation paid off when he signed with Boston’s National League club. He had also been of interest to Washington and the Kansas City club (Western League), where James Manning, proprietor, manager, captain, and second baseman, paid him the ultimate complement: “[H]e is a fine thrower and never drinks.”4 But Boston was close to home, which allowed him frequent contact with his family. There was one question: Could Connaughton play without a glove?
The wearing of gloves by players was an issue in 1890s baseball. Only the catcher and the first baseman traditionally wore a glove, but Connaughton could be found at second, third, and shortstop as well as behind the plate, and he had become accustomed to that handy adornment no matter which position he happened to be playing.
Connaughton’s first appearance as a major–league player occurred on May 28, 1894. Boston needed to replace Charlie Bennett, who had suffered a devastating injury the previous January. As catcher Connaughton received a positive report, scored three runs, and put out four in a game won by Boston against Washington, a game described as “very bad”5 despite individual players including Connaughton, doing brilliant work. His time with Boston was short–lived. True to the nature of the utility player, Connaughton was sent to the New England League in June, first to Haverhill and then to Brockton. He returned to Boston in July, and played shortstop, a postion new to him at the time. He played well enough to receive positive reports from the writers after the game. By August the reactions were mixed and despite having proved to be a fine utility player at any position he was assigned to, creeping criticism appeared. “Connaughton had too many Joe Quinn moments before throwing the ball to get a base runner,” reported the Boston Globe.6
Connaughton, the quintessential utility player, appeared in just 46 games in 1894, but he made good use of the time while there – “just the man Boston needed this year, and has fitted nicely in the time of need.”7 He certainly did what he could. On August 21, 1894, he scored five runs, placing him in good company along with Ed Delahanty, Bill Dahlen, and Billy Hamilton.
As Boston hobbled to the end of the season, Connaughton’s future was in doubt. Despite moments when his skill and contributions highlighted game reports, his future with the team was rumored to be at an end, another promising player cast aside while the club looked for more talent. Connaughton was a versatile player as he fit in comfortably around the infield and at the catcher position. At the postseason meetings of 1894, owners debated whether to prohibit players from wearing gloves on the diamond. This feature, it was reported, had been “overdone” by such players as Lave Cross of Philadelphia and Connaughton, who had used catcher’s gloves while playing at third base and shortstop. They allowed for the fact that it would have been unwise to abolish gloves altogether, as their use had prevented many hand injuries and therefore saved clubs the added expense of having players languishing on the injury list.8
Connaughton claimed that he was not bound to the Boston club, that he was in essence a free agent before such was defined, as he claimed he had signed with the team on condition that the reserve clause be stricken out of his contract.9 Therefore, he claimed, he could sign with anyone he wanted and go anywhere he pleased. He was ultimately given the opportunity, but not on his terms. Along with Fred Tenney and Jimmy Bannon, Connaughton was “put on hold for the present.”10 In February 1895 Beaneaters President Arthur Soden received several offers for those players’ services, as some clubs were willing to stipulate that they would be returned to Boston at any time their services might be desired.11 One month later, Connaughton was signed by Kansas City of the Western League and did not appear in a Boston uniform again until 1906.
While in Kansas City, Connaughton crossed basepaths with other New England players who were also biding their time in the Western League before returning to more familiar grounds. He spent most of his time at shortstop and met up with Marty Bergen, who was holding down the catcher’s position. Bergen was from North Brookfield, not far from Connaughton’s home in Clinton. When Bergen was signed by Boston for the 1896 season, Connaughton spoke about him in the highest terms, and said that Boston would find in him one of the best men ever behind the bat. Bergen, according to Connaughton, was “a magnificent thrower and often got the runner out when it seemed impossible.12
Connaughton’s western exile was short–lived. The National League’s New York club drafted him. Connaughton was still on Boston’s reserve list and the club still claimed the right to recall him back to Boston.13 But under the National Agreement, the rules governing the major and minor leagues, New York could draft Connaughton at a price of $1,000. Would Frank Connaughton be worth it, inquiring minds wanted to know.14
In 1894, when a member of the Boston team, Connaughton appeared at shortstop in 33 games while Herman Long was disabled. His fielding percentage was ranked better than that of Dahlen, Long, Shorty Fuller, Fred Pfeffer, and [Joseph D.] Sullivan. His batting average, currently reckoned at .345, was better than many others. Boston let him go to Kansas City, wrote the New York Herald, “because they had a superfluity of players, and that club never pays unnecessary salaries.”15 New York considered Connaughton after he had spent a year at Kansas City, became an improved player both at the bat and at shortstop, and they hoped he would provide insurance so that in 1896, the Giants would not be found in a “helpless condition” should accidents and injuries plague the starting players, as was the case during 1895.16
There were a few skeptics among the New York sportswriters. The New York Herald reported that Connaughton was “weak on fly balls and cannot play while facing the sun. If that be so he will find it hard work at the Polo Ground.”17
But Giants manager Arthur Irwin, when assessing his team after spring training, was effusive in his praise, and said, “That man Connaughton is a wonder. At bat? Well, say, he’ll lead the team in less than a month, and you know what that means. Frank is also a good base runner and plays left field like a veteran. He is a wonderful strength to the nine, can hit a high or low ball equally well and should be one of the batting wonders of the year.”18
Never again would Frank Connaughton receive such glowing predictions of his potential worth as a player. He still needed to prove he could outperform both Shorty Fuller – who ultimately appeared in only 18 games in 1896 – and Fred Pfeffer – who played only four games with New York before returning to Chicago – two obstacles to the advancement of his reputation and career in professional baseball. And yet, he outlasted them, with 88 games to his credit.
Despite those 88 games with the New York Giants in 1896, Connaughton had no significant impact with the team nor was he mentioned very often in the sports pages. He would enter the halcyon halls of memorable utility players – quickly cast aside, shuffled around the leagues and easily forgotten. Frank Connaughton returned to Clinton, Massachusetts, and married Emma Bateman on November 24, 1896, a woman he had met in Boston. The young couple moved in with his parents at 49 Oak Street, seemed intent on settling down, away from baseball, to domestic tranquility and all that could promise.
Wedded bliss was interrupted by Kansas City calling for Connaughton’s return in 1897, but he hesitated before agreeing to the contract for his return to the shortstop position. By the start of the season he finally agreed, packed up his glove, bat, and his wife, and signed the contract upon their arrival in Kansas City in April. Not all went well for Connaughton or for the Kansas City team. He was accused of miserable fielding and blamed for the loss of the June 14 game with Indianapolis that should have been an easy win, according to critics.19 The Kansas City Journal reported that at the July 18, 1897, game Connaughton “was in the game with a vengeance. He covered a world of ground and batted with his old time vigor. Out of nine times up he got six hits, two of which called for three sacks.”20 The Kansas City Blues had only three players who had started the season who were still there on July 30 – Jock Menefee, Frank Blanford,21 and Connaughton, who showed no signs of slowing down. Connaughton did what he could and answered the critics in an August game in which he made four of the eight hits for the team and accepted nine chances out of 10 in the field.22
By January 1898, Connaughton made the difficult decision to retire from professional baseball and declined the offer to return to Kansas City. Perhaps it was the frustration of years of shuffling from one team to another, often against his will, or the inability to land a permanent position preferably closer to Clinton, Massachusetts, or perhaps it was the birth of his daughter that influenced his decision.
Connaughton took up the family profession managing his father’s saloon, but there is something about baseball that keeps a tenacious hold on former players like him. Throughout New England, there was a robust minor–league culture with numerous teams making up myriad leagues with opportunities that lured many players aspiring to a professional career, and were also a place for professionals on their way down toward retirement as a place to give it one more try to stay relevant in the game or to at least indulge those baseball instincts that are so slow to dissipate.
In March 1898, Charlie Ganzel organized a meeting in Worcester to form a baseball league to be known as the Central Massachusetts Association of Base Ball Clubs, and Connaughton attended, representing the interests of the town of Clinton. By the end of the month, negotiations came undone, and Connaughton withdrew Clinton from the Association. He then just as abruptly decided to return to the Kansas City Blues. By September, after a disagreement with manager Jimmy Manning, he left the team and returned to Clinton, leaving a cloud of controversy in his wake. Manning called Connaughton’s departure “a French leave,”23 and denied he had agreed to a bonus in addition to his stipulated salary if the season proved to be a successful one financially. Furthermore, he asserted that Connaughton had already been paid more money than was rightfully due him.24 Manning dubbed Connaughton “the Defector” and threatened to impose a fine, complained that the team had paid for Connaughton’s medical bills when he was sick, and also that traveling expenses from Massachusetts were covered by the team, more than Connaughton should have expected. And this is how Manning and the Kansas City team were treated by this ungrateful player? Well, if another team were to sign Connaughton, Jimmy Manning vowed, “I promise I would leave the baseball business at the end of this season for all time.”25
Was it collusion? Perhaps, but there was no rule against punishing a player this way as owners and managers were the ultimate dictators of who played and who were excluded. A Milwaukee correspondent reported that Connie Mack was “also making efforts to secure Connaughton from Jimmie Manning, but so far he has not succeeded. Manning feels he ought to punish Connaughton’s uncalled for desertion just when he was most needed.”26 The Boston Herald then reported that Connaughton had sent a letter to John McGraw, stating he wanted to come to Baltimore, promoted his fine fielding and batting skills, and could fill in well at second base. McGraw, who had a high opinion of Frank’s baseball record, made an offer to Jimmy Manning but was told Connaughton was not for sale at any price.27
In 1899 McGraw dropped his effort to secure Connaughton, and the Kansas City Blues, with Jimmy Manning still holding down the manager position, did not do well with Frank Connaughton missing from the roster. And yet, when the Milwaukee club inquired about the availability of Connaughton, Jimmy Manning adamantly refused to negotiate. “Connaughton will play in Kansas City or not at all this year. I sent him a contract, and if he does not like the terms he can remain idle, as I have determined to make an example of a player of this kind. Last year he tried to throw the championship away from Kansas City by deserting me at a critical point and now he will have to suffer.”28
Connaughton returned to Clinton, secured a good position with the Clinton baseball team, and played ball there every Saturday. Instead of searching for another opportunity with a major–league team, he took on the team’s manager position and worked on strengthening a local team that was still playing games in late November of 1899.
Buffalo came calling for the 1900 season, but Connaughton declined, saying he could not leave his saloon business in Clinton for a place so far away as Buffalo and that nothing could induce him to sign a baseball contract.29 Instead, he joined the Worcester club of the Eastern League – closer to home and not an interference with his business interests in Clinton.
Major–league teams used the minor leagues as repositories, a place to park useful utility players whom they could call on to temporarily supplement their rosters for one or two games, or to reserve them without having to pay the players’ salaries while they languished, hoping and waiting for the call back up. Many of these players make up the multitude of baseball players who appear in the baseball archives with only a handful of games making up their entire professional career. Here was where Frank Connaughton spent his years after the New York Giants and the Kansas City Blues, hoping for just another chance to wear a major–league uniform. Worcester’s 1900 season enjoyed a mixed–up roster of has–beens and bright prospects. There was pitcher Fred Klobedanz on his way down from a career with Boston; Joe Rickert, formerly of Pittsburgh and later of Boston; fellow Clintonian catcher Malachai Jeddidiah Kittridge; Homer “Doc” Smoot, biding his time until St. Louis came calling in 1902; and Kitty Bransfield, between major–league contracts with Boston and Pittsburgh. All were waiting to see what baseball fortunes might come their way. During the early twentieth century the Worcester team, known as the Farmers, Ponies, Lambs, or the Riddles, provided baseball in Worcester, a city that had once been home to the Brown Stockings, a National League franchise from 1880 to 1882. Here Frank Connaughton found a home, albeit for a brief time. He left the team at midseason with the accusation hanging over him that he played poorly in an attempt to be released.30
Connaughton continued to operate his saloon during the baseball season of 1901 and he was arrested in July 1901 for operating a beer team that sold liquor to the workers of the Metropolitan Water System while they were constucting the Wachusett Dam in Clinton. He had been warned several times and was finally charged with breaking the law by driving his beer team through the forbidden district. The case was continued. He was convicted on the charge. He appealed. He lost. In March 1902, he was denied a liquor license.
In 1901 and 1902, Connaughton played for the Leominster team known as the Has–Beens, and returned to the Worcester Lambs in August, where in a game on August 13, 1902, the Worcester Daily Spy reported: “Ezekiel Hezekiah Wrigley and Francis Connaughton of Clinton were the other front rank men in the posse of swatstick swingers that riddled the carcass of Thielman with thorns. The King of Clinton cracked the ball four times in five chances, tearing off two–base bumps on two occasions.”31 In 1903 he was back the Worcester Riddles, an Eastern League team that suffered financial problems and allegedly weak hometown interest, and was sold and transferred to Montreal in midseason. The Riddles roster was made up of former major league players and many others passing them on their way up. Fred Applegate, the three–fingered pitcher; Joe Delahanty, brother of Ed; Reddy Grey, brother of writer Zane Grey; and George Hemming – “Old Wax Figger,” who had played for five National League clubs before his semi–retirement at Worcester. Connaughton, shortstop, was part of this baseball fraternity, full of riddles, with a confounding history of sales, transfers, and wins and losses that spun the heads and pens of Worcester sportswriters and fans alike.
The years after Worcester sent Connaughton along a baseball career path that returned him to Haverhill in 1904, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. in 1905, and back to Haverhill and Lawrence in 1906. While in Haverhill, the major leagues came calling again when the Boston Nationals needed a utilityman during the last month of the season to replace Al Bridwell, who had suffered a knee injury. He finished the season in “such good style, says he intends to be in the game next season and is eligible to sign with any club.”32 Once again Connaughton expressed his intent to exercise his freedom of choice and gave a firm nudge against the the reserve clause. The 1907 season found him instead in Lynn, Massachusetts, and in 1908 he returned to Lawrence and also coached the Tufts College baseball team. He returned to Haverhill again in 1909. He was found managing the Waterbury, Connecticut, team in 1910, and subsequently in Brockton in 1911. In 1912, while with the New Bedford team, Connaughton was credited with discovering Rabbit Maranville and launching him on his legendary major–league career.
By 1914, it seemed as though Connaughton had finally sworn off baseball. He was arrested in Clinton for hunting without a license near the Wachusett Reservoir, a charge he intended to appeal to a higher court. In 1915 he felt the call of the game still haunting him and seriously considered accepting a management position with a minor–league club “if the right sort of offer presented itself.”33 No one came calling.
Frank and his wife, Emma, settled into a new occupation in Boston by operating rooming houses at 48 Union Park and 159 West Newton Street in Boston’s South End. The 1930 census showed Frank living at Union Park, and Emma living around the corner on West Newton Street. Emma died in 1936 and her obituary mentioned that she was “the wife of Frank H. Connaughton, the latter a member of the Boston National League Club in the 80’s.”[sic34 Frank died on December 2, 1942, at Boston City Hospital after being struck by an automobile. The remainder of his obituary in the Boston Globe recounted Connaughton’s discovery of Rabbit Maranville while Frank was playing second base for New Bedford.The obituary also mentioned how he imparted all the tricks he had learned with Boston, Kansas City, and other teams, and how the young New England Leaguer proved an apt pupil, and that he was so good, Connaughton urged the Boston Nationals to buy his release. Rabbit made good from the start and the Clinton King was elated.
1 “Guinness Recognizes History of Fuller Field,”Worcester Telegram October 5, 2007: 1.
2 “A Clever Short Stop,” Evansville Courier and Press, July 19, 1895: 5.
3 “Boston’s New Ball Players,” Boston Herald, January 21, 1894: 22.
4 “Manning’s Team,” St. Louis Republic, January 23, 1894.
5 “Glaring Errors,” Boston Globe. May 29, 1894: 7.
6 “Echoes of the Game,” Boston Globe, August 4, 1894: 2.
7 Baseball Notes,” Evansville Courier and Press, October 14, 1894: 10.
8 “Changes in the Rules,” St. Louis Republic. December 18, 1894: 5.
9 Baseball Notes,” Cleveland Plain Dealer, October 17, 1894: 3.
10 “Offers for Beaneaters,” Cleveland Plain Dealer, February 15 1895: 3.
12 “Chat with Two Herald Callers,” Boston Herald, October 20, 1895: 34.
13 “Baseball News and Gossip,” New York Herald, October 10, 1895: 10.
14 “The Giants’ Latest Acquisition,” New York Herald, November 4, 1895: 9.
17 “Notes and Comments,” New York Herald, January 31, 1896: 7.
18 O.P. Caylor, “New Yorks Are Home Again,” New York Herald, April 2, 1896:7.
19 “Friend’s Ill Luck,” Kansas City Star, June 15, 1897: 3.
20 “ Monday Morning Baseball Gossip,” Kansas City Journal, July 19, 1897: 5.
21 According to the original article from the Boston Herald of August 30, 1897, he was “Frank,” while Baseball–Reference states “Fred.”
22 “Base Hits,” Boston Herald, August 30, 1897: 5.
23 “He Quit the Team,” Kansas City Journal, September 10, 1898: 5.
26 “Discipline for Connaughton,” St. Paul Globe, March 26, 1899: 10.
27 “Thrown Balls,” Boston Herald, March 10, 1899: 7.
28 “Discipline for Connaughton,” St. Paul Globe, March 26, 1899: 10.
29 “Baseball Talk,” Buffalo Evening News, March 20, 1900: 6.
30 “Cocking Main Near Clinton.” Worcester Daily Spy. May 12, 1902: 4.
31 “Sebring Led Lambs in Batting Carnival,” Worcester Daily Spy, August 14, 1902: 3.
32 “Doings in the World of Sport,” San Francisco Chronicle, December 2, 1906: 27.
33 “Connaughton Feels Call of the Game,” Boston Herald, January 16, 1915: 6.
34 “Mrs. E. Connaughton,” Boston Herald, June 2, 1936: 15. The obituary writer mistakenly placed Frank’s Beaneaters career a decade earlier than the 1890s.