The 1901 Cleveland Blues were mired in seventh place as July came to a close. Dissatisfied with their pitching staff, club management replaced the older arms – Bill Hart (35), Bill Hoffer (30), and Ed Scott (30) – with Harley McNeal (23), Jack Bracken (20), and Bill Cristall (25). McNeal debuted on August 5 with a win in Chicago. Bracken made the leap from the sandlots of Kent, Ohio, to join the team for their August 7 match at home against Milwaukee. Like McNeal, he delivered from the mound and at the plate to post a 5-4 victory.
Bracken picked up two more wins before a loss on August 21 to the A’s. He would make 12 starts for the Blues, posting a 4-8 record. He was not tendered a contract for 1902, signing instead with Milwaukee in the American Association.1 He would play with five different minor-league teams before retiring in the spring of 1906. Marriage and a good job were more important to him than flinging the baseball for pay.
John James Bracken was the second of three children born to Michael and Jessie Bracken, Irish immigrants who came to the States in 1870 and were married in 1878.2 Jack was born on April 14, 1881, in Cleveland, Ohio, joining his brother Richard. A sister, Laura, was born in 1884. Their father worked for the city of Cleveland in the street department.
Little is known of Bracken’s childhood and education. He grew to be a stout 5-feet-11 and weighed 175 pounds in his prime. A right-handed thrower and batter, he was playing in fast company on the Cleveland sandlots by the age of 17. He pitched and played outfield for the Lymans and the Standards in 1898-99. Alumni of the Standards included Jim Delahanty, Bill Bradley, and Tommy Leach.3
In 1900 Bracken took his talents on the road and played in Erie, Pennsylvania, and Massillon, Ohio. The following year he joined the Kent, Ohio, semiprofessional team. There he paired with Bob Spade to give the Kents a strong pitching staff. They also led the team at bat with Bracken hitting .364 and Spade .350. Reportedly the team won 39 of 50 outings.4 Bracken posted a 12-5 record before leaving the team in early August.
Bracken came to the majors with a fastball and a sweeping curve. His heater was not overpowering, which forced him to rely on location, and his curve kept batters off balance. He had both pitches working in his debut against Hugh Duffy’s Brewers. Cleveland fell behind quickly when Milwaukee opened the scoring with two in the first courtesy of two Blues errors. Another Cleveland error led to a third run in the third.
In the eighth, the Brewers plated a run on a passed ball. In the bottom of the frame the Blues scored two on a Jack O’Brien single to make the score 4-3. In the ninth the Blues rallied and had runners on first and third when Bracken came to the plate. He had doubled and scored earlier in the contest and now faced Bill Reidy with the game on the line. On Reidy’s second offering, Bracken lofted a wind-blown fly to left field that “dropped right on the whitewashed line, scattering the lime in all directions.”5 The runners scored, making Bracken a winner, 5-4.
The Brewers were sure the ball was foul and went after umpire Al Mannassau. Two of the Brewers’ infielders jostled with Mannassau while Duffy ran in from the outfield. Duffy made no effort to plead the team’s case, instead landing a blow to Mannassau’s head. The Blues came to the aid of the arbiter and Pete Dowling quelled Duffy’s assault with a fist in the manager’s face. Police restored calm.6
Next up for Cleveland were the league-leading Chicago White Sox. Because Cleveland did not play Sunday ball, the game on August 11 was shifted to Chicago with both teams boarding the train on Saturday and returning to Cleveland after the game. Bracken pitched that Sunday tilt and defeated Nixey Callahan, 4-3.
Bracken’s next start was in Baltimore on August 15. The Orioles touched him for nine hits but lost, 9-5. Bracken was now 3-0. Headline writers for both the Leader and the Plain Dealer gushed over his performance. His next start came on August 21 in the first game of a doubleheader in Philadelphia. Bracken struggled with his control and walked four. One of the walks came in the ninth when the A’s rallied for two runs to win, 8-7.
That defeat was the start of a seven-game losing streak for Bracken. It culminated on September 15 in the worst performance of his career. In Detroit for a Sunday game he allowed 23 hits, including seven doubles, and took a 21-0 pounding. Mercifully the game was called in the eighth so Cleveland could catch a train.
Bracken showed his resolve by winning his next start in Washington, 6-3. He had two hits in the game and was instrumental in the winning rally. His final start resulted in another pounding, this time by the Athletics, 14-6. In addition to surrendering 16 hits he walked four and hit three. His fielders compounded matters by committing five errors.
Bracken joined the Brewers and manager Billy Clingman for the 1902 season. He went four innings in his first start on April 25 against Indianapolis. The Brewers dropped the game, 7-6. On April 30 he lost, 13-2, to Louisville, then lost, 6-4, to Columbus. Between the latter two starts, he played right field on May 7.8 The Brewers released him on May 11.
Bracken stayed in Milwaukee and signed with Hugh Duffy’s Creams in the Western League. He made three starts for the Creams from May 20 through the end of the month winning two of them. The 21-year-old Bracken left the Creams and returned to Kent. The local paper noted that he failed to see financial success in the future with Milwaukee and “secured his release.”9 He rejoined the Kent team for the duration of the summer.
He spent 1903 working as a chain maker and playing for Kent. His battery mate was Paddy Livingston. Livingston had played one game for Cleveland in 1901, catching Bracken on September 2 in a loss to Cy Young and Boston. He would later spend three seasons with the Philadelphia Athletics. Bracken’s most notable game that year came on May 20 against Jamestown, New York. He finished the game by striking out the side in the 10th and crushing a home run to left field for the win.10 Bracken’s pitching caught the attention of minor-league managers/owners and he was signed to play for Little Rock in the Class-A Southern Association.
Bracken made an immediate impression upon the Little Rock fans when he defeated the Cincinnati Reds, 4-3, on April 5. Bracken kept the Reds bats silent except for the eighth inning when they scored all their runs. Pitching masterfully, he allowed just five hits and did not walk a man.11
When the regular season opened, Bracken was the team’s third starter and faced Memphis on April 26. Unlike his performance against the Reds, Bracken did not have his good stuff and surrendered 16 hits. The Travelers added five errors in the loss, 14-2. He redeemed himself in his next start in New Orleans with a five-hit performance. He also banged out two hits including a double in the 4-1 win.12
Bracken added a win over Shreveport in his next appearance but then was unable to complete his next two starts. With six men on the pitching staff, Bracken was deemed the most expendable and was released to Baton Rouge in the Cotton States League on May 25. The Class-D Red Sticks were managed by Bob Pender, who immediately took a liking to Bracken.
Bracken responded with a 9-7 record. He made headlines on July 11 when he struck out 16 Pine Bluff batters in a 2-0 win.13 In his next appearance against Pine Bluff he recorded 10 strikeouts, but also surrendered eight runs in a loss. On August 9 he was recalled by manager Mickey Finn of Little Rock.14
Bracken rejoined the Travelers and excited the fan base when he twirled 15 innings against Birmingham, but went down to a 3-1 defeat. That game was followed by three more losses when Travelers bats could only plate a single run each game. With Little Rock in sixth place, manager Finn began auditioning players. Bracken was released on September 7, about two weeks before the close of the season, to make room for the new blood. He posted a 2-7 record in his two stints in Little Rock.
Pender, who hailed from Youngstown, Ohio, took over the manager’s job for the Jacksonville Jays in the Class-C South Atlantic League in 1905. He sent contract offers to Bracken and fellow Kent alum Spade. They accepted the terms and headed south in the spring. Spade was eventually released to Macon.
Pender used multiple pitchers in the early exhibitions and Bracken was twice the last man to appear in games with the Cincinnati Reds. He tossed three innings each time and allowed two hits on both occasions.
Sportswriter Henry P. Edwards noted that Bracken outpitched Reds rookie Orval Overall in one of the games. According to Edwards, Bracken said there was no team in the nation he would rather face than the Reds. The writer also suggested that Bracken was using a “spit ball” but no collaborating accounts on its use have been uncovered.15
Bracken pitched opening day against Macon and came away with a 6-2 win. On May 2 he tossed a two-hitter against Charleston and bested that when he allowed Augusta just one hit on May 17. Judging from available box scores he pitched at least five shutouts for the third-place Jays.16 League statistics posted in the fall list him with a 21-11 record with 205 strikeouts. At the plate he fared poorly, hitting just .149 in 33 games.17
Bracken’s performance attracted the attention of both the Cincinnati Reds and the Cleveland Naps. Cleveland drafted Bracken for the 1906 season, then sold his contract to Atlanta. Bracken had returned to Kent after the 1905 season. In October he and Charlotte (Lottie) Mae Hausman eloped to Buffalo, New York. They were married on October 10.
Bracken had a new bride and was appointed as a foreman for the Seneca Chain Company. Despite a strong offer from Atlanta, Bracken deemed it time to retire from professional baseball.18 He continued to work for the chain maker as the family grew. A son, John R., was born in 1908. The following year Bracken was transferred to Mansfield, Ohio. In 1911 the family added a daughter named Mildred.
While foreman in the Mansfield factory, Bracken made friends with a fellow Irishman named Jim Tully who worked on Bracken’s crew. Tully was an affable type who did some boxing on the side. He went on to be a novelist and film writer in the 1920s and 1930s. Two of his books, “Beggars of Life” and “Shanty Irish”, were made into films.
Bracken shifted careers and joined the Phoenix Oil Company in Akron. By 1920 he had moved the family to the Detroit area where he continued as an oil salesman. Their third child, Patricia, was born in 1926.
Having dropped out of the professional ranks, Bracken did not forgo baseball totally. In 1906 he played on the Chain Company team in Kent. In 1907 he switched to the Cuyahoga Falls city team. He gained some press with them when he pitched and won both ends of a July 4 doubleheader.19 It appears that his playing days ended when the family moved to Mansfield.
After the move to Michigan, Bracken served as a bird dog for the Cleveland Indians. In the 1940s they made him their fulltime scout for the Detroit area. Some of his discoveries included pitchers Steve Gromek and Bob Kuzava. Another find was Vern Freiburger, a first baseman, who played two games for the Indians in 1941.20
When Bracken wasn’t making sales calls or scouting a player, he gained quite a reputation as a fine amateur golfer. Bracken died on July 16, 1954, in his Highland Park, Michigan, home. He was buried in Holy Sepulchre Cemetery in Southfield, Michigan. His wife, children, and eight grandchildren survived.21
Thank you to SABR members Stew Thornley and Rod Nelson for their knowledge and expertise respectively of Minnesota baseball and scouts. They were both able to clarify inconsistencies in Bracken’s career. This biography was reviewed by Bill Nowlin and Norman Macht and fact-checked by Kevin Larkin.
Baseball-Reference and ancestry.com were consulted for this biography.
1 “Milwaukee Signed Bracken,” Akron (Ohio) Beacon Journal, January 6, 1902: 5.
2 1900 census https://search.ancestry.com/cgi-bin/sse.dll?dbid=7602&h=39299018&indiv=try&o_vc=Record:OtherRecord&rhSource=6742 Last accessed April 16, 2020.
3 Base Ball, Cleveland Leader, October 28, 1899: 6.
4 “Base Ball- Great Year for Kent,” Cleveland Leader, October 20, 1901: 11.
5 “Duffy Struck Mannassau,” Cleveland Plain Dealer, August 8, 1901: 3.
7 “American League Fielding Averages,” Cleveland Plain Dealer, December 9, 1901: 3.
8 Sometime in the past, Bracken’s Milwaukee pitching stats were credited to the Minneapolis Millers. A check with SABR member Stew Thornley who has researched Minneapolis baseball in great depth reveals that Bracken never played with the Millers in 1902. At this writing Baseball Reference lists him as 0-3 with Minneapolis but they also have his batting as only being three games. They list him 2-for-5. He was 1-for-3 on May 7 when playing outfield so his batting should be for four games with a .375 average (3-for-8).
9 “About Bracken,” Akron (Ohio) Daily Democrat, June 4, 1902: 6.
10 “Bracken Won His Game,” Cleveland Plain Dealer, May 21, 1903: 8.
11 “Cincinnati Was a Pipe,” Arkansas Democrat (Little Rock, Arkansas), April 6, 1904: 2.
12 “Bracken the Star,” Arkansas Democrat, May 4, 1904: 2.
13 “Baton Rouge 2, Pine Bluff 0,” Times-Picayune (New Orleans, Louisiana), July 12, 1904: 10.
14 “Games Postponed,” Times-Picayune, August 10, 1904: 9.
15 Henry P. Edwards, “Cleveland Breaks Camp,” Cleveland Plain Dealer, March 30, 1905: 12.
16 The Augusta, Georgia Chronicle and Charleston, South Carolina Evening Post were the primary sources.
17 “South Atlantic League Averages for the Past Season,” Augusta Chronicle, November 5, 1905: 8.
18 “Pitcher Jack Bracken Retires from the Game,” Cleveland Leader, February 23, 1906: 8.
19 “Superbas Take Both Games,” Cleveland Plain Dealer, July 5, 1907: 8D.
20 “Sandlotters Signed,” Detroit Times, January 10, 1941: 23.
21 “Death Notices,” Detroit Free Press, July 18, 1954: 149.