This article was written by Bill Nowlin
Jack Ryan was actually born as Jack Ryan; his first name was not a nickname. He did acquire some colorful nicknames in baseball, however: “Gulfport” was one, but he was also known as “Coffee Grounds” and “Mud Artist.”1 And the Red Sox once traded Cy Young to get him. Later in his career, he was the pitching coach of the Red Sox, from 1923 through 1927.
Ryan began his career in Gulfport, Mississippi in 1906 – hence the most widely-known of his nicknames. That’s where he is buried as well, though the nickname was bestowed well before his death. That 1906 team was the Gulfport Crabs in the Class D Cotton States League. Ryan was 21 at the time. And on April 30, right near the start of the season, he threw a two-hit shutout against Vicksburg.
There was some controversy regarding his status, and league president D. Stacey Compton “received orders from Secretary [John H.] Farrell [of the National Association] not to allow Jack Ryan to play longer with Gulfport. Secretary Farrell has awarded the player to the Mt. Clemens (Michigan) team.”2 He hadn’t appeared in that many games in the Cotton States League, but he lasted long enough to pick up the name.
In the Southern Michigan League with the Mt. Clemens team – the Bathers, the name reflecting the prospering mineral baths in the community – Sporting Life observed, as early as mid-July, “Pitcher Ryan, of the Mt. Clemens team, is making a strong bid for box honors in this league.”3 On July 14, he’d thrown a one-hitter against Jackson and the Kalamazoo newspaper called him “Scowling Jack” Ryan.4 The Bathers won the pennant that year.
And yet, come 1907, there Ryan was, back with Gulfport, purchased from Mt. Clemens in April.5 He pitched well enough in the early going that the New Orleans Pelicans purchased an option on his contract. Gulfport ownership may have been in need of funds; Ryan’s contract was one of three team players on which they sold options.6 We don’t have pitching records to see how well he did in either 1906 or 1907.
Ryan actually pitched against Cleveland in an April 5 exhibition game and won the game, 3-1. Indeed, he pitched two games against the Naps and the only run they scored in the two games came in on an error. He was, the New Orleans Item wrote, “a mixer. He doesn’t rely on any one thing, although he has that rise ball perfected to a high degree. He uses the spitter with great effect, and has splendid control of both.”7 He was already consistently being referred to in news stories as “Gulfport Jack.” The Naps tried to buy him on the spot, but New Orleans manager Charlie Frank explained that both Charles Comiskey and Connie Mack had “first call” on him.8 Somehow that obstacle was overcome and Sporting Life reported on July 4 that “Ryan is one of the most promising youngsters that has ever broken into the American League. During the Naps’ 10 days’ stay in New Orleans in the Spring he pitched two games against Lajoie’s crowd and won both. Manager Lajoie was mighty sweet on the youngster as a result, and finally landed him.” Cleveland paid $2,500 to secure Ryan’s contract from New Orleans, and Ryan got into his first major-league game on July 2, 1908.9
It wasn’t just a spitter that Ryan used. He loaded himself up with groceries, it seemed: “By the start of the game, he would have one of his jowls loaded up with equal parts of coffee, licorice, and tobacco. This formed an adhesive paste, which he would squirt on the ball before delivering in. The paste was the color of dirt, and hence nearly everybody thought Ryan was using mud.”10 The article in question recalled his use of an emery ball, too, with a bit of emery paper sewn onto his belt.
Ryan was born in Lawrenceville, Illinois, just across the state line from Vincennes, Indiana. His father Edmund Ryan was a native of the town, too, and served as a sheriff there at the time of the 1880 census. He and his wife Ellen (Margaret Ellen Childress) lost their first child, Adelaide, at the age of 2, but Paul, Jack, and Robert survived. Later in life, Edmund Ryan served as a member of the General Assembly of Illinois, from 1922 until the year of his death, 1931. Jack Ryan was born on September 19, 1884.
When Jack made the majors, he appeared in eight games for the Cleveland Naps, winning one and losing one. He threw 35 2/3 innings with a 2.27 earned run average. His debut at League Park came as the third of four pitchers in a game when the Detroit Tigers hammered Naps pitching, 11-1. It was already 5-0 when he entered the game; he pitched the third through the seventh innings. The first batter he faced was Ty Cobb, who tested him with a bunt and Ryan “fell over.” Cobb got to second base on an out, and then scored all the way from second on a ground ball hit fielded by Ryan, which he threw to first base – not imagining Cobb’s cunning (or reacting to his teammates’ shouts.)11 He gave up four runs on seven hits, including two home runs. He was a right-handed pitcher, standing 5’ 10” and weighing 165 pounds. It was thought heretofore that he batted right-handed, too, but the Plain Dealer’s first item in its Notes of the Game reporting on his debut said, “Ryan bats left handed.”
His win came on the final game of the season, October 6 in St. Louis. It was a tight game, tied 1-1 through eight innings, but Cleveland scored four runs in the top of the ninth and Ryan – who allowed eight hits and walked no one (he did hit a batter), won it, 5-1. He’d escaped a bases-loaded nobody-out jam in the fifth and “proceeded to show that he had the stuff that goes to make great pitchers.”12
After the season, he played some winter baseball in New Orleans and on January 26 pitched 14 innings to a 1-1 tie at Ferran’s Park against Jimmy Dygert of the Athletics in a contest of semipro teams, Ryan pitching for the Braquets.13 The two teams decided to continue the game two Sunday later and Ryan beat Dygert, 8-1, in nine innings. Ryan hit a seventh-inning homer over the right-field fence.
On February 16, Cleveland acquired Cy Young from the Red Sox. He’d just had back-to-back 21-win seasons for Boston, and 192 wins since he’d joined the team. All in all, Young had 478 wins. The deal was two pitchers (Charlie Chech and Ryan) plus $12,500 in exchange for Young. The great pitcher was hoping to leave Boston after his favored catcher, Lou Criger, was traded to St. Louis, and the Red Sox accommodated him. In announcing the trade, the Boston Globe saw Ryan as “a very promising right hander.”14
Ryan was not among the first to report at Hot Springs for Red Sox spring training. A note in the Plain Dealer said, “He probably hates to tear himself away from the fishing in the Gulf of Mexico.”15 The “Gulfport” nickname may have reflected a passion more than just passing play in the port city. He arrived in time to pitch the first exhibition game of the season, however, beating Memphis, 4-2, throwing a complete game with six hits and no walks.
The first game Ryan started for the Red Sox was on June 1, when he lost an 11-inning 1-0 game against the visiting Athletics. On the 17th, he allowed one run again, but won that one, beating the White Sox, 6-1. There were other games, such as the July 21 game, when he fared less well, blowing up in the first inning and surrendering four runs in what proved a 4-2 loss, to Cleveland. Five days later, he was traded to St. Paul – with Charlie Chech – for Charley Hall and Ed Karger. He finished the Red Sox season 3-3 with a 3.34 ERA. He didn’t actually pitch for St. Paul in 1909, but in 1910 he was 17-7 in 31 games (and even batted .266 in his 79 at-bats.) Near the end of the 1909 season, records indicate that he pitched some for the Lincoln, Nebraska team in the Western League with his standout game the two-hit shutout of Des Moines on September 15.
He pitched some semipro ball in New Orleans again, and was signed to Brooklyn in December 1910 after Charley Ebbets paid $2,000 to St. Paul for his rights.16 The “Gulfport Society” column in the Biloxi Herald reported that he was visiting with relatives but working for the winter as a steam fitter at the Dantzler milling plant in Bond, Mississippi.17 A later column informed readers that he had married the daughter of Capt. and Mrs. S. S. Henry in 1907 and that he was well known and well liked in Gulfport and that the couple made their home there.18
Sporting Life wrote in 1913 that he had broken his leg with St. Paul in 1910 “and has been out of the game since,” somehow overlooking his work in 1911 and 1912.19
Brooklyn expected good things from him, but he didn’t measure up to their hopes in the early going. He appeared in only three games, his final game coming on May 9, and he was 0-1 with a 3.00 ERA, but he’d actually given up seven runs, not just two, in the six innings he’d pitched. Five of them were unearned, but that can be deceptive. His 2.167 WHIP (walks and hits per inning pitched) tells the story more accurately. He was released to Mobile on May 12. Ryan’s major-league days were done. He finished up 4-5 with a 2.94 ERA.
His won/loss record at Mobile was discouraging, 8-10 in 19 games. He was said to have hurt his arm so badly that it wasn’t expected he’d play ball again, and had taken a position in charge of the machinery at the Mack Watkins Cotton Seed Crusher and Fertilizer Works at Moss Point, Mississippi.
Apparently his arm recovered, as he pitched 211 innings in 1912 for the Western League’s Omaha Rourkes. He worked in 34 games and was 12-14.
He was a free agent after the end of the 1912 season and played winter league ball in San Diego. He signed with Los Angeles on January 31, 1913; he played for L.A. for five years. He threw 306 2/3 innings his first year and was 17-17, but was the most reliable member of the staff in the first month or two of the season and dubbed the “comeback” of the season by the Los Angeles Times.20 His big game of the year was the no-hitter he threw against the visiting Portland Beavers on May 18; he walked three, but none of them got past first base. He struck out nine. We’re not really sure what happened two days later, but on May 20 he was suspended for five days for “disorderly conduct off the field.”21
In 1914, he had one of his two best years: 24-11 with a 1.84 ERA in 342 innings. And he hit for a .320 average in 125 at-bats; only Harry Wolter hit for a higher average on the club. Ryan considered offers to jump to the Federal League late in 1914 and again before the 1915 season, and he did hold out awhile before signing, but in the end he stuck with Los Angeles and upped his innings pitched in 1915 to a staggering 373 1/3 in 60 games, with a 26-21 record.
Ryan’s other exceptional year came in 1916, when he was 29-10 with a 2.19 ERA in 349 2/3 innings. The Angles won the pennant in 1916; Ryan had the best winning percentage of any pitcher in the Coast League but Allen Sothoron’s 30 wins for Portland outranked him in that stat. And yet he was perhaps almost bounced from the team in the early going; manager Frank Chance was said to have asked waivers on him, on May 22. “Ryan is declared not to have kept himself in shape, thus incurring the displeasure of Chance.”22 Fortunately, for all concerned, Chance may have never pulled the trigger; a day later, the ballclub denied he’d been placed on waivers.
His last year with the Angels was in 1917, and he still had an earned run average under 3.00 (it was 2.94) but his won/loss record was 12-11. One notable day was the June 15 game against his “cousins” – the Beavers – when he used his bat to good effect, hitting two homers (one of them a grand slam) off Portland pitcher Bill Fincher.23
His year, and career, ended prematurely (with perhaps a hint as to why he’d been suspended after his 1913 no-hitter and why waivers had been contemplated in 1916) when he was indefinitely suspended in early August 1917. The story in the Salt Lake Telegram informed readers that he’d forfeited a $700 “booze bounty” in his contract. Angels president John Powers said that “Old John Barleycorn had been too great a friend to Jack” and he was suspended without pay “and it is very likely that the Angels will never lift the suspension.”24 He was only 32 but he’d drunk himself out of a job.
On March 20, 1918, Ryan enlisted in the Navy and was stationed at San Diego’s Balboa Park Naval Training Station. Unsurprisingly, he became a pitcher for the Balboa Park nine.
It’s difficult to find much more about Ryan, though he seemed to pursue a number of trades. The 1930 census found him working as a cement finisher for a construction company in Tucson. He was listed as married and the father of Jacqueline Meadock, living with her and her husband Edward, a machinist in a railway shop. In 1940, he was living with Carl Lewis, an auto mechanic in a logging camp at Deming, Washington. Carl was listed as the head of the household, and Jack as “partner” – which might hold a different connotation today. Jack still reported himself as married. He was working in “trucking, lumber.” The 1940 census let us know that Ryan had left school after eight grades and that in 1935 he had lived in Everett, Washington.
We do know that he went to Cuba in 1924, the year he turned 40. We never did learn his wife’s name.
In 1936, Ryan pitched in an old-timers game at Braves Field in Boston. It was to be the replaying of an 1876 game – from 60 years earlier – pitting Boston against Chicago. Ryan pitched for Boston, playing the role of Joe Borden of the Boston Red Stockings. He beat Buck O’Brien (playing Al Spalding), 2-1, in the three-inning game.25 Ryan was employed at the time by the Boston Park Department and also served as manager of the team.26
Ryan died in Handsboro, Mississippi, on October 16, 1949 – a suburb of Gulfport, where he is buried. The cause of death was a heart attack.
In addition to the sources noted in this biography, the author also accessed Ryan’s player file from the National Baseball Hall of Fame, the Encyclopedia of Minor League Baseball, Retrosheet.org, and Baseball-Reference.com.
1 The Sporting News, November 2, 1949.
2 Sporting Life, June 2, 1906.
3 Sporting Life, July 14, 1906.
4 Kalamazoo Gazette, July 15, 1906.
5 New Orleans Times-Picayune, April 10, 1907.
6 Sporting Life, June 22, 1907.
7 New Orleans Item, April 6, 1908.
8 Sporting Life, April 11, 1908.
9 The payment amount was provided in the August 29 issue of Sporting Life. Cleveland also sent infielder George Nill to New Orleans.
10 Los Angeles Times, April 16, 1922.
11 Cleveland Plain Dealer, July 3, 1908.
12 Cleveland Plain Dealer, October 7, 1908.
13 Montgomery Advertiser, January 29, 1909. The game two weeks later was reported in the New Orleans Times-Picayune of February 8, 1909.
14 Boston Globe, February 17, 1909.
15 Cleveland Plain Dealer, March 3, 1909.
16 Cleveland Plain Dealer, December 13, 1910.
17 Biloxi Daily Herald, December 14, 1910.
18 Biloxi Daily Herald, March 24, 1911. A later issue of the paper gave Capt. Henry’s initials as J.J.
19 Sporting Life, February 8, 1913. The New York Times made the same mistake, despite him having played in the City of New York, Borough of Brooklyn. See the February 1, 1913 Times.
20 Los Angeles Times, May 20, 1913.
21 San Diego Union, May 21, 1913.
22 Riverside Daily Press, May 23, 1916.
23 See the game account in The Oregonian, June 16, 1917.
24 Salt Lake Telegram, August 4, 1917.
25 See more on the game in the Boston Post of June 26, 1936.
26 Boston Traveler, June 26, 1936.