This article was written by Chris Rainey
He was 22 years old and considered one of the wealthier men in the game.1 At 5-feet-11-inches tall and with looks that made the ladies swoon, he was described as “the alleged Adonis of the ball players.”2 Jack Remsen entered the National Association in 1872 and would remain in the game for 20 years. In his prime he was regarded as a top-notch center fielder, but he never developed into a consistent hitter.
Of Dutch descent, the Remsen family had been in New York for generations. Abraham Remsen, born in New York, married Elizabeth Wortman, also a New Yorker, in the 1830s. The couple had five children. John Jay Remsen joined his two brothers and two sisters in 1850.3 Abraham “kept a grocery store” for many years before tiring of the trade and taking up farming in the Flatbush section of Brooklyn. In 1860 the family’s property was valued at $75,000. After the children were grown, Abraham and Elizabeth moved into a “commodious mansion” in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood (Gates Avenue).4
Remsen grew up playing ball in Brooklyn and in 1869 joined a team sponsored by the Alpha Club. They were probably the second best amateur squad in Brooklyn behind the Stars. Remsen was the center fielder and frequently batted second. He was called upon to play third on occasion and even took a turn pitching when the need arose. His judgment and character were such that even as a teenager, he was often an umpire for the fledgling professional Brooklyn Atlantics.
Remsen spent 1870 with the Alphas under the guidance of Captain Fred Crane. In 1871 he signed with the Atlantics. The Atlantics had been a professional team in 1870, paying their players a share of each gate after expenses. Other professional teams paid their players a set salary. The New York Times considered the Atlantics, Cincinnati, the Athletic from Philadelphia, and the Mutuals from New York as the four best clubs out of 18 professional teams in 1870.5As the 1871 season approached, a split in the Atlantics Club membership arose over how to operate the team.
The most contentious question was whether to join the newly formed National Association. The Club directors chose not to join the nine-team Association and played an independent schedule instead. Their decision may well have been based on the refusal of Candy Cummings to sign with them and the defection of most of their 1870 players.
As the season approached, the roster had four holdovers plus new additions including Remsen. The day before their first game, Captain George Hall left the team to join the Olympics from Washington in the National Association. The Atlantics would struggle with personnel the whole summer. Filling second base and catcher were especially troublesome. Remsen was used mainly in left field and batted second or third in the lineup. The first match was against an amateur team and they won, 26-3.
The Atlantics next took on Boston of the Association and lost, 25-0. Remsen did get two of the team’s six hits. The rest of the schedule was a mix of amateur and professional opponents. For the most part the Atlantics handled the amateur opponents easily; for instance they beat Eureka from East Rockaway, Long Island, 67-8 when they piled up 66 singles. They were usually on the other end of the score with professionals. They did claim a victory over one Association team by beating Kekionga of Fort Wayne 22-14 on June 23.
The Club leadership made the decision to enter the National Association in 1872. Games were played at the 5,000-seat Capitoline Grounds in Brooklyn. Holdovers from 1871 included Remsen, Eddie Booth, Dutch Dehlman, James Hall, and Jack McDonald. Bob Ferguson was hired as manager-third baseman and Jim Britt was the pitcher. The team was winless in May and June. The Atlantics finally beat New York and Candy Cummings, 10-9 on July 2. This put their record at 1-9. A three-game winning streak in August boosted the Atlantics’ record to 5-14. They finished the season with a 9-28 mark. Remsen played all 37 games, mostly in center field, batted .236 and hit the team’s only home run.
In 1873 the squad added shortstop Dickey Pearce and outfielders Bill Boyd and Charlie Pabor to flank Remsen. The team improved to 17-37. Remsen and Pabor both knocked out 12 extra-base hits to lead the team. Pabor batted .360 and Remsen .295. After the season, Remsen signed with the New York Mutuals. They finished in second place in 1874 with a 42-23 mark. Remsen patrolled the outfield with grace and skill, but batted only .229.
In 1875 Bob Ferguson took over the helm of the Hartford Dark Blues. He brought in Tommy Bond and Candy Cummings as the pitching staff. He totally revamped the roster, keeping only Everett Mills. Remsen was brought in to play center field and had an excellent season. He appeared in all 86 games and batted .268. The team finished in third place with a 54-28 record, close on the heels of the Athletic but far behind Boston’s astounding 71-8 season.
Hartford joined the neophyte National League in 1876. Ferguson brought in Dick Higham to fill one of the outfield spots and he led the team with a .327 average. The team tried to keep pace with the White Stockings, but a six-game losing streak in August spelled their demise. A nine-game late-season win streak cemented second place. Remsen played a strong center field with 12 assists and an .887 fielding percentage. He had the second-most at-bats in the league, behind George Wright, and batted .275.
The business of baseball in the early years was a far cry from what we know today. The Hartford Daily Courant announced in July that Remsen had signed to play with St. Louis in the coming season.6 His lame-duck status did not seem to affect his performance or position on the Dark Blues. He joined the Browns in 1877 and was inserted in center field. A knee injury sidelined Remsen in the middle of the season; he played in only 33 games and batted .260.
Bob Ferguson assumed the helm of the Chicago White Stockings in 1878. Once again he made it a point to have Remsen as his center fielder. Recovered from his knee injury, Remsen had slowed a bit, but still patrolled the garden expertly. He committed a mere seven errors in 124 chances for an astounding (for that time) .944 fielding percentage. No center fielder and only six full-time players exceeded his mark. Remsen was flanked by John Cassidy and Cap Anson. Joe Start was the team’s first baseman, but Anson would move into that position in 1879 and hold it down for 19 seasons.
The White Stockings were 30-30 and finished in fourth place. Remsen fielded well, but at the plate he hit .232 for a team that batted .290. His glove work earned him a contract for 1879. Anson took over as manager and brought in a whole new outfield of Orator Shafer, George Gore, and Abner Dalrymple. Remsen was relegated to a backup duty. Once again Chicago finished fourth, but this time with a 46-33 mark. Remsen played in 42 games and hit .217.
The 1880 season is something of a mystery in Remsen’s career. Chicago no longer needed his services. Old friend Bob Ferguson was at Troy, but made no effort to sign him. Remsen did umpire a Cleveland-Chicago game on May 20. In June he was invited to join the Providence Grays. A snippet in the Chicago Tribune mentioned that he was suffering with “bilious fever” and he turned down the Grays for fear that he was not able to play to his standards.7 The exact nature of his illness was never clear, but “bilious fever” refers to a number of gastrointestinal issues.
Remsen joined the 1881 Cleveland Blues. The Blues struggled to a 36-48 finish. Remsen began the season as a regular, but his performance both at bat and in the field were disappointments. He was relegated to the bench in favor of Billy Taylor and “acknowledged to be the worst outfielder that ever caught a ball. He does not play anymore, but is hired … merely to tell tales. …”8 To Remsen’s credit, the same nameless scribe said that the storytelling job9 used to belong to Mike Moynahan, who was released in deference to Remsen’s superior oratorical talents. Remsen batted .174 and made 18 errors in 48 games.
Remsen joined a traveling semipro nine in Chicago sponsored by Al Spalding in 1882. In late July they traveled to Fort Wayne, Indiana, to take on the amateur team sponsored by Golden Eagle Clothing. The Golden Eagles had been very successful, but were overmatched against the Chicago team, losing 23-4.10 The defeat of the local amateur team led W.A. Foote, a cigar-store owner, and other businessmen to form a new team and sell stock to raise capital. Foote was dispatched to Chicago to sign some of the Spalding team, including Remsen as captain.11 By late August the team was playing Grand Rapids and other semipro teams in neighboring states. The roster for Fort Wayne included Remsen and three other Chicago players, a couple of locals, and a pair of players from Pittsburgh. The schedule of games against neighboring cities led to the formation of the Northwestern League, one of the earliest minor leagues, for the 1883 season.
After a decade in the “majors,” Remsen was pleased to be in a position where fans respected his play. Earlier in the year he had inherited nearly $75,000 after the death of an aunt, so making a top salary was not a priority. He was also married to “a very charming and handsome little lady.”12 The couple moved into lodging in Fort Wayne and stayed there over the winter. Remsen would later have children with his wife, Emily. According to the 1900 census, the couple had been married 12 years at that time. If the census is correct, then the wife who was with Remsen in Fort Wayne was not Emily. Further identity of the 1882 wife has proven elusive.
The newly formed Fort Wayne Hoosiers began the season on the road with exhibition games in St. Louis against the Browns. This was followed by exhibitions against Detroit, Columbus, and others before the Northwestern League season opener with Port Huron on May 4. The Hoosiers played well the first month but went into a slump and lost five in a row in June. The losing streak and criticism from the press took a toll on Remsen. He stopped cooperating with the writers by not providing lineups and complaining about their coverage.
Remsen had made it clear early on that he was a strict disciplinarian. He enforced an 11 o’clock curfew for his men and demanded their best on the field. Pitcher-utility man Bill Geiss was suspended 60 days for “his bad work” on July 10 after a 12-0 loss to Toledo. That same day Remsen got into a shouting match with a young fan on the streets.13 Geiss was reinstated shortly thereafter, an action that caused a rift between Remsen and W.A. Foote. This culminated in Remsen petitioning for Foote to be removed as a director and Foote pushing for Remsen to be fired. In late July the decision was made for Foote to stay and Remsen to be fined $20 but not fired. Players who had signed Remsen’s petition about Foote were fined $10. An uneasy truce held the club together until August 20, when Remsen went into a tirade about Joe Brown’s pitching performance. The club management replaced him with Milt Scott. It was reported that Remsen immediately signed with Springfield, Illinois, in the league.14 Baseball-Reference does not list Remsen with Springfield. According to Baseball-Register, he joined the Bay City, Michigan, squad and finished out September with them.
Three major leagues operated in 1884. The need for talent paved the way for Remsen’s return to the National League with the Philadelphia Quakers. He opened the season in center field as the oldest player on the roster. After a late May three-strikeout performance against Jim Whitney, Remsen was released with a .209 batting average.
Remsen was out of the game for only a week before signing with the Brooklyn Atlantics in the American Association. He was in center field and punched a base hit on June 3 in an 11-0 loss to Louisville. Once again, Remsen was the oldest player. The Atlantics were woefully weak at the plate and finished in ninth place. Remsen was the leadoff hitter for a while before being moved to middle of the lineup.
Remsen’s finest moment may have come against Cincinnati on September 14. He tried to score from third on a grounder to Bid McPhee, but reversed course when he realized he would be out. The Cincinnati Enquirer account of the game is either an example of overzealous reporting or an account of inept fielding at its worst. In the newspaper’s words, “the entire Cincinnati nine surrounded … and attempted to crush Remsen. The ball was exchanged a score of times while Remsen did the pendulum act between third and home.”15 In the end he dived safely into third. This loaded the bases. The next batter forced Remsen at home in the Atlantics’ 4-3 loss. The Atlantics initially reserved Remsen for the 1885 season, but then had a change of mind and gave him his release.
Newspaper reports had Remsen signing with Philadelphia or being captain of a slew of different teams. In the end he joined the Hartford Babies in the Southern New England League as captain-manager.16 The Babies roster featured Henry Gruber pitching with Connie Mack as his batterymate. Remsen had his finest season to date, batting .307 with 26 extra-base hits. The league began to unravel in August and a new schedule was drawn up. Even then teams dropped out until only Meriden and Hartford remained. The Hartford management dropped out on September 8 and paid all the players. According to Sporting Life, Hartford then joined a new version of the Connecticut State League, but it disbanded after eight games.
The management of the Hartford club was pleased with Remsen and he settled in the city to wait for the next season. The Hartford franchise joined the Eastern League in 1886 and changed its name to the Dark Blues. Remsen was given the captain’s job and earned rave reviews early in the season. But the bottom line is to win and the Dark Blues were struggling when Remsen was released in late May. He caught on with Meriden in the Eastern League for a short while before that team reorganized. He and African-American second baseman Frank Grant were released. They signed with Buffalo in the International Association on July 12 and led the team to a win over Toronto on July 14. Jack Chapman was the Buffalo manager, and Remsen was freed from the headaches as captain. He missed the last weeks of the season when he became ill in late September.
Considerably older than any teammates, Remsen played 95 games in1887. According to statistics published in Sporting Life, he had his finest season ever at the plate. After batting .256 for Buffalo in 1886, he skyrocketed to .391. That was seventh in the league for players with 350 at-bats or more. He also was credited with 24 stolen bases.17 Obviously pleased with his performance and able to afford the lifestyle, Remsen spent the winter in Pennsylvania hunting and fishing.
Remsen returned to the Bisons in 1888. He was plagued by charley horses and injured in a collision on the field, and his play suffered. Remsen hit .255 in 51 games before being released in mid-July. He caught on as captain for a semipro team in Canandaigua, New York. As noted earlier, Remsen had a wife named Emily. Her family was from Massachusetts and details of their marriage are unavailable. In 1888 Emily gave birth to a son, Harrison. In 1890 the couple welcomed Mabel Corine.
Remsen left professional baseball in the spring of 1889, but was called back to the game by a tragedy. The manager of the Mansfield (Ohio) team in the Tri-State League, Chris Meisel, left in early June to visit his wife in Newark, New Jersey. His train was washed out in the Johnstown Flood and Meisel was killed. The team hired Remsen as his replacement and he guided the squad to a second-place finish.
Remsen played sandlot ball in Brooklyn in 1890. In 1891 he was lured back to the pro ranks by the Ottawa, Illinois, Modocs of the Illinois-Iowa League. At age 40 he hit .237 in 93 games. The team captain, Remsen was his typical taciturn self. He did not cooperate with the press and he had a strict curfew for his players. One man was fined heavily for “playing billiards after hours.”18 The franchise disbanded in late August with the team in fourth place.
Remsen and his family resided in the New York area until the late 1890s, when they moved to Hartford for a few years. They returned to New York in 1900 and he worked as a conductor, as he had in Hartford. Census records in 1920 show them living on 96th street in Manhattan. Remsen worked as a building superintendent and was involved in real estate. In February 1927 Emily died and was buried in Hartford beside Harrison, who had died in 1919. Jack Remsen’s final days are a mystery. As of this writing, the SABR Biographical Committee has not been able to determine when or where he died.
In 1936 a group of “pioneer” players and baseball writers were polled about players before 1900 who were worthy of recognition in the new Hall of Fame. Fifty-six players were named with Cap Anson, Willie Keeler, and Buck Ewing leading the vote. None of the players reached the 75 percent vote level. Twenty-two players got only one vote, including Remsen and eventual Hall of Famers Jake Beckley, Tim Keefe, Tommy McCarthy, and Bobby Wallace.19
The author wishes to thank Peter Morris for his insight on Remsen’s life and unknown demise. I would also like to thank numerous members of the Minor Leagues Committee who helped with the question of whether Fort Wayne was in the minor leagues in 1882. Thanks also to the Hartford Historical Center for a search of city directories.
1 Cincinnati Enquirer, May 6, 1878: 8.
2 “Diamond Dust,” Cleveland Leader, August 30, 1881: 2.
3 Most modern sources suggest that Jack was born in 1851. He appears on the 1850 census as six months old. Since the census was taken in mid-September that would put his birthday in March/April. Some older sources, for example David Nemec’s The Great Encyclopedia of Nineteenth-Century Major League Baseball (Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 2006) listed him with an April 1850 birthday. That is plausible under the circumstances. The 1850 census lists the family as Rempson, the 1860 census has the correct spelling of Remsen. To calculate their worth in modern terms, multiply by 30. So the 1860 real estate would be worth $2.25 million today.
4 “The Late Abraham Remsen,” Brooklyn Daily Eagle, February 11, 1886: 4.
5 New York Times, April 7, 1870; 5.
6 Hartford Daily Courant, July 20, 1876: 2.
7 Chicago Tribune, June 20, 1880: 7.
8 Cleveland Leader, August 30, 1881: 2.
9 Precise details are hard to come by, but apparently a player or coach would entertain the fans before games and perhaps between innings with stories, baseball-related or not.
10 “A Professional Nine,” Fort Wayne Sentinel, July 28, 1882: 3.
11 ‘Baseball Matters,” Fort Wayne Daily Gazette, August 10, 1882: 7.
12 Fort Wayne Sentinel, September 7, 1882: 3.
13 “Vile Base Ball Playing,” Fort Wayne Sentinel, July 11, 1883: 3.
14 ‘Troublesome Tossers,” Fort Wayne Sentinel, August 21, 1883: 1.
15 ‘The Sporting World,” Cincinnati Enquirer, September 15, 1884: 2.
16 Hartford was originally scheduled to play in the Connecticut State League, but that league dissolved in favor of the Southern New England League. This information can be found in the Cleveland Leader, March 11, 1885: 3.
17 “International League, the official averages,” Sporting Life, November 9, 1887: 3.
18 “From the Diamond,” Morning Star (Rockford, Illinois), June 28: 1.
19 “Early Balloting for ‘Ancients’ in Hall of Fame Vote Shows No Player With Qualifying Votes,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, January 31, 1936: 18.