In his seven seasons in the major leagues, Frederick Harrison Corey played every position on the diamond, appearing in 237 games at third base, 93 as the pitcher, 46 in right field, 38 at shortstop, 29 in center field, 11 at second base, 8 in left field, 7 at first base, and one at catcher. Before his career was cut short by a gunshot injury to his eye, Corey played a total of 432 games, batting .246 with seven home runs. As a pitcher, he made 74 starts, completing 59, for 656⅓ innings, and producing a 27-46 won-lost record and an ERA of 3.32. It was said that Corey was “one of the first to use a curve ball successfully.”1
Corey was born in Coventry, Rhode Island, in 1855; the exact date of his birth is unrecorded. He was the fifth of eight children of Job Corey, a railroad-track layer, and Elizabeth (Tourgee) Corey. The family moved to Providence before 1865, where young Fred took up amateur baseball, playing for the local Olympics and Dexters. In 1876 the 21-year-old right-hander was invited to join the semipro Rhode Islands of the New England Association. Playing alongside future major leaguers Tom “Oyster” Burns and Ned Hanlon, Corey impressed enough in a 10-game stint as pitcher and utilityman to be invited back the following season.
Although individual records for the New England Association are scant, Corey was considered a valuable addition to the club in 1877. Sharing pitching duties with future major leaguer Hugh “One Arm” Daily, Corey “puzzled” hitters with his “peculiar curve.”2 It was remarked that “there was hardly a club that visited Providence last summer that got over six base hits off his delivery in a game.”3 Perhaps his finest pitching effort of the year came in a nonleague game on September 20, when he held a Boston amateur nine scoreless on two hits and struck out seven, winning 10-0. Typically playing center field when not pitching, Corey “was the heaviest and surest batter of the nine.”4 Despite this, the Rhode Islands finished with a record in league games of 11-29.
The two-year-old National League, dropping the Brooklyn-Hartford franchise after the 1877 season, awarded a replacement franchise to Providence, and Corey jumped the Rhode Islands to play in the major leagues with the Grays. In a preseason warmup in Providence on April 22, Corey, pitching against an aggregation of top local amateurs and Brown University players, including future major-league pitcher Lee Richmond, tossed a one-hitter, striking out nine and winning 7-0.
Before the start of the season on May 1, 1878, the Boston Globe declared that Corey’s “arms are said to be quite lame from over practice.”5 If so, it wasn’t apparent as the Grays debuted at home against the defending NL champion Boston Red Caps. Despite losing 1-0, Corey appeared to be in good form, holding Boston hitless until the fifth inning and scoreless until the seventh.6
Corey benefited from significantly better run support in his second start, when the Grays hammered Boston, 24-5, but in his third start, on May 25, after pitching a scoreless first inning, he was removed from the game for reasons of a “lame arm.”7 When he started again three days later, Corey’s arm “gave out at the end of the third inning.”8 It was a month before Corey started again, on June 27 in Milwaukee; this time he failed to get past the first inning.9 In July it was reported that Corey had resigned from the team due to a sore arm, “a ligatural sprain of the elbow caused by over-practice in the gymnasium.”10 Box scores, however, show Corey in the lineup at second base for the Grays as late as August 15.11
The Providence Grays finished in third place in their initial season in the NL, posting a 33-27 record, eight games behind pennant-winning Boston, but Corey’s first major-league season was a lost one. He played in only seven games for Providence, five of them as the starting pitcher, posting a won-lost record of 1-2, with a 2.35 ERA over 23 innings. He showed his versatility by playing in one game at first base and two at second, but contributed little at the plate, batting only .143 in 21 plate appearances.
But the season wasn’t over for Corey. In September it was reported that “Cory [sic], late pitcher for the Providence club,”12 had joined the New Bedford Clam-Eaters of the New England League to fill in for first baseman and future Athletics teammate Harry Stovey. Stovey had injured his leg in a game on August 17 and was disabled for a month; when he returned to the lineup, manager Frank Bancroft kept Corey in the lineup at second base.13 In postseason exhibitions, Corey played second base for the International Association’s Providence club.
During the offseason, it was reported that Corey “made a peculiar play last summer, and this winter was married to a young girl belonging to an adjoining town. … The babe is expected before the ball season opens.”14 The young woman’s name was Annie; their son, Harrison, was born in February 1879.
Corey signed for 1879 with the Capital Citys of the National Association. He pitched – and completed – the opening game of the season, giving up eight hits in a 3-0 loss. Less than a month into the campaign, the financially troubled club shifted from Albany to Rochester, becoming the Hop Bitters. Corey pitched regularly for Rochester until July, when they dropped out of the league and embarked on a five-month cross-country barnstorming tour. Accounts of the games show Corey most often in the lineup playing second base.
Corey returned to the majors in 1880, joining Stovey on the first-year Worcester Ruby Legs of the National League. Employed as the “change pitcher” for the club’s primary hurler, former Brown University star Lee Richmond, Corey started 17 games, and relieved in eight. In 148⅓ innings, Corey compiled a 2.43 ERA, ninth best in the NL among those with at least 105 innings pitched, but won only eight games. He played an additional 29 games in the outfield, and divided five others among first base, third base, and shortstop. In all, Corey appeared in 41 games for fifth-place Worcester, batting .174 in 142 plate appearances.
The highlight of the club’s season, and perhaps the National League’s, came on June 12, 1880, when Richmond tossed the first perfect game in major-league history, retiring 27 consecutive Cleveland Blues in a 1-0 masterpiece. Corey was in the lineup that day, playing in center field and making a putout on one of only two batted balls Richmond permitted out of the infield.
On September 23, against Boston, Corey hit his first major-league home run – sort of. Failing to touch third base as he scrambled around the bases on the inside-the-park drive, Corey was called out at third and credited with only a double.15 Despite the gaffe, Worcester won the game, 9-4, behind the tandem pitching of Corey and Richmond.
Back with the Ruby Legs in 1881, Corey started 21 games as pitcher and entered twice more in relief. He pitched poorly, however, posting a dismal 6-15 won-lost record and an ERA of 3.72. Playing 24 games in right field, 7 at shortstop, and one in left field, Corey appeared in a total of 51 games, batting .222.
For the second time in as many years, Corey lost what would have been his first major-league home run, when batting in the ninth against Cleveland on September 17. Again, he failed to touch third while rounding the bases on a bid for an inside-the-park home run, was called out, and credited with a two-base-hit.16 Worcester nevertheless won, 7-2.
Overall, Worcester struggled in 1881, finishing in last place with a 32-50 record. The Ruby Legs were worse in 1882, winning only 18 of 84 games. Splitting shortstop duties with Arthur Irwin, Corey appeared in 64 games, hitting .247, the third-highest average on a weak-hitting squad, and finished tied for second on the team in runs scored (33) and runs batted in (29). Among his 63 hits were a surprising 12 triples, tied for the second-highest in the NL. As a pitcher, Corey was a hard-luck case, coupling a club-best 3.56 ERA with a 1-13 won-lost record. He amassed 139 innings in his 21 turns in the pitcher’s box.
Worcester’s attendance figures were no better than their on-field performance and the franchise was dropped from the NL after the season. Corey secured a spot on the Philadelphia Athletics, second-place finishers in the inaugural season of the new NL rival American Association. Pre-season accounts suggested Corey would pitch on days when veteran Bobby Mathews was rested, citing Corey’s “puzzling delivery” and “perfect command of the ball.”17 His all-around versatility was noted, the Times of Philadelphia describing him as a “hard hitter and a good base runner, [who] in a pinch can acceptably fill any position on the infield.”18
Pitching in a preseason warm-up against a champion amateur team, Corey was sharp, posting a three-hit, 18-0 shutout. In his next exhibition start, he pitched well as the Athletics battered a minor-league nine from Trenton, 19-2. When the season started, however, Corey was at second base as Mathews shut out the Alleghenys, 4-0. Corey did pitch the following day, again in Pittsburgh, scattering 11 hits to win, 8-1.
The Athletics were quick out of the gate, winning 18 of 21 in the month of May, but eventually settled into a nip-and-tuck pennant race. Corey delivered what may have been his most valuable performance of the season on June 21 in Cincinnati. After the Athletics lost three games in a row to the Red Stockings to fall from first place, Philadelphia manager Lon Knight called upon Corey to pitch. Corey surrendered four runs in the first inning on a pair of hits and two errors by George Bradley at third, then was virtually unhittable the rest of the way, finishing with a four-hit, 14-5 victory. “The Cincinnatis could do nothing with him,” it was observed.19 The win snapped Philadelphia’s losing streak and elevated them back into first place.
Playing second base against the Alleghenys on July 30, Corey excelled in the field, playing “a great game … making three spectacular catches and accepting every chance offered.”20 Corey’s fielding was, in the words of one observer, “the finest ever seen in the city.”21 His achievement included a ninth-inning, rally-killing double play, spearing a line drive and throwing to first to catch a runner off the bag. Corey also made an impact with his bat, collecting three hits and driving in three runs.
After the two near-misses in 1880 and 1881, Corey hit a third-inning solo shot for his first major-league home run, off Cincinnati right-hander Will White, on September 16, being sure to touch all the bases in a 10-inning, 13-12 win at Cincinnati.
The Athletics nipped St. Louis by a single game to take the 1883 American Association pennant. As a pitcher, Corey started only 16 times, hurling twice more in relief, but did well enough with his opportunities, winning 10 of 17 decisions with an ERA of 3.40 in 148⅓ innings. As a measure of his utility, he played 34 games at third base, 14 in the outfield, 9 at second, and one each at catcher and shortstop. At bat, he hit .258 with 16 doubles. In a postseason exhibition against their crosstown rivals, the NL’s Philadelphia Quakers, the Athletics won handily, 13-3, with Corey playing third base while scoring three runs and driving in two.
Corey’s best season came in 1884. Pitching not at all that year, he hit third or fourth in the lineup as the Athletics’ regular third baseman. His .276 average looks better when the league’s average of .240 is taken into consideration, and his 16 triples tied for sixth-best in the American Association. Five of Corey’s seven career home runs came in 1884, the second-highest total on the Athletics and tied for 10th in the league. Among the five was a line drive grand slam over the left-field wall off Washington’s John Hamill in a 12-0 win at Philadelphia. The Athletics played well that year, but so did half the American Association, and the club’s 61-46 record was only enough for seventh place in the 13-team league.
A newspaper article reporting on the winter activities of the Athletics players, identified Corey as working at “heeling shoes in Lynn [Massachusetts.]”22
The Athletics’ record fell to 55-57 in 1885 as they finished fourth in the slimmed-down eight-team AA. Corey was again the club’s regular third baseman, playing a career-high 94 games but batting only .245. He did pitch in one game, starting against the New York Metropolitans on June 30 and giving up 18 hits and 7 earned runs, but coming away with a complete-game 15-9 victory. Corey missed several weeks in August with a wrist injury suffered when a pitch from Cincinnati’s Bill Mountjoy struck him and splintered a bone.23
In November 1885 it was reported that Corey had married for the second time, to a Philadelphia woman; whether he was previously widowed or divorced is unknown.24
While hunting on his honeymoon near Westerly, Rhode Island, Corey was accidentally shot by a companion, receiving about a dozen grains of shot in his cheek and one in his left eye, damaging his vision.25 Although he recovered his vision, at a trial with the Athletics at the start of the following season, he “played miserably,”26 and was released. “In the five years in which we have been at the head of the Athletic club,” owner Bill Sharsig said in a statement, “we have never been called upon to perform such a painful act. Corey has been with us for four years, and in all that time he has been one of the hardest workers we ever had. … Fred was not only a natural ballplayer, but he was a thorough gentleman as well. I know that I feel a great deal worse over his release than he does himself. …”27 Corey’s teammates raised $100 in donations28 and organized a pair of exhibition games on July 5 for his benefit. Despite Sharsig’s glowing testimonial, the club charged Corey $100 for the use of the grounds.29
In February1887 the Hastings (Nebraska) Hustlers of the Western League signed Corey to manage the team. One month into the season, however, Corey resigned, his vision “very bad.”30 It was reported in August that “Fred Corey, the invincible third baseman of the Athletics … is in Philadelphia, partially paralyzed.”31
A 1889 newspaper article stated that Corey “was entirely recovered, but will never rejoin the professional ranks.”32 In the account, Corey was said to be working as a clerk in Providence.
On July 9, 1892, Corey was given another benefit in the form of an exhibition game in Philadelphia between former professionals and old-time amateurs. On the side of the professionals were Corey’s former Athletic teammates Bobby Mathews, who pitched the game, and receiver Jack O’Brien, along with old American Association opponents Fred Dunlap, Joe Mulvey, Hardie Henderson, and Matt Kilroy.
Nothing is heard of Corey thereafter. The 1910 US Census shows Corey widowed, living in Cranston, Rhode Island, and working as a lather.
In 1912 he moved back to Providence, taking up residence in a lodging house. On the evening of November 27, 1912, Corey lit the gas lamp in his room and settled into bed with a book. He apparently nodded off while reading, a draft extinguished the flame, and he died of asphyxiation in his sleep.33 Corey was 57 years old. He was buried at the North Burial Ground in Providence.
In addition to the sources cited in the Notes, the following was used:
Soos, Troy. Before the Curse: The Glory Days of New England Baseball, 1858-1918, Rev. Ed. (Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland, 2006).
1 “Westerly Gets 17 Licenses,” Norwich (Connecticut) Bulletin, November 30, 1912: 6.
2 “The Rhode Islands Capture the Fall Rivers in a 10-Inning Game,” Boston Globe, June 23, 1877: 5.
3 “Base Ball for ’78,” Rhode Island Press (Providence), December 29, 1877: 2.
4 “Base Ball for ’78.”
5 “An 11-0 Game at Providence,” Boston Globe, April 19, 1878: 2.
6 “The Bostons Win the Game at Providence Yesterday,” Boston Globe, May 2, 1878: 2.
7 “The Boston Reds Defeat the Providence Grays,” Boston Globe, May 26, 1878: 5.
8 “Milwaukee 12, Providence 4,” Boston Globe, May 29, 1878: 1.
9 “A Good Game: The Milwaukees Defeated, Seven to Six,” Milwaukee Daily News, June 28, 1878: 4.
10 “Notes and News,” Fall River (Massachusetts) Daily Herald, July 27, 1878: 1.
11 “The Providence People Delighted,” St. Louis Post-Democrat, August 15, 1878: 5.
12 “Odds and Ends,” Chicago Tribune, September 8, 1878: 7.
13 “Base Ball Notes,” Fall River Daily Herald, September 26, 1878: 1.
14 “Providence Notes,” Cincinnati Enquirer, February 10, 1879: 8.
15 “Skill and Speed,” Boston Globe, September 24, 1880: 2.
16 “Worcester vs. Cleveland,” Chicago Tribune, September 18, 1881: 6.
17 “The Ball Season,” Philadelphia Times, March 11, 1883: 3.
18 “The Ball Season.”
19 “Sporting News,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, June 22, 1883: 3.
20 “Base Ball,” Philadelphia Inquirer, July 31, 1883: 2.
21 “Heavy Work at the Bat,” Philadelphia Times, July 31, 1883: 4.
22 “What Players Do in Winter,” Philadelphia Times, November 16, 1884: 7.
23 “Around the Bases,” Boston Herald, August 18, 1885: 5.
24 “Base Ball Notes,” Cleveland Leader, November 9, 1886: 3.
25 “Accidental Shooting of Fred Corey,” Delaware Gazette and State Journal (Wilmington), November 12, 1886: 6.
26 “The Athletics Releasing Players,” New York Herald, May 10, 1886: 9.
27 “Bradley and Corey,” The Sporting News, June 7, 1886: 5.
28 “Hits and Tips,” Boston Globe, May 18, 1886: 2.
29 “Base Ball Notes,” Boston Globe, July 5, 1886: 3.
30 “Base Ball Notes,” Cleveland Plain Dealer, May 20, 1887: 6.
31 “Doings on the Diamond,” Wilkes-Barre Sunday Leader, August 21, 1887: 6.
32 “Ball Gossip,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, January 5, 1889: 8.
33 “Westerly Gets 17 Licenses.”
Frederick Harrison Corey
, 1855 at Coventry, RI (USA)
November 27, 1912 at Providence, RI (USA)
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