This article was written by Lyle Spatz
They called him “Dirty Jack,” but John Joseph “Jack” Doyle never quite understood why. The name was given to him in recognition of his aggressive style of play and of his insistence that the base paths belonged to the runner. “I was a hard base runner,” he later recalled. “You had to be in those days. It wasn’t a matter of being rough or dirty. And my base running was for just one purpose-to win.”
Doyle, one of the game’s most colorful players in one of its most colorful eras, was born October 25, 1869, in Killorgin, County Kerry, Ireland. When he was still a boy, his parents immigrated to the United States, settling in Holyoke, Massachusetts, the city he was to call home for the rest of his life. After attending St. Jerome Parochial School through the ninth grade, Doyle played a few years of semi-pro baseball in the mill towns around New England. He made his professional debut in 1888 as a 19-year-old catcher for the Lynn, Massachusetts, Lions of the New England League.
The following year, he signed with Canton, Ohio, of the Tri-State League, where his batting, base running and catching skills made him the team’s most popular player with the local fans. Later that season Doyle reached the majors with the Columbus Solons of the American Association, receiving a $1,000 signing bonus and an annual salary of $2,500. After making his big league debut on August 27, 1889, he would go on to play 17 seasons in the majors, manage two big league teams and three minor league teams, play a few more seasons in the minor leagues, umpire in both the minors and the majors, and spend the last 38 years of his life in various scouting capacities for the Chicago Cubs. His career in baseball lasted 70 years, rivaling in length those of Connie Mack and Clark Griffith.
In all, Doyle played for ten different major league teams, but his greatest success came with the Giants and the Orioles. A steady hitter, he batted over .300 six times, while compiling a lifetime batting average of .299. His career-best was .368 in 1894, and that fall, in the first Temple Cup series, Doyle batted a prodigious .588 to lead the Giants to a four-game sweep over the pennant-winning Baltimore Orioles. He led all players in the series in hits (10), RBI’s (6) and stolen bases (6).
Several of the Orioles’ players were said to hold grudges against Doyle dating back to that series. However, that didn’t prevent Baltimore manager Ned Hanlon from trading an aging Kid Gleason to the Giants in exchange for the feisty Irishman in time for the 1896 season. The deal had other National League managers complaining about its one-sidedness, but, as Hanlon suspected, Doyle proved to be the final ingredient in turning the Orioles from a very good team into a great team.
Most of the Orioles’ enmity toward Doyle faded once they realized how much his addition would help them. The major exception was Doyle’s particular bete noir, John McGraw, a feisty Irishman like himself. McGraw resented Doyle, and publicly blamed him for any signs of dissension on the team. Of course, many people close to the Orioles said it was McGraw, not Doyle, who was the culprit in any dissension. Yet McGraw was correct in one of his charges against his new teammate. He claimed that Doyle didn’t really want to be in Baltimore, that his “heart” was still in New York. It was, and after a brief stopover in Washington, he was traded back to the Giants in 1898.
Leaving Baltimore certainly did not end Doyle’s problems with McGraw, a man with whom he would have a lifelong feud. The two tangled several times with the worst incident occurring on June 9, 1900, when Doyle, in his second tour with the Giants, deliberately ran into, knocked down, and spiked McGraw (now with St. Louis) in a play at third base.
Always a fierce competitor, Doyle engaged in brawls and fistfights with umpires, fans, opposing players, and even his own teammates. Two of his more notorious assaults were on umpires Tom Lynch in August 1897 and Bob Emslie on the 4th of July 1900. On several occasions he went into the stands to battle fans, including a spring training game in Norfolk in 1896. He made another foray into the stands in 1901 on his first visit to the Polo Grounds after having been traded from the Giants to the Cubs. More than once these battles led to his being arrested.
Despite this seeming lack of self-control, Doyle was a natural leader. Three different clubs, New York, Brooklyn and Chicago selected him as their team captain, and twice he served as an interim manager, for the Giants in 1895 and for Washington in 1898. And ironically, considering his arrests, he spent the only two years of his adult life outside of baseball as Holyoke’s police commissioner.
Although the 5’9″, 155-pound Doyle began as a catcher, he would in his career play every position except pitcher. He was mostly a first baseman, but would play in more than 100 games at four different positions, and more than 50 at the other two. Catching was actually his preference, but he was converted to a first baseman by the Giants in 1894 to take advantage of his speed. He used that speed to accumulate 518 stolen bases, including 73 and 62 respectively in 1896-97 for the Orioles. At his retirement, he ranked eleventh on the all-time list of base-stealers.
Doyle played his final big league game on July 13, 1905. His career had ostensibly ended the year before, after he batted .221 in a combined 74 games for Brooklyn and Philadelphia of the National League. But a series of injuries, including a broken nose suffered by first baseman Hal Chase, left the American League Yankees desperate for players. Manager Clark Griffith signed the thirty-five-year-old Doyle and played him at first base the following day in Detroit. The Yanks lost, 6-3, a loss Doyle helped cause by dropping two throws. It was his only game as a Yankee, but it did allow him to become the second player, behind Willie Keeler, to have played for all three New York teams.
His big league days at an end, Doyle returned to the minor leagues. He was with Toledo of the American Association in 1905, the player-manager at Des Moines in 1906, leading them to the Western League pennant, and then back in the American Association in 1907, where he managed Milwaukee to a seventh-place finish.
Following a stint as Holyoke’s Police Commissioner, in 1908-09, the longtime nemesis of the men in blue became an umpire himself. Doyle umpired in several minor leagues, including the Eastern League, the New England League, the American Association, and the Pacific Coast League, and also served one season (1911) in the National League. When his umpiring days ended, he began scouting for the Chicago Cubs, a job he would retain in one form or another for the rest of his life. Among the players he helped bring to Chicago were Gabby Hartnett, Charlie Root, Pat Malone, Billy Herman, Stan Hack, and Phil Cavaretta. No doubt he took particular pleasure in having recommended the drafting of future Hall of Famer Hack Wilson, when Wilson, as a young player, was left unprotected by McGraw’s Giants.
Jack Doyle always believed that he was the major leagues’ first pinch-hitter, and would often cite the game of June 7, 1892, to prove it. Playing for Cleveland that day, Doyle was called upon by manager Patsy Tebeau in the ninth inning of a game at Brooklyn to bat in place of pitcher George Davies. He responded by hitting a single, which Doyle would later claim won the game. It didn’t: Brooklyn won, 2-1. Nonetheless, for many years this was indeed thought to be the first instance of a pinch-hitter being used in a major league game. Doyle surely thought so, and he was fond of recreating all the details. After his death, however, researchers verified a pinch-hitting appearance for Charlie Reilly of Philadelphia (NL) on April 29, 1892, and more recently other pinch hitting appearances also have been uncovered.
On September 29, 1957, the Giants, playing their final game at the Polo Grounds before absconding to San Francisco, paid tribute to Doyle as the oldest living ex-Giant. Fifteen months later, on New Year’s Eve 1958, Doyle died of a heart attack at age 89 in his beloved Holyoke. A lifelong bachelor, he was survived by his sister, Nora E. Doyle, and several nieces. His death marked the end of an era, as Doyle had been the last living link to the legendary Orioles of the 1890s.
“Jack Doyle’s Greatest Success As Cubs’ Scout Rewarded Club With Great Teams In Early 30s”. The Holyoke Transcript-Telegram, January 3, 1959.
“Doyle Assaults Emslie” New York Sun, July 5, 1900.
“Pinch-Hitting Role Celebrates Its Centennial” by John G. Leyden in Baseball Weekly, April 29- May 5, 1992.
James H. Bready, Baseball in Baltimore: The First 100 Years, Johns Hopkins University Press, 1998.
The Encyclopedia of Minor League Baseball, Baseball America, 1997.
Charles C. Alexander, John McGraw, Viking, 1988.
Various items and clippings from the Jack Doyle file at the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
Obituary. Holyoke Transcript-Telegram, January 2, 1959.
Obituary. The Sporting News, January 14, 1959.
Obituary. New York Times, January 2, 1959.