This article was written by Tom Simon
Born on April 29, 1877, in the tiny Addison County village of Monkton, Vermont, Frank Oliver Dupee (pronounced “doopy”) was the second son of immigrant sharecroppers from Quebec. Most dirt farmers of the time and humble place were trapped from the beginning in a lifetime of poverty, but Frank’s extraordinary athletic prowess seemed to offer an escape. By the time anything is known of his life, he was enrolled as a student at Maine’s Westbrook Seminary. How Dupee climbed from a sharecropper’s shack to a respected private school is a mystery. One can only surmise that his size–6′ 1″, 200 lbs., extremely large for his era–and his talent for discharging a baseball from his left hand with remarkable speed had something to do with it.
By 1901 baseball scouts were interested. That summer, the 24-year-old Dupee–passing himself off as 19, a common practice at the time and believable in his case because he was still a student–signed with Augusta, Maine, of the New England League. Joining the team three weeks into the season, Frank was the winning pitcher in his professional debut on June 7, 1901. He went on to win three of his four starts before the franchise moved to Lynn, Massachusetts, during the last week of June. Reluctant to leave Maine, Dupee hooked on with Portland and, according to Sporting Life, “was the star pitcher of the Portland team and the wonder of the New England League.” By August 17 Dupee had compiled a record of 10-6 and a 2.47 ERA when Portland sold his contract to the Chicago White Stockings. A bright future seemed assured.
What turned out to be Dupee’s 15 minutes of fame came one week later on Saturday, August 24, 1901, at Baltimore’s Oriole Park. It was the inaugural season of the American League, and the first-place White Stockings, clinging to a half-game lead over the Boston Americans, were in desperate need of pitching help. Player-manager Clark Griffith, the ace of the staff, had a broken finger, and the usually dependable Nixey Callahan was suffering from stomach trouble. To make matters worse, John Katoll was serving a suspension after throwing a baseball at umpire Jack Haskell three days earlier. That left Griffith with one reliable hurler, rookie Roy Patterson, who had pitched the day before. Under those circumstances, Griff felt he had no choice but to start his new acquisition against John McGraw’s feisty Orioles.
Dupee’s major league debut started off well enough, his teammates staking him to a 1-0 lead in the top of the first inning on two-out triples by Sandow Mertes and Fred Hartman. Then Dupee took to the mound and, according to the Chicago Tribune, “must have had an attack of stage fright or something, for he could not throw the ball anywhere near the plate.” The seminarian faced three .300 hitters, left fielder Mike Donlin (.341), right fielder Cy Seymour (.303) and second baseman Jimmy Williams (.317), and walked all three. That was enough for Griffith, who replaced Dupee with Callahan. Steve Brodie hit an infield fly, but Warren Hart and Roger Bresnahan both singled, knocking in all three of the runners Callahan had inherited from Dupee. The Orioles went on to win 10-4, with the loss charged to the rookie from Monkton.
On board the train to Philadelphia, where the White Stockings were to open a three-game series against the Athletics on Monday, Dupee explained to reporters that never in his life had he given up so many bases on balls. (That was not exactly true; in his last start in the New England League he had walked six, and Sporting Life acknowledged that “his only weakness is occasional lack of control.”) Despite the fit of wildness, Griffith indicated he would give the young pitcher another start. Surely he would get a second chance.
That chance never came. On Sunday, an off-day due to Pennsylvania’s restrictive Blue Laws, Griffith signed Wiley Piatt, a veteran lefthander who had just been released by the Athletics. Three days later Griffith returned Dupee on option to Portland. While the White Sox went on to win the AL’s first pennant, Dupee pitched in two more games back in the New England League, winning one and losing one to finish the season at 11-7.
Still another chance seemed to rise the next spring. Before the 1902 season the White Sox sold Dupee to the New York Giants. He went unbeaten in spring exhibition games, and the New York writers described him as the equal of Christy Mathewson, who had posted a 20-17 record the previous year as a rookie for the seventh-place Giants. Dupee was so impressive, in fact, that “Dirty Jack” Doyle, the Giants’ first baseman, dubbed him and Mathewson the “Heavenly Twins” (they were approximately the same height and build). Slated to begin the season as a regular in the New York rotation, surely Dupee was now ready to emerge.
Not so. Only days before the season opener, the hard luck hurler suffered an arm injury that never completely healed. Dupee pitched in the minor leagues another 13 seasons but never again got a chance to pitch in the majors.
Dupee’s frustrations continued after his retirement from baseball. He and his wife, the former Florence Etta Morgan, lived for over 50 years in West Falmouth, Maine, on a farm they inherited from Florence’s parents (currently the site of Falmouth High School). Frank struggled to make a living raising vegetables, supplementing his income by serving occasionally as a hunting and fishing guide and by selling the pelts of muskrats, foxes, skunks and raccoons he trapped in nearby swamps. It was not a happy life. His son Frederick, 88 years old at the time he was interviewed in 1996, stated that his father cheated on his mother and physically abused his children.
Frank Dupee died at the age of 79 on August 14, 1956. His obituary quoted John McGraw as telling sports writers that Dupee was the only pitcher he ever saw who had as much speed as the famed Walter Johnson. But instead of glory, his legacy amounts to this: by yielding three earned runs without recording a single out, Dupee is one of only 18 pitchers in all major league history with a lifetime ERA of infinity. Of those 18, only two gave up more earned runs than Dupee’s three. And that makes the once-promising lad from Monkton officially the third-worst pitcher in the history of major league baseball.
A version of this biography originally appeared in Green Mountain Boys of Summer: Vermonters in the Major Leagues 1882-1993, edited by Tom Simon (New England Press, 2000).
In researching this article, the author made use of the subject’s file at the National Baseball Hall of Fame Library, the Tom Shea Collection, the archives at the University of Vermont, and several local newspapers.