Frank Whitney was a reserve outfielder for Boston in 1876, the first year of the National League. Playing in only 34 games in his career, Whitney was better known in the Boston area for playing on the popular Lowell, Massachusetts, amateur team. His name rarely appears in newspaper accounts of the time, other than to list his name in the box scores. Whitney was on the bench in Philadelphia when Boston played the first game in National League history, and when he died 67 years later, he was the last link to that inaugural year.
Frank Thomas Whitney was born February 18, 1856, in North Bridgewater, Massachusetts, which became the city of Brockton. He was the son of George Reddington and Pauline Brown (Hilliard) Whitney. The 1860 census shows the Whitney family living in North Bridgewater and George employed as a dentist with a personal estate valued at $2000. George had moved the family from Provincetown, Massachusetts, in 1854 so he could begin his practice.1 Frank had an older brother, George, and a younger brother, Arthur, who would have an 11-year major league career. The family also had a 22-year-old servant living with them named Margaret Tackney.
Whitney played for the Howard Club of Brockton, an amateur junior club, in 1874.2 He played for the Lynn (Massachusetts) Live Oaks amateur team for the 1875 season, playing a number of positions as team captain. “A first-class amateur,” wrote the Springfield Republican, “especially good at second base or in the outfield.”3 Art’s name also appears in some of the same box scores.
As a reserve outfielder, Whitney had few major league highlights. He played center field in the first exhibition game of the season on April 13 against a picked nine. Whitney had a hit, scored a run, and “made several fine plays,” according to the Boston Journal.4 His regular-season debut was on May 17 when he went 0-for-3 and made two of Boston’s 10 errors. He scored two runs on May 23 in a win at Cincinnati; then in a May 25 game also at Cincinnati, Boston scored four runs in the tenth to break a 0-0 tie. Whitney had a hit in the tenth and scored the fourth run.5 Whitney scored four times in an exhibition game against Harvard on June 16. Playing left field on May 30, he made a catch of a fly ball “beautifully taken after a long run.”6 In the June 20 game in Cincinnati, Whitney “made an extraordinary fly catch in the left field, falling flat in the mud in the endeavor to hold the ball,” the Cincinnati Daily Times commented.7 On August 7, Boston beat Philadelphia courtesy of a fair-foul hit by Whitney and an error which allowed the tying and winning runs to score in the 6-5 win.8
Whitney was released before the end of the season and finished the year playing for the Auburn, New York, club. Boston actually played Auburn “on their way home,” on October 9, with Auburn winning 10-4 and Whitney playing left field.9
Both Frank and Art were part of the Lowell amateur baseball club in 1877, along with Sam Wright, the younger brother of Harry and George Wright.10 This team was remembered as “one of the most famous teams that ever represented a New England city,” in the Daily Citizen and News 25 years later. Lowell played 126 games and won 26 of them in a row.11
Lowell proved “considerable trouble” for Boston, beating them on September 25, with Whitney getting two hits and scoring twice.12 Lowell closed the 1877 season with a game against Boston on November 8. Lew Brown of Boston hit a high fly ball to Whitney in left field, who “attempted to take prettily, so as to please the ladies, but the ball bounded from his hands,” wrote the New York Clipper.13
Whitney continued playing for Lowell in 1878. On May 12, 1878, he made a “specially brilliant” catch and turned it into a triple play.14 On October 28, Lowell played the professional Providence Grays to a 10-10 tie, with Whitney collecting four hits, including a home run, off future Hall-of-Famer John Montgomery Ward.15
The Lowell Daily Citizen and News reported that Whitney had bought out the business of a Mr. Ticknor, who sold his “gents’ furnishing store on Central Street.”16 The Clipper reported that Whitney was giving up baseball to go into the “cracker business,” and that his brother Art was playing for the Worcester team that season. Frank also joined the Worcesters for the season, unable to resist the temptation to grab a glove and play the outfield again.17 George Whitney founded Victor Sporting Goods of Springfield, Massachusetts, a company absorbed by Albert Spalding and A.G. Spalding & Bros.18 Art also worked as a representative for the Spalding company.19 Frank belonged to the Vesper Boat Club in Lowell and participated in races there.20
The 1880 census lists Whitney living with his wife, Helen (Bradt), whom he married June 2 of that year. The newlyweds were living in Lowell at the home of her parents, David and Marie Bradt. Frank at the time was working in “furnishing goods.” The Daily Citizen and News mentions Whitney driving a Carryall (carriage) for the Bradt family when a nut on one of the axles came off and three ladies plus Frank “were let down hard, but were not injured.”21
The 1881 season was reported to be the final season for both Frank and Art as the brothers were now concentrating on their business interests in Lowell.22 However, Art was involved in organizing the Lowell team, which leased the Lowell Fairgrounds for 1882.23 Sure enough, Frank also played that season.24
With his first wife deceased, Whitney married Marianne McCauley on Jan 15, 1885. Somewhere in the next 12 years the couple moved to Maryland. In the 1900 and 1910 censuses, Frank and Marianne are living on Main Street in Elkton, Maryland, in a house they own, and Frank is working in wholesale jewelry. The Lowell Sun noted Whitney, “the once famous left fielder” who was now a “jewelry drummer,” was back in town one day in 1897. “In the good old days of 1876 and thereabouts,” the Sun recalled, “he was the left fielder of the Bostons, and a great player too. Time has dealt kindly with him and he is a young man yet.”25 A July newspaper article mentions Whitney coming up from Maryland to visit family.26
Whitney returned to the field in 1908 for an Old-Timers game in Boston against Harvard alumni. He was reunited with fellow “76’ers” John Morrill and Tim Murnane. Whitney singled and scored a run in two at-bats.27 Consistent with his Boston career, Whitney got his name in the paper like all the other players, but nothing more was written of him.
At the 1920 census, Frank is a widower living as a boarder in Elkton. He was working for himself in “bands.” On July 6, 1926, he married Alexandra Dushane.28 The 1930 census shows Frank working as a “salesman in bands” at the age of 74 and the couple is living in Baltimore. The 1940 census shows him and Alexandra still living in Baltimore in a home valued at $5,000. George Penniman, Frank’s nephew, wrote that “Uncle Frank’s idea of bliss was to have my father take him to a double-header at Oriole Park.”29
Frank Whitney died on October 30, 1943, in Baltimore of bronchial pneumonia, at the age of 87. His ashes were scattered on a lot at Green Mount Cemetery in Baltimore, the same spot Alexandra’s ashes would be scattered in 1961. Whitney had no children through his three marriages. His brother, Art, preceded him in death by two months.
Sixty-seven years had passed since Whitney played for Boston. At the time of his death, Frank was the last surviving player from the 1876 season, when the National League was born.30
1 Personal family records of the Whitney family in Frank Whitney’s file at the Baseball Hall of Fame Library in Cooperstown, New York.
2 His name appears in printed boxscores of Howard games, such as the June 12 and July 24, 1874 editions of the Massachusetts Spy (Worcester, Massachusetts).
3 “The National Game,” Springfield Republican, August 16, 1875: 5.
4 “Base Ball. First Game of the Season,” Boston Journal, April 14, 1876: 2.
5 “Boston vs. Cincinnati,” New York Clipper, June 3, 1876: 77.
6 “Base Ball,” Boston Post, May 31, 1876: 3.
7 “Base-Ball. The Game Yesterday on the Red Stockings Grounds,” June 21, 1876: 4.
8 “Boston vs. Athletic,” New York Clipper, August 19, 1876:165.
9 “Auburn vs. Boston,” New York Clipper, October 21, 1876: 23.
10 “The Lowell Base Ball Club of 1877,” Lowell Daily Citizen and News, February 24, 1877: 2.
11 “It Helped to Make Baseball History. Famous Lowell Team of the Year 1877,” Boston Herald, July 21, 1902: 4.
12 “Lowell vs. Boston,” New York Clipper, October 6, 1877: 221.
13 “Lowell vs. Boston,” New York Clipper, November 17, 1877: 266.
14 ” The Lowells Defeat Last Year’s International Champions in a Fourteen – Inning Game, 11 to 8,” Lowell Daily Citizen and News, May 13, 1878: 3.
15 “Base Ball. Lowells vs. Providence- A Tie Game,” Lowell Daily Citizen and News, October 29, 1878: 3.
16 “Business Enterprise,” Lowell Daily Citizen and News, April 19, 1879: 3.
17 “Base Ball Notes,” New York Clipper, March 22, 1879: 413; Base Ball Notes,” New York Clipper, April 12, 1879: 21; Base Ball Notes,” New York Clipper, May 31, 1879:753;
18 “Necrology. Arthur W. Whitney,” The Sporting News, August 26, 1943: 18.
19 “Cubs’ Hot Corner Man Dies in Lowell, MA,” Portsmouth Herald (Portsmouth, New Hampshire), August 17, 1943: 13.
20 “Vesper Boat Club, Lowell, Mass,” New York Clipper, August 2, 1879: 147.
21 “Locals in Brief,” Lowell Daily Citizen and News, June 18, 1879: 3.
22 “Base Ball Notes,” Boston Journal, October 17, 1881: 3.
23 “Base Ball,” New York Clipper, March 11, 1882: 839; “Base Ball,” Ibid, March 18, 1882: 860.
24 Both brothers’ names appear in a Lowell box score in a game vs. Dartmouth (Boston Herald April 7, 1882).
25 “Some Crisp Gossip,” Lowell Sun, March 11, 1897: 4.
26 Springfield Republican, July 2, 1897: 8.
27 “Old-Timers Bat the Ball Again,” Boston Globe, September 25, 1908: 1.
28 The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, “Pedigree Resource File,” database, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/2:2:S1WF-PMN : accessed 2016-07-12), entry for Frank /Whitney/.
29 Letter from George Penniman Jr. addressed to SABR member Joseph Simenic, dated November 11, 1978, from Whitney’s Hall of Fame file; Not to be confused with the present-day Oriole Park at Camden Yards, this Oriole Park was the home of the minor league Baltimore Orioles of the International League.
30 Based on death records, of which eight players from 1876 do not have identified death dates.