Hezekiah Allen, a catcher by trade, appeared in the one and only major league game of his life in 1884 for Harry Wright’s Philadelphia Quakers. In that game Ki performed well at bat, establishing a career .667 batting average, but did not field his position well. He was soon injured and returned to his hometown in Connecticut where he worked as a watchman, custodian, and constable until his passing at age 53.
Ki Allen was born to Chauncey and Delia Allen on February 25, 1863, in Westport, Connecticut, a small farming and shipping community on Long Island Sound. According to Willard Williams, retired sports editor of the Norwalk Hour, “Westport was full of Allens for several generations. There was an old saying that to win an election it was necessary to get the Allens, the Bakers and the Battersons on your side.”1
Exactly how Allen came to Philadelphia to play for Wright is unknown. What is evidenced, however, is that Ki was part of the reserve team experiment undertaken by major league team owners in 1884. The scions established reserve teams in their major league cities to provide a ready supply of talent. Each reserve team practiced and played its own schedule. Fresh new players were prepared for promotion to the big club when needed due to injury, trade, desertion to a competing league, or for any other reason. Desertion to a competing league was increasingly possible in 1884, given the establishment of the short-lived Union Association in 12 cities that year.
On March 17, a meeting was held at Spalding’s Wigwam in Chicago among the owners and managers of the reserve teams of Cleveland, Milwaukee, Chicago, St. Louis, Cincinnati and Pittsburgh. Home schedules for the first half of the season were announced.2
Although the Quakers were not among the teams at the Wigwam, plans were indeed underway in the City of Brotherly Love to establish a reserve team under Harry Wright. On March 26, Sporting Life listed the starting nines and change batteries of the Quakers (a.k.a. the Whites) and their Reserves (a.k.a. the Reds). Hezekiah Allen is listed with a pitcher named Waring as the Reds’ change battery.3
At that time, Wright spun a unique version of what defined his reserve team with the warning that his Red squad should not be called reserves, even though the press would do so anyway.
“I want it understood there is to be no reserve team in the Philadelphia Club,” Wright told the press. “There will be two nines, which, according to the color of shirt worn, will be styled Whites and Reds. My idea is that one of these teams will be about as good as the other and there will be no regular place on the team for any man of either Whites or Reds…In playing games with outside nines, for example, when the club is playing League games out of town, the nine that will play will be as strong a playing team as that which on the same day contests with the League club. But I shall have no reserve nine.”4
Wright was delivering a marketing pitch, holding up his Reds and Whites as quality talent that would both be worthy of attention. Ironically, Wright was accused in late April the same year of sending the Quakers to play exhibitions against teams such as Harrisburg and Reading while substituting his best players with ones that were even less talented than his reserve players, and collecting a $100 game guarantee.5
Ki Allen’s rise to the Philadelphia Reds and the Quakers was expedited by an acute need. The Quakers went through backstops faster than any other N.L. team in 1884. Manager Wright played thirteen different catchers in all. John Crowley caught a team-high 48 games and had the highest WAR among Quaker catchers at 0.2. 6
Compared to the rest of the National League, thirteen catchers in a season was off-the-chart. Buffalo, Boston, Providence and Cleveland used four each. The average number of catchers playing for all 8 National League teams was 6.25. Even the woeful Detroit Wolverines, with a 28-84 record, used five fewer catchers than the Quakers in 1884.7
The Reds played an exhibition game at Recreation Park on April 1 versus the Whites; the League nine won, 14-1, with Reilly catching Knight for the Reds and Ki on the bench. On April 3, after a day of rain, there was a rematch of those teams under gale force conditions, with Allen catching Waring, and the Whites nipping the Reds, 3-2, in a game called after five innings. Allen impressed with his fielding, registering 3 put outs, 1 assist and zero errors.8
On April 18, 1884, Ki was a star in extra innings. In a game between the Reading Actives and Reds, Wright’s pony nine came back from a 6-0 deficit to win. Allen replaced a defensively shaky Reilly in the 5th and hit a walk-off single in the bottom of the 10th inning, winning it, 10-9.9
Eight days later came good and bad news. The bad was that the Reds were being folded after May 1. “Manager Wright does not think it will pay to run a reserve nine during the championship season,” reported The Times.10 The Reds had turned a profit in April but not enough to justify their continued existence, it also reported.11 The good was that Allen would be retained as a substitute on the Quakers, along with outfielder Jim Fogarty and outfielder-pitcher Joe Knight. (Fogarty would be a core member of the Quakers for six years.)12
After a 28-7 drubbing of the Reds on April 27 at the hands of the Actives in which Allen did not play, the press carried another report about the demise of the Reds. It cited how Wright had hurriedly put the team together and quickly sent it on the road. In the end a few good players had been developed but others were a nuisance to watch.13
Later, the epitaph of the reserve teams in Philly and everywhere else was written in Sporting Life with precision: “It is useless to deny the fact that the reserve team plan is a failure, and sooner or later the reserves must go. The scheme looked flimsy in the outset to many experienced heads and the results have substantiated their predictions. Harry Wright, with characteristic good sense, led off by unhaltering his colts at the opening of the championship season. Cleveland and Milwaukee have followed suit, and it will not be an age before Allegheny, St. Louis and Cincinnati have filed into line.”14
It is unclear if Allen was still with the Reds on April 27, although he may have been, since Fogarty and Knight both played for the pony nine that day.
In any case, Allen made his major league debut — and played his last game — on May 16, 1884, at Recreation Park. On that day, Harry Wright decided to follow up a 25-5 victory over Buffalo the previous day15 by starting his pony battery of Joe Knight and Hezekiah Allen. The odds may have been in Philadelphia’s favor given that the Bisons were putting Billy Serad on the mound. Serad was a rookie in ’84 and the Quakers had knocked him out of the box in four innings in a previous game.
But Joe Knight was wild on the mound for Philly. He yielded a single and walked three batters in the first inning. Ki had two passed balls in the first inning, thus contributing to two Buffalo runs.
A triple and single off Knight produced a Bison run in the third. An error, a walk, two infield hits and two steals in the fifth notched two more scores. The next three Buffalo runs scored in the seventh when Knight gave up two doubles and a triple. After one last run was notched in the ninth, the final score was Buffalo 9, Philadelphia 0.16
As bad as Knight had been, Allen had been good. Billy Serad had allowed just four hits to the Quakers and Ki had two of them. A nice day at the plate combined with errorless fielding over the last eight innings made for a promising major league debut for Ki.
It is uncertain how Allen’s injury occurred but within eight days of his debut the press reported that the Quaker catchers were not healthy, Ki included.
On May 22, in a game in which the Providence Grays pounded the Quakers, 12-4, catcher John Crowley came out of the game with an injury in the third inning.17
The next day, the Grays dominated the Quakers again, 8-1. In the warmups before the game, Philly catcher Frank Ringo was on the field preparing to handle his starter, John Coleman, but withdrew when his injured hand was not yet well enough to hold the ball.18
On May 27 it was reported that Harry Wright was dealing with multiple injuries to pitchers and catchers and that Ki Allen “is still complaining.”19
Thus, at this point we know that Ki Allen was injured. Exactly what his injury was and how it occurred is a mystery, but catcher injuries in 1884 were not unusual, given the lack of protection provided by a catching glove. Judged by Spalding ads in the pages of Sporting Life, they looked not more substantial than a modern-day bicycle glove.
Ki Allen returned to Westport where he married his wife, Rebecca. They had one child, Alma Christine Allen. Alma married Frank Dennert and the couple gave Ki and Rebecca three grandchildren: Elizabeth, Marie and Frank.20
In 1909, Ki Allen lost his bid to be elected on the Democratic ticket as a constable in Westport.21 The next year he succeeded.22 In 1912, Hezekiah appeared as a candidate for constable on the Republican and Progressive tickets.23
As a constable, Ki was noted in the press for attending to the gritty chores of law enforcement by apprehending pugnacious drunks,24 arresting tax dodgers,25looters26and pressing a confession from a mail thief.”27
Although Ki Allen turned up in the papers primarily as a candidate or a constable in his later years, there was one connection to the game mentioned in the Bridgeport Times and Evening Farmer on April 25, 1910. The blurb simply said: “Hezekiah Allen has organized a base ball team of his own.”28
Hezekiah Allen passed on September 21, 1916, at age 53. A short obituary appeared in the Norwalk Hour:
“Hezekiah Allen, one of the best known residents of Westport died at his house in Saugatuck this morning. The deceased had been ill for about a year. He was in his fifty-third year and besides his wife is survived by a daughter Mrs. Alma Den[n]ert, two brothers, George and John, and a sister, Mrs. Adeline Welch, all of Westport. Mr. Allen has for years been a constable of the town of Westport. Years ago he was a popular baseball player being one of the catchers of the old school in the days when masks, chest protectors and heavily padded gloves were unthought of. He was highly regarded by the fans of Westport and surrounding towns and played many games in Norwalk.”
Acute parenchymatous nephritis — a form of renal disease — was the primary cause of death according to the death certificate. Ki Allen is buried in Willowbrook Cemetery in Westport.
This biography was reviewed by Chris Rainey and Norman Macht and fact-checked by Warren Corbett.
A note from the author about SABR’s Bill Haber and Ki Allen:
Birth and death records, an obituary and two letters from Willard Williams to Bill Haber were found in Hezekiah Allen’s Hall of Fame file. Haber, a founding member of SABR and a respected researcher, corresponded in the 1980s to obtain these data points about Ki Allen, one of baseball’s more obscure players. Bill Haber passed in 1995. You can read more about him by clicking Bill Haber.
1 Letter from Willard Williams to Bill Haber, Dec. 4, 1979, from Hezekiah Allen’s Hall of Fame file.
2 “The Reserves”, Sporting Life, March 26, 1884, 2.
3 “The Reserves”
4 Items of General Interest About Clubs and Players, The Phillies”, Sporting Life, March 26, 1884, 1.
5 “No Game Here To-morrow”, Harrisburg Telegraph, April 29,1884, 4.
7 https://www.baseball-reference.com/leagues/NL/1884-specialpos_c-fielding.shtml, accessed Oct. 14, 2019.
8 “The Local Season, The Reds”, Sporting Life, April 9, 1884, 3.
9 “A Game of Ten Innings”, The Times, April 19, 1884, 2.
10 “Base Ball Notes”, The Times (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania), April 26, 1884, 2.
11 “Base Ball Notes”.
12 “Base Ball Notes”.
13 A Dose Of Retribution”, Reading Times, April 28, 1884, 1.
14 Notes and Comments”, Sporting Life, June 4, 1884, 7.
15 “Philadelphias Defeat Badly Crippled Buffalo Nine”, The Times, May 16, 1884, 3.
16 “Philadelphia Club Badly Beaten by the Buffalo Team”, The Times, May 17, 1884, 2.
17 “Philadelphias Lose First Game to Providence”, The Times, May 23, 1884, 4.
18 “Philadelphia Club Again Defeated by the Providence Club”, The Times, May 24, 1884, 2.
19 “Base Ball notes”, The Times, May 27, 1884, 3.
20 Letter from Willard Williams to Bill Haber, Dec. 4, 1979, from Hezekiah Allen’s Hall of Fame file.
21 “Westport G.O.P Elects Ticket”, Bridgeport Times and Evening Farmer, Oct. 5, 1909, 3.
22 “Westport Elections”, Bridgeport Times and Evening Farmer, Oct. 4, 1910, 1.
23 “Westport Notes”, Bridgeport Times and Evening Farmer, Sept. 18, 1912, 5.
24 ‘Let Me Introduce Battling Payne”, Bridgeport Times and Evening Farmer, Sept. 24, 1912, 5.
25 “Arrested For Non-Payment Of Personal Tax”, Bridgeport Times and Evening Farmer, April 5, 1912, 15.
26 “Three Boy Burglars”, Bridgeport Times and Evening Farmer, May 27, 1912, 1.
27 “Held On Charge Of Stealing Mail”, Hartford Courant, July 24, 1912, 1.
28 “Westport Notes”, Bridgeport Times and Evening Farmer, April 25, 1910, 10.